Posts Tagged ‘Lisette Model

19
Jun
20

Exhibition: ‘Masculinities: Liberation through Photography’ at the Barbican Art Gallery, London

Exhibition dates: 20th February – 17th May 2020? Coronavirus

Participating artists: Bas Jan Ader, Laurie Anderson, Kenneth Anger, Knut Åsdam, Richard Avedon, Aneta Bartos, Richard Billingham, Cassils, Sam Contis, John Coplans, Jeremy Deller, Rienke Dijkstra, George Dureau, Thomas Dworzak, Hans Eijkelboom, Fouad Elkoury, Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Hal Fischer, Samuel Fosso, Anna Fox, Masahisa Fukase, Sunil Gupta, Peter Hujar, Liz Johnson Artur, Isaac Julien, Kiluanji Kia Henda, Karen Knorr, Deana Lawson, Hilary Lloyd, Robert Mapplethrope, Peter Marlow, Ana Mendieta, Anenette Messager, Duane Michals, Tracey Moffat, Andrew Moisey, Richard Mosse, Adi Nes, Catherine Opie, Elle Pérez, Herb Ritts, Kalen Na’il Roach, Collier Schorr, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Clarie Strand, Michael Subotzky, Larry Sultan, Hank Willis Thomas, Wolfgang Tillmans, Piotr Uklański, Andy Warhol, Karlheinz Weinberger, Marianne Wex, David Wojnarowicz, Akram Zaatari.

 

 

Sunil Gupta (Indian, b. 1953) 'Untitled #22' 1976

 

Sunil Gupta (Indian, b. 1953)
Untitled #22
1976
From the series Christopher Street
Courtesy the artist and Hales Gallery
© Sunil Gupta. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2019

 

 

As a writer Berger recognised that experience – whether it be personal, historical or aesthetic – will never conform to theories and systems. To read him today is to accept his failures and detours as a unique willingness to take risks.

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John MacDonald. “John Berger,” in the Sydney Morning Herald, 6 June, 2020

 

 

D-Construction: deliberate masculinities in a discontinuous world

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Reviewers of this exhibition (see quotations below) have noted the preponderance of images of “traditional masculinity” – defined as “idealised, dominant (and) heterosexual” – and the paucity of images that show men as working, intelligent, sensitive human beings, “that men ever earned a living, cooked a meal or read a book… scarcely anything about the heart or intellect. Men are represented here almost entirely in terms of their bodies, sexuality or supposed type.” I need make no further comment. What I will say is that I believe the title of the exhibition to be a misnomer: a person cannot be “liberated” through photography, for photography is only a tool of a personal liberation. Liberation comes through an internal struggle of acceptance (thence liberation), one that is foremost FELT (for example, the double life one leads before you acknowledge that you are gay; or experiencing discrimination aimed at others and by proxy, yourself) and SEEN (the bashing of a mother as seen by a small child). Photographs picture the outcomes of this struggle for liberation, are a tool of that process not, I would argue, liberation itself.

What I can say is that I believe in masculinities, plural. Fluid, shifting, challenging, loving, working, intimate, spiritual masculinities that challenge normalcy and hegemonic masculinity, which is defined as “a practice that legitimises men’s dominant position in society and justifies the subordination of the common male population and women, and other marginalised ways of being a man.”

What I don’t believe in is masculinities, plural, that seek to fit into this [dis]continuous world (for we are born and then die) through the stability of their outward appearance, conforming to theories and systems – personal, historical or aesthetic – without reference to subversion, small intimacies, the toil of work, love and the passion of sexual bodies. In other words, masculinities that are not afraid to push the boundaries of being and becoming. To take risks, to experience, to feel.

While I was overjoyed at the “YES” vote on gay marriage that took place in December 2017 in Australia because I felt it was a victory for love, and equality… another part of me rejected as anathema the concept of a gay person buying into a historically patriarchal, heterosexual and monogamous institution such as marriage – too honour and obey. This is an untenable concept for a person who wants to be liberated. Coming out as I did in 1975, only 6 short years after the Stonewall Riots, the last thing I EVER wanted to be, was to be the same as a “straight” person. I was different. I fought for my difference and still believe in it.

Of course, in 2020 it’s another world. Today we all mix in together. But there is still something about “masculinities”, which in some varieties, have a sense of privilege and entitlement. Of power and control over others; of violence towards women, trans, other men and anyone who threatens their little ego, who leaves them, or jilts them. Their jealousy, their ego, bruised – they are so insecure, so insular, that they can only see their own world, their own minuscule problems (but massive in their eyes), and enforce their will on others.

My advice to “masculinities’, in fact any human being, is to go out, get yourself informed, experience, accept, and be the person that nobody thinks you can be. Be a human being. Examine your inner self, look at your dark side, your other side, your empathetic side, and try and understand the journey that you are on. Then, and only then, you might begin on that great path of personal enlightenment, that golden path on which there is no turning back.

Below I discuss some of these ideas with my good friend Nicholas Henderson, curator and archivist at the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives.

 

 

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

Masculinities: Liberation through Photography is a major group exhibition that explores how masculinity is experienced, performed, coded and socially constructed as expressed and documented through photography and film from the 1960s to the present day.

Through the medium of film and photography, this major exhibition considers how masculinity has been coded, performed, and socially constructed from the 1960s to the present day. Examining depictions of masculinity from behind the lens, the Barbican brings together the work of over 50 international artists, photographers and filmmakers including Laurie Anderson, Sunil Gupta, Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Isaac Julien and Catherine Opie.

In the wake of #MeToo the image of masculinity has come into sharper focus, with ideas of toxic and fragile masculinity permeating today’s society. This exhibition charts the often complex and sometimes contradictory representations of masculinities, and how they have developed and evolved over time. Touching on themes including power, patriarchy, queer identity, female perceptions of men, hypermasculine stereotypes, tenderness and the family, the exhibition shows how central photography and film have been to the way masculinities are imagined and understood in contemporary culture.

 

 

In fact, while there are a few gender-fluid figures here, they’re vastly outnumbered by manifestations of “traditional masculinity” – defined as “idealised, dominant (and) heterosexual”. Lebanese militiamen (in Fouad Elkoury’s perky full-length portraits from 1980), US marines (in Wolfgang Tillmans’ epic montage Soldiers – The Nineties), Taliban fighters, SS generals, Israel Defence Force grunts, footballers, cowboys and bullfighters fairly spring out of the walls from every direction. And what’s evident from the outset isn’t so much their diversity, as a unifying demeanour: a threatening intentness that comes wherever men are asked to perform their masculinity, but also a childlike vulnerability.  …

Masculinity, the viewer is made to feel, criminalises men (Mikhael Subotzky’s images of South African gangsters on morgue slabs); isolates them (Larry Sultan’s poignant image of his elderly father practising his golf swing in his sitting room); renders them stupid (Richard Billingham’s excruciating, but now classic photo essay on his alcoholic father, ‘Ray’s a Laugh’). To be a man, it seems, is to be condemned to endlessly act out archetypal “masculine” behaviour, whether you’re an elderly drunk in a Birmingham high-rise or the elite American students taking part in the shouting competition staged by Irish photographer Richard Mosse.

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Mark Hudson. “Does the Barbican’s Masculinities exhibition have important things to say about men?” on the Independent website Friday 21 February 2020 [Online] Cited 03/03/2020

 

There is not much here about work – unless you count the wall of Hollywood actors playing Nazis. You would never think, from this show, that men ever earned a living, cooked a meal or read a book (though there is a sententious vitrine of ‘Men Only’ magazines). Beyond the exceptions given, there is scarcely anything about the heart or intellect. Men are represented here almost entirely in terms of their bodies, sexuality or supposed type.

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Laura Cumming. “Masculinities: Liberation Through Photography review – men as types,” on the Guardian website Sun 23 Feb 2020 [Online] Cited 03/03/2020

 

“The body can be taken as a reflection of the self because it can and should be treated as something to be worked upon … in order to produce it as a commodity. Overweight, slovenliness and even unfashionability, for example, are now moral disorders,” notes Don Slater

“The state of the body is seen as a reflection of the state of its owner, who is responsible for it and could refashion it. The body can be taken as a reflection of the self because it can and should be treated as something to be worked upon, and generally worked upon using commodities, for example intensively regulated, self-disciplined, scrutinized through diets, fitness regimes, fashion, self-help books and advice, in order to produce it as a commodity. Overweight, slovenliness, and even unfashionability, for example, are now moral disorders; even acute illnesses such as cancer reflect the inadequacy of the self and indeed of its consumption. One gets ill because one has consumed the wrong (unnatural) things and failed to consume the correct (‘natural’) ones: self, body, goods and environment constitute a system of moral choice.”

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Slater, Don. Consumer Culture and Modernity. London: Polity Press, 1997, p. 92.

 

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing John Coplans’ work Self-portrait, Frieze No 2, Four Panels 1994
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

John Coplans (British, emigrated America 1960, 1920-2003) 'Self-portrait, Frieze No 2, Four Panels' 1994

 

John Coplans (British, emigrated America 1960, 1920-2003)
Self-portrait, Frieze No 2, Four Panels
1994
Tate
Presented by the American Fund for the Tate Gallery 2001
Photograph: © John Coplans Trust

 

 

Masculinities: Liberation through Photography

 

Plan of the 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' exhibition spaces

 

Plan of the Masculinities: Liberation through Photography exhibition spaces

 

 

Introduction

Masculinities: Liberation through Photography explores the diverse ways masculinity has been experienced, performed, coded and socially constructed in photography and film from the 1960s to the present day.

Simone de Beauvoir’s famous declaration that ‘one is not born a woman, but rather becomes one’ provides a helpful springboard for considering what it means to be a male in today’s world, as well as the place of photography and film in shaping masculinity. What we have thought of as ‘masculine’ has changed considerably throughout history and within different cultures. The traditional social dominance of the male has determined a gender hierarchy which continues to underpin societies around the world.

In Europe and North America, the characteristics and power dynamics of the dominant masculine figure – historically defined by physical size and strength, assertiveness and aggression – though still pervasive today, began to be challenged and transformed in the 1960s. Amid a climate of sexual revolution, struggle for civil rights and raised class consciousness, the growth of the gay rights movement, the period’s counterculture and opposition to the Vietnam War, large sections of society argued for a loosening of the straitjacket of narrow gender definitions.

Set against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement, when manhood is under increasing scrutiny and terms such as ‘toxic’ and ‘fragile’ masculinity fill endless column inches, an investigation of this expansive subject is particularly timely, especially given current global politics characterised by male world leaders shaping their image as ‘strong’ men.

Touching on queer identity, race, power and patriarchy, men as seen by women, stereotypes of dominant masculinity as well as the family, the exhibition presents masculinity in all its myriad forms, rife with contradictions and complexities. Embracing the idea of multiple ‘masculinities’ and rejecting the notion of a singular ‘ideal man’, the exhibition argues for an understanding of masculinity liberated from societal expectations and gender norms.

 

Room 1-4

Disrupting the Archetype

Over the last six decades, artists have consistently sought to destabilise the narrow definitions of gender that determine our social structures in order to encourage new ways of thinking about identity, gender and sexuality. ‘Disrupting the Archetype’ explores the representation of conventional and at times clichéd masculine subjects such as soldiers, cowboys, athletes, bullfighters, body builders and wrestlers. By reconfiguring the representation of traditional masculinity – loosely defined as an idealised, dominant heterosexual masculinity – the artists presented here challenge our ideas of these hypermasculine stereotypes.

Across different cultures and spaces, the military has been central to the construction of masculine identities – which has been explored through the work of Wolfgang Tillmans (below) and Adi Nes (below) among others, while Collier Schorr (below) and Sam Contis’s powerful works (below) address the dominant and enduring representation of the lone cowboy. Athleticism, often perceived as a proxy for strength which is associated with masculinity, is called into question by Catherine Opie’s and Rineke Dijkstra’s tender portraits (below). The male body, a cornerstone for artists such as John Coplans (above), Robert Mapplethorpe and Cassils (below), is meanwhile exposed as a fleshy canvas, constantly in flux.

Historically, the non-western male body has undergone a complex process of subjectification through the Western gaze – invariably presented as either warlike or sexually charged. Viewed against this context, the work of Fouad Elkoury and Akram Zaatari, as well as the found photographs of Taliban fighters that Thomas Dworzak discovered in Afghanistan (below), can be read as deconstructing the Orientalist gaze.

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing a detail from Wolfgang Tillmans’ epic montage Soldiers – The Nineties
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing a detail from trans masculine artist Cassils’ series Time Lapse, 2011
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing at left a detail from trans masculine artist Cassils’ series Time Lapse, 2011, and at right the work of Rineke Dijkstra
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Rineke Dijkstra. 'Montemor, Portugal, May 1, 1994' 1994

 

Rineke Dijkstra (Dutch, b. 1959)
Montemor, Portugal, May 1, 1994
1994
Chromogenic print
90 x 72 cm
© Rineke Dijkstra

 

Rineke Dijkstra (Dutch, b. 1959) 'Vila Franca de Xira, Portugal, May 8, 1994' 1994

 

Rineke Dijkstra (Dutch, b. 1959)
Vila Franca de Xira, Portugal, May 8, 1994
1994
Chromogenic print
90 x 72 cm
© Rineke Dijkstra

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation views of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing photographs from Adi Nes’ series Soldiers, 1999
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Adi Nes (Israeli, b. 1966) 'Untitled' 2000

 

Adi Nes (Israeli, b. 1966)
Untitled
2000
From the series Soldiers
Courtesy Adi Nes & Praz-Delavallade Paris, Los Angeles

 

Adi Nes (Israeli, b. 1966) 'Untitled' 1999

 

Adi Nes (Israeli, b. 1966)
Untitled
1999
From the series Soldiers
Courtesy Adi Nes & Praz-Delavallade Paris, Los Angeles

 

 

Adi Nes was born in Kiryat Gat. His parents are Jewish immigrants from Iran. He is openly gay. Nes is notable for series “Soldiers”, in which he mixes masculinity and homoerotic sexuality, depicting Israeli soldiers in a fragile way.

Nes creates cinematic images that reference war, sexuality, life, and death with the kind of stylised polish you might expect from a photographer whose images have appeared in the pages of Vogue Hommes. His partially autobiographical work is deliberate and staged in an attempt to raise questions about sexuality, masculinity and identity in Israeli culture. “The beginning point of my art is who I am,” he says. “Since I’m a man and I’m an Israeli, I deal with issues of identity with ‘Israeli-ness’ and masculinity, but my photographs are multi-layered.”

“The challenge of the photographer is to catch the viewer for more than one second in front of the picture,” says Nes, explaining his provocative images. “If you catch the viewer in front of the picture, it can touch the viewer.”

Anonymous text “Adi Nes on masculinity, sexuality and war,” from the Phaidon website 2012 [Online] Cited 07/03/2020

 

Thomas Dworzak (Germany, b. 1972) 'Taliban portraits' 2002

Thomas Dworzak (Germany, b. 1972) 'Taliban portraits' 2002

 

Thomas Dworzak (Germany, b. 1972)
Taliban portraits
2002
Kandahar, Afghanistan

 

 

While covering the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, Magnum photographer Thomas Dworzak came across a handful of photo studios in Kandahar which despite the Taliban’s ban on photography had been authorised to remain open, for the sole purpose of taking identity photos. Complicating the conventional image of the hypermasculine soldier, the colour portraits Dworzak found in the back rooms of these studios depict Taliban fighters variously posing in front of scenic backdrops, holding hands, using guns or flowers as props or enveloped in a halo of vibrant colours, their eyes heavily made up with black kohl. These stylised photographs directly contradict the public image of the soldier in this overwhelmingly male-dominated patriarchal society.

 

Sam Contis (American, b. 1982) 'Untitled (Neck)' 2015

 

Sam Contis (American, b. 1982)
Untitled (Neck)
2015
© Sam Contis

 

'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' catalogue cover

 

Masculinities: Liberation through Photography catalogue cover

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing photographs from Catherine Opie’s series High School Football, 2007-2009
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961) 'Stephen' 2009

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961)
Stephen
2009
From the series High School Football, 2007-2009
Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles, and Thomas Dane Gallery, London
© Catherine Opie

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961) 'Rusty' 2008

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961)
Rusty
2008
From the series High School Football, 2007-2009
Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Thomas Dane Gallery, London
© Catherine Opie

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961) 'Football Landscape #17 (Waianae vs. Leilehua, Waianae, HI)' 2009

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961)
Football Landscape #17 (Waianae vs. Leilehua, Waianae, HI)
2009
From the series High School Football, 2007-2009
Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles, and Thomas Dane Gallery, London
© Catherine Opie

 

 

Kenneth Anger (American, b. 1927)
Kustom Kar Kommandos
1965
3 mins 22 secs

 

Collier Schorr (American, b. 1963) 'Americans #3' 2012

 

Collier Schorr (American, b. 1963)
Americans #3
2012
© Collier Schorr, courtesy 303 Gallery, New York

 

 

Room 5-6

Male Order: Power, Patriarchy and Space

‘Male Order’ invites the viewer to reflect on the construction of male power, gender and class. The artists gathered here have all variously attempted to expose and subvert how certain types of masculine behaviour have created inequalities both between and within gender identities. Two ambitious, multi-part works, Richard Avedon’s The Family, 1976, and Karen Knorr’s Gentlemen, 1981-83, focus on typically besuited white men who occupy the corridors of power, while foregrounding the historic exclusion not only of women but also of other marginalised masculinities.

Male-only organisations, such as the military, private members’ clubs and college fraternities, have often served as an arena for the performance of ‘toxic’ masculinity, as chronicled in Andrew Moisey’s The American Fraternity: An Illustrated Ritual Manual, 2018. This startling book charts the misdemeanours of fraternity members alongside an indexical image bank of US Presidents, alongside leaders of government and industry who have belonged at one time or another to these fraternities. Richard Mosse’s film, Fraternity, 2007, takes a different tack by painting a portrait of male rage that is both playful and alarming.

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing photographs from Richard Avedon’s series The Family (1976)
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

 

Early  in 1976, with both the post-Watergate political atmosphere and the approaching bicentennial celebration in mind, Rolling Stone asked Richard Avedon to cover the presidential primaries and the campaign trail. Avedon counter-proposed a grander idea – he had always wanted to photograph the men and women he believed to have constituted political, media and corporate elite of the United States.

For the next several months, Avedon traversed the country from migrant grape fields of California to NFL headquarters in Park Avenue and returned with an amazing portfolio of soldiers, spooks, potentates, and ambassadors that was too late for the bicentennial but published in Rolling Stone’s Oct. 21, 1976, just in time for the November elections.

Sixty-nine black-and-white portraits … were in Avedon’s signature style – formal, intimate, bold, and minimalistic. Appearing in them are President Ford and his three immediate successors – Carter, Reagan, and Bush. Other familiars of the American polity such as Kennedys and Rockefellers are here, and as are giants who held up the nation’s Fourth Pillar during that challenging decade: A. M. Rosenthal of the New York Times who decided to publish the Pentagon Papers, and Katharine Graham who led Woodward and Bernstein at Washington Post.

Alex Selwyn-Holmes. “The Family, 1976; Richard Avedon” on the Iconphotos website May 18, 2012 [Online] Cited 03/03/2020

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation views of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing photographs from Karen Knorr’s series Gentlemen, 1981-83
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Karen Knorr (American, born Germany 1954) 'Newspapers are no longer ironed, Coins no longer boiled So far have Standards fallen' 1981-83

 

Karen Knorr (American, born Germany 1954)
Newspapers are no longer ironed, Coins no longer boiled So far have Standards fallen
1981-83
From the series Gentlemen
Tate: Gift Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2013
© Karen Knorr

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing Piotr Uklanski’s Untitled (The Nazis), 1998, a collage of actors dressed as Nazis, courtesy of Massimo De Carlo
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

 

Room 7-8

Too Close to Home: Family and Fatherhood

Since its invention photography has been a powerful vehicle for the construction and documentation of family narratives. In contrast to the conventions of the traditional family portrait, the artists gathered here deliberately set out to record the ‘messiness’ of life, reflecting on misogyny, violence, sexuality, mortality, intimacy and unfolding family dramas, presenting a more complex and not always comfortable vision of fatherhood and masculinity.

Loss and the ageing male figure are central to the work of both Masahisa Fukase and Larry Sultan (both below). Their respective projects marked a new departure in the way men photographed each other, serving as a commentary on how old age engenders a loss of masculinity. An examination of everyday life, Richard Billingham’s tender yet bleak portraits of his father, as chronicled in Ray’s a Laugh, cast a brutally honest eye on his alcoholic father Ray against a backdrop of social decline (below).

Anna Fox’s disturbing autobiographical work undermines expectations of the traditional family album while revealing the mechanics of paternalistic power. Meanwhile, the father-daughter relationship is brought into sharp focus in Aneta Bartos’s sexually charged series Family Portrait which unsettles traditional family boundaries (below).

 

Masahisa Fukase (Japan, 1934-2012) 'Masahisa and Sukezo' 1972

 

Masahisa Fukase (Japan, 1934-2012)
Masahisa and Sukezo
1972
From the series Family, 1971-90
© Masahisa Fukase Archives

 

Masahisa Fukase (Japan, 1934-2012) 'Upper row, from left to right: A, a model; Toshiteru, Sukezo, Masahisa. Middle row, from left to right: Akiko, Mitsue, Hisashi Daikoji. Bottom row, from left to right: Gaku, Kyoko, Kanako, and a memorial portrait of Miyako' 1985

 

Masahisa Fukase (Japan, 1934-2012)
Upper row, from left to right: A, a model; Toshiteru, Sukezo, Masahisa. Middle row, from left to right: Akiko, Mitsue, Hisashi Daikoji. Bottom row, from left to right: Gaku, Kyoko, Kanako, and a memorial portrait of Miyako
1985
From the series Family, 1971-90
© Masahisa Fukase Archives

 

Masahisa Fukase (Japan, 1934-2012) 'Masahisa and Sukezo' 1985

 

Masahisa Fukase (Japan, 1934-2012)
Masahisa and Sukezo
1985
From the series Family, 1971-90
© Masahisa Fukase Archives

 

‘A magnificent memorial to paternal love’.

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing the photographs of Larry Sultan from the series Pictures from Home
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Larry Sultan (American, 1946-2009) 'Dad on Bed' 1984

 

Larry Sultan (American, 1946-2009)
Dad on Bed
1984
From the series Pictures from Home
Chromogenic print
Courtesy the Estate of Larry Sultan, Yancey Richardson, Casemore Kirkeby, and Galerie Thomas Zander
© Estate of Larry Sultan

 

Larry Sultan (American, 1946-2009) 'Practicing Golf Swing' 1986

 

Larry Sultan (American, 1946-2009)
Practicing Golf Swing
1986
From the series Pictures from Home
Chromogenic print
Courtesy the Estate of Larry Sultan, Yancey Richardson, Casemore Kirkeby, and Galerie Thomas Zander
© Estate of Larry Sultan

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing Richard Billingham’s photographs from the series Ray’s a Laugh
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing the photographs of Aneta Bartos’s sexually charged series Family Portrait
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Aneta Bartos (Born Poland, lives New York) 'Mirror' 2015

 

Aneta Bartos (Born Poland, lives New York)
Mirror
2015
From the series Family Portrait
Archival inkjet print
30 x 30.65 inches

 

Aneta Bartos (Born Poland, lives New York) 'Apple' 2015

 

Aneta Bartos (Born Poland, lives New York)
Apple
2015
From the series Family Portrait
Archival inkjet print
30 x 30.65 inches

 

 

Since 2013 New York based artist Aneta Bartos has been traveling back to her hometown Tomaszów Mazowiecki, where she was raised by her father as a single parent from the age of eight until fourteen. Then 68 years old, and having spent a lifetime as a competitive body builder, Bartos’ father asked her to take a few shots documenting his physique before it degenerated and inevitably ran its course. The original request of her father inspired Bartos to transform his idea into a long-term project called Dad. A few summers later Dad developed into a new series of portraits, titled Family Portrait, exploring the complex dynamics between father and daughter.

