Posts Tagged ‘Margaret Bourke-White

26
Sep
21

Exhibition: ‘The New Woman Behind the Camera’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 2nd July – 3rd October, 2021

Curators: The New Woman Behind the Camera is curated by Andrea Nelson, Associate Curator in the Department of Photographs, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. The Met’s presentation is organised by Mia Fineman, Curator, with Virginia McBride, Research Assistant, both in the Department of Photographs.

 

 

Marion Post Wolcott (American, 1910–1990) '[Haircutting in Front of General Store and Post Office on Marcella Plantation, Mileston, Mississippi]' 1939

 

Marion Post Wolcott (American, 1910–1990)
[Haircutting in Front of General Store and Post Office on Marcella Plantation, Mileston, Mississippi]
1939
Gelatin silver print
9 13/16 × 12 11/16 in. (25 × 32.2cm)
Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

 

This is the first of two postings on this exhibition, this first one when it is taking place at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The second posting will be its iteration at the National Gallery of Art, Washington starting on 31st October, with many more images. I will write more about the exhibition in the second posting.

The only thing you really need to know is… I bought the catalogue. Rarely do I buy catalogues, but that’s how important I think this exhibition is.

My favourite photographs in this posting are two atmospheric self-portraits: Gertrud Arndt’s Masked Self-Portrait (No. 16) (1930, below) and Marta Astfalck-Vietz’s Self-Portrait (nude with lace) (c. 1927, below). The most disturbing but uplifting are Margaret Bourke-White’s photographs of the liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp: after all that he had gone through, how the young man can smile at the flash of the camera is miraculous.

But really, there is not a dud photograph in this posting. They are all strong, intelligent, creative images. I admire them all.

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 New Woman of the 1920s was a powerful expression of modernity, a global phenomenon that embodied an ideal of female empowerment based on real women making revolutionary changes in life and art. Featuring more than 120 photographers from over 20 countries, this groundbreaking exhibition explores the work of the diverse “new” women who embraced photography as a mode of professional and artistic expression from the 1920s through the 1950s. During this tumultuous period shaped by two world wars, women stood at the forefront of experimentation with the camera and produced invaluable visual testimony that reflects both their personal experiences and the extraordinary social and political transformations of the era.

The exhibition is the first to take an international approach to the subject, highlighting female photographers’ innovative work in studio portraiture, fashion and advertising, artistic experimentation, street photography, ethnography, and photojournalism. Among the photographers featured are Berenice Abbott, Ilse Bing, Lola Álvarez Bravo, Florestine Perrault Collins, Imogen Cunningham, Madame d’Ora, Florence Henri, Elizaveta Ignatovich, Consuelo Kanaga, Germaine Krull, Dorothea Lange, Dora Maar, Tina Modotti, Niu Weiyu, Tsuneko Sasamoto, Gerda Taro, and Homai Vyarawalla. Inspired by the global phenomenon of the New Woman, the exhibition seeks to reevaluate the history of photography and advance new and more inclusive conversations on the contributions of female photographers.

 

 

 

The New Woman Behind the Camera Virtual Opening

The New Woman of the 1920s through the 1950s was a powerful expression of modernity, a global phenomenon that embodied an ideal of female empowerment based on real women making revolutionary changes in life and art. During this tumultuous period shaped by two world wars, women stood at the forefront of experimentation with the camera and produced invaluable visual testimony that reflects both their personal experiences and the extraordinary social and political transformations of the era.

Join Mia Fineman, Curator in the Department of Photographs, for a tour of The New Woman Behind the Camera, a groundbreaking exhibition, which features more than 120 photographers from over 20 countries and explores the work of the diverse “new” women who embraced photography as a mode of professional and artistic expression.

 

 

 

New Woman Behind the Camera

The New Woman of the 1920s was a powerful expression of modernity, a global phenomenon that embodied an ideal of female empowerment based on real women making revolutionary changes in life and art. Featuring more than 120 photographers from over 20 countries, this groundbreaking exhibition explores the work of the diverse “new” women who embraced photography as a mode of professional and artistic expression from the 1920s through the 1950s. During this tumultuous period shaped by two world wars, women stood at the forefront of experimentation with the camera and produced invaluable visual testimony that reflects both their personal experiences and the extraordinary social and political transformations of the era.

 

Consuelo Kanaga (American, 1894-1978) 'Annie Mae Merriweather' 1935

 

Consuelo Kanaga (American, 1894-1978)
Annie Mae Merriweather
1935
Gelatin silver print
32.9 × 24.8cm (12 15/16 × 9 3/4 in.)
Purchase, Dorothy Levitt Beskind Gift, 1974
Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Consuelo Kanaga photographed Annie Mae Merriweather for the October 22, 1935 issue of New Masses (vol. 17, no. 4). This portrait accompanies a Merriweather’s account of a lynch mob in Lowndes County, Alabama. In response to a strike of the Sharecropper’s Union, members of the mob terrorised demonstrators, attacking Merriweather and murdering her husband.

The artist created this portrait of Annie Mae Meriwether for New Masses magazine, an Marxist periodical published in the United States from 1926 to 1948. The picture was commissioned to accompany an account of Meriwether’s escape from the lynch mob that had murdered her husband as retribution for his involvement with an Alabama sharecroppers’ union.

 

Consuelo Kanaga (American, 1894-1978)

Born in Astoria, Oregon, Consuelo Kanaga came from a family that valued ideals of social justice. After completing high school, she began writing for the San Francisco Chronicle in 1915. Within three years, she had learned darkroom technique from the paper’s photographers and become a staff photographer. She met Imogen Cunningham, Edward Weston, and Dorothea Lange through the California Camera Club, and was interested in the fine-art photography in Alfred Stieglitz’s Camera Work. A series of three marriages and one canceled engagement precipitated Kanaga’s periodic relocations between New York and San Francisco, where she established a portrait studio in 1930. While not an official member of the f/64 group, her images were exhibited in its first exhibition at San Francisco’s M. H. de Young Memorial Museum in 1932. Kanaga was involved in West Coast liberal politics, and when she returned to New York in 1935, she was associated with the leftist Photo League; she lectured there in 1938 with Aaron Siskind, then occupied with his Harlem Document. Her photography was championed by Edward Steichen, who included her in ‘The Family of Man’ exhibition in 1955. Kanaga’s work was featured in the 1979 ICP exhibition “Recollections: Ten Women of Photography,” and she was the subject of a retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 1992.

In terms of photographic technique and depiction of subjects, romantic instincts characterise Kanaga’s work. An advocate for the rights of African-Americans and other people of colour, Kanaga distinguished her portraits from the documentary images of the Farm Security Administration by conveying her subject’s physical comfort and personal pride. The tactile sense of volume in her work is reinforced by strong contrasts in printing light and dark forms.

Meredith Fisher in Handy et al. Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection, New York: Bulfinch Press in association with the International Center of Photography, 1999, p. 219 published on the International Center of Photography website [Online] Cited 16/07/2021.

 

Barbara Morgan (American, 1900-1992) 'Martha Graham – Lamentation' 1935

 

Barbara Morgan (American, 1900-1992)
Martha Graham – Lamentation
1935
Gelatin silver print
12 5/16 × 10 9/16 in. (31.2 × 26.9cm)
Purchase, Dorothy Levitt Beskind Gift, 1974
Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Barbara Morgan (American, 1900-1992)

Barbara Morgan (July 8, 1900 – August 17, 1992) was an American photographer best known for her depictions of modern dancers. She was a co-founder of the photography magazine Aperture.

Morgan is known in the visual art and dance worlds for her penetrating studies of American modern dancers Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Erick Hawkins, José Limón, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman and others. Morgan’s drawings, prints, watercolours and paintings were exhibited widely in California in the 1920s, and in New York and Philadelphia in the 1930s. …

In 1935 Barbara attended a performance of the young Martha Graham Dance Company. She was immediately struck with the historical and social importance of the emerging American Modern Dance movement:

“The photographers and painters who dealt with the Depression, often, it seemed to me, only added to defeatism without giving courage or hope. Yet the galvanising protest danced by Martha Graham, Humphrey-Weidman, Tamiris and others was heartening. Often nearly starving, they never gave up, but forged life affirming dance statements of American society in stress and strain. In this role, their dance reminded me of Indian ceremonial dances which invigorate the tribe in drought and difficulty.”

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Morgan conceived of her 1941 book project Martha Graham: Sixteen Dances in Photographs – the year she met Graham. From 1935 through the 1945 she photographed more than 40 established dancers and choreographers, and she described her process:

“To epitomise… a dance with camera, stage performances are inadequate, because in that situation one can only fortuitously record. For my interpretation it was necessary to redirect, relight, and photographically synthesise what I felt to be the core of the total dance.”

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Many of the dancers Morgan photographed are now regarded as the pioneers of modern dance, and her photographs the definitive images of their art. These included Valerie Bettis, Merce Cunningham, Jane Dudley, Erick Hawkins, Hanya Holm, Doris Humphrey, José Limón, Sophie Maslow, May O’Donnell, Pearl Primus, Anna Sokolow, Helen Tamiris, and Charles Weidman. Critics Clive Barnes, John Martin, Elizabeth McCausland, and Beaumont Newhall have all noted the importance of Morgan’s work.

Graham and Morgan developed a relationship that would last some 60 years. Their correspondence attests to their mutual affection, trust and respect. In 1980, Graham stated:

“It is rare that even an inspired photographer possesses the demonic eye which can capture the instant of dance and transform it into timeless gesture. In Barbara Morgan I found that person. In looking at these photographs today, I feel, as I felt when I first saw them, privileged to have been a part of this collaboration. For to me, Barbara Morgan through her art reveals the inner landscape that is a dancer’s world.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Lucia Moholy (British born Austria-Hungary, 1894-1989) 'László Moholy-Nagy' 1925-26

 

Lucia Moholy (British born Austria-Hungary, 1894-1989)
László Moholy-Nagy
1925-26
10 3/16 × 7 15/16 in. (25.8 × 20.1cm)
Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987
Metropolitan Museum of Art
© 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Lucia Moholy (British born Austria-Hungary, 1894-1989)

Lucia Moholy was one of the most prolific photographers at the Bauhaus between 1923 and 1928, while her husband, László Moholy-Nagy, was an instructor there. For both, photography was not simply a transparent window onto objective reality but a specific technology to be systematically explored in the modern spirit of exuberant experimentation. Here, illustrating the effect of selective focus, Moholy imprints his hand against the invisible picture plane that separates viewer and subject-a playful, disorienting gesture that collapses illusionistic depth into the concrete reality of the photographic image.

 

Lucia Moholy’s 1925-26 image of her celebrated photographer husband, László Moholy-Nagy, extending his hand in front of the camera was long assumed to be his own self-portrait, but research has led scholars to conclude that his wife shot the image. A wall label calls it “a striking example of the tendency to attribute the work of women artists to their male partners”.

Text from Nancy Kenney. “Triumphant in their time, yet largely erased later: a Met exhibition explores ‘The New Woman Behind the Camera’,” on The Art Newspaper website 1st July 2021 [Online] Cited 22/07/2021

 

Ringl and Pit (German, active 1930-1933) Grete Stern (Argentinian born Germany, 1904-1999) Ellen Auerbach (German, 1906-2004) 'Pétrole Hahn' 1931

 

Ringl and Pit (German, active 1930-1933)
Grete Stern (Argentinian born Germany, 1904-1999)
Ellen Auerbach (German, 1906-2004)
Pétrole Hahn
1931
Gelatin silver print
9 7/16 × 11 1/8 in. (23.9 × 28.2cm)
Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987
Metropolitan Museum of Art
© 2021 VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Wanda Wulz. 'Io + gatto (Cat + I)' 1932

 

Wanda Wulz (Italian, 1903-1984)
Io + gatto (Cat + I)
1932
Gelatin silver print
11 9/16 × 9 1/8 in. (29.4 × 23.2cm)
Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987
Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Wulz, a portrait photographer loosely associated with the Italian Futurist movement, created this striking composite by printing two negatives – one of her face, the other of the family cat – on a single sheet of photographic paper, evoking by technical means the seamless conflation of identities that occurs so effortlessly in the world of dreams.

 

Lucy Ashjian (American, 1907-1993) '[Savoy Dancers]' 1935-43

 

Lucy Ashjian (American, 1907-1993)
[Savoy Dancers]
1935-43
Gelatin silver print
24 × 18.8cm (9 7/16 × 7 3/8 in.)
Gift of Gregor Ashjian Preston, 2004
Metropolitan Museum of Art
© Lucy Ashjian Estate

 

 

Lucy Ashjian (1907-1993) was an American photographer best known as a member of the New York Photo League. Her work is included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Arizona and the Museum of the City of New York.

 

 

Groundbreaking Exhibition to Explore How Women Photographers Worldwide Shaped the Medium from the 1920s to the 1950s

The New Woman of the 1920s was a powerful expression of modernity, a global phenomenon that embodied an ideal of female empowerment based on real women making revolutionary changes in life and art. Opening July 2, 2021 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The New Woman Behind the Camera will feature 185 photographs, photo books, and illustrated magazines by 120 photographers from over 20 countries. This groundbreaking exhibition will highlight the work of the diverse “new” women who made significant advances in modern photography from the 1920s to the 1950s. During this tumultuous period shaped by two world wars, women stood at the forefront of experimentation with the camera and produced invaluable visual testimony that reflects both their personal experiences and the extraordinary social and political transformations of the era.

The exhibition is made possible in part by the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, The Daniel and Estrellita Brodsky Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. It is organised by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, in association with The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Max Hollein, Marina Kellen French Director of The Met, commented, “The international scope of this project is unprecedented. Though the New Woman is often regarded as a Western phenomenon, this exhibition proves otherwise by bringing together rarely seen photographs from around the world and presenting a nuanced, global history of photography. The women featured are responsible for shifting the direction of modern photography, and it is exhilarating to witness the accomplishments of these extraordinary practitioners.”

The first exhibition to take an international approach to the subject, The New Woman Behind the Camera will examine women’s pioneering work in a number of genres, from avant-garde experimentation and commercial studio practice to social documentary, photojournalism, ethnography, and sports, dance, and fashion photography. It will highlight the work of photographers such as Ilse Bing, Lola Álvarez Bravo, Claude Cahun, Florestine Perrault Collins, Elizaveta Ignatovich, Dorothea Lange, Lee Miller, Niu Weiyu, Tsuneko Sasamoto, Gerda Taro, and Homai Vyarawalla, among many others.

 

About the exhibition

Known by different names, from nouvelle femme and neue Frau to modan gāru and xin nüxing, the New Woman of the 1920s was easy to recognise but hard to define. Her image – a woman with bobbed hair, stylish dress, and a confident stride – was everywhere, splashed across the pages of magazines and projected on the silver screen. A symbol that broke down conventional ideas of gender, the New Woman was inspiring for some and controversial for others, embraced and resisted to varying degrees from country to country.

For many of these daring women, the camera was a means to assert their self-determination and artistic expression. The exhibition begins with a selection of compelling self-portraits, often featuring the photographer with her camera. Highlights include innovative self-portraits by Florence Henri, Annemarie Heinrich, and Alma Lavenson.

For many women, commercial studios were an important entry point into the field of photography, allowing them to forge professional careers and earn their own income. From running successful businesses in Berlin, Buenos Aires, and Vienna to earning recognition as one of the first female photographers in their respective country, women around the world, including Karimeh Abbud, Steffi Brandl, Trude Fleischmann, Annemarie Heinrich, Eiko Yamazawa, and Madame Yevonde, reinvigorated studio practice. Photography studios run by Black American women, such as Florestine Perrault Collins, not only preserved likenesses but also countered racist images then circulating in the mass media.

The availability of smaller, lightweight cameras spurred a number of women photographers to explore the city and the diversity of urban experience outside the studio. The exhibition features stunning street scenes and architectural views by Alice Brill, Rebecca Lepkoff, Helen Levitt, Lisette Model, Genevieve Naylor, and Tazue Satō Matsunaga, among others. Creative formal approaches – such as photomontage, photograms, unconventional cropping, and dizzying camera angles – came to define photography during this period. On view are experimental works by such artists as Valentina Kulagina, Dora Maar, Tina Modotti, Lucia Moholy, Toshiko Okanoue, and Grete Stern, all of whom pushed the boundaries of the medium.

During this period, many women traveled extensively for the first time and took photographs documenting their experiences abroad in Africa, China, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Others, including Marjorie Content, Eslanda Goode Robeson, and Anna Riwkin, engaged in more formal ethnographic projects. This period also gave rise to new ideas about health and sexuality and to changing attitudes about movement and dress. Women photographers such as Lotte Jacobi, Jeanne Mandello, and Germaine Krull produced images of liberated modern bodies, from pioneering photographs of the nude to exuberant pictures of sport and dance.

The unprecedented demand for fashion and advertising pictures between the world wars provided new employment opportunities for many female photographers, including Lillian Bassman, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Toni Frissell, Frances McLaughlin-Gill, Margaret Watkins, Caroline Whiting Fellows, and Yva. Fashion magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar visually defined the tastes and aspirations of the New Woman and offered a space in which women could experiment with pictures intended for a predominantly female readership.

The rise of the picture press also established photojournalism and social documentary photography as dominant forms of visual expression. Galvanised by the effects of a global economic crisis and growing political unrest, many women photographers, including Lucy Ashjian, Margaret Bourke-White, Kati Horna, Dorothea Lange, and Hansel Mieth, created powerful images that exposed injustice and swayed public opinion. While women photojournalists often received so-called “soft assignments” on the home front, others risked their lives on the battlefield. The exhibition features combat photographs by Thérèse Bonney, Galina Sanko, and Gerda Taro, as well as unsparing views of the liberation of Nazi concentration camps by Lee Miller. Views of Hiroshima by Tsuneko Sasamoto and photographs of the newly formed People’s Republic of China by Hou Bo and Niu Weiyu underscore the global complexities of the postwar era.

 

Credits

The New Woman Behind the Camera is curated by Andrea Nelson, Associate Curator in the Department of Photographs, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. The Met’s presentation is organised by Mia Fineman, Curator, with Virginia McBride, Research Assistant, both in the Department of Photographs.

Following its presentation at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the exhibition will travel to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., where it will be on view from October 31, 2021 through January 30, 2022. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, published by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and distributed by DelMonico Books.

Press release from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Elizabeth Buehrmann (American, 1886-1965) 'Advertisement for Robert Burns Cigar' c. 1920

 

Elizabeth Buehrmann (American, 1886-1965)
Advertisement for Robert Burns Cigar
c. 1920
Gelatin silver print mounted in press book
Image: 19.69 x 18.42cm (7 3/4 x 7 1/4 in.)
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library

 

 

Elizabeth Buehrmann (1886-1965)

Elizabeth “Bessie” Buehrmann (1886-1965) was born June 13, 1886, in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Elizabeth was an American photographer and artist who was one of the pioneers of taking formal portraits of people in their own homes rather than in a studio. …

At about the age of 15 she enrolled in painting and drawing classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. While she was still a teenager she began assisting Eva Watson-Schütze in her photography studio on West 57th Street, and it was there that she learned both the technical and aesthetic aspects of photography. She made such progress that by the time she was just 18 years old she was accepted as an Associate Member in Alfred Stieglitz’s important Photo-Secession.

Buehrmann specialised in taking portraits of clients in their homes, and she never used artificial scenery or props. She said “I have never had a studio at home but take my pictures in houses. A person is always much more apt to be natural, and then I can get different background effects.” She also did not pose her subjects; instead she would “spend several hours getting acquainted with her subjects before attempting to reproduce the character found in an interesting face.” Leading businessmen and diplomats commissioned her as well as prominent society women, and she was well known for both her artistry and her ability to capture “some of the soul along with the physical features of her sitters.”

In 1906-07 she spent a year living in London and Paris in order to learn the latest techniques and styles of European photographers. As another sign of her prominence, she was invited to join the Photo-Club de Paris, where she worked for several months.

When she returned, the Art Institute of Chicago gave her a large exhibition of 61 prints, including portraits, landscapes and still lifes. Included among her portraits were photographs of Alvin Langdon Coburn, Robert Demachy, Russell Thorndike, Fannie Zeisler, Sydney Greenstreet and Helena Modjeska.

In 1909 Stieglitz included three of her prints in the prominent National Arts Club exhibition which he organised. Another photographer, Robert Demachy, insisted her prints be included in an important show he was organising in Paris the next year. She is shown as still living with her parents, in Chicago, in the 1910 census. She continued doing portraiture until the late 1910s when she began exploring the then relatively new market for advertising photography. She spent the next decade working on a variety of advertising commissions. Her last known commercial photography took place in the early 1930s.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Charlotte Rudolph (German, 1896-1983) 'Gret Palucca' 1925

 

Charlotte Rudolph (German, 1896-1983)
Gret Palucca
1925
Gelatin silver print
8 13/16 × 6 9/16 in. (22.4 × 16.6cm)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund

 

 

Charlotte Rudolph (German, 1896-1983)

Charlotte Rudolph (1896-1983) was a German photographer. After training with Hugo Erfurth, Charlotte Rudolph opened a photo studio in Dresden in 1924 and concentrated on portrait and dance photography. In particular, Rudolph became known through her photographs of dancers such as Gret Palucca, with whom she was friends, Mary Wigman , Vera Skoronel and countless Wigman students such as Chinita Ullmann.

Her photos of the avant-garde German dancers of the 1920s and 1930s are among the most important documents of expressive dance today. In contrast to other photographers, Charlotte Rudolph did not take the dancers in a pose, but in action. Her pictures of Gret Palucca’s jumps made a major contribution to Palucca’s international fame in 1924 and were also Charlotte Rudolph’s breakthrough. As a result, many women went to their studio because they were hoping for such jump pictures from Rudolph.

Charlotte Rudolph continued to work in Germany during the Nazi era, and temporarily also in the USA after the Second World War. Her archives and her studio in Dresden, which she took over in 1938 after the death of Genja Jonas, were destroyed in the Second World War when Dresden was bombed on February 13, 1945.

Text from the German Wikipedia website

 

Gret Palucca, born Margarethe Paluka (8 January 1902 – 22 March 1993), was a German dancer and dance teacher, notable for her dance school, the Palucca School of Dance, founded in Dresden in 1925.

 

Yvonne Chevalier (French, 1899-1982) 'Nu' (Nude) 1929

 

Yvonne Chevalier (French, 1899-1982)
Nu (Nude)
1929
Gelatin silver print
15 3/8 × 10 1/8 in. (39 × 25.7cm)
© National Gallery of Art, Washington, Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund

 

 

Yvonne Chevalier (French, 1899-1982)

Yvonne Chevalier (French, 1899-1982). Coming from a well-to-do background, Yvonne Chevalier went to study drawing and painting after high school. Her first photographs of seascapes and cliffs date back to 1909. She married a doctor in 1920, with whom she had a daughter the following year. She and her husband welcomed and socialised with many artists and writers, including her friends Colette (1873-1954), Adrienne Monnier (1892-1955) and Mariette Lydis (1887-1990), whom she photographed. In 1929 she devoted herself entirely to her art and in 1930 she opened a portrait studio which was a great success. She became the official photographer of painter Georges Rouault. In 1936 she joined the association of French illustrator and advertising photographers, Le Rectangle, founded by Emmanuel Sougez, René Servant and Pierre Adam, which demanded a return to classicism.

The artist exhibited her photos of nudes, architecture and landscapes during two solo exhibitions, in 1935 and 1937. She explored portraiture and photojournalism (Algeria and Southern France, 1937), worked on sculpture (Rodin, 1935), architecture (Thoronet Abbey, 1936) and objects, particularly musical instruments. She tightly framed images – hands, for example – and used high- and low-angle shots, close-ups, shadow and light effects. In 1932 her portrait of Colette submerged in almost total darkness left only the writer’s eye fully illuminated. Included in many group exhibitions, she also regularly published in various magazines, such as Arts et métiers graphiquesCinégraph and Musica. Following the bombings of of the Second World War, the majority of her works disappeared in a fire.

In 1946 she became one of the founding members of the group XV, which wanted photography to be recognised as an art in and of itself. She exhibited with this group on several occasions. Together with the writer Marcelle Auclair, in 1949 she made a long report on the Spanish Carmelites to commemorate the foundation of the order by Teresa of Avila. She continued working extensively as a book illustrator, but stopped taking photographs in 1970. In 1980 the artist sorted and destroyed a large number of her prints.