Text from the Antwerp Art website [Online] Cited 01/03/2020

 

“The pastoral setting is a romanticised portal to Bartos’s past. Her father’s poses are often heroic; at times the pictures are playful and flirty, almost seductive. Seen together, they display the sadness of a man who knows he is ageing, with the subtext of his waning sexuality. They are bittersweet, images of time passing and memories being preserved.”

Elisabeth Biondi quoted on the Postmasters website 2017 [Online] Cited 01/03/2020

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation views of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing photographs from Peter Hujar’s series Orgasmic Man 1969 (see below)
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

 

Room 9-12

Queer Masculinity

In defiance of the prejudice and legal constraints against homosexuality in Europe, the United States and beyond over the last century, the works presented in ‘Queering Masculinity’ highlight how artists from the 1960s onwards have forged a new politically charged queer aesthetic.

In the 1970s, artists such as Peter Hujar (below), David Wojnarowicz, Sunil Gupta (below) and Hal Fischer (below) photographed gay lifestyles in New York and San Francisco in a bid to claim public visibility and therefore legitimacy at a time when homosexuality was still a criminal offence. Reflecting on their own queer experience and creating sensual bodies of work, artists such as Rotimi Fani-Kayode (below) and Isaac Julien (below) portrayed black gay desire while Catherine Opie’s seminal work Being and Having, 1991 (below), documented members of the dyke, butch and BDSM communities in San Francisco playing with the physical attributes associated with hypermasculinity in order to overturn traditional binary understandings of gender.

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation views of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing photographs by Karlheinz Weinberger
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Karlheinz Weinberger (Swiss, 1921-2006) 'Horseshoe buckle' 1962

 

Karlheinz Weinberger (Swiss, 1921-2006)
Horseshoe buckle
1962
Courtesy Galerie Esther Woerdehoff
© Karlheinz Weinberger

 

Karlheinz Weinberger (Swiss, 1921-2006) 'Sitting boy with elvis necklace in KHW studio, Zurich' 1961

 

Karlheinz Weinberger (Swiss, 1921-2006)
Sitting Boy with Elvis Necklace in KHW studio, Zurich
1961
Courtesy Galerie Esther Woerdehoff
© Karlheinz Weinberger

 

Peter Hujar. 'Orgasmic Man' 1969

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Orgasmic Man
1969
Gelatin silver print

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Orgasmic Man (I)' 1969

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Orgasmic Man (I)
1969
Gelatin silver print

 

Peter Hujar. 'Orgasmic Man (II)' 1969

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Orgasmic Man (II)
1969
Gelatin silver print

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'David Brintzenhofe Applying Makeup (II)' 1982

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
David Brintzenhofe Applying Makeup (II)
1982
Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© 1987 The Peter Hujar Archive LLC

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing photographs from Sunil Gupta’s series Christopher Street 1976
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Sunil Gupta (Indian, b. 1953) 'Untitled #21' 1976

 

Sunil Gupta (Indian, b. 1953)
Untitled #21
1976
From the series Christopher Street
Courtesy the artist and Hales Gallery
© Sunil Gupta. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2019

 

 

Gupta went on to study under Lisette Model at the New School and take his place among the most accomplished photographers, editors, and curators of his generation, exploring the way identities flower under various sexual, geographical, and historical conditions. But Christopher Street is where it all began. His subjects are engaged in an unprecedented moment in which it seemed possible to build a world of their own. He shows inner lives, barely concealed within the downturned face of a mustachioed man with his hands in his pockets, and outer ones as well, as other men cruise the lens right back, or laugh with each other, unbothered by the stranger with the camera. They were often just engaged in the everyday and extraordinary act of simply existing as gay. In each photograph, Gupta somehow projects a protective and versatile desire: to remember and be remembered at once.

Extract from Jesse Dorris. “Christopher Street Revisited,” on the Aperture website May 30th, 2019 [Online] Cited 29/02/2020

 

Sunil Gupta (Indian, b. 1953) 'Untitled #56' 1976

 

Sunil Gupta (Indian, b. 1953)
Untitled #56
1976
From the series Christopher Street
Courtesy the artist and Hales Gallery
© Sunil Gupta. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2019

 

 

The 1976 Christopher Street series marks the first set of photographs Gupta made as a practicing artist, using the camera as a tool for open expression. His decision to use black and white film was partly aesthetic, yet also practical, as he was developing the prints in his bathroom. Although he uses a documentarian style, Gupta was by no means an impartial observer behind the camera, he was a participant, enthralled by his subjects.

The series … captures a specific moment in history – a cross section of a thriving community in one of New York’s most dynamic areas – Manhattan’s Christopher Street. Dressed in the latest fashions, moving confidently and relaxing on street corners, their visible presence is a signifier of a specific period of public consciousness. Un-staged and spontaneous, most of the artist’s subjects are unaware of the camera and are simply going about their day. Now, with hindsight, Gupta is struck by the routineness of the images, stating:

‘There is a poignancy they never had at the time… A few years later, the AIDS crisis took hold. The public nature of gay life was forced back into the shadows. Thousands of men died. New York shut down its bathhouses, gay parties became private, and this whole world became hidden again.’

Fusing the public with the personal, the Christopher Street series reflects the openness of the gay liberation movement, as well as Gupta’s own “coming out” as an artist. More than a nostalgic time capsule, the photographs reveal a community that shaped Gupta as a person and cemented his lifelong dedication to portraying people who have been denied a space to be themselves.

Extract from Anonymous. “Sunil Gupta: Christopher Street,” on the Monovisions website 24 May 2019 [Online] Cited 29/02/2020

 

Hal Fischer (American, b. 1950) 'Handkerchiefs' 1977

 

Hal Fischer (American, b. 1950)
Handkerchiefs
1977
From the series Gay Semiotics
Gelatin silver print

 

Hal Fischer (American, b. 1950) 'Street Fashion Jock' 1977

 

Hal Fischer (American, b. 1950)
Street Fashion Jock
1977
From the series Gay Semiotics
Gelatin silver print

 

Rotimi Fani-Kayode (Nigerian, 1955-1989) 'Untitled' c. 1985

 

Rotimi Fani-Kayode (Nigerian, 1955-1989)
Untitled
c. 1985
Courtesy of Autograph, London
© Rotimi Fani-Kayode

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing at left, photographs from Isaac Julien’s series After Mazatlàn, 1999/2000
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Isaac Julien (British, b. 1960) From 'After Mazatlàn III - VI' 1999/2000

 

Isaac Julien (British, b. 1960)
From After Mazatlàn III – VI
1999/2000
Colour photogravures
33 x 43.2 cm; 13 x 17 in
Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London/Venice
© Isaac Julien

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing Catherine Opie’s series Being and Having 1991
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961) 'Bo from "Being and Having"' 1991

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961)
Bo from “Being and Having”
1991
Collection of Gregory R. Miller and Michael Wiener
© Catherine Opie, Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles; Thomas Dane Gallery, London; and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

 

 

The exhibition brings together over 300 works by over 50 pioneering international artists, photographers and filmmakers such as Richard Avedon, Peter Hujar, Isaac Julien, Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Robert Mapplethorpe, Annette Messager and Catherine Opie to show how photography and film have been central to the way masculinities are imagined and understood in contemporary culture. The show also highlights lesser-known and younger artists – some of whom have never exhibited in the UK – including Cassils, Sam Contis, George Dureau, Elle Pérez, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Hank Willis Thomas, Karlheinz Weinberger and Marianne Wex amongst many others. Masculinities: Liberation through Photography is part of the Barbican’s 2020 season, Inside Out, which explores the relationship between our inner lives and creativity.

Jane Alison, Head of Visual Arts, Barbican, said: ‘Masculinities: Liberation through Photography continues our commitment to presenting leading twentieth century figures in the field of photography while also supporting younger contemporary artists working in the medium today. In the wake of the #MeToo movement and the resurgence of feminist and men’s rights activism, traditional notions of masculinity has become a subject of fierce debate. This exhibition could not be more relevant and will certainly spark conversations surrounding our understanding of masculinity.’

With ideas around masculinity undergoing a global crisis and terms such as ‘toxic’ and ‘fragile’ masculinity filling endless column inches, the exhibition surveys the representation of masculinity in all its myriad forms, rife with contradiction and complexity. Presented across six sections by over 50 international artists to explore the expansive nature of the subject, the exhibition touches on themes of queer identity, the black body, power and patriarchy, female perceptions of men, heteronormative hypermasculine stereotypes, fatherhood and family. The works in the show present masculinity as an unfixed performative identity shaped by cultural and social forces.

Seeking to disrupt and destabilise the myths surrounding modern masculinity, highlights include the work of artists who have consistently challenged stereotypical representations of hegemonic masculinity, including Collier Schorr, Adi Nes, Akram Zaatari and Sam Contis, whose series Deep Springs, 2018 draws on the mythology of the American West and the rugged cowboy. Contis spent four years immersed in an all-male liberal arts college north of Death Valley meditating on the intimacy and violence that coexists in male-only spaces. Complicating the conventional image of the fighter, Thomas Dworzak‘s acclaimed series Taliban consists of portraits found in photographic studios in Kandahar following the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, these vibrant portraits depict Taliban fighters posing hand in hand in front of painted backdrops, using guns and flowers as props with kohl carefully applied to their eyes. Trans masculine artist Cassils‘ series Time Lapse, 2011, documents the radical transformation of their body through the use of steroids and a rigorous training programme reflecting on ideas of masculinity without men. Elsewhere, artists Jeremy Deller, Robert Mapplethorpe and Rineke Dijkstra dismantle preconceptions of subjects such as the wrestler, the bodybuilder and the athlete and offer an alternative view of these hyper-masculinised stereotypes.

The exhibition examines patriarchy and the unequal power relations between gender, class and race. Karen Knorr‘s series Gentlemen, 1981-83, comprised of 26 black and white photographs taken inside men-only private members’ clubs in central London and accompanied by texts drawn from snatched conversations, parliamentary records and contemporary news reports, invites viewers to reflect on notions of class, race and the exclusion of women from spaces of power during Margaret Thatcher’s premiership. Toxic masculinity is further explored in Andrew Moisey‘s 2018 photobook The American Fraternity: An Illustrated Ritual Manual which weaves together archival photographs of former US Presidents and Supreme Court Justices who all belonged to the fraternity system, alongside images depicting the initiation ceremonies and parties that characterise these male-only organisations.

With the rise of the Gay Liberation Movement through the 1960s followed by the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s, the exhibition showcases artists such as Peter Hujar and David Wojnarowiz, who increasingly began to disrupt traditional representations of gender and sexuality. Hal Fischer‘s critical photo-text series Gay Semiotics, 1977, classified styles and types of gay men in San Francisco and Sunil Gupta’s street photographs captured the performance of gay public life as played out on New York’s Christopher Street, the site of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising. Other artists exploring the performative aspects of queer identity include Catherine Opie‘s seminal series Being and Having, 1991, showing her close friends in the West Coast’s LGBTQ+ community sporting false moustaches, tattoos and other stereotypical masculine accessories. Elle Pérez‘s luminous and tender photographs explore the representation of gender non-conformity and vulnerability, whilst Paul Mpagi Sepuya‘s fragmented portraits explore the studio as a site of homoerotic desire.

During the 1970s women artists from the second wave feminist movement objectified male sexuality in a bid to subvert and expose the invasive and uncomfortable nature of the male gaze. In the exhibition, Laurie Anderson‘s seminal work Fully Automated Nikon (Object/Objection/Objectivity), 1973, documents the men who cat-called her as she walked through New York’s Lower East Side while Annette Messager‘s series The Approaches, 1972, covertly captures men’s trousered crotches with a long-lens camera. German artist Marianne Wex‘s encyclopaedic project Let’s Take Back Our Space: ‘Female’ and ‘Male’ Body Language as a Result of Patriarchal Structures, 1977, presents a detailed analysis of male and female body language and Australian indigenous artist Tracey Moffatt‘s awkwardly humorous film Heaven, 1997, portrays male surfers changing in and out of their wet suits.

Further highlights include New York based artist Hank Willis Thomas, whose photographic practice examines the complexities of the black male experience; celebrated Japanese photographer Masahisa Fukase‘s The Family, 1971-1989, chronicles the life and death of his family with a particular emphasis on his father; and Kenneth Anger‘s technicolour experimental underground film Kustom Kar Kommandos, 1965, explores the fetishist role of hot rod cars amongst young American men.

Press release from the Barbican Art Gallery

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing Hank Willis Thomas’ series Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America 1968-2008 2005-08 (below)
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

 

Room 13-14

Reclaiming the Black Body

Giving visual form to the complexity of the black male experience, this section foregrounds artists who over the last five decades have consciously subverted expectations of race, gender and the white gaze by reclaiming the power to fashion their own identities.

From Samuel Fosso’s playfully staged self-portraits, taken in his studio, in which he performs to the camera sporting flares and platforms boots or flirtatiously revealing his youthful male physique (below) to Kiluanji Kia Henda’s fictional scenarios in which he adopts the troubled personas of African men of power, the works presented here reflect on how black masculinity challenges the status quo (below).

The representation of black masculinity in the US is born out of a violent history of slavery and prejudice. Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America 1968-2008 by Hank Willis Thomas (below) draws attention to the ways in which corporate America has commodified the African American male experience while simultaneously perpetuating and reinforcing cultural stereotypes. Similarly, Deana Lawson’s powerful work Sons of Cush, 2016, highlights how the black male figure is often ‘idealised (in their physical beauty) and pathologised by the culture (as symbols of violence or fear)’.

 

Hank Willis Thomas (American, b. 1976) 'The Johnson Family' 1981/2006

 

Hank Willis Thomas (American, b. 1976)
The Johnson Family
1981/2006
From the series Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America 1968-2008
2005-08

 

 

Concerned with the literal and figural objectifications of the African American male body, in his complex series Unbranded Hank Willis Thomas redeploys magazine adverts featuring African Americans made between 1968 – a pivotal moment in the struggle for civil rights – and 2008, which witnessed the accession of Barack Obama to the US presidency. By digitally stripping the ads of all text, branding and logos, Thomas draws attention to the ways in which corporate America has commodified the African American experience while simultaneously perpetuating and reinforcing cultural stereotypes.

 

Hank Willis Thomas (American, b. 1976) 'It's the Real Thing!' 1978/2008

 

Hank Willis Thomas (American, b. 1976)
It’s the Real Thing!
1978/2008
From the series Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America 1968-2008
2005-08

 

Samuel Fosso (Cameroonian, b. 1962) 'Self-portrait' 1975-7

 

Samuel Fosso (Cameroonian, b. 1962)
Self-portrait
1975-7
From the series 70s lifestyle
Courtesy Jean Marc Patras, Paris
© Samuel Fosso

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing a photograph from Kiluanji Kia Henda’s series The Last Journey of the Dictator Mussunda Nzombo Before the Great Extinction Act I
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Hilary Lloyd (British, b. 1964) 'Colin #2' 1999

 

Hilary Lloyd (British, b. 1964)
Colin #2
1999
Courtesy Galerie Neu, Berlin; Sadie Coles HQ, London; Greene Naftali, New York
© Hilary Lloyd

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing part of Marianne Wex’s encyclopaedic project Let’s Take Back Our Space: ‘Female’ and ‘Male’ Body Language as a Result of Patriarchal Structures, 1977
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

 

Room 15-16

Women on Men: Reversing the Male Gaze

As the second-wave feminist movement gained momentum through the 1960s and ’70s, female activists sought to expose and critique entrenched ideas about masculinity and to articulate alternative perspectives on gender and representation. Against this background, or motivated by its legacy, the artists gathered here have made men their subject with the radical intention of subverting their power, calling into question the notion that men are active and women passive.

In the early 1970s pioneers of feminist art such as Laurie Anderson (below) and Annette Messager consciously objectified the male body in a bid to expose the uncomfortable nature of the dominant male gaze. In contrast, filmmakers such as Tracey Moffatt (below) and Hilary Lloyd (above) turn the tables on male representations of desire to foreground the power of the female gaze.

In his humorous series The Ideal Man, 1978 (below), Hans Eijkelboom invited ten women to fashion him into their image of the ‘ideal’ man. Through this act Eijkelboom reverses the male to female power dynamic and inverts the traditional gender hierarchy.

 

Laurie Anderson (American, b. 1947) 'Man with a Cigarette' 1973

 

Laurie Anderson (American, b. 1947)
Man with a Cigarette
1973
From the series Fully Automated Nikon (Object/Objection/Objectivity)

 

Laurie Anderson (American, b. 1947) 'Two men in a car' 1973

 

Laurie Anderson (American, b. 1947)
Two men in a car
1973
From the series Fully Automated Nikon (Object/Objection/Objectivity)

 

 

Anderson photographed men who called to her or whistled her on the street.  In her artist statement she writes about one experience,

“As I walked along Houston Street with my fully automated Nikon. I felt armed, ready. I passed a man who muttered ‘Wanna fuck?’ This was standard technique: the female passes and the male strikes at the last possible moment forcing the woman to backtrack if she should dare to object. I wheeled around, furious. ‘Did you say that?’ He looked around surprised, then defiant ‘Yeah, so what the fuck if I did?’ I raised my Nikon, took aim began to focus. His eyes darted back and forth, an undercover cop? CLICK.

As it turned out, most of the men I shot that day had the opposite reaction. When i confronted them, the acted innocent, then offended, like some nasty invisible ventriloquist had ticked them into saying dirty words against their will. By the time I took their pictures they were posing, like taking their picture was the least I could do.”

“I decided to shoot pictures of men who made comments to me on the street. I had always hated this invasion of my privacy and now I had the means of my revenge. As I walked along Houston Street with my fully automated Nikon, I felt armed, ready. I passed a man who muttered ‘Wanna fuck?’ This was standard technique: the female passes and the male strikes at the last possible moment forcing the woman to backtrack if she should dare to object. I wheeled around, furious. ‘Did you say that?’ He looked around surprised, then defiant. ‘Yeah, so what the fuck if I did?’ I raised my Nikon, took aim, began to focus. His eyes darted back and forth, an undercover cop? CLICK.”

Anderson takes the power from her male pursuers, allowing them nothing more than the momentary fear that their depravity has just been captured in a picture.

 

Tracey Moffatt (Australian, b. 1960) 'Heaven' (still) 1997

 

Tracey Moffatt (Australian, b. 1960)
Heaven (still)
1997
Video tape (28 minutes)
© Tracey Moffatt / DACS Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney, Australia

 

 

“A playful video that glories in the female gaze and objectification of men. It zeros in on the Australian national sport, surfing, and in particular on several dozen good-looking muscular men changing into or out of their swimming trunks. This ritual is usually conducted in parking lots or on sidewalks, always near cars and sometimes inside them; it usually but not always involves a beach towel wound carefully around the torso. Ms Moffatt begins by shooting her subject unseen from inside a house and gradually moves closer and closer, engaging some in conversations that are never heard. The soundtrack alternates between the ocean surf and the sounds of drumming and chanting, male rituals of another, more authentic Australian culture. By the tape’s end, the artist’s voyeurism has shifted to participation; the camera shows her free hand, the one not holding the camera, darting into view, trying to undo the towel of the last surfer.”

New York Times

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing part of Hans Eijkelboom’s series The Ideal Man, 1978

 

 

Glossary of Terms by CN Lester

Homosociality: Typically non-romantic and/or non-sexual same-sex relationships and social groupings – may sometimes include elements of homoeroticism, as they are frequently interdependent phenomena.

Normativity: The process by which some groups of people, forms of expression and types of behaviour are classified according to a perceived standard of what is ‘normal’, ‘natural’, desirable and permissible in society. Inevitably, this process designates people, expressions and behaviours that do not fit these norms as abnormal, unnatural, undesirable and impermissible.

Hegemonic Masculinity: ‘Hegemonic’ means ‘ruling’ or ‘commanding’ – hegemonic masculinity, therefore, indicates male dominance and the forms of masculinity occupying and perpetuating this dominant position. The term was coined in the 1980s by the scholar R. W. Connell, drawing on the Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci’s notion of cultural hegemony.

Hierarchy: Across many cultures throughout history, and continuing into the present moment throughout large parts of the world, gender functions as a hierarchy: some gender categories and gender expressions are granted higher value and more power than others. Men are often higher up the gender hierarchy than women, but the gender hierarchy is affected by racism, disablism, ageism, transphobia and other factors; in the West, men in their thirties are likely to be considered higher up the gender hierarchy than men in their eighties, for example.

Gender roles: Specific cultural roles defined by the weight of gendered ideas, restrictions and traditions. Men and women are often expected, sometimes forced, to occupy oppositional gender roles: aggressor versus victim, protector versus nurturer and so on. Many gender roles are specific to intersections of race, class, sexuality, religion and disabled status – examples of these types of gender roles can be seen in the stereotypes of the Jezebel or the Dragon Lady.

Patriarchy: Literally ‘the rule of the father’, a patriarchy is a society or structure centred around male dominance and in which women (and those of other genders) are not treated as or considered equal.

Queer: A slur, a term of reclamation and a specific and radical site of community and activism in solidarity with many kinds of difference, and specifically opposed to heteronormativity and cisnormativity. Queer studies and queer theory are important emerging fields of study.

Gender identity: Identity refers to what, who, and how someone or something is, both in the way this is understood as selfhood by an individual, and also the self as it is shaped and positioned by the world. Gender identity can be a surprisingly difficult term to pin down and is perhaps best understood as the stated truth of a person’s gender (or lack of gender), which is in itself the sum of many different factors.

Fetishisation: To turn the subject into a fetish, sexually or otherwise. Fetishisation in terms of gender and desire frequently occurs in conjunction with objectification and power. Men and women of colour are frequently fetishised by white people, in society and in artistic practice, through different stereotypes and limitations. Trans and disabled people are also subject to fetishisation, particularly in bodily terms. Kobena Mercer’s critical essay on Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Reading Radical Fetishism’,1 and David Henry Hwang’s play and afterword to M. Butterfly (1988) both explore the notion of fetishisation.

1. Kobena Mercer, ‘Reading Racial Fetishism: The Photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe’, in Emily Apter and William Pietz, eds, Fetishism as Cultural Discourse (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993), pp. 307-29.

Critical race theory: A branch of scholarship emerging from the application of critical theory to the study of law in the 1980s, critical race theory (CRT) is now taken as an approach and theoretical foundation across both academic and popular discourse. CRT names, examines and challenges the social constructions and functions of race and racism. Rejecting the idea of race as a ‘natural’ category, CRT looks instead to the cultural, structural and legal creation and maintenance of difference and oppression. Scholars working in this field include Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva and Patricia Williams.

Me Too movement: ‘#MeToo is a movement that was founded in 2006 to support survivors of sexual violence, in particular black and brown girls, who were in the program that we were running. It has grown since then to include supporting grown people, women, and men, and other survivors, as well as helping people to understand what community action looks like in the fight to end sexual violence’ – Tarana Burke, founder of the Me Too movement.

Male gaze: A term coined by film critic Laura Mulvey, the notion of the male gaze develops Jean-Paul Sartre’s concept of le regard (the gaze) to take into account the power differentials and gender stereotyping inherent in ways of looking within patriarchal, sexist culture. The male gaze refers to how the world – and women in particular – are looked at and presented from a cisgender, straight, frequently white male perspective. In visual art the male gaze can be understood in multiple ways, from the male creator of the work, to men within the work viewing women or the world around them, to the (assumed) male viewer of the work itself. Many women artists have countered the male gaze through deconstruction and through the creation and promotion of works that centre the ‘female gaze’.

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation views of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

 

Barbican Art Gallery
Silk Street, London
EC2Y 8DS

Opening hours:
Mon – Tue 12noon – 6pm
Wed – Fri 12noon – 9pm
Sat 10am – 9pm
Sun 10am – 6pm

Barbican Art Gallery website

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04
Oct
18

Exhibition: ‘In Focus: Expressions’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 22nd May – 7th October 2018

 

Erich Salomon (German, 1886-1944) '[Portrait of Madame Vacarescu, Romanian Author and Deputy to the League of Nations, Geneva]' 1928

 

Erich Salomon (German, 1886-1944)
[Portrait of Madame Vacarescu, Romanian Author and Deputy to the League of Nations, Geneva]
1928
Gelatin silver print
29.7 × 39.7 cm (11 11/16 × 15 5/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

In 1928, pioneering photojournalist, Erich Salomon photographed global leaders and delegates to a conference at the League for the German picture magazine Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung. In a typically frank image, Salomon has shown Vacarescu with her head thrown back passionately pleading before the international assembly.

Elena Văcărescu or Hélène Vacaresco (September 21, 1864 in Bucharest – February 17, 1947 in Paris) was a Romanian-French aristocrat writer, twice a laureate of the Académie française. Văcărescu was the Substitute Delegate to the League of Nations from 1922 to 1924. She was a permanent delegate from 1925 to 1926. She was again a Substitute Delegate to the League of Nations from 1926 to 1938. She was the only woman to serve with the rank of ambassador (permanent delegate) in the history of the League of Nations. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

 

From a distance…

For such an engaging subject, this presentation looks to be a bit of a lucky dip / ho hum / filler exhibition. You can’t make a definitive judgement from a few media images but looking at the exhibition checklist gives you a good idea of the overall organisation of the exhibition and its content. Even the press release seems unsure of itself, littered as it is with words like posits, probes, perhaps (3 times) and problematic.

Elements such as physiognomy are briefly mentioned (with no mention of its link to eugenics), as is the idea of the mask – but again no mention of how the pose is an affective mask, nor how the mask is linked to the carnivalesque. Or how photographs portray us as we would like to be seen (the ideal self) rather than the real self, and how this incongruence forms part of the formation of our identity as human beings.

The investigation could have been so deep in so many areas (for example the representation of women, children and others in a patriarchal social system through facial expression; the self-portrait as an expression of inner being; the photograph as evidence of the mirror stage of identity formation; and the photographs of “hysterical” women of the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, Paris; and on and on…) but in 45 works, I think not. The subject deserved, even cried out for (as facial expressions go), a fuller, more in depth investigation.

For more reading please see my 2014 text Facile, Facies, Facticity which comments on the state of contemporary portrait photography and offers a possible way forward: a description of the states of the body and the air of the face through a subtle and constant art of the recovering of surfaces.

Marcus

.
Many thanks to the J. Paul Getty Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

The human face has been the subject of fascination for photographers since the medium’s inception. This exhibition includes posed portraits, physiognomic studies, anonymous snapshots, and unsuspecting countenances caught by the camera’s eye, offering a close-up look at the range of human stories that facial expressions – and photographs – can tell.

 

 

Nancy Burson (American, born 1948) 'Androgyny' 1982

 

Nancy Burson (American, born 1948)
Androgyny
1982
Gelatin silver print
21.6 × 27.7 cm (8 1/2 × 10 7/8 in.)
© Nancy Burson
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Composite image of portraits of six men and six women

 

Leonard Freed (American, 1929-2006) 'Demonstration, New York City' 1963

 

Leonard Freed (American, 1929-2006)
Demonstration, New York City
1963
Gelatin silver print
25.9 × 35.4 cm (10 3/16 × 13 15/16 in.)
© Leonard Freed / Magnum Photos, Inc.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Gift of Brigitte and Elke Susannah Freed

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, born Austria, 1899-1968) 'Emmett Kelly, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus' Negative May 1943; print about 1950

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, born Austria, 1899-1968)
Emmett Kelly, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus
Negative May 1943; print about 1950
Gelatin silver print
26 × 34.4 cm (10 1/4 × 13 9/16 in.)
© International Center of Photography
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Emmett Leo Kelly (December 9, 1898 – March 28, 1979) was an American circus performer, who created the memorable clown figure “Weary Willie”, based on the hobos of the Depression era.

Kelly began his career as a trapeze artist. By 1923, Emmett Kelly was working his trapeze act with John Robinson’s circus when he met and married Eva Moore, another circus trapeze artist. They later performed together as the “Aerial Kellys” with Emmett still performing occasionally as a whiteface clown.

He started working as a clown full-time in 1931, and it was only after years of attempting to persuade the management that he was able to switch from a white face clown to the hobo clown that he had sketched ten years earlier while working as a cartoonist.

“Weary Willie” was a tragic figure: a clown, who could usually be seen sweeping up the circus rings after the other performers. He tried but failed to sweep up the pool of light of a spotlight. His routine was revolutionary at the time: traditionally, clowns wore white face and performed slapstick stunts intended to make people laugh. Kelly did perform stunts too – one of his most famous acts was trying to crack a peanut with a sledgehammer – but as a tramp, he also appealed to the sympathy of his audience.

From 1942–1956 Kelly performed with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, where he was a major attraction, though he took the 1956 season off to perform as the mascot for the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team. He also landed a number of Broadway and film roles, including appearing as himself in his “Willie” persona in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth (1952). He also appeared in the Bertram Mills Circus.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Hill & Adamson (Scottish, active 1843-1848) 'Mrs Grace Ramsay and four unknown women' 1843

 

Hill & Adamson (Scottish, active 1843-1848)
Mrs Grace Ramsay and four unknown women
1843
Salter paper print from Calotype negative
15.2 x 20.3 cm (6 x 8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Lewis W. Hine (American, 1874-1940) 'Connecticut Newsgirls' c. 1912-1913

 

Lewis W. Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Connecticut Newsgirls
c. 1912-1913
Gelatin silver print
11.8 × 16.8 cm (4 11/16 × 6 5/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Nadar [Gaspard Félix Tournachon] (French, 1820-1910) '[Mme Ernestine Nadar]' 1880-1883

 

Nadar [Gaspard Félix Tournachon] (French, 1820-1910)
[Mme Ernestine Nadar]
1880-1883
Albumen silver print
Image (irregular): 8.7 × 21 cm (3 7/16 × 8 1/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Nadar [Gaspard Félix Tournachon] (French, 1820-1910) '[Mme Ernestine Nadar]' 1880-1883 (detail)

 

Nadar [Gaspard Félix Tournachon] (French, 1820-1910)
[Mme Ernestine Nadar] (detail)
1880-1883
Albumen silver print
Image (irregular): 8.7 × 21 cm (3 7/16 × 8 1/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, 1815-1879) 'Ophelia' Negative 1875; print, 1900

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, 1815-1879)
Ophelia
Negative 1875; print, 1900
Carbon print
35.2 x 27.6 cm (13 7/8 x 19 7/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Nicholas Nixon (American, born 1947) 'W. Canfield Ave., Detroit' 1982

 

Nicholas Nixon (American, born 1947)
W. Canfield Ave., Detroit
1982
Gelatin silver print
Image (irregular): 19.7 × 24.6 cm (7 3/4 × 9 11/16 in.)
© Nicholas Nixon
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Unknown maker (German) 'Close-up of Open Mouth of Male Student' c. 1927

 

Unknown maker (German)
Close-up of Open Mouth of Male Student
c. 1927
Gelatin silver print
5.7 x 8.4 cm (2 1/4 x 3 5/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Alec Soth (American, born 1969) 'Mary, Milwaukee, WI' 2014

 

Alec Soth (American, born 1969)
Mary, Milwaukee, WI
2014
Inkjet print
40.1 × 53.5 cm (15 13/16 × 21 1/16 in.)
© Alec Soth/Magnum Photos
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Gift of Richard Lovett

 

Garry Winogrand (American, 1928-1984) 'Los Angeles' January 1960

 

Garry Winogrand (American, 1928-1984)
Los Angeles
January 1960
Gelatin silver print
22.6 × 33.9 cm (8 7/8 × 13 3/8 in.)
© 1984 The Estate of Garry Winogrand
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

From Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, to Edvard Munch’s The Scream, to Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother, the human face has been a crucial, if often enigmatic, element of portraiture. Featuring 45 works drawn from the Museum’s permanent collection, In Focus: Expressions, on view May 22 to October 7, 2018 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, addresses the enduring fascination with the human face and the range of countenances that photographers have captured from the birth of the medium to the present day.

The exhibition begins with the most universal and ubiquitous expression: the smile. Although today it is taken for granted that we should smile when posing for the camera, smiling was not the standard photographic expression until the 1880s with the availability of faster film and hand-held cameras. Smiling subjects began to appear more frequently as the advertising industry also reinforced the image of happy customers to an ever-widening audience who would purchase the products of a growing industrial economy. The smile became “the face of the brand,” gracing magazines, billboards, and today, digital and social platforms.

As is evident in the exhibition, the smile comes in all variations – the genuine, the smirk, the polite, the ironic – expressing a full spectrum of emotions that include benevolence, sarcasm, joy, malice, and sometimes even an intersection of two or more of these. In Milton Rogovin’s (American, 1909-2011) Storefront Churches, Buffalo (1958-1961), the expression of the preacher does not immediately register as a smile because the camera has captured a moment where his features – the opened mouth, exposed teeth, and raised face – could represent a number of activities: he could be in the middle of a song, preaching, or immersed in prayer. His corporeal gestures convey the message of his spirit, imbuing the black-and-white photograph with emotional colour. Like the other works included in this exhibition, this image posits the notion that facial expressions can elicit a myriad of sentiments and denote a range of inner emotions that transcend the capacity of words.

In Focus: Expressions also probes the role of the camera in capturing un-posed moments and expressions that would otherwise go unnoticed. In Alec Soth’s (American, born 1969) Mary, Milwaukee, WI (2014), a fleeting expression of laughter is materialised in such a way – head leaning back, mouth open – that could perhaps be misconstrued as a scream. The photograph provides a frank moment, one that confronts the viewer with its candidness and calls to mind today’s proliferation and brevity of memes, a contemporary, Internet-sustained visual phenomena in which images are deliberately parodied and altered at the same rate as they are spread.

Perhaps equally radical as the introduction of candid photography is the problematic association of photography with facial expression and its adoption of physiognomy, a concept that was introduced in the 19th century. Physiognomy, the study of the link between the face and human psyche, resulted in the belief that different types of people could be classified by their visage. The exhibition includes some of the earliest uses of photography to record facial expression, as in Duchenne de Boulogne’s (French, 1806-1875) Figure 44: The Muscle of Sadness (negative, 1850s). This also resonates in the 20th-century photographs by Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) of Allie Mae Burroughs, Hale County Alabama (negative 1936) in that the subject’s expression could be deemed as suggestive of the current state of her mind. In this frame (in others she is viewed as smiling) she stares intently at the camera slightly biting her lip, perhaps alluding to uncertainty of what is to come for her and her family.

The subject of facial expression is also resonant with current developments in facial recognition technology. Nancy Burson (American, born 1948) created works such as Androgyny (6 Men + 6 Women) (1982), in which portraits of six men and six women were morphed together to convey the work’s title. Experimental and illustrative of the medium’s technological advancement, Burson’s photograph is pertinent to several features of today’s social media platforms, including the example in which a phone’s front camera scans a user’s face and facial filters are applied upon detection. Today, mobile phones and social media applications even support portrait mode options, offering an apprehension of the human face and highlighting its countenances with exceptional quality.

In addition to photography’s engagement with human expression, In Focus: Expressions examines the literal and figurative concept of the mask. Contrary to a candid photograph, the mask is the face we choose to present to the world. Weegee’s (Arthur Fellig’s) (American, born Austria, 1899-1968) Emmett Kelly, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus (about 1950) demonstrates this concept, projecting the character of a sad clown in place of his real identity as Emmett Kelly.

The mask also suggests guises, obscurity, and the freedom to pick and create a separate identity. W. Canfield Ave., Detroit (1982) by Nicholas Nixon (American, born 1947) demonstrates this redirection. Aware that he is being photographed, the subject seizes the opportunity to create a hardened expression that conveys him as distant, challenging, and fortified, highlighted by the opposing sentiments of the men who flank him. In return, the audience could be led to believe that this devised pose is a façade behind which a concealed and genuine identity exists.

Press release from the J. Paul Getty Museum

 

Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne (French, 1806-1875) 'Figure 44, The Muscle of Sadness' Negative 1854-1856; print 1876

 

Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne (French, 1806-1875)
Figure 44, The Muscle of Sadness
Negative 1854-1856; print 1876
From the book Mecanisme de la Physionomie Humaine ou Analyse Electro-Physiologique de l’Expression des Passions
Albumen silver print
11 x 9 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Duchenne de Boulogne

Guillaume-Benjamin-Amand Duchenne (de Boulogne) (September 17, 1806 in Boulogne-sur-Mer – September 15, 1875 in Paris) was a French neurologist who revived Galvani’s research and greatly advanced the science of electrophysiology. The era of modern neurology developed from Duchenne’s understanding of neural pathways and his diagnostic innovations including deep tissue biopsy, nerve conduction tests (NCS), and clinical photography. This extraordinary range of activities (mostly in the Salpêtrière) was achieved against the background of a troubled personal life and a generally indifferent medical and scientific establishment.

Neurology did not exist in France before Duchenne and although many medical historians regard Jean-Martin Charcot as the father of the discipline, Charcot owed much to Duchenne, often acknowledging him as “mon maître en neurologie” (my teacher in neurology). … Duchenne’s monograph, the Mécanisme de la physionomie humaine – also illustrated prominently by his photographs – was the first study on the physiology of emotion and was highly influential on Darwin’s work on human evolution and emotional expression.

In 1835, Duchenne began experimenting with therapeutic “électropuncture” (a technique recently invented by François Magendie and Jean-Baptiste Sarlandière by which electric shock was administered beneath the skin with sharp electrodes to stimulate the muscles). After a brief and unhappy second marriage, Duchenne returned to Paris in 1842 in order to continue his medical research. Here, he did not achieve a senior hospital appointment, but supported himself with a small private medical practice, while daily visiting a number of teaching hospitals, including the Salpêtrière psychiatric centre. He developed a non-invasive technique of muscle stimulation that used faradic shock on the surface of the skin, which he called “électrisation localisée” and he published these experiments in his work, On Localized Electrization and its Application to Pathology and Therapy, first published in 1855. A pictorial supplement to the second edition, Album of Pathological Photographs (Album de Photographies Pathologiques) was published in 1862. A few months later, the first edition of his now much-discussed work, The Mechanism of Human Physiognomy, was published. Were it not for this small, but remarkable, work, his next publication, the result of nearly 20 years of study, Duchenne’s Physiology of Movements, his most important contribution to medical science, might well have gone unnoticed.

 

The Mechanism of Human Facial Expression

Influenced by the fashionable beliefs of physiognomy of the 19th century, Duchenne wanted to determine how the muscles in the human face produce facial expressions which he believed to be directly linked to the soul of man. He is known, in particular, for the way he triggered muscular contractions with electrical probes, recording the resulting distorted and often grotesque expressions with the recently invented camera. He published his findings in 1862, together with extraordinary photographs of the induced expressions, in the book Mecanisme de la physionomie Humaine (The Mechanism of Human Facial Expression, also known as The Mechanism of Human Physiognomy).

Duchenne believed that the human face was a kind of map, the features of which could be codified into universal taxonomies of mental states; he was convinced that the expressions of the human face were a gateway to the soul of man. Unlike Lavater and other physiognomists of the era, Duchenne was skeptical of the face’s ability to express moral character; rather he was convinced that it was through a reading of the expressions alone (known as pathognomy) which could reveal an “accurate rendering of the soul’s emotions”. He believed that he could observe and capture an “idealized naturalism” in a similar (and even improved) way to that observed in Greek art. It is these notions that he sought conclusively and scientifically to chart by his experiments and photography and it led to the publishing of The Mechanism of Human Physiognomy in 1862 (also entitled, The Electro-Physiological Analysis of the Expression of the Passions, Applicable to the Practice of the Plastic Arts. in French: Mécanisme de la physionomie humaine, ou Analyse électro-physiologique de l’expression des passions applicable à la pratique des arts plastiques), now generally rendered as The Mechanism of Human Facial Expression. The work compromises a volume of text divided into three parts:

  1. General Considerations,
  2. A Scientific Section, and
  3. An Aesthetic Section.

These sections were accompanied by an atlas of photographic plates. …

Duchenne defines the fundamental expressive gestures of the human face and associates each with a specific facial muscle or muscle group. He identifies thirteen primary emotions the expression of which is controlled by one or two muscles. He also isolates the precise contractions that result in each expression and separates them into two categories: partial and combined. To stimulate the facial muscles and capture these “idealized” expressions of his patients, Duchenne applied faradic shock through electrified metal probes pressed upon the surface of the various muscles of the face.

Duchenne was convinced that the “truth” of his pathognomic experiments could only be effectively rendered by photography, the subject’s expressions being too fleeting to be drawn or painted. “Only photography,” he writes, “as truthful as a mirror, could attain such desirable perfection.” He worked with a talented, young photographer, Adrien Tournachon, (the brother of Felix Nadar), and also taught himself the art in order to document his experiments. From an art-historical point of view, the Mechanism of Human Physiognomy was the first publication on the expression of human emotions to be illustrated with actual photographs. Photography had only recently been invented, and there was a widespread belief that this was a medium that could capture the “truth” of any situation in a way that other mediums were unable to do.

Duchenne used six living models in the scientific section, all but one of whom were his patients. His primary model, however, was an “old toothless man, with a thin face, whose features, without being absolutely ugly, approached ordinary triviality.” Through his experiments, Duchenne sought to capture the very “conditions that aesthetically constitute beauty.” He reiterated this in the aesthetic section of the book where he spoke of his desire to portray the “conditions of beauty: beauty of form associated with the exactness of the facial expression, pose and gesture.” Duchenne referred to these facial expressions as the “gymnastics of the soul”. He replied to criticisms of his use of the old man by arguing that “every face could become spiritually beautiful through the accurate rendering of his or her emotions”, and furthermore said that because the patient was suffering from an anesthetic condition of the face, he could experiment upon the muscles of his face without causing him pain.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne (French, 1806-1875) 'Figure 44, The Muscle of Sadness' Negative 1854-1856; print 1876 (detail)

 

Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne (French, 1806-1875)
Figure 44, The Muscle of Sadness (detail)
Negative 1854-1856; print 1876
From the book Mecanisme de la Physionomie Humaine ou Analyse Electro-Physiologique de l’Expression des Passions
Albumen silver print
11 x 9 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Duchenne and his patient, an “old toothless man, with a thin face, whose features, without being absolutely ugly, approached ordinary triviality.” Duchenne faradize’s the mimetic muscles of “The Old Man.” The farad (symbol: F) is the SI derived unit of electrical capacitance, the ability of a body to store an electrical charge. It is named after the English physicist Michael Faraday

 

Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne (French, 1806-1875) 'Figure 27, The Muscle of Pain' Negative 1854-1856; print 1876

 

Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne (French, 1806-1875)
Figure 27, The Muscle of Pain
Negative 1854-1856; print 1876
From the book Mecanisme de la Physionomie Humaine ou Analyse Electro-Physiologique de l’Expression des Passions
Albumen silver print
11 x 9 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne (French, 1806-1875) 'Figure 27, The Muscle of Pain' Negative 1854-1856; print 1876 (detail)

 

Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne (French, 1806-1875)
Figure 27, The Muscle of Pain (detail)
Negative 1854-1856; print 1876
From the book Mecanisme de la Physionomie Humaine ou Analyse Electro-Physiologique de l’Expression des Passions
Albumen silver print
11 x 9 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Milton Rogovin (American, 1909-2011) 'Storefront Churches, Buffalo, preacher head in hand, eyes closed' 1958-1961

 

Milton Rogovin (American, 1909-2011)
Storefront Churches, Buffalo, preacher head in hand, eyes closed
1958-1961
Gelatin silver prin
11 × 10.5 cm (4 5/16 × 4 1/8 in.)
© Milton Rogovin
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Gift of Dr. John V. and Laura M. Knaus

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Allie Mae Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama' Negative 1936; print 1950s

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Allie Mae Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama
Negative 1936; print 1950s
Gelatin silver print
24.3 × 19.2 cm (9 9/16 × 7 9/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Allie Mae Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama' Negative 1936; print 1950s (detail)

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Allie Mae Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama (detail)
Negative 1936; print 1950s
Gelatin silver print
24.3 × 19.2 cm (9 9/16 × 7 9/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Depression-era photography

In 1935, Evans spent two months at first on a fixed-term photographic campaign for the Resettlement Administration (RA) in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. From October on, he continued to do photographic work for the RA and later the Farm Security Administration (FSA), primarily in the Southern United States.

In the summer of 1936, while on leave from the FSA, he and writer James Agee were sent by Fortune magazine on assignment to Hale County, Alabama, for a story the magazine subsequently opted not to run. In 1941, Evans’s photographs and Agee’s text detailing the duo’s stay with three white tenant families in southern Alabama during the Great Depression were published as the groundbreaking book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Its detailed account of three farming families paints a deeply moving portrait of rural poverty. The critic Janet Malcolm notes that as in the earlier Beals’ book there was a contradiction between a kind of anguished dissonance in Agee’s prose and the quiet, magisterial beauty of Evans’s photographs of sharecroppers.

The three families headed by Bud Fields, Floyd Burroughs and Frank Tingle, lived in the Hale County town of Akron, Alabama, and the owners of the land on which the families worked told them that Evans and Agee were “Soviet agents,” although Allie Mae Burroughs, Floyd’s wife, recalled during later interviews her discounting that information. Evans’s photographs of the families made them icons of Depression-Era misery and poverty. In September 2005, Fortune revisited Hale County and the descendants of the three families for its 75th anniversary issue. Charles Burroughs, who was four years old when Evans and Agee visited the family, was “still angry” at them for not even sending the family a copy of the book; the son of Floyd Burroughs was also reportedly angry because the family was “cast in a light that they couldn’t do any better, that they were doomed, ignorant.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Lisette Model (American, born Austria, 1901-1983) '[War Rally]' 1942

 

Lisette Model (American, born Austria, 1901-1983)
[War Rally]
1942
Gelatin silver print
34.4 × 27.6 cm (13 9/16 × 10 7/8 in.)
© Estate of Lisette Model
Courtesy Baudoin Lebon/Keitelman
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Robert Capa (American, born Hungary, 1913-1954) 'Second World War, Naples' October 2, 1943

 

Robert Capa (American, born Hungary, 1913-1954)
Second World War, Naples
October 2, 1943
Gelatin silver print
17.6 × 23.8 cm (6 15/16 × 9 3/8 in.)
© International Center of Photography / Magnum Photos
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

View of a group of woman with pained expressions on their faces with several holding handkerchiefs and one holding a card photograph of a young man

 

Unknown maker (American) '[Smiling Man]' 1860

 

Unknown maker (American)
[Smiling Man]
1860
Ambrotype
8.9 x 6.5 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Baron Adolf de Meyer (American, born France, 1868-1946) '[Ruth St. Denis]' c. 1918

 

Baron Adolf de Meyer (American, born France, 1868-1946)
[Ruth St. Denis]
c. 1918
Platinum print
23.3 × 18.7 cm (9 3/16 × 7 3/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Woodbury & Page (British, active 1857-1908) '[Javanese woman seated with legs crossed, basket at side]' c. 1870

 

Woodbury & Page (British, active 1857-1908)
[Javanese woman seated with legs crossed, basket at side]
c. 1870
Albumen silver print
8.9 × 6 cm (3 1/2 × 2 3/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Photography in Australia, the Far East, Java and London

In 1851 Woodbury, who had already become a professional photographer, went to Australia and soon found work in the engineering department of the Melbourne waterworks. He photographed the construction of ducts and other waterworks as well as various buildings in Melbourne. He received a medal for his photography in 1854.

At some point in the mid-1850s Woodbury met expatriate British photographer James Page. In 1857 the two left Melbourne and moved to Batavia (now Jakarta), Dutch East Indies, arriving 18 May 1857, and established the partnership of Woodbury & Page that same year.

During most of 1858 Woodbury & Page photographed in Central and East Java, producing large views of the ruined temples near Surakarta, amongst other subjects, before 1 September of that year. After their tour of Java, by 8 December 1858 Woodbury and Page had returned to Batavia.

In 1859 Woodbury returned to England to arrange a regular supplier of photographic materials for his photographic studio and he contracted the London firm Negretti and Zambra to market Woodbury & Page photographs in England.