Catherine Gonnard

Translated from French by Katia Porro.
From the Dictionnaire universel des créatrices
© 2013 Des femmes – Antoinette Fouque
© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions

Catherine Gonnard. “Yvonne Chevalier,” on the AWARE: Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions website [Online] Cited 24/08/2021

 

Karimeh Abbud (Palestinian, 1893-1940) 'Three Women' 1930s

 

Karimeh Abbud (Palestinian, 1893-1940)
Three Women
1930s
Gelatin silver print
3 1/2 × 5 1/2 in. (8.9 × 14 cm)
Issam Nassar

 

Gertrud Arndt (German born Poland, 1903-2000) 'Masked Self-Portrait (No. 16)' 1930

 

Gertrud Arndt (German born Poland, 1903-2000)
Masked Self-Portrait (No. 16)
1930
Gelatin silver print
8 15/16 × 6 15/16 in. (22.7 × 17.6cm)
Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

 

Costuming played a central role at the Bauhaus. From the very beginning, masquerade balls were celebrated regularly under a wide variety of mottoes. And the Bauhaus people rushed over, sometimes preparing for weeks in the workshops and privately the Bauhaus festivals that were popular beyond the walls of the school: Decorations, demonstrations, but above all their costumes – made of simple materials – transformed the Bauhaus people into miraculous figures, incarnate objects and masked beings. Gertrud Arndt’s mask photographs (a series of 43 self-portraits) derive directly from these Bauhaus festivals. …

Arndt’s mask photos are private photographs and were never intended for the public. The mask photographs were taken, rather, independently of viewers, as an experimental excursion into the possibilities and limits of one’s own face – and into the many different characters Arndt transformed herself into in her pictures. They are the record of an intimate conversation conducted between Arndt and her camera. The special thing about Gertrud Arndt’s mask photos is that they were taken in a comprehensive series. Within the 43 photos in the series, smaller picture series can be recognized. In her mask photos, Gertrud Arndt developed a kind of external image of herself, a “visual identity.”12 Arndt only rarely photographed herself once in the same costume. She often made two, three or four pictures in the same costume (or with minor changes). Here the pose, facial expression or picture detail change. In a series of three pictures within the series, Arndt shows herself in a high-necked top with a frill collar and hat, frontally with her eyes closed, then looking directly into the camera in a half-profile, and finally posing in a larger frame with a surprised facial expression. In another mini-series consisting of two photos, Arndt once photographed herself with her eyes closed, her head raised high, and in the next picture, squinting at her nose. The true woman behind the façade is not visible to the viewer. The pictures can illustrate the conflict women faced during the Weimar Republic: faced by entrenched, conservative notions of femininity on the one hand while opposed models for how a modern emancipated woman might act were also present, if to a lesser degree. The contradictory models available within society may be one source behind Arndt’s decision to use her mask photographs as a means to observe herself from the outside, as it were, and to investigate to what degree the many women into whom she transformed herself were actually part of her own feminine persona. At the same time, perhaps unconsciously, she may have also used her portrait project in the service of the traditionally feminine image expected of her, which also did not necessarily correspond to reality. Stereotypical ideas of womanhood with broad social currency circulating during the Weimar Republic included conservative images of women – such as the wife and mother, the widow and the naïve young girl – and these clichés are present in Arndt’s photographs. Or was it that she deliberately exaggerated these role models because she herself felt like a “non-doer” at the Bauhaus, was uncomfortable in this role and felt herself degraded by being thought thusly when her own self-image was that of an emancipated a modern woman? And then again, perhaps Gertrud Arndt’s mask photos are actually merely the result of her “boredom,” which she was desperately trying to alleviate, with role plays.

Extract from Anja Guttenberger. “Festive and Theatrical: The Mask Photos of Gertrud Arndt and Josef Albers as an Expression of Festival Culture,” on the Bauhaus Imaginista Journal website Nd [Online] Cited 16/09/2021

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (Austrian-British, 1908–1973) 'Man Selling Lemons, Vienna' c. 1932, printed later

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (Austrian-British, 1908–1973)
Man Selling Lemons, Vienna
c. 1932, printed later
Gelatin silver print
9 1/16 × 9 7/16 in. (23 × 24cm)
Collection of Peter Suschitzky. Julia Donat and Misha Donat

 

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (née Suschitzky; 28 August 1908 – 12 May 1973) was an Austrian-British photographer and spy for the Soviet Union. Brought up in a family of socialists, she trained in photography at Walter Gropius’s Bauhaus in Dessau, and carried her political ideals through her art. Through her connections with Arnold Deutsch, Tudor-Hart was instrumental in the recruiting of the Cambridge Spy ring which damaged British intelligence from World War II until the security services discovered all their identities by the mid-1960s. She recommended Litzi Friedmann and Kim Philby for recruitment by the KGB and acted as an intermediary for Anthony Blunt and Bob Stewart when the rezidentura at the Soviet Embassy in London suspended its operations in February 1940.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Ilse Bing (German, 1899-1998) 'Ballet "L'Errante", Paris' 1933

 

Ilse Bing (German, 1899-1998)
Ballet “L’Errante”, Paris
1933
Gelatin silver print
Image: 28.3 x 22.2 cm (11 1/8 x 8 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund

 

 

Andrea Nelson, an associate curator in the department of photographs at the National Gallery of Art (NGA) in Washington, DC who conceived and organised the exhibition, says the idea for it arose after she was hired in 2010 and was ruminating about generating shows drawn from the NGA’s permanent collection. She was struck by a trove of 90 images by the interwar photographer Ilse Bing that were variously donated by the artist or left by her estate after Bing died in 1998. “She was actually one of the few women photographers that the National Gallery had collected in depth,” Nelson said in an interview. (The show, which was originally scheduled to open first at the NGA last September but was then deferred because of the coronavirus pandemic, travels there this autumn.)

Born into a Jewish family in Frankfurt, Bing became interested in photography while creating architectural illustrations for her art history dissertation there, and eventually gave up her academic studies to pursue a career with the camera. She bought a Leica 35mm model in 1929 and moved the following year to Paris, where she met leading lights in avant-garde photography including Brassaï and André Kertész. Bing began experimenting compositionally and with light effects in self-portraits, images of Parisian streets and photographs of quotidian objects, followed by a striking series of pictures of dancers at the Moulin Rouge and other performers as well as commercial and fashion work in the burgeoning German and French magazine industry.

Known to the cognoscenti as “the Queen of the Leica”, she became a firmament in the constellation of Modernist photographers, included in important exhibitions in Paris and New York. Then the Second World War intervened, and Bing and her husband were both interned with other Jews in the south of France before fleeing to New York in 1941. Her photographic career gradually diminished after that, and she gave it up altogether in 1959.

Yet what she achieved from 1930 to 1940 remains a wonder to behold. “To me, she represents the established narrative of the interwar photographer,” says Nelson. “And as I began to dive deeper, I started to think about this larger community of women photographers who were entering the field, particularly in Germany and France. Did they have the same experiences as Bing, different experiences? But then I just started asking, wait a minute, was that true elsewhere [in the world]? What I really wanted to do was hopefully move beyond the Euro-American narrative that has really structured the history of photography.”

“I just felt that there wasn’t a look at the greater diversity of practitioners during the Modern period. So I took off down that road.”

Extract from Nancy Kenney. “Triumphant in their time, yet largely erased later: a Met exhibition explores ‘The New Woman Behind the Camera’,” on The Art Newspaper website 1st July 2021 [Online] Cited 22/07/2021

 

Germaine Krull. 'La Tour Eiffel' (The Eiffel Tower) c. 1928

 

Germaine Krull (German, French, and Dutch (born Poland) 1897-1985 Wetzlar, Germany)
La Tour Eiffel (The Eiffel Tower)
c. 1928
Gelatin silver print
8 7/8 in. × 6 in. (22.5 × 15.2cm)
Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Elfriede Stegemeyer (German, 1908-1988) 'Glühbirne, Spiralfeder, Quadrate und Kreise' (Light Bulb, Spring, Squares, and Circles) 1934

 

Elfriede Stegemeyer (German, 1908-1988)
Glühbirne, Spiralfeder, Quadrate und Kreise (Light Bulb, Spring, Squares, and Circles)
1934
Gelatin silver photogram
Image: 23.5 x 17.1cm (9 1/4 x 6 3/4 in.)
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

 

From 1929 to 1932, Stegemeyer (German, 1908-1988) studied art in Berlin and Cologne. In Cologne she was involved in the activities of the Cologne Progressive art association together with Raoul Ubac, Heinrich Hoerle and others. From 1932 to 1938 Stegemeyer concentrated on photographic experiments such as cameraless photography, multiple exposure, photomontage and object studies. Meeting Raoul Hausmann in his Ibiza exile in 1935 nourished her photographic studies of landscape and rural architecture (also during travels in Eastern Europe in the late 1930s). Stegemeyer took part in underground political resistance activities in Nazi Germany, which led to her imprisonment in 1941. Her archive was destroyed during air raids in Berlin in 1943. After the war, Stegemeyer’s work shifted towards drawing, painting, writing and prize-winning animation. In her late work in the 1980s, the artist turned to montage work of different materials.

Text from the Kicken Berlin website [Online] Cited 16/09/2021

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) '[Boy with a Cat]' 1934

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
[Boy with a Cat]
1934
Gelatin silver print
16 5/16 × 11 7/16 in. (41.4 × 29cm)
Purchase, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund and Kurtz Family Foundation Gift, 2015
Metropolitan Museum of Art
© 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

From 1930 to 1934 Maar turned her camera to the inhabitants of the streets of Paris and London, blending documentary and Surrealist modes. Her photographs often focus on socially marginal figures such as the poor or disabled, revealing her own political engagement. In this striking image, an adolescent with rumpled hair protectively grasps a cat to his chest, his gaze challenging Maar’s camera. The boy’s expression and posture imbue this chance encounter – and the composition – with an arresting psychological dimension.

 

Marjorie Content (American, 1895-1984) 'Adam Trujillo and His Son Pat, Taos' Summer 1933

 

Marjorie Content (American, 1895-1984)
Adam Trujillo and His Son Pat, Taos
Summer 1933
Gelatin silver print
4 1/2 × 5 9/16 in. (11.5 × 14.2 cm)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Purchased as the Gift of the Gallery Girls

 

 

Marjorie Content (1895-1984) was an American photographer from New York City active in modernist social and artistic circles. Her photographs were rarely published and never exhibited in her lifetime. Since the late 20th century, collectors and art historians have taken renewed interest in her work. Her photographs have been collected by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Chrysler Museum of Art; her work has been the subject of several solo exhibitions.

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971) 'Fort Peck Dam, Montana' 1936

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971)
Fort Peck Dam, Montana
1936
Gelatin silver print
12 15/16 × 10 13/16 in. (32.9 × 27.4cm)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Patrons’ Permanent Fund

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971) 'World's Highest Standard of Living' 1937

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971)
World’s Highest Standard of Living
1937
Gelatin silver print

 

Kati Horna (Mexican born Hungary, 1912-2000) 'Stairway to the Cathedral, Spain' 1938

 

Kati Horna (Mexican born Hungary, 1912-2000)
Stairway to the Cathedral, Spain
1938
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 × 7 1/16 in. (24.1 × 17.9cm)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund

 

Kati Horna (Mexican born Hungary, 1912-2000) 'Sin titulo (Milicianos en una trinchera/Militiamen in a trench) '1937-38

 

Kati Horna (Mexican born Hungary, 1912-2000)
Sin titulo (Milicianos en una trinchera/Militiamen in a trench)
1937-38
Gelatin silver print
7 1/2 × 7 1/2 in. (19 × 19cm)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, R. K. Mellon Family Foundation

 

 

Kati Horna (Mexican born Hungary, 1912-2000)

Kati Horna (May 19, 1912 – October 19, 2000), born Katalin Deutsch, was a Hungarian-born Mexican photojournalist, surrealist photographer and teacher. She was born in Budapest and lived in France, Berlin, Spain, and later was naturalised Mexican. Most of her work was lost during the Spanish Civil War. She was also one of the most influential women artists/photographers of her time. Through her photographs she was able to change the way that people viewed war. One way that Horna was able to do this was through the utilisation of a strategy called “gendered witnessing”. Gendered witnessing consisted of putting a more “feminine” view on the notion that war was a predominantly masculine thing. Horna became a legendary photographer after taking on a woman’s perspective of the war, she was able to focus on the behind the scenes, which led her to portraying the impact the war had on women and children. One of her most striking images is the Tête de poupée. Horna worked for various magazines including Mujeres and S.NOB, in which she published a series of Fétiches; but even her more commercial commissions often contained surreal touches. …

In 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, she moved to Barcelona, commissioned by the Spanish Republican government and the Confédération Générale du Travail, to document the war as well as record the everyday life of communities on the front lines, such as Aragón, Valencia, Madrid, and Lérida. She photographed elderly women, young children, babies and mothers, and was considered visionary for her choice of subject matter. She was editor of the magazine Umbral (where she me José Horna). Kati Horna collaborated with other magazines, most of which were anarchic, such as Tiempos Nuevos, Libre-Studio, Mujeres Libres and Tierra y Libertad. Her images of scenes from the civil war not only revealed her Republican sympathies but also gained her almost legendary status. Some of her photos were used as posters for the Republican cause.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Lisette Model (American born Austria, 1901-1983) 'Blind Man Walking, Paris' 1933-38

 

Lisette Model (American born Austria, 1901-1983)
Blind Man Walking, Paris
1933-38
Gelatin silver print on newspaper mount
11 3/16 × 8 3/4 in. (28.4 × 22.3cm)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Japanese-American owned grocery store in Oakland, California March' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Japanese-American owned grocery store in Oakland, California
March 1942
Gelatin silver print
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'One Nation Indivisible, San Francisco' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Children of the Weill Public School shown in a flag pledge ceremony, San Francisco, California
April 1942, printed c. 1965
Gelatin silver print
9 1/4 × 6 7/8 in. (23.5 × 17.4cm)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser

 

Hansel Mieth (German, 1909-1998) 'March of Dimes Dance' 1943

 

Hansel Mieth (German, 1909-1998)
March of Dimes Dance
1943
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Ron Perisho

 

Homai Vyarawalla (Indian, 1913-2012) 'The Victoria Terminus, Bombay' early 1940s, printed later

 

Homai Vyarawalla (Indian, 1913-2012)
The Victoria Terminus, Bombay
early 1940s, printed later
Inkjet print
11 9/16 × 11 13/16 in. (29.3 × 30cm)
Homai Vyarawalla Archive / The Alkazi Collection of Photography

 

 

Homai Vyarawalla (Indian, 1913-2012)

Homai Vyarawalla (9 December 1913 – 15 January 2012), commonly known by her pseudonym Dalda 13, was India’s first woman photojournalist. She began work in the late 1930s and retired in the early 1970s. In 2011, she was awarded Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian award of the Republic of India. She was amongst the first women in India to join a mainstream publication when she joined The Illustrated Weekly of India. …

Vyarawalla started her career in the 1930s. At the onset of World War II, she started working on assignments for Mumbai-based The Illustrated Weekly of India magazine which published many of her most admired black-and-white images. In the early years of her career, since Vyarawalla was unknown and a woman, her photographs were published under her husband’s name. Vyarawalla stated that because women were not taken seriously as journalists she was able to take high-quality, revealing photographs of her subjects without interference:

People were rather orthodox. They didn’t want the women folk to be moving around all over the place and when they saw me in a sari with the camera, hanging around, they thought it was a very strange sight. And in the beginning they thought I was just fooling around with the camera, just showing off or something and they didn’t take me seriously. But that was to my advantage because I could go to the sensitive areas also to take pictures and nobody will stop me. So I was able to take the best of pictures and get them published. It was only when the pictures got published that people realised how seriously I was working for the place.

~  Homai Vyarawalla in Dalda 13: A Portrait of Homai Vyarawalla (1995)

Eventually her photography received notice at the national level, particularly after moving to Delhi in 1942 to join the British Information Services. As a press photographer, she recorded many political and national leaders in the period leading up to independence, including Mohandas Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Indira Gandhi and the Nehru-Gandhi family.

The Dalai Lama in ceremonial dress enters India through Nathu La in Sikkim on 24 November 1956, photographed by Homai Vyarawalla. In 1956, she photographed for Life Magazine the 14th Dalai Lama when he entered Sikkim in India for the first time via the Nathu La.

Most of her photographs were published under the pseudonym “Dalda 13”. The reasons behind her choice of this name were that her birth year was 1913, she met her husband at the age of 13 and her first car’s number plate read “DLD 13”.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971) 'Buchenwald Prison' 13th April 1945

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971)
Buchenwald Prison
13th April 1945

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971) 'The Liberation of Buchenwald' April 1945

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971)
The Liberation of Buchenwald
April 1945

 

 

Caption from LIFE. “Deformed by malnutrition, a Buchenwald prisoner leans against his bunk after trying to walk. Like other imprisoned slave labourers, he worked in a Nazi factory until too feeble.”

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971) 'Self-Portrait with Camera' c. 1933

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971)
Self-Portrait with Camera
c. 1933
Gelatin-silver print, toned
13 1/4 × 9 1/8 in. (33.66 × 23.18cm)

 

Lee Miller (American, 1907-1977) 'Dead SS Prison Guard Floating in Canal, Dachau, Germany' 1945

 

Lee Miller (American, 1907-1977)
Dead SS Prison Guard Floating in Canal, Dachau, Germany
1945
Gelatin silver print
6 1/4 in. × 6 in. (15.9 × 15.2cm)
Lee Miller Archives
© Lee Miller Archives, England 2021

 

 

Sometime in the 1930s, Hungarian photographer Anna Barna shot “Onlooker,” a picture of a boy standing on a chair seen from behind as he peers over a palisade.

As his shadow stretches out across the planks blocking his way, it takes the shape of a bearded profile that reads as a second “onlooker” in the shot. A bit further off stands yet a third “looker” who, though quite invisible in the image, was very much present in the mind of any prewar viewer who saw the shot’s photo credit: That looker is Anna Barna, a woman who has dared to pick up the camera that would normally have been held by a man. Like all the camera-wielding women of her era, Barna made a bold move that gave her a powerful cultural presence.

That presence is on display in “The New Woman Behind the Camera,” an inspired and inspiring exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through Oct. 3. In late October, it moves on to the National Gallery of Art in Washington. Curated by Andrea Nelson of the NGA, the show has been installed at the Met by Mia Fineman.

The more than 200 pictures on view, taken from the 1920s through the ’50s, let us watch as women everywhere become photo pros. I guess some of their shots could have been snapped by men, but female authorship shaped what these images meant to their contemporaries. It shapes what we need to make of them now, as we grasp the challenges their makers faced.

The Met shows women photographing everything from factories to battles to the oppressed, but also gowns and children and other traditionally “feminine” subjects. Sometimes the goal is straight documentation: Figures like Dorothea Lange in the United States and Galina Sanko in the Soviet Union recorded the worlds they moved through, often at the request of their governments. But many of their sisters prefer the aggressive viewpoints and radical lightings of what was then called the New Vision, as developed at the Bauhaus and other hot spots of modern style. It was to sight what jazz was to sound.

That made the New Vision a perfect fit for the New Woman, a term that went global early in the 20th century to describe all the many women who took on roles and responsibilities – new personas and even new powers – they’d rarely had before. When a New Woman took up photography, she often turned her New Vision on herself, as one of the modern world’s most striking creations.

A self-portrait by American photographer Alma Lavenson leaves out everything but her hands and the camera they’re holding; the only thing we need to know is that Lavenson is in control of this machine, and therefore of the vision it captures.

German photographer Ilse Bing shoots into the hinged mirrors on a vanity, giving us both profile and head-on views of her face and of the Leica that almost hides it. Since antiquity, the mirror had been a symbol of woman and her vanities; Bing claims that old symbol for herself, making it yield a new image.

The mirror deployed by the German Argentine photographer Annemarie Heinrich is a silvered sphere; capturing herself and her sister in it, she depicts the fun-house pleasures, and distortions, of being a woman made New.

Heinrich’s European peers sometimes go further in disturbing their self-presentation. In “Masked Self-Portrait (No. 16),” Gertrud Arndt double- or maybe triple-exposes her face, as though to convey the troubled identity she’s taken on as a woman who dares to photograph. (Multiple exposure is almost a hallmark of New Woman photographers; maybe that shouldn’t surprise us.) In a collage titled “I.O.U. (Self-Pride),” French photographer Claude Cahun presents herself as 11 different masked faces, surrounded by the words “Under this mask, another mask. I’ll never be done lifting off all these faces.”

It’s as though the act of getting behind a camera turns any New Woman into an ancestor and avatar of Cindy Sherman, trying on all sorts of models for gender.

If there’s one problem with this show, it’s that it mostly gives us women who succeeded in achieving the highest levels of excellence, barely hinting at the much greater number of women who were prevented from reaching their creative goals by the rampant sexism of their era: talented women whose places in a photo school were given to men instead, or who were streamed into the lowest or most “feminine” tiers of the profession – retouching, or cheap kiddie portraits – or who were never promoted above studio assistant.

It’s a problem that bedevils all attempts at recovering the lost art of the disadvantaged: By telling the same stories of success that you do with white males, you risk making it look as though others were given the same chance to rise.

A quite straight shot of Chinese photojournalist Niu Weiyu may best capture what it really meant for the New Woman to start taking pictures. As snapped by her colleague Shu Ye, Niu stands perched with her camera at the edge of a cliff. Every female photographer adopted this daredevil pose, at least in cultural terms, just by clicking a shutter.

Several of the women featured at the Met actually took over studios originally headed by husbands or fathers. In the Middle East and Asia, this gave them access to a reality that men could not document: Taken in 1930s Palestine, a photo by an entrepreneur who styled herself as “Karimeh Abbud, Lady Photographer” shows three women standing before the camera with complete self-confidence – the youngest smiles broadly into the lens – in a relaxed shot that a man would have been unlikely to capture.

Gender was almost as powerfully in play for women in the West. If taking up a camera was billed as “mannish,” many a New Woman in Europe was happy to go with that billing: Again and again, they portray themselves coiffed with the shortest of bobs, sometimes so short they read as male styles. Cahun, who at times was almost buzz-cut, once wrote “Masculine? Feminine? It depends on the situation. Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.”

Margaret Bourke-White, an American photographer who achieved true celebrity, shoots herself in a bob long enough to just about cover her ears, but this almost girlish style is more than offset by manly wool slacks. (In the 1850s, Rosa Bonheur had to get a police license to wear pants when she went to draw the horse-breakers of Paris. As late as 1972, my grandmother, born into the age of the New Woman, boasted of the courage she’d recently mustered to start wearing pants to work.)

A New Woman clicking the shutter might seem almost as much on display as any subject before her lens. Bourke-White’s photo of the Fort Peck dam graced the cover of Life magazine’s first modern issue, in 1936, and it got that play in part because it had been shot by her: The editors go on about that “surprising” fact as they introduce their new magazine, and how they were “unable to prevent Bourke-White from running away with their first nine pages.”

When a subject is in fact another woman, shooter and sitter can collapse into one. Lola Álvarez Bravo, the great Mexican photographer, once took a picture of a woman with shadows crisscrossing her face, titling it “In Her Own Prison.” As a photographic Everywoman, Álvarez Bravo comes off as in that same jail.

To capture the predicament of women in Catholic Spain, Kati Horna double-exposed a girl’s face onto the barred windows beside a cathedral; it’s hard not to see the huge eye that looks out at us from behind those bars as belonging to Horna herself, peering through the viewfinder.

For centuries before they went New, women had been objectified and observed as few men were likely to be. Picking up the camera didn’t pull eyes away from a New Woman; it could put her all the more clearly on view. But thanks to photography, she could begin to look back, with power, at the world around her.

Blake Gopnik. “Women Who Shaped Modern Photography,” on The New York Times website July 11, 2021 [Online] Cited 16/07/2021

 

Bernice Kolko (American born Poland, 1905-1970) 'Photogram' c. 1944

 

Bernice Kolko (American born Poland, 1905-1970)
Photogram
c. 1944
Gelatin silver print
9 3/4 × 11 1/2 in. (24.8 × 29.2cm)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund

 

 

Bernice Kolko (American born Poland, 1905-1970)

Bernice Kolko (1905-1970) was a Polish-American photographer. During World War II, she joined the Women’s Army Corps as a photographer. In 1953 she became friends with Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, who she had met when they visited Chicago. They invited her to Mexico, where she travelled, taking pictures of the women of Mexico. She and Kahlo travelled frequently, with Kolko taking photos of Kahlo in the two years before Kahlo’s death. In 1955 she became the first woman to exhibit at the Palacio de Bellas Artes.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Rebecca Lepkoff (American, 1916–2014) '14th Street, New York City' 1947-48

 

Rebecca Lepkoff (American, 1916–2014)
14th Street, New York City
1947-48
Gelatin silver print
10 5/8 × 12 9/16 in. (27 × 31.9cm)
Purchase, Phillip and Edith Leonian Foundation Gift, 2012
Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Rebecca Lepkoff (American, 1916–2014)

Rebecca Lepkoff (born Rebecca Brody; 1916-2014) was an American photographer. She is best known for her images depicting daily life in the Lower East Side neighbourhood of New York City in the 1940s. …

Fascinated by the area where she lived, she first photographed Essex and Hester Street which, she recalls, “were full of pushcarts.” They no longer exist today but then “everyone was outside: the mothers with their baby carriages, and the men just hanging out.” Her photographs captured people in the streets, especially children, as well as the buildings and the signs on store fronts.

In 1950, she also photographed people at work and play in Vermont. The images were used to illustrate the book Almost Utopia: The Residents and Radicals of Pikes Falls, Vermont, 1950, published by the Vermont Historical Society. They present the area before its character was changed with paved roads and vacationers. In the 1970s, she photographed the next generation of inhabitants in a series she called Vermont Hippies.

Rebecca Lepkoff was an active member of the Photo League from 1947 until 1951 when it was dissolved as a “communist organisation” in the McCarthy era.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Grete Stern (Argentinian, born Germany, 1904-1999) 'Sueño No. 1: "Articulos eléctricos para el hogar" (Dream No. 1: "Electrical Household items")' c. 1949

 

Grete Stern (Argentinian born Germany, 1904-1999)
Sueño No. 1: “Articulos eléctricos para el hogar” (Dream No. 1: “Electrical Household items”)
1949
Gelatin silver print
18 1/4 × 15 11/16 in. (46.4 × 39.8 cm)
Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2012
Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

In 1948 the Argentine women’s magazine Idilio introduced a weekly column called “Psychoanalysis Will Help You,” which invited readers to submit their dreams for analysis. Each week, one dream was illustrated with a photomontage by Stern, a Bauhaus-trained photographer and graphic designer who fled Berlin for Buenos Aires when the Nazis came to power. Over three years, Stern created 140 photomontages for the magazine, translating the unconscious fears and desires of its predominantly female readership into clever, compelling images. Here, a masculine hand swoops in to “turn on” a lamp whose base is a tiny, elegantly dressed woman. Rarely has female objectification been so erotically and electrically charged.

 

Alice Brill (Brazilian born Cologne, 1920-2013) 'Street Vendor at the Chá Viaduct, São Paulo' c. 1953

 

Alice Brill (Brazilian born Cologne, 1920-2013)
Street Vendor at the Chá Viaduct, São Paulo
c. 1953
Gelatin silver print
32 × 32cm (12 5/8 × 12 5/8 in.)
Instituto Moreira Salles

 

 

Alice Brill (Brazilian born Germany, 1920-2013)

Alice Brill (December 13, 1920 – June 29, 2013) was a German-born Brazilian photographer, painter, and art critic.

Alice Brill Czapski was born in Cologne, Germany, in 1920. She was Jewish, the daughter of the painter Erich Brill [de] and the journalist Martha Brill [de]. In 1934 she and her parents left Germany to escape the National Socialist (Nazi) regime; her mother, long divorced from Erich Brill, emigrated to Brazil, and in 1935 Alice Brill and her father also emigrated there. Influenced by a schoolteacher, she recorded in a diary the trips made during exile, with a photographic camera given to her by her father. She passed through Spain, Italy and the Netherlands before landing in Brazil. Her father returned alone to Germany in 1936. He was subsequently imprisoned and died, a Holocaust victim, in 1942 at the Jungfernhof concentration camp.

At age 16 she studied with the painter Paulo Rossi Osir, who influenced her production of photographs and batik paintings. She participated in the Santa Helena Group, an informal association of painters from São Paulo, maintaining contact with artists such as Mario Zanini and Alfredo Volpi. In 1946, she won a Hillel Foundation scholarship to study at the University of New Mexico and the Art Students League of New York where she studied photography, painting, sculpture, engraving, art history, philosophy and literature.

After returning to Brazil in 1948, she worked as a photographer for Habitat magazine, coordinated by architect Lina Bo Bardi. She documented architecture, fine arts and made portraits of artists, as well as recording works and exhibitions of the São Paulo Art Museum and Sao Paulo Museum of Modern Art He also participated in an expedition in Corumbá organised by the Central Brazil Foundation, photographing the Carajás people. In 1950, she performed the essay at the Psychiatric Hospital of Juqueri at the invitation of the plastic artist Maria Leontina da Costa, registering the wing of the Free Art Workshop. In the same year, Pietro Maria Bardi commissioned an essay on São Paulo for the city’s fourth centennial. It portrayed the process of modernisation of the city between 1953 and 1954, but the publication project was not completed.

In addition to being a photographer, she worked as a painter, participating in the I and IX Bienal de São Paulo (1951 and 1967 respectively), as well as several individual and collective exhibitions. Her subjects involved urban landscapes and abstractionism, performing watercolours and batik paintings. She graduated in philosophy from PUC-SP in 1976, graduating in 1982 and a doctorate in 1994 and worked as an art critic, writing articles for the culture section of the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo, which were later collected in the book “Da arte e da linguagem” (Perspectiva, 1988).

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Frieda Gertrud Riess (German, 1890-1957) 'The Sculptor Renée Sintenis' 1925, printed 1925-35

 

Frieda Gertrud Riess (German, 1890-1957)
The Sculptor Renée Sintenis
1925, printed 1925-35
Gelatin silver print
8 7/8 × 6 13/16 in. (22.6 × 17.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection. Bequest of Gertrude Palmer, by exchange

 

 

Frieda Gertrud Riess (German, 1890-1957)

Frieda Gertrud Riess (1890 – c. 1955) was a German portrait photographer in the 1920s with a studio in central Berlin.

In 1918, she opened a business on the Kurfürstendamm in Berlin; it became one of the most popular studios in the city. Partly as a result of her marriage to the journalist Rudolf Leonhard in the early 1920s, she extended her clientele to celebrities such as playwright Walter Hasenclever, novelist Gerhart Hauptmann and actors and actresses including Tilla Durieux, Asta Nielsen and Emil Jannings. This group extended to include dancers, music-hall stars and fine artists: Anna Pavlova, Mistinguett, Lil Dagover, Renée Sintenis, Max Liebermann and Xenia Boguslawskaja. Other clients included representatives of the old aristocracy, diplomats, politicians and bankers. Boxers (and nudes thereof) were a notable group in which she specialised, including Erich Brandl, Hermann Herse, Max Schmeling, Ensor Fiermonte.

Such was her renown that she became known simply as Die Reiss. While on a trip to Italy in 1929, she was invited to photograph Benito Mussolini. In addition, she contributed to the journals and magazines of the day including Die Dame, Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung, Der Weltspiegel, Querschnit and Koralle. In 1932, after falling in love with Pierre de Margerie, the French ambassador in Berlin (1922-31). She moved to Paris with him, and he died in 1942. She disappeared from the public eye during the Occupation. Even the date of her death cannot be clearly established and her place of burial remains unknown.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Renée Sintenis (German, 1888-1965)

Renée Sintenis, née Renate Alice Sintenis (March 20, 1888, Glatz – April 22, 1965, West Berlin), was a German sculptor, medalist and graphic artist who worked in Berlin. She created mainly small-sized animal sculptures, female nudes, portraits (drawings and sculptures) and sports statuettes. …

In 1928 Sintenis won the bronze medal in the sculpture section of the art competition for the Summer Olympics in Amsterdam; she is thought to be the first LGBTQ+ Olympic medallist. Renée Sintenis took part in the 1929 exhibition of the German Association of Artists in the Cologne State House, with five small-format animal sculptures. In 1930 she met the French sculptor Aristide Maillol in Berlin. In 1931 she was appointed as the first sculptor, and second woman after Käthe Kollwitz, together with 13 other artists, to join the Berlin Academy of the Arts – Fine Arts section, although the National Socialists forced her to leave in 1934.

Due to her body size, slim figure, charisma, her self-confident, fashionable demeanor and androgynous beauty, she was often portrayed by artists like her husband, Emil Rudolf Weiß and Georg Kolbe, and by photographers, like Hugo Erfurth, Fritz Eschen and Frieda Riess. She embodied perfectly the type of the ‘new woman’ of the 1920s, even if she appeared rather reserved.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Renée Sintenis’ work was included in the Schwules Museum’s exhibition LESBIAN VISIONS – Artistic positions from Berlin, May – August 2018.

The exhibition conceptualised a utopian and melancholic gallery that follows the tracks of lesbian forms of pleasure and experience as well as lesbian identity constructions and lifestyles. In this context, the exhibition understood and recognised the term “lesbian” in its broadest sense, which is to say that desire and gender can be fluid.

 

Yevonde Cumbers Middleton (British, 1893–1975) 'Lady Bridget Poulett as 'Arethusa'' 1935

 

Yevonde Cumbers Middleton (British, 1893–1975)
Lady Bridget Poulett as ‘Arethusa’
1935
Vivex colour print
14 3/4 × 10 3/4 in. (37.5 × 27.3cm)
National Portrait Gallery, London, Given by Madame Yevonde, 1971

 

 

Yevonde Philone Middleton (English, 1893-1975)

Yevonde Philone Middleton (English, 1893-1975) was an English photographer, who pioneered the use of colour in portrait photography. She used the professional name Madame Yevonde. …

Cumbers sought, and was given, a three-year apprenticeship with the portrait photographer Lallie Charles. With the technical grounding she received from working with Charles, and a gift of £250 from her father, at the age of 21 Yevonde set up her own studio at 92 Victoria Street, London, and began to make a name for herself by inviting well-known figures to sit for free. Before long her pictures were appearing in society magazines such as the Tatler and The Sketch. Her style quickly moved away from the stiff “pouter pigeon” look of Lallie Charles, toward a still formal, but more creative, style. Her subjects were often pictured looking away from the camera, and she began using props to creative effect.

By 1921 Madame Yevonde had become a well-known and respected portrait photographer, and moved to larger premises at 100 Victoria Street. Here she began taking advertising commissions and also photographed many of the leading personalities of the day, including A.A. Milne, Barbara Cartland, Diana Mitford, Louis Mountbatten and Noël Coward.

In the early 1930s, Yevonde began experimenting with colour photography, using the new Vivex colour process from Colour Photography Limited of Willesden. The introduction of colour photography was not universally popular; indeed photographers and the public alike were so used to black-and-white pictures that early reactions to the new process tended toward the hostile. Yevonde, however, was hugely enthusiastic about it and spent countless hours in her studio experimenting with how to get the best results. Her dedication paid huge dividends. In 1932 she put on an exhibition of portrait work at the Albany Gallery, half monochrome and half colour, to enthusiastic reviews.

In 1933, Madame Yevonde moved once again, this time to 28 Berkeley Square. She began using colour in her advertising work as well as her portraits, and took on other commissions too. In 1936, she was commissioned by Fortune magazine to photograph the last stages in the fitting out of the new Cunard liner, the Queen Mary. This was very different from Yevonde’s usual work, but the shoot was a success. People printed twelve plates, and pictures were exhibited in London and New York City. One of the portraits was of artist Doris Zinkeisen who was commissioned together with her sister Anna to paint several murals for the Queen Mary. Another major coup was being invited to take portraits of leading peers to mark the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. She joined the Royal Photographic Society in 1933, and became a Fellow in 1940. The RPS Collection holds examples of her work.

Yevonde’s most famous work was inspired by a theme party held on 5 March 1935, where guests dressed as Roman and Greek gods and goddesses. Yevonde subsequently took studio portraits of many of the participants (and others), in appropriate costume and surrounded by appropriate objects. This series of prints showed Yevonde at her most creative, using colour, costume and props to build an otherworldly air around her subjects. She went on to produce further series based on the signs of the zodiac and the months of the year. Partly influenced by surrealist artists, particularly Man Ray, Yevonde used surprising juxtapositions of objects which displayed her sense of humour.

This highly creative period of Yevonde’s career would only last a few years. At the end of 1939, Colour Photographs Ltd closed, and the Vivex process was no more. It was the second major blow to Yevonde that year – her husband, the playwright Edgar Middleton, had died in April. Yevonde returned to working in black and white, and produced many notable portraits. She continued working up until her death, just two weeks short of her 83rd birthday, but is chiefly remembered for her work of the 1930s, which did much to make colour photography respectable.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Lady Bridget Elizabeth Felicia Henrietta Augusta Poulett (English, 1912-1975), was an English socialite, sometime model of Cecil Beaton.

 

Tina Modotti (Italian, 1896-1942) 'La técnica [or, Mella's Typewriter]' 1928

 

Tina Modotti (Italian, 1896-1942)
La técnica [or, Mella’s Typewriter]
1928
Gelatin silver print
24 × 19.2cm (9 7/16 × 7 9/16 in.)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Anonymous gift

 

Irene Bayer-Hecht (American, 1898-1991) 'Female Student with Beach Ball' c. 1925

 

Irene Bayer-Hecht (American, 1898-1991)
Female Student with Beach Ball
c. 1925
Gelatin silver print
4 1/8 × 3 1/16 in. (10.5 × 7.8cm)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Irene Bayer-Hecht (1898-1991) was an American born photographer involved in the Bauhaus movement. Her photographs “feature experimental approaches and candid views of life at the Bauhaus.”

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Jean Cocteau with Gun, Paris' c. 1926

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Jean Cocteau with Gun, Paris
c. 1926
From Faces of the 20’s
Gelatin silver print
34 x 25.5cm (13.4 x 10 in.)

 

Berenice Abbott in an undated photo. Photographer and source unknown 1930s

 

Berenice Abbott in an undated photo. Photographer and source unknown 1930s
Public domain

 

Annelise Kretschmer (German, 1903–1987) 'Young Woman' 1928

 

Annelise Kretschmer (German, 1903–1987)
Young Woman
1928
Gelatin silver print
18 3/8 × 15 11/16 in. (46.7 × 39.8cm)
Museum Folkwang, Essen
© Museum Folkwang Essen – ARTOTHEK

 

 

Annelise Kretschmer (1903-1987) was a German portrait photographer. Kretschmer is best known for her depictions of women in Germany in the early 20th century and is credited with helping construct the ‘Neue Frau’ or New Woman image of modern femininity.

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954) 'I.O.U. (Self-Pride) in Aveux non avenus' 1930

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
I.O.U. (Self-Pride) in Aveux non avenus
1930
Book
Open: 8 3/4 × 12 1/2 in. (22.2 × 31.8cm)
Closed: 8 3/4 × 6 3/4 in. (22.2 × 17.2cm)
National Gallery of Art Library, Washington, DC,

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954) 'Self-portrait (reflected image in mirror with chequered jacket)' 1927

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Self-portrait (reflected image in mirror with chequered jacket)
1927
Silver gelatin print

 

Ruth Harriet Louise (American, 1906-1944) 'Carmel Myers' 1925-30

 

Ruth Harriet Louise (American, 1906-1944)
Carmel Myers
1925-30
Gelatin silver print
12 7/16 × 9 1/4 in. (31.6 × 23.5cm)
The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

 

 

Ruth Harriet Louise (American, 1906-1944)

Ruth Harriet Louise (born Ruth Goldstein, January 13, 1903 – October 12, 1940) was an American photographer. She was the first woman photographer active in Hollywood, and she ran Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s portrait studio from 1925 to 1930.

Ruth Harriet Louise was born Ruth Goldstein in New York City and raised in New Brunswick, New Jersey. She was the daughter of Klara Jacobson Sandrich Goldstein, who was born in Rajec, Hungary (present-day Slovakia) and Jacob Goldstein, who was a rabbi originally from England. Her brother was director Mark Sandrich, and she was a cousin of silent film actress Carmel Myers.

Louise began working as a portrait photographer in 1922, working out of a music store down the block from the New Brunswick temple at which her father was a rabbi. Most of her photographs from this period are of family members and members of her father’s temple congregation.

In 1925 she moved to Los Angeles and set up a small photo studio on Hollywood and Vine. Louise’s first published Hollywood photo was of Vilma Banky in costume for Dark Angel, and appeared in Photoplay magazine in September 1925. When Louise was hired by MGM as chief portrait photographer, she was twenty-two years old, and the only woman working as a portrait photographer for the Hollywood studios. In a career that lasted only five years, Louise photographed all the stars, contract players, and many of the hopefuls who passed through the studio’s front gates, including Greta Garbo (Louise was one of only seven photographers permitted to make portraits of her), Lon Chaney, John Gilbert, Joan Crawford, Marion Davies, Anna May Wong, Nina Mae McKinney, and Norma Shearer. It is estimated that she took more than 100,000 photos during her tenure at MGM. Today she is considered an equal with George Hurrell Sr. and other renowned glamour photographers of the era.

In addition to paying close attention to costume and setting for studio photographs, Louise also incorporated aspects of modernist movements such as Cubism, futurism, and German expressionism into her studio portraits.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Carmel Myers (American, 1899-1980)

Carmel Myers (American, 1899-1980) was an American actress who achieved her greatest successes in silent film.

Myers left for New York City, where she acted mainly in theatre for the next two years. She was signed by Universal, where she emerged as a popular actress in vamp roles. Her most popular film from this period – which does not feature her in a vamp role – is probably the romantic comedy All Night, opposite Rudolph Valentino, who was then a little-known actor. She also worked with him in A Society Sensation. By 1924, she was working for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, making such films as Broadway After Dark, which also starred Adolphe Menjou, Norma Shearer, and Anna Q. Nilsson.

In 1925, she appeared in arguably her most famous role, that of the Egyptian vamp Iras in Ben-Hur, who tries to seduce both Messala (Francis X. Bushman) and Ben-Hur himself (Ramón Novarro). This film was a boost to her career, and she appeared in major roles throughout the 1920s, including Tell It to the Marines in 1926 with Lon Chaney, Sr., William Haines, and Eleanor Boardman. Myers appeared in Four Walls and Dream of Love, both with Joan Crawford in 1928; and in The Show of Shows (1929), a showcase of popular contemporary film actors.

Myers had a fairly successful sound career, mostly in supporting roles, perhaps due to her image as a vamp rather than as a sympathetic heroine. Subsequently, she began giving more attention to her private life following the birth of her son in May 1932. Amongst her popular sound films are Svengali (1931) and The Mad Genius (1931), both with John Barrymore and Marian Marsh, and a small role in 1944’s The Conspirators, which featured Paul Henreid, Peter Lorre, and Sydney Greenstreet.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Hildegard Rosenthal (Brazilian born Zürich, 1913-1990) 'Street Scene, São Paulo' c. 1940, printed later

 

Hildegard Rosenthal (Brazilian born Switzerland, 1913-1990)
Street Scene, São Paulo
c. 1940, printed later
Gelatin silver print
24 × 36cm (9 7/16 × 14 3/16 in.)
Instituto Moreira Salles

 

 

Hildegard Rosenthal (Brazilian born Switzerland, 1913-1990)

Hildegard Baum Rosenthal (March 25, 1913 – September 16, 1990) was a Swiss-born Brazilian photographer, the first woman photojournalist in Brazil. She was part of the generation of European photographers who emigrated during World War II and, acting in the local press, contributed to the photographic aesthetic renovation of Brazilian newspapers.

Rosenthal was born in Zurich, Switzerland. Until her adolescence, she lived in Frankfurt (Germany), where she studied pedagogy from 1929 until 1933. She lived in Paris between 1934 and 1935. Upon her return to Frankfurt, she studied photography for about 18 months in a program led by Paul Wolff [de]. Wolff emphasised small, portable cameras that used 35 mm film. These were a recent innovation at the time, and could be used unobtrusively for street photography. She also studied photographic laboratory techniques at the Gaedel Institute.

In this same period, she had entered a relationship with Walter Rosenthal. Rosenthal was Jewish, and Jews were increasingly persecuted in Germany in the 1930s under the National Socialist (Nazi) regime that took power in 1933. Walter Rosenthal emigrated to Brazil in 1936. Hildegard joined him in São Paulo in 1937. That same year she began working as a laboratory supervisor at the Kosmos photographic materials and services company. A few months later, the agency Press Information hired her as a photojournalist and she did news reports for national and international newspapers. During this period, she took photographs of the city of São Paulo and the state countryside of Rio de Janeiro and other cities in southern Brazil, as well as portraying several personalities from the São Paulo cultural scene, such as the painter Lasar Segall, the writers Guilherme de Almeida and Jorge Amado, the humorist Aparicio Torelly (Barão de Itararé) and the cartoonist Belmonte. Her images sought to capture the artist at his moment of creation, in obvious connection with his spirit of reporter. She interrupted her professional activity in 1948, after the birth of her first daughter. And in 1959, after her husband died, she took over the management of her family’s company.

Her photographs remained little known until 1974, when art historian Walter Zanini [pt] held a retrospective of her work at the Museum of Contemporary Art of the University of São Paulo. The following year the Museum of Image and Sound of São Paulo (MIS) was opened with the exhibition Memória Paulistana, by Rosenthal. In 1996 the Instituto Moreira Salles acquired more than 3,000 of her negatives, in which urban scenes of São Paulo from the 1930s and 1940s stood out, during which time the city underwent a vertiginous growth, both material and cultural. Other negatives were donated by her during her life to the Lasar Segall Museum.

“Photography without people does not interest me,” she said at the Museum of Image and Sound of São Paulo in 1981.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Marta Astfalck-Vietz (German, 1901-1994) 'Ohne Titel (Marta Vietz, Akt mit Spitze)' c. 1927

 

Marta Astfalck-Vietz (German, 1901-1994)
Self-Portrait (Marta Vietz, Akt mit Spitze)
c. 1927
Gelatin silver print
Berlinische Galerie – Landesmuseum für Moderne Kunst, Fotografie und Architektur
© 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Marta Astfalck-Vietz (German, 1901-1994)

Astfalck-Vietz‘s works offer a “range of her personal responses to the social, sexual and political transformations that shaped the German metropolis after World War One. Inspired by film and dance, they are all mediated realities in which human figures imply the figurative: a black dancer embraces a white woman, stirring Germany’s fears and fascinations about blackness and the primitive; a woman’s decapitated head conjures gutter-press reports of the grisly stigmata borne by victims of Berlin’s seedy underworld. Comprising mostly self-portraits, this show is a rich microcosm of creative registers: courage, black humour and sexual passion. In Astfalck-Vietz’s erotic images, domestic objects take on a powerful fantasy life – with a piece of lace she becomes a high society lady, a remote goddess, a masked seductress. The erotic atmosphere in these photographs encompasses dream and loneliness, joie de vivre and the mourning of lost love. Berlin, oft mythologised as a mercurial woman, is reflected in this romantic, bittersweet array of female fortunes; through it, Marta Astfalck-Vietz makes the city her own.

Almost all of her archive was lost when her Berlin home was bombed in 1943. What remains was discovered by the curator Janos Frecot in 1989 and is now housed at the Berlinische Galerie in Berlin. Sadly, her original photographs are in bad condition and rarely travel. This show, however, is a precious opportunity to see reproduction prints. These works are a valuable addition to the history of Berlin’s avant-garde, but they have wider significance. They add a new facet to the practice of female self-portraiture in photography. Like Lady Hawarden before her and Cindy Sherman after, Marta Astfalck-Vietz is model, stylist and creative director in images that provocatively examine the construction of identity. As she once put it:Only when your self is no longer visible, may you be as you are.

Anonymous text from The Glasgow School of Art website 2012 [Online] Cited 22/07/2021.

 

Dorothy Wilding (English, 1893-1976) 'Diana Wynyard' 1937

 

Dorothy Wilding (English, 1893-1976)
Diana Wynyard
1937

 

 

Dorothy Frances Edith Wilding (10 January 1893 – 9 February 1976) was an English professional portrait photographer from Gloucester, who established successful studios in both London and New York. She is known for her portraits of the British Royal Family, some of which were used to illustrate postage stamps, and in particular for her studies of actors and celebrities which fused glamour with modernist elegance. The historian Val Williams noted Wilding’s combination of business savvy and deep understanding of aesthetic impact: ‘nobody knew better than Dorothy Wilding the power of the photograph to create or destroy the desired image’.

Diana Wynyard, CBE (born Dorothy Isobel Cox, 16 January 1906 – 13 May 1964) was an English stage and film actress.

 

Yva (Else Ernestine Neuländer-Simon) (German, 1900-1944) 'Fashion Photograph' c. 1930

 

Yva (Else Ernestine Neuländer-Simon) (German, 1900-1944)
Fashion Photograph
c. 1930
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Corcoran Collection

 

 

Yva (26 January 1900 – 31 December 1944) was the professional pseudonym of Else Ernestine Neuländer-Simon who was a German Jewish photographer renowned for her dreamlike, multiple exposed images. She became a leading photographer in Berlin during the Weimar Republic.