Woodbury returned to Java in 1860 and during most of that year travelled with Page through Central and West Java along with Walter’s brother, Henry James Woodbury (born 1836 – died 1873), who had arrived in Batavia in April 1859.

On 18 March 1861 Woodbury & Page moved to new premises, also in Batavia, and the studio was renamed Photographisch Atelier van Walter Woodbury, also known as Atelier Woodbury. The firm sold portraits, views of Java, stereographs, cameras, lenses, photographic chemicals and other photographic supplies. These premises continued to be used until 1908, when the firm was dissolved.

In his career Woodbury produced topographic, ethnographic and especially portrait photographs. He photographed in Australia, Java, Sumatra, Borneo and London. Although individual photographers were rarely identified on Woodbury & Page photographs, between 1861 and 1862 Walter B. Woodbury occasionally stamped the mounts of his photographs: “Photographed by Walter Woodbury, Java.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (1899-1968) 'The Critic' November 1943

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (1899-1968)
The Critic
November 1943
Gelatin silver print
25.7 x 32.9 cm (10 1/8 x 12 15/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

“I go around wearing rose-colored glasses. In other words, we have beauty. We have ugliness. Everybody likes beauty. But there is an ugliness…” ~ Weegee, in a July 11, 1945 interview for WEAF radio, New York City

While Weegee’s work appeared in many American newspapers and magazines, his methods would sometimes be considered ethically questionable by today’s journalistic standards. In this image, a drunk woman confronts two High Society women who are attending the opera. Mrs. George Washington Kavanaugh and Lady Decies appear nonplussed to be in close proximity to the disheveled woman. Weegee’s flash illuminates their fur wraps and tiaras, drawing them into the foreground. The drunk woman emerges from the shadows on the right side, her mouth tense and open as if she were saying something, hair tousled, her face considerably less sharp than those of her rich counterparts.

The Critic is the second name Weegee gave this photograph. He originally called it, The Fashionable People. In an interview, Weegee’s assistant, Louie Liotta later revealed that the picture was entirely set up. Weegee had asked Liotta to bring a regular from a bar in the Bowery section of Manhattan to the season’s opening of the Metropolitan Opera. Liotta complied. After getting the woman drunk, they positioned her near the red carpet, where Weegee readied his camera to capture the moment seen here.

Text from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

 

Dorothea Lange (United States 1895-1965) 'Hopi Indian, New Mexico' Negative, c. 1923; print, 1926

 

Dorothea Lange (United States 1895-1965)
Hopi Indian, New Mexico
Negative, c. 1923; print, 1926
Gelatin silver print
18.4 x 19.7 cm (7 1/4 x 7 3/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Oakland Museum of California, the City of Oakland

 

 

Dorothea Lange made this portrait study not as a social document but rather as a Pictorialist experiment in light and shadow, transforming a character-filled face into an art-for-art’s-sake abstraction. This image bridges the two distinct phases of Lange’s work: her early, soft-focus portraiture and her better-known documentary work of the 1930s. (Text from the J. Paul Getty Museum website)

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Street Scene, New Orleans' 1936

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Street Scene, New Orleans
1936
Gelatin silver print
15.6 x 16.8 cm (1 1/8 x 6 5/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 - 1976) 'Photograph - New York' Negative 1916; print June 1917

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Photograph – New York
Negative 1916; print June 1917
Photogravure
22.4 × 16.7 cm (8 13/16 × 6 9/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

“I remember coming across Paul Strand’s ‘Blind Woman’ when I was very young, and that really bowled me over … It’s a very powerful picture. I saw it in the New York Public Library file of ‘Camera Work’, and I remember going out of there over stimulated: That’s the stuff, that’s the thing to do. It charged me up.” ~ Walker Evans

The impact of seeing this striking image for the first time is evident in Walker Evans’s vivid recollection. At the time, most photographers were choosing “pretty” subjects and creating fanciful atmospheric effects in the style of the Impressionists. Paul Strand’s unconventional subject and direct approach challenged assumptions about the medium.

At once depicting misery and endurance, struggle and degradation, Strand’s portrait of a blind woman sets up a complex confrontation. “The whole concept of blindness,” as one historian has noted, “is aimed like a weapon at those whose privilege of sight permits them to experience the picture. . . .”

Text from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway Portrait' 1938-41

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway Portrait
1938-41
Gelatin silver print
13.2 x 16 cm (5 3/16 x 6 5/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Camille Silvy (French, 1834-1910) '[Madame Camille Silvy]' c. 1863

 

Camille Silvy (French, 1834-1910)
[Madame Camille Silvy]
c. 1863
Albumen silver print
8.9 × 6 cm (3 1/2 × 2 3/8 in.)
Gift in memory of Madame Camille Silvy born Alice Monnier from the Monnier Family
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Mikiko Hara (Japanese, born 1967) '[Untitled (Making a Void)]' Negative 2001; print about 2007

 

Mikiko Hara (Japanese, born 1967)
[Untitled (Making a Void)]
Negative 2001; print about 2007
Chromogenic print
© Mikiko Hara
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Purchased with funds provided by the Photographs Council

 

Lauren Greenfield (American, born 1966) 'Sisters Violeta, 21, and Massiel, 15, at the Limited in a mall, San Francisco, California' Negative 1999; print 2008

 

Lauren Greenfield (American, born 1966)
Sisters Violeta, 21, and Massiel, 15, at the Limited in a mall, San Francisco, California
Negative 1999; print 2008
48.9 × 32.5 cm (19 1/4 × 12 13/16 in.)
© Lauren Greenfield/INSTITUTE
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Daido Moriyama (Japanese, born 1938) 'Self-portrait' 1997

 

Daido Moriyama (Japanese, born 1938)
Self-portrait
1997
Gelatin silver print
13.2 x 16 cm (5 3/16 x 6 5/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Purchase with funds provided by the Photographs Council
© Daido Moriyama

 

 

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1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles, California 90049

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Saturday 10 am – 9 pm
Sunday 10 am – 5.30 pm
Monday closed

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03
Jun
18

Review: ‘Diane Arbus: American Portraits’ at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 21st March – 17th June 2018

Curator at Heide: Anne O’Hehir

 

Diane Arbus. 'Xmas tree in a living room in Levittown, L.I. 1963' 1963

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Xmas tree in a living room in Levittown, L.I. 1963
1963
Silver gelatin print

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Xmas tree in a living room in Levittown, L.I. 1963' 1963

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Xmas tree in a living room in Levittown, L.I. 1963 (installation view)
1963
Silver gelatin print
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1981

 

 

The power of intention

If I had to nominate one photographer who is my favourite of all time, it would be Diane Arbus. There is just something about her photographs that impinge on my consciousness, my love of difference in human beings, their subversiveness and diversity. She pictures it all, some with irony, some with love, some with outright contempt, but always with interest. In photographs of dwarfs you don’t get the majesty and beauty that Susan Sontag desired, you get something else instead: the closeness of intention and effect – this is who this person was at that particular moment represented in a photograph, the essence of their being at that particular time.

Arbus was fascinated by the relationships between the psychological and the physical, probing her subjects with the camera to elicit a physical response. Her sensory, emotional, intellectual and aesthetic intelligence creates a single experience in relation to subject, stimulating her to respond to the world in her own unique way. While Arbus may well have hated aspects of American culture – “Its hypocrisy, this ‘happy happy’ story after the war, the consumerism, the racism, she feels deeply about that,” as Anne O’Hehir, curator of the National Gallery of Australia’s American Portraits observes – she photographed everything that makes us human in profound and powerful photographs. To me, her subjects were not ‘caught off guard’ nor did they unintentionally reveal aspects of themselves – they revealed themselves to Arbus just as they are, because she gained their trust, she had empathy for who they were… an empathy that probably flowed both ways, enhanced by the subjects sense of Arbus’ own personal travails.

It is unfortunate then, that this exhibition at Heide Museum of Modern Art is such a disappointment. This has nothing to do with the wonderful installation by the Heide curatorial team in the beautiful gallery spaces, but in the prints themselves and the artists that accompany Arbus’ work. Let’s look at the prints first.

According to an article by Louise Maher on the ABC News website in 2016, “The collection is one of the largest public holdings of her work outside New York and, according to NGA curator of photography Anne O’Hehir, one of the most impressive in the world. “The gallery was buying a huge amount of work in 1980 and ’81 leading up to the opening of the gallery in 1982,” Ms O’Hehir said. “We were offered in two lots these extraordinary photographs – they were the first release of prints from the Arbus estate and they were expensive at the time.”

These vintage prints are by the hand of Arbus, not later printings by other people, and as such should be as close a rendition to what Arbus intended the work to look like as can be found. The exhibition text notes that, “All the same, she was very clear about how she wanted her images to look; she worked hard to achieve a particular quality in her prints, which have a distinct feel and appearance that are quite different from other photographs of the 1960s … She reminds us consistently through a number of careful and deliberate strategies that we are looking at a photograph that has been made by a particular person.”

Through these strategies Arbus sought to differentiate her prints from the West Coast Ansel Adams Zone system of printing which was prevalent at the time. The Zone System would have been the antithesis of what Arbus wanted from her photographs. Every popular magazine at that time would have had Zone System stuff… so Arbus didn’t dare align herself with that school. But truth be told, if these prints are the best that she could do as a printer, then they are not very good. As can be seen from the installation photographs in this posting (not the media photographs), some of the prints are so dark as to be beyond comparison to the clarity of the prints that were later produced by her daughter Doon Arbus for the Arbus estate and for reproduction in books. You only have to look at the installation photograph of Xmas tree in a living room in Levittown, L.I. 1963 (above) and another reproduction of this image to see how dark the National Gallery of Australia’s prints are. If you take time to actually look at the photographs one of the prints, Identical twins, Roselle, N.J., 1966 (1966, below) was barely in focus under the enlarger when developed, and several others have not been fixed properly. They may have been first release, but how far down the release were they? We don’t know whether these were the top shelf prints, or tenth in the stack. I know from personal experience that I have a numbering system from one to ten. You sell the best print and so number two then becomes number one, and so on.

The poorness of these prints again becomes a sign of intention. The print is the final, luminous rendition of a photographers previsualisation, the ultimate expression of their creativity. This is how I want to show you the world, through this photograph. It is the end point of a long process. I believe strongly that Arbus wanted to show things as clearly as possible, as clearly as the best possible use that photography could provide. She is like a razor the way she cuts through. But in these particular final renditions, she lets herself down. And the people who bought these photographs, should have realised what poor prints they were.

Turning to the artists that accompany the work of Arbus… was it really necessary to surround such a powerful artist’s work with such noise? While it is always a delight to see the work of Mary Ellen Mark, William Eggleston, Milton Rogovin, Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand, Lisette Model, Walker Evans, Weegee and William Klein, to try and embed the work of Arbus within a photographic milieu, within a cacophony of imagery that stretches from the 1930s to the 1980s, simply does not work. While Arbus emerges out of the concerns of her era, she is such a powerful presence and force that simply no one compares. She is so different from the organised Evans and or the macabre Weegee, more closely aligned to Model, and certainly by no stretch of the imagination does she influence Eggleston, Friedlander, Winogrand, Mark or Rogovin in any significant way… that these artists works just become filler for this exhibition. If the intention was to situate Arbus’ work in the chronological “flow” of photography then the concept falls between intention and effect. While no artist’s work appears without regard to historical precedent, their work is simply their own and needs its own space to breathe.

What would have been more interesting would have been to position Arbus’ work within an Australian context. Now there’s an idea, since we live in Australia!

Here we go: exhibit Arbus’ prints with 15 prints by Carol Jerrems (Vale Street, Mark and Flappers), 15 prints of the early work of Polixeni Papapetrou (drag queens, Elvis fans, circus performers and wrestlers) and 15 prints of the work of Sue Ford. Four strong women who deal with issues of gender and identity in a forthright manner – not a cacophony of noise (9 artists, 6 of them men) to accompany the work of a genius. Analyse the influence of Arbus on this generation of Australian photographers. Pretty simple. Clean, concise, accessible, relevant to Australia audiences. Then intention would have possibly met effect.

There are highlights to be had within this exhibition, two in particular.

It was a pleasure to see the work of Milton Rogovin. I have always admired his work, and the small, intimate prints from his Lower West Side series (1973-2002) did not disappoint. While Arbus’ portraits are powerful visualisations, front and centre, Rogovin’s working class families are just… present. His social documentary photographs of working class families are almost reticent in their rendition. “His classical portraits, often grouped in diptychs and triptychs, expound narrative in a single image and over time. They compress time intimately… and by that I mean the viewer is engaged in a conversation with the subject, where we can imagine that we live those lives as they do (transcending time), the lives of what Rogovin called “the forgotten ones.” He makes their countenance, their physicality, the hardships they endure, and their narrative, directly and intimately compelling. We are made to feel their plight in the now and the forever. For these photographs are as relevant, if not more so, now as then.”

The other highlight is to see three Arbus photographs that I have never seen before: Old black woman with gnarled hand; Large black family in small shack; and Addie Taylor in her shack, Beaufort, South Carolina (all 1968, installation views below), all three taken with flash. These works were a revelation for their observational intimacy and evocation of a dark place in the existence of the poorest of human beings. The gnarled hand of the old woman lying in a filthy bed with cardboard walls is particularly distressing to say the least. To compare these photographs with Walker Evans’ flash photograph Hudson Street boarding house detail, New York (1931, below) and his naturally aspirated Bedroom, shrimp fisherman’s house, Biloxi, Mississippi (1945, below) in their pristine emptiness is instructive. This ideation, together with Arbus’ photographs relationship to the work of her sometime teacher Lisette Model (particularly her Lower East Side photographs (1939-42); Albert-Alberta, Hubert’s 42nd St Flea Circus, New York (c. 1945) and Woman with Veil, San Francisco (1949) all below) are the zenith of this exhibition, where the intention of embedding Arbus’ photographs in the history of the medium come best to fruition, in effect.

Finally, I must say a big thank you to Heide Museum of Modern Art for allowing me to come out to the gallery to take the installation photographs. Many thanks indeed.

Marcus

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

 

 

“People who met Arbus often said she was incredibly seductive. Immensely curious, she was softly spoken and her ability to connect with and gain the trust of people was legendary. She talked about “the gap between intention and effect”, explaining “it really is totally fantastic that we look like this and you sometimes see that very clearly in a photograph. Something is ironic in the world and it has to do with the fact that what you intend never comes out like you intend it.””

.
Kerrie O’Brien, curator of the National Gallery of Australia’s Diane Arbus: American Portraits

 

“The people in an Arbus photograph are never trivialised; they have certainly a larger-than-life intensity that few other photographers can achieve. While they seem like figures from fairy tales or myth, they are also invested with powerful agency.”

.
Gillian Wearing

 

“When you’re awake enough to question your purpose and ask how to connect to it, you’re being prodded by the power of intention. The very act of questioning why you’re here is an indication that your thoughts are nudging you to reconnect to the field of intention. What’s the source of your thoughts about your purpose? Why do you want to feel purposeful? Why is a sense of purpose considered the highest attribute of a fully functioning person? The source of thought is an infinite reservoir of energy and intelligence.

In a sense, thoughts about your purpose are really your purpose trying to reconnect to you. This infinite reservoir of loving, kind, creative, abundant energy grew out of the originating intelligence, and is stimulating you to express this universal mind in your own unique way.”

.
Dr Wayne Dyer from ‘The Power of Intention’

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

 

Heide is delighted to host the National Gallery of Australia’s touring exhibition, Diane Arbus: American Portraits.

The photographs of Diane Arbus (1923-71) are among the most widely recognised in the history of photography. Her images stand as powerful allegories of post-war America, and once seen are rarely forgotten. Works such as Identical twins, Roselle, N.J., 1967 and Child with toy hand grenade, in Central Park, New York City have been described as two of ‘the most celebrated images in the history of the medium’.

Featuring 35 of Arbus’s most iconic and confrontational images from 1961-71, this exhibition examines the last decade of Arbus’s life,the period in which her style is in full flight. Her work has polarised viewers who question whether she exploited or empowered her subjects, who were often drawn from society’s margins. ‘The National Gallery of Australia is privileged to hold such an extraordinary collection of work by a photographer of Arbus’s significance,’ said Anne O’Hehir, curator. ‘This collection covers Arbus’s best-known pictures, and also includes images which are rarely seen. This exhibition is a testament to the power of Arbus’s extraordinary vision.’

Arbus’s photographs are exhibited alongside a selection of works by other leading American photographers whose work influenced Arbus, was shown alongside hers in the ’60s, or has been influenced by her. These include famous images by Lisette Model, Walker Evans and Weegee, her contemporaries William Klein, Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander and Milton Rogovin as well as a slightly younger generation, work by Mary Ellen Mark and William Eggleston.

Heide Director and CEO Dr Natasha Cica said: ‘Heide is delighted to present this exhibition of the renowned photographer Diane Arbus. Her uncompromising view challenged existing photography conventions in a surprising and enchanting way.’

Press release from Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne with at left, Weegee’s No title (at a concert in Harlem) c. 1948, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 1981 followed by William Klein’s Christmas shoppers, near Macy’s, New York 1954 and Stickball gang, New York 1955
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (1899-1968) 'No title (at a concert in Harlem)' c. 1948

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (1899-1968)
No title (at a concert in Harlem)
c. 1948
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of William Klein’s Christmas shoppers, near Macy’s, New York 1954 and Stickball gang, New York 1955
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Installation view of William Klein (born April 19, 1928) 'Christmas shoppers, near Macy's, New York' 1954

 

Installation view of William Klein’s Christmas shoppers, near Macy’s, New York 1954 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 1993
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

William Klein (born April 19, 1928) 'Christmas shoppers, near Macy's, New York' 1954

 

William Klein (born April 19, 1928)
Christmas shoppers, near Macy’s, New York
1954
Gelatin silver photograph

 

 

Klein sandwiched his relatively short photographic career, working as a fashion photographer for Vogue, between being a painter and a filmmaker. Self-taught, he experimented with flash, wide-angle lenses, blurring, abstraction and accidents, and produced grainy, high contrast prints. He is deliberately at the other end of the spectrum from the invisible, disinterested photographer. Klein deliberately got really close to his subjects, in their faces, and caught them reacting to being photographed on the street. ‘To be visible, intervene and show it’ was his mantra.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Installation view of William Klein's 'Stickball gang, New York' 1955

 

Installation view of William Klein’s Stickball gang, New York 1955 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 1993
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

William Klein (born April 19, 1928) 'Stickball gang, New York' 1955

 

William Klein (born April 19, 1928)
Stickball gang, New York
1955
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne with at right, Weegee’s No title (at a concert in Harlem) c. 1948, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 1981 and at left, his No title (listening to Frank Sinatra, Palace theatre) c. 1944, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 1981
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne with at right, Weegee’s No title (at a concert in Harlem) c. 1948, followed by his No title (listening to Frank Sinatra, Palace theatre) c. 1944 and Emmett Kelly, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus 1943
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (1899-1968) 'Emmett Kelly, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus' 1943 (installation view)

 

Installation view of Weegee’s Emmett Kelly, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus 1943, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 1981
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (1899-1968) 'No title (listening to Frank Sinatra, Palace theatre)' c. 1944

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (1899-1968)
No title (listening to Frank Sinatra, Palace theatre)
c. 1944
Silver gelatin print

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne showing the work of Walker Evans
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne showing from left to right, Diane Arbus’ Rocks on wheels, Disneyland, Cal 1962; Xmas tree in a living room in Levittown, L.I. 1963; and Lady in a rooming house parlour, Albion, N.Y. 1963, all National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 1981
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Rocks on wheels, Disneyland, Cal' 1962

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Rocks on wheels, Disneyland, Cal
1962
Silver gelatin print

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne showing at left, Diane Arbus’ Muscle Man in his dressing room with trophy, Brooklyn, N.Y. 1962 and at right, Burlesque comedienne in her dressing room, Atlantic City, N.J. 1963, both National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 1981 and 1980
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Muscle Man in his dressing room with trophy, Brooklyn, N.Y.' 1962

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Muscle Man in his dressing room with trophy, Brooklyn, N.Y.
1962
Silver gelatin print

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Two Ladies at the Automat, New York City, 1966' 1966 (installation view)

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Two Ladies at the Automat, New York City, 1966 (installation view)
1966
Silver gelatin print
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1981

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Transvestite with torn stocking, N.Y.C. 1966' 1966 (installation view)

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Transvestite with torn stocking, N.Y.C. 1966 (installation view)
1966
Silver gelatin print
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1981

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Mae West on bed' 1965

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Mae West on bed
1965
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1981

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Teenage couple on Hudson Street, N.Y.C. 1963' 1963 (installation view)

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Teenage couple on Hudson Street, N.Y.C. 1963 (installation view)
1963
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1980

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Teenage couple on Hudson Street, N.Y.C. 1963' 1963 (installation view)

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Teenage couple on Hudson Street, N.Y.C. 1963 (installation view)
1963
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1980

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Teenage couple on Hudson Street, N.Y.C. 1963' 1963

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Teenage couple on Hudson Street, N.Y.C. 1963
1963
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne showing from left to right, Diane Arbus’A Jewish giant at home with his parents in the Bronx, N.Y., 1970;Untitled (1) 1970-71; and Woman with a beehive hairdo 1965; and Mexican dwarf in his hotel room N.Y.C. 1970
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'A Jewish giant at home with his parents in the Bronx, N.Y., 1970' 1970

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
A Jewish giant at home with his parents in the Bronx, N.Y., 1970
1970
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Untitled (1)' 1970-71

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Untitled (1)
1970-71
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Mexican dwarf in his hotel room N.Y.C. 1970' 1970

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Mexican dwarf in his hotel room N.Y.C. 1970
1970
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Identical twins, Roselle, N.J., 1966' 1966

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Identical twins, Roselle, N.J., 1966
1966
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne showing from left to right, Diane Arbus’ Boy with a straw hat waiting to march in a pro-war parade, N.Y.C., 1967; A young man in curlers at home on West 20th St., N.Y.C. 1966; and A Family on Their Lawn One Sunday in Westchester, New York 1968
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Boy with a straw hat waiting to march in a pro-war parade, N.Y.C., 1967' 1967

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Boy with a straw hat waiting to march in a pro-war parade, N.Y.C., 1967
1967
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1980

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'A young man in curlers at home on West 20th St., N.Y.C. 1966' 1966 (installation view)

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
A young man in curlers at home on West 20th St., N.Y.C. 1966 (installation view)
1966
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1980

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'A young man in curlers at home on West 20th St., N.Y.C. 1966' 1966

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
A young man in curlers at home on West 20th St., N.Y.C. 1966 (installation view)
1966
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'A Family on Their Lawn One Sunday in Westchester, New York 1968' 1968

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
A Family on Their Lawn One Sunday in Westchester, New York 1968
1968
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne showing from left to right, Diane Arbus’ A young Negro boy, Washington Square Park, N.Y.C. 1965; Blonde girl in Washington Square Park c. 1965-68; Woman with a beehive hairdo 1965; and Girl in a watch cap, N.Y.C. 1965
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'A young Negro boy, Washington Square Park, N.Y.C. 1965' c. 1965

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
A young Negro boy, Washington Square Park, N.Y.C. 1965
c. 1965
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne showing from left to right, Diane Arbus’ Woman with a beehive hairdo 1965 and Girl in a watch cap, N.Y.C. 1965
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Woman with a beehive hairdo' 1965 (installation view)

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Woman with a beehive hairdo (installation view)
1965
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1981

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Woman with a beehive hairdo' 1965

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Woman with a beehive hairdo
1965
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Girl in a watch cap, N.Y.C. 1965' 1965

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Girl in a watch cap, N.Y.C. 1965
1965
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Child with toy hand grenade, in Central Park, New York City 1962' 1962

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Child with toy hand grenade, in Central Park, New York City 1962
1962
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1980

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Old black woman with gnarled hand' 1968 (installation view)

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Old black woman with gnarled hand (installation view)
1968
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1981

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Large black family in small shack [Robert Evans and his family, 1968]' 1968 (installation view)

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Large black family in small shack [Robert Evans and his family, 1968] (installation view)
1968
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1981

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Addie Taylor in her shack, Beaufort, South Carolina' 1968 (installation view)

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Addie Taylor in her shack, Beaufort, South Carolina (installation view)
1968
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1981

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'A family of six at a nudist camp' c. 1963 (installation view)

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
A family of six at a nudist camp (installation view)
c. 1963
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1981

 

 

Introduction

The photographs of Diane Arbus (1923-1971) are powerful allegories of postwar America. Once seen they are rarely forgotten. Contemporary audiences found the way that Arbus approached the genre of portraiture confronting and her work continues to polarise opinion. The images raise difficult, uncomfortable questions concerning the intent of the photographer.