When the Nazi Party came to power, she was forced into working as a radiographer. She was deported by the Gestapo in 1942 and murdered, probably in the Majdanek concentration camp during World War II.

 

Marianne Breslauer (German, 1909-2001) 'Circus, Berlin' 1931

 

Marianne Breslauer (German, 1909-2001)
Circus, Berlin
1931

 

 

Marianne Breslauer (German, 1909-2001)

Marianne Breslauer (married surname Feilchenfeldt, 20 November 1909 – 7 February 2001) was a German photographer, photojournalist and pioneer of street photography during the Weimar Republic.

Marianne was born in Berlin, the daughter of the architect Alfred Breslauer (1866-1954) and Dorothea Lessing (the daughter of art historian Julius Lessing). She took lessons in photography in Berlin from 1927 to 1929, and she admired the work of the then well-known portrait photographer Frieda Riess and later of the Hungarian André Kertész.

In 1929 she travelled to Paris, where she briefly became a pupil of Man Ray, whom she met through Helen Hessel, a fashion correspondent for the Frankfurter Zeitung and family friend. Man Ray encouraged Breslauer to “go her own way without his help.” A year later she started work for the Ullstein photo studio in Berlin, headed up by Elsbeth Heddenhausen, where she mastered the skills of developing photos in the dark-room. Until 1934 her photos were published in many leading magazines such as the Frankfurter Illustrierten, Der Querschnitt, Die Dame, Zürcher Illustrierten, Der Uhu and Das Magazin.

In the early 1930s, Breslauer travelled to Palestine and Alexandria, before traveling with her close friend, the Swiss writer, journalist, and photographer Annemarie Schwarzenbach, whom she met through Ruth Landshoff and whom she photographed many times. She described Schwarzenbach as: “Neither a woman nor a man, but an angel, an archangel.” In 1933 they travelled together to the Pyrenees to carry out a photographic assignment for the Berlin photographic agency Academia. This led to Marianne’s confrontation with the anti-Semitic practices then coming into play in Germany. Her employers wanted her to publish her photos under a pseudonym, to hide the fact that she was Jewish. She refused to do so and left Germany. However her photo Schoolgirls won the “Photo of the Year” award at the “Salon international d’art photographique” in Paris in 1934.

She emigrated in 1936 to Amsterdam where she married the art dealer Walter Feilchenfeldt [de] – he had previously left Germany after seeing Nazis break up an auction of modern art. Her first child, Walter, was born here. Family life and work as an art dealer hindered her work in photography, which she gave up to concentrate on her other activities. In 1939 the family fled to Zurich where her second son, Konrad, was born.

After the war, in 1948, the couple set up an art business specialising in French paintings and 19th-century art. When her husband died in 1953 she took over the business, which she ran with her son Walter from 1966 to 1990. She died in Zollikon, near Zurich.

Breslauer’s work demonstrates an interest in overlooked or marginalised subjects. Her earlier work in Paris, encouraged by the surrealist photographer Man Ray, focused on the homeless along the river Seine.

Her portraits show influence from the photographic experiments of Bauhaus students and the contemporary style Neues Sehen. Nonetheless, her photography conveys a strong personal interest in and approach to capturing dynamic motion, conveyed partially through her selection of bustling urban settings.

Breslauer ended work in her photographic career in 1936 due to the rise of Nazism.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Ruth Orkin (American, 1921-1985) 'Ethel Waters, Carson McCullers, and Julie Harris at the Opening Night Party for "The Member of The Wedding," New York City' 1950

 

Ruth Orkin (American, 1921-1985)
Ethel Waters, Carson McCullers, and Julie Harris at the Opening Night Party for “The Member of The Wedding,” New York City
1950
Gelatin silver print
39.7 × 49.5cm (15 5/8 × 19 1/2 in.)
Purchase, Dorothy Levitt Beskind Gift, 1980
Metropolitan Museum of Art
© Ruth Orkin

 

Sandra Weiner (American, 1921-2014) 'Boy Smoking' c. 1948

 

Sandra Weiner (Polish-American, 1921-2014)
Boy Smoking
c. 1948
Gelatin silver print
6 1/4 x 9 3/8in (16.58 x 24.7cm)

 

 

Sandra Weiner (née Smith; 1921-2014) was a Polish-American street photographer and children’s book author.

Weiner was born in Drohiczan, Poland, and emigrated to the United States in 1928. She joined the Photo League in 1942. There, she first studied under photographers Paul Strand, and Dan Weiner whom she would later marry. Following the dissolution of the Photo League in 1951, she was a commercial photographer in the 1950s and later wrote four published children’s books.

 

Lola Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1903-1993) 'The Freeloaders' c. 1955

 

Lola Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1903-1993)
The Freeloaders
c. 1955
Gelatin silver print
9 5/8 × 11 3/4 in. (24.4 × 29.8cm)
Collection of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser

 

 

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01
May
17

Exhibition: ‘The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection’ at Tate Modern, London

Exhibition dates: 10th November 2016 – 7th May 2017

 

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

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see one of the world’s greatest private collections of photography, drawn from the classic modernist period of the 1920s-50s. An incredible group of Man Ray portraits are exhibited together for the first time, having been brought together by Sir Elton John over the past twenty-five years, including portraits of Matisse, Picasso, and Breton. With over 70 artists and nearly 150 rare vintage prints on show from seminal figures including Brassai, Imogen Cunningham, André Kertész, Dorothea Lange, Tina Modotti, and Aleksandr Rodchenko, this is a chance to take a peek inside Elton John’s home and delight in seeing such masterpieces of photography.”

Text from the Tate Modern website

 

Paul Strand. 'Wall Street, New York' 1915

 

Paul Strand
Wall Street, New York
1915
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection

 

 

Tate Modern presents a major new exhibition, The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection, drawn from one of the world’s greatest private collections of photography. This unrivalled selection of classic modernist images from the 1920s to the 1950s features almost 200 works from more than 60 artists, including seminal figures such as Berenice Abbott, André Kertész, Man Ray, Alexandr Rodchenko and Edward Steichen among many others. The exhibition consists entirely of rare vintage prints, all created by the artists themselves, offering a unique opportunity to see remarkable works up close. The quality and depth of the collection allows the exhibition to tell the story of modernist photography in this way for the first time in the UK. It also marks the beginning of a long term relationship between Tate and The Sir Elton John Collection, as part of which Sir Elton and David Furnish have agreed to give important works to the nation.

The Radical Eye introduces a crucial moment in the history of photography – an exciting rupture often referred to as the ‘coming of age’ of the medium, when artists used photography as a tool through which they could redefine and transform visions of the modern world. Technological advancements gave artists the freedom to experiment and test the limits of the medium and present the world through a new, distinctly modern visual language. This exhibition reveals how the timeless genres of the portrait, nude and still life were reimagined through the camera during this period, also exploring photography’s unique ability to capture street life and architecture from a new perspective.

Featuring portraits of great cultural figures of the 20th century, including Georgia O’Keeffe by Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston by Tina Modotti, Jean Cocteau by Berenice Abbott and Igor Stravinsky by Edward Weston, the exhibition gives insight into the relationships and inner circles of the avant-garde. An incredible group of Man Ray portraits are exhibited together for the first time, having been brought together by Sir Elton John over the past twenty-five years, depicting key surrealist figures such as Andre Breton and Max Ernst alongside artists including Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Dora Maar. Ground-breaking experimentation both in the darkroom and on the surface of the print, such as Herbert Bayer’s photomontage and Maurice Tabard’s solarisation, examine how artists pushed the accepted conventions of portraiture.

As life underwent rapid changes in the 20th century, photography offered a new means to communicate and represent the world. Alexandr Rodchenko, László Moholy-Nagy and Margaret Bourke-White employed the ‘worm’s eye’ and ‘bird’s eye’ views to create new perspectives of the modern metropolis – techniques associated with constructivism and the Bauhaus. The move towards abstraction is also explored, from isolated architectural elements to camera-less photography such as Man Ray’s rayographs and Harry Callahan’s light abstractions.

A dedicated section of the exhibition looks at the new approaches that emerged in capturing the human form, highlighted in rare masterpieces such as André Kertész’s Underwater Swimmer, Hungary 1917, while Imogen Cunningham’s Magnolia Blossom, Tower of Jewels 1925 and Tina Modotti’s Bandelier, Corn and Sickle 1927 feature in a large presentation dedicated to the Still Life. The important role of documentary photography as a tool of mass communication is demonstrated in Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother 1936 and Walker Evans’ Floyde Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama 1936, from the Farm Security Administration project.

The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection is at Tate Modern from 10 November 2016 until 7 May 2017. It is curated by Shoair Mavlian with Simon Baker and Newell Harbin, Director of The Sir Elton John Photography Collection. The exhibition is accompanied by an exclusive audio tour of the exhibition featuring commentary from Sir Elton John, and a major new catalogue from Tate Publishing including an interview with Sir Elton John by Jane Jackson.

Press release from Tate Modern

 

Edward Weston. 'White Door, Hornitos, California' 1940

 

Edward Weston
White Door, Hornitos, California
1940
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection

 

 

“We possess an extraordinary instrument for reproduction. But photography is much more than that. Today it is … bringing something entirely new into the world.”

.
László Moholy-Nagy, 1932

 

 

Artists in the modernist period explored what the camera could do that the human eye alone could not, and how this could be harnessed to present a new modern perspective on the world. Artist and theorist László Moholy-Nagy proclaimed that photography could radically change not just what, but how we see. He called this the ‘new vision’. Rather than emulating other art forms, photography began to embrace qualities unique to itself, from its ability to reproduce the world in sharp detail to its capacity to create new realities through the manipulation of light, chemicals and paper.

This re-evaluation of photography coincided with a period of upheaval. War, revolution and economic depression led to mass movements of people and great social change. The idea of the avant-garde took hold and dada and surrealism emerged, challenging both the art and social norms that had come before. At the same time, new art schools such as the Bauhaus in Germany and Vkhutemas in Russia fostered the role of the professional artist and challenged divisions between art and design.

The Radical Eye is arranged thematically and charts a changing emphasis from the subject of an image to the visual qualities of the photograph itself, irrespective of what it represents. The many vintage prints in this exhibition – made soon after the photographs were taken – give a rare insight into the artists’ processes and creative decisions, and foreground the photograph as a physical object. All works are shown in the frames in which they are displayed in the home of Sir Elton John and David Furnish.

Together, the works in this exhibition show how photography pushed the boundaries of the possible, changing the world through the ways in which it was seen and understood. ‘Knowledge of photography is just as important as that of the alphabet. The illiterates of the future will be ignorant of the use of camera and pen alike,’ wrote Moholy-Nagy in 1927, foreseeing the cultural dominance of the photographic image. This extraordinary period still impacts how we, the photo-literate future, read and create images today.

 

Max Dupain. 'Sunbaker' 1937

 

Max Dupain
Sunbaker
1937
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection

 

 

“They collect themselves. Carefully, as if tying a cravat, they compose their features. Insolent, serious and conscious of their looks they turn around to face the world.”

.
From ‘Men before the Mirror’, published alongside portraits by Man Ray, 1934

 

 

Portraits

Modernist portraiture harnessed photography’s capacity to render an accurate likeness in clear, sharp focus and detail. But at the same time, artists and sitters pushed the conventions of portraiture with innovations in pose, composition and cropping.

Many of the portraits in this room are of artists, writers and musicians, giving a cross section of key cultural players of the time. Issues of control and collaboration arise particularly when the subject is an artist, raising the question of who is responsible for conveying the sitter’s persona. The modernist period also saw a boom of the illustrated press. Magazines reproduced photographic portraits of well-known figures which were instrumental in shaping their public images.

 

Alfred Stieglitz. 'Georgia O'Keeffe' 1922

 

Alfred Stieglitz
Georgia O’Keeffe
1922
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection

 

Man Ray. 'Nusch Éluard' 1928

 

Man Ray
Nusch Éluard
1928
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016

 

 

Nusch Éluard (born Maria Benz; June 21, 1906 – November 28, 1946) was a French performer, model and surrealist artist…

Nusch arrived in France as a stage performer, variously described as a small-time actress, a traveling acrobat, and a “hypnotist’s stooge”. She met Paul Éluard in 1930 working as a model, married him in 1934, produced surrealist photomontage and other work, and is the subject of “Facile,” a collection of Éluard’s poetry published as a photogravure book, illustrated with Man Ray’s nude photographs of her.

She was also the subject of several cubist portraits and sketches by Pablo Picasso in the late 1930s, and is said to have had an affair with him. Nusch worked for the French Resistance during the Nazi occupation of France during World War II. She died in 1946 in Paris, collapsing in the street due to a massive stroke.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23) 'Actress Gloria Swanson' 1924

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23)
Actress Gloria Swanson
1924
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

 

Adolph de Meyer. 'For Elizabeth Arden (The Wax Head)' 1931

 

Adolph de Meyer
For Elizabeth Arden (The Wax Head)
1931
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

Edward Weston. 'Igor Stravinsky' 1935

 

Edward Weston
Igor Stravinsky
1935
Silver gelatin print
© 1981 Center for Creative Photography

 

George Platt Lynes. 'A Forgotten Model' c. 1937

 

George Platt Lynes
A Forgotten Model
c. 1937
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

Man Ray. 'Juliet and Margaret Nieman in Papier-Mâché Masks' c. 1945

 

Man Ray
Juliet and Margaret Nieman in Papier-Mâché Masks
c. 1945
Gelatin silver print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: © Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016

 

Irving Penn. 'Salvador Dali in New York' 1947

 

Irving Penn
Salvador Dali in New York
1947
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: The Irving Penn Foundation

 

 

“The enemy of photography is convention, the fixed rules ‘how to do’. The salvation of photography comes from the experiment.”

.
László Moholy-Nagy, c. 1940

 

 

Experiments

This was not a period of discovery but of rediscovery. Artists were rewriting the preceding century’s rules of photographic technique, harnessing ‘mistakes’ such as distortions and double exposures, or physically manipulating the printed image, cutting, marking and recombining photographs. These interventions could occur at any point in the process, from taking the image to the final print.

Used in portraiture, such experiments allowed for more psychologically charged representations. However, the transformative power of a particular technique often becomes much more important than the particular subject of the image. Above all, the rich creative possibilities of the photographic process come to the fore. While artists were seriously investigating the medium, the results are often surprising and playful.

 

Herbert Bayer. 'Self-Portrait' 1932

 

Herbert Bayer
Self-Portrait
1932
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection
© DACS 2016

 

Otto Umbehr. "Katz" - Cat 1927

 

Otto Umbehr
“Katz” – Cat
1927
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection
© Phyllis Umbehr/Galerie Kicken Berlin/DACS 2016

 

Josef Breitenbach. 'Patricia, New York' c. 1942

 

Josef Breitenbach
Patricia, New York
c. 1942
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: Josef and Yaye Breitenbach Charitable Foundation, Courtesy Gitterman Gallery

 

 

“The camera should be used for a recording of life, for rendering the very substance and quintessence of the thing itself, whether it be polished steel or palpitating flesh.”

.
Edward Weston, 1924

 

 

Bodies

Experimental approaches to shooting, cropping and framing could transform the human body into something unfamiliar. Photographers started to focus on individual parts of the body, their unconventional crops drawing attention to shape and form, accentuating curves and angles. Fragmented limbs and flesh were depersonalised and could be treated like a landscape or still life, dissolving distinctions between different genres. Thanks to faster shutter speeds and new celluloid roll film, photographers could also freeze the body in motion outside of the studio for the first time, capturing dancers and swimmers with a clarity impossible for the naked eye.

 

André Kertész. 'Underwater Swimmer, Esztergom, Hungary, 30 June 1917' 1917

 

André Kertész
Underwater Swimmer, Esztergom, Hungary, 30 June 1917
1917
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
© Estate of André Kertész/Higher Pictures

 

Rudolph Koppitz. 'Movement Study' 1925

 

Rudolph Koppitz
Movement Study
1925
Gelatin silver print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: ADAGP, Paris and DACS London 2016

 

Man Ray. 'Noire et Blanche' 1926

 

Man Ray
Noire et Blanche
1926
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016

 

Man Ray (1890-1976) 'Glass Tears (Les Larmes)' 1932

 

Man Ray (1890-1976)
Glass Tears (Les Larmes)
1932
Gelatin silver print on paper
229 x 298 mm
Collection Elton John
© Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016

 

Edward Weston. 'Nude' 1936

 

Edward Weston
Nude
1936
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: 1981 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Man Ray. 'Dora Maar' 1936

 

Man Ray
Dora Maar
1936
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016

 

Nino Migliori. 'Il Tuffatore' (The Diver) 1951

 

Nino Migliori
‘Il Tuffatore’ (The Diver)
1951
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

 

“The documentary photographer is trying to speak to you in terms of everyone’s experience.”

.
Dorothea Lange, 1934

 

 

Documents

During the 1930s, photographers refined the formula for what we now know as social documentary. To compel the public to look at less palatable aspects of contemporary society they married creative manipulation with an appeal to viewers’ trust in the photograph as an objective visual record. This combination proved itself uniquely capable of eliciting empathy but is fraught with artistic and ethical complexity. These works highlight the vexed position of documentary photographs: historical evidence, instruments of propaganda and, latterly, works of art.

The development of new technology – particularly the portable camera and roll film – allowed photographers to capture spontaneous moments unfolding in the everyday world. Taking viewers into neighbourhoods where they might never set foot, street photography and documentary opened up new perspectives socially as much as visually.

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Migrant Mother' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange
Migrant Mother
1936
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection

 

Walker Evans. 'Floyde Burroughs, a cotton sharecropper, Hale County, Alabama' 1936

 

Walker Evans
Floyde Burroughs, a cotton sharecropper, Hale County, Alabama
1936
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

Dorothea Lange. 'A young girl living in a shack town near Oklahoma City, Oklahoma' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange
A young girl living in a shack town near Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
1936
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

Walker Evans. 'Christ or Chaos?' 1946

 

Walker Evans
Christ or Chaos?
1946
Gelatin silver print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: Walker Evans Archives, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

“Contradictions of perspective. Contrasts of light. Contrasts of form. Points of view impossible to achieve in drawing and painting.”

.
Aleksandr Rodchenko, 1920s

 

 

Objects, Perspectives, Abstractions

The subjects and approaches of modernist photography vary widely, but are united by a fascination with the medium itself. Every image asks what photography is capable of and how it can be pushed further. This final room brings together three interlinked approaches. It shows the still life genre reimagined by photographers who used the technical capabilities of the camera to reveal the beauty of everyday things. Objects captured at unconventional angles or extreme close-up become strange, even unrecognisable.

A similar effect of defamiliarisation was accomplished by taking photographs from radically new perspectives, positioning a camera at the point of view of the ‘worm’s eye’ or ‘bird’s eye’. This created extreme foreshortening that transformed photographs from descriptive images of things into energetic compositions hovering between abstraction and representation.

Abstraction pushes against photography’s innate ability to record objectively. Radical techniques such as cameraless image-making simplified the medium to the point of capturing the play of light on photosensitive paper. By stripping it back to its most basic components, artists celebrated photography, not as a tool for reproduction, but as a creative medium capable of producing new imagery.

 

Alexander Rodchenko. 'Shukov Tower' 1920

 

Alexander Rodchenko
Shukov Tower
1920
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection
© A. Rodchenko & V. Stepanova Archive, DACS, RAO 2016

 

Edward Steichen. 'A Bee on a Sunflower' c. 1920

 

Edward Steichen
A Bee on a Sunflower
c. 1920
Gelatin silver print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

Man Ray. "Rayograph" 1923

 

Man Ray
“Rayograph”
1923
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016

 

André Kertész. 'Mondrian's Glasses and Pipe' 1926

 

André Kertész
Mondrian’s Glasses and Pipe
1926
Gelatin silver print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
© Estate of André Kertész/Higher Pictures

 

Tina Modotti. 'Bandelier, Corn and Sickle' 1927

 

Tina Modotti
Bandelier, Corn and Sickle
1927
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection

 

Werner Mantz. 'Staircase Ursuliner Lyzeum Cologne 1928'

 

Werner Mantz
Staircase Ursuliner Lyzeum Cologne 1928
1928
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

Margaret Bourke-White. 'George Washington Bridge' 1933

 

Margaret Bourke-White
George Washington Bridge
1933
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

 

László Moholy-Nagy
View from the Berlin tower
1928
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection

 

Margaret de Patta. 'Ice Cube Tray with Marbles and Rice' 1939

 

Margaret de Patta
Ice Cube Tray with Marbles and Rice
1939
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection
© Estate of Margaret de Patta

 

 

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27
May
16

Exhibition: ‘Sight Reading: Photography and the Legible World’ at the Morgan Library & Museum, New York

Exhibition dates: 19th February – 30th May 2016

 

Timothy H. O'Sullivan (American, b. Ireland, 1840-1882) 'Historic Spanish Record of the Conquest, South Side of Inscription Rock' 1873

 

Timothy H. O’Sullivan (American, b. Ireland, 1840-1882)
Historic Spanish Record of the Conquest, South Side of Inscription Rock
1873
From the album Geographical Explorations and Surveys West of the 100th Meridian
Albumen silver print
George Eastman Museum, purchase

 

 

In 1873 O’Sullivan joined Lieutenant George Wheeler’s Geographic Survey in New Mexico and Arizona. At El Morro, a sandstone promontory covered with ancient petroglyphs and historic-era inscriptions, the photographer singled out this handsomely lettered sentence to record and measure. It states: By this place passed Ensign Don Joseph de Payba Basconzelos, in the year in which he held the Council of the Kingdom at his expense, on the 18th of February, in the year 1726. Nearby, the rock record now bears another inscription that reads T. H. O’Sullivan.

 

 

This looks to be a fascinating exhibition. I wish I could see it.

While Sight Reading cuts across conventional historical and geographic divisions, with the exhibition being organised into nine “conversations” among diverse sets of works, we must always remember that these “themes” are not exclusory to each other. Photographs do cross nominally defined boundaries and themes (as defined by history and curators) so that they can become truly subversive works of art.

Photographs can form spaces called heterotopia, “a form of concept in human geography elaborated by philosopher Michel Foucault, to describe places and spaces that function in non-hegemonic conditions. These are spaces of otherness, which are neither here nor there, that are simultaneously physical and mental, such as the space of a phone call or the moment when you see yourself in the mirror… Foucault uses the term “heterotopia” (French: hétérotopie) to describe spaces that have more layers of meaning or relationships to other places than immediately meet the eye.”1

In photographs, there is always more than meets the eye. There is the association of the photograph to multiple places and spaces (the histories of that place and space); the imagination of the viewer and the memories they bring to any encounter with a photograph, which may change from time to time, from look to look, from viewing to viewing; and the transcendence of the photograph as it brings past time to present time as an intimation of future time. Past, present and future spacetime are conflated in the act of just looking, just being. Positioning this “‘annihilation of time and space’ as a particular moment in a dynamic cycle of rupture and recuperation enables a deliberate focus on the process of transition.”2 And that transition, Doreen Massey argues, ignores often-invisible contingencies that define spaces those relations that have an effect upon a space but are not visible within it.3

Photographs, then, form what Deleuze and Guattari call assemblages4, where the assemblage is “the processes by which various configurations of linked components function in an intersection with each other, a process that can be both productive and disruptive. Any such process invovles a territorialization; there is a double movement where something accumulates meanings (re-territorialization), but does so co-extensively with a de-territorialization where the same thing is disinvested of meanings. The organization of a territory is characterized by such a double movement … An assemblage is an extension of this process, and can be thought of as constituted by an intensification of these processes around a particular site through a multiplicity of intersections of such territorializations.”5 In other words, when looking at a photograph by William Henry Fox Talbot or Timothy H. O’Sullivan today, the meaning and interpretation of the photograph could be completely different to the reading of this photograph in the era it was taken. The photograph is a site of both de-territorialization and re-territorialization – it both gains and looses meaning at one and the same time, depending on who is looking at it, from what time and from what point of view.