Arbus had a huge curiosity about the society around her; her favourite thing was ‘to go where I’ve never been’. As she was a photographer, this manifested as an obsessive exploration into what it means to photograph and be photographed, and what can happen at that moment of exchange – something elusive and a little bit magical. Whether Arbus is an empathetic champion of the outsider, or an exploitative voyeur, is something that each viewer alone must decide.

The National Gallery of Australia’s collection of Arbus photographs is among the most impressive in the world. The NGA is extremely fortunate to have bought 36 rare, vintage prints in 1980 and 1981, from the earliest releases of prints from the Arbus Estate. These works are from the last decade of the artist’s life, the period in which her recognisable style is in full flight and she was in total control of her medium.

These rare prints are shown alongside photographs by others who also sought to redefine the tradition of portraiture, and whose vision of America is also both challenging and moving. The work of these photographers relates to Arbus in a variety of ways: they are influencers, contemporaries or heirs to aspects of her worldview. Like Arbus, they are keen, singular observers of their worlds, transforming the sometimes banal and ugly into images of unexpected beauty.

 

An uncompromising view of the world

Diane Arbus was born Diane Nemerov, the daughter of wealthy Jewish New Yorkers; her father ran Russek’s, a department store on Fifth Avenue selling furs and women’s clothing. Growing up in an apartment in a towering building on Central Park West, her world was highly protected, one in which she never felt adversity. This was something Arbus resented both at the time and later; it seemed to her to be an unreal experience of the world. At 18 she married her childhood sweetheart, Allan Arbus, and for a decade from the mid 1940s, they ran a successful photography studio doing fashion shots for leading picture magazines.

In 1956 Arbus ceased working with Allan in the studio and began instead to explore subjects of her own choice. She was, apart from the occasional class, essentially self-taught and as she struck out on her own, she undertook a detailed study of the work of other photographers. Compelled to confront that which had been off-limits in her own privileged childhood, she looked to other photographers who had confronted the world head-on, including Weegee, William Klein, Walker Evans and Lisette Model. They recorded, each in their own way, their surroundings with an at-times frightening candour. In their images, Arbus found an uncompromising view of the world, stripped of sentimentality.

Weegee

Weegee turns the banal and seedy underbelly of New York city streets after hours into moments of great psychological drama. A freelance news photographer, he supplied images to the popular press but was also well regarded in art circles. The Museum of Modern Art collected his work and exhibited it in 1943. Arbus owned a number of Weegee’s books and greatly admired his Runyonesque view of the world. She closely studied aspects of his working method as she formulated her own, especially his use of flash. His ‘wild dynamics’ made everyone else ‘look like an academician’, she wrote.

William Klein

Returning to New York in 1954 from his émigré life in Paris, Klein was at once taken aback by what he perceived to be a society pursuing purely materialistic goals, but also excited by the energy he found on the streets. Self-taught, he experimented with flash, wide-angle lenses, blurring and close-ups, abstraction and accidents, and produced grainy, high contrast prints. Klein’s 1956 book, Life is Good & Good for You in New York: Trance Witness Revels, a copy of which Arbus owned, gave impetus to the emerging genre of street photography through his harsh, uncompromising vision of the city. His work was met, particularly in the United States, with misunderstanding and hostility.

Walker Evans

The writer James Agee travelled to Alabama in America’s South in 1936 to research an article on the plight of tenant farmers for Fortune magazine. He chose photographer Walker Evans to accompany him. The article did not eventuate but a book did, Let us now praise famous men. Both men were unnerved by what they saw: Agee wrote of ‘the nakedness, disadvantage and humiliation of … an undefended and appallingly damaged group of human beings’. And yet in the face of this, Evans made images of insistent frontality and careful symmetrical framing; devoid of cliché or pretention, and suggesting an impartiality. This gave the images a great authenticity and power.

Evans’ oeuvre is essentially concerned with how photography represents the world. His significance in the development of twentieth-century photography was reappraised during the 1960s, largely through the largesse of John Szarkowski, the head of the Museum of Modern Art’s photography department at the time. Szarkowski argued that the foundations for many of the key aesthetic and formal tendencies of 1960s photography rested in Evans’ work. The catalogue that accompanied his 1938 exhibition American photographs, in particular, had a huge impact on the new generation of photographers, and on Arbus in particular. She met Evans in 1961 and visited him regularly at his New York home throughout the decade. He wrote in support of her 1963 Guggenheim Grant application.

Lisette Model

Lisette Model’s satirical portraits of the rich on the French Riviera and the photographs she made in the 1940s of the Lower East Side’s poor and marginalised bear out the fact that she took her own advice: ‘Don’t shoot ’till the subject hits you in the pit of your stomach’. By the 1950s she had largely turned to teaching and her influence on Arbus, who took a number of her classes at the New School in 1956 and again in 1957-58, was profound. Model encouraged Arbus to pursue her own distinctive voice. Model recalled, ‘One day I said to her, and I think this was very crucial, “originality means coming from the source…” And from then on, Diane was sitting there and – I’ve never in my life seen anybody – not listening to me but suddenly listening to herself through what was said.’

 

The gap between intention and effect

Prior to 1962 Arbus worked primarily with a 35mm Nikon camera. Her images at this time were often about gesture, with grainy images and subjects frequently shown in movement. In 1962 Arbus switched to a 2 ¼ inch medium-format, twin-lens Rolleiflex (later a Mamiyaflex), which she used with a flash and which when printed full-frame, gave the photographs a square format. The pictures she took with these cameras are deceptively, deliberately simple. Compositionally they are often masterful with repetitions of shapes and minutely observed, subtly presented details. Despite the confronting subject matter, her images have a classical stillness, an insistent frontality that she borrowed from classic documentary photography. To this Arbus adds a very deliberate use of the snap-shot aesthetic, with slightly tilted picture planes and people caught unawares, to signal the authenticity of her connection with the subject.

Arbus developed a working method and style that offered what amounts to a critique of the photographic portrait. There is a palpable tension in the way she presents her subjects, a complicity in the image-making process which rubs up against the fact that her subjects seem caught off-guard, unintentionally revealing aspects of themselves. Arbus identified this as ‘the gap between intention and effect’, explaining that ‘it really is totally fantastic that we look like this and you sometimes see that very clearly in a photograph. Something is ironic in the world and it has to do with the fact that what you intend never comes out like you intend it’. Arbus’s ability to connect with and gain the trust of people is legendary. Fellow photographer Joel Meyerowitz felt that she was ‘an emissary from the world of feeling. She cared about these people. They felt that and gave her their secret’.

 

The aristocrats

As a student at the alternative Fieldston Ethical Culture School in the Bronx, Arbus developed a fascination with myths, ritual and public spectacle. This preoccupation remained steadfast throughout her life. For example, in 1963 she was awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship to document ‘American rites, manners and customs’. Arbus had an almost insatiable curiosity and fascination with the world and she sought to make photographs that addressed fundamental aspects of our humanity in the broadest terms. It was the photographer Lisette Model, with whom she studied in the late 1950s, who made her realise that, in a seemingly contradictory way, the more specific a photograph of something was, the more general its message became.

To this extent, it is notable that Arbus’s photographs rarely address the issues of the day in any overt and obvious way. While there are exceptions – for example, her work for magazines from the sixties, including portraits of celebrities and documentary work examining the plight of the poor in South Carolina – for the most part Arbus used the camera as a licence to enter the specifics of other people’s lives.

She was particularly drawn to marginalised people, who for whatever reason had fallen out of a conventional place in society and were forced (those born into disability) or chose (the nudists, for example) to construct their own identity. To find them, she frequented sideshow alleys and Hubert’s Freak Museum at Broadway and 42nd Street, joined nudist camps in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and visited seedy hotels; she also found them in public spaces, in streets and parks where social rules were often arbitrarily imposed and discarded.

Arbus’s subjects are often seen to play with society’s roles and restrictions. She classified these people as ‘aristocrats’, having achieved a certain freedom from social constraints, and they made her feel a mix of shame and awe.

 

The prints

Arbus stated that, for her, ‘the subject of the picture is more important than the picture’. There is no doubt that the emotional authenticity of what she photographed was of upmost importance. In keeping with this, she often undersold her skill as a photographer; she often complained of technical difficulties, and others frequently observed that she seemed weighed down by her equipment. In downplaying her relationship to the technical aspects of her work, Arbus sought to emphasise instead her rapport with her subjects. All the same, she was very clear about how she wanted her images to look; she worked hard to achieve a particular quality in her prints, which have a distinct feel and appearance that are quite different from other photographs of the 1960s.

From the mid 1960s, Arbus worked hard to emphasise the photographic-ness of her pictures. She modified the negative tray on her Omega ‘D’ enlarger, which produced the distinctive black border around her images; later again, she used strips of cardboard down the sides of the negatives to blur the edges of her images. Both of these techniques meant that each of her prints is slightly, wonderfully unique. And there is often, as in the cases of Woman with a beehive hairdo and Girl in a watch cap, both made in 1965, damage (tears and marks) on the negative that Arbus has made no effort to minimise or disguise. Close viewing of the collection of photographs held at the NGA reveal ghostly traces of the hand of Arbus. She reminds us consistently through a number of careful and deliberate strategies that we are looking at a photograph that has been made by a particular person.

 

To know life

Arbus was not alone in photographing the social landscape of America in the 1960s. Others, including Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander and Milton Rogovin, similarly took to the country’s streets. Rogovin’s life work was to photograph people from poor minority groups, much of his work being made in Buffalo, New York, where he himself lived. Like Arbus, he often knew and befriended his subjects, returning to photograph them over many years, collaborating with them to create images of great dignity and integrity.

Like Arbus, Winogrand and Friedlander were included in the landmark 1967 exhibition New documents, curated by John Szarkowski for the Museum of Modern Art, New York. This was the only major showing of Arbus’s work during her lifetime. While acknowledging that each of the artists in the exhibition had their own distinct styles, Szarkowski characterised them as part of a generation that used the documentary tradition ‘to more personal ends.’ As he wrote: ‘Their aim has been not to reform life, but to know it. Their work betrays a sympathy – almost an affection – for the imperfections and frailties of society’.

An essential aspect of their innovation was the way they positioned photography and the acts of taking and viewing a photograph as an essential aspect of the work. Their photographs were not intended simply as windows to the world. As Winogrand noted when asked how he felt about missing photographs while he reloaded his camera, ‘there are no photographs while I’m reloading’. Winogrand, Friedlander and Arbus were fascinated by how the real was translated into the language of photography, and how the experience of the photograph involves a fascinating, multilayered three-way interaction between the photographer, the subject and the viewer.

Garry Winogrand

Winogrand restlessly prowled the same streets of New York as Arbus in the 1960s, working stealthily, capturing people without their knowledge. His viewpoint, one he asks the viewer to join, is unashamedly, unapologetically voyeuristic. He used a Leica M4 with a wide-angle lens and tipped the picture plane, giving his compositions a particular feel. Traumatised by the fraught political tensions of the cold war period, anxiety found its way into the imagery – lending his work an edge that makes for a compelling reading of an alienated and fearful society in the throes of change. His city is a site of unexpected confrontations and strange, witty juxtapositions. Fellow photographer Joel Meyerowitz remarked that Winogrand ‘set a tempo on the street so strong that it was impossible not to follow it. It was like jazz. You just had to get in the same groove’.

Lee Friedlander

Friedlander’s images are invariably about looking and this includes turning the camera on himself. He often intrudes into his hastily grabbed, ironic studies of the city, through reflection or shadow or a pair of shoes. Thus, the viewer of his photographs is constantly reminded that this is an image of the world that is made by someone, in this case, the photographer Lee Friedlander. The works are laconic, witty and intensely personal: and certainly the self-portraits are rarely flattering. Coming at the end of a decade in which a particular, new brand of art photographer had begun to achieve celebrity status, through the efforts of curators like John Szarkowski at the Museum of Modern Art, Friedlander’s self-portraits can also be seen as a shrewd send-up of fame.

Milton Rogovin

Originally trained as an optometrist, Rogovin began his career as a social documentary photographer in 1958, recording gospel services held in ‘store-front’ churches in the African-American neighbourhood of Buffalo, New York. Profoundly influenced as a young man by the impact of the Great Depression, Rogovin reflected that, ‘I could no longer be indifferent to the problems of the people, especially the poor, the forgotten ones’. He worked in collaboration with his subjects, who were always allowed to determine how they should be photographed. His photographs focus on family life, the celebrations and events that bind a community together, and the particulars of an individual’s existence.

 

The Arbus legacy

Arbus occupies an important place in the development of American photography. Her work has indelibly influenced the way that the documentary tradition has continued to evolve over the last 50 years, with many of the leading contemporary photographers, such as William Eggleston and Mary Ellen Mark, continuing to rethink the tradition, looking back to Arbus just as she looked back to her predecessors. Although it has often infuriated, and continues to do so, those who take issue with the way Arbus photographed the world, her impact on audiences and photographers alike is incontestable.

William Eggleston

While Arbus used the snap-shot aesthetic in her work to increase its aura of authenticity and immediacy, when Eggleston employed the same technique in colour without the abstraction and artistic mediation of black-and-white, contemporary audiences reacted with confusion. Careful observation of the images though reveals a masterful eye, and a sophisticated understanding of the way photography transforms the world. Eggleston’s images are at once monumental and mundane, ordinary and strange, prosaic and poetic. The result is luminous, breathtaking and perfectly banal.

Mary Ellen Mark

The photojournalist Mary Ellen Mark built a career photographing those on the fringes of society, seeking out those who she felt displayed what she described as attitude and often working on projects over many years, slowly earning trust. Her commitment was to give the people she photographed a unique voice, an individuality. Commenting on a body of work, Mark spoke of her desire to let her subjects ‘make contact with the outside world by letting them reach out and present themselves. I didn’t want to use them. I wanted them to use me’.

Mark spent months photographing the New York bar scene at night. This work formed the basis of her first one person exhibition, at the Photographers’ Gallery in London. She reflected at the time, ‘I would like to have the means to travel the whole country and show what America is through its bars. Millions of people who do not want or can not stay at home. The majority of clients are loners, which is why it is extremely difficult to work in these places. I had to make myself accepted’.

Text from the National Gallery of Australia website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne showing at left, Lisette Model’s Coney Island Bather, New York 1939-41 and at right, Woman with Veil, San Francisco 1949
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Lisette Model (1901-1983) 'Coney Island Bather, New York' [Baigneuse, Coney Island] c. 1939-1941

 

Lisette Model (1901-1983)
Coney Island Bather, New York [Baigneuse, Coney Island]
c. 1939-1941
Silver gelatin print
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Lisette Model (1901-1983) 'Woman with Veil, San Francisco' 1949

 

Lisette Model (1901-1983)
Woman with Veil, San Francisco
1949
Silver gelatin print
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1978

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne showing at left, Lisette Model’s Lower East Side, New York
1942 and at right,Lower East Side, New York 1939-42
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Lisette Model (1901-1983) 'Lower East Side, New York' 1942

 

Lisette Model (1901-1983)
Lower East Side, New York
1942
Gelatin silver photograph
49.2 h x 39.5 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1978

 

Lisette Model (1901-1983) 'Lower East Side, New York' 1939-42

 

Lisette Model (1901-1983)
Lower East Side, New York
1939-42
Gelatin silver photograph
48.9 h x 38.9 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1978

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne showing from left to right, Lisette Model’s Fashion show, Hotel Pierre, New York City 1940-46; Cafe Metropole, New York City c. 1946; and Albert-Alberta, Hubert’s 42nd St Flea Circus, New York [Albert/Alberta] c. 1945
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Lisette Model (1901-1983) 'Fashion show, Hotel Pierre, New York City' 1940-46

 

Lisette Model (1901-1983)
Fashion show, Hotel Pierre, New York City
1940-46
Gelatin silver photograph
40.0 h x 49.6 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1978

 

Lisette Model (1901-1983) 'Cafe Metropole, New York City' c. 1946

 

Lisette Model (1901-1983)
Cafe Metropole, New York City
c. 1946
Gelatin silver photograph
49.5 h x 40.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1978

 

 

While training as a musician in Vienna, Lisette Model studied under the avant-garde composer Arnold Schoenberg, who introduced her to the Expressionist painters of the early 20th century. Influenced by European modernist philosophy and aesthetics, Model abandoned music in Paris in 1933, taking up painting and then photography. She gained initial renown for a series of photographs of men and women lounging in deck chairs along the Promenade des Anglais in the south of France. In 1938, she relocated to New York with her husband (the artist Evsa Model), where she took photographs of exuberant characters on the streets of New York – catching reflections of individuals in store windows and images of feet in motion and holidaymakers around Coney Island. Model taught at the New School where one of her most famous students was Diane Arbus, and was published by Harper’s Bazaar and other magazines.

Text from the Artsy website

 

Lisette Model (1901-1983) 'Albert-Alberta, Hubert's 42nd St Flea Circus, New York' c. 1945

 

Lisette Model (1901-1983)
Albert-Alberta, Hubert’s 42nd St Flea Circus, New York [Albert/Alberta]
c. 1945
Gelatin silver photograph
49.5 h x 39.7 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1981

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne showing work from Mary Ellen Mark’s The bar series 1977
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Mary Ellen Mark (1940-2015) 'Untitled' from 'The bar series' 1977

 

Mary Ellen Mark (1940-2015)
Untitled from The bar series
1977
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1980

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne showing from left to right, William Eggleston’s Huntsville, Alabama c. 1971; Memphis c. 1969; and Greenwood, Mississippi “The Red Ceiling” 1973
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

William Eggleston (America,born July 27, 1939) 'Huntsville, Alabama' c. 1971

 

William Eggleston (American, born July 27, 1939)
Huntsville, Alabama
c. 1971
Dye transfer colour photograph
46.6 h x 32.4 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1980

 

William Eggleston (America, born July 27, 1939) 'Memphis' c. 1970 printed 1980

 

William Eggleston (American, born July 27, 1939)
Memphis
c. 1970 printed 1980
Dye transfer colour photograph
30.2 h x 44.2 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1980

 

William Eggleston (America,born July 27, 1939) 'Greenwood, Mississippi' ["The Red Ceiling"] 1973, printed 1979

 

William Eggleston (American, born July 27, 1939)
Greenwood, Mississippi [“The Red Ceiling”]
1973, printed 1979
Dye transfer colour photograph
29.5 h x 45.4 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1980

 

 

With its intense red, Eggleston’s picture of the spare room in a friend’s home is one of the most iconic of all colour photographs. Often called The red room, this photograph was intended to be shocking: Eggleston described the effect of the colour as like ‘red blood that is wet on the wall’. But the radicalness of the picture is not just in its juicy (and impossible to reproduce) redness; it is also found in the strange view it provides of a domestic interior, one that Eggleston has described as a ‘fly’s eye view’.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne showing the work of Garry Winogrand
Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Garry Winogrand (1928-1984) 'No title [Centennial Ball, Metropolitan Museum, New York]' 1969

 

Garry Winogrand (1928-1984)
No title [Centennial Ball, Metropolitan Museum, New York]
1969
Gelatin silver photograph
27.2 h x 42.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1980

 

Garry Winogrand (1928-1984) 'New York City, New York'. From "Garry Winogrand" 1970

 

Garry Winogrand (1928-1984)
New York City, New York. From “Garry Winogrand”
1970
Gelatin silver photograph
21.6 h x 32.6 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1978

 

 

Winogrand was asked how he felt about missing photographs while he reloaded his camera. He replied ‘There are no photographs while I’m reloading’: There is no possibility in the Winograndian world view of regarding the camera as a window onto the world; it becomes a mirror reflecting back the photographer’s concerns. Winogrand was fascinated by how the real was translated into the photographic. In the end this fascination became an obsession from which he could not escape or find solace – or meaning. At the time of his death there were a third of a million exposures that he had never looked at including 2,500 undeveloped rolls of film.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne showing the work of Lee Friedlander
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Lee Friedlander (born July 14, 1934) 'Rt. 9w, N.Y.' 1969

 

Lee Friedlander (American, born July 14, 1934)
Rt. 9w, N.Y.
1969
Gelatin silver photograph
18.8 h x 28.2 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1981

 

Lee Friedlander (born United States 1934) 'Mount Rushmore' 1969

 

Lee Friedlander (American, born July 14, 1934)
Mount Rushmore
1969
Gelatin silver photograph
18.8 h x 28.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1981

 

 

“I always wanted to be a photographer. I was fascinated with the materials. But I never dreamed I would be having this much fun. I imagined something much less elusive, much more mundane.” ~ Lee Friedlander

Friedlander is known for his complex, layered images, exploring the way that the urban landscape fragments our vision. Throughout his career he has found endless fascination in photographing reflections in windows – merging what lies behind the glass with what is reflected in it – out of which he has created juxtapositions which are witty and insightful. He often inserts himself into the image, either overtly or more frequently as a shadow or partially concealed form – part of his face, for instance, hidden behind the camera.

In the 1960s he moved away from a recognisably documentary style toward one in which the subject is more elusive, reflecting a society which had itself become more fragmented and complex. By cropping and cutting up city and natural landscapes he changes our perception of them. In creating compositions that are dynamic, unexpected and often confusing, Friedlander asks us to look freshly at our everyday environments.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne showing the work of Walker Evans
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Hudson Street boarding house detail, New York' 1931

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Hudson Street boarding house detail, New York
1931
Gelatin silver photograph
15.7 h x 20.6 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1980

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Bedroom, shrimp fisherman's house, Biloxi, Mississippi' 1945

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Bedroom, shrimp fisherman’s house, Biloxi, Mississippi
1945
Gelatin silver photograph
23.4 h x 18.3 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1980

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Tenant Farmer's Wife, Alabama' 1936

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Tenant Farmer’s Wife, Alabama
[Allie Mae Burroughs, wife of a cotton sharecropper, Hale County, Alabama]

1936
Gelatin silver photograph
23.6 h x 18.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1978

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne showing the work of Milton Rogovin with from left to right, Not titled (Family in front of house) – 241-2 1973 and Not titled (Family in front of house) – 142-11 1985, both from the Lower West Side series (1973-2002)
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

 

“Written with her trademark flair and force, Sontag’s book [On Photography] inaugurated a wave of criticism, much of it influenced by Foucaultian theory, that underscored the instrumentality and implicit violence of photography, its ability to police and regulate it subjects, especially those lacking social and political power: the poor, presumed “deviants” or “criminals,” and workers. As Sontag herself acknowledged, however, photography is not only a predatory means of taking possession, but also a mode of conferring value; it can potentially be put to counter-hegemonic uses, used to see and frame in ways that affirm and legitimate, rather than strictly contain and control, the presence of culturally disenfranchised persons.”

“The power of his art stems from the particular manner in which Rogovin transforms traditional portrait photography and documentary practice, opening up potentially instrumentalist, one-sided visual forms to dynamics of reciprocity and mutuality…”

“Rogovin’s photography thus balances the documentary desire to grasp and present, to “capture” an image of the”Other,” with a commitment to holding back in order to allow his subjects space to shape the photographic process. His practice is a form of”approach,” to borrow a term from Carol Shloss, that resists even as it engages. We might call this an aesthetic of “making space”: a photographic method that creates room for subjects to actively participate in the production of their own images rather than stand as passive objects before a colonizing gaze.”