Photographs propose that there are many heterotopias in the world, many transitions and intersections, many meanings lost and found, not only as spaces with several places of/for the affirmation of difference, but also as a means of escape from authoritarianism and repression. We must remember these ideas as we looking at the photographs in this exhibition.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

  1. Heterotopia (space) on Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 27/05/2016.
  2. McQuire, Scott. The Media City. London: Sage Publications, 2008, p. 14.
  3. Massey, Doreen. Space, Place and Gender. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1994, p. 5 in Wood, Aylish. “Fresh Kill: Information technologies as sites of resistance,” in Munt, Sally (ed.,). Technospaces: Inside the New Media. London: Continuum, 2001, pp. 163-164.
  4. Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolisand London: University of Minneapolis Press, 1987.
  5. Wood, Aylish. “Fresh Kill: Information technologies as sites of resistance,” in Munt, Sally (ed.,). Technospaces: Inside the New Media. London: Continuum, 2001, p.166

.
Many thankx to the Morgan Library & Museum for allowing me to publish the text and photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

'Sight Reading: Photography and the Legible World' exhibition sections

 

Sight Reading: Photography and the Legible World exhibition sections

 

 

As its name declares, photography is a means of writing with light. Photographs both show and tell, and they speak an extraordinary range of dialects.

Beginning February 19 the Morgan Library & Museum explores the history of the medium as a lucid, literate – but not always literal – tool of persuasion in a new exhibition, Sight Reading: Photography and the Legible World. A collaboration with the George Eastman Museum of Film and Photography, the show features more than eighty works from the 1840s to the present and reveals the many ways the camera can transmit not only the outward appearance of its subject but also narratives, arguments, and ideas. The show is on view through May 30.

Over the past 175 years, photography has been adopted by, and adapted to, countless fields of endeavour, from art to zoology and from fashion to warfare. Sight Reading features a broad range of material – pioneering x-rays and aerial views, artefacts of early photojournalism, and recent examples of conceptual art – organised into groupings that accentuate the variety and suppleness of photography as a procedure. In 1936, artist László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) defined “the  illiterate of the future” as someone “ignorant of the use of the camera as well as the pen.” The JPEG and the “Send” button were decades away, but Moholy-Nagy was not the first observer to argue that photography belonged to the arts of commentary and persuasion. As the modes and motives of camera imagery have multiplied, viewers have continually learned new ways to read the information, and assess the argument, embodied in a photograph.

“Traditional narratives can be found throughout the Morgan’s collections, especially in its literary holdings,” said Colin B. Bailey, director of the Morgan. “Sight Reading encourages us to use a critical eye to read and discover the stories that unfold through the camera lens and photography, a distinctly modern, visual language. We are thrilled to collaborate with the Eastman Museum, and together unravel a rich narrative, which exemplifies photography’s deep involvement in the stories of modern art, science, and the printed page.”

 

The exhibition

Sight Reading cuts across conventional historical and geographic divisions. Featuring work by William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877), Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904), John Heartfield (1891-1968), Lewis Hine (1874-1940), Harold Edgerton (1903-1990), John Baldessari (1931-2020), Sophie Calle (b. 1953), and Bernd and Hilla Becher (1931-2007; 1934-2015), among many others, the exhibition is organised into nine “conversations” among diverse sets of works.

 

I. The Camera Takes Stock

Photography’s practical functions include recording inventory, capturing data imperceptible to the human eye, and documenting historical events. In the first photographically illustrated publication, The Pencil of Nature (1845), William Henry Fox Talbot used his image Articles of China to demonstrate that “the whole cabinet of a … collector … might be depicted on paper in little more time than it would take him to make a written inventory describing it in the usual way.” Should the photographed collection suffer damage or theft, Talbot speculated, “the mute testimony of the picture … would certainly be evidence of a novel kind” before the law.

A century later, Harold Edgerton, an electrical engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, used the pulsing light of a stroboscope to record states of matter too fleeting for the naked eye. Gun Toss, an undated image of a spinning pistol, is not a multiple exposure: the camera shutter opened and closed just once. But during that fraction of a second, seven bright flashes of light committed to film a seven-episode history of the gun’s trajectory through space.

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 1800-1877) 'Articles of China' c. 1843, printed c. 1845

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 1800-1877)
Articles of China
c. 1843, printed c. 1845
Salted paper print from calotype negative
Collection of Richard and Ronay Menschel

 

 

In The Pencil of Nature (1845), the first photographically illustrated publication, Talbot used Articles of China to demonstrate that “the whole cabinet of a … collector … might be depicted on paper in little more time than it would take him to make a written inventory describing it in the usual way.” Should the collection suffer damage or theft, Talbot added, “the mute testimony of the picture … would certainly be evidence of a novel kind” before the law.

 

Harold Edgerton (American, 1903-1990) 'Gun Toss' 1936-50

 

Harold Edgerton (American, 1903-1990)
Gun Toss
1936-50
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Richard and Ronay Menschel

 

 

Edgerton, an electrical engineer, used the rapidly pulsing light of a stroboscope to record states of matter too fleeting to be perceived by the naked eye. This image of a spinning pistol is not a multiple exposure: the camera shutter opened and closed just once. But during that fraction of a second, seven bright flashes of light committed to film a seven-episode history of the gun’s trajectory through space.

 

John Pfahl (American, b. 1939) 'Wave Theory I–V, Puna Coast, Hawaii, March 1978' 1978

 

John Pfahl (American, b. 1939)
Wave Theory I-V, Puna Coast, Hawaii, March 1978
1978
From the series Altered Landscapes
Chromogenic development (Ektacolor) process prints, 1993
George Eastman Museum, purchase

 

 

In this sequence, Pfahl twisted the conventions of photographic narrative into a perceptual puzzle. The numbered views appear to chronicle a single event: a wave breaking on the shore. Close inspection, however, reveals that the numeric caption in each scene is made of string laid on the rock in the foreground. The exposures, then, must have been made over a span of at least several minutes, not seconds – and in what order, one cannot say.

 

 

II. Crafting A Message

The camera is widely understood to be “truthful,” but what photographs “say” is a product of many procedures that follow the moment of exposure, including page layout, captioning, and cropping of the image. During World War I, military personnel learned to interpret the strange, abstract looking images of enemy territory made from airplanes. Their specialised training fundamentally altered the nature of wartime reconnaissance, even as the unusual perspective unique to aerial photography introduced a new dialect into the expanding corpus of modern visual language. An Example of an Annotated Photograph with Local Names of Trenches Inserted (1916), on view in the exhibition, shows that the tools of ground strategy soon included artificial bunkers and trenches, designed purely to fool eyes in the sky.

In László Moholy-Nagy’s photocollages of the late 1920s, figures cut out of the plates in massmarket magazines appear in new configurations to convey messages of the artist’s devising. Images such as Massenpsychose (Mass Psychosis) (1927) propose a new kind of visual literacy for the machine age. To contemporary eyes, Moholy’s collages seem to foreshadow cut-and-paste strategies that would later characterise the visual culture of cyberspace.

 

László Moholy-Nagy (American, b. Hungary, 1895-1946) 'Massenpsychose' (Mass Psychosis) 1927

 

László Moholy-Nagy (American born Hungary, 1895-1946)
Massenpsychose (Mass Psychosis)
1927
Collage, pencil, and ink
George Eastman Museum, Purchased with funds provided by Eastman Kodak Company

 

 

To make his photocollages of the late 1920s, Moholy-Nagy cut figures out of photographs and photomechanical reproductions and arranged them into new configurations that convey messages of his own devising. By extracting the images from their original context and placing them into relationships defined by drawn shapes and volumes, he suggested a new visual literacy for the modern world. In this world – one in which images course through mass culture at a psychotic pace – a two-dimensional anatomical drawing acquires sufficient volume to cast a man’s shadow and a circle of bathing beauties cues up for a pool sharp. To contemporary eyes, the language of Moholy-Nagy’s photo collages seems to foreshadow strategies common to the visual culture of cyberspace.

 

Unidentified maker. 'An Example of an Annotated Photograph with Local Names of Trenches Inserted' c. 1916

 

Unidentified maker
An Example of an Annotated Photograph with Local Names of Trenches Inserted
c. 1916
Gelatin silver print
George Eastman Museum

 

 

During World War I, aerial photography progressed from a promising technological experiment to a crucial strategic operation. As advances in optics and engineering improved the capabilities of cameras and aircraft, military personnel learned to identify topographic features and man-made structures in the images recorded from above. Such training fundamentally altered the significance and practice of wartime reconnaissance. At the same time, the unusual perspective unique to aerial photography introduced a new dialect into the expanding corpus of modern visual language.

 

PhotoMetric Corporation, 1942-74 'PhotoMetric Tailoring' c. 1942-48

 

PhotoMetric Corporation, 1942-74
PhotoMetric Tailoring
c. 1942-48
Gelatin silver prints
George Eastman Museum

 

 

In an effort to streamline the field of custom tailoring, textile entrepreneur Henry Booth devised a method for obtaining measurements by photographing customers with a special camera and angled mirrors. The system was said to be foolproof, making it possible for any sales clerk to operate it. The resulting slides were sent to the manufacturer along with the customer’s order. A tailor translated the images into physical measurements using a geometric calculator, and the company mailed the finished garment to the customer.

 

 

III. Photographs in Sequence

Photography’s debut in the late 1830s happened to coincide with the birth of the modern comic strip. Ultimately the narrative photo sequence would lead to the innovations that gave rise to cinema, another form of storytelling altogether. Exact contemporaries of one another, Eadweard J. Muybridge in the United States and Étienne-Jules Marey (1830-1904) in France both employed cameras to dissect human movement. Muybridge used a bank of cameras positioned to record a subject as it moved, tripping wires attached to the shutters. The result was a sequence of “stop-action” photographs that isolated gestures not otherwise visible in real time. Beginning in 1882, Marey pursued motion studies with a markedly different approach. In the works for which he is best known, he exposed one photographic plate multiple times at fixed intervals, recording the arc of movement in a single image.

 

Étienne Jules Marey (French, 1830-1904) 'Chronophotographic study of man pole vaulting' c. 1890

 

Étienne Jules Marey (French, 1830-1904)
Chronophotographic study of man pole vaulting
c. 1890
Albumen silver print
George Eastman Museum, Exchange with Narodni Technical Museum

 

 

Exact contemporaries, Muybridge and Marey (the former in the United States, the latter in France) both employed cameras to dissect human movement. Muybridge used a bank of cameras positioned and timed to record a subject as it moved, tripping wires attached to the shutters. The result was a sequence of “stop-action” photographs that isolated gestures not otherwise visible in real time. Beginning in 1882, Marey took a markedly different approach. In the works for which he is best known – such as the image of the man pole-vaulting – he exposed a single photographic plate multiple times at fixed intervals, recording the arc of movement in a single image. In Marey’s chronophotograph of a man on a horse, the action reads from bottom to top. The convention of arranging sequential photographic images from left to right and top to bottom, on the model of written elements on a page, was not yet firmly established.

 

William N. Jennings (American, b. England, 1860-1946) 'Notebook pages with photographs of lightning' c. 1887

 

William N. Jennings (American, b. England, 1860-1946)
Notebook pages with photographs of lightning
c. 1887
Gelatin silver prints mounted onto bound notepad paper
George Eastman Museum, Gift of 3M Foundation; Ex-collection of Louis Walton Sipley

 

 

With his first successful photograph of a lightning bolt on 2 September 1882, Jennings dispelled the then widely held belief – especially among those in the graphic arts – that lightning traveled toward the earth in a regular zigzag pattern. Instead, his images revealed that lightning not only assumed an astonishing variety of forms but that it never took the shape that had come to define it in art.

 

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007) Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015) 'Industriebauten' 1968

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007) Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015) 'Industriebauten' 1968

 

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Industriebauten
1968
Gelatin silver prints in presentation box
George Eastman Museum, Purchase

 

 

The photographs in this portfolio were made only a few years into what would become the Bechers’ decades-long project of systematically documenting industrial architecture in Europe and the United States. The straightforward and rigidly consistent style of their work facilitates side-by-side comparison, revealing the singularity of structures that are typically understood to be generic.

 

 

IV. The Legible Object

Some photographs speak for themselves; others function as the amplifier for objects that can literally be read through the image. In her series Sorted Books, American artist Nina Katchadourian (b. 1968) composes statements by combining the titles of books drawn from the shelves of libraries and collections. Indian History for Young Folks, 2012, shows three books from the turn of the twentieth century that she found in the Delaware Art Museum’s M.G. Sawyer Collection of Decorative Bindings. The viewer’s eye silently provides punctuation: “Indian history for young folks: Our village; your national parks.” Though at first glance it appears merely to arrange words into legible order, Katchadourian’s oblique statement – half verbal, half visual – would be incomplete if divorced from the physical apparatus of the books themselves.

 

David Octavius Hill (Scottish, 1802-1870) Robert Adamson (Scottish, 1821-1848) 'The Artist and the Gravedigger (Denistoun Monument, Greyfriars Churchyard, Edinburgh)' c. 1845

 

David Octavius Hill (Scottish, 1802-1870)
Robert Adamson (Scottish, 1821-1848)
The Artist and the Gravedigger (Denistoun Monument, Greyfriars Churchyard, Edinburgh)
c. 1845
Salted paper print from calotype negative
George Eastman Museum, Gift of Alvin Langdon Coburn

 

 

Hill, his two nieces, and an unidentified man pose for the camera at the tomb of Robert Denistoun, a seventeenth-century Scottish ambassador. Contemplative poses helped the sitters hold still during the long exposure, even while turning them into sculptural extensions of the monument. Hill puts pen to paper, perhaps playing the part of a graveyard poet pondering mortality. Above him, the monument’s Latin inscription begins: “Behold, the world possesses nothing permanent!”

 

Robert Cumming (American, b. 1943) 'Submarine cross-section; feature film, "Gray Lady Down" - Stage #12, March 14, 1977' 1977

 

Robert Cumming (American, b. 1943)
Submarine cross-section; feature film, “Gray Lady Down” – Stage #12, March 14, 1977
1977
Inkjet print
George Eastman Museum, Gift of Nash Editions

 

 

In the Studio Still Lifes he photographed on the backlots of Universal Studios, Cumming sought to portray the mechanisms behind cinema vision “in their real as opposed to their screen contexts.” Admiring yet subversive, his documents use strategies native to the still camera – distance, point of view, and clear-eyed testimony – to translate Hollywood’s familiar illusions into worksites where “marble is plywood, stone is rubber, … rooms seldom have ceilings, and when the sun shines indoors, it casts a dozen shadows.”

 

Nina Katchadourian (American, b. 1968) 'Indian History for Young Folks' 2012

 

Nina Katchadourian (American, b. 1968)
Indian History for Young Folks
2012
From Once Upon a Time in Delaware / In Quest of the Perfect Book
Chromogenic print
The Morgan Library Museum, Purchase, Photography Collectors Committee

 

 

In her ongoing series Sorted Books, Katchadourian composes statements by combining the titles of books from a given library – in this case, the M. G. Sawyer Collection of Decorative Bindings at the Delaware Art Museum. Though her compositions are driven by the need to arrange words in a legible order, Katchadourian’s oblique jokes, poems, and koans would be incomplete if divorced from the cultural information conveyed by the physical books themselves.

 

 

V. The Photograph Decodes Nature

As early as 1840, one year after photography’s invention was announced, scientists sought to deploy it in their analysis of the physical world. Combining the camera with the microscope, microphotographs recorded biological minutiae, leading to discoveries that would have been difficult, if not impossible, to obtain by observing subjects in real time. Similarly, the development of X-ray technology in 1895 allowed scientists to see and understand living anatomy to an unprecedented degree. Such innovations not only expanded the boundaries of the visible world but also introduced graphic concepts that would have a profound impact on visual culture. In other ways, too, nature has been transformed in human understanding through the interpretive filter of the lens, as seen in Sight Reading in the telescopic moon views of astronomers Maurice Loewy (1833-1907) and Pierre Henri Puiseux (1855-1928) and in the spellbinding aerial abstractions of William Garnett (1916-2006).

 

William Garnett (American, 1916-2006) 'Animal Tracks on Dry Lake' 1955

 

William Garnett (American, 1916-2006)
Animal Tracks on Dry Lake
1955
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, Purchased on the Charina Endowment Fund

 

 

After making films for the U.S. Signal Corps during World War II, Garnett used GI-Bill funding to earn a pilot’s license. By the early 1950s, he had the field of artistic aerial landscape virtually to himself. This print, showing the ephemeral traces of wildlife movement on a dry lake bed, appeared in Diogenes with a Camera IV (1956), one in a series of exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art that highlighted the great variety of ways in which artists used photography to invent new forms of visual truth.

 

William Henry Jackson (American, 1843-1942) '"Tea Pot" Rock' 1870

 

William Henry Jackson (American, 1843-1942)
“Tea Pot” Rock
1870
Albumen silver print
George Eastman Museum, Purchase

 

 

Jackson made this photograph as a member of the survey team formed by Ferdinand V. Hayden to explore and document the territory now known as Yellowstone National Park. Hayden’s primary goal was to gather information about the area’s geological history, and Jackson’s photographs record with precision and clarity the accumulated layers of sediment that allow this natural landmark to be fit into a geological chronology. The human figure standing at the left of the composition provides information about the size of the rock, demonstrating that photographers have long recognised the difficulty of making accurate inferences about scale based on photographic images.

 

Dr. Josef Maria Eder (Austrian, 1855-1944) Eduard Valenta (Austrian, 1857-1937) 'Zwei Goldfische und ein Seefisch (Christiceps argentatus)' 1896

 

Dr Josef Maria Eder (Austrian, 1855-1944)
Eduard Valenta (Austrian, 1857-1937)
Zwei Goldfische und ein Seefisch (Christiceps argentatus)
1896
From the book Versuche über Photographie mittelst der Röntgen’schen Strahlen
Photogravure
George Eastman Museum, Gift of Eastman Kodak Company; Ex-collection of Josef Maria Eder

 

 

As early as 1840 – a year after photography’s invention was announced – scientists sought to deploy it in their analysis of the physical world. Combining the camera with the microscope, microphotographs recorded biological minutiae, leading to discoveries that would have been difficult, if not impossible, to obtain by observing subjects in real time. Similarly, the development of x-ray technology in 1895 allowed doctors to study living anatomy to an unprecedented degree. Such innovations not only expanded the boundaries of the visible world but also introduced graphic concepts that would have a profound impact on visual culture.

 

Dr James Deane (American, 1801-1858) 'Ichnographs from the Sandstone of Connecticut River' 1861

 

Dr James Deane (American, 1801-1858)
Ichnographs from the Sandstone of Connecticut River
1861
Book illustrated with 22 salted paper prints and 37 lithographs
George Eastman Museum, Gift of Alden Scott Boyer

 

 

These photographs, which depict traces of fossils discovered in a sandstone quarry, illustrate a book written by Massachusetts surgeon James Deane, who was the author of texts on medicine as well as natural history. Published posthumously using his notes and photographs as a guide, the volume is an early demonstration of photography’s potential as a tool of scientific investigation.

 

 

VI. The Photograph Decodes Culture

The photograph not only changed but to a great extent invented the modern notion of celebrity. Modern-age celebrities live apart from the general public, but their faces are more familiar than those of the neighbors next door. Since the mid-nineteenth century, viewers have come to “know” the famous through accumulated photographic sightings, which come in formats and contexts that vary as much as real-life encounters do. In four images that would have communicated instantly to their intended viewers in 1966, Jean-Pierre Ducatez (b. 1970) portrayed the Beatles through closeups of their mouths alone. The graphic shorthand employed by Jonathan Lewis in his series The Pixles is of a more recent variety, but he, too, relies on the visual familiarity conferred by tremendous celebrity. Each print in the series reproduces the iconic art of a Beatles album cover at life size (12 x 12 inches) but extremely low resolution (12 x 12 pixels). Like celebrities themselves, perhaps, the images look more familiar to the eye at a distance than close-up.

 

Unidentified maker. 'U. S. Grant' c. 1862

 

Unidentified maker
U. S. Grant
c. 1862
Albumen silver print
George Eastman Museum, Purchase

 

Timothy H. O'Sullivan (American, b. Ireland, 1840-1882) 'A Council of War at Massaponax Church, Va. 21st May, 1864. Gens. Grant and Meade, Asst. Sec. of War Dana, and Their Staff Officers' 1864

 

Timothy H. O’Sullivan (American born Ireland, 1840-1882)
A Council of War at Massaponax Church, Va. 21st May, 1864. Gens. Grant and Meade, Asst. Sec. of War Dana, and Their Staff Officers
1864
From the series Photographic Incidents of the War
Albumen silver print stereograph
George Eastman Museum, Gift of Albert Morton Turner

 

 

Modern celebrities live apart from the general public, yet their faces are more familiar than those of the neighbors next door. Since the mid-nineteenth century, viewers have come to “know” the famous through accumulated photographic sightings, which come in formats and contexts that vary as much as real-life encounters do. First as a Union hero in the American Civil War and later as president, Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) lived in the public imagination through news images, popular stereographs, campaign buttons, and ultimately the (photo-based) face on the $50 bill. Grant was even a subject for Francois Willème’s patented process for generating a sculpted likeness out of photographs made in the round – an early forerunner to the technology of 3-D printing.

 

Jonathan Lewis (British, b. 1970) 'Abbey Road' 2003

 

Jonathan Lewis (British, b. 1970)
Abbey Road
2003
From The Pixles
Inkjet print
George Eastman Museum, By exchange with the artist

 

Jonathan Lewis (British, b. 1970) 'Please Please Me' 2003

 

Jonathan Lewis (British, b. 1970)
Please Please Me
2003
From The Pixles
Inkjet print
George Eastman Museum, By exchange with the artist

 

Jonathan Lewis (British, b. 1970) 'Rubber Soul' 2003

 

Jonathan Lewis (British, b. 1970)
Rubber Soul
2003
From The Pixles
Inkjet print
George Eastman Museum, By exchange with the artist

 

 

Synecdoche is a poetic device in which a part stands in for the whole. (In the phrase “three sails set forth,” sails mean ships.) In four images that would have communicated instantly to their intended viewers in 1966, Ducatez portrayed the Beatles solely through close-ups of their mouths. The graphic shorthand Lewis employs in his series The Pixles is of a more recent variety, though he, too, relies on the visual familiarity conferred by tremendous celebrity. Each print in the series reproduces a Beatles album cover at life size (12 x 12 inches) but extremely low resolution (12 x 12 pixels).

 

 

VII. Meaning is on the Surface

Photographs are not just windows onto the world but pieces of paper, which can themselves be inscribed or otherwise altered in ways that enrich or amend their meaning. The group portrait Joint Meeting of the Railway Surgeons Association, Claypool Hotel, Indianapolis (1920) is contact printed, meaning that the negative was the same size as the print. After the portrait sitting, the photographer appears to have presented the developed film to the sixty-four sitters for signing during the three days they were assembled for their convention. The result is a document that unites two conventional signifiers of character: facial features and the autograph.

 

Gravelle Studio, Indianapolis (American, active 1920) 'Joint Meeting of the Railway Surgeons Association, Claypool Hotel, Indianapolis' 1920

 

Gravelle Studio, Indianapolis (American, active 1920)
Joint Meeting of the Railway Surgeons Association, Claypool Hotel, Indianapolis
1920
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, Purchased as the gift of Peter J. Cohen

 

 

Panoramic group portraits such as this are made using a banquet camera, which admits light through a narrow vertical slit while rotating on its tripod. This image was contact printed, meaning the negative was the same size as the print. The photographer appears to have presented the developed film to the sixty-four sitters for signing during the three days they were assembled. The result is a document that unites two conventional signifiers of character: facial features and the autograph.

 

Keith Smith (American, b. 1938) 'Book 151' 1989

 

Keith Smith (American, b. 1938)
Book 151
1989
Bound book of gelatin silver prints, thread, and leather
Collection of Richard and Ronay Menschel

 

 

This unique object unites the arts of photography, quilting, and bookmaking. The composite image on each right-hand page appears to be made of prints cut apart and sewn together. In fact, Smith began by printing patchwork-inspired photomontages in the darkroom. He then stitched along many of the borders where abutting images meet, creating the illusion of a photographic crazy quilt.

 

 

VIII. Photography and the Page

News of the world took on a newly visual character in the 1880s, when the technology of the halftone screen made it practical, at last, to render photographs in ink on the printed page.

Among the earliest examples of photojournalism is Paul Nadar’s (1820-1910) “photographic interview” with Georges Ernest Boulanger, a once-powerful French politician. The article’s introduction explains that the photographs were printed alongside the text in order to provide evidence of the encounter and to illustrate Boulanger’s dynamic body language during the conversation.

 

Stephen Henry Horgan (American, 1854-1941) 'Shanty Town' April 1880

 

Stephen Henry Horgan (American, 1854-1941)
Shanty Town
April 1880
Photomechanical printing plate A Scene in Shantytown, New York, c. 1928
Lithograph
George Eastman Museum, Gift of 3M Foundation; Ex-collection of Louis Walton Sipley

 

Paul Nadar (French, 1856-1939) 'Interview with Georges Ernest Jean Marie Boulanger' 1889

 

Paul Nadar (French, 1856-1939)
Interview with Georges Ernest Jean Marie Boulanger
1889
Le Figaro, 23 November 1889
Photomechanical reproduction
George Eastman Museum, gift of Eastman Kodak Company; ex-collection Gabriel Cromer

 

 

Among the earliest examples of photojournalism is Nadar’s “photographic interview” with Georges Ernest Boulanger, a once-powerful French politician who had fallen out of public favour by the time this was published. The article’s introduction explains that the photographs were printed alongside the text in order to provide evidence of the encounter and to illustrate Boulanger’s body language during the conversation.

 

Lewis W. Hine (American, 1874–1940) 'Italian Family Looking for Lost Baggage, Ellis Island' 1905

 

Lewis W. Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Italian Family Looking for Lost Baggage, Ellis Island
1905
Ellis Island Group, 1905
Gelatin silver print
George Eastman Museum, Gift of Photo League Lewis Hine Memorial Committee

 

 

In an effort to counter American xenophobia in the early years of the twentieth century, Hine photographed immigrants as they arrived at Ellis Island, composing his images to stir sympathy and understanding among viewers. He understood the importance of disseminating his photographs and actively sought to publish them in newspapers, magazines, and pamphlets. The white outline in the photograph on the right instructs the designer and printer where to crop the image for a photomontage featuring figures from multiple portraits.

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954) 'La Poupée' (Puppet) 1936

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
La Poupée (Puppet)
1936
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Richard and Ronay Menschel

 

John Heartfield (German, 1891-1968) 'Hurrah, die Butter ist alle!' (Hooray, the Butter Is Finished!) 1935

 

John Heartfield (German, 1891-1968)
Hurrah, die Butter ist alle! (Hooray, the Butter Is Finished!)
1935
Rotogravure
George Eastman Museum, purchase

 

 

This is one of 237 photomontages that Heartfield created between 1930 and 1938 for the antifascist magazine Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung (Worker’s Pictorial Newspaper). It is a parody of the “Guns Before Butter” speech in which Hermann G.ring exhorted German citizens to sacrifice necessities in order to aid the nation’s rearmament. The text reads: “Iron ore has always made an empire strong; butter and lard have at most made a people fat.” Heartfield combined details from several photographs to conjure the image of a German family feasting on tools, machine parts, and a bicycle in a swastika-laden dining room, complete with a portrait of Hitler, a framed phrase from a popular Franco-Prussian war-era song, and a throw pillow bearing the likeness of recently deceased president Paul von Hindenburg.

 

Unidentified maker. 'Certificate of Marriage between Daniel W. Gibbs and Matilda B. Pierce' c. 1874

 

Unidentified maker
Certificate of Marriage between Daniel W. Gibbs and Matilda B. Pierce
c. 1874
Tintypes in prepared paper mount
George Eastman Museum, Purchase

 

 

Graphic cousins to one other, these wedding certificates are equipped with precut windows for photographs of the bride, groom, and officiant. The portraits, in partnership with the printed and inscribed text on the forms, contribute both to the documentary specificity of the certificates and to their value as sentimental souvenirs.

 

 

IX. Empire of Signs

The plethora of signs, symbols, and visual noise endemic to cities has attracted photographers since the medium’s invention. Their records of advertisers’ strident demands for attention, shopkeepers’ alluring displays, and the often dizzying architectural density of metropolitan life chronicle sights that are subject to change without notice. The photographer’s perspective on contemporary social life – whether it is anecdotal, as in John Thompson’s (1837-1921) Street Advertising from Street Life in London (1877), or haunting, as in Eugène Atget’s (1857-1927) Impasse des Bourdonnais (ca. 1908) – is embedded in each image.

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921) 'Street Advertising' 1877

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921)
Street Advertising
1877
From Street Life in London, 1877
Woodburytype
George Eastman Museum, Gift of Alden Scott Boyer

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921) 'Street Advertising' 1877

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Impasse des Bourdonnais
c. 1908
Albumen silver print
George Eastman Museum, Purchase

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971) 'At the Time of the Louisville Flood' 1937

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971)
At the Time of the Louisville Flood
1937
Gelatin silver print
George Eastman Museum

 

 

The plethora of signs, symbols, and visual noise endemic to cities has attracted photographers since the medium’s invention. Their records of advertisers’ strident demands for attention, shopkeepers’ alluring displays, and the often dizzying architectural density of metropolitan life chronicle sights that are subject to change without notice. The photographer’s perspective on contemporary social life – whether it is ironic, as in Margaret Bourke-White’s image of a line of flood victims before a billboard advertising middle-class prosperity, or bemused, as in Ferenc Berko’s photograph of columns of oversized artificial teeth on the street – is embedded in each image.

 

Ferenc Berko (American, b. Hungary, 1916-2000) 'Rawalpindi, India' 1946

 

Ferenc Berko (American, b. Hungary, 1916-2000)
Rawalpindi, India
1946
Gelatin silver print
George Eastman House, Gift of Katharine Kuh

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991) 'New York 6' 1951

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991)
New York 6
1951
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, Gift of Richard and Ronay Menschel

 

Alex Webb (American, b. 1952) 'India' 1981

 

Alex Webb (American, b. 1952)
India
1981
Chromogenic development print
George Eastman Museum, Purchased with funds from Charina Foundation

 

 

The Morgan Library & Museum
225 Madison Avenue, at 36th Street
New York, NY 10016-3405
Phone: (212) 685-0008

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05
Jul
15

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

Exhibition dates: 3rd May – 26th July 2015

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

 

 

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

 

Charles Nègre (French, 1820-1880)
Market Scene at the Port of the Hotel de Ville, Paris
before February 1852
Salted paper print
14.7 x 19.9cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 2003

 

 

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

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

Marcus

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

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

 

 

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

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (English, 1800-1877)
A Scene in York: York Minster from Lop Lane
1845
Salted paper print
16.2 x 20.4cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Edward J. Lenkin Fund, Melvin and Thelma Lenkin Fund and Stephen G. Stein Fund, 2011

 

 

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

 

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

 

Carleton E. Watkins (American, 1829-1916)
Piwac, Vernal Falls, 300 feet, Yosemite
1861
Albumen print
39.9 x 52.3cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and David Robinson, 1995

 

 

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

 

Eugène Cuvelier. 'Belle-Croix' 1860s

 

Eugène Cuvelier (French, 1837-1900)
Belle-Croix
1860s
Albumen print
Image: 25.4 x 34.3cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gail and Benjamin Jacobs for the Millennium Fund, 2007

 

 

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

 

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

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-1884)
The Pont du Carrousel, Paris: View to the West from the Pont des Arts
1856-1858
Albumen print
37.8 x 48.8cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 1995

 

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

 

Édouard-Denis Baldus (French, 1813-1889)
Toulon, Train Station
c. 1861
Albumen print
27.4 x 43.1cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 1995

 

 

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

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

 

About the exhibition

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

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

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

Press release from the National Gallery of Art

 

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

 

Albert Sands Southworth (American, 1811-1894) and Josiah Johnson Hawes (American, 1808-1901)
The Letter
c. 1850
Daguerreotype
Plate: 20.3 x 15.2cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 1999

 

 

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

 

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

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
The Hillside
c. 1898
Gum dichromate print
20.8 x 15.88cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 2008

 

 

The Photo-Secession

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

 

Eugène Atget. 'Saint-Cloud' 1926

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Saint-Cloud
1926
Albumen print
22.2 x 18.1cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon and Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 2006

 

 

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

 

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

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, 1815-1879)
The Mountain Nymph, Sweet Liberty
June 1866
Albumen print
36.1 x 26.7cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, New Century Fund, 1997

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

Dr Guillaume-Benjamin-Amant Duchenne (de Boulogne) (French, 1806-1875)
Figure 63, “Fright” from “Mécanisme de la physionomie humaine (Mechanism of human physiognomy)” (1862)
1854-1855
Albumen print
21.5 × 16cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund, 2015

 

 

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

 

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

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
An Anaemic Little Spinner in a New England Cotton Mill (North Pownal, Vermont)
1910
Gelatin silver print
24.1 × 19.2cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund, 2015

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

The Nineteenth Century: The Invention of Photography

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

 

Photography at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

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

 

Photography Between the Wars

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

 

Postwar Photography

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

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

 

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

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
An Apple, A Boulder, A Mountain
1921
Platinum print
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 2014

 

 

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

 

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

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
People, Streets of New York, 83rd and West End Avenue
1916
Platinum print
24.2 x 33cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 1990

 

 

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

 

American 20th Century. 'Untitled' c. 1930

 

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

 

 

Snapshots

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

 

Robert Frank. 'City of London' 1951

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
City of London
1951
Gelatin silver print
23 x 33.6cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Robert Frank Collection, Purchased as a Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation, in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of the National Gallery of Art, 1991

 

Robert Frank. 'Woman/Paris' 1952

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
Woman/Paris
1952
Gelatin silver print in bound volume
Image: 35.1 x 25.4cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Robert Frank Collection, Gift (Partial and Promised) of Robert Frank, in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of the National Gallery of Art, 1990

 

 

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

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

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

 

Robert Frank. 'Trolley - New Orleans' 1955

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
Trolley – New Orleans
1955
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 21 x 31.6cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Maria and Lee Friedlander, 2001

 

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

 

Roy DeCarava (American, 1919-2009)
Mississippi Freedom Marcher, Washington, D.C.
1963
Gelatin silver print
25.5 x 33cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation through Robert and Joyce Menschel, 1999

 

Lee Friedlander. 'New York City' 1966

 

Lee Friedlander (American, b. 1934)
New York City
1966
Gelatin silver print
Image: 13.3 x 20.6 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Trellis Fund, 2001

 

 

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

 

Giovanni Anselmo. 'Entering the Work' 1971

 

Giovanni Anselmo (Italian, b. 1934)
Entering the Work
1971
Photographic emulsion on canvas
49 x 63.5cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Glenstone in honor of Eileen and Michael Cohen, 2008

 

 

Conceptual Photography

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

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

 

Robert Adams. 'Colorado Springs, Colorado' 1974

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Colorado Springs, Colorado
1974
Gelatin silver print, printed 1983
15.2 x 15.2cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon and Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 2006

 

 

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

 

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

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971)
Fort Peck Dam, Montana
1936
Gelatin silver print
33.02 × 27.31cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 2014

 

 

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

 

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

 

György Kepes (American born Hungary, 1906-2001)
Juliet with Peacock Feather and Red Leaf
1937-1938
Gelatin silver print with gouache
15.7 × 11.6cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund, 2014

 

 

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

 

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

 

Irving Penn (American, 1917-2009)
Woman with Roses (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn in Lafaurie Dress), Paris
1950
Platinum/palladium print, 1977
55.1 x 37cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Irving Penn, 2002

 

 

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

 

 

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National Mall between 3rd and 7th Streets
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08
Apr
15

Selection of images part 1

April 2015

 

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) 'Fifth Avenue Houses' 1936

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Fifth Avenue Houses (5th Avenue and 8th Street)
1936, printed later
Silver gelatin print

 

 

A selection of interesting images.

The Vanishing Race by Edward S. Curtis is simple, yet one of the best. Already their shadows seem more substantial than their owners.

Any photographer worth their salt would recognise the light on the foliage in a certain location that they know, but the chance of it being as perfect as this are about a billion to one. Notice how the original frame extends the synthesis of man and landscape as well. Such a great amalgam of image and frame, such a perfect marriage where one complements the other without the frame being overpowering, as though the frame were an extension of the image (and organic nature of the landscape).

The line of the riders in the image as well… they would have virtually ridden over the photographer and the tripod if they had kept that line! And the outrider – magnificent!!

Marcus

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Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952) 'The Vanishing Race' 1904

 

Edward S. Curtis (American, 1868-1952)
The Vanishing Race – Navaho
1904
Orotone (in original frame)

 

 

“The passing of every old man or woman means the passing of some tradition, some knowledge of sacred rites possessed by no other… consequently the information that is to be gathered, for the benefit of future generations, respecting the mode of life of one of the great races of mankind, must be collected at once or the opportunity will be lost for all time.”

~ Edward S. Curtis

 

Ansel Adams (1902-1984) 'Surf Sequence #4' 1940

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Surf Sequence #4
1940, printed later
Silver gelatin print

 

Paul Caponigro (1932- ) 'Redding Stream, Redding, Connecticut' 1968

 

Paul Caponigro (American, b. 1932)
Redding Stream, Redding, Connecticut
1968, printed later
Gelatin silver print

 

Paul Caponigro (1932- ) 'Nautilus Shell, Ipswich, Mass' 1960

 

Paul Caponigro (American, b. 1932)
Nautilus Shell, Ipswich, Mass
1960
Silver gelatin print

 

Paul Caponigro (1932- ) 'Two Leaves, Brewster, New York' 1963

 

Paul Caponigro (American, b. 1932)
Two Leaves, Brewster, New York
1963
Silver gelatin print

 

Harry Callahan. 'Eleanor, Port Huron' c. 1954

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999)
Eleanor, Port Huron
c. 1954
Silver gelatin print

 

 

With her raven hair and ripe figure, Eleanor Callahan is one of the most recognisable models in the history of 20th-century photography, an inseparable part of both the life and work of one of its most renowned artists. Clothed and standing among trees in a public park, or nude and turned to the wall while clutching a radiator in an empty room, she served as a formal element within Mr. Callahan’s austere compositions as well as a symbol of womanhood. From 1941 to his death in 1999, she allowed herself to be photographed by him, without complaint, hundreds of times…

“He just liked to take the pictures of me,” she told an interviewer in 2008. “In every pose. Rain or shine. And whatever I was doing. If I was doing the dishes or if I was half asleep. And he knew that I never, never said no. I was always there for him. Because I knew that Harry would only do the right thing.”

Text from Richard B. Woodward. “Eleanor Callahan, Photographic Muse, Dies at 95,” on the New York Times website 28th February 2012.

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) 'Potato truck in the field near Shafter, California' 1937

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Potato truck in the field near Shafter, California
1937
Ferrotyped silver print

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Fish Market near Birmingham, Alabama' 1936

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Fish Market near Birmingham, Alabama
1936
Silver gelatin print

 

Robert Doisneau (1912-1994) 'Le gardien des géants du Nord' Nd

 

Robert Doisneau (French, 1912-1994)
Le gardien des géants du Nord
Nd
Silver gelatin print

 

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) 'Christopher Street Shop' late 1940s

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Christopher Street Shop
late 1940s
Silver gelatin print

 

Francesca Woodman (1958-1981) 'But Lately I Find a Sliver of a Mirror is Simply to Slice an Eyelid' 1979/1980

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
But Lately I Find a Sliver of a Mirror is Simply to Slice an Eyelid
1979-1980
Silver gelatin print

 

Francesca Woodman (1958-1981) 'Untitled, Rome, Italy' 1977/1978

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
Untitled, Rome, Italy
1977-1978
Silver gelatin print

 

André Kertész. 'Fan, December 1937' 1937

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Fan, December 1937
1937
Silver gelatin print

 

 

“I am an amateur and I intend to stay that way for the rest of my life.”

~ André Kertész

 

Margaret Bourke-White (1904-1971) 'Fort Peck Dam, Montana' 1936

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971)
Fort Peck Dam, Montana
1936
Silver gelatin print

 

 

This photograph became an icon of the machine age, not only because it was printed as the cover of the first issue of Life magazine (November 23, 1936), but also because it showed the power of modern technology to dwarf humankind. The giant buttresses and what seem to be crenellated battlements (actually the supports for an elevated highway) are meant to be as raw and impressive as the towering walls of ancient monuments. The engineers on the spillway provide the necessary indication of scale.

 

Margaret Bourke-White (1904-1971) 'Terminal Tower [Cleveland]' c. 1928

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971)
Terminal Tower [Cleveland]
c. 1928
Silver gelatin print

 

 

“I stood on the deck to watch the city [Cleveland] come into view. As the skyline took form in the morning mist, I felt I was coming to my promised land … columns of machinery gaining height as we drew toward the pier, derricks swinging like living creatures. Deep inside I knew these were my subjects.”

~ Margaret Bourke-White 1927

 

Francois Kollar (1904-1979) 'Double-impression of the Eiffel Tower' 1931

 

François Kollar (Hungarian, 1904-1979)
Double-impression of the Eiffel Tower
1931
Solarised silver gelatin print

 

 

In this unique and widely-reproduced photograph, the French modernist photographer has overlaid positive and negative images of the magnificent Eiffel Tower. The iconic structure is depicted from an unusual perspective, thrusting upward, with Kollar’s special solarised effect.

 

Edward J. Kelty (1888-1967) 'X-ray of Ajax, the sword swallower' 1928

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
X-ray of Ajax, the sword swallower
1928
 Silver print
18 × 11 inches (45.7 × 27.9cm)
With a New York X-ray lab credit in the negative

 

Edward J. Kelty (1888-1967) 'Marcellus Golden Models' 1933

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Marcellus Golden Models
1933
Silver print
11 1/4 × 8 7/8 inches (28.6 × 22.5cm)
With Kelty’s credit and title in the negative

 

 

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24
May
13

Exhibition: ‘Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and the Bureaucracy of Everyday Life’ at Haus der Kunst, Munich

Exhibition dates: 15th February – 26th May 2013

 

NEVER AGAIN!

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

 

 

Eli Weinberg. 'Crowd near the Drill Hall on the opening day of the Treason Trial, Johannesburg, 19. December 1956' 1956

 

Eli Weinberg (South African, born Latvia 1908-1981)
Crowd near the Drill Hall on the opening day of the Treason Trial, Johannesburg, 19. December 1956
1956
Times Media Collection, Museum Africa, Johannesburg

 

Gille de Vlieg. 'Coffins at the mass funeral held in KwaThema, Gauteng, July 23, 1985' 1985

 

Gille de Vlieg (South African, born England 1940)
Coffins at the mass funeral held in KwaThema, Gauteng, July 23, 1985
1985

 

Gille de Vlieg. 'Pauline Moloise (mother of Ben), two women & Winnie Madikizela Mandela mourn at the Memorial Service for Benjamin Moloise, who was hanged earlier that morning. Khotso House, Johannesburg, October 18, 1985' 1985

 

Gille de Vlieg (South African, born England 1940)
Pauline Moloise (mother of Ben), two women & Winnie Madikizela Mandela mourn at the Memorial Service for Benjamin Moloise, who was hanged earlier that morning. Khotso House, Johannesburg, October 18, 1985
1985

 

Jodi Bieber. 'Protest against Chris Hani's assassination' 1993

 

Jodi Bieber (South African, b. 1966)
Protest against Chris Hani’s assassination
1993
© Goodman Gallery Johannesburg

 

 

Complex, vivid, evocative, and dramatic, Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and the Bureaucracy of Everyday Life represents the most comprehensive exhibition of its kind, attempting to formulate an understanding of apartheid’s legacy in South Africa through visual records. These images responded to the procedures and processes of the apartheid state from its beginning in 1948 to the first non-racial democratic elections that attended its demise in 1994. Featuring more than 600 documentary photographs, artworks, films, newsreel footage, books, magazines, and assorted archival documents, the exhibition will fill more than 2,000 square meters of the East Wing of Haus der Kunst. Starting in the entrance gallery (where two film clips are juxtaposed; one from 1948 showing the victorious Afrikaner National Party’s celebration rally, and another of President F. W. De Klerk in February 1990 announcing Nelson Mandela’s release from prison) the exhibition offers an absorbing exploration of one of the twentieth century’s most contentious historical eras.

The exhibition highlights the different strategies adopted by photographers and artists; from social documentary to reportage, photo essays to artistic appropriation of press and archival material. Through these polysemic images, the exhibition embarks on a tour of how photographers and artists think with pictures, the questions these images pose, and the issues of social justice, resistance, civil rights and the actions of opposition to apartheid raise. In so doing, The Rise and Fall of Apartheid brings together many iconic photographs that have rarely been shown before, to propose a fresh historical overview of the photographic and artistic responses to apartheid.

A fundamental argument of the exhibition is that the rise of the Afrikaner National Party to political power and its introduction of apartheid as the legal foundation of governance in 1948 changed the country’s pictorial perception from a “relatively benign colonial space based on racial segregation to a highly contested space in which the majority of the population struggled for equality, democratic representation, and civil rights” (Okwui Enwezor). From the moment apartheid was introduced, photographers in South Africa were immediately aware of how these changes taking place in politics and society accordingly affected photography’s visual language: The medium was transformed from a purely anthropological tool into a social instrument. No one photographed the struggle against apartheid better, more critically, and incisively than South African photographers. For that reason, with the notable exception of a few Western photographers and artists, including Ian Berry, Dan Weiner, Margaret Bourke-White, Hans Haacke, Adrian Piper, and others, the works in the exhibition are overwhelmingly produced by South African photographers.

Resisting the easy dichotomy of victims and oppressors, the photographers’ images present the reading of an evolving dynamic of repression and resistance. Ranging in approach between “engaged” photography of photo essays to the “struggle” photography of social documentary which was aligned with activism, to photojournalistic reportage, the photographers did not only show African citizens as victims, but more importantly as agents of their own emancipation. Included in the exhibition are seminal works by Leon Levson, Eli Weinberg, David Goldblatt and members of Drum magazine, such as Peter Magubane, Jürgen Schadeberg, Alf Kumalo, Bob Gosani, G.R. Naidoo, and others in the 1950s. Also represented are the investigative street photography of Ernest Cole and George Hallett in the 1960s, the reportage of Sam Nzima, Noel Watson, and protest images of the Black Consciousness movement, and student marches in the 1970s to those of the Afrapix Collective in the 1980s, as well as reportages by the members of the so-called Bang Bang Club in the 1990s. The exhibition concludes with works by a younger generation of South African photographers, such as Sabelo Mlangeni and Thabiso Sekgale, and the collective Center for Historical Reenactments, whose projects offer subtle reappraisals of the after effects of apartheid still felt today.

These South African photographers represented a clear political belief. They were opponents of the apartheid regime, and they employed photography as an instrument to overcome it. The independent photo agency Afrapix, founded in 1982 by Omar Badsha and Paul Weinberg, saw itself as a group of “cultural workers”. They believed political convictions came first, and that photography, like writing or acting, was part of the anti-apartheid movement. This attitude was supported by photographers such as Peter McKenzie, who – at a cultural conference organised by the ANC (African National Congress) in Gabarone, Botswana in 1982 – argued that the work of cultural producers is necessarily part of the struggle against apartheid. McKenzie’s argument stood in sharp contrast to that of David Goldblatt, who had the opinion that photographers should report on events with as much inner distance as they can muster.

On the other end of the spectrum, the so-called “struggle” or “frontline photography” is characterised by immediacy, giving the impression of being in the middle of the action. “If you want a picture, you get that picture, under all circumstances” was the leitmotif of one of the leading figures, Peter Magubane.

The photographs’ subjects are different historical events. These include the “Treason Trial” of 1956-61, which ended with the acquittal of 156 anti-apartheid activists, including Nelson Mandela; the Sharpeville massacre of 1960, in which police shot 69 demonstrators dead; Mandela’s release in 1990 after 27 years in prison; and the civil war between opposing political factions during the 1994 election. Yet this exhibition is not a history of apartheid itself. Instead it aims to critically interrogate the normative symbols and signs of the photographic and visual responses to apartheid. For example, ritualised gestures were also part of the apartheid imagery. The “thumbs up” as a sign of solidarity among activists belonged to the movement’s nonviolent start when civil disobedience and strikes were still regarded as effective agents. After the Sharpeville massacre of 1960, the resistance became militarised. The cherished “thumbs up” was transformed into the upraised fist, the general symbol of black power. Since the burial of the Sharpeville massacre’s victims, black South Africans expressed their sense of community and identity at funerals. Their public mourning thus became a ritualised form of mass mobilisation and defiance.

From the ordinary and mundane to the bureaucratic and institutional, the corrosive effects of the apartheid system on everyday life are explored in the multiplicity of public signage that drew demarcating lines of segregation between whites, Africans, and non-Europeans. For example, Ernest Cole engaged in a sustained study of apartheid signage at train stations, banks, buses, taxi ranks, and throughout the streets of cities like Johannesburg and Pretoria in the early to mid-1960s. Another exemplary image is a photo from 1956 taken by Peter Magubane. It draws attention to the fact that racial segregation restricted movement in both private and public space. The image shows a young white girl sitting on a bench with the inscription “Europeans only” as her black nanny strokes her neck, but must do so from the back bench.