“The fact that Rogovin’s work at once invokes and questions the camera’s capacity to classify – to embed individuals in a larger archive – echoes his challenge to documentary business as usual. Certainly, Rogovin’s images of working people perform a classic documentary task: to lend public visibility to those who have been overlooked and exploited, to give aggrieved people the social recognition they are otherwise denied in our society. However, his images do not enforce the power and prerogatives of middle-class reformers or governmental institutions, as did so much early twentieth-century documentary photography, which, as Maren Stange has argued, tended to reassure “a 11 liberal middle-class that social oversight was both its duty and its right.” By refusing to provide pity-inducing images of working people that present them as weak and vulnerable, Rogovin’s photographs undercut the sense of privilege viewers often feel when looking at pictures of what Jacob Riis called “the other half.””

Joseph Entin. “Milton Rogovin’s Approach: Photography, Class, and the Aesthetics of Making Space (2008),” on the ASX website July 12, 2010 [Online] Cited 12/05/2018

 

 

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20
Nov
16

Exhibition: ‘diane arbus: in the beginning’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 12th July – 27th November 2016

Curator: Jeff L. Rosenheim, Curator in Charge of the Department of Photographs at The Met

 

 

#1

This looks to be a fascinating exhibition, presenting as it does images from the first seven years of Arbus’ career as an independent artist. I wish I could see it.

What strikes one when viewing the 35mm photographs is how loose they are in terms of the framing and composition. Most of them could do with a good crop to tighten the image frame. Stripper with Bare Breasts Sitting in Her Dressing Room, Atlantic City, N.J. 1961 would have worked better if the focus had been tightened on the central figure. Similarly, Lady on a Bus, N.Y.C. 1957 works much better as a square image as seen in the feature image for the exhibition (below). Gone is the extraneous frontal detritus which adds nothing to the image. But just feel the intensity of the withering look of the women being projected out of the photograph – it’s as if she could bit your head off at any moment. She’s not a happy camper at being photographed.

This is Arbus experimenting, feeling out the medium and trying to find her signature voice as an artist. All the later, well known elements are there: keen observation; wonderful timing; a love of intimacy and a formal, visual relationship with the subject; strong central characters; a respect for outsiders; an understanding of the pain of others; and “the poignancy of a direct personal encounter … [and] a passionate interest in the individual.”

My favourite photographs in this posting are the two images Boy stepping off the curb, N.Y.C. 1957-58 and Girl with schoolbooks stepping onto the curb, N.Y.C., 1957. There is a marvellous insouciance about these photographs, “the divineness in ordinary things” embedded in the innocence of youth. We could be these people caught half-stride in their young lives, lightly stepping onto the pavement of the future. The reciprocal gaze makes us stare, and stare again… for even as those photographs are glimpses, glances of a life they become so much more, long lasting archetypes to which we can all relate. As Arthur Lubow observes citing John Szarkowski, a longtime director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, “The reciprocal gaze that marks her early photographs would be furthered and intensified in the collaborative form of portraiture in her mature work, done with a medium-format camera. Szarkowski, for one, believed that the sharpness that larger film offered was in keeping with her aim to be both particular and mythic.”

Particular and mythic. How magical.

Not only did her work need the sharpness that medium format film offered, what a lot of people forget is that using a medium format camera like a Rollei is a totally different way of seeing the world. This is something that hardly anybody mentions. With a 35mm camera you bring the camera to your face and look through the viewfinder; with a medium format camera such as Arbus’ Rolleiflex or her Mamiya C330 (seen around her neck in a portrait of her in Central Park, below), the camera is held at waist level and you look down into the viewing prism of the camera… and everything is seen in reverse. I remember travelling around the world in 2000 and using a Mamiya C220 and thinking to myself, this is the most amazing experience staring down at the world, moving the camera left and right and the image moving the opposite way to what you think it will move, and then having to account for for parallax in the framing (where the image seen in the viewfinder is not framed the same as the image seen through the lens, because the viewfinder is in a slightly different position to the lens). Even with the one medium format image featured in this posting, I can just feel the different relationship of the camera and photographer to the world – in the format, in the cropping and in the previsualisation of the image. Looking down, back up to the subject, back down into the camera – instead of a horizontal perspective, both a horizontal, vertical and square perspective on the world. It’s all about feeling (in) her work. And you couldn’t really miss her if she wanted to take your photograph… look at all the equipment slung around her neck in her portrait in Central Park: twin lens hoods to stop glare, boom and large flash. She wanted you to know that she was there, to acknowledge her presence.

Arbus intuitively knew what she wanted – the presence of the person and the presence of the photographer acknowledged through a circular, two-way relationship. And we, the viewer, understand that process and acknowledge it. Hence, these photographs are not “apparently artless”, they are the very antithesis of that. They are both a thinking and feeling person’s photography. All of her photographs are intelligent investigations of the human condition which produce an empathic response in the viewer. They are a form of empathic vision in which the viewer is drawn into that magical and transcendent relationship. In my opinion, there has never been anyone like her, before or since: no devotees, followers or disciples (except, perhaps, Mary Ellen Mark). Arbus is one of a kind. She will always be my #1.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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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.

 

The photographs from her early career reveal that the salient characteristics of her work – its centrality, boldness, intimacy and apparent artlessness – were present in her pictures since the very beginning. Arbus’s creative life in photography after 1962 is well documented and already the stuff of legend; now, for the first time, we can properly examine its origins.

 

 

diane arbus: in the beginning-web

 

 

“The camera is cruel, so I try to be as good as I can to make things even.”

“I do feel I have some slight corner on something about the quality of things. I mean it’s very subtle and a little embarrassing to me but I really believe there are things which nobody would see unless I photographed them.”

“One thing that struck me early is that you don’t put into a photograph what’s going to come out. Or, vice versa, what comes out is not what you put in.”

“…I would never choose a subject for what it means to me. I choose a subject and then what I feel about it, what it means, begins to unfold. ”

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Diane Arbus

 

“I think Arbus was suggesting that just as people are looking at us and we’re looking at them every day, the pictures made us introspective as viewers. They forced us to confront our own identity. And that’s a really beautiful switch, that switcheroo. We’re looking at somebody else but we’re mindful of our voyeurism, and we’re mindful of how we ourselves are presenting. ‘How am I different? How did I become the person I am?’ That’s one of the qualifying elements of an Arbus photograph: that you feel something about you, often something that might not be comfortable.”

“Arbus’s early photographs are wonderfully rich in achievement and perhaps as quietly riveting and ultimately controversial as the iconic images for which she is so widely known. She brings us face-to-face with what she had first glimpsed at the age of 16 – “the divineness in ordinary things” – and through her photographs we begin to see it too.”

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Exhibition curator Jeff L. Rosenheim

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'diane arbus: in the beginning' at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'diane arbus: in the beginning' at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'diane arbus: in the beginning' at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Installation views of the exhibition diane arbus: in the beginning at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

 

This landmark exhibition features more than 100 photographs that together redefine Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971), one of the most influential and provocative artists of the 20th century. It focuses on the first seven years of her career, from 1956 to 1962, the period in which she developed the idiosyncratic style and approach for which she has been recognized praised, criticized, and copied the world over.

Arbus made most of her photographs in New York City, where she lived and died, and where she worked in locations such as Times Square, the Lower East Side, and Coney Island. Her photographs of children and eccentrics, couples and circus performers, female impersonators and Fifth Avenue pedestrians are among the most intimate and surprising images of the era.

The majority of the photographs in the exhibition have never before been seen and are part of the Museum’s Diane Arbus Archive, acquired in 2007 by gift and promised gift from the artist’s daughters, Doon Arbus and Amy Arbus. It was only when the archive came to The Met that this remarkable early work came to be fully explored. Arbus’s creative life in photography after 1962 is well documented and already the stuff of legend; now, for the first time, we can properly examine its origins.

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Boy above a crowd, N.Y.C., 1957' 1957

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Boy above a crowd, N.Y.C., 1957
1957
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus. 'Taxicab driver at the wheel with two passengers, N.Y.C. 1956' 1956

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Taxicab driver at the wheel with two passengers, N.Y.C. 1956
1956
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Girl with a pointy hood and white schoolbag at the curb, N.Y.C. 1957' 1957

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Girl with a pointy hood and white schoolbag at the curb, N.Y.C. 1957
1957
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Empty snack bar, N.Y.C., 1957' 1957

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Empty snack bar, N.Y.C., 1957
1957
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Windblown headline on a dark pavement, N.Y.C., 1956' 1956

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Windblown headline on a dark pavement, N.Y.C., 1956
1956
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Screaming woman with blood on her hands, 1961' 1961

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Screaming woman with blood on her hands, 1961
1961
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

 

“As part of the inaugural season at The Met Breuer, diane arbus: in the beginning will open on July 12, featuring more than 100 photographs that together will redefine one of the most influential and provocative artists of the 20th century. This landmark exhibition will highlight never-before-seen early work of Diane Arbus (1923-71), focusing on the first seven years of her career, from 1956 to 1962 – the period in which she developed the idiosyncratic style and approach for which she has been recognized, praised, criticized, and copied the world over. The exhibition is made possible by the Alfred Stieglitz Society. Additional support is provided by The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation and the Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne.

“It is a rare privilege to present an exhibition this revelatory, on an artist of Arbus’s stature. More than two-thirds of these works have never before been exhibited or published,” said Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of The Met. “We sincerely thank the Estate of Diane Arbus for entrusting us to show an unknown aspect of this remarkable artist’s legacy with the camera.”

Jeff Rosenheim, Curator in Charge of the Department of Photographs, added, “Arbus’s early photographs are wonderfully rich in achievement and perhaps as quietly riveting and ultimately controversial as the iconic images for which she is so widely known. She brings us face-to-face with what she had first glimpsed at the age of 16 – ‘the divineness in ordinary things’ – and through her photographs we begin to see it too.”

diane arbus: in the beginning focuses on seven key years that represent a crucial period of the artist’s genesis, showing Arbus as she developed her style and honed her practice. Arbus was fascinated by photography even before she received a camera in 1941 at the age of 18 as a present from her husband, Allan, and made photographs intermittently for the next 15 years while working with him as a stylist in their fashion photography business. But in 1956 she numbered a roll of 35mm film #1, as if to claim to herself that this moment would be her definitive beginning. Through the course of the next seven years (the period in which she primarily used a 35mm camera), an evolution took place – from pictures of individuals that sprang out of fortuitous chance encounters to portraits in which the chosen subjects became engaged participants, with as much stake in the outcome as the photographer. This greatly distinguishes Arbus’s practice from that of her peers, from Walker Evans and Helen Levitt to Garry Winogrand and Lee Friedlander, who believed that the only legitimate record was one in which they, themselves, appear to play little or no role. In almost complete opposition, Arbus sought the poignancy of a direct personal encounter.

Arbus made most of her photographs in New York City, where she was born and died, and where she worked in locations such as Times Square, the Lower East Side, Coney Island, and other areas. Her photographs of children and eccentrics, couples and circus performers, female impersonators and Fifth Avenue pedestrians are among the most intimate and surprising images of the era. From the beginning, Arbus believed fully that she had something special to offer the world, a glimpse of its many secrets: “I do feel I have some slight corner on something about the quality of things. I mean it’s very subtle and a little embarrassing to me but I really believe there are things which nobody would see unless I photographed them.”

Nearly half of the photographs that Arbus printed during her lifetime were made between 1956 and 1962, the period covered by this exhibition. At the time of her death in 1971, much of this work was stored in boxes in an inaccessible corner of her basement darkroom at 29 Charles Street in Greenwich Village. These prints remained undiscovered for several years thereafter and were not even inventoried until a decade after her death. The majority of the photographs included in the exhibition are part of the Museum’s vast Diane Arbus Archive, acquired in 2007 by gift and promised gift from the artist’s daughters, Doon Arbus and Amy Arbus. It was only when the archive – a treasury of photographs, negatives, notebooks, appointment books, correspondence, and collections – came to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2007 that this seminal early work began to be fully explored.

Among the highlights in the exhibition are lesser-known published works such as Lady on a bus, N.Y.C. 1957, Boy stepping off the curb, N.Y.C. 1957-58, The Backwards Man in his hotel room, N.Y.C. 1961, and Jack Dracula at a bar, New London, Conn. 1961, as well as completely unknown additions to her oeuvre, such as Taxicab driver at the wheel with two passengers, N.Y.C. 1956, Woman with white gloves and a pocket book, N.Y.C. 1956, Female impersonator holding long gloves, Hempstead, L.I. 1959, and Man in hat, trunks, socks and shoes, Coney Island, N.Y. 1960. Included among the selection of six square-format photographs from 1962 is the iconic Child with a toy hand grenade in Central Park, N.Y.C. 1962, a photograph that signals the moment when Arbus turned away from the 35mm camera and started working with the 2¼ inch square format Rolleiflex camera, a format that remained a distinctive attribute of her work for the rest of her life. The photographs from her early career reveal that the salient characteristics of her work – its centrality, boldness, intimacy, and apparent artlessness – were present in her pictures since the very beginning. Arbus’s creative life in photography after 1962 is well documented and already the stuff of legend; now, for the first time, we can properly examine its origins.

diane arbus: in the beginning is curated by Jeff L. Rosenheim, Curator in Charge of the Department of Photographs at The Met.”

Press release from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Child teasing another, N.Y.C., 1960' 1960

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Child teasing another, N.Y.C., 1960
1960
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Boy at the pool hall, N.Y.C., 1959' 1959

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Boy at the pool hall, N.Y.C., 1959
1959
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Child in a nightgown, Wellfleet, Mass., 1957' 1957

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Child in a nightgown, Wellfleet, Mass., 1957
1957
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Woman wearing a mink stole and bow shoes, N.Y.C., 1956' 1956

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Woman wearing a mink stole and bow shoes, N.Y.C., 1956
1956
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Woman with white gloves and a pocket book, N.Y.C. 1956' 1956

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Woman with white gloves and a pocket book, N.Y.C. 1956
1956
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Lady on a Bus, N.Y.C. 1957' 1957

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Lady on a Bus, N.Y.C. 1957
1957
Gelatin silver print
8 1/2 x 5 3/4 in. (21.6 x 14.6 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Danielle and David Ganek, 2005
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

 

ROSENHEIM There are many pictures from her first 50 rolls of film in the show. And you can see for yourself that she is already isolating individuals, pedestrians on Fifth Avenue. She is approaching people, and in almost every instance, it’s one image and the subject is addressing the camera. Arbus did not want to do what almost every one of her peers was doing, which she was highly aware of – she was well versed in the history of the medium; she was taking classes from Lisette Model and she had studied with Berenice Abbott and Alexey Brodovitch. What she took away from that training was this feeling that she could find her subject and they could find her in equal measure. She allowed herself to be vulnerable enough. Helen Levitt used a right-angle viewfinder so her subjects couldn’t see what she was doing. Walker Evans used the folds of his coat to hide his camera on the subway. The style of documentary photography was that you wanted to see but you didn’t want to be seen, and Arbus had a completely different method. It was to use the camera as an expressive device that allows the viewer of the photograph to be implicated by the subject looking directly at the artist.

Randy Kennedy. “The Diane Arbus You’ve Never Seen,” on the New York Times website 26 May 2016

 

“Arbus is not without her critics and, where some people praise her ability to celebrate the marginalized and glorify the unusual, others see her work as cruel and exploitative. Lubow, however, claims that both stances oversimplify the real complexity of her work, which is perhaps where both he and Jeff Rosenheim, the curator in charge of photography at the Met, take a stab at redefining Arbus, because if we define her solely by the people she photographed, we’re missing the point.

“I think both Jeff and I realized that from the beginning she wanted to capture a moment where she was seeing and being seen, she wanted a reciprocal look,” Lubow says. “Jeff is doing that formally, and showing you that she needed it as an artist, and I’ve tried to show that she needed it as a person. She was motivated to feel and to record the response of her subject to her. That was how she felt real, this was how she felt alive.””

Krystal Grow. “Diane Arbus and the Art of Exchange,” on the American Photo website July 16, 2016

 

“From the very beginning of her career, she was taking photographs to obtain a vital proof – a corroboration of her own existence. The pattern was set early. When she was 15, she described to a friend how she would undress at night in her lit bathroom and watch an old man across the courtyard watch her (until his wife complained). She not only wanted to see, she needed to be seen. As a street photographer, she dressed at times in something attention-grabbing, like a fake leopard-skin coat. She didn’t blend into the background, she jumped out of it. And she fascinated her subjects. “People were interested in Diane, just as interested in her as she was in them,” John Szarkowski, a longtime director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, once told me…

Diane had a talent for friendship, and she maintained long-term connections with all sorts of people – eccentrics in rooming houses, freaks in sideshows, socialites on Park Avenue. She needed those relationships. But she also relied on filmed verification of her impact on others. The reciprocal gaze that marks her early photographs would be furthered and intensified in the collaborative form of portraiture in her mature work, done with a medium-format camera. Szarkowski, for one, believed that the sharpness that larger film offered was in keeping with her aim to be both particular and mythic.”

Arthur Lubow. “How Diane Arbus Became ‘Arbus’,” on the New York Times website May 26, 2016

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Boy stepping off the curb, N.Y.C. 1957-58' 1957-58

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Boy stepping off the curb, N.Y.C. 1957-58
1957-58
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Girl with schoolbooks stepping onto the curb, N.Y.C., 1957' 1957

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Girl with schoolbooks stepping onto the curb, N.Y.C., 1957
1957
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Kid in a hooded jacket aiming a gun, N.Y.C., 1957' 1957

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Kid in a hooded jacket aiming a gun, N.Y.C., 1957
1957
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Man in hat, trunks, socks and shoes, Coney Island, N.Y. 1960' 1960

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Man in hat, trunks, socks and shoes, Coney Island, N.Y. 1960
1960
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'The Backwards Man in his hotel room, N.Y.C. 1961' 1961

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
The Backwards Man in his hotel room, N.Y.C. 1961
1961
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Stripper with Bare Breasts Sitting in Her Dressing Room, Atlantic City, N.J. 1961' 1961

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Stripper with Bare Breasts Sitting in Her Dressing Room, Atlantic City, N.J. 1961
1961
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Female impersonator holding long gloves, Hempstead, L.I., 1959' 1959

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Female impersonator holding long gloves, Hempstead, L.I., 1959
1959
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Jack Dracula at a bar, New London, Conn. 1961' 1961

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Jack Dracula at a bar, New London, Conn. 1961
1961
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Elderly Woman Whispering to Her Dinner Partner, Grand Opera Ball, N.Y.C. 1959' 1959

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Elderly Woman Whispering to Her Dinner Partner, Grand Opera Ball, N.Y.C. 1959
1959
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Fire Eater at a Carnival, Palisades Park, N.J. 1957' 1957

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Fire Eater at a Carnival, Palisades Park, N.J. 1957
1957
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus in Central Park with her Mamiya Camera in 1967

 

Diane Arbus in Central Park with her Mamiya Camera (330?) in 1967

 

Diane Arbus, 'Child with a toy hand grenade in Central Park, N.Y.C. 1962'

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Child with a toy hand grenade in Central Park, N.Y.C. 1962
1962
Silver gelatin print

 

 

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03
Apr
16

Exhibition: ‘The world is beautiful: photographs from the collection’ at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Exhibition dates: 4th December 2015 – 10th April 2016

 

Despite a focus on the camera’s relationship to the beauty and pure form of the modern world – “the attraction and charm of the surface” – these photographs are more than just being skin deep. In their very straightforwardness the photographs propose a “rigorous sensitivity to form revealed patterns of beauty and order in the natural and man-made alike.” But more than the portrayal of something we would not see if it were not for the eye of the photographer, the lens of the camera, the speed of the film, the sensitivity of the paper, the design of the architect, the genetics of nature … is the mystery of life itself.

Modernist structures and mass-produced objects in plants and animals can never beat a good mystery. Just look at Man Ray’s Woman with closed eyes (c. 1928, below) or the look in the eyes of Robert Frank’s son, Pablo. You can never pin that down. While form may be beauty, mystery will always be beautiful.

Marcus

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Please click on the photographs to view a larger version of the image.

 

 

“German photographer Albert Renger-Patzsch was a pioneering figure in the New Objectivity movement, which sought to engage with the world as clearly and precisely as possible.

Rejecting the sentimentality and idealism of a previous generation, Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) emerged as a tendency in German art, architecture and literature in the 1920s. Applying this attitude to the field of photography, Renger-Patzsch espoused the camera’s ability to produce a faithful recording of the world. ‘There must be an increase in the joy one takes in an object, and the photographer should be fully conscious of the splendid fidelity of reproduction made possible by his technique’, he wrote.

This selection reflects the range of subjects that Renger-Patzsch returned to throughout his career. It includes his early wildlife and botanical studies, images of traditional craftsmen, formal studies of mechanical equipment, commercial still lifes, and landscape and architectural studies. His images of the Ruhr region, where he moved in 1928, document the industrialisation of the area in almost encyclopaedic detail. All of his work demonstrates his sustained interest in the camera’s relationship to the beauty and complexity of the modern world.

In 1928 Renger-Patzsch published The World is Beautiful, a collection of one hundred photographs whose rigorous sensitivity to form revealed patterns of beauty and order in the natural and man-made alike. Embodying a new, distinctly modern way of looking at the world, the book established Renger-Patzsch as one of the most influential photographers of the twentieth century.”

Text by Emma Lewis on the Tate website

 

The world is beautiful is an exhibition of photographs taken over the last 100 years from the National Gallery of Australia’s magnificent photography collection, including work by Diane Arbus, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Max Dupain, Bill Henson, Robert Mapplethorpe, Man Ray, Cindy Sherman and many more.

It draws its title from one of the twentieth-century’s great photographic moments, the publication of Albert Renger-Patzsch’s book The world is beautiful in 1928. Renger-Patzsch’s approach embodied his belief that ‘one should surely proceed from the essence of the object and attempt to represent it with photographic means alone’.

Inspired by this confidence in the medium, the exhibition looks at the way the camera interacts with things in the world. One of photography’s fundamental attributes is its capacity to adopt a range of relationships with its subject, based on the camera’s physical proximity to it. Indeed, one of the most basic decisions that a photographer makes is simply where he or she places the camera. The pictures in this exhibition literally take you on a photographic trip, from interior worlds and microscopic detail to the cosmic: from near to far away.

Together, these photographs capture some of the delight photographers take in turning their cameras on the world and re-imaging it, making it beautiful through the power of their vision and their capacity to help us see the world in new ways.”

Text from the National Gallery of Australia website

 

Near

Close up, the world can be surprising. There is an undeniable intensity and focus that comes with getting up close to people and objects. It is rude to stare, but photography has no such scruples.

Pioneers of the medium attempted to photograph organic forms through a microscope, making once-hidden worlds accessible. The pleasure photographers take in getting up close to their subject has followed the medium’s progress. This was especially the case during the twentieth century, when advances in photographic technology and profound shifts in our relationship to space brought about by events such as war often turned our attention away from the outside world.

For many photographers, the camera’s capacity to subject people and objects to close scrutiny has provided a way of paring back vision to its essence, to view the world unencumbered by emotion and sentiment. For others, getting up close is not just about physical proximity; it is also about psychological and emotional states that are otherwise difficult to represent. Experiences such as intimacy, love and emotional connection, as well as disquiet, anxiety and hostility, can all be suggested through the use of the close-up. Photographers have also used it literally to turn inwards, escaping into the imagination to create dreamworlds. The camera-eye really can see what the human eye cannot. (Text from the National Gallery of Australia website)

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch. 'Mantelpavian [Hamadryas Baboon]' c. 1925

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch
Mantelpavian [Hamadryas Baboon]
c. 1925
Gelatin silver photograph
23.8 x 16.8 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

“In photography one should surely proceed from the essence of the object and attempt to represent it with photographic terms alone.” Albert Renger-Patzsch

Renger-Patzsch’s primary interest was in the object as a document, removed from its usual context and unencumbered with sentiment. Die Welt ist schön [The world is beautiful], published in Munich in 1928, is one of the great photographic books in the history of photography and its influence across the world was profound. It is an astounding study of the world, celebrating beauty wherever the photographer found it – in modernist structures and mass-produced objects or in plants and animals. The connection and continuity of industry to the natural world is conveyed by emphasising underlying structural and formal similarities. The Gallery has a major holding of works by Renger-Patzsch, including a copy of Die Welt ist schön and 121 vintage prints, most of which were reproduced in the book.