However, the everyday was not limited to the humiliations of policed segregation. “Drum” magazine, one of the most important media outlets for African social life, combined the gritty realism of reportage and the fantasy of normality in the self-constructions of non-European dandies, beauty queens, and the exuberance of township life. Its pages offered images of entertainment, representations of leisure, cultural events, and celebrity portraits. The magazine encompassed a full range of motifs, from relentless documentary photography to fashion shoots, dance revues, and concerts. Through the magazine, photographs found an audience that was politically sensitive and attentive; it also gave South African photographers the opportunity to exchange ideas with colleagues from other African countries, India, and Europe for the first time.

In 1990, the interest of the international press was focused on Mandela’s imminent release. Photographs from South Africa had finally prepared the ground for the participation of world opinion in shaping the country’s future. In this context, the exhibition also asks whether photography can help inform the political face of the world.

Press release from the Haus der Kunst website

 

Jurgen Schadeberg. 'The 29 ANC Women’s League women are being arrested by the police for demonstrating against the permit laws, which prohibited them from entering townships without a permit, 26th August 1952' 1952

 

Jurgen Schadeberg (South African, born Germany 1931-2020)
The 29 ANC Women’s League women are being arrested by the police for demonstrating against the permit laws, which prohibited them from entering townships without a permit, 26th August 1952
1952
Courtesy the artist

 

Jurgen Schadeberg. '20 defiance campaign Leaders appear in the Johannesburg Magistrates Court on a charge of contravening the Suppression of Communism Act, August 26, 1952' 1952

 

Jurgen Schadeberg (South African, born Germany 1931-2020)
20 defiance campaign Leaders appear in the Johannesburg Magistrates Court on a charge of contravening the Suppression of Communism Act, August 26, 1952
1952
Courtesy the artist

 

Ranjith Kally. 'Chief Albert Luthuli, former President General of the African National Congress, Rector of Glasgow University and 1960 Nobel Peace Prize Winner, gagged by the government from having any of his words published in his country, confined to small area around his home near Stanger in Natal, April 1964' 1964

 

Ranjith Kally (South African, b. 1925)
Chief Albert Luthuli, former President General of the African National Congress, Rector of Glasgow University and 1960 Nobel Peace Prize Winner, gagged by the government from having any of his words published in his country, confined to small area around his home near Stanger in Natal, April 1964
1964
© Bailey’s Archives

 

Jurgen Schadeberg. 'Nelson Mandela, Treason Trial' 1958

 

Jurgen Schadeberg (South African, born Germany 1931-2020)
Nelson Mandela, Treason Trial
1958
Courtesy the artist

 

Eli Weinberg. 'Nelson Mandela portrait wearing traditional beads and a bed spread. Hiding out from the police during his period as the "black pimpernel," 1961' 1961

 

Eli Weinberg (South African, born Latvia 1908-1981)
Nelson Mandela portrait wearing traditional beads and a bed spread. Hiding out from the police during his period as the “black pimpernel,” 1961
1961
Courtesy of IDAFSA

 

Greame Williams. 'Nelson Mandela and Winnie Mandela as he is released from the Victor Vester Prison' 1990

 

Greame Williams (South African, b. 1961)
Nelson Mandela and Winnie Mandela as he is released from the Victor Vester Prison
1990
Courtesy the artist
© Greame Williams

 

 

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08
May
12

Exhibition: ‘A New Vision: Modernist Photography’ at the Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire

Exhibition dates: 4th February – 13th May 2012

 

Paul Caponigro. 'Two Pears, Cushing, ME' 1999

 

Paul Caponigro (American, b. 1932)
Two Pears, Cushing, ME
1999
Gelatin silver print
7 9/16 in. x 9 11/16 in.
Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire
Gift of Paul Caponigro, photographer

 

 

The conceptual idea of Modernist photography is “look at this,” look at how photography interprets the world: through light, lens, glass, film, paper, brain and eye. Early Modernist photography occurred in the first two decades of the twentieth century (through the vision of Alfred Steiglitz, Paul Strand, Edward Steichen et al) before it was even named “Modernism” and led to radically different forms of artistic expression that broke the pictorialist conventions of the era. Gritty realism was the order of the day, clean lines, repetition of form, strange viewpoints where the photographers observation of the subject is as important as the subject itself. Look at how I, and the camera, see the world: that is all there is, the indexical relation to the word of truth.

“Artists and photographers began looking at the photographs used in mass culture, to develop an aesthetic true to the intrinsic qualities of photographic materials: the accurate rendition of visible reality; framing that crops into a larger spatial and temporal context; viewpoints and perspectives generated by modern lenses and typically modern spatial organisations (for example, tall buildings); and sharp, black-and-white images. This objective, mechanised vision became art by foregrounding not its subject matter, but its formal structure as an image.” (Patrizia di Bello. “Modernsim and Photography,” on Answers.com website [Online] Cited 03/08/2012 no longer available online)

Steiglitz and Strand, “often abstracted reality by eliminating social or spatial context; by using viewpoints that flattened pictorial space, acknowledging the flatness of the picture plane; and by emphasising shape and tonal rendition in highlights and shadows as much as in the actual subject matter.” (Ibid.,) Such use of highlights and shadows can be seen in the most famous work by the photographer Helmar Lerski, Transformation Through Light (1937), a photograph of which is presented below. Have a look on Google Images to see the changes wrought on the same face just through the use of light.

It is interesting to note the inclusion of photographers such as Paul Caponigro and Brett Weston in this exhibition as later examples of artists influenced by language of Modernism. While this may be partially true by the mid-1970s the mechanised vision of early Modernism (with its link to the indexicality of the image, its documentary authority and ability to express the individuality of the artist) had dissipated with the advent of the seminal exhibition New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape (International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House, 1975). “The pictures were stripped of any artistic frills and reduced to an essentially topographic state, conveying substantial amounts of visual information but eschewing entirely the aspects of beauty, emotion and opinion.” These typologies, often shown in grids, “depicted urban or suburban realities under changes in an allegedly detached approach… casting a somewhat ironic or critical eye on what American society had become.” (Wikipedia) While the photographs by Weston and Caponigro do show some allegiance to Modernist Photography they are of an altogether different order of things, one that is not predicated on what the object is or what the artist says it is (its reality), but also, what else it can be.

Of course, this leads into more critical readings on the meaning of photographs that emerged in the late 1970s-80s. As Patrizia di Bello has insightfully written,

“John Tagg, in The Burden of Representation (1988), argues that the indexical nature of the photograph does not explain its meanings. “What makes the link between the pre-photographic referent and the sign is a discriminatory technical, cultural and historical process in which particular optical and chemical devices are set to work to organise experience and desire and produce a new reality – the paper image which, through further processes, may become meaningful in all sorts of ways.” Rather than being a guarantor of realism, the camera is itself an ideological construct, producing an all-seeing spectator and effacing the means of its production. Analyses of who has possessed the means to represent and who has been represented reveal that photography has been profoundly implicated in issues of political, cultural, and sexual domination. This area of investigation has especially drawn upon Michel Foucault’s (1926-84) reflections on the emergence of forms of knowledge; on the modern notion of the subject; and on practices of power which produce subjects actively participating in the dominant disciplinary order. Particularly influential have been his rejection of the notion of a pre-given self or human nature, and his insistence that every system of power and knowledge also creates possibilities of resistance. The role of critics then becomes the deconstruction of dominant assumptions within and about representations, to identify works embodying the possibility of resistance.” (Patrizia di Bello. “Theories of Photographic Meaning,” on Answers.com website [Online] Cited 03/08/2012 no longer available online)

The camera as ideological construct. Photography as profoundly implicated in issues of political, cultural, and sexual domination. In other words who is looking, at what, what is being pictured or excluded, who has control over that image (and access to it), who understands the language of that representation and controls its meaning (this picturing of a version of reality), and who resists the dominant assumptions within and about its representations.

Modernist Photography does indeed have a lot to answer for.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to the Currier 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.

 

Brett Weston. '(Untitled) Tide Pool and Kelp' c. 1980

 

Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993)
(Untitled) Tide Pool and Kelp
c. 1980
Gelatin silver print
10 9/16 in. x 13 11/16 in.
Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire
Gift from the Christian K. Keesee Collection
© The Brett Weston Archive

 

Brett Weston. '(Untitled) Branches and Snow' c. 1975

 

Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993)
(Untitled) Branches and Snow
c. 1975
Gelatin silver print
12 3/4 in. x 10 5/8 in.
Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire
Gift from the Christian K. Keesee Collection
© The Brett Weston Archive

 

Helmar Lerski. 'Metamorphosis through Light #587' 1935-36

 

Helmar Lerski (Swiss, 1871-1956)
Metamorphosis through Light #587
1935-36
Vintage gelatin silver print
11 1/2 in. x 9 1/4 in.
Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire

 

 

Helmar Lerski (18 February 1871, Strasbourg – 19 September 1956, Zürich) was a photographer who laid some of the important foundations of modern photography. He focused mainly on portraits and the technique of photography with mirrors. Lerski concentrated on archetypal characteristics rather than on individual features, favouring extreme close-ups and tight cropping, and he became renowned for his experiments with multiple light sources.

Lerski was involved concurrently in the two major, emergent mediums of his time: film and photography. Born in Alsace in the then German city of Strausburg, he became involved in the theater and, in 1896, moved to New York to pursue a career in acting, eventually working at the Irving Place Theater and later the German Pabst Theater. It was in this setting that Lerski first became aware of the unique visual effects achievable with stage lighting. Drawing from his acting experience, he began investigating photography as an artistic medium after meeting his wife, also a photographer. While photographing their colleagues, Lerski experimented with a series of portraits that severely manipulated the lighting effects. The resulting images formed a base for his later success in both commercial and art photography… This body of work upholds the artist’s declaration that “in every human being there is everything; the question is only what the light falls on.”

In 1937 he created his masterpiece, Transformation Through Light, on a rooftop terrace in Tel Aviv, in which he projected 175 different images of a single model, altered using multiple mirrors to direct intense sunlight towards his face at various angles and intensities. Siegfried Kracauer wrote about this series in his Theory of Film (Oxford University Press, 1960, p. 162):

“His model, he [Lerski] told me in Paris, was a young man with a nondescript face who posed on the roof of a house. Lerski took over a hundred pictures of that face from a very short distance, each time subtly changing the light with the aid of screens. Big close-ups, these pictures detailed the texture of the skin so that cheeks and brows turned into a maze of inscrutable runes reminiscent of soil formations, as they appear from an airplane. The result was amazing. None of the photographs recalled the model; and all of them differed from each other…

Out of the original face there arose, evoked by the varying lights, a hundred different faces, among them those of a hero, a prophet, a peasant, a dying soldier, an old woman, a monk. Did these portraits, if portraits they were, anticipate the metamorphoses which the young man would undergo in the future? Or were they just plays of light whimsically projecting on his face dreams and experiences forever alien to him? Proust would have been delighted in Lerski’s experiment with its unfathomable implications.”

Text from Wikipedia, Weimar Blog and Articles and Texticles websites

 

Margaret Bourke-White. 'Turbine, Niagara Falls Power Co.,' 1928

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971)
Turbine, Niagara Falls Power Co.,
1928
Gelatin silver print
13 1/2 in. x 9 1/2 in.
Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire
Photo © Estate of Margaret Bourke-White/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

 

 

The Currier Museum of Art’s latest special exhibition traces the development of the modernist movement from the 1920s to its impact on artists today. Featuring more than 150 works displayed in three expansive galleries, A New Vision: Modernist Photography reflects the international nature of modernism, and includes American photographers such as Ansel Adams, Edward and Brett Weston, Margaret Bourke-White, Man Ray and Charles Sheeler, as well as European artists including Lotte Jacobi, László Moholy-Nagy, Helmar Lerski and Imre Kinszki…

[Marcus: Imre Kinszki (1901-1944) was a pioneer of modernist photography in Hungary, and a founder member of the group called Modern Hungarian Photographers. His son died in Buchenwald while he died on a death march to Sachsenhausen in 1944. See a moving video on YouTube where his daughter, who survived the ghetto, Judit Kinszki Talks About Her Father. The heartbreaking quotation below comes from the Articles and Texticles website which is no longer available online. It makes me very angry and very sad.

“In the ghetto we didn’t know anything about Auschwitz and what happened to those in forced labor service. It didn’t even occur to us that my father might not be alive. My mother and I went every day to the Keleti railroad station and went up to everybody who got off and asked them. Once my mother found a man who had been in the same group, and he remembered my father. He said that their car had been unhooked and the train went on towards Germany. They got off somewhere and went on foot towards Sachsenhausen – this was a death march. They spent the night on a German farm, in a barn on straw, and the man [who came back] said his legs had been so full of injuries that he couldn’t go on, and had decided that he would take his chances: he wormed himself into the straw. He did it, they didn’t find him, and that’s how he survived. He didn’t know about the others. We never found anyone else but this single man. So it’s clear that somewhere between this farm and Sachsenhausen everyone had been shot. But we interpreted this news in such a way that all we knew about him was that he would arrive sometime soon. We didn’t have news of my brother for a long time, then my mother found a young man who had worked with my brother. He told us that when they arrived in Buchenwald in winter, they were driven out of the wagon, and asked them what kind of qualifications they had. My brother told them that he was a student. This young man told us that the Germans immediately tied him up, it was a December morning, and they hosed him down with water just to watch him freeze to death. Those who didn’t have a trade were stripped of their clothes and hosed with cold water until they froze. I think that at that moment something broke in my mother. She was always waiting for my father, she refused to declare him dead even though she would have been eligible for a widow’s pension. But she waited for my father until the day she died. She couldn’t wait for my brother, because she had to believe what she had heard. Why would that young man have said otherwise?”]

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Boris Ignatovich’s 1930s Tramway Handles and Margaret Bourke-White’s 1928 photo Turbine, Niagara Falls Power Co. [see below] showcase modernist images of isolated elements from the manmade world. While close-ups of nature, such as Brett Weston’s 1980 (Untitled) Tide Pool and Kelp, reveal striking abstract compositions that emphasise the repetition of patterns and dramatic contrast of light and shade. This new vision shared by modernist photographers makes form and composition as important as subject matter in their photographs.

“This exhibition illustrates the diversity of the modernist movement and its important contribution to the art of the 20th and 21st centuries,” said Kurt Sundstrom, curator of the exhibition. Adding, “Modernist photographers expanded the visual vocabulary of art – making everyday objects – from grass, drying laundry, machinery and lumber to details of the human body – subjects worthy of artistic interest.”

Contemporary New England photographers are still building upon the artistic language that their predecessors developed. Paul Caponigro, who lives in Cushing, Maine, Carl Hyatt of Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Arno Minkkinen of Andover, MA all clearly connect to modernism and are part of A New Vision.

A New Vision also explores the reciprocal influences among all media that shaped the modern art movement. Artists in the varied media shared a common vision; to illustrate this interconnectedness, paintings by Marsden Hartley, Georgia O’Keeffe, Charles Sheeler and Childe Hassam are paired with photographs in this exhibition.

Press release from the Currier Museum of Art website

 

Boris Ignatovich. 'Tramway Handles' 1930s (printed 1955)

 

Boris Ignatovich (Russian, 1899-1976)
Tramway Handles
1930s (printed 1955)
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 in. x 6 3/8 in.
Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire
Art © Estate of Boris Ignatovich/RAO, Moscow/VAGA, New York.

 

 

Boris Ignatovich, born in Lutsk, Ukraine in 1899, was a Soviet photographer and a member of the Russian avant-garde movement. Ignatovich began his career in 1918, first working as a journalist and a newspaper editor before taking up photography in 1923. In the early 1920s he worked for a number of publications, most notably, Bednota (Poverty), Krasnaya Niva (Red Field) and Ogonyok. Ignatovich’s first photographic success was a documentary series about villagers in the Ramenskoe’s Workers’ settlement, which coincided with the first 5-year plan after Stalin’s victory. Ignatovich tried to alter the traditional format of documentary photography by using very low and very high unconventional angles, developing new perspectives, and including birds-eye constructions, which rendered the landscape as an abstract composition. In 1926 Ignatovich participated at the exhibition of the Association of Moscow Photo-Correspondents, and later became one of its leaders. In 1927, he photographed power plants and factories for Bednota and developed close association with Alexander Rodchenko, as they photographed for Dajosch together. Ignatovich’s famous photo stories also included the first American tractors in the USSR and aerial photographs of Leningrad and Moscow. In 1928, Ignatovich participated in the exhibition 10 Years of Soviet Photography, in Moscow and Leningrad, which was organized by the State Academy of Artistic Sciences. Due to his companionship with Rodchenko, Ignatovich was greatly influenced by his style and unconventional techniques. Both became members of the distinguished Oktiabr, the October group, which was a union of artists, architects, film directors, and photographers. In February of 1930, a photographic section of the October group was organised. Rodchenko was the head of the section and wrote its program. Other members include Dmitrii Debabov; Boris, Ol’ga, and Elizaveta Ignatovich; Vladimir Griuntal’; Roman Karmen; Eleazar Langman; Moriakin; Abram Shterenberg; and Vitalii Zhemchuzhnyi. The October group, whose styles favored fragmentary techniques and the distortion of images in an avant-garde manner, captured the idea of a world in dynamic form and rhythms.

First general October exhibition opened at Gorky Park, a park of culture and rest named after Gorky in Moscow. The photography section, organised by Rodchenko and Stepanova, includes the magazine Radioslushatel, designed by Stepanova and illustrated with photographs by Griuntal, Ignatovich, and Rodchenko. When Rodchenko was expelled from the October group for his formalist photography, Ignatovich took over as head of the photographic section of the group until the group was dissolved in 1932 by governmental decree.  Apart from October, Ignatovich worked on documentary films from 1930 to 1932. As a movie cameraman, Ignatovich worked on the first sound film, Olympiada of the Arts. After 1932 he began to pioneer ideas such as the theory of collectivism in photojournalism at the Soyuzfoto agency where he developed specific rules and laws of photography, so much so that the photographers working under him were obliged to follow and jointly credit their work to Ignatovich by signing their photographs “Ignatovich Brigade.” Ignatovich participated in 1935 Exhibition of the Work of the Masters of Soviet Photography as well as the All-Union Exhibition of Soviet photography at the State Pushkin Museum in 1937. During the 1930s, Ignatovich also contributed photographs to the USSR In Construction, and in 1941, worked as a war photo correspondent on the front. After the War, Ignatovich concentrated on landscape and portraiture, experimenting with the use of symbols, picture captions, and ideas of collectivism, particularly at the Soyuzfoto agency where he continued to work as a photojournalist until he died in 1976.

Text from the Nailya Alexander Gallery website

 

Brett Weston. '(Untitled) Fremont Bridge, Portland' 1971

 

Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993)
(Untitled) Fremont Bridge, Portland
1971
Gelatin silver print
13 1/4 in. x 10 1/2 in.
Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire. Gift from the Christian K. Keesee Collection
© The Brett Weston Archive

 

 

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New Hampshire 03104
Phone: 603.669.6144

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22
Jun
11

Review: ‘American Dreams: 20th century photography from George Eastman House’ at Bendigo Art Gallery, Victoria

Exhibition dates: 16th April – 10th July 2011

 

Gertrude Käsebier. 'The Sketch (Beatrice Baxter)' 1903

 

Gertrude Käsebier (American, 1852-1934)
The Sketch (Beatrice Baxter)
1903
Platinum print
Gift of Hermine Turner
Collection of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film

 

 

This is a fabulous survey exhibition of the great artists of 20th century American photography, a rare chance in Australia to see such a large selection of vintage prints from some of the masters of photography. If you have a real interest in the history of photography you must see this exhibition, showing as it is just a short hour and a half drive (or train ride) from Melbourne at Bendigo Art Gallery.

I talked with the curator, Tansy Curtin, and asked her about the exhibition’s gestation. This is the first time an exhibition from the George Eastman House has come to Australia and the exhibition was 3-4 years in the making. Tansy went to George Eastman House in March last year to select the prints; this was achieved by going through solander box after solander box of vintage prints and seeing what was there, what was available and then making work sheets for the exhibition – what a glorious experience this would have been, undoing box after box to reveal these magical prints!

The themes for the exhibition were already in the history of photography and Tansy has chosen almost exclusively vintage prints that tell a narrative story, that make that story accessible to people who know little of the history of photography. With that information in mind the exhibition is divided into the following sections:

Photography becomes art; The photograph as social document; Photographing America’s monuments; Abstraction and experimentation; Photojournalism and war photography; Fashion and celebrity portraiture; Capturing the everyday; Photography in colour; Social and environmental conscience; and The contemporary narrative.

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There are some impressive, jewel-like contact prints in the exhibition. One must remember that, for most of the photographers working after 1940, exposure, developing and printing using Ansel Adams Zone System (where the tonal range of the negative and print can be divided into 11 different ‘zones’ from 0 for absolute black and to 10 for absolute white) was the height of technical sophistication and aesthetic choice, equal to the best gaming graphics from today’s age. It was a system that I used in my black and white film development and printing. Film development using a Pyrogallol staining developer (the infamous ‘pyro’, a developer I tried to master without success in a few trial batches of film) was also technically difficult but the ability of this developer to obtain a greater dynamic range of zones in the film itself was outstanding.

“The Zone System provides photographers with a systematic method of precisely defining the relationship between the way they visualise the photographic subject and the final results… An expressive image involves the arrangement and rendering of various scene elements according to photographer’s desire. Achieving the desired image involves image management (placement of the camera, choice of lens, and possibly the use of camera movements) and control of image values. The Zone System is concerned with control of image values, ensuring that light and dark values are rendered as desired. Anticipation of the final result before making the exposure is known as visualisation.”1

Previsualisation, the ability of the photographer to see ‘in the mind’s eye’ the outcome of the photograph (the final print) before even looking through the camera lens to take the photograph, was an important skill for most of these photographers. This skill has important implications for today’s photographers, should they choose to develop this aspect of looking: not as a mechanistic system but as a meditation on the possibilities of each part of the process, the outcome being an expressive print.

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A selection of the best photographs in the exhibition could include,

1. An original 1923 Alfred Steiglitz Equivalent contact print – small (approx. 9cm x 12cm, see below), intense, the opaque brown blacks really strong, the sun shining brightly through the velvety clouds. In the Equivalents series the photograph was purely abstract, standing as a metaphor for another state of being, in this case music. A wonderful melding of the technical and the aesthetic the Equivalents “are generally recognised as the first photographs intended to free the subject matter from literal interpretation, and, as such, are some of the first completely abstract photographic works of art.”2

2. Paul Strand Blind (1915, printed 1945) – printed so dark that you cannot see the creases in the coat of the blind woman with a Zone 3 dark skin tone.

3. Lewis Hine [Powerhouse mechanic] see below, vintage 1920 print full of subtle tones. Usually when viewing reproductions of this image it is either cropped or the emphasis is on the body of the mechanic; in this print his skin tones are translucent, silvery and the emphasis is on the man in unison with the machine. The light is from the top right of the print and falls not on him directly, but on the machinery at upper right = this is the emotional heart of this image!

4. Three tiny vintage Tina Modotti prints from c. 1929 – so small, such intense visions. I have never seen one original Modotti before so to see three was just sensational.

5. Walker Evans View of Morgantown, West Virginia vintage 1935 print – a cubist dissection of space and the image plane with two-point perspective of telegraph pole with lines.

6. An Edward S. Curtis photogravure Washo Baskets (1924, from the portfolio The North American Indian) – such a sumptuous composition and the tones…

7. Ansel Adams 8″ x 10″ contact print of Winter Storm (1944, printed 1959, see above) where the blackness of the mountain on the left hand side of the print was almost impenetrable and, because of the large format negative, the snow on the rock in mid-distance was like a sprinkling of icing sugar on a cake it was that sharp.

8. A most splendid print of the Chrysler Building (vintage 1930 print, approx. 48 x 34  cm) by Margaret Bourke-White – tonally rich browns, smoky, hazy city at top; almost like a platinum print rather than a silver gelatin photograph. The bottom left of the print was SO dark but you could still see into the shadows just to see the buildings.

9. An original Robert Capa 1944 photograph from the Omaha Beach D Day landings!

10. Frontline soldier with canteen, Saipan (1944, vintage print) by W Eugene Smith where the faces of the soldiers were almost Zone 2-3 and there was nothing in the print above zone 5 (mid-grey) – no physical and metaphoric light.

11. One of the absolute highlights: two vintage Edward Weston side by side, the form of one echoing the form of the other; Nude from the 50th Anniversary Portfolio 1902 – 1952 (1936, printed 1951), an 8″ x 10″ contact print side by side with an 8″ x 10″ contact print of Pepper No. 30 (vintage 1930 print). Nothing over zone 7 in the skin tones of the nude, no specular highlights; the sensuality in the pepper just stunning – one of my favourite prints of the day – look at the tones, look at the light!

12. Three vintage Aaron Siskind (one of my favourite photographers) including two early prints from 1938 – wow. Absolutely stunning.

13. Harry Callahan. That oh so famous image of Eleanor and Barbara, Chicago (vintage 1953 print) that reminds me of the work of Jeffrey Smart (or is it the other way around). The wonderful space around the figures, the beautiful composition, the cobblestones and the light – just ravishing.

14. The absolute highlight: Three vintage Diane Arbus prints in a row – including a 15″ square image from the last series of work Untitled (6) (vintage 1971 print, see above) – the year in which she committed suicide. This had to be the moment of the day for me. This has always been one of my favourite photographs ever and it did not disappoint; there was a darkness to the trees behind the three figures and much darker grass (zone 3-4) than I had ever imagined with a luminous central figure. The joyousness of the figures was incredible. The present on the ground at the right hand side was a revelation – usually lost in reproductions this stood out from the grass like you wouldn’t believe in the print. Being an emotional person I am not afraid to admit it, I burst into tears…

15. And finally another special… Two vintage Stephen Shore chromogenic colour prints from 1976 where the colours are still true and have not faded. This was incredible – seeing vintage prints from one of the early masters of colour photography; noticing that they are not full of contrast like a lot of today’s colour photographs – more like a subtle Panavision or Technicolor film from the early 1960s. Rich, subtle, beautiful hues. For a contemporary colour photographer the trip to Bendigo just to see these two prints would be worth the time and the car trip/rail ticket alone!

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Not everything is sweetness and light. The print by Dorothea Lange Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California is a contemporary print from 2003, the vintage print having just been out on loan; the contemporary section, ‘The contemporary narrative’, is very light on, due mainly to the nature of the holdings of George Eastman House; and there are some major photographers missing from the line up including Minor White, Fredrick Sommer, Paul Caponigro, Wynn Bullock and William Clift to name just a few.

Of more concern are the reproductions in the catalogue, the images for reproduction supplied by George Eastman House and the catalogue signed off by them. The reproduction of Margaret Bourke-White’s Chrysler Building (1930, see below) bears no relationship to the print in the exhibition and really is a denigration to the work of that wonderful photographer. Other reproductions are massively oversized, including the Alfred Stieglitz Equivalent, Lewis Hine’s Powerhouse mechanic (see below) and Tina Modotti’s Woman Carrying Child (c. 1929). In Walter Benjamin’s terms (The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction) the aura of the original has been lost and these reproductions further erode the authenticity of the original in their infinite reproducability. Conversely, it could be argued that the reproduction auraticizes the original:

“The original artwork has become a device to sell its multiply-reproduced derivatives; reproductability turned into a ploy to auraticize the original after the decay of aura…”3

In other words, after having seen so many reproductions when you actually see the original –  it is like a bolt of lightning, the aura that emanates from the original. This is so true of this exhibition but it still begs the question: why reproduce in the catalogue at a totally inappropriate size? Personally, I believe that the signification of the reproduction (in terms of size and intensity of visualisation) is so widely at variance with the original one must question the decision to reproduce at this size knowing that this variance is a misrepresentation of the artistic interpretation of the author.

In conclusion, this is a sublime exhibition well worthy of the time and energy to journey up to Bendigo to see it. A true lover of classical American black and white and colour photography would be a fool to miss it!

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Anon. “Zone System,” on Wikipedia [Online] Cited 13/06/2011
  2. Anon. “Equivalents,” on Wikipedia [Online] Cited 13/06/2011
  3. Huyssen, Andreas. Twilight Memories: Marking Time in a Culture of Amnesia. London: Routledge, 1995, pp. 23-24

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Many thankx to Tansy Curtin, Senior Curator, Programs and Access at Bendigo Art Gallery for her time and knowledge when I visited the gallery; and to Bendigo Art Gallery for allowing me to publish the text and photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Alfred Stieglitz. 'Equivalent' 1923

 

Actual size of print: 9.2 x 11.8 cm
Size of print in catalogue: 18.5 x 13.9 cm

These two photographs represent a proportionate relation between the two sizes as they appear in print and catalogue but because of monitor resolutions are not the actual size of the two prints.

 

Alfred Stieglitz. 'Equivalent' 1923

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946)
Equivalent
1923
Gelatin silver print
Collection of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film 

 

Lewis Hine [Powerhouse mechanic] 1920 catalogue size

 

Actual size of print: 16.9 x 11.8 cm
Size of print in catalogue: 23.2 x 15.8 cm

These two photographs represent a proportionate relation between the two sizes as they appear in print and catalogue but because of monitor resolutions are not the actual size of the two prints.

 

Lewis Hine. [Powerhouse mechanic] 1920 catalogue size

 

Lewis Hine
[Powerhouse mechanic]
1920
Gelatin silver print
Transfer from the Photo League Lewis Hine Memorial Committee, ex-collection Corydon Hine
Collection of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film

 

Margaret Bourke-White. 'Chrysler Building' New York City, 1930

 

As it approximately appears in the exhibition (above, from my notes, memory and comparing the print in the exhibition with the catalogue reproduction)

Below, as the reproduction appears in the catalogue (scanned)

 

Margaret Bourke-White. 'Chrysler Building' New York City, 1930

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971)
Chrysler Building
New York City
1930
Silver gelatin photograph

 

 

An exhibition of treasures from arguably the world’s most important photographic museum, George Eastman House, has been developed by Bendigo Art Gallery. The exhibition American Dreams will bring, for the first time, eighty of some of the most iconic photographic images from the 20th Century to Australia.

The choice of works highlights the trailblazing role these American artists had on the world stage in developing and shaping the medium, and the impact these widely published images had on the greater community.

Curator Tansy Curtin, who worked closely with George Eastman House developing the exhibition commented, “Through these images we can recognise the extraordinary ability of these artists, and their pivotal role influencing the evolution of photography. Their far-reaching images helped shape American culture, and impacted on the fundamental role photography has in communications today. Even more than this we can see through these artists the burgeoning love of photography that engaged a nation.”

Through these images we can see not only the development of photography, but also as some of the most powerful social documentary photography of last century, we see extraordinary moments captured in the lives of a wide range of Americans. The works distil the dramatic transformation that affected people during the 20th century – the affluence, degradation, loss, hope and change – both personally and throughout society.

The role of photography in nation building is exemplified in Ansel Adams’ majestic portraits of Yosemite national park, Bourke-White’s Chrysler building and images of migrants and farm workers during the Depression. Tansy Curtin added, “We see the United States ‘growing up’ through photography. We see hopes raised and crushed and the inevitable striving for the American Dream.” Director of Bendigo Art Gallery Karen Quinlan said, “We are thrilled to have been given this unprecedented opportunity to work with this unrivalled photographic archive. The resulting exhibition American Dreams, represents one of the most important and comprehensive collections of American 20th Century photography to come to Australia.”

George Eastman House holds over 400,000 images from the invention of photography to the present day. George Eastman, one time owner of the home in which the archives are housed, founded Kodak and revolutionised and democratised photography around the world. Eastman is considered the grandfather of snapshot photography.

American Dreams is one of the first exhibitions from this important collection to have been curated by an outside institution. It will be the first time Australian audiences have been given the opportunity to engage with this vast archive.

Press release from the Bendigo Art Gallery

 

Alfred Steiglitz. [Georgia O'Keefe hand on back tire of Ford V8] 1933

 

Alfred Steiglitz (American, 1864-1946)
[Georgia O’Keefe hand on back tire of Ford V8]
1933
gelatin silver print
Part purchase and part gift from Georgia O’Keefe
Collection of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film

 

Walker Evans. 'Torn Poster, Truro, Massachusetts' 1930

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Torn Poster, Truro, Massachusetts
1930
gelatin silver contact print
Purchased with funds from National Endowment for the Arts
Collection of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California' 1936, printed c. 2003

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California
1936, printed c. 2003
Photogravure print
Gift of Sean Corcoran
Collection of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Kern County California' 1938

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Kern County California
1938
Gelatin silver print
Exchange with Roy Stryker
Collection of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film

 

Ansel Adams. 'Winter Storm' 1942

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Winter Storm
1942
Gelatin silver print

 

Diane Arbus. 'Untitled (6)' 1971

 

Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971)
Untitled (6)
1971
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Bendigo Art Gallery
42 View Street Bendigo
Victoria Australia 3550
Phone: 03 5434 6088

Opening hours:
Bendigo Art Gallery is open daily 10 am – 5 pm

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02
Dec
10

Exhibition: ‘American Modern: Abbott, Evans, Bourke-White’ at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

Exhibition dates: 2nd October 2010 – 2nd January 2011

 

Berenice Abbott – what a photographer! You couldn’t have thought of a better person to save the archive of Eugene Atget for the world. It’s all there at the bread store.

Marcus

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Many thankx to Tracy Greene for her help and The Amon Carter Museum of American Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Berenice Abbott. 'Canyon, Broadway and Exchange Place' 1936

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Canyon, Broadway and Exchange Place
1936
Gelatin silver print
National Gallery of Art, Gift of Marvin Breckinridge Patterson

 

Berenice Abbott. 'Manhattan Bridge Looking Up' 1936

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Manhattan Bridge Looking Up
1936
Gelatin silver print
The Art Institute of Chicago, Works Progress Administration Allocation

 

Berenice Abbott. 'Bread Store, 259 Bleecker Street' 1937

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Bread Store, 259 Bleecker Street
1937
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York

 

Margaret Bourke-White. 'Chrysler Building, New York' c. 1930-31

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1906-1971)
Chrysler Building, New York
c. 1930–31
Gelatin silver print
© Estate of Margaret Bourke-White/ Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell

 

Walker Evans. 'Penny Picture Display, Savannah' 1936

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Penny Picture Display, Savannah
1936
Gelatin silver print
Amon Carter Museum

 

 

The Amon Carter Museum of American Art presents American Modern: Abbott, Evans, Bourke-White. This special exhibition explores the work of three of the foremost photographers of the twentieth-century and the golden age of documentary photography in America. American Modern will be on view through January 2, 2011; admission is free.

Featuring more than 140 photographs by Berenice Abbott (1898-1991), Margaret Bourke-White (1906-1971) and Walker Evans (1903-1975), American Modern was co-organised by the Amon Carter Museum of American Art and the Colby College Museum of Art in Waterville, Maine. The exhibition is the result of a unique partnership between three curators: Jessica May and Sharon Corwin of the Carter and Colby, respectively, and Terri Weissman, assistant professor of art history at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Together, the three curators present the works of these three artists as case studies of documentary photography during the Great Depression and demonstrate how three factors supported the development of documentary photography during this important period in American history: first, the expansion of mass media; second, a new attitude toward and acceptance of modern art in America; and third, government support for photography during the 1930s.

“This exhibition considers the work of three of the best-loved American photographers in a new light, which is very exciting,” says curator Jessica May. “Abbott, Evans, and Bourke-White are undisputed masters of the medium of photography, but they have never been shown in relation to one another. This exhibition offers viewers an opportunity to see works together that have not been shown as such since the 1930s.”

In addition to vintage photographs from over 20 public and private collections, the exhibition also features rare first-edition copies of select books and periodicals from the 1930s. American Modern, May says, “reminds us that documentary photography was very much a public genre – this was the first generation of photographers that truly anticipated that their work would be seen by a vast audience through magazines and books.”

Press release from the Amon Carter Museum of American Art website [Online] Cited 01/12/2010 no longer available online

 

Margaret Bourke-White. '[Iron Mountain, Tennessee]' 1937

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1906-1971)
[Iron Mountain, Tennessee]
1937
Gelatin silver print
© Estate of Margaret Bourke-White/ Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Margaret Bourke-White Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Library

 

Margaret Bourke-White. 'Delman Shoes' 1933

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1906–1971)
Delman Shoes
1933
Gelatin silver print
© Estate of Margaret Bourke-White/ Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Margaret Bourke-White Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Library

 

Walker Evans. '[Lunchroom Window, New York City]' 1929

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
[Lunchroom Window, New York City]
1929
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Arnold H. Crane, 1971

 

Walker Evans. 'People in Downtown Havana' 1933

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
People in Downtown Havana
1933
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Lincoln Kirstein

 

 

Amon Carter Museum
3501 Camp Bowie Boulevard
Fort Worth, TX 76107-2695

Opening hours:
Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday: 
10 am – 5 pm
Thursday: 10 am – 8 pm
Sunday: Noon – 5 pm
Closed Mondays and major holidays

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09
Dec
09

Exhibition: ‘Icons of American Photography: A Century of Photographs from the Cleveland Museum of Art’ at the Frick Art and Historical Center, Pittsburgh

Exhibition dates: 3rd October 2009 – 3rd January 2010

Curator: Tom Hinson, Curator of Photography

 

Many thankx to the Frick Art and Historical Center for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Matthew Brady (American 1823-1896) 'Prosper Whetmore' 1857

 

Matthew Brady (American 1823-1896)
Prosper Whetmore
1857
Salted paper print from wet collodion negative
47 x 39.4 cm (18 1/2 x 15 1/2 in.)
CC0 1.0 Universal

 

 

A popular author, legislator, and general in the New York State militia, Wetmore, here at age 59, still resembles Edgar Allen Poe’s description of him from a decade earlier: “about five feet eight in height, slender, neat; with an air of military compactness.” Brady’s portrait studio, with branches in New York and Washington, DC, was the most important of its era in America, thanks in part to its success in photographing political, social, and cultural figures. These early celebrity portraits … could sell thousands of copies.

 

Anne W. Brigman (American, 1869-1950) 'The Hamadryads' c. 1910

 

Anne W. Brigman (American, 1869-1950)
The Hamadryads
c. 1910
Platinum print

 

Charles Sheeler (1883-1965) 'Bucks County Barn' 1915

 

Charles Sheeler (1883-1965)
Bucks County Barn
1915
Gelatin silver print
9 1/4 x 7 5/16″ (23.5 x 18.6 cm)

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American 1904-1971) 'Terminal Tower' 1928

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American 1904-1971)
Terminal Tower
1928
13 1/4 x 10″ (33.7 x 25.4 cm)
Gelatin silver print

 

Imogene Cunningham. 'Black and White Lilies III' 1928

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Black and White Lilies III
1928
Gelatin silver print

 

Alfred Steiglitz. 'Georgia O'Keefe' 1933

 

Alfred Steiglitz (American 1864-1946)
Georgia O’Keefe
1933
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Dorothea Lange (American 1895-1965) 'Resident, Conway, Arkansas' 1938

 

Dorothea Lange (American 1895-1965)
Resident, Conway, Arkansas
1938
Gelatin silver print
11 15/16 x 9 1/2 in. (30.32 x 24.13 cm)

 

Laszlo Moholy Nagy. 'Untitled' 1939

 

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (Hungarian, 1895-1946)
Untitled
1939
Photogram
Gelatin silver print

 

 

On October 3, 2009, Icons of American Photography: A Century of Photographs from the Cleveland Museum of Art opens at The Frick Art Museum. This exhibition is composed of fifty-nine photographs from Cleveland’s extraordinary collection that chronicle the evolution of photography in America from a scientific curiosity in the 1850s to one of the most potent forms of artistic expression of the twentieth century.

Icons of American Photography presents some of the best work by masters of the medium, like Mathew Brady, William Henry Jackson, Eadweard Muybridge, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, Paul Strand, Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham, Margaret Bourke-White, Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, and Robert Frank, encompassing themes of portraiture, the Western landscape, Pictorialism, documentary photography, and abstraction.

The exhibition explores the technical developments of photography, starting with outstanding examples of daguerreotypes – a sheet of copper coated with light sensitive silver. The daguerreotype gave way to salt, albumen, and then gelatin silver prints. Technologies improved to accommodate larger sizes, easy reproduction of multiple prints from a single negative, and commercially available negative film and print papers. As we move into an increasingly digitised twenty-first century, the lure of the photographer’s magic and the mysteries of making photographic images appear on paper is still strong.

Icons of American Photography presents a remarkable chronicle of American life seen through the camera’s lens. The earliest days of photography saw a proliferation of portraiture – intimately personal and honest in composition. A rare multiple-exposure daguerreotype by Albert Southworth (1811- 894) and Josiah Hawes (1808-1901) presents the sitter in variety of poses and expressions, while the formal portrait of Prosper M. Wetmore, 1857, by Civil War-era photographer Mathew Brady (1823-1896) is more typical of early portraiture. The carefully staged daguerreotype, Dead Child on a Sofa, c. 1855, is an outstanding example of the postmortem portrait. The high rate of infant mortality throughout the 1800s made this variety of portraiture common, satisfying the emotional need of the parents to have a lasting memory of their loved one.

Advances in photographic processes allowed for a range of expressive qualities that were exploited by photographers with an artistic flair. In a style known as Pictorialism, works such as Hamadryads, 1910, by Anne Brigman (1869-1950) imitated the subject matter of painting. In Greek mythology a hamadryad is a nymph whose life begins and ends with that of a specific tree. In this work, two nudes representing wood nymphs were carefully placed among the flowing forms of an isolated tree in the High Sierra. The platinum print method used by Brigman allowed for a detailed, yet warm and evocative result. Edward Steichen’s Rodin the Thinker, 1902 (see below), was created from two different negatives printed together using the carbon print process. This non-silver process provided a continuous and delicate tonal range. For even greater richness, these prints were often toned, producing dense, glossy areas in either black or warm brown.

During the late nineteenth century, the U.S. Congress commissioned photographers to document the American West. Photographs by Timothy O’Sullivan (1840-1882) and William Henry Jackson (1843-1942) are the most celebrated from among this era. The exhibition includes O’Sullivan’s East Humbolt Mountains, Utah, 1868, and Jackson’s Mystic Lake, M.T., 1872, as well as Bridal Veil, Yosemite, c. 1866 (see below), by Carleton Watkins (1829-1916). Photographers carried large-format cameras with heavy glass negatives to precarious vantage points to create their sharply focused and detailed views. Decades later, Ansel Adams (1902-1984) carried on the intrepid tradition when he swerved to the side of the road and hauled his view camera to the roof of his car to make the famous image Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941.

Responding to the rapid growth of the twentieth century, many photographers shifted their attention from depictions of the natural world to the urban landscape. The power, energy, and romance of the city inspired varied approaches, from sweeping vistas to tight, close-up details and unusual camera angles. Margaret Bourke-White (1904-1971) established her reputation during the late 1920s by photographing industrial subjects in Cleveland. Her Terminal Tower, 1928, documents what was then the second tallest building in America. Berenice Abbot’s (1898-1991) New York, 1936, is one of many depictions of this vibrant metropolis. The human life of the city intrigued many photographers, including Helen Levitt (1913-2009) whose photographs of children are direct, unsentimental and artful; Weegee [Arthur Fellig] (1899-1968) who unflinchingly documented crime and accident scenes; and Gordon Parks (1912-2006) who chronicled the life of African Americans.

Exploiting the new medium, numerous photography projects were instituted as part of FDR’s New Deal. The most legendary was that of the Farm Security Administration (FSA) run by Roy Stryker, who hired such important photographers such as Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, and Arthur Rothstein. One of the most iconic images of the New Deal was Dust Storm, Cimarron County, 1936 (see below), by Arthur Rothstein (1915-1985). In the spring of 1936, Rothstein made hundreds of photographs in Cimarron County in the Oklahoma panhandle, one of the worst wind-eroded areas in the United States. Out of that body of work came this gripping, unforgettable image. Dorothea Lange’s (1895-1965) work chronicled the human toll wrought by hardship in Resident, Conway, Arkansas, 1938.

As an art form, photography kept in step with formalist modern styles and an increasing trend toward abstraction. Known for his precisionist paintings, Charles Sheeler’s (1883-1965) Bucks County Barn, 1915, features a geometric composition, sharp focus, and subtle tonal range. In Black and White Lilies III, c. 1928 (see above), Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976) combined the clarity and directness of Modernism with her long-held interest in botanical imagery. For two decades she created a remarkable group of close-up studies of plants and flowers that identified her as one of the most sophisticated and experimental photographers working in America.

Photographers such as Edward Weston (1886-1958) and Paul Strand (1890-1976) employed a straight-on clarity that highlighted the abstract design of everyday objects and the world around us. A completely abstract work by artist László Moholy-Nagy (1894-1946), Untitled, 1939 (see above), is a photogram made by laying objects onto light-sensitive photographic paper and exposing it to light. The objects partially block the light to create an abstract design on the paper.

By 1960, photography had attained a prominent place not only among the fine arts, but in popular culture as well, ushering in a new era of image-based communication that has profoundly affected the arts as well as everyday life.

Icons of American Photography: A Century of Photographs from the Cleveland Museum of Art is organised by the Cleveland Museum of Art. The exhibition is curated by Tom Hinson, Curator of Photography.”

Press release from the The Frick Art and Historical Center website [Online] Cited 06/12/2009 no longer available online

 

Unknown photographer (American) 'Dead child on a sofa' c. 1855

 

Unknown photographer (American)
Dead child on a sofa
c. 1855
Quarter plate daguerreotype with applied colour

 

Carleton Watkins. 'Yosemite Valley from the Best General View No. 2.' 1866

 

Carelton Watkins (American 1829-1916)
Yosemite Valley from the Best General View No. 2
1866
Albumen silver print

 

 

Carleton Watkins had the ability to photograph a subject from the viewpoint that allowed the most information to be revealed about its contents. In this image, he captured what he considered the best features of Yosemite Valley: Bridal veil Falls, Cathedral Rock, Half Dome, and El Capitan. By positioning the camera so that the base of the slender tree appears to grow from the bottom edge of the picture, Watkins composed the photograph so that the canyon rim and the open space beyond it seem to intersect. Although he sacrificed the top of the tree, he was able to place the miniaturised Yosemite Falls at the visual centre of the picture. To alleviate the monotony of an empty sky, he added the clouds from a second negative. This image was taken while Watkins was working for the California Geological Survey. His two thousand pounds of equipment for the expedition, which included enough glass for over a hundred negatives, required a train of six mules.

Text from the J. Paul Getty Museum [Online] Cited 14/05/2019

 

Carleton Watkins. 'Bridal Veil, Yosemite' 1866

 

Carelton Watkins (American 1829-1916)
Bridal Veil, Yosemite
1866
Albumen silver print

 

Eadweard J. Muybridge. 'Valley of Yosemite, from Rocky Ford' 1872

 

Eadweard J. Muybridge (American, born England, 1830-1904)
Valley of Yosemite, from Rocky Ford
1872
Albumen silver print

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973) 'Rodin The Thinker' 1902

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973)
Rodin The Thinker
1902
Gum bichromate print

 

 

When Edward Steichen arrived in Paris in 1900, Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) was regarded not only as the finest living sculptor but also perhaps as the greatest artist of his time. Steichen visited him in his studio in Meudon in 1901 and Rodin, upon seeing the young photographer’s work, agreed to sit for his portrait. Steichen spent a year studying the sculptor among his works, finally choosing to show Rodin in front of the newly carved white marble of the “Monument to Victor Hugo,” facing the bronze of “The Thinker.” In his autobiography, Steichen describes the studio as being so crowded with marble blocks and works in clay, plaster, and bronze that he could not fit them together with the sculptor into a single negative. He therefore made two exposures, one of Rodin and the “Monument to Victor Hugo,” and another of “The Thinker.” Steichen first printed each image separately and, having mastered the difficulties of combining the two negatives, joined them later into a single picture, printing the negative showing Rodin in reverse.

“Rodin – The Thinker” is a remarkable demonstration of Steichen’s control of the gum bichromate process and the painterly effects it encouraged. It is also the most ambitious effort of any Pictorialist to emulate art in the grand tradition. The photograph portrays the sculptor in symbiotic relation to his work.

Suppressing the texture of the marble and bronze and thus emphasiSing the presence of the sculptures as living entities, Steichen was able to assimilate the artist into the heroic world of his creations. Posed in relief against his work, Rodin seems to contemplate in “The Thinker” his own alter ego, while the luminous figure of Victor Hugo suggests poetic inspiration as the source of his creativity. Recalling his response to a reproduction of Rodin’s “Balzac” in a Milwaukee newspaper, Steichen noted: “It was not just a statue of a man; it was the very embodiment of a tribute to genius.” Filled with enthusiasm and youthful self-confidence, Steichen wanted in this photograph to pay similar tribute to Rodin’s genius.

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website [Online] Cited 14/05/2019

 

Arthur Rothstein (American 1915-1985) 'Dust Storm, Cimarron County' 1936

 

Arthur Rothstein (American 1915-1985)
Dust Storm, Cimarron County
1936
Gelatin silver photograph
40.4 × 39.6cm

 

 

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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