Renger-Patzsch was always firmly committed to the principle of the photograph as a document or record of an object. While the title for his most famous contribution to photography came from his publisher, he wanted his now-iconic 1928 book Die Welt ist schön (The world is beautiful) to be titled simply Die Dinge (Things). In 1937 he wrote that the images in his book, ‘consciously portray the attraction and charm of the surface’. Indeed, the power of these pictures resides in their straightforwardness. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Edward Weston (USA 1886-1956) 'Guadalupe de Rivera, Mexico' 1924

 

Edward Weston (United States of America 1886 – 1958)
No title (Guadalupe, Mexico, 1924): from “Edward Weston fiftieth anniversary portfolio 1902-1952”.
1924
Gelatin silver photograph
20.7 h x 17.8 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1981

 

 

In 1923 Weston travelled from San Francisco to Mexico City with his son, Chandler and his model and lover, Tina Modotti. The photographs he made there represented a startling, revolutionary breakthrough. Everything got stripped down to its essence, with objects isolated against neutral backgrounds. For these heroic head shots, he moved out of the studio, photographing in direct sunlight, from below and with a hand-held camera. They are monumental but still full of life: Weston was excited by the idea of capturing momentary expressions, in people he found ‘intense and dramatic’. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Man Ray (United States of America 1890 - France 1976) 'No title (Woman with closed eyes)' c. 1928

 

Man Ray (United States of America 1890 – France 1976)
No title (Woman with closed eyes)
c. 1928
Gelatin silver photograph
Not signed, not dated. Stamp, verso, l.r., “Man Ray / 81 bis. Rue / Campagne Premiere / Paris / XIV”.
Image 8.9 h x 12.8 w cm sheet 8.9 h x 12.8 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1984

 

Robert Frank. 'Pablo' 1959

 

Robert Frank (Switzerland born 1924 – emigrated to United States 1947)
Pablo
1959
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 20.8 h x 31.0 w cm sheet 27.0 h x 35.4 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1980

 

 

Frank set out on a two-year road trip across the States in 1955. The images he made of race and class divisions, poverty, alienated youth and loneliness expose America’s dark soul. Others, such as this haunting image of his son, Pablo, were more personal. A selection appeared in The Americans, published in Paris in 1958 and in the States the following year. Many saw it as a bitter indictment of the American Dream, others saw an evocative, melancholic vision of humanity that is deeply moving. As Jack Kerouac commented in his introduction to the American edition, Frank ‘sucked a sad, sweet, poem out of America’. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Carol Jerrems. 'Vale Street' 1975

 

Carol Jerrems (Australia 1949 – 1980)
Vale Street
1975
St Kilda, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 20.2 h x 30.3 w cm sheet 40.5 h x 50.4 w cm
Gift of the Philip Morris Arts Grant 1982
© Ken Jerrems and the Estate of Lance Jerrems
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

“I try to reveal something about people, because they are so separate, so isolated, maybe it’s a way of bringing people together I don’t want to exploit people. I care about them.”

Carol Jerrems, 1977

.
Carol Jerrems became prominent in the 1970s as part of a new wave of young photographers. Influenced by the counter-culture values of the 1960s, they used art to comment on social issues and engender social change. Jerrems photographed associates, actors and musicians, always collaborating with her subjects, thereby declaring her presence as the photographer. Vale Street raises interesting questions about what is artifice and what is real in photography. She deliberately set up this image, employing her aspiring actress friend and two young men from her art classes at Heidelberg Technical School. Vale Street has achieved an iconic status in Australian photography; the depiction of a confident young woman taking on the world is an unforgettable one. It is an intimate group portrait that is at once bold and vulnerable. In 1975 it was thought to be an affirmation of free love and sexual licence. The image also appears to be about liberation from society’s norms and taboos – ‘we are all three bare-chested, we have tattoos and so what?’

The implication that this scene is perfectly natural is reinforced by locating the figures in a landscape. The young woman is strong and unafraid of the judgement of the viewer. The necklace around her neck is an ankh – a symbol of the new spiritualty of the Age of Aquarius and a re-affirmation of the ancient powers of women.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002

 

Paul Outerbridge. 'Nude lying on a love seat' c. 1936

 

Paul Outerbridge (United States of America 1896 – 1958; Paris 1925-28, Berlin and London 1928)
Nude lying on a love seat
c. 1936
Carbro colour photograph
30.2 h x 41.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1980

 

 

Like the Australian-born Anton Bruehl, Paul Outerbridge studied at the Clarence White School of Photography in New York. White was keen to see photography establish itself as a practical art that could be used in the service of the rapidly expanding picture magazine industry. Within a year of enrolling in the school, Outerbridge’s work was appearing in Vogue and Vanity Fair. During his lifetime, Outerbridge was known for his commercial work, particularly his elegant, stylish still-life compositions which show the influence of earlier studies in painting. He was also admired for the excellence of his pioneering colour work, which was achieved by means of a complicated tri-colour carbro process.

Much of Outerbridge’s fame now rests on work that he made following more private obsessions. His fetishistic nude photographs of women are influenced primarily by eighteenth-century French painters such as Ingres. Although the depiction of nudes was a genre pursued from the inception of photography, Outerbridge’s interest in breaking down taboos resulted in this material, if known at all, being passed over or vilified in his lifetime. Outerbridge sought to express what he described as an ‘inner craving for perfection and beauty’ through these often mysterious, languid and richly toned images. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014)

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #92' 1981

 

Cindy Sherman (United States of America born 1954)
Untitled #92
1981
Type C colour photograph
61.5 h x 123.4 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1983

 

 

This is one of 12 Centerfolds made by Sherman in 1981. The Centerfolds present Sherman posing in a range of situations, each suggesting heightened emotional states and violent narratives; these associations are augmented by the uncomfortably tight framing and the panoramic format used by Sherman across the series. Initially commissioned for the art magazine Artforum, the Centerfolds were never published because they were deemed, with their apparently voyeuristic points of view, to reaffirm misogynist views of women. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

William Eggleston (American, born 1939) 'Untitled (Greenwood, Mississippi)' 1980

 

William Eggleston (United States of America born 1939)
Greenwood, Mississippi
(1973) prtd 1979
Dye transfer colour photograph
Image 29.5 h x 45.4 w cm sheet 40.2 h x 50.8 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1980

 

 

With its intense red, Eggleston’s picture of the spare room in a friend’s home is one of the most iconic of all colour photographs. Often called The red room, this photograph was intended to be shocking: Eggleston described the effect of the colour as like ‘red blood that is wet on the wall’. But the radicalness of the picture is not just in its juicy (and impossible to reproduce) redness; it is also found in the strange view it provides of a domestic interior, one that Eggleston has described as a ‘fly’s eye view’. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Imogen Cunningham. 'Magnolia Blossom' 1925

 

Imogen Cunningham (United States of America 1883 – 1976)
Magnolia Blossom
1925
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 17.1 h x 34.6 w cm mount 38.2 h x 50.7 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1978

 

 

During the 1920s, raising three young sons, Cunningham began to focus on her immediate surroundings. This restricted environment encouraged Cunningham to develop a new way of working, as she began to place her camera closer to the subject: to zebras on a trip to the zoo, to snakes brought to her by her sons, and perhaps most famously to the magnolia blossoms and calla lilies she grew in her garden. Observing what she termed the ‘paradox of expansion via reduction’, the intensity and focus attendant to this way of seeing flooded her work with sensuality and reductive power. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Olive Cotton. 'Skeleton Leaf' 1964

 

Olive Cotton (Australia 1911 – 2003)
Skeleton leaf
1964
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 50.4 h x 40.8 w cm sheet 57.8 h x 47.6 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1987

 

 

This leaf skeleton – a leaf that has had its pulp removed with heat and soda – was probably photographed in front of a window in Cotton’s home near Cowra, NSW. Since the 1930s Cotton had been drawn to the close study of nature, and many of her best photographs feature close-ups of flowers, tufts of grass and foliage. This photograph is notable because it was taken in the studio, and reflects the austerity and simplicity that pervaded Cotton’s work in the decades after the Second World War. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Lee Friedlander (United States of America born 1934) 'Nashville, 1963' 1963

 

Lee Friedlander (United States of America born 1934)
Nashville, 1963
1963
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 28.2 h x 18.7 w cm sheet 35.3 h x 27.8 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1981

 

 

Middle distance

The further away we move from a subject, the more it and its story open up to us. While the close-up or compressed view tends to be very frontal (the camera presses up against the subject), the defining characteristic of much mid-century photography was its highly mobile relationship to space: its extraordinary capacity to survey and to organise the world.

The space between the camera and its subject can suggest impartiality and detachment. Documentary photographers and photojournalists, for example, open their cameras up to their subjects, as if to ‘let them speak’. But the depiction of the space between the camera and its subject, and the way that it is rendered through the camera’s depth of field, can also reflect decision making on the part of the photographer. By adjusting the camera’s settings, and thus choosing to render part of the subject in focus, the photographer can direct our focus and attention to certain parts of an image. In this way, photographers put forward an argument based on their world view. Photography can change the way we think about the world. (Text from the National Gallery of Australia website)

 

Ilse Bing. 'Eiffel Tower, Paris, 1931' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (Germany 1899 – United States of America 1998; France 1930-1941 United States from 1941)
Eiffel Tower, Paris
1931
Gelatin silver photograph
Signed and dated recto, l.r., pen and ink “Ilse Bing/ 1931”
Image 22.3 h x 28.2 w cm sheet 22.3 h x 28.2 w cm mount 35.0 h x 41.8 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1989

 

 

Bing took up photography in 1928 and quickly developed a reputation as a photojournalist and photographer of modernist architecture. Inspired by an exhibition of modern photography and the work of Paris-based photographer Florence Henri, Bing moved to Paris 1930 and quickly became associated with the city’s photographic avant-garde. Bing worked exclusively with the fledgling Leica 35mm-format camera; her interest in the pictorial possibilities of the hand-held Leica can clearly be seen in this striking view of the Eiffel Tower. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Walker Evans (United States of America 1903 - 1975) 'Graveyard and steel mill, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania' 1935

 

Walker Evans (United States of America 1903 – 1975)
Graveyard and steel mill, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
1935
Gelatin silver photograph
19.1 h x 24.0 w cm sheet 20.2 h x 25.2 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1980

 

Gary Winogrand. 'World´s Fair', New York, 1964

 

Garry Winogrand (United States of America 1928 – Mexico 1984)
World’s Fair, New York
1964
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 21.8 h x 32.7 w cm mount 37.4 h x 50.1 w cm
Image rights: © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1978

 

 

Winogrand had a tremendous capacity to photograph people in public spaces completely unawares. This image records a group of visitors to the 1964 World’s Fair; it focuses on three young women – Ann Amy Shea, whispering into the ear of Janet Stanley, while their friend Karen Marcato Kiaer naps on Stanley’s bosom. The figures fill the space between the picture’s fore- and middle-grounds, to the extent of allowing the viewer to examine people’s expressions and interactions in close detail. This in turn allows us to encroach on the personal space of people we don’t know. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Diane Arbus, 'Child with a toy hand grenade in Central Park, N.Y.C. 1962'

 

Diane Arbus (New York, United States of America 1923 – 1971)
Child with toy hand grenade, in Central Park, New York City
1962
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 20.0 h x 17.2 w cm sheet 32.8 h x 27.6 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1980

 

 

During workshops with Lisette Model, Arbus was encouraged to develop a direct, uncompromising approach to her subjects. She did this using the square configuration of a medium-format camera which Arbus most usually printed full frame with no cropping. Model also convinced Arbus, who had been interested in myth and ritual, that the more specific her approach to her subjects, the more universal the message. In many ways this image of a boy caught hamming it up in Central Park, with his contorted body and grimacing face, captures and prefigures many of the anxieties of America during the sixties, a country caught in an unwinnable war in Vietnam and undergoing seismic social change. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson (France 1908 - 2004) 'Rue Mouffetard, Paris' 1954 prtd c. 1980

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson (France 1908 – 2004)
Rue Mouffetard, Paris
1954 prtd c. 1980
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 35.9 h x 24.2 w cm sheet 39.4 h x 29.6 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1982

 

Helen Levitt. 'New York' 1972

 

Helen Levitt (United States of America 1913 – 2009)
New York
1972
Dye transfer colour photograph
Image 23.9 h x 36.2 w cm sheet 35.6 h x 42.9 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1984

 

 

“The streets of the poor quarters of the great cities are, above all, a theatre and a battleground.” Helen Levitt

Inspired by seeing work by Walker Evans and Henri Cartier-Bresson in 1935, Levitt took to the streets. Children became her most enduring subject. Like Evans, Levitt was famously shy and self-effacing, seeking to shoot unobserved by fitting a prism finder on her Leica. Her approach eschews the sensational; instead she is interested in capturing small, idiosyncratic actions in the everyday. Her images were often shot through with a gentle, lyrical humour though a dark strangeness also surfaces at times. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Helen Levitt. 'New York' c.1972

 

Helen Levitt (United States of America 1913 – 2009)
New York
1972
Dye transfer colour photograph
Image 23.4 h x 35.6 w cm sheet 35.4 h x 42.9 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1984

 

Ernst Haas (1921-1986). 'Route 66, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA' 1969

 

Ernst Haas (Austria 1921 – United States of America 1986; United States from 1951)
Albuquerque, New Mexico
1969
Dye transfer colour photograph
Image 44.9 h x 67.8 w cm sheet 52.3 h x 75.7 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 2000

 

 

For Haas, colour photography represented the end of the grey and bitter war years and he started seriously working in the medium after moving to America in 1951. Work on his photoessay, Land of Enchantment and film stills assignments for The Misfits, The Bible and Little Big Man took Haas to the Southwest. The desert landscape of Albuquerque, located on Route 66, had been totally transformed by progress since the 1920s. Photographing the street after rain, Haas has signified that evolution by way of his distinctive ability to translate the world into shimmering energy. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Faraway

Photography has a long-standing interest in faraway places. In 1840, right in photography’s infancy, astronomical photography was launched when the first photograph of the moon was made. As photographic imaging technology has improved, so has the medium’s capacity to make faraway places accessible to us.

Photography can bring foreign places and people closer to home, or collect together images of places and structures that are located in different places. It can also attempt to give a picture to experiences that are otherwise difficult to grasp or represent, such as complex weather events or transcendental phenomena.

Against the odds, there are photographers who make images that are about what cannot be seen. Faraway is often used as a metaphor for thinking about the ineffable and the inexplicable. Science and spirit go hand-in-hand. ‘The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious’, Albert Einstein believed. Photographers can take us to new worlds. (Text from the National Gallery of Australia website)

 

Ansel Adams. 'Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico' 1941

 

Ansel Adams (San Francisco, California, United States of America 1902 – Carmel, California, United States of America 1984)
Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico
1941
Ansel Adams Museum Set
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 38.6 h x 49.0 w cm mount 55.6 h x 71.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1980

 

 

Adams became the most famous landscape photographer in the world on the back of his images of America’s West. While mass tourism was invading these wilderness areas, Adams’s photographs show only untouched natural splendour. His landscapes are remarkable for their deep, clear space, distinguishable by an uncanny stillness and clarity. The story of Moonrise is legendary: driving through the Chama River Valley toward Española, Adams just managed by a few seconds to catch this fleeting moment before the dying sunlight stopped illuminating the crosses in the graveyard. Through hours of darkroom manipulation and wizardry, Adams created an image of almost mystical unworldliness. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Tracey Moffatt (Brisbane, Queensland, Australia born 1960) 'Up in the sky' 1997

 

Tracey Moffatt (Brisbane, Queensland, Australia born 1960)
Up in the sky [Up in the sky – a set of 25 photolithographs]
1997
No. 8 in a series of 25
Photolithograph
Image 61.0 h x 76.0 w cm sheet 72.0 h x 102.0 w cm
KODAK (Australasia) PTY LTD Fund 1997
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

Up in the sky is unusual in Moffatt’s oeuvre for being shot out of doors on location. Her photomedia practice is informed by an upbringing watching television, fascinated by film and pop culture. This series takes many of its visual cues from Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Accattone of 1961 as well as the Mad Max series – the references, twisted and re-imagined, are like half-forgotten memories. She addresses race and violence, presenting a loose narrative set against the backdrop of an outback town. The sense of unease is palpable: Moffatt here is a masterful manipulator of mood. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Laurence Aberhart (Aotearoa New Zealand born 1949) 'Taranaki, from Oeo Road, under moonlight, 27-28 September 1999' 1999

 

Laurence Aberhart (Aotearoa New Zealand born 1949)
Taranaki, from Oeo Road, under moonlight, 27-28 September 1999
1999
Gelatin silver photograph
19.4 h x 24.3 w cm
Gift of Peter Fay 2005
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

For four decades, Aberhart has photographed the Taranaki region of New Zealand’s North Island, including its settled landscape and its most distinctive feature, the sacred TeMounga (Mount) Taranaki. Using an 8 x 10-inch view camera, Aberhart has over time built up an important archive documenting the social geography and landscape of the Taranaki. Aberhart describes the conical mountain as a ‘great physical and spiritual entity’ and sees his photographs of it as a counterbalance to the countless images of the mountain that circulate on tea towels and postcards. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

 

National Gallery of Australia
Parkes Place, Canberra
Australian Capital Territory 2600
Tel: (02) 6240 6411

Opening hours:
Open daily 10.00 am – 5.00 pm
(closed Christmas day)

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15
Mar
15

Exhibition: ‘Florence Henri. Mirror of the avant-garde 1927-1940’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 24th February – 17th May 2015

Curator: Cristina Zelich

 

 

Objects in and of space, the two the same

Florence Henri is rapidly becoming one of my favourite photographers, an artist who emerged during one of the golden periods of photography, the avant-garde of the 1920s-30s. While we have seen some of these photographs before in a previous posting, there are some new and delightful images to enjoy here.

If you believe the text by Priscilla Frank, “Meet Florence Henri, The Under-Acknowledged Queen Of Surrealist Photography,” on the Huffington Post website, you could be forgiven for thinking that her photography is based on Surrealist themes. Nothing could be farther from the truth. There is nothing about Henri’s photographs to suggest that they are based on the creative potential of the unconscious mind exemplified by the irrational juxtaposition of images. Henri’s photographs are quite logical and ordered, being an investigation into space, time and object using the “extension of the formal and structural aesthetics of Cubism, Purism and Constructivism.”

Her geometric abstractions “exploited the dialogue between realism and abstraction… and she explored spatial extension and fragmentation in her utter modern vocabulary. Her still life and abstract compositions achieved by balancing abstraction with a pure and essential subject were created in the spirit of the machine age. She viewed space as if it were elastic, distorting figure and ground and altering planes through the use of mirrors and lenses.”

Through attention and attentiveness to subject, Henri achieved her results by using created space to investigate the fragmentation and distortion of the world. Her art is not about the production of phenomena (the spectacle), but about the creation of volumes that are in an of space itself. As Donald Judd’s observes of his created volumes in 1981: “… familiar objects, objects as we habitually perceive them, assume physical neutrality because they and their environment are deactivated: “They are points in space, and space is an empty surround. Instead, what is needed is a created space, space made by someone, space that is formed as a solid, the two the same, with the space and the solid defining each other.” Objects in and of space, the two the same: this was the crux. Judd did more than set new solids into existing voids. He formed solids and their correlative spaces as an integrated operation, as if he were establishing an architecture from the ground up, creating the entire environment, intensifying it, saturating it with its own sensation.”1

In a photographic sense, Henri can be seen as a precursor to Judd’s volumes, creating her own worlds from the ground up, creating the entire environment where the space and the object are one and the same thing… only to then record and flatten that space into the essential nature of the photograph, its physicality. Her sensory affects “remain fixed in the concatenation of materials, structure and placement that generates it. They are the lived equivalent of those conditions, experienced as continuous in time – hence, timeless – remaining wholly the same until interrupted.”2 How appropriate for Henri’s photographs for they do indeed have a timeless “air”, a transcendence of the time and place they were taken, a transcendence of the space which her volumes inhabit. Objects in and of space, the two the same.

As Judd observes, “Time and space don’t exist [as idealized absractions]; they are made by events and positions. Time and space can be made and don’t have to be found like stars in the sky or rocks on a hillside.” Time and space are grounded in being human: they exist when someone experiences them.”3 Here is the nub of the matter, for it matters that we experience Henri’s photographs each in its definite time and space. Henri’s being is immersed in these volumes and they hold our interest because the created environments are saturated with her own sensations.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

 

1. Donald Judd quoted in Richard Shiff. “Sensous Thoughts,” in Marianne Stockebrand (ed.,). Donald Judd. The Multicolored Works. Yale University Press, 2014, p. 106
2. Ibid.,
3. Ibid., p. 107.

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

 

 

“With photography, what I really want to do is compose the image, as I do in painting. The volumes, lines, shadows and light should submit to my will and say what I would like them to say. All of this under the strict control of the composition, because I do not claim to be able to explain the world or to explain my own thoughts.”

.
Florence Henri in an interview with Attilio Colombo, “Specchio, essenzialità, geometría,” in Florence Henri (Milan: Gruppo Editoriale Fabbri, 1983)

 

“Henri soon recognised the medium’s capacity as a pictorial language and outlet for creative expression. Upon returning to France [from the Bauhaus], Henri began to develop a large body of photographic work based upon her Bauhaus experience and an extension of the formal and structural aesthetics of Cubism, Purism and Constructivism. These non-objective principles forged an alternative to the then-dominant French art movement Surrealism. Henri transcended the avant-garde of one art form to that of another…

Henri’s greatest experimentation with geometric abstraction occurred during the period between 1929-1930… In the photographic work, Florence Henri exploited the dialogue between realism and abstraction, but always maintained a recognisable subject. She was concerned with transparency and movement, and she explored spatial extension and fragmentation in her utter modern vocabulary.

Her still life and abstract compositions achieved by balancing abstraction with a pure and essential subject were created in the spirit of the machine age. She viewed space as if it were elastic, distorting figure and ground and altering planes through the use of mirrors and lenses.”

.
Lynne Warren. Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Photography, 3-Volume set. Routledge, 2005, p. 691

 

 

Florence Henri. 'Composition' 1928

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Composition
1928
Gelatin silver print, vintage
27.2 x 37.5 cm
Bauhaus Archiv, Berlin
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti Photo
© Bauhaus Archiv

 

Florence Henri. 'Composition' 1928

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Composition
1928
Gelatin silver print, vintage
27 x 37.1 cm
Museum Folkwang, Essen
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Composition abstraite [Still-life composition]' 1929

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Composition abstraite [Still-life composition]
1929
Collage, gelatin silver print cut and pasted on paper
12 x 14 cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Portrait Composition, Tulia Kaiser' c. 1930

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Portrait Composition, Tulia Kaiser
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print, vintage
23 x 29.2 cm
Achat grâce au mécénat de Yves Rocher, 2011
Ancienne collection Christian Bouqueret Centre Pompidou, Paris. Musée national d’art moderne / Centre de création industrielle
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti Photo
© Centre Pompidou, Mnam-Cci, Dist. Rmn-Grand Palais / Georges Meguerditchian

 

 

Summary of exhibition

Florence Henri. Mirror of the avantgarde illustrates the desire of the Jeu de Paume to highlight the important role played by women photographers from the 1920s to the 1950s, and follows on from previous exhibitions devoted to Claude Cahun, Kati Horna, Eva Besnyö, Berenice Abbott, Lisette Model, Laure Albin Guillot and indeed,Lee Miller.

The exhibition brings together, for the first time in France, over 130 vintage prints by Florence Henri, as well as rare documents and publications, revealing the artist’s photographic production. Influenced by Constructivism, Cubism and Surrealism, Florence Henri’s work is part of the exciting creative tenor of the period, during which, photography, like cinema or architecture, embodied a spirit of innovation and progress, as well as a certain unconventionality in terms of the dominant visual order.

Familiar with Bauhaus, Florence Henri was one of the figures of the European artistic intelligentsia of the time. Her friendship with Fernand Léger, the Delaunays, Hans Arp, László Moholy-Nagy and Theo van Doesburg would have a profound influence on her work. In 1929, Florence Henri opened a photography studio in Paris. It soon rivalled that of Man Ray’s. Her classes were very well-attended and her talents as a portrait photographer were quickly recognized.

It is not so much the image alone as the constant research that brings Florence Henri’s work to life. Lines and geometric compositions are recurring elements in her photographs. Over the years, she made her compositions increasingly complex through the use of mirrors, industrial and natural objects, or through collage and superposition. The exhibition attempts to both decipher and highlight the work of Florence Henri in terms of reflections, perspective, the depth of field and photomontage – key technical experimentations in the history of modern photography.

 

Florence Henri. 'Mannequin de tailleur [Tailor's mannequin]' 1930-1931

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Mannequin de tailleur [Tailor’s mannequin]
1930-1931
Gelatin silver print, vintage
17.1 x 22.8 cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
©Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Composition Nature morte [Still-life composition]' 1931

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Composition Nature morte [Still-life composition]
1931
Gelatin silver print dated 1977
23 x 30 cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Pont [Bridge]' 1930-1935

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Pont [Bridge]
1930-1935
Gelatin silver print dated 1977
23.5 x 23.8 cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Composition, The Glory that was Greece' c. 1933

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Composition, The Glory that was Greece
c. 1933
Photomontage, gelatin silver print dated 1975
23.5 x 29.5 cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

 

“All that I know, and how I know this, is primarily made up of abstract elements: spheres, planes, and grids whose parallel lines provide numerous opportunities, without taking into account the mirrors I use, to present the same object from several different angles within a single photograph, in order to yield, in the same way, different visions that complement and complete each other, and which when taken as a whole, are better able to explain it. Essentially, all of this is much more difficult to explain than to do.”

.
Florence Henri in an interview with Attilio Colombo, “Specchio, essenzialità, geometría,” in Florence Henri (Milan: Gruppo Editoriale Fabbri, 1983)

 

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne (France) 1982) was a multi-faceted artist, who was first known for her paintings before making a name for herself as a major figure in avant-garde photography between the end of the 1920s and the beginning of the 1940s. She lived in Silesia, Munich, Vienna, Rome and above all Berlin, before finally settling in Paris in 1924 and devoting herself to photography. This medium enabled her to experiment new relationships with space, in particular by the use of mirrors and other objects in her compositions.

The Jeu de Paume is presenting a vast panorama of Florence Henri’s photographic production from 1927 to 1940, including her self-portraits, abstract compositions, portraits of artists, nudes, photomontages, photocollages, as well as documentary photos taken in Rome, Paris and Brittany. The exhibition comprises vintage prints, various documents and published material.

When she was young, Florence Henri studied music and painting in England and Germany. In 1919, when she was a student at the Berlin Academy of Arts, she made the acquaintance of writer and art historian Carl Einstein and became friends with several figures of the avant-garde, including Hans Arp, Adrian Ludwig Richter, John Heartfield and Lázló Moholy-Nagy. She took classes with Paul Klee and Vassily Kandinsky at the Bauhaus in Weimar. In 1924 she moved to Paris, where she followed classes at the Académie Montparnasse, whose director was André Lhote, then at the Académie moderne (founded by Fernand Léger and Amédée Ozenfant). In 1927, after a visit to Bauhaus in Dessau, she abandoned painting in favour of photography. It was at this time that she produced her famous self-portraits in mirrors and her still lifes; the result of her first steps in the spatial research that she would carry out through the medium of photography.

Between the end of the 1920s and the beginning of the 1930s, three mythical exhibitions in terms of the history of European photography took place in Germany: “Fotografie der Gegenwart” at the Folkwang Museum in Essen (1929); “Film ind Foto” (Fifo) organised the same year by the Deutscher Werkbund in Stuttgart and “Das Lichtbild” held in Munich (1931). These exhibitions bore witness to the rapid expansion of new photographic concepts and a rupture with tradition. Fifo marked the zenith of the Neues Sehen (New Vision) movement of which László Moholy-Nagy was an exponent and “Das Lichtbild” marked the triumph of Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), whose leading representative was Albert Renger-Patzsch.

Florence Henri was invited to show an important number of prints at these three exhibitions in recognition of her photographic production during this fundamental period that saw the photography used to free our vision and open out onto new experiences.

Florence Henri’s studio rivalled that of Man Ray, even if she had also opened a school of photography where Lisette Model and Gisèle Freund, amongst others, would enrol. In fact, despite the central position that her oeuvre occupied in avant-garde photography at the end of the 1920s, her reputation as a portraitist in Paris, and the fact that her photos had been published in many of the period’s illustrated magazines such as Arts et Métiers and Lilliput etc, Florence Henri’s body of work remains largely unknown.

László Moholy-Nagy’s* comments are a perfect illustration of Florence Henri’s position: “With Florence Henri’s photos, photographic practice enters a new phase, the scope of which would have been unimaginable before today. Above and beyond the precise and exact documentary composition of these highly defined photos, research into the effects of light is tackled not only through abstract photograms, but also in photos of real-life subjects. The entire problem of manual painting is taken onboard by the photographic process and is manifestly given a whole new depth thanks to this new optical instrument. Reflections and spatial relationships, superposition and intersections are just some of the areas explored from a totally new perspective and viewpoint.”

*László Moholy-Nagy, “Zu den Fotografien von Florence Henri”, i10, No 17-18, Amsterdam, December 20, 1928.

Press release from the Jeu de Paume website

 

Florence Henri. 'Double portrait' 1927-1928

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Double portrait
1927-1928
Gelatin silver print dated 1977
24 x 18 cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Autoportrait [Self-portrait]' 1928

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Autoportrait [Self-portrait]
1928
Gelatin silver print, vintage
39.3 x 25.5 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunstbibliothek
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

 

Her most well-known work is a self-portrait, in which Henri sits before a mirror, dolled up almost as if in drag. Two silver balls lay reflected up against the mirror, equivocal symbols of both testicles and breasts. Henri, influential in both her artistic style and personal styles, toyed with gender binaries, using her personal appearance to emphasize the performative nature of gender. The artist was married to a Swiss house servant, but went on to have other relationships with both men and women, including a longtime affair with artist and model Margarete Schall.

Henri established herself as a formidable photographer, and remained consistent in her work up until World War II. Then her work declined considerably, both due to lack of materials and the prohibitions imposed under the Nazi occupation. Henri briefly returned to painting, but her central period of output remained in the 1920s and 1930s. Her compositions, simultaneously warm, playful, clever and inquisitive, set the stage for future explorations into the limits of photography, or lack thereof.

Priscilla Frank. “Meet Florence Henri, The Under-Acknowledged Queen Of Surrealist Photography,” on the Huffington Post website, 20th February 2015.

 

Florence Henri. 'Femme aux cartes [Woman with cards]' 1930

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Femme aux cartes [Woman with cards]
1930
Gelatin silver print, vintage
39 x 28.5 cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Portrait Composition, Cora' 1931

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Portrait Composition, Cora
1931
Gelatin silver print, vintage 13.6 x 11.4 cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Fernand Léger' 1934

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Fernand Léger
1934
Gelatin silver print, vintage
30.4 x 24 cm
Private collection, courtesy Archives Florence Henri, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

 

Earliest compositions

Her earliest compositions introduce an element that would be fundamental for her artistic investigations, namely the mirror. Using a very limited number of elements, Henri created extremely complex images characterised by the fragmentation of space and the use of multiple viewpoints. They include one of her best-known works, the self-portrait looking in the mirror with two metal spheres, which may be said to embody the spirit of freedom typical of that period, conveying the image of a modern and emancipated female artist, one who failed to conform to the societal status traditionally assigned to women.

Multiple exposure

Florence Henri uses methods such as multiple exposures when shooting, or a combination of several negatives, some inverted, to obtain abstract images, in which she manages to bestow static objects with a sense of dynamism. Florence Henri’s output during this early phase can be described as a perfect synthesis between abstract geometrical painting and the innovations of New Vision photography.

 

“Florence Henri’s work lured me to come to Paris in 1929. I wanted to live in a place where images were made that coincided with my own concepts.”

Ilse Bing, quoted in Gisèle Freund’s preface to Ilse Bing 1929/1955 : Femmes de l’enfance à la vieillesse

 

Advertising photography

In the field of professional photography, Florence Henri stands out for her very personal approach to advertising photography. Indeed, her images are the natural extension of her photographic experimentation and investigations using objects and mirrors.

Collages

She quickly substitutes industrial objects with natural elements in her compositions. In addition, she introduces a new tool in her work: collage. She makes them with fragments of prints, and then reproduces them to create the final print. She also introduces a new technique into her work –  collage – thereby underlining her interest in autonomous images that move away from a simple reproduction of reality, all the while emphasizing the conceptual work of the artist.

Shadows

Her quest for experimentation leads Florence Henri to work on the shadows passing vertically through the frame, creating a dark gap that interrupts and fragments the continuity of the image.

Nu composition

Their aesthetic characteristics clearly place the works grouped under the title Nu composition as part of the formal research Florence Henri carried out from the early 1930s, where the mastery of the composition obviously remains the central concern of her work.

Here, the camera is positioned at a slight distance in order to capture the sensuality of the female form, while natural objects – hyacinths and shells – or other more enigmatic elements, such as a comb or cards, also appear in the frame.

Rome

In late 1931 and early 1932, Florence Henri visits Rome where she takes a series of photographs, notably at the Roman Forum, but also at Saint Peter’s Square, which she uses, upon her return to Paris, as material for numerous collages, developing the technique she had already used in certain of her still lifes.

Portrait composition

The series Portrait Composition, is characterized by the tight framing of the central figurer – though some are models, most are her friends, including Grete Willers, Sonia Delaunay, Woty Werner, Kurt Wilhelm-Kästner, Fernand Léger, and Tulia Kaiser. The artist often makes use of harsh lighting, which marks the traits or make-up of her subjects with a diagonal composition or even distorts the image.

Brittany

The photographs taken in Brittany, which at first glance could be seen as purely documentary, reveal a very carefully considered attention to structure. In some of the more general shots, Florence Henri inserts a blurred, graphic element between the lens and the landscape, thereby going against the idea of photography as merely capturing reality, and once again, reinforcing the notion of composition.

Store windows

When Florence Henri strolls through Paris with her camera, her images reveal a very different preoccupation to that of other photographers. Faithful to her attention to structure, in the reflections of store windows she finds the same spirit that brings life to her studio compositions using mirrors. In 1936, Florence Henri moves to the Rue Saint-Romain in Montparnasse, where she makes use of the terrace to work in natural light, and to pursue her study of the fragmentation of the image through the use of shadows and reflections. She also returns to her self-portrait work.

 

Florence Henri. 'Fenêtre [Window]' 1929

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Fenêtre [Window]
1929
Gelatin silver print, vintage
37.3 x 27.5 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunstbibliothek
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Jeanne Lanvin' 1929

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Jeanne Lanvin
1929
Gelatin silver print, vintage
36.7 x 28.7 cm
Collection particulière, courtesy Archives Florence Henri, Gênes
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Composition Nature morte [Still-life composition]' 1931

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Composition Nature morte [Still-life composition]
1931
Gelatin silver print, vintage
45.9 x 37.7 cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Composition Nature morte [Still-life composition]' c. 1933

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Composition Nature morte [Still-life composition]
c. 1933
Photomontage, épreuve gélatino-argentique d’époque
29.4 x 24 cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Robert Delaunay' c. 1935

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Robert Delaunay
c. 1935
Gelatin silver print, vintage
49.5 x 39.7 cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 - Compiègne 1982) 'Bretagne [Brittany]' 1937-1940

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Bretagne [Brittany]
1937-1940
Gelatin silver print, vintage
28.2 x 24.2 cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Structure (intérieur du Palais de l'Air, Paris, Exposition Universelle) [Structure (Interior of the Palais de l'Air, Paris, World's Fair)]' 1937

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Structure (intérieur du Palais de l’Air, Paris, Exposition Universelle) [Structure (Interior of the Palais de l’Air, Paris, World’s Fair)]
1937
Gelatin silver print dated 1976
17.5 x 17.5 cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Autoportrait [Self-portrait]' 1938

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Autoportrait [Self-portrait]
1938
Gelatin silver print dated 1970’s
24.8 x 23.1 cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

 

Jeu de Paume
1, Place de la Concorde
75008 Paris
métro Concorde
T: 01 47 03 12 50

Opening hours:
Tuesday: 12.00 – 21.00
Wednesday – Friday: 12.00 – 19.00
Saturday and Sunday: 10.00 – 19.00
Closed Monday

Jeu de Paume website

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30
May
14

Exhibition / text: ‘Vivian Maier (1926-2009). A Photographic Revelation’ at Château de Tours

Exhibition dates: 9th November 2013 – 1st June 2014

 

“Maier doesn’t have a partner to dance with. She sees something well enough, whereas Lee Friedlander expects something. If there is an idea out there in the ether she grabs onto it in a slightly derivative way. Maier states that these things happened with this subject matter but with Arbus, for example, she meets something extra/ordinary and alien – and goes beyond, beyond, beyond.”

.
Dr Marcus Bunyan May 2014

 

 

The next best thing

The photographs of Vivian Maier. Unknown in her lifetime (nanny as secretive photographer), her negatives discovered at an auction after her death – some developed, all scanned, in some cases cropped, the medium format images then printed. The latest “must have” for any self respecting photography collection, be it private or public. But are they really that good?

To be unequivocal about it, they are good – but, in most cases, they are not “great”. Maier is a very good photographer but she will never be a great photographer. This might come as a surprise to the legions of fans on Facebook (and the thousands of ‘Likes’ for each image), those who think that she is the best thing since sliced bread. But let’s look at the evidence – the work itself.

The photographs can seen on the Vivian Maier Official website and I have spent quite a lot of time looking at them. As with any artist, there are some strong images and some not so strong ones but few reach ‘master’ status. The lighting is good, the use of low depth of field, the location and the presence of the people she photographed are all there, as are the influences that you recite in your mind as to the people her photographs remind you of: Lewis Hine, Berenice Abbott, Lisette Model, Diane Arbus, Helen Levitt, Lee Friedlander et al. Somehow through all this she makes the photographs she takes her own for she has a “rare sense of photographic vision” as Edward Petrosky expressed it on my LinkedIn page, but ultimately they don’t really take you anywhere. It’s like she has an addiction to taking photographs (a la Gary Winogrand), but no way of advancing her art to the next level.

Vivien Maier’s photographs stand out because she hasn’t withheld enough within them. What do I mean by that? Let’s look at some examples to explain what I mean…

Included in the postings are two comparisons: Vivian Maier, June 19, 1961, Chicago IL, 1961 / Lee Friedlander, Stony Point, New York, 1966; and Vivian Maier, New York, Nd 1966 / Berenice Abbott, New York at Night, 1932. As with most of Maier’s photography, she relies on intuition when taking a photograph and a bloody good intuition it is too. This intuition usually stands her in good stead and she almost always gets the shot, but there is an underlying lack of structure to her images. Here I am talking as much about psychological structure as physical structure, for both go hand in hand.

If we compare the Maier with the Friedlander we can say that, if we look at the windows in the Friedlander, every one is a masterpiece! From the mother and son at left with the white-coated marchers, to the central window with the miniature house, dog and tree, to the dark-suited marchers at right. Everything feels compelling, intricate weavings of a narrative that the viewer has to try and make sense of. Each part of the Friedlander image is absolutely necessary for that picture… whereas there are so many things in the Vivien Maier that belong in other pictures ie. a good picture but a lot that doesn’t belong in that picture. Things that should have been held back, by making another image somewhere else. Her narrative is confusing and thus the eye is also confused.

A similar scenario can be observed when comparing the photographs of New York at night by Abbott and Maier. Abbott’s photograph is a tight, orchestrated and muscular rendition of the city which seethes with energy and form. Maier’s interpretation fades off into nothingness, the main arterials of the city leading the eye up to the horizon line and then [nothing]. It is a pleasant but wishy-washy photograph, with all the energy of the city draining away in the mind and in the eye.

One of Maier’s photographs that most resonates with me is September 1953, New York, NY (1953, below). This IS a masterpiece. There is a conciseness of vision here, reminiscent of Weston’s Nude of 1938 with its link to the anamorphic structure of his photographs of peppers. There is nothing auxiliary to the purpose of the photograph, yet there is that indefinable something that takes it out of itself. The dirt of the clothes, under the fingers, the ring on the hand, the shape that no human should be in and its descent onto the pavement, the despair of that descent captured in the angle of the camera looking down on the victim. The photograph has empathy, promotes understanding and empathy in the viewer. Most of us have been there. Other photographs that approach a higher perspective are Maier’s self-portraits, in which there is a conscious exploration of her reflection in/of the world: a slightly dour, serious figure reflected back from the world into the lens of the camera – a refracted identity, the phenomenon of self as light passing obliquely through the interface between one medium and another, between living, the camera and memory.

But too often Maier’s photographs are just so… obvious. Did she wait long enough for the composition to reveal itself to her more, god what’s the word, more ambiguously. Maier doesn’t have a partner to dance with. She sees something well enough, whereas Lee Friedlander expects something. If there is an idea out there in the ether she grabs onto it in a slightly derivative way. Maier states that these things happened with this subject matter but with Arbus, for example, she meets something extra/ordinary and alien – and goes beyond, beyond, beyond.

What we can say is that Maier’s vision is very good, her intuition excellent, but there is, critically, not that indefinable something that takes her images from good to great. This is the key thing – everything is usually thrown at the image, she withholds nothing, and this invariably stops them taking that step to the next level. This is a mighty difficult step for any artist to take, let alone one taking photographs in the shadows. Personally I don’t believe that these images are a “photographic revelation” in the spirit of Minor White. What is a revelation is how eagerly they have been embraced around the world as great images without people really looking deeply at the work; how masterfully they have been promoted through films, books, websites and exhibitions; how Maier’s privacy has been expunged in the quest for dollars; and how we know very little about her vision for the negatives as there are no extant prints of the work.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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

 

 

Vivian Maier. 'Untitled' 1954

 

Vivian Maier
Untitled
1954
© Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

Edward Weston. 'Nude' 1936

 

Edward Weston
Nude
1936

 

Vivian Maier. 'September 1953, New York, NY' 1953

 

Vivian Maier
September 1953, New York, NY
1953
© Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

Vivian Maier. 'June 19, 1961, Chicago IL' 1961

 

Vivian Maier
June 19, 1961, Chicago IL
1961
© Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

Lee Friedlander. 'Stony Point, New York, 1966' 1966

 

Lee Friedlander
Stony Point, New York, 1966
1966
Silver gelatin photograph

 

Vivian Maier. 'New York' Nd

 

Vivian Maier
New York
Nd
© Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898 - 1991) 'New York at Night' 1932

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898 – 1991)
New York at Night
1932
Gelatin silver print
12 7/8 x 10 9/16″ (32.7 x 26.9 cm)

 

Vivian Maier. 'New York, NY, 18 Octobre 1953' 1953

 

Vivian Maier
New York, NY, 18 Octobre 1953
1953
© Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

Vivian-Maier-New-York-NY-c-1953-WEB

 

Vivian Maier
New York, NY
c. 1953
© Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

Vivian Maier. 'St East nº108, New York , NY, September 28, 1959' 1959

 

Vivian Maier
St East nº108, New York , NY, September 28, 1959
1959
© Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

Vivian Maier. 'New York, NY' 1954

 

Vivian Maier
New York, NY
1954
© Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

 

“Vivian Maier was the archetypal self-taught photographer with a keen sense of observation and an eye for composition. She was born in New York in 1926, but spent part of her childhood in France before returning to New York in 1951 when she started taking photos. In 1956, she moved to Chicago, where she lived until her death in 2009.

Her talent is comparable with that of the major figures of American street photography such as Lisette Model, Helen Levitt, Diane Arbus and Garry Winogrand. The exhibition presented at the Château de Tours by the Jeu de Paume, in partnership with the Municipality of Tours and diChroma photography, is the largest ever exhibition in France devoted to Vivian Maier. It includes 120 black and white and colour gelatin silver prints from the original slides and negatives, as well as extracts from Super 8 films she made in the 60s and 70s. This project, which is sourced from John Maloof’s collection, with the valuable assistance of Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York, reveals a poetic vision that is imbued with humanity.

John Maloof discovered Vivian Maier’s astonishing photos completely by chance in 2007 at an auction in Chicago. At the time, this young collector was looking for historical documentation about a specific neighbourhood of the city and he bought a sizeable lot of prints, negatives and slides (of which a major part had not even been developed) as well as some Super 8 films by an unknown and enigmatic photographer, Vivian Maier. By all accounts, Vivian Maier was a discreet person and somewhat of a loner. She took more than 120,000 photos over a period of thirty years and only showed this consequential body of work to a mere handful of people during her lifetime.

Vivian Maier earned her living as a governess, but all her free time and every day off was spent walking through the streets of New York, then later Chicago, with a camera slung around her neck (first of all box or folding cameras, later a Leica) taking photos. The children she looked after describe her as a cultivated and open-minded woman, generous but not very warm. Her images on the other hand bear witness to her curiosity for everyday life and the attention she paid to those passers – by who caught her eye: facial features, bearing, outfits and fashion accessories for the well-to-do and the telltale signs of poverty for those who were less fortunate.

While some photos are obviously furtively taken snapshots, others bear witness to a real encounter between the photographer and her models, who are photographed face-on and from close up. Her photos of homeless people and people living on the fringe of society demonstrate the depth of her empathy as she painted a somewhat disturbing portrait of an America whose economic boom was leaving many by the wayside.

Vivian Maier remained totally unknown until her death in April 2009. She had been taken in by the Gensburgs, for whom she had worked for almost seventeen years, and many of her possessions as well as her entire photographic output had been placed in storage. It was seized and sold in 2007 to settle unpaid bills.

Her biography has now been reconstructed, at least in part, thanks to a wealth of research and interviews carried out by John Maloof and Jeffrey Goldstein after the death of Vivian Maier. Jeffrey Goldstein is another collector who purchased a large part of her work. According to official documents, Vivian Maier was of Austro-Hungarian and French origin and her various trips to Europe, in particular to France (in the Alpine valley of Champsaur where she spent part of her childhood) have been clearly identified and documented. However, the circumstances that led her to take an interest in photography and her life as an artist remain veiled in mystery.

Photography seemed to be much more than a passion: her photographic activity was the result of a deeply felt need, almost an obsession. Each time she changed employers and had to move house, all her boxes and boxes of films (that she hadn’t had developed for want of money), as well as her archives comprising books and press cuttings about various stories in the news, came along too.

Vivian Maier’s body of work highlights those seemingly insignificant details that she came across during her long walks through the city streets: odd gestures, strange figures and graphic arrangements of figures in space. She also produced a series of captivating self-portraits from her reflection in mirrors and shop windows.”

Press release from the Château de Tours

 

Vivian Maier. 'Self-portrait' Nd

 

Vivian Maier
Self-portrait
Nd
© Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

Vivian Maier. 'Chicago' Nd

 

Vivian Maier
Chicago
Nd
© Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

Vivian Maier. 'Florida, 9 January 1957' 1957

 

Vivian Maier
Florida, 9 January 1957
1957
© Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

Vivian Maier. 'Untitled' 1954

 

Vivian Maier
Untitled
1954
© Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

Vivian Maier. 'Chicago, IL, January, 1956' 1956

 

Vivian Maier
Chicago, IL, January, 1956
1956
© Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

Vivian Maier. 'Chicago, August 22, 1956' 1956

 

Vivian Maier
Chicago, August 22, 1956
1956
© Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

 

Château de Tours
25 Avenue André Malraux
37000 Tours

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Friday: 2 pm – 6 pm
Saturday and Sunday: 3 pm – 6 pm

Vivian Maier Official website

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09
Jun
13

Exhibition: ‘The Radical Camera: New York’s Photo League, 1936-1951’ at The Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida