Posts Tagged ‘Michel Foucault

02
Nov
18

Text: Marcus Bunyan. ‘Death and the image’ 2018

November 2018

 

This text was written in 2017 for a special issue of the international magazine Text on the subject ‘Writing Trauma’. While the text was accepted, the peer-reviewers wanted heavy revisions, including reordering the piece and editing out my personal stories. At the time, I was going into hospital for an operation on my hand and such revisions were impossible to undertake.

Now, over a year later, I have reread the text… and I have amended and extended it, but otherwise I am going to leave it as I wrote it in the first place. I like the way I write and I like my personal stories. While it is a long read the writing addresses an important subject with, I hope, some interesting insights along the way.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 8,137

Download Death and the image (4.3Mb pdf)

 

 

Abstract

This text investigates how the act of photography visually writes trauma. Through an analysis of the context of images of death by artists such as Alphonse Bertillon, Robert Capa, Alexander Gardner, and Walker Evans the paper ponders how the camera captures human beings ante-mortem, at the death point, post-mortem and vita ad mortem.

It seeks to understand that line between presence and absence where life was there… and now death is in its place. Death was one step removed, now it is present. How does the act and performance of photography depict the trauma of death, this double death (for the photograph is a memento mori and/or the person in the photograph may already know that they are going to die).

“The text of eternity that the photograph proposes, imparts and imposes a paradoxical state of loss. The secret of telling truth in a photograph is that the more truthful, “the more orgasmic, the more pleasurable, the more suicidal” the pronouncement of the perfect paradox (you are dead but also alive) … then the more we are strangled while uttering it. The language of deferral in the writing of trauma in death and the image becomes the dissolve that seizes the subject in the midst of an eternal bliss. In death and the image we may actually die (be)coming.”

Keywords

Trauma, photography, death, art, memento mori, war, execution, memory, victim, representation, Alphonse Bertillon, Robert Capa, Alexander Gardner, Walker Evans, ante-mortem, point of death, death point, post-mortem, punctum, empathy, vita ad mortem, life after death.

 

 

Death and the image

 

 

.
“Photography, because it stops the flow of life, is always flirting with death…”

.
John Berger1

 

“On the most fundamental level there are transitions from continuous to discontinuous or from discontinuous to continuous. We are discontinuous beings, individuals who perish in isolation in the midst of an incomprehensible adventure, but we yearn for our lost continuity. We find the state of affairs that binds us to our random and ephemeral individuality hard to bear. Along with our tormenting desire that this evanescent thing should last, there stands our obsession with a primal continuity linking us with everything that is.”

.
Georges Bataille2

 

 

German Gen. Anton Dostler is tied to a stake before his execution

 

“German General Anton Dostler is tied to a stake before his execution by a firing squad in the Aversa stockade. The General was convicted and sentenced to death by an American military tribunal. Aversa, Italy.” Blomgren, December 1, 1945. 111-SC-225295. National Archives Identifier: 531326

 

 

Trial and Execution of General Anton Dostler

The still photograph (above) can be seen being taken by the flash from a still camera that occurs at 5.16 secs in the YouTube film. The photographer can then be seen walking off. Later in the film another angle of the execution is shown, again with the flash of the absent camera recorded, starting at 7.10 secs. The displacement of time and space, between one point of view and another, with the absence of the still camera in both instances (in the image and in the film), is uncanny.

 

 

1

One of life’s recurrent themes is mortality. As Bataille notes, we are discontinuous beings: we live, we breathe, and we die. Photography’s recurrent theme is also mortality. In a ghostly evocation, the medium possesses an odour of death that sticks in the throat. So how then does photography visually write the trauma of death – over time, through space, in different contexts, with multiple narratives and different points of view?

As a first point of reference, we need to define trauma. Trauma can be an injury to living tissue; a disordered psychic or behavioural state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury; an emotional upset and an agent, force or mechanism that causes all or any of these conditions.3 Atkinson and Richardson note that the work of theorists such as Nicolas Abraham, Maria Torok, Shoshana Felman, Dori Laub, Dominick LaCapra, and Cathy Caruth in broad terms view trauma,

“… as the delayed manifestation of a psychic wound sustained during an experience that has happened too quickly to allow registration and processing of the event at the time of its occurrence. To study trauma in literary or cultural terms, then, is to be concerned with the tension between what is known and what is not known, and with the impact and dynamics of the woundedness and machinations of trauma – not only its purely physical instantiation, but in all its reverberations. This is what brings the study of trauma to the uncertainty of truth, the impossibility of bearing absolute witness to catastrophe, the multiplicity of historical narratives.”4

.
Constitutive of trauma and its affects is the “piercing of the psychic shield” which protects a fragile subjectivity leaving in its wake shattered individuals, communities and even whole nations.5 Further, Michalinos Zembylas citing Kaplan (2005) notes that “an important distinction that needs to be made here is one’s positioning and context of encountering trauma,”6 between being a primary or secondary witness. Personally, I believe that a testimony (a formal written or spoken statement that something is true) in the first instance… becomes a testament (something that serves as a sign or evidence of a specified fact) in the second.

When looking death in the face, we can state that death is a trauma not only for the physical body and the psyche of the person involved (the direct trauma victim), but also for the witness of the event, be they a primary witness – one who actually witnesses the traumatic event – or a secondary witness, a person “who has no personal connection to the victim but may encounter trauma through other sources such as the media and oral or written accounts of a catastrophe.”7

These secondary encounters can never be the actual experience of trauma but, acting through language (be it oral, written or visual), they may embody sensations that stimulate feelings and thoughts in the secondary observer. A social construction of a testament may produce an empathetic engagement in viewers as “secondary witnesses.”8 Through an understanding of spectatorship, experience, aesthetic effects, narrative strategies and temporal shifts in the polyvocal nature of language we can begin to understand how the affect of secondary traumatisation – on memory, history and the body – can break down the subject-object dichotomy, can break down the realist norms of representation to produce “a mode of cognition involving sensuous, somatic and tactile forms of perception.”9 Here language (the photograph in this case, reinforced by the title of the photograph) stands in for that which is absent, but it is not in opposition to an intensity of feeling. The language of the photograph can intensify the affect of the image, especially if the photograph becomes transcendent, embodied, in the vitality and “aliveness” of the viewer.10

This mimetic experience “promotes a critical and self-reflexive empathy” and knowledge in the secondary witness that LaCapra observes is a “virtual, not vicarious, experience … in which emotional response comes with respect for the other and the realization that the experience of the other is not one’s own.”11 Essentially, this is a social concept, a social construction of reality, a matrix-like view of the world that draws on relational and contextual dimensions for understanding trauma. This concept requires careful consideration of issues related to history, culture, race, gender, ideology, beliefs, agency and power.

“From a social constructionist and narrative perspective, people reconstruct their selves through the stories they tell about their past and the meaning they ascribe to the present in anticipation of the future. They shape their stories through active and creative interpretation of their lives and are in turn shaped by these stories. However, the self is not only a product of narratives. People are purposeful and moral beings, having the power and agency to change scripts, discourses and ideologies…”12

.
Here we can ask, what are the machinations of the image in the affective dynamics of photographs of trauma and how are they situated in a certain relation to trauma? What do photographs actually do that give rise to a way of thinking and feeling about trauma?

Although no representation can fully describe the first hand experience of trauma because of the partial nature of language – its gaps, elisions and impossibilities of speech13 – it is because of these very gaps that new spaces of interpretation can open up. Rather than just representing the perceived reality of trauma (this happened, at this time, in this location – an ordering of reality), images have the unique ability to transcend their indexical relationship to the real, pointing and touching (as if with the index finger) to the relationality of trauma as it touches human emotion. With its ability to police and regulate it subject, the implicit violence of photography is a predatory means of taking possession of both its victim (the subject) and its viewer.

Anna Gibbs has stated that we live, “in a more or less continuous state of mediatized emergency and traumatic aftermath, desensitized by the onslaught of images … to the affect we ought to feel.”14 I strongly disagree. I would argue that the traumatic numbing15 and supposed “death of experience”16 allegedly present in the world of image circulation, translation, and accumulation only occurs if the witness lets it be so.

Personally, I believe that something in the image is transferred to the witness pre-cognition – intuitively, imaginatively – which can then be interpreted cognitively and relationally with regard to history and memory, art and culture, politics and experience through an orthogonal movement through time and space. As viewers and interpreters, we are not fixed at a particular point in time and space, nor do we observe from one particular point of view. Our existential engagement provides a space to close the gap between affect and enunciation.

“Facts can vibrate; they can give of colors, sounds, smells, images. To talk of these facts with no recognition of this is to lack any awareness of the act of enunciation, of the gaps between language and experience and the unpredictable ways that sparks can break out of language, leap across the gap and ignite the tinderbox of traumatic memory.”17

 

2

Surfing Pinterest (a photo sharing website) recently, I absentmindedly clicked on an abstract image of three hanging black shapes from the pantheon of image tiles that presented itself to me. Up popped this horrific image of three Afro-Americans who had been lynched in the Southern United States in the 1920s. I was shocked and dismayed. I had such a strong emotional reaction to the image. But more than that, my feelings and memories of the bigotry that I had faced as a young gay man growing up in the 1970s swelled in my consciousness. This story is a example of how exposure to an image can bring to the surface unresolved aspects of being ‘Other’, of being different, and being persecuted for that difference. I thought about the lives of these people that had led them to that point, their families, their histories and the terror that they must have experienced on that day. You cannot begin to understand that, but you can have empathy and anger against the systems of racism and bigotry that exist in the world.

Then the cognitive part of my brain linked the image to a report I had only just seen a few days before on lynching, which told of the thousands of Afro-Americans who had been killed between 1882 and 1968.18 Mentally, I then linked this to a Facebook posting which put forward the analogy that the current killing of Afro-Americans by police in the United States was akin to a contemporary and publicly endorsed and enforced form of lynching. Finally, in my head I heard Billie Holiday singing that famous song Strange Fruit, “a dark and profound song about the lynching of African Americans in the Southern United States during the Jim Crow Era, “strange fruit,” as they hang from trees, rotting in the sun, blowing in the wind, and becoming food for crows upon being burned.”19 I watched the video of Billie Holiday singing this song on YouTube.20 Every time I think of this image I have these associations of animate thought intrinsic to the original experience,21 where the micro and macro conditions of production work to “embody and register trauma,”22 a communicable language of sensation and affect, time and time again.

 

 

Billie Holiday – Strange fruit

 

 

These chains of affect, the nexus between affect / feeling / emotion / cognition, are a form of synaesthesia where facts, emotions, feelings, memories, sounds and images vibrate against each other as an active and continuous engagement of the self with the world in which one lives. In a human being who is un/consciously aware, these real and mediated experiences may encourage a sensory intensification that elicits thought and empathic vision in the materiality of embodied experience, something (the punctum?) that takes us out of our selves into a higher register of being.

As part of this system of impressions, of an instantaneous, affective response triggered by an image,23 photographs force us to engage visually and involuntarily. “Impressions that force us to look, encounters which force us to interpret, expressions which force us to think.”24 Encounters which force us to comprehend. The conjunction of affect and critical awareness “constitute the basis of an empathy grounded … on a feeling for another that entails an encounter with something irreducible and different, often inaccessible.”25 This combination of affective and intellectual operations – about forcing oneself to look (and that process of looking/surrendering) but never forgetting your ‘point of view’, your memory, history and identity, is when empathy becomes that process of surrender, “but also the catch that transforms your perception.”26 How is this “catch” enunciated in photographs? I now want to look at a few images that explicate these phenomena.

 

Ante-mortem: present but absent

3

With the invention of photography in the late 1830s, the photograph as memento mori allows the spectator to observe death not at first hand, but through the representation of the image “taken from life.” Photographs provide a verification of reality through their apparent verisimilitude, while being woven into narratives – oral, textual, intertextual, spatial and temporal – that frame the event in multiple ways.

“Photographs … have come to stand in for reality … despite the fact that it is relatively easy to manipulate their meaning. As a result of their ability to project reality, images, and particularly those that depict death and destruction, are seen as potentially powerful pieces of documentary evidence…”27

.
Photographs are embedded in “a context of the cultural circumstances at the time, and therefore exist rarely in isolation or without meaning”28 and can be seen as having a denotative level (what they physically represent) and a connotative level (the meanings attached to that representation).29 Photography quickly changed how death was displayed because it introduced a “reality” and immediacy of representation that was democratic, personal and everyday.30

 

Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' 26th April 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Lewis Paine
26th April 1865
Albumen silver print from a Collodion glass plate negative

 

 

An example of the personal, everyday and documentary nature of photography can be seen in the photograph taken by Alexander Gardner in April 1865. This portrait is of Lewis Thornton Powell (aka Lewis Payne or Paine) who was one of the conspirators in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln which occurred the same month. The photograph has a background of dark metal, and was taken on one of the ironclads U.S.S. Montauk or Saugus, where the conspirators were for a time confined. The reality is Paine was executed in July 1865 just eight short weeks after this photograph was taken, so in effect (and in the affect on us of this knowledge), he is (already) a dead man walking. This is a double death – that death buried in the very act of taking any photograph, La petite mort or “the little death,” an idiom and euphemism for the orgasm of the photographic time freeze; and the fact that we know that he was going to die, those short weeks later.

The photograph forms the central panel of a three-panel Renaissance-like altarpiece, the form in which the three photographs are usually displayed. The left and right hand photographs were taken within minutes of each other, with the camera in the same position, whereas in the centre photograph the camera has been lowered to show more of the body, and the image has been cropped at the top. In the central plate the figure of Paine has been raised up in the frame – almost prematurely brought back to life by his placement. The centre image is the only one where Paine stares directly at the camera. He surveys the viewer with a gaze I find enigmatic.

 

Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' 26th April, 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Three photographs of Lewis Paine
26th April, 1865
Albumen silver prints from a Collodion glass plate negative

 

 

This is a very modern face, a very contemporary face. His hair is similar to Justin Beiber’s. Who brushed his hair across for this picture, and would it normally be this long, or has it just been ignored because of his fate? He still has good muscle tone – has he been exercising in his ironclad cell? And finally, his clothing – are they navy issue, as his top appears to have been given to him, perhaps the coarse, navy blue wool of the Northern states. If we were to place this image within the metaphysical school of photography which peaked with Paul Caponigro and Minor White we could say: Hovering above his head, has his spirit already begun to leave his body?

One reading of his gaze is that he is interested in what the photographer is doing – almost the gaze of an apprentice wanting to apply these skills in the future. Given his fate is he insane because of his interest? Another reading could be that he is looking out to the future in the hope of finding that he will be judged in another way. And another is the immediacy of his gaze – it is a gaze that is happening now!

The other thing that I find mysterious is the distance of the photographer from the subject. Was it fear or the presence of the guards that stopped Gardner getting any closer, or are there deck fittings we cannot see that prevented his approach. Imagine being Paine, having a photographer point a damn great view camera at you, documenting your countenance for prosperity. What was going on in Paine’s mind – what is his perspective on this performance by the photographer? And what brought Paine to this place?

Michel Foucault calls the methods and techniques by which human beings constitute themselves, “technologies of the self.” Foucault argued that we as subjects are perpetually engaged in processes whereby we define and produce our own ethical self-understanding. According to Foucault, technologies of the self are the forms of knowledge and strategies that “permit individuals to effect by their own means or with the help of others a certain number of operations on their own bodies and souls, thoughts, conduct, and way of being, so as to transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of immortality.”31 As we look into his eyes he knows that we know he is going to die, has already died but the intensity of that knowledge is brought into present time. In this instant, what Paine emanates is a form of i-mortality.

Roland Barthes in his seminal work Camera Lucida observes in Section 39:

“He is dead and he is going to die… The photograph is handsome, as is the boy: that is the studium. But the punctum is: he is going to die. I read at the same time: this will be and this has been; I observe with horror an anterior future of which death is the stake. By giving me the absolute past of the pose, the photograph tells me death in the future. What pricks me is the discovery of this equivalence.”32

.
This is Barthes anterior future, a moment where truth is interpreted in the mind of the photographer, not out there but in here (your head and your heart), where past, present and future coalesce into a single point in time: his death and our death connected through his gaze, and the knowledge of our joint discontinuity. In this moment in time, what we are doing is making a list about the human condition when we talk about something that is remarkable. Language can never fully describe the human condition, much as it may try… and this is why this photograph is remarkable, because it is ineffable, unknowable. The photograph inhabits you; it haunts you like few others, because it is a memoriam to a young man and his present death. Here he is present but absent at one and the same time.

As such, this is an image as triple death – the death of the photograph (past time / memento mori / remembrance of death), the death of the person in the photograph and also a third death, the knowledge that Paine is going to die. Death, like life, can be cyclical. This is the catch that transforms your perception, in Barthes terms the punctum of the image, in which the wounding, personally touching detail (past pose, future death) establishes a direct relationship with the object or person within it.

“The punctum (a Latin word derived from the Greek word for trauma [my emphasis]) … inspires an intensely private meaning, one that is suddenly, unexpectedly recognized and consequently remembered (it “shoots out of [the photograph] like an arrow and pierces me”); it ‘escapes’ language (like Lacan’s real); it is not easily communicable through/with language. The punctum is ‘historical’ as an experience of the irrefutable indexicality of the photograph (its contingency upon a referent). The punctum is a detail or “partial object” that attracts and holds the viewer’s (the Spectator’s) gaze; it pricks or wounds the observer.”33

.
This trauma, prick or wound that lifts the viewer out of themselves, out of their everyday existence, “points to those features of a photograph that seem to produce or convey a meaning without invoking any recognizable symbolic system. This kind of meaning is unique to the response of the individual viewer of the image.”34 This punctum also accounts for the importance of emotion and subjectivity in interacting with photographs; memory of that photograph displaces it from its moment of origin.35 Photography enacts the trauma of death even while being enacted upon.

Now we can read Eduardo Cadava’s comments on Walter Benjamin’s analysis of the photograph:

“As Benjamin suggests … the photograph, like the souvenir, is the corpse of an experience. A photograph therefore speaks as death, as the trace of what passes into history. I, the photograph, the spaced out limit between life and death, I, the photograph, am death. Yet, speaking as death, the photograph can be neither death nor itself. At once dead and alive, it opens the possibility of our being in time.”36

 

4

Photography then, can be seen as death taken away from itself.

Through the oscillation between studium (historical, social or cultural meanings extracted via semiotic analysis) and punctum (those features of a photograph that seem to produce or convey a meaning without invoking any recognisable symbolic system) the traumatic photograph of death, death’s afterimage, transcends the initial shock inducing signifier leading to a more extended form of engagement that addresses the duration of trauma in memory – through the images elisions, slippages, and conceptual, political and historical complexities. Our negotiation with imaging and imagining, therefore, takes place within ever-expanding contexts of meaning – some relating to the past and some to the present – which impact future interpretations.

I believe that these negotiations are, firstly, linked to what Deleuze calls the encountered sign, a “sign that is felt, rather than recognized, or perceived through cognition.”37 A feeling that is a catalyst for critical enquiry or deep thought. “For Deleuze, affect or emotion is a more effective trigger for profound thought because of the way in which it grasps us, forcing us to engage involuntarily…”38 Secondly, I believe that these negotiations are linked to what Barthes calls the images “third meaning.”

“In Barthes’ view, the image’s third meaning compels viewers after they encounter and deplete both its literal/informational side and its symbolic dimensions. Barthes argued that the third meaning is difficult to locate, because it is not situated structurally or in a certain place of the image. It is similarly difficult to describe, because it involves what he called the image’s obtuseness, its accent or anaphoric side.”39

.
Again, we have this idea of the catch, accent, or punctum that grasps us and takes us out of ourselves, that modulates the images “voice” (which is how the image takes on an already provided meaning upon its initial appearance), a voice which then also “helps us to understand both the image’s third meaning and the role of contingency in visual memory.”40

 

Death point

5

 

.
“Ah, wretched as I am … to dwell not among the living, not among the dead.”

.
Sophocles, ‘Antigone’41

 

 

Commentators such as Barbie Zelizer observe that images, especially about-to-die images, easily “reduce complex issues and circumstances to memorable but simplistic visual frames.”42 The image,

“… depicts for its onlookers a moment in an event’s unfolding to which they attend while knowing where that unfolding leads. This means that visual work often involves catching the sequencing of events or issues midstream, strategically freezing it at its potentially strongest moment of meaningful representation.”43

.
Other writers such as Susan Sontag note that these images have the potential to stir public emotions, simply because they freeze a moment in time and can be looked at again and again… but at the same time the repeated viewing of images of atrocity can have a numbing effect.44 The pain and fear evidenced in the photograph as seen in the victim’s eyes (for example in the photograph of the shooting of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy), expands the literal / informational side and its symbolic dimensions (chivalry, love, devotion, hope – Camelot!) into a Barthes’ third space. While Kennedy is a victim twice over (the victim of the assassin and the camera) in a guttural interpretation of the image he is to remain a victim for eternity in the contingency of the future, as long as we continue to look at this photograph.

For me, this is sad and painful photograph. I remember the day it happened. I was ten years old at the time. It’s one of those events that you will remember for the rest of your life – where you were, who you were with – like the moon landings or 9/11. I was in a car outside a small newsagent when the news came on the radio. Robert F. Kennedy had been shot: first aural, then visual on the black and white TV that night, then textual in the newspapers and then visual again with this photograph, then associative. The pain of the loss of those heady days of hope lessens not.

 

Boris Yaro (American, born 1938) 'LOS ANGELES. KENNEDY MOMENTS AFTER SHOOTING' June 5, 1968

 

Boris Yaro (American, born 1938)
LOS ANGELES. KENNEDY MOMENTS AFTER SHOOTING. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy Lies Gravely Wounded on the floor at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles shortly after midnight today, moments after he was shot during a celebration of his victory in yesterday’s California primary election
June 5, 1968
Gelatin silver print
17.2 x 21.1 cm (6 3/4 x 8 5/16 in.)
Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2010

 

While photographs of the actual moment of death are rare I have been able to find around ten images that capture this vital moment, a freezing of reality at the point of death, the death point: that line between presence and absence where life was there… and now death is in its place. Death was one step removed, now it is present.

However, I would argue that in the contextual language of the photograph, there is no singular death point. I would propose the idea of an extended period of time and space embedded in the spatio-temporal matrix of the image, so that there is no single point, no singular resolution to the traumatic moment of death – either for the person involved, nor the witness or viewer.

Setting aside the concept that the image could have been staged, in Robert Capa’s famous photograph Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936 (below), there is something about this image where space or some basic element is being democratised at the moment of death – or maybe in the choice to struggle with death. In an ontological sense of becoming, perhaps it is this that becomes the pure representation of time. In contrapunto, there is an anonymous image of a German soldier at the point of death on the steppes of Russia that is totally unknown. Why has one become famous and the other not?

Has it to do with the fame of the photographer, the pose of the person, or the agency of photography itself, where one photograph regarding the pain of others is too damning a legacy and of too plain a purpose to bare contemplating, while the other – with its masked face, outflung arm and falling, quasi-religious nature – has become possibly the most famous of war photographs through its proliferation in newspapers and magazines.

Whatever the merits of each image, these death point photographs are noteworthy for what is not said: the violence that is being perpetrated on the victim every time a person looks, and looks again, at the photograph. The writing of trauma by photography never ends, is always and forever infinite.

 

Robert Capa (1913-1954) 'Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936' 1936

 

Robert Capa (1913-1954)
Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936
1936
Gelatin silver print
Photograph by Robert Capa © Cornell Capa / Magnum

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Falling German Soldier, Eastern Front' c. 1942

 

Anonymous photographer
Falling German Soldier, Eastern Front
c. 1942
akg-images / Interfoto AKG138118

Caption: A German soldier pays the ultimate price of war. German casualties were less than those of the Red Army, but the steady attrition suffered by the Wehrmacht began to undermine its effectiveness.46

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942' 1942

Anonymous photographer. 'Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942' 1942

 

Anonymous photographer
Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942
1942
Rare Historical Photos website 2013

Caption: A Soviet spy laughs at his executioner in a picture taken in Rukajärvi, in East Karelia, in November 1942. It has been thought within the Finnish Defence Forces that the decision to withhold pictures of the fate of Russian POWs and spies may also have been prompted by concerns that pro-Soviet elements in Finnish society could have used the images for propaganda purposes. This picture was declassified by the Ministry of Defense of Finland in 2006, with the description: Unknown Soviet intelligence officer before being shot, Finland, 1942.

It’s a pretty amazing picture. To capture the last few moments of life. He knows he will die in a few seconds, in a forest in the snow. And there he will bleed out and be forgotten. His life, his experience, has come to an end. What else could he do but smile? That smile was his final defiance. Death smiles at us all, all a man can do is smile back.47

 

 

6

Here we might ask, is it possible, through the use of encountered signs, “voice”, punctum, catch or accent, to extend the unreal time of death?

Personally, I believe it is and I would argue for a sense of a Buddhist “no-time”. A transcendent time embedded into the fabric of the image. In Walker Evans’ terms an “unconscious phenomenon” that culminates in amazing accidents of composition, where things constantly rub up against each other “in the desire to create a type of friction that tests the boundaries of representation.”48 An example of this spatio-temporal dimensionality, third meaning or Thirdspace, can be seen in the interplay between the still image and film footage of the execution of German General Anton Dostler by a firing squad in the Aversa stockade December 1, 1945. By examining the film we see a flash of light at 5.16 secs, which is the still photograph at the top of this text being taken by the flash of a camera. The photographer can then be seen walking off. Later in the film another angle of the execution is shown, again with the flash of the absent camera recorded, starting at 7.10 secs. The displacement of time and space, between one point of view and another, with the absence of the still camera in both instances (in the image and in the film), is uncanny.

The fluidity of Barthes’ third meaning, where the image’s obtuseness compels viewers, has obvious links to Edward Soja’s conceptualisation of “Thirdspace”, which emerged from the spatial trialectics established by Henri Lefebvre in The Production of Space and Michel Foucault’s concept of heterotopia. Soja defines Thirdspace as, “an-Other way of understanding and acting to change the spatiality of human life, a distinct mode of critical spatial awareness that is appropriate to the new scope and significance being brought about in the rebalanced trialectics of spatiality-historicality-sociality.”49 In this amorphous space, “everything comes together… subjectivity and objectivity, the abstract and the concrete, the real and the imagined, the knowable and the unimaginable, the repetitive and the differential, structure and agency, mind and body, consciousness and the unconscious, the disciplined and the transdisciplinary, everyday life and unending history.”50

A further example of the presence of a third meaning in a still photograph can be seen in the image by an unknown photographer Photo taken at the instant bullets from a French firing squad hit a Frenchman who collaborated with the Germans (1944, below). Caught like a rabbit in headlights, the flash illuminates the collaborator kneeling, bound, and masked but it is not quick enough to freeze the explosion of wood, the dynamic breaking of the rope or the slight movement of the hands. The body seems to float on a bed of leaves. The cheap, dirty shoes and striped trousers leading up to the material that covers the victim’s face. Is that his hair, or a hat or another hood over his head? Although we know the what, why, and where of the photograph – an encounter with both its literal/informational side and its symbolic dimensions – the placing of the image, its accent and obtuseness is much more difficult to understand. The photograph and its protagonist seem to exist beyond time and space, the anonymous man surrounded by a death bed of leaves, bursting the bonds that wrapped him and held him tight. Like the mystery of Man Ray’s L’Enigme d’Isidore Ducasse (1920), the photograph has disturbed the trialectics of spatiality-historicality-sociality, destroying the imploring label, “Do not disturb.”

 

Unknown photographer. 'Photo taken at the instant bullets from a French firing squad hit a Frenchman who collaborated with the Germans. This execution took place in Rennes, France. 21 November 1944'

 

Unknown photographer
Photo taken at the instant bullets from a French firing squad hit a Frenchman who collaborated with the Germans. This execution took place in Rennes, France. 21 November 1944
1944
Silver gelatin photograph
U.S. Army Signal Corps
National Archives Identifier (NAID)

 

 

Post-mortem: absent but present

7

 

Letherolfsvile Oct 29 AD 1859

This is the likeness of Catherine Christ

When I am dead and in my grave

And when my bones are rotten

Remember me

When this you see

Or I shall be forgotten

The grass is green The rose is red

here is my name when I am dead 51

 

 

This short poem written on a piece of paper hidden underneath an image in a daguerreotype case implores us to remember the person – a plea to the future to remember them – through a composite narrative of portrait and text. Through the creative addition of text, the language of photographs can be supplemented which adds to the functionality of the photograph as an effective memory object.52 But what if the scene of the text (the photograph) contains an absence, no depiction of the person who has died? What happens to the writing of trauma in images of the dead then?

If we acknowledge that a photograph of a person always prefigures its subjects passing then what we are doing “in reality” is deferring the death of an/other onto the foreseen death of ourselves. In this process, we must remember that every photograph is a construct, a performative act by the photographer. What the photographer chooses to record is an act of will, whether ethical or not. Photographers have the presence of mind to attend to a certain manufacture of history. When viewing this instant narrative the viewer must acknowledge a loss of a sense of time:

“This lost sense could manifest as reliving a traumatic episode as if it is taking place in the present … In the context of trauma… a loss of sense of time deprives one of the ability of remembering and telling one’s narrative in a chronological order.”53

 

Emmet Gowin (b. 1941) 'Avebury Stone and Rennie Booher, England and Danville, Virginia' 1972

 

Emmet Gowin (b. 1941)
Avebury Stone and Rennie Booher, England and Danville, Virginia
1972
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Emmet and Edith Gowin
© Edith and Emmet Gowin and courtesy of Pace MacGill Gallery, New York

 

 

One way that artist’s upset this chronological order is by playing with the fragmentary nature of time, space and memory – of present absence/absent presence. In Emmet Gowin’s accidentally double-exposed negative, Avebury Stone and Rennie Booher, England and Danville, Virginia, 1972 (above), the photograph combines “a funerary image of his wife’s grandmother, Rennie Booher, with the surface of a Neolithic monumental stone he had photographed in England a few days earlier.” Floating through eternity, encased in ancient rock that nourishes her spirit, Gowin’s photograph acts as a kind of testament of absent but present, neither here not there. This loss of sense of space and time can be deeply disturbing (like trauma) as it questions one’s physical presence in the world, but it can also have a transcendental dimension as both time and space are inextricably bound to the very specific conditions of the material world. Photographs like the one of Booher have the potential to draw together what would otherwise seem to be incompatible. To form what Jacob Bronowsi calls a “hidden likeness”, one that transcends time and space, one that is reactivated with every looking.

“The poem or the discovery exists in two moments of vision: the moment of appreciation as much as that of creation; for the appreciator must see the movement, wake to the echo which was started in the creation of the work. In the moment of appreciation we live again the moment when the creator saw and held the hidden likeness. When a simile takes us aback and persuades us together, when we find a juxtaposition in a picture both odd and intriguing, when a theory is at once fresh and convincing, we do not merely nod over someone else’s work. We re-enact the creative act, and we ourselves make the discovery again…”54

.
An important fact about the nature of trauma is the compulsion of the human psyche to repeat traumatic events over and over again. The reproducibility of photographs and the ability to look at them again and again – their machine-like repeatability, their citationality or iterability to use Derrida’s signature term – feeds into this repetitive “death instinct” (Thanatos). However, Bronowsi’s “hidden likeness” (also the name of one of Emmet Gowin’s exhibitions and a form of punctum) is perhaps a liminal moment, one that may upset the death instinct. These liminal moments may occupy a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold. By disrupting the threshold – between life and death, between past, present and future time – they are requisite of the ghost (the soul) in the machine (the camera).

As Derrida observes, building on the work of Barthes,

“It belongs to it without belonging to it and is unlocatable in it; it never inscribes itself in the homogenous objectivity of the framed space but instead inhabits, or rather haunts it: “it is the addition [supplement]: it is what I add to the photograph and what is none the less already there.” … Neither life nor death, it is the haunting of the one by the other … Ghosts: the concept of the other in the same, the punctum in the studium, the dead other alive in me.”57

 

8

In this scenario, perhaps the act of writing trauma through death in the image becomes the true act of learning, and the interpretation of that act becomes an act of creation rather than one of rote memorialisation. These are images that require contemplation, time, analysis, and sensation, where the subject of the photograph is transformed “from somebody merely seen to someone really felt,” which is, as Batchen says, “an emotional exchange transacted in the heart.”58

This emotional exchange can take many forms. It can be triggered when the dead body is only metaphorically represented in the image, when the physicality of death has been transmuted. For example, photographs such as Walker Evan’s Child’s grave, Hale County, Alabama (1936, below), or the documentary image Place where the corpse was found (1901-8, below) by the French photographer Alphonse Bertillon, propose a re-imaging and re-imagining of the life of the person. They do so through an un/ambiguous photographic context, that is, through the marking of place in the photograph. In the latter case, this marking of a life is represented by two pieces of wood lying on the ground and two pieces of wood propped at 45 degrees against the wall. As though this is all that is left of the existence of Mademoiselle Mercier in a street (Rue de l’Yvette) that still exists in Paris to this day. A photograph of pieces of wood and an empty space.

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Child's grave, Hale County, Alabama' 1936

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Child’s grave, Hale County, Alabama
1936
Silver gelatin print
7 3/8 x 9 7/16″ (18.7 x 23.9 cm)
© 2016 Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Attributed to Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853-1914) 'Place where the corpse was found' 1st November 1902

 

Attributed to Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853-1914)
Place where the corpse was found
1st November 1902
From Album of Paris Crime Scenes
Gelatin silver print
Overall: 24.3 x 31 cm (9 9/16 x 12 3/16 in.)
Page: 23 x 29 cm (9 1/16 x 11 7/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Howard Gilman Foundation Gift, 2001

 

 

Other photographs picture the place of death nearly a century later in order to commemorate the traumatic death of “deserters” at the hands of a firing squad during the First World War. These are some of the most traumatic photographs of death I have seen, for they require me to imagine the mise en scène that was enacted at dawn almost 100 years ago, in the very place where these photographs were later “shot” at dawn.

The artist, Chloe Dewe Mathews, realised that “I was placing my tripod around the same spot where the firing squad had stood and looking directly at the place where the victim was placed.” It was, she says, “a solitary and sombre undertaking,” an undertaking (with that name’s etymological link to the word undertaker) which the viewer is invited to partake of, a re-imaging of those traumatic events that requires an active imagining, and thinking, in the neo-spectator. It is this duration of trauma in cultural memory which calls for an active negotiation in ways of seeing, a re-negotiation which can produce an empathic vision that “changes the terms of our engagement” with the image.

 

Chloe Dewe Mathews. 'Former Abattoir, Mazingarbe, Nord-Pas-de-Calais' 2013

 

Chloe Dewe Mathews (b. 1982)
Former Abattoir, Mazingarbe, Nord-Pas-de-Calais
2013
Eleven British soldiers were executed here between 1915-18
From the series Shot at Dawn
© Chloe Dewe Mathews

 

 

Vita ad mortem: life after death

9

 

.
“… the life of spirit is not the life that shrinks from death and keeps itself untouched by devastation, but rather the life that endures it and maintains itself in it. It wins its truth only when, in utter dismemberment, it finds itself.”

.
George Wilhelm Frederich Hegel61

 

 

The absence/presence contained within all photographs speaks to the ultimate affect: that of la petite mort – the “little death” – the sensation of orgasm as likened to death, a short period of melancholy or transcendence as a result of the expenditure of the “life force.” While Barthes metaphorically used the concept to describe the feeling one should get when experiencing any great literature, it can also be used when some undesired thing has happened to a person and has affected them so much that “a part of them dies inside.”

A photograph can also contain this melancholy transcendence, a catastrophe that has already occurred.

“Whether or not the subject is already dead, every photograph is this catastrophe… This punctum, more or less blurred beneath the abundance and the disparity of contemporary photographs, is vividly legible in historical photographs: there is always a defeat of Time in them: that is dead and that is going to die… At the limit, there is no need to represent a body [in photographs] in order for me to experience this vertigo of time defeated.”63

.
Barthes’ concept of an extended punctum may be useful here, when he states, “I now know that there exists another punctum (another ‘stigmatum’) than the ‘detail’. This new punctum, which is no longer of form but of intensity, is Time, the lacerating emphasis of the noeme (‘that-has-been’), its pure representation.”64

Here Barthes is proposing a punctum of intensity; a punctum as lacerating “detail”; and/or “the vertigo of time defeated.” This “temporal hallucination” embedded and embodied in the photograph – the temporality of the “will-have-been”, they are dead (today), they are already dead (yesterday), Barthes’ anterior future – represents a symbolically mediated subject bound up in three extases of time (past, present, and future).65

The subject becomes lost in the language of the photograph, the intersection of Lacan’s the Imaginary (in which the human subject creates fantasy images of both himself and his ideal object of desire), the Symbolic (the social world of linguistic communication and inter-subjective relations), and the Real (defined as what escapes the Symbolic, the Real can be neither spoken nor written, it is impossible, but is ceaselessly writing itself). These concepts serve to situate subjectivity within a system of perception and a dialogue with the external world.

According to Lori Wike, the experience of punctum and the structure of iterability can be aligned to Lacan’s concept of the death drive (or death instinct) present in the Symbolic order, in which the signifier “materializes the agency of death.”66 This may account for the role of the photographic punctum as trauma, in which the punctum opens up “a kind of subtle beyond” where “a blind field is created (is divined)…”67 As Barthes notes, “Photography is a kind of primitive theater, a kind of Tableau Vivant, a figuration of the motionless and made-up face beneath which we see the dead.”68 Further, we can say that, “unlike the symbolic, which is constituted in terms of oppositions such as “presence” and “absence”, there is no absence in the real,” for the real is undifferentiated, “it is without fissure.”

“The symbolic introduces “a cut in the real,” in the process of signification: “it is the world of words that creates the world of things.” Thus the real emerges as that which is outside language: “it is that which resists symbolization absolutely.” The real is impossible because it is impossible to imagine, impossible to integrate into the symbolic order. This character of impossibility and resistance to symbolization lends the real its traumatic quality.”69

.
The “mark” of photography is eviscerated in the intensity of the real, a traumatic loss of time that confronts us with our own mortality and the knowledge that we will not be remembered. This is where images of death can take us once the initial affective connection is established – to a noumenal space where in the play of representation, the point of origin becomes ungraspable (Lacan’s différance).70

“In French, différance simultaneously contains within its neo-graphism the activities of differing and deferring, a distancing acted out temporally as well as spatially.”71 Where the moment (the time freeze of the shutter) turns in, on and around its own fulcrum, where there is always difference at the point of origin. For all of its instantaneous nature, in photography there is always a perverse moment of displacement and deferral. In its history, “a perverse complicity of continuity and resemblance with its supposed opposite, discontinuity and difference”72 … the latter only existing in a reciprocal relationship to the former.

The circle is closing and we return to where we started.

 

10

Human beings in their longing for lost continuity are mirrored by their photographs which transition from continuous to discontinuous and back again. While we yearn for our lost continuity, we must acknowledge that death is an unedited event, one that we cannot look back on. There is no following event to blank out that moment… and the dead are always dying. But what images of death in photography do is this: they allow us to approach the noumenal, that state of being of which we can have knowledge of, but can never know. We can approach, touch, feel, analyse, and have empathy for traumatic events in the representation of an unknowable reality. The photograph has the ability to go beyond the symbolic, to approach the impossible, the real.

The photograph may proffer a ‘releasement toward things’,73 a coexistence between a conscious and unconscious way of perceiving which sustains the mystery of the object confusing the distinction between real time and sensual time, between inside and outside, input and output becoming neither here nor there. As Martin Jolly notes, citing John Thompson, “… images of death can be seen a form of “mediated, non-reciprocal intimacy, stretched across time and space” in which we are increasingly unconstrained by our location or our time.”74 Further, John Thompson observes, “While lived experience remains fundamental, it is increasingly supplemented by, and in some respects displaced by, mediated experience, which assumes a greater and greater role in the project of self-formation.”75

In the sense that the photograph becomes la petite mort, the little death, it embodies our desire for the soul to become eternal in the form of this mediated experience… the displacement of the soul via the ghost in the machine, the soul remembered throughout time in the traumatic trace of the photograph. Death in the language of photography is always postponed and deferred: into the physicality of the photograph; into cultural memory; into the gaze (of the photographer, the camera and the viewer); and into the body of the observer. Here, a relationship exists between an impossible reality (an encounter with an “outside” which is unknowable) and a floating referent in an image that is both formative and transformative. And in that relationship, as Donna Haraway observes, “Relationship is multiform, at stake, unfinished, consequential.”76

The text of eternity that the photograph proposes, imparts and imposes a paradoxical state of loss. The secret of telling truth in a photograph is that the more truthful, “the more orgasmic, the more pleasurable, the more suicidal”77 the pronouncement of the perfect paradox78 (you are dead but also alive) … then the more we are strangled while uttering it. The language of deferral in the writing of trauma in death and the image becomes the dissolve that seizes the subject in the midst of an eternal bliss. In death and the image we may actually die (be)coming.

© Dr Marcus Bunyan 2018

Word count: 8,137

 

 

Addendum

“Empirically acknowledged as tragic, the photographic print was really just that when, at the turn of the century, it became the instrument of the three great authorities over life and death (the law, the army, medicine). This is when it demonstrated its power to reveal the unfolding of a destiny from the word go. As deus ex machina [god from the machine or, providential intervention], it was to become just as ruthless for the criminal, the soldier or the invalid, the conjunction between the immediate and the fatal only becoming more solid, inevitably, with the progress of representation.”

Virilio, Paul. The Vision Machine (trans. Julie Rose). Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994, p. 43.

 

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

Entin, Joseph. “Milton Rogovin’s Approach: Photography, Class, and the Aesthetics of Making Space (2008),” on the ASX website July 12, 2010 [Online] Cited 27/10/2018

 

Adrien Constant de Rebecque (Swiss, Lausanne 1806-1876 Lausanne) '[Man in Chainmail Tunic Posing as a Dying Soldier]' c. 1863

 

Adrien Constant de Rebecque (Swiss, Lausanne 1806-1876 Lausanne)
[Man in Chainmail Tunic Posing as a Dying Soldier]
c. 1863
Albumen print from collodion glass negative
17.9 x 24.2 cm (7 1/16 x 9 1/2 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Howard Gilman Foundation Gift, 2012
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo. 'Ouvrier en grève, assassiné (Striking worker, assassinated)' 1934

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
Ouvrier en grève, assassiné (Striking worker, assassinated)
1934
Silver gelatin print

 

Manuel Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002) 'La Buena Fama Durmiendo (The Good Reputation Sleeping)' 1939, printed c. 1970s

 

Manuel Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
La Buena Fama Durmiendo (The Good Reputation Sleeping)
1939, printed c. 1970s
Silver gelatin print

 

 

One of my early heroes in photography was Manuel Alvarez Bravo. Many Mexican photographs tell such stories based on the mythology of the country: there are elements of the absurd, surrealism, macabre, revolution, political and socio-economic issues, also of death, violence, beauty, youth, sexuality and religion to name but a few – a search for national identity that is balanced in the photographs of Bravo by a sense of inner peace and redemption. This potent mix of issues and emotions is what makes Mexican photography so powerful and substantive. In the “presence” (or present, the awareness of the here and now) of Mexican photography there is a definite calligraphy of the body in space in most of the work. This handwriting is idiosyncratic and emotive; it draws the viewer into an intimate narrative embrace. Two famous photographs by Bravo illustrate some of these themes (Apollonian/Dionysian; utopian/dystopian). When placed together they seem to have a strange attraction one to the other.

 

Anne Frank, photograph inscribed with her wish to go to Hollywood, October 10, 1942

 

Anne Frank, photograph inscribed with her wish to go to Hollywood, October 10, 1942

 

 

References

Atkinson, Meera and Michael Richardson 2013 ‘Introduction: At the Nexus’, in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 1-21

Atkinson, Meera and Michael Richardson (eds) 2013 Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Barthes, Roland 1981 Camera Lucida – Reflections on Photography New York: Hill and Wang

Bataille, Georges 1962 Death and Sensuality: A Study of Eroticism and the Taboo New York: Walker and Company

Batchen, Geoffrey 2004 Forget Me Not: Photography & Remembrance New York: Princeton Architectural Press

Batchen, Geoffrey 1997 Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography paperback 1999 Massachusetts: MIT Press

Bennett, Jill 2005 Empathic Vision: Affect, Trauma, and Contemporary Art Palo Alto: Stanford University Press

Berger, John 1985 The Sense of Sight New York: Vintage International

Brett, Donna West 2016 ‘Damaged: Ruin and Decay in Walker Evans’ Photographs’ Walker Evans Symposium Melbourne: Centre for Contemporary Photography

Bronowski, Jacob 1958 Science and Human Values New York: Harper and Row

Brown, Andrew (ed. and trans,) 1987 Sophocles: Antigone Wiltshire: Aris and Phillips Ltd.

Cadava, Eduardo 1992 ‘Words of Light: Theses on the Photography of History’ Diacritics 22 no. 3-4 (Fall-Winter), 84-114

Chaouat, Bruno 2005 ‘Image malgré tout’ (review) L’Esprit Créateur vol. 45 no. 1, 110-111

Deleuze, Gilles 1964 Proust and Signs New York: George Braziller, 1972 in English

Edwards, Janis L. 2012 ‘Visual Literacy and Visual Politics: Photojournalism and the 2004 Presidential Debates’ Communication Quarterly vol. 60 issue 5, 681-197

Foucault, Michel 1988 ‘Technologies of the self’ in L H Martin and H Gutman and P H Hutton (eds) Technologies of the self: A seminar with Michel Foucault Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 16-49

Gibbs, Anna 2013 ‘Apparently Unrelated: Affective Resonance, Concatenation and Traumatic Circuitry in the Terrain of the Everyday’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 129-147

Gibbs, Anna 2007 ‘Horrified: Embodied Vision, Media Affect and the Images from Abu Ghraib’ in D Staines (ed) Interrogating the War on Terror Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 125-142

Hanusch, Folker 2010 Representing death in the news: Journalism, Media and Mortality London: Palgrave Macmillan

Haraway, Donna and Cary Wolfe 2016 Manifestly Haraway Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

Hegel, George Wilhelm Frederich 1807 Phenomenology of Spirit Preface (trans. A. V. Miller 1977) Oxford: Oxford University Press

Heidegger, Martin 1966 Discourse on Thinking New York: Harper & Row

Houlihan, Kasia 2004 ‘Annotation on Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida – Reflections on Photography’ New York: Hill and Wang 1981 in Theories of Media, Winter

Jolly, Martyn 2015 ‘An Australian Spiritualist’s Personal Cartes-de-Visite Album’, in A Maxwell and J Croci (eds) Shifting Focus: Colonial Australian Photography 1850-1920 North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 71-87

Kopelson, Kevin 1990 ‘Wilde, Barthes, and the Orgasmics of Truth’ in GENDERS no. 7 Spring, 22-31

Lacan, Jacques and Jeffrey Mehlman 1972 ‘The Seminar on the ‘Purloined Letter” in Yale French Studies no. 48 French Freud: Structural Studies in Psychoanalysis Yale University Press, 39-72

Martin, Luther H and H Gutman and P H Hutton (eds) 1988 Technologies of the self: A seminar with Michel Foucault Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press

Maxwell, Anne and Josephine Croci (eds) 2015 Shifting Focus: Colonial Australian Photography 1850-1920 North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing

O’Hagan, Sean 2014 ‘Chloe Dewe Mathews’s Shot at Dawn: a moving photographic memorial’ The Guardian website

Papastergiadis, Nikos and Mary Zournazi 2002 ‘Faith without certitudes’ in M Zournazi Hope: New Philosophies for Change Annandale NSW: Pluto Press Australia, 78-97

Randell, Karen and Sean Redmond (eds) 2008 The war body on screen, New York: Continuum

Rastas, David and Maria Schlachter 2016 Art as a Sanctuary for the Mad: Six characteristics of mystical experience and their visual accompaniment in contemporary art

Rogobete, Ileana Carmen 2011 Reconstructing Trauma and Recovery: Life Narratives of Survivors of Political Violence during Apartheid PhD thesis Cape Town: University of Cape Town

Rutherford, Anne 2013 ‘Film, Trauma and the Enunciative Present’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 80-103

Sontag, Susan 1977 On Photography New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Staines, Deborah (ed) 2007 Interrogating the War on Terror Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Strawberry 2013 ‘Roland Barthes: studium and punctum’ Museum of Education website

Thompson, John 1995 The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of Media Cambridge: Polity Press

Virilio, Paul 1994 The Vision Machine (trans. Julie Rose). Bloomington: Indiana University Press

Walsh, Stephen 2000 Stalingrad: The Infernal Cauldron, 1942-43 London: Simon and Schuster

Wike, Lori 2000 ‘Photographs and Signatures: Absence, Presence, and Temporality in Barthes and Derrida’ In[]Visible Culture: An Electronic Journal for Visual Studies issue 3, 1-28

Zelizer, Barbie 2002 The Voice of the Visual in Memory Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania

Zembylas, Michalinos 2008 The Politics of Trauma in Education New York: Palgrave Macmillan

 

 

Endnotes

[1] Berger, John 1985 The Sense of Sight New York: Vintage International, 122

[2] Bataille, Georges 1962 Death and Sensuality: A Study of Eroticism and the Taboo New York: Walker and Company, 15

[3] Anonymous 2016 Definition of Trauma by Mirriam-Webster, at http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/trauma (accessed 8 November 2016)

[4] Atkinson, Meera and Michael Richardson 2013 ‘Introduction: At the Nexus’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 5

[5] Rutherford, Anne 2013 ‘Film, Trauma and the Enunciative Present’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 82

[6] Michalinos Zembylas 2008 The Politics of Trauma in Education, New York: Palgrave Macmillan 4

[7] Ibid., 4

[8] Rutherford Op. cit., 87

[9] Rutherford Op. cit., Footnote 49, 93

[10] Rutherford Op. cit., 94

[11] Bennett, Jill 2005 Empathic Vision: Affect, Trauma, and Contemporary Art Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 9

[12] Rogobete, Ileana Carmen 2011 Reconstructing Trauma and Recovery: Life Narratives of Survivors of Political Violence during Apartheid PhD thesis Cape Town: University of Cape Town, at https://open.uct.ac.za/handle/11427/10884 (accessed 8 November 2016)

[13] Rutherford Op. cit., 85

[14] Gibbs, Anna 2013 ‘Apparently Unrelated: Affective Resonance, Concatenation and Traumatic Circuitry in the Terrain of the Everyday’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 130

[15] “Perhaps rather than numbness, what we actually feel is our own helplessness or impotence, and the shame of helplessness, which robs us of agency. Helplessness is what Tomkins calls an affect complex, and within it distress is the dominant affect, although there may be admixtures in it of fear, anger and shame… Helplessness immobilises, and this is what induces the shame which, as a reduction of interest, makes us lower our gaze and look away.”

Gibbs, Anna 2007 ‘Horrified: Embodied Vision, Media Affect and the Images from Abu Ghraib’ in D Staines (ed) Interrogating the War on Terror Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 139-140

[16] “To suffer is one thing; another thing is living with the photographed images of suffering, which does not necessarily strengthen conscience and the ability to be compassionate. It can also corrupt them. Once one has seen such images, one has started down the road of seeing more – and more. Images transfix. Images anaesthetize…”

Sontag, Susan 1977 On Photography New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux 20

“Are we making too much of images? Are we lured by our own voyeurism and iconophilia, numbed as we are by the democracy of the spectacle? Or, on the contrary, do images open the eyes of our conscience? In other words do images merely entertain and anaesthetize us or do they shame us and awake our conscience?”

Chaouat, Bruno 2005 ‘Image malgré tout’ (review) in L’Esprit Créateur vol. 45 no. 1, at https://muse.jhu.edu/article/265181/pdf (accessed 8 November 2016)

[17] Rutherford Op. cit., 89

[18] Anonymous 2016 ‘Lynching in the United States’, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynching_in_the_United_States (accessed 11 November 2016)

[19] Anonymous 2016 ‘Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday’, at http://genius.com/Billie-holiday-strange-fruit-lyrics (accessed 11 November 2016)

[20] ‘Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit’, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dnlTHvJBeP0 (accessed 11 November 2016)

[21] Rutherford Op. cit., Footnote 55, 95

[22] Bennett, Jill 2005 Empathic Vision: Affect, Trauma, and Contemporary Art Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 4 quoted in Rutherford, 95

[23] Ibid., 11

[24] Deleuze, Gilles 1964 Proust and Signs New York: George Braziller (1972 in English) 7, in Bennett 161

[25] Bennett Op. cit., 10

[26] Papastergiadis, Nikos and Mary Zournazi 2002 ‘Faith without certitudes’ in M Zournazi Hope: New Philosophies for Change 94-95, in Bennett, 10

[27] Hanusch, Folker 2010 Representing death in the news: Journalism, Media and Mortality London: Palgrave Macmillan, 55

[28] Ibid., 56

[29] Ibid., 56

[30] Randell, Karen and Redmond, Sean (eds) 2008 The war body on screen New York: Continuum, cited in Hanusch, 30

[31] Foucault, Michel 1988 ‘Technologies of the self’, in L H Martin and H Gutman and P H Hutton (eds) Technologies of the self: A seminar with Michel Foucault Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 18

[32] Barthes, Roland 1980 La Chambre Claire (Camera Lucida) (1981 in English) New York: Hill and Wang Section 39, 94

[33] Houlihan, Kasia 2004 ‘Annotation on Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida – Reflections on Photography’ New York: Hill and Wang 1981 in Theories of Media, Winter at http://csmt.uchicago.edu/annotations/barthescamera.htm (accessed 12 November 2016)

[34] Strawberry 2013 ‘Roland Barthes: studium and punctum’ Museum of Education website 12 March, at https://educationmuseum.wordpress.com/2013/03/12/roland-barthes-studium-and-punctum/ (accessed 11 November 2016)

[35] “For memory is always in a state of ruin; to remember something is already to have ruined it, to have displaced it from its moment of origin. Memory is caught in a conundrum – the passing of time that makes memory possible and necessary is also what makes memory fade and die.”

Batchen, Geoffrey 2004 Forget Me Not: Photography & Remembrance New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 78

[36] Cadava, Eduardo 1992 ‘Words of Light: Theses on the Photography of History’ Diacritics 22 no. 3-4 (Fall-Winter), 110 in Batchen 172

[37] Bennett Op. cit., 7

[38] Ibid., 7

[39] Zelizer, Barbie 2002 The Voice of the Visual in Memory, at http://www.sas.upenn.edu/folklore/center/ConferenceArchive/voiceover/voice_of_the_visual.html (accessed 13 November 2016)

[40] Ibid.,

[41] Brown, Andrew (ed. and trans,) 1987 Sophocles: Antigone, lines 850-52 Wiltshire: Aris and Phillips Ltd., 91

[42] Edwards, Janis L 2012 ‘Visual Literacy and Visual Politics: Photojournalism and the 2004 Presidential Debates’ Taylor Francis Online at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01463373.2012.725000 (accessed 13 November 2016)

[43] Zelizer Op. cit.,

[44] Sontag Op. cit., 18 cited in F Hanusch 2010 Representing death in the news: Journalism, Media and Mortality London: Palgrave Macmillan, 105

[45] See ‘Robert Capa: The Falling Soldier’, The Met website, at http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/283315 (accessed 13 November 2016)

[46] Walsh, Stephen 2000 Stalingrad: The Infernal Cauldron, 1942-43 London: Simon and Schuster, 23

[47] Anonymous photographer 2013 ‘Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942’, Rare Historical Photos website 29 December, at http://rarehistoricalphotos.com/russian-spy-laughing-execution-finland-1942/ (accessed 13 November 2016)

[48] Brett, Donna West 2016 ‘Damaged: Ruin and Decay in Walker Evans’ Photographs’ Walker Evans Symposium Melbourne: Centre for Contemporary Photography October 7, 5 at https://www.academia.edu/29201498/Damaged_Ruin_and_Decay_in_Walker_Evans_Photographs (accessed 13 November 2016)

[49] Soja, Edward W. 1996 Thirdspace Malden (Mass.): Blackwell, 57

[50] Ibid., 57

[51] Batchen Op. cit., 47

[52] Ibid., 48

[53] Rastas, David 2016 Art as a Sanctuary for the Mad: Six characteristics of mystical experience and their visual accompaniment in contemporary art, at http://www.davidrastas.com/kunstglaube/madness&mysticism/essays.html (accessed 19 November 2016)

[54] Bronowski, Jacob 1958, Science and Human Values New York: Harper and Row, 31

[55] Anonymous 2015. ‘Hidden Likeness: Photographer Emmet Gowin at the Morgan’, The Morgan Library & Museum website May 22 through September 20, 2015 https://www.themorgan.org/exhibitions/emmet-gowin (accessed 08 May 2018)

[56] See Turner, Victor 1966 The Ritual Process: Structure and Antistructure Chicago: Aldine. For a definition of liminality see Anonymous ‘Liminality’, Wikipedia website https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liminality (accessed 08 May 2018)

[57] Batchen, Geoffrey 1997 Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography (paperback 1999) Massachusetts: MIT Press, 194

[58] Batchen Forget Me Not, 94

[59] O’Hagan, Sean 2014 ‘Chloe Dewe Mathews’s Shot at Dawn: a moving photographic memorial’ The Guardian website 29 June, at https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/jun/29/chloe-dewe-mathews-shot-at-dawn-moving-photographic-memorial-first-world-war (accessed 25 November 2016)

[60] Bennett 2005 Empathic Vision 69

[61] Hegel, George Wilhelm Frederich 1807 Phenomenology of Spirit Preface (trans. A. V. Miller 1977) Oxford: Oxford University Press, 10

[62] Anonymous 2016 ‘La petite mort’ Wikipedia website at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_petite_mort (accessed 25 November 2016)

[63] Barthes Op. cit., 96

[64] Barthes Op. cit., 96

[65] See Wike, Lori 2000 ‘Photographs and Signatures: Absence, Presence, and Temporality in Barthes and Derrida’ in In[]Visible Culture: An Electronic Journal for Visual Studies issue 3, at http://www.rochester.edu/in_visible_culture/issue3/wike.htm#BackFromNote10 (accessed 25 November 2016)

[66] Lacan, Jacques and Jeffrey Mehlman 1972 ‘The Seminar on the ‘Purloined Letter’’ in Yale French Studies, no. 48, 53 quoted in Wike 2000

[67] Barthes Camera Lucida, 57-58 quoted in Wike 2000

[68] Barthes Camera Lucida, 31-32 quoted in Wike 2000

[69] Anonymous 2016, ‘The Real’, Wikipedia website at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Real (accessed 25 November 2016)

[70] “Derrida sees differences as elemental oppositions working in all languages, systems of distinct signs, and codes, where terms don’t have absolute meanings but instead draw meaning from reciprocal determination with other terms… Différance is the systematic play of differences, of the traces of differences, of the spacing by means of which elements are related to each other… the a of différance also recalls that spacing is temporization, the detour and postponement by means of which intuition, perception, consummation – in a word, the relationship to the present, the reference to a present reality, to a being – are always deferred.”

Anonymous 2016 ‘Différance’ at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Différance (accessed 25 November 2016

[71] Batchen Burning with Desire 179. Information on photography and differance 178-179.

[72] Batchen Burning with Desire 186

[73] “We stand at once within the realm of that which hides itself from us, and hides itself just in approaching us. That which shows itself and at the same time withdraws is the essential trait of what we call the mystery… Releasement towards things and openness to the mystery belong together. They grant us the possibility of dwelling in the world in a totally different way…”

Heidegger, Martin 1966 Discourse on Thinking New York: Harper & Row, 55-56

[74] Thompson, John 1995 The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of Media Cambridge: Polity Press, 208 quoted in M Jolly 2015 ‘An Australian Spiritualist’s Personal Cartes-de-Visite Album’ in A Maxwell and J Croci (eds) Shifting Focus: Colonial Australian Photography 1850-1920 North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 84

[75] Thompson 233 quoted in Jolly 2015

[76] Haraway, Donna and Cary Wolfe 2016 Manifestly Haraway Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 122, at https://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed 26 November 2016)

[77] Kopelson, Kevin 1990 ‘Wilde, Barthes, and the Orgasmics of Truth’ GENDERS no 7 Spring, 26

[78] You are dead but also alive, the dissolution of the distinction between objective and subjective realities, “the image is an interface connecting inner and outer, past and future, affect and cognition.”

Gibbs, Anna 2007 ‘Horrified: Embodied Vision, Media Affect And The Images From Abu Ghraib’ in D Staines (ed) Interrogating the War on Terror Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 130

 

 

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

04
Dec
15

Exhibition: ‘Francesca Woodman. On Being an Angel’ at Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Exhibition dates: 5th September 2015 – 6th December 2015

Curator: Anna Tellgren

 

 

Francesca Woodman (1958-1981) achieved more in five years of artistic creativity than many artists achieve in a lifetime.

As a viewer you can read whatever you want into her photographs: feminism, surrealism, psychoanalytical theory, avant-garde, sexuality, gender, identity, sadness, happiness, joy. One of Francesca Woodman’s teachers was Aaron Siskind but you can also feel echoes of Diane Arbus, the conceptual, narrative mystery of Duane Michals, the postmodern generation of Cindy Sherman (1977 onwards) and, someone who nobody mentions as an influence, the darkness of Ralph Eugene Meatyard (family members enacting symbolic dramas in masks, often set in abandoned places). Woodman also places masks on or off of her face. Further, “There are similarities in style to surrealistic photography, such as Woodman’s frequent use of mirrors, doubles, shadows, gloves, hands, swans, fish, eels, masks, and sexual symbols. Photographers such as Hans Bellmer, Claude Cahun, and Man Ray spring to mind.”1

Here, I see the influence of Carl Jung in her work, specifically in Jungian psychology, the shadow or “shadow aspect” of the self (traces and silhouettes) which may refer to an unconscious aspect of the personality which the conscious ego does not identify in itself. This shadow aspect may be positive or negative. “Everyone carries a shadow,” Jung wrote, “and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”2 This shadow aspect can be see in the photograph Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976 (below).

Another element embedded in the work is that of the Mirror stage, which is a concept in the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan. “The mirror stage is based on the belief that infants recognize themselves in a mirror (literal) or other symbolic contraption which induces apperception (the turning of oneself into an object that can be viewed by the child from outside themselves) from the age of about 15 to 18 months… Lacan believed that the mirror stage represented a permanent structure of subjectivity, or as the paradigm of “Imaginary order”.”3 The basis of the Imaginary order is the formation of the ego in the “mirror stage”. “Since the ego is formed by identifying with the counterpart or specular image, “identification” is an important aspect of the imaginary. The relationship whereby the ego is constituted by identification is a locus of “alienation”, which is another feature of the imaginary, and is fundamentally narcissistic.”4 This imaginary order can be seen in photographs such as Self-deceit #1, Rome, Italy, 1978 (below), where the image and even the title alludes to a form of self-alienation.

Riffing on the “highly influential writings of French philosophers and cultural critics such as Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, and Julia Kristeva that were just beginning to be made available in translation. Among these thinkers’ central ideas was that identity was not organic and innate, but manufactured and learned through highly refined social constructions of gender, race, sexuality, and citizenship”5, Woodman’s work can also be seen to embody and ennoble these subjective and surrealist constructions (of self).

The artist is a CHIMERICAL CREATURE. Woodman’s transformations, her interior elements, become part of the wall or the house. She vanishes “from the room, out of the picture, at an given second.” A preoccupation with the body / her own body, and the dichotomy of subject-object, also adds multiple meanings and complexity to Woodman’s work. Her many angel images (and also images of umbrellas – Mary Poppins was released in 1964 when Woodman was growing up) suggest movement and the ability to fly, a fascination that found its ultimate expression when she jumped off a building in lower Manhattan at the age of 22.

We can read of all these things into the image/inary of Francesca Woodman if we want to. But they are not necessary to admire or appreciate her work. All we have to do is look at the photographs themselves; just return to the work. Here was a young artist, a young human being, expressing themselves through photography. She was just going for it and, as Corey Keller (a curator of photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) has noted, her youth was the source of her potency.

“Art students are drawn to the conviction she brought to her work and, in contrast to the cool slickness of the digital, it embraces tactility and decay in a very sensual and seductive way.” Keller sees Woodman’s youth not as a liability, but as the source of her potency, though she admits the issue of her self-portraits continues to be fraught. “They are certainly an expression of selfhood. She’s not interested in images of women in general, for example, and even when the subject of the photograph is not herself physically, one always has the sense it is about her psychically.””6

While she may not have fully understood the layered nuances of French philosophy and Jungian psychology she INTUITIVELY knew what she was doing and what she wanted to achieve and capture in her work. There are lots of other photographers around the world that work in this same idiom, at art school and as mature artists, but none have that special something that Woodman has, something that one cannot quite put your finger on.

It is … a gap we can see across but cannot map.

Woodman is one of the greats. In her few short years as an artist, she achieved immortality through her images.
Her narrative – one of youth and vitality, of self exploration and transformation – is no myth. For she is legend.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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

 

  1. Tellgren, Anna. Francesca Woodman: On Being an Angel (50kb pdf). 2015, pp. 13-14
  2. Shadow (psychology) on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 04/12/2015
  3. Mirror stage on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 04/12/2015
  4. The Imaginary (psychoanalysis) on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 04/12/2015
  5. Eklund, Douglas. “The Pictures Generation,” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History on The Metropolitan Museum of Art website [Online] Cited 04/12/2015
  6. Corey Keller quoted in Cooke, Rachel. “Searching for the real Francesca Woodman,” on The Guardian website, Sunday 31 August 2014 [Online] Cited 04/12/2015

 

 

The American photographer Francesca Woodman (1958-1981) created a body of fascinating photographic works in a few intense years before her premature death. Her oeuvre has been the object of numerous in-depth studies and major exhibitions in recent years, and her photographs have inspired artists all over the world. Francesca Woodman began photographing in her teens and studied at the Rhode Island School of Design from 1975 to 1978. Her output is usually divided into periods, from her early works, her years as a student in Providence, Italy (1977-1978), the Mac Dowell Colony, and, lastly, New York from 1979 until she died. The collection she left behind consists of a few hundred gelatin silver prints, but she also tried other techniques, such as large-format diazotypes, colour photography and video.

Woodman’s photographs explore gender, representation, sexuality and body. Her production includes several self-portraits, using herself and her friends as models. The figures are often placed behind furniture and other interior elements; occasionally, the images are blurred in such a way that their identity is hidden from the viewer. The intimate nature of the subject matter is enhanced by the small formats. Woodman worked in unusual settings such as derelict buildings, using mirrors and glass to evoke surrealist and occasionally claustrophobic moods.

Moderna Museet will present some hundred photographs by Francesca Woodman, with a selection from the series and themes she explored. The exhibition is produced by Moderna Museet in association with Betty and George Woodman and the Estate of Francesca Woodman. Alongside this exhibition, Moderna Museet will present a compilation of photography from the same period from its collection, to show Francesca Woodman in context and expand the perspective on her oeuvre to the public.

 

 

Francesca Woodman. 'On Being an Angel', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman
On Being an Angel, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'On Being an Angel #1', Providence, Rhode Island, 1977

 

Francesca Woodman
On Being an Angel #1, Providence, Rhode Island, 1977
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. From 'Angel' series, Rome, Italy, 1977

 

Francesca Woodman
From Angel series, Rome, Italy, 1977
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. From 'Angel' series, Rome, Italy, 1977-1978

 

Francesca Woodman
From Angel series, Rome, Italy, 1977-1978
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Charlie the Model # 5', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976-77

 

Francesca Woodman
Charlie the Model #5, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976-77
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman From 'Eel' series, Venice, Italy, 1978

 

Francesca Woodman
From Eel series, Venice, Italy, 1978
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'House #4', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman
House #4, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. From the 'three kinds of melon in four kinds of light' series, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman
From the three kinds of melon in four kinds of light series, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
© George and Betty Woodman

 

 

“The American photographer Francesca Woodman (1958-1981) created a body of fascinating photographic works in a few intense years before her premature death. Her oeuvre has been shown in number of major exhibitions in recent years, and her photographs have inspired artists all over the world.

Woodman’s photographs explore gender, representation, sexuality and body. The intimate nature of the subject matter is enhanced by the small formats. Her production includes several portraits, using herself and her friends as models. The figures are often placed behind furniture and other interior elements; occasionally, the images are blurred and the models hidden from the viewer. Woodman worked in settings such as derelict buildings, using mirrors and glass, evoking surrealist and at times even claustrophobic moods.

Francesca Woodman began photographing in her teens and studied at the Rhode Island School of Design from 1975 to 1978. Her output is usually divided into periods: the early works, her years as a student in Providence, Italy (1977-78), the Mac Dowell Colony, and, lastly, New York from 1979 until she died. The collection she left behind consists of several hundred gelatin silver prints, but she also tried other techniques, such as large-format diazotypes and video.

Francesca Woodman. On being an angel presents 102 photographs and one video, representing most of the artist’s series and themes. The exhibition is produced by Moderna Museet in association with the Estate of Francesca Woodman. Alongside this exhibition, Moderna Museet presents a compilation of photography from the same period from its collection, to show Francesca Woodman in context and expand the perspective on her oeuvre to the public.

 

Biography

Francesca Woodman was born into a family of artists in Denver, Colorado, on April 3, 1958. Her mother, Betty, was a sculptor, her father, George, a painter and photographer, and her brother, Charlie, was a video artist.

Italy

The family often traveled to Italy and lived in Florence for a year between 1965 and 1966. Then they returned home to Boulder, Colorado, and Francesca continued her schooling. In 1968 her parents bought a farmhouse outside of Florence in Antella, and there they would spend their summers. Italy and its language, culture, and art history were frequent sources of inspiration for Francesca Woodman.

Providence

Woodman started taking pictures as a teenager and had attended a few art courses before she moved to Providence to study at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in 1975. The college is among the oldest art schools in the United States, and the well-known photographer Aaron Siskind was one of her teachers. While at college, she lived in her studio in an industrial area where many of her pictures from that time were created. Between 1977 and 1978 Francesca Woodman spent a year in Rome as part of the school’s honors program. In the fall of 1978, she earned her BFA and exhibited the series Swan Song (1978) at the graduate show in RISD’s Woods-Gerry Gallery.

New York

Months later, in January 1979, Woodman moved to New York, where she lived at various addresses while looking for work. She spent the summer together with her boyfriend, Benjamin Moore, in Stanwood, Washington. Over the course of the next year, she exhibited her work at a number of smaller galleries and experimented with new techniques such as largeformat diazotypes, and color images. She was a fellow at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, in the summer of 1980. There, she worked on a series of images exploring the relationship between nature and her body, among other projects. In early 1981, her artist’s book Some Disordered Interior Geometries was published by Synapse Press in Philadelphia. This was one of seven notebooks (including photographs that were glued in) that she worked with from 1976 onwards. Francesca Woodman took her own life on January 19, 1981.

Previous exhibitions

The first major retrospective of Francesca Woodman’s work was produced in 1986 by Ann Gabhart in collaboration with Rosalind Krauss for the Wellesley College Museum. It then toured a number of museums at American universities. Her first European exhibition was held in 1992 by Shedhalle in Zurich and the Westfälischer Kunstverein in Münster and was shown in the spring of 1993 at The Finnish Museum of Photography, in the Cable Factory in Helsinki. On its way there, it stopped for two months at Kulturhuset in Stockholm. The critic Lars O Ericsson wrote in Dagens Nyheter that the exhibition may have been the most important one to see in the capital at the time. To date, at least fifty separate exhibitions of Woodman’s photography have been held in Europe and the United States.

Photography from the Moderna Museet Collection

In connection to the exhibition with Francesca Woodman, Moderna Museet presents a selection of photographs from the same period from its collection, to show her in context. In Francesca Woodman’s active years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, photography was in a period of transition. Many photographers who had worked with classic black and white photography were experimenting with other forms and were pushing the documentary tradition towards more subjective and surrealist projects.

The United States paved the way in this development, and when many started working more professionally with photography, it was institutionalized. This shift in the field eventually spread to Europe. Major photographic exhibitions were held at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, featuring artists such as Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, and Lee Friedlander, all of whom were influential to many younger photographers.

One of Francesca Woodman’s teachers was Aaron Siskind. His photography is often compared to that of Harry Callahan, since both were active for many years as teachers at the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, and later at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. Another figure in American post-war photography is Minor White, who also had influence as a teacher. White wrote about and taught methods for understanding and interpreting photographs. New Topographics. Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape (1975) was a significant exhibition. It was held at the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House in Rochester and one of the featured artists was Lewis Baltz. Other notable photographers in the new American wave were personalities as diverse as Robert Mapplethorpe, Melissa Shook, and Jerry Uelsmann.

But it was also then, from 1977 forward, that Cindy Sherman started working on her break-out series Untitled Film Stills. Sherman is an artist of the postmodern generation, and it is not known if Woodman had been aware of the so-called Pictures Generation. Duane Michals stood for a more conceptual approach. He was one of the photographers who we know interested Woodman.

Diazotypy

In the spring of 1980 Francesca Woodman started working on Blueprint for a Temple, where she was recreating the facade of a Greek temple using models draped in tunics similar to caryatids. The series began with a collection of details from bathrooms in New York, reminiscent of classical motifs. From having worked on a smaller scale, she had now moved on to truly large formats, some several meters in size.

These pictures are often categorized as blueprints, referring to a method of reproduction most frequently used for architectural plans. This is a contact print process on photosensitive paper; white lines on a blue background distinguish the finished product. (Other types of paper produced different background colors.)

The technique Woodman used was diazotypy: a dry photographic process on paper coated with diazonium compounds, which are sensitive to blue and UV light and developed by ammonia vapour. Woodman experimented with this technique. She created the largest of these images by hanging a long sheet of photosensitive diazo paper on the wall of a darkroom. A photographic slide was projected onto the paper from a slide projector, often for hours. The paper was then developed in a diazo processor at a company that made commercial reproductions of architectural plans. The result was a set of magnificent works in blue, purple, and sepia tones.

Text from the Moderna Museet, Stockholm website

 

Francesca Woodman. 'About Being My Model', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman
About Being My Model, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Spring in Providence # 2', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman
Spring in Providence #2, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Self-deceit #1', Rome, Italy, 1978

 

Francesca Woodman
Self-deceit #1, Rome, Italy, 1978
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', Providence, Rhode Island, 1975-78

 

Francesca Woodman
Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island, 1975-78
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', Rome, Italy, 1977-78

 

Francesca Woodman
Untitled, Rome, Italy, 1977-78
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', New York, 1979-80

 

Francesca Woodman
Untitled, New York, 1979-80
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman
Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', New York, 1979-80

 

Francesca Woodman
Untitled, New York, 1979-80
© George and Betty Woodman

 

 

Moderna Museet’s first exhibition this autumn features the American photographer Francesca Woodman, whose oeuvre has been the subject of numerous in-depth studies and major exhibitions in recent years. Her photography has inspired generations of artists and photographers around the world. Woodman has been called a prodigy, and those who met her testify to her as a young woman who was always working and looking for themes and material for her photographs. Examining Francesca Woodman’s aesthetic oeuvre is a challenge and an adventure.

Francesca Woodman’s (1958-1981) photographs explore gender, representation and body. Her aesthetic world reveals surrealist influences, with frequent use of mirrors, doubles, shadows, masks, and sexual symbols, bringing to mind the works of photographers such as Hans Bellmer, Claude Cahun and Man Ray. Woodman’s output includes several portraits using herself and her friends as models. The intimate nature of the subject matter is enhanced by the small formats. Transformation emerges as a theme in many of Woodman’s images, for example in one of her strongest and eeriest series, House from 1976, in which she gradually merges with the walls, the torn wallpaper and the open fireplace.

“Francesca Woodman created a body of fascinating photographic works in a few intense years before her premature death. Her images reference history and the history of photography, but they also reflect their time, while unlocking new interpretations. She is deeply personal, and so her themes become universal. All of this is what On Being an Angel is about,” says curator Anna Tellgren.

Francesca Woodman began photographing in her teens and studied at the Rhode Island School of Design from 1975 to 1978. Her output is usually divided into periods, from her early works, her years as a student in Providence, in Italy (1977-78), at the MacDowell Colony, and, lastly, in New York from 1979 until she died. Analyses of her work are often linked to her biography and chronology. During her active years, Woodman produced thousands of images and she also tried other techniques such as large-format diazotypes, colour photography and video. Some eight hundred photographs have been preserved. The words, short sentences, or quotations she scrawled on many of her prints have since given those pieces their titles.

The exhibition Francesca Woodman. On Being an Angel is comprised of 102 photographs and one video by Francesca Woodman, and selections from most of her thematic groups and series are represented, including Polka Dots (1976), the From Angel series (1977), Swan Song (1978), Charlie the Model (1976-77) and her large Caryatid (Study for a Temple Project) (1980). In Woodman’s active years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, photography was in a period of transition. Many photographers who had worked with classic black and white photography were experimenting with other forms, pushing the documentary tradition towards more subjective and surrealist projects. Alongside the exhibition, Moderna Museet will present a selection of photography from the same period from its collection, to show Francesca Woodman in context.

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman
Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Space2', Providence, Rhode Island, 1975-1976

 

Francesca Woodman
Space2, Providence, Rhode Island, 1975- 1976
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'From Space2', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman
From Space2, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', Providence, Rhode Island, 1975-78

 

Francesca Woodman
Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island, 1975-1976
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', New York, 1979-80

 

Francesca Woodman
Untitled, New York, 1979-80
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', New York, 1979

 

Francesca Woodman
Untitled, New York, 1979
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', New York, 1979

 

Francesca Woodman
Untitled, New York, 1979
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. '(Study for Temple Project)', New York, 1980

 

Francesca Woodman
(Study for Temple Project), New York, 1980
© George and Betty Woodman

 

 

Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Moderna Museet is ten minutes away from Kungsträdgården, and twenty minutes from T-Centralen or Gamla Stan. Walk past Grand Hotel and Nationalmuseum on Blasieholmen, opposite the Royal Palace. After crossing the bridge to Skeppsholmen, continue up the hill. The entrance to Moderna Museet and Arkitekturmuseet is on the left-hand side.

Opening hours:
Tuesday 10-20
Wednesday-Sunday 10-18
Monday closed

Moderna Museet website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

15
Jan
13

Exhibition: ‘Wolfgang Tillmans’ at Moderna Museet Stockholm

Exhibition dates: 6th October 2012 – 20th January 2013

.

In this bumper posting, a big call: in my opinion, the greatest photography based image maker in the world today.

Tillmans challenges the way we think and feel about photography. As Tom Holert in his excellent catalogue essay The Unforeseen notes, Tillmans problematises and reconfigures narration and visualisation, experimenting with a sensory experiential backdrop against and within which the photographs are produced. Modes of perception and the regimes of emotion are inducted into the aesthetics of production and meaning so that, “the pictures communicate with each other in a way that is not bound to the pattern of a closed narrative or any particular line of argument. Instead they create a form of aesthetic and thematic interaction that Tillmans sees as ‘a language of personal associations and “thought-maps.”‘ The mobilisation and reversal of value and meaning are central strategies in Tillmans’ praxis.

In this way Tillmans opens up spaces for research, “in which learning and unlearning, resonance and interference, a new affective solidarity and real experimentation might be possible before the onset of all sorts of methods, all forms of governance, all kinds of discipline and doxa [common belief or popular opinion].

This form of experimentation does not lead to benchmark research results; nothing is ever proved or illustrated, regardless of what is in the images or what they may purport to show. Ever engaging in experiment Tillmans roams through the reality of materials, forms, affects and gives us tangible access to these unportrayble, unreferential realities. Tillmans engages his emotions when he is working, also and specifically when he is photographing people, or plants, machines and cities. Individual emotions separate off from the representation of living beings and objects and form nodes of emotion in the viewer’s mind.”

Through these rhizomic tendencies (a la Delueze and Guittari A Thousand Plateaus) Tillmans images generate emotion and affect, “rhythmically resonating between pictures, from wall to wall, from room to room, from side to side,” so that in each instance, in each publication or exhibition, he can “modify and modulate anew the relations between picture and picture support, representation and presentation, motif and materiality.”

Nothing is ever fixed in linear time. The work is presented as an infinitely variable, spatial and emotional relationship – an orthogonal performativity where the ritual of production and meaning is never fully predetermined at any stage of production and reception.

Read Tom Holert’s excellent catalogue essay The Unforeseen. On the Production of the New, and Other Movements in the Work of Wolfgang Tillmans which includes information on Jacques Rancière’s concept of “‘aisthesis’ for the way in which very different things have been registered as ‘art’ for the last two hundred years or so. As he points out, “this is not about the ‘reception’ of works of art, but about the sensory experiential backdrop against and within which they come about. These are completely material conditions – places of performance or exhibition, forms of circulation and reproduction – but also modes of perception and the regimes of emotion, the categories that identify them and the patterns of thought that classify and interpret them.'” A thought provoking text (extracts below to accompany the photographs).

Marcus

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

.

.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

.

Installation photographs of various rooms of the exhibition Wolfgang Tillmans at Moderna Museet Stockholm, including Venus transit (2004) and Man pissing on chair (1997). Photographs © Carmen Brunner

.

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Arkadia_I' 1996

.

Wolfgang Tillmans
Arkadia_I
1996
© Wolfgang Tillmans. Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin

.

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'New Family' 2001

.

Wolfgang Tillmans
New Family
2001
© Wolfgang Tillmans. Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin

.

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Paper drop (window)' 2006

.

Wolfgang Tillmans
Paper drop (window)
2006
© Wolfgang Tillmans. Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin

.

.

“Wolfgang Tillmans is one of the leading artists of his generation and is constantly in the public eye, with exhibitions all over the world. The exhibition at Moderna Museet is Tillmans’ first major show in Sweden and brings nearly twenty years of picture-making to a new audience. Moderna Museet is delighted to welcome Wolfgang Tillmans – an artist who has extended the boundaries of photography and redefined the medium of photography as an artform.

Wolfgang Tillmans (b. 1968) first attracted attention at the beginning of the 1990s, with his apparently mundane pictures of subjects taken from his own surroundings. After studying in Britain, he published photographs in prominent publications such as i-D, Spex and Interview. Today, these pictures are considered trendsetting for the young generation of the 1990s, and raise questions about subcultures and sexual identities. By turning everyday situations into almost monumental images, Tillmans very strikingly captured the spirit of the times. It soon became evident that his pictures renegotiate photographic conventions and reflect contemporary currents related to culture and identity. Since then, Tillmans has continued his in-depth investigations, expanding the the realm of photography and redefining the very medium as an artform.

“Wolfgang Tillmans moves freely between images of the club scene in Berlin, political manifestations, and skyscrapers in Hong Kong; all with the same direct tonality. At the same time, all of his pictures explore photography itself – as a medium, but also as a material, convention and process,” says Curator Jo Widoff.

Recently Tillmans’ art has taken a number of different directions, revolving around various issues, everything from still lifes and modern landscapes to his lifelong interest in astronomy and the night sky. He has also taken his in-depth exploration of abstract photography even further. Tillmans’ abstract images are more closley related to the painterly tradition and he researches photography as a self-reflexive medium. Abstract images, such as Freischwimmer and Silver, are made in the darkroom, striking a balance between the deliberate and chance. Since 1995, Tillmans has been working actively and strategically with the exhibition space, so as to reveal the possibilities and limitations of the space in interplay with the photographs. His installations display a bewildering variety of formats and sizes, ways of composing the hanging of the pictures, and contexts. The exhibition at Moderna Museet should thus be seen as a site-specific installation. In recent years, Tillmans has been travelling the world taking photographs with the general title Neue Welt. These pictures relate to the new world of markets and trade, to politics and economics, and to the hypermodern. The title also refers to the new digital camera that Wolfgang used to take these pictures, which captures and documents more detail than we can perceive with the naked eye.

“Wolfgang Tillmans is one of today’s most prominent artists. Despite its visual complexity, his pictorial language is immediately recognizable. He captures the explosive energy in social situations and crosses boundaries between different artforms. He is able to use photographic means to create a kind of abstract painting,” says Museum Director Daniel Birnbaum.”

Press release from the Moderna Museet website

.

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Lux' 2009

.

Wolfgang Tillmans
Lux
2009
© Wolfgang Tillmans. Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin

.

Wolfgang Tillmans, 'Iguazu' 2010

.

Wolfgang Tillmans
Iguazu
2010
© Wolfgang Tillmans. Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin

.

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Paper drop (Roma)' 2007

.

Wolfgang Tillmans
Paper drop (Roma)
2007
C-type print
30.5 x 40.6 cm
Courtesy the artist and Maureen Paley, London

.

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Freischwimmer 93' 2004

.

Wolfgang Tillmans
Freischwimmer 93
2004
© Wolfgang Tillmans. Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin

.

.

“The Freischwimmer series – Free Swimmer is the most basic Lifesaving level in Germany and Switzerland – is an excellent example of Tillmans’s more experimental works. On one hand, the huge photographic papers were affixed to the wall with simple adhesive tape or paper clips; on the other, the images eluded all description and eschewed portraiture, landscape, still life or other subject matters he had centred on up to then.

The creative process of Freischwimmer, ongoing to the present, seems to speak to pure photography, divested of any form of intervention either in shooting or in enlargement, or indeed optical devices of any kind. We can almost imagine the artist in front of a large tray with reagents, performing some kind of alchemical ritual at the origin of these vaporous images, images containing a refinement that exceeds any human intention, just pure representations of themselves, of a unique and absolutely unrepeatable process. Of their reality.”

José Manuel Costa. Swimming to Freedom 38 on the The CA2M Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo website

.

“The Freischwimmer, which Tillmans started to produce in the early 2000s, form a group or family of images that are not made using a camera lens. As the results of gestural and chemical operations in the dark room, these originals on medium-sized photo paper, which are subsequently scanned and enlarged both as ink-jet prints and as light-jet prints on photo paper, are unrepeatable one-offs. It has been said that these images, which include ensembles such as Peaches, Blushes and Urgency, call to mind microscopically detailed images of biolog­ical processes, hirsute epidermises, highly erogenous zones, and that their aura fills the whole space – above all when they are presented in such large formats as in Warsaw or yet larger still, as in the case of the two monumental Ostgut Freischwimmer (2004) that used to grace the walls of the Panorama Bar at Berghain in Berlin. The Freischwimmer and their kin can be read as diagrams of sexualised atmospheres in private or semi-public spaces, in boudoirs or clubs, as highly non-representational images that both suspend and supplement conventional depic­tions of sex.”

Extract from Tom Holert. The Unforeseen. On the Production of the New, and Other Movements in the Work of Wolfgang Tillmans. Online catalogue

.

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Nanbei Hu' 2009

.

Wolfgang Tillmans
Nanbei Hu
2009
Inkjet print
207 x 138 cm
Courtesy the artist and Maureen Paley, London

.

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Anders pulling splinter from his foot' 2004

.

Wolfgang Tillmans
Anders pulling splinter from his foot
2004
© Wolfgang Tillmans. Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin

.

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Onion' 2010

.

Wolfgang Tillmans
Onion
2010
© Wolfgang Tillmans. Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin

.

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Venus transit' 2004

.

Wolfgang Tillmans
Venus transit
2004
© Wolfgang Tillmans. Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin

.

.

Extracts from Tom Holert. The Unforeseen. On the Production of the New, and Other Movements in the Work of Wolfgang Tillmans. Online catalogue
.

Parallelism – Subjectivism – Objectivism

This all means that the decorative unity of wall and image, which the hanging of the Freischwimmer initially promises, is not only thwarted by the shift in dimensions, the infringement of symmetrical order and the (supposed) discontinuity of abstraction and figuration, and by the fact that the different types of image and their configuration on this wall require the viewer to move around in the space and to continually readjust his or her gaze, bearing in mind that in the corner of one’s eye or following a slight turn of the body more pictures are constantly looming into view, mostly unframed, very small (postcard-sized), very large, hung very low down, but also very high up, portraits and still lifes, gestural abstractions, a close-up of a vagina, a picture of a modern Boy with Thorn, street scenes, an air-conditioning system. It also means that the pictures communicate with each other in a way that is not bound to the pattern of a closed narrative or any particular line of argument. Instead they create a form of aesthetic and thematic interaction that Tillmans sees as ‘a language of personal associations and “thought-maps”‘,1 as ‘. . . a pattern of parallelism as opposed to one linear stream of thought’,2 and which the critic Jan Verwoert has aptly described as a ‘performative experiment’ with the viewer.3

With all their variability and flexibility – underpinned by an invisible rectilinear grid yet fundamentally open in their interconnections – these installations serve Tillmans as reflections of his own way of perceiving the world, as externalizations of his thinking and feeling, and as a chance to fashion a utopian world according to his own ideas and fantasies.4 However, this Romantic subjectivism of self-expression or externalization has to be seen in light of a radical objectivism (Tillmans attaches great importance to this) that specifically draws attention not only to the expressive potential arising from the ageing process, from evidence of wear and other precariousnesses in the materials of photography (paper, camera techniques, chemicals, developing equipment etc.) but also to the remarkable resistance and persistence of these same materials.

Amongst the phenomena that inform this objectivism there are those instances of loss of control that can arise during the mechanical production processes of analogue photography or from coding errors, glitches, in digital images. Temporality, finity, brevity come into play here – a certain melancholy that activates rather than paralyses.

Over the years Tillmans has constantly found new ways to explore, to interpret and to stage this dialectic of intention and contingency. His repertoire and means of aesthetic production have multiplied. And this expansion has not been without consequences for the presentation of his work. Tillmans himself feels that the character of his installations has changed since 2006/07, in other words, when different versions of a solo exhibition of his work toured to three museums in the United States. It was during this exhibition tour that Tillmans started to see the benefit of placing greater weight on individual groups of works in the various rooms of larger exhibitions. In so doing he gave visitors the chance to engage in a different kind of concentration, without the pressure of constantly having to deal with the ‘full spectrum’ (Tillmans) of his oeuvre.5

.

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Heptathlon' 2009

.

Wolfgang Tillmans
Heptathlon
2009
Inkjet print
208.5 x 138 cm
Courtesy the artist and Maureen Paley, London

.

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Headlight (a)' 2012

.

Wolfgang Tillmans
Headlight (a)
2012
© Wolfgang Tillmans. Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin

.

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Ushuaia Lupine (a)' 2010

.

Wolfgang Tillmans
Ushuaia Lupine (a)
2010
© Wolfgang Tillmans. Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin

.

.

Value Theory, Value Praxis

… The visitor to an exhibition of the work of Wolfgang Tillmans in the year 2012, in this case the author of these lines, arrives in expectation of a particular, clearly defined type of art and image experience. A sense (however fragmentary) of the artist’s past exhibitions and publications is always present in any encounter with his work. And this includes the need to see the ‘abstract pictures’ in the context of an oeuvre where realistic and abstract elements have never intentionally been separated from each other. On the contrary, abstraction is always co-present with figurative and representational elements. There is no contradiction between forms and matter free of meaning – that is to say, visual moments that on the face of it neither represent nor illustrate anything – and Tillmans’ photographs of people, animals, objects and landscapes; in fact there is an unbroken connection, a continuum. This applies both to individual images as much as to the internal, dynamic relationalism of his oeuvre as a whole. And it also applies to each individual, concrete manifestation of multiplicity, as in the case of the installation in the first room of the exhibition in Warsaw.

Both aesthetic theory and the institution of art itself provide decisive grounds for discussing photography and visual art in such a way that images are not solely considered in terms of documentary functions or ornamental aspects nor are they reduced to the question as to whether their contents are stage-managed or authentic, but that attention is paid instead to the material nature of the pictures and objects in the space, to their sculptural qualities. Having decided early on against a career as a commercial photographer and in favour of a life in art, there was no need for Tillmans to seek to justify the interest he had already felt in his youth in a non-hierarchical, queer approach to various forms and genres in the visual arts. For the young Wolfgang Tillmans the cover artwork for a New Order LP, a portrait of Barbara Klemm (in-house photographer at the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung), or a screenprint collage of Robert Rauschenberg in Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen were all ‘equally important’ images’.7 The mobilisation and reversal of value and meaning are central strategies in his praxis. He questions the ‘language of importance’8 in photography and alters valencies of the visual by, for instance – in a ‘transformation of value’9 – producing C-prints from the supposedly impoverished or inadequate visuality of old black-and-white copies or wrongly developed images and thus raising them to the status of museum art. However much he may set store by refinement and precision, he avoids conventional forms of presentation, that is to say, ‘the signifiers that give immediate value to something, such as the picture frame’.10

.

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Tukan' 2010

.

Wolfgang Tillmans
Tukan
2010
Inkjet print on paper, clips

.

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Photocopy' 1994

.

Wolfgang Tillmans
Photocopy
1994
© Wolfgang Tillmans, Courtesy Galerie Daniel Buchholz, Köln

.

.

Conditions: Subject – Work – Mediation

If we take the line proposed by the philosopher Jacques Rancière, then the ‘aesthetic regime’ of the modern era, which – following the introduction of a modern concept of art and aesthetics – abandoned the regulatory aesthetic canon of the classical age in the nineteenth century, is distinguished by the fact that under its auspices the traditional hierarchies separating the high from the popular branches of narration and visualisation were problematised and reconfigured in such a way that a new politics of aesthetics and a ‘distribution of the sensible’ in the name of art ensued. Rancière has recently proposed the term ‘aisthesis’ for the way in which very different things have been registered as ‘art’ for the last two hundred years or so. As he points out, this is not about the ‘reception’ of works of art, but about the sensory experiential backdrop against and within which they come about. ‘These are completely material conditions – places of performance or exhibition, forms of circulation and reproduction – but also modes of perception and the regimes of emotion, the categories that identify them and the patterns of thought that classify and interpret them.’12

In order to understand why the work of Wolfgang Tillmans – so seemingly casual, so heterogeneous and so wide-ranging – is not only extremely successful, but has, for over twenty years, been intelligible and influential both within and outside the field of art, with the result that by now his praxis seems like a universal, subtly normative style of perception and image-making, it is essential to consider the ‘conditions’ alluded to by Rancière. For these are fundamental to the specific visibility and speakability of this oeuvre and to its legitimacy as art…

.

The Production of the New

Tillmans thus also makes his contribution to an answer to the question posed by the philosopher John Rajchman (in response to Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault and their deliberations on the production of the new and on the creative act in present-day, control-obsessed societies). Rajchman asked how, in and with the arts and their institutions, spaces for open searches and researches could be devised, in which learning and unlearning, resonance and interference, a new affective solidarity and real experimentation might be possible before the onset of all sorts of methods, all forms of governance, all kinds of discipline and doxa.18

This form of experimentation does not lead to benchmark research results; nothing is ever proved or illustrated, regardless of what is in the images or what they may purport to show. Ever engaging in experiment Tillmans roams through the reality of materials, forms, affects and gives us tangible access to these unportrayble, unreferential realities. Tillmans engages his emotions when he is working, also and specifically when he is photographing people, or plants, machines and cities. Individual emotions separate off from the representation of living beings and objects and form nodes of emotion in the viewer’s mind. ‘Artists are presenters of affects, the inventors and creators of affects’, as Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari put it in What is Philosophy?, ‘they draw us into the compound’.19 And indeed Tillmans’ laboratories are places where emotion and affect are generated and presented, rhythmically resonating between pictures, from wall to wall, from room to room, from side to side. The dog asleep on the stones, its breathing body warmed by the sun (in the video Cuma, 2011), Susanne’s lowered gaze (in Susanne, No Bra, 2006), with the line of her hair encircling her head like an incomplete figure of eight, but also the disturbed, interrupted, lurking monochromaticism of the Lighter and Silver works – they all open up the longer you look at them, the longer you are with them, to a perceiving in terms of forces and affects. They alert us to the fact that all images are fabricated…

.

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Alex Lutz back' 1992

.

Wolfgang Tillmans
Alex Lutz back
1992
© Wolfgang Tillmans. Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin

.

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Smokin Jo' 1995

.

Wolfgang Tillmans
Smokin Jo
1995
© Wolfgang Tillmans. Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin

.

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Lutz & Alex sitting in the trees' 1992

.

Wolfgang Tillmans
Lutz & Alex sitting in the trees
1992
Inkjet print on paper, clips
208 × 138 cm

.

.

Assimilating Photography into the Paradox

By virtue of the portability and variability of his works, with every print, with every exhibition, with every publication Tillmans can modify and modulate anew the relations between picture and picture support, representation and presentation, motif and materiality. In the two decades that have elapsed since his entry into the art business his praxis has continuously expanded. From the outset photography was his springboard for both integrative and eccentric acts. And even though this oeuvre may create the impression that the medium of photography knows no limits, photography – as discourse, as technique, as history, as convention – has remained the constant point of reference for all of Tillmans’ complex operations. It could also be said that he is immensely faithful to his chosen medium, although – or precisely because – that medium is not always recognisable as such. To quote an older essay on photography and painting by Richard Hamilton (whom Tillmans once photographed), his work is about ‘assimilating photography into the domain of paradox, incorporating it into the philosophical contradictions of art….’30 Since Tillmans’ experiments with a laser copier in the 1980s, he has produced hundreds of images that may be beholden to the etymology of photography (light drawing) but that also constantly undermine or overuse the social and epistemological functions of photography as a means to depict reality, as proof, as an aide mémoire, as documentation or as a form of aesthetic expression. The discourse on photography, with all its ‘post-photographic’ exaggerations, the debate on the status of the photographic image – none of these have been concluded; on the contrary, Tillmans is continuously advancing them on his own terms. His praxis forms the backdrop for experimentation and adventures in perception that are closely intertwined with the past and the present of photography and theories of photography; yet the specific logic of this oeuvre creates a realm of its own in which archive and presentation interlock in such a way that photography still plays an important part as historic and discursive formation, but the problems and paradoxes of fine art have now taken over the key functions.

The contagious impact of the epistemological problems of art has opened up new options for the medium of photography, new contexts of reception. And in this connection it is apparent, as Julie Ault has put it, that ‘Tillmans enacts his right to complex mediation’.31 In other words, photography provides a means for him to engage with a whole range of interactions with the viewer. In his eyes and hands photography becomes a realm of potential, where a never-ending series of constellations and juxtapositions of materialities, dimensions and motifs of the ‘unforeseen’ can come about. Photography thus regains a dimension of experimentation, an openness that is not constrained by aesthetic formats and technical formatting but that does arise from a precise knowledge and understanding of the history of the medium.”

.
Extracts from Tom Holert. The Unforeseen. On the Production of the New, and Other Movements in the Work of Wolfgang Tillmans. Online catalogue

.

.

Footnotes from extracts

  • 1. “Peter Halley in Conversation with Wolfgang Tillmans”, in Jan Verwoert, Peter Halley and Midori Matsui, Wolfgang Tillmans (London: Phaidon, 2002), 8-33 at 29
  • 2. Steve Slocombe, “Wolfgang Tillmans – The All-Seeing Eye”, in Flash Art, vol. 32, no. 209, November–Decem- ber 1999, 92-95 at 95
  • 3. Jan Verwoert, “Survey: Picture Possible Lives: The Work of Wolfgang Tillmans”, in Verwoert et. al., Wolfgang Tillmans, 36-89 at 72
  • 4. See Slocombe, “Wolfgang Tillmans – The All-Seeing Eye” (see note 2), 95
  • 5. See Julia Peyton-Jones and Hans Ulrich Obrist, “Interview with Wolfgang Tillmans”, in Wolfgang Tillmans (London: Serpentine Gallery/Koenig Books, 2010), 21-27 at 24
  • 7. Wolfgang Tillmans, email of 12 May 2012.
  • 8. Julie Ault, “Das Thema lautet Ausstellen Installations as Possibility in the Practice of Wolfgang Tillmans”, in Wolfgang Tillmans. Lighter (Stuttgart/Berlin: Hatje Cantz/SMB), Nationalgalerie Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, 2008, 27
  • 9. See Hans Ulrich Obrist, Wolfgang Tillmans (Cologne: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, 2007 = The Conversation Series, 6), 41
  • 10. Gil Blank, “The Portraiture of Wolfgang Tillmans”, in Influence, 2, autumn 2004, 110-21 at 117
  • 12. Jacques Rancière, Aisthesis. Scènes du régime esthétique de l’art (Paris: Galilée, 2011), 10
  • 18. Zepke (ed.), Deleuze, Guattari and the Production of the New (London: Continuum, 2008), 80-90 at 89
  • 19. See Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 175
  • 30. Richard Hamilton, “Photography and Painting”, in Studio International, vol. 177, no. 909, March 1969, 120-25 at 125
  • 31. Julie Ault, “The Subject Is Exhibition” (see note 8), 15

.

.

Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Moderna Museet is ten minutes away from Kungsträdgården, and twenty minutes from T-Centralen or Gamla Stan. Walk past Grand Hotel and Nationalmuseum on Blasieholmen, opposite the Royal Palace. After crossing the bridge to Skeppsholmen, continue up the hill. The entrance to Moderna Museet and Arkitekturmuseet is on the left-hand side.

Opening hours:
Tuesday 10-20
Wednesday-Sunday 10-18
Monday closed

Moderna Museet website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

11
Nov
12

Exhibition: ‘The Body as Protest’ at the Albertina, Vienna

Exhibition dates: 5th September – 2nd December 2012

.

“The past neglect of the body in social theory was a product of Western mind-body dualism that divided human experience into bodily and cognitive realms. The knowledge-body distinction identifies knowledge, culture, and reason with masculinity and identifies body, nature, and emotion with femininity. Viewing human reason as the principal source of progress and emancipation, it perceives “the rational” as separate from, and exalted over, the corporeal. In other words, consciousness was grasped as separate from and preceding the body (Bordo 1993; Davis 1997). Following feminist thinking about women’s bodies in patriarchal societies, contemporary social theories shifted focus from cognitive dimensions of identity construction to embodiment in the constitution of identities (Davis 1997). Social construction theories do not view the body as a biological given but as constituted in the intersection of discourse, social institutions, and the corporeality of the body. Body practices, therefore, reflect the basic values and themes of the society, and an analysis of the body can expose the intersubjective meaning common to society. At the same time, discourse and social institutions are produced and reproduced only through bodies and their techniques (Frank 1991, 91). Thus, social analysis has expanded from studying the body as an object of social control and discipline “in order to legitimate different regimes of domination” (Bordo 1993; Foucault 1975, 1978, 1980) to perceiving it as a subject that creates meaning and performs social action (Butler 1990). The body is understood as a means for self-expression, an important feature in a person’s identity project (Giddens 1991), and a site for social subversiveness and self-empowerment (Davis 1997).”

.
Orna Sasson-Levy and Tamar Rapoport. “Body, Gender, and Knowledge in Protest Movements: The Israeli Case,” in Gender & Society 17, 2003, p.381. For the references in the quotation please see the end of the paper at attached link.

.

.
Despite my great admiration for John Coplans photographs of his body, on the evidence of these press photographs and the attached video, this exhibition seems a beautiful if rather tame affair considering the subject matter. Of course these photographs of the body can be understood as a means for self-expression and self-empowerment but there seems little social subversiveness in the choice of work on display. The two Mapplethorpe’s are stylised instead of stonkingly subversive, and could have been taken from his ‘X’ portfolio (the self portrait of him with a bull whip up his arse would have been particularly pleasing to see in this context). The exhibition could have included some of the many artists using the body as protest during the AIDS crisis (perhaps my favourite David Wojnarowicz or William Yang’s Sadness), the famous Burning Monk – The Self-Immolation (1963) by Malcolm Browne, photographs by Stellarc, Arthur Tress, Duane Michals, Nan Goldin, Diane Arbus, Francesca Woodman, Sally Mann, Cindy Sherman to name but a few; even the Farm Security Administration photographs of share cropper families by Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange would have had more impact than some of the photographs on display here. Having not seen the entire exhibition it is hard to give an overall reading, but on the selection presented here it would seem that this was a missed opportunity, an exhibition where the body did not protest enough.

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

.

.

theartVIEw – The Body as Protest at ALBERTINA

.

.

Ishiuchi Miyako
1906#38
Nd
Courtesy by The Third Gallery Aya

.

.

Hannah Villiger
Block XXX
1993-1994
© The Estate of Hannah Villiger

.

.

Ketty La Rocca
Le mie parole e tu
1974
Courtesy Private Collection, Austria

.

.

John Coplans
Self Portrait Interlocking Fingers No 6
1999
Silbergelatinepapier
Albertina, Wien

.

.

Bruce Nauman
Studies for Holograms
Siebdruck, 1970
© VBK, Wien 2012
Foto: © Rheinisches Bildarchiv Köln

.

.

Robert Mapplethorpe
Vincent
1981
Silbergelatinepapier
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

.

.

“The exhibition The Body as Protest highlights the photographic representation of the human body – a motif that has provided a wide variety of photographers with an often radical means of expression for their visual protest against social, political, but also aesthetic norms.

The show centers on an outstanding group of works by the artist John Coplans from the holdings of the Albertina. In his serially conceived large-format pictures, the photographer focused on the rendering of his own nude body, which he defamiliarized through fragmentation far from current forms of idealization. Relying on extremely sophisticated lighting, he presented himself in a monumental and sculptural manner over many years. His photographs can be understood as amalgamations of theoretical and artistic ideas, which in the show are accentuated through selective juxtapositions with works by other important exponents of body-related art.

The body also features prominently in the work of other artists such as Hannah Wilke, Ketty La Rocca, Hannah Villiger, Vito Acconci, Bruce Nauman, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Miyako Ishiuchi. By means of these positions, such diverse themes as self-dramatization, conceptual photography, feminism, body language, and even transience are analyzed within an expanded artistic range. Moreover, the exhibition offers a differentiated view of the critical depiction of the human body as it has been practiced since 1970.”

Text from the Albertina website

.

.

Hannah Wilke
Gestures
1974-76
Basierend auf der gleichnamigen
Video Performance von 1974
(35:30 min, b&w, sound)
Silbergelatinepapier
12 Blatt je 12,7x 17,8 cm
© Marsie, Emanuelle, Damon and Andrew Scharlatt, The Hannah Wilke Collection & Archive, L.A./ VBK, Wien 2012

.

.

John Coplans
Frieze No. 6
1994
Silbergelatinepapier
Albertina, Wien

.

.

John Coplans
Self Portrait (Hands)
1988
Silbergelatinepapier
Albertina, Wien

.

.

Ketty La Rocca
Craniologia
1973
Radiografie mit überblendeter Fotografie
SAMMLUNG VERBUND

.

.

Robert Mapplethorpe
Thomas
1986
Silbergelatinepapier
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

.

.

John Coplans
Self Portrait Interlocking Fingers No 17
2000
Silbergelatinepapier
Albertina, Wien

.

.

John Coplans
Back with Arms Above
1984
Silbergelatinepapier
© The John Coplans Trust

.

.

Albertina
Albertinaplatz 1
1010 Vienna, Austria
T: +43 (0)1 534 83-0

Opening hours:
Daily 10 am to 6 pm
Wednesday 10 am to 9 pm

Albertina website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

16
Oct
12

Paper: ‘Traversing the unknown’ by Dr Marcus Bunyan, Faculty of Arts, The University of Melbourne presented at the ‘Travel Ideals’ international conference, July 2012

International conference: Travel Ideals: Engaging with Spaces of Mobility, Faculty of Arts at the University of Melbourne, 18th – 20th July 2012

.

All cdv and cabinet cards © Joyce Evans collection, © Marcus Bunyan.

Installation photographs of the exhibition Traverse by Kim Percy at Stockroom, Kyneton, 10th March – 8th April 2012.

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

Keywords: refugees, asylum seekers, boat people, spaces of mobility, travel, early colonial photography, cartes de visite, cabinet cards, Second Fleet, John Dell, aborigine, Australia, white Australia, immigration, photography, early Australian photography, Foucault, non-place, Panopticon, inverted Panopticon, (in)visibility, visual parentheses, axis of visibility, symbolic capital, context of reason.

.

.

.

.

.

Installation of Traverse by Kim Percy at Stockroom, Kyneton
Installation photographs by Marcus Bunyan © Kim Percy

.

.

Traversing the unknown

Dr Marcus Bunyan July 2012

.

What I am about to say, my musings if you like, are inspired by Kim Percy’s exhibition which took place at Stockroom gallery in Kyenton in March – April 2012. The work is the basis of my inquiry. The images that illustrate the paper are installation shots from the exhibition and Victorian cartes de visite, photographic portraits of an emerging nation taken from the 1850s – 1890s. Unlike the business cards of today (where identity is represented by the name of the business owner and the printer of the card remains anonymous), in cartes de visite the name of the people or place being photographed is usually unknown and the name of the photographer is (sometimes) recorded. In other words the inverse of contemporary practice. Another point to note is that most of the photographers were immigrants to this country. I use these cards to illustrate the point that the construction of national identity has always been multifarious and, in terms of the representation of identity, unknown and unknowable.

.
I would like to take you on a journey, at first personal and then physical, metaphorical and maybe even philosophical. I want to asks questions of the world, questions about the journey we all take as human beings. I would like to tell you two personal things.

First, I have nearly drowned three times in my life. Once, aged 12 years, my mother dove into the swimming pool and pulled my out as I was going under for the third time. The second time was in Australia at Squeaky Beach on Wilsons Prom and the third up at Byron Bay. All three times there was shear blind panic as the water tried to consume me, as my feet scrabbled to touch the bottom, seeking any purchase, the minutest toe hold so that I could pull myself to safety, so that I could save myself. Panic. Fear. Nothingness.

Second, I still vividly remember being dumped by my parents at boarding school in England at the age of twelve years. I watched disconsolately as they drove away and promptly burst into tears, terrified of being alone in an alien environment, with a different accent than everyone else (having grown up on a rural farm) and being different from other boys (just discovering that I was gay). Those were horrible years, suffering from depression that crept up on me, isolated with few friends and struggling with my nascent sexuality. Thoughts of suicide and self-harm were constant companions. Fast forward, arriving in Australia in 1986, again with no friends, living in a foreign culture. Even though I was white I felt alienated, isolated, alone. I hated my first years in Australia. Now imagine being an asylum seeker arriving here.

.

.

Anon
Untitled [Borough of Clunes Notice Strike ..rm Rate]
Nd
Cabinet card
Albumen print
16.5cm x 10.7cm
Blank verso
© Joyce Evans collection

.

.

Anon
Mrs Dean, Dean & Co, Hay, Corn & Produce Merchants, Rea St, North Fitzroy
Nd
Cartes de visite
Albumen print
10.4cm x 6.3cm
Blank verso
© Joyce Evans collection

.

.

National Photo Company
Untitled [Group of bricklayers holding their tools and a baby]
Nd
140 Queen Street,
Woollahra,
Sydney
Cartes de visite
Albumen print
10.4cm x 6.3cm
© Joyce Evans collection

.

.

Imagine being an asylum seeker living in an (in)between space, living in a refugee camp over there. Marc Augé coined the phrase “non-place” to refer to places of transience that do not hold enough significance to be regarded as “places”.1 These camps are such places. Put yourself in that predicament, seeking a better life, seeking to escape persecution, war, prejudice and death, deliberately placing yourself and your family in a fragile boat, like a seed pod floating upon the waters, taking the dangerous journey to reach Australia. Imagine the emotional and intellectual turmoil that must surround such a decision, the decision to place your life in the hands of the ocean. Important decisions affecting the entire course of one’s life are rarely made without some form of mental distress.

Nurtured in water, some baptised in it, water is the life-blood of the world and the asylum seeker must trust to its benevolence. Marc Auge “argues that we are in transit through non-place for more and more of our time, as if between immense parentheses.”2 This is the journey that the asylum seeker takes over water, a journey through an interstitial space that has no beginning and no end caught between a set of parentheses [insert life here / or not]. And now let us move our line of sight. What about a visual parentheses?

Asylum seekers are almost invisible from Australia living over there. They are over the horizon, out of sight and out of mind. When they journey across the sea – an open ended journey passing through a liminal space, a forgotten space – they suddenly appear as if by magic washed up on the shore, unseen despite surveillance planes, ships and other forms of tracking and reconnaissance. Think, for example, of the sudden and surprising arrival of the boat SIEV-221 when it was washed onto the rocks of Christmas Island in December 2010. The invisible made visible caught in a non-place.

This (in)visibility can be evidenced in other ways. The specks of humanity waving from the deck of the Tampa, the asylum seekers being escorted from arriving boats, seen for a few brief seconds on the evening news and then disappearing from view, almost like being sucked into the depths of the sea. Here and not here; here and there. Halfway between nothingness and being: they walk between one state and another, forward and backward, backward and forward.

Displacement
Diaspora
Disruption

.

There is much discussion in political circles in relation to the retrieval, processing and housing of detainees, that is, the control of the artefact within space (of Australia) and, consequently, the impact on the citizens of Australia and that of public sentiment. The axis of visibility3 that operates in relation to subject, object, and space is not interrogated as to the representations that are constructed. This is what I am interested in here.

The spectacle of the asylum seekers is despectacularised by and for the viewer. We remove ourselves from the emotion of these people, the presence of these images. They become ordinary as if seen from far away – glimpsed every so often as though viewing the world of another. They become Other. The movement of the ship, the movement of the sky, the movement of vision is a constant decentering through a push/pull with something else – some other order of the world. The journey into the unknown is a journey to submit to the ordering of another: the socially constructed system of classification: “refugee,” “asylum seeker.”

These vital, alive human beings come from one taxonomic system (of ordered death, persecution, injustice), become visible from a brief instance, and are then fed into another taxonomic system of order – that of the detention center. Through the journey and in the detention centers there is an effacement of specific religious, political or personal symbolic features as the refugees become part of a disciplinary system whereby they can be viewed as symbolic capital (both political and economic tools). This process of effacement and simultaneous self-negation, this neutralization of original context and content is hidden in the forgotten spaces, of the sea and of the processing centers.

And then the seekers are naturalized, becoming one with the body of Australia, as though they were unnatural before.

.

.

Kim Percy
Pale Sea
2012
Digital photograph

.

.

Kim Percy
Where
2012
Digital photograph

.

.

Kim Percy
Rough Water
2012
Digital photograph

.

.

Anon
Untitled
Nd
Cartes de visite
Albumen print
6.3cm x 10.4cm
Blank verso
© Joyce Evans collection

.

.

E. B. Pike
Untitled [Older man with moustache and parted beard]
Nd
Cartes de visite
6.3cm x 10.4cm
Verso of card
© Joyce Evans collection

.

.

Artist & Photographer
Otto von Hartitzsch
Untitled [Man with quaffed hair and very thin tie]
1867 – 1883
Established 1867
127 Rundle Street
Adelaide
South Australia
Cartes de visite
6.3cm x 10.4cm
Verso of card
© Joyce Evans collection

.

.

Kim Percy
Traverse
2012
Digital photograph

.

.

Kim Percy
Red Horizon No.1
2012
Digital photograph

.

.

Kim Percy
Red Horizon No.2
2012
Digital photograph

.

.

Taking the metaphor of the horizon line further, I would argue that the detention centers are like that of an inverted Panopticon. The Panopticon is a type of institutional building, a prison, designed by English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late eighteenth century. The concept of the design is to allow an observer to observe all inmates of an institution without them being able to tell whether or not they are being watched.4 The guard sits in a central tower and can observe and inspect all prisoners on the outer 360 degree circle, while the prisoners cannot see the guard and can only presume he is there (an omnipresent God) and hence they behave. Let us invert this concept. Now the asylum seekers sit in the tower looking outwards, seeing the promised land but unable to touch it and the guards (prison officers, government, the Australian people) are all around but most are blind. They look inwards but cannot see / they look outwards and most go about their daily business. The perimeter fence of the detention center becomes the horizon line of the sea. Over the horizon is out of sight and out of mind.

This regime of acceptability, the common-sense world within which we all live and usually take for granted, this form of rationality has a historical specificity. Think convict for example: such branding appeared at a time of historic specificity. What we take to be rational, the bearer of truth, is rooted in domination and subjugation, and is constituted by the relationship of forces and powers. But, as Foucault observes “what counts as a rational act at one time will not so count at another time, and this is dependent on the context of reason that prevails.”5

Hence no more convicts, in the future one hopes no more refugees.

.

.

Profesor Hawkins
Photographic
Artist
Untitled [Chinese women with handkerchief]
c.1858 – 1875
20, Queensbury St Et.
near Dight’s Mills,
Melbourne
Cartes de visite
Albumen print
6.3cm x 10.4cm
© Joyce Evans collection

.

.

“Truth in a Pleasing Form”
J. R. Tanner
Untitled [Two woman wearing elaborate hats]
1875
Photographer and Photo-Enameler
“Permanent Pictures in Carbon”
“Imperishable Portrais on Enamel”
Cartes de visite
Albumen print
6.3cm x 10.4cm
© Joyce Evans collection

.

.

What Kim’s eloquent, minimal, brooding installation does is hold our attention and ask certain questions of us as human beings. If photography is a mode of visually addressing a certain order in the world – be it horror, war, peace, human tragedy, public, private – and then destabilizing it, then Kim’s images destabilize the binary sea/sky through fragmentation and isolation. She redlines our experience and asks us to inhabit the non-space, the non-place of the gallery, allowing us to hover between boat and image, between sea and sky, between seeing and sky. Through her work she asks us to become more aware. She asks us to see things more clearly. Above all she asks us to have faith in the compassion of human beings. The asylum seekers have faith: faith to get into a fragile boat to venture upon the sea in search of a better life.

I will finish with a quote from Jeff Brown

“Sometimes we have to surrender to the not knowing. At other times, it is helpful to adventure outward and explore new possibilities. Like swashbucklers of the spirit, we bravely seek out any experience that might inform our path. When we are afraid of something, we live it fully and see what floats to the surface in the doing. We participate in our own revealing. We have faith in the shaping of what we cannot see.”6

.
The seekers surrender to the not knowing and have faith in the shaping of what they cannot see. These risk takers are the strong ones that are going to make a difference in a new society by the very fact of their strength and determination to survive and live in a free society, for the very fact of the risks undertaken. This exhibition and this paper informs their path as it informs our path. Be aware of the doing, be bold and forthright in the being.

Dr Marcus Bunyan, July 2012

.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

.
Addendum – Australia from settlement to subjugation

The cartes de visite below is one of the most important cards that I have ever held.

Private John Dell (1763 – 1866) of the The New South Wales Corps. (Rum Corps.) “Renamed 1st /102nd Regiment of Foot” arrived on the ship Surprize of the Second Fleet on the 26 June 1790 (not, as stated in pencil on the verso of the card, in 1788). The Second Fleet has been regarded as being the three convict ships which arrived together at Sydney Cove in June 1790: these ships were the Surprize , Neptune, and Scarborough.

The Surprize weighed 400 tons, she was the smallest ship of the fleet, she proved an unsuitable vessel as for her size and she was a wet vessel even in clam waters. Sailing from England on January 19th 1790 with 254 male convicts. Her master was Nicholas Antis, formerly chief mate on the Lady Penrhyn in the First Fleet. The surgeon was William Waters. 36 convicts died on the voyage. Soldiers of the New South Wales Corps on board may have stayed. Some where convicts who later enlisted.

Private John Dell served in 102nd Foot Regiment. He was discharged aged 42 after 21 years 10 months of service. Covering dates give year of enlistment to year of discharge: 1789-1811. He enlisted on 3rd July 1789 and was discharged in May 1810. He married three times and had numerous children, dying in Tasmania on the 2nd March 1866. He was born on 5th of November 1763 so this would make him over the age of 87 when this photograph could have first been taken or, if later, between the age of 96 – 103. We can date this photograph from the time that W. Paul Dowling worked in Launceston (1851-1852 / 1859 – 1866).

We are looking at one of the first English migrants to ever settle in Australia during the invasion of the supposed terra nullius. This is an important photograph. The photographer obviously thought it was important to document the appearance of this person, present in the first two years of colonial settlement and later injured by an aborigine spear. For us, the photograph traverses the history of white Australia, from settlement to subjugation, from 1790 to 1866. One can only imagine the agony, the death and destruction that occurred during this man’s lifetime.

.

THE LATE MR. JOHN DELL (From the Melbourne Spectator)

“The following reminiscences of the olden times were furnished to us by a gentleman who took them down as they fell from the lips of John Dell, the Greenwich pensioner, a few months before his, death, which happened at Launceston, in the early part of the present year: He was born, he said, at Reading, in Berkshire, on the 5th of November, 1763. He was one of a family of twenty four children. He remembered the excitement occasioned by the Gordon riots, and how the people gathered round the London coach which brought down the tidings of the tumult, incendiarism, and bloodshed. He was apprenticed with another Reading lad, to a veneer cutter in London; and as he and his fellow-apprentice were one day staring in at a shop window in Fleet-street, and observing to each other that there was nothing like that in Reading, they were accosted by a respectably dressed man, who said his wife was from Reading, and would so like to have a chat with them about the dear old place; would they go home to tea with him? They cheerfully assented; and were taken to a house in an obscure neighborhood, at the back of the Fleet Prison…”

“THE LATE MR. JOHN DELL,” in Launceston Examiner (Tas.: 1842 – 1899), 25 July 1866, p. 2. [Online] Cited 15 July, 2012 on the Trove website. nla.gov.au/nla.news-article36636642

.

DEATH OF MR JOHN DELL

“It is with feelings of sincere regret that we record tbe death of Mr. John Dell, at the patriarchal age of 102 years and four months. He had been ailing but a very short time, and had the use of his faculties to the last hour of his life. He was reading as usual without the use of spectacles, and out of bed on Thursday night, but be breathed his last yesterday, at the residence of his son-in-law, Mr. William Brean, of Brisbane Street, and his remains are to be interred on Monday.

Mr. Dell was born at Reading, in Berkshire, in 1763, and arrived in New South Wales with the 102nd Regiment of Foot, in 1790, in the ship ‘Surprize,’ the first of the fleet which brought convicts to Botany Bay, and he was present in Sydney during the whole of the period of the government of Governor Phillip, and at the arrest of Governor Bligh, who it will beremembered by those who have read the early history of New South Wales, was arrested by Colonel Johnson, tbe Colonel of the regiment in which Dell served, the 102nd. This corps was raised specially for service in New South Wales, and Mr. Dell returned with in 1808, and on board the vessel in which Governor Bligh died on the passage to England. He was pensioned in 1815, and has been in ilie receipt of a pension for more than half a century.

He arrived in this colony in 1818, and was for some time Chief Constable of Launceston, but retired many years ago from office, to a large farm at Norfolk Plains. Mr. Dell was the owner of very valuable property in this colony, though be did not die wealthy, the Court House Square belonged to him at one time, and he fenced it in, but subsequently he returned it to the Government in exchange for a grant of six hundred and forty acres of land in the country. Mr. Dell was a temperate man but not a teetotaller. It is strange that throughout his eventful career, be never learned to smoke, but this may account for the steadiness of his nerves to the latest day of his long life. He had encountered great hardships in New South Wales, having been in the bush there for three day disabled by a spear wound inflicted by an aborigine. He was in a very exhausted state when discovered, but his iron constitution enabled him to rally, and he was soon in as sound a state of health as ever.

For some years past his sight keener and his hair of a darker colour than they had been twenty years previous. He was rather eccentric of late, but no one from his hale appearance would suppose him to be much above seventy years of age. His voice was a good strong firm bass without a quaver in it. Very few men have ever been blessed with such a long period of interrupted sound health as Mr Dell. He will be missed and his death lamented by a wide circle of relatives and friends.”

“DEATH OF MR JOHN DELL,” in The Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston, Tas. : 1835 – 1880) Saturday 3rd March 1866. [Online] Cited 15 July, 2012 on the Trove website. trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/72358170

See the Rootsweb website for more information on John Dell.

.

.

W. Paul Dowling,
Photographer,
John Dell
1851-1852 / 1859 – 1866
Launceston,
Tasmania.
Cartes de visite
Albumen print
6.3cm x 10.4cm
© Joyce Evans collection

John Dell
Born at Reading, Berkshire
5 Nov 1763
came out with his regiment (the 102nd) to Sydney in 1788
Nov 5th 1763

In pencil on verso

.

.

W. Paul Dowling,
Photographer,
John Dell
1851-1852 / 1859 – 1866
Launceston,
Tasmania.
Cartes de visite
Albumen print
6.3cm x 10.4cm
© Joyce Evans collection

.

.

Endnotes

1. Augé, Marc (trans. John Howe). Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. London: Verso, 1995.

2. Ibid.,

3. Hooper-Grenhill, Eilean. Museums and the Shaping of Knowledge. London: Routledge, 2000, p.7.

4. Anon. “Panopticon,” on Wikipedia. [Online] Cited 09/03/2012.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panopticon

5. Hooper-Grenhill Op cit., p.8.

6. Brown, Jeff quoted on Stroud, Jeff. The reluctant blogger website. [Online] Cited 09/03/2012.
jeffstroud.wordpress.com/2012/02/11/884/

.

.

Travel Ideals: Engaging with Spaces of Mobility conference website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

Digimarc enabled images

27
Sep
12

Text: ‘The defining of Apollonian and Dionysian ideals in images of the male body’ Dr Marcus Bunyan / Exhibition: ‘Robert Mapplethorpe’ at the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art, Budapest

Exhibition dates: 25th May – 30th September 2012

.

“Perfection means you don’t question anything about the photograph. There are certain pictures I’ve taken in which you really can’t move that leaf or that hand. It’s where it should be, and you can’t say it could have been there. There is nothing to question as in a great painting. I often have trouble with contemporary art because I find it’s not perfect. It doesn’t have to be anatomically correct to be perfect either. A Picasso portrait is perfect. It’s just not questionable. In the best of my pictures, there’s nothing to question – it’s just there.”

.
Robert Mapplethorpe

.

.

Written in 1996 (but never published until now), this is one of my earliest pieces of research and writing. While it is somewhat idealistic in many ways, hopefully this piece still has some relevance for the reader for there are important ideas contained within the text.

.

The defining of Apollonian and Dionysian ideals in images of the male body

Photography has portrayed the Apollonian and Dionysian ideals of the body throughout its history, but has never fully explored the theoretical implications and consequences of this pairing. Our presentation of the body says precise things about the society in which we live, the degree of our integration within that society and the controls which society exerts over the innerman.1 My research concentrated on how images of the male body, as a representation of the Self/Other split, have been affected by these ideals.

We can clearly define the Apollonian (beauty, perfection, obsession, narcissism, voyeurism, idols, fascism, frigid, constraint, oppression, the defined, the personalised, an aggression of the eye linked to greed and desire) and Dionysian (ecstasy, eroticism, hysteria, energy, anarchy, promiscuity, death, emotion, bodily substances and the universal). In reality the boundaries between these ideals are more ambiguous.

For example, in the work of the American photographer Fred Holland Day we see allegorical myths portrayed by beautiful youths, many of which to modern eyes have a powerful homoerotic quality.

“In close proximity to eroticism associated with homosocial bonding and sexuality, these pictures were infused with desire and anxiety, repulsion and attraction … Day’s male nudes possess the aesthetic trappings of refined art and high culture … but also contain a frisson of impending sexual release and bodily pleasure, to say nothing of their sado-erotic inflection and paedophilic associations.”2

.
According to some critics,3 societies acceptance of photographs of Apollonian or Orphic (Dionysian) youths [2 different critical views]4 in that era (the fin de siecle of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth century), was based on what was seen as their chaste, idyllic nature. They represented ‘ephebes’ – males who were between boy and man – who posed no threat to the patriarchal status quo. To other critics5 these ‘ephebes’ present a challenge to the construction of heterosexual/ homosexual identity along gender lines, echoing Foucault’s thoughts on the imprisoning nature of categories of sexual identity.6

For Day, physical beauty was the testimony of a transcendent spirit.7 His portraits tried to uncover the true spirit of his subjects, revealing what was hidden behind the mask of e(x)ternal beauty. But what was being revealed? Was it the subject’s own spiritual integrity, his true self, or a false self as directed by the photographer whose instructions he was enacting? Was it F. Holland Day’s erotic fantasies the subject was acting out, or was it a perception of his own identity or a combination of both? These works show Day as both director and collaborator, his idols equally unattainable and available, resilient and vulnerable. In portraying this beauty, was Day embracing a seductive utopia in which this Apollonian beauty leads away from the very Dionysian spirit he was trying to engage with?

At around the same time a Prussian named Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden was also taking photographs of scantily clad local peasant youths, based on Arcadian themes. “In von Gloeden’s perception of the world human figures are not in themselves merely erotic, but become aesthetic objects … a setting in which beautiful things are the content of the image.”8

While this may be true, the focus of the images is always on what Von Gloeden desired, his full frontal nudes drawing our eyes to the locus of sexual desire, the penis. Von Gloeden’s “transformation of ordinary working class boys into the very image of antique legend,”9 the conjunction of the Apollonian and the Dionysian, blurs the distinctions between the two. Both Day and Von Gloeden were wealthy, educated, influential men who had a desire for working class boys. Did they help create an erotic tension across class lines and effect a particular Camp taste when society at that time (the first decade of the 20th century) was beginning to define areas of sexual categorisation that would label gay men perverts and degenerates? Even today, comparing contemporary critical analysis of Von Gloeden’s photographs can produce vastly differing conceptualisations as to the evidence of sexual overtones:

“The distinction between form and sexual attractiveness is tenuously maintained and the expression of the subjects’ face suggests a lofty remoteness rather than sexual availability or provocativeness.”10

“Von Gloeden’s pictures are fairly specific in depicting erotically based encounters between Mediterranean males. In many of them, the gazes shared between young men or the suggestive relationships of figure to figure hint at activities that might take place beyond the cameras range.”11

.
For Day and Von Gloeden the need to possess something beautiful, something that was taboo, compensated both photographers for something they had lost – their youth. This transfers their death onto the object of their possession; the beautiful youths ‘captured’ in their photographs. Georges Bataille links eroticism to the inner life of man, the true self, and the eroticism of these photographs opens the way to a viewing of death and allows the photographer the power to look death in the face. According to Bataille, possession of something beautiful negates our need to die because we have objectified our need in someone else.12

What we know and understand about the world is partially built on images that are recorded, interpreted and imprinted in our brains as the result of the experiences we encounter throughout our lives. Our memory is forever fragmenting our remembered reality. It provides us with a point of view of the reality of the world in which we live and on which our identities are formed. When we look at a photograph we (sub)consciously bring all of our social encultration, our hates, our desires and our spirit to bear on the definition of that photograph at the time of viewing (an each viewing can be different!). Inherently embedded in any photograph then, are all these Dionysian stirrings – of desire, of eroticism, of death and of memory. Even if the photograph is entirely Apollonian in content the definition of that photograph can be open to any possibility, by any body.

One photographer who sought to access, and have connection to, fundamental truths was the American photographer Minor White. Studying Zen Buddhism, Gurdjieff and astrology, White believed in the photographs’ connection to the subject he was photographing and the subject’s connection back via the camera to the photographer forming a holistic circle.13 When, in meditation, this connection was open he would then expose the negative in the camera hopeful of a “revelation” of spirit in the subsequent photograph. White feared public exposure as a homosexual and struggled for years to resist the shame and disgust he felt over his sexual desires. Very few of his male portraits were exhibited during his lifetime, his Dionysian urgings difficult to reconcile with or assimilate into his images of peace and serenity, images that urged unity of self and spirit, of yin and yang. In the East yin/yang is both/and, being transformable and interpenetrating whilst in the West black/white is either/or not both, being exclusive and non-interactive. But who is to say what is ugly or what is beautiful? What is black or what is white?

In the work of the American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, we can see the formalised classical aesthetic of beauty combined with content which many people are repelled by (pornography, sexuality, violence, power) creating work which is both Apollonian and Dionysian.14 Peoples’ disgust at the content of some of Mapplethorpe’s images is an Apollonian response, an aesthetic judgement, a backing away from a connection to ‘nature’, meaning ‘that which is born’. Mapplethorpe said, “I’ve done everything I show in my photographs,”15 revealing a connection to an inner self, regardless of whether he intended to shock. Those seeking suppression of Mapplethorpe’s photographs, mainly conservative elements of society, cite the denigration of moral values as the main reason for their attacks. However Mapplethorpe’s S&M photographs sought to re-present the identity of a small subculture of the gay community that exists within the general community and by naming this subculture he sought to document and validate its existence. The photograph can and does lie but here was the ‘truth’ of these Dionysian experiences, which conservative bigots could not deny – that they exist.

In the NEA/Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center controversy surrounding Mapplethorpe16 his work was defended on aesthetic grounds, not on the grounds of homoerotic content, of freedom of expression or artistic freedom. The classical Apollonian form of his images was emphasised. As one juror put it, “Going in, I would never have said the pictures have artistic value. Learning as we did about art, I and everyone else thought they did have some value. We are learning about something ugly and harsh in society.”17 Ugly and harsh. To some people in the world S&M scenes are perfectly natural and beautiful and can lead to the most transcendent experience that a human being can ever have in their life. Who is to decide for the individual his or her freedom to choose?

This Apollonian fear of the Dionysian ‘Other’, the emotional chaotic self, was found to involve fear of that which is potentially the ‘same as’ – two sides of the same coin. This fear of ‘the same’, or of the proximity of the same, or of the threat of the same, can lead to violence, homophobia, racism and bigotry. Mapping out sexual identities’ toleration of difference, which is ‘the same as’, recognises that there are many different ways of being, and many truths in the world.

.
In conclusion I have determined that the definition of Apollonian and Dionysian ideals in images of the male body are at best ambiguous and open to redefinition and reinterpretation. The multiplicity of readings that can be attached to images of the male body, in different eras, by different people illustrates the very problematic theoretical area these images inhabit. As we seek to ‘name’, to categorise, to nullify the ‘Other’ as a Dionysian connection to earth and nature, it may cause an alienated ‘Self’ to revolt against Apollonian powers of control in order to break down the lived distance that divides people. This creates situations/ encounters/ experiences that are regarded as transgressive and a threat to the hegemonic fabric of society.

But do these experiences offer an alternative path for the evolution of the human race? Not the replacing of one patriarchal, capitalist system with another based on ecstatic spiritual consciousness but perhaps a more level playing field, one based on a horizontal consciousness (a balance between Apollonian and Dionysian), a ‘knowing’ and understanding, a respect for our self and others. My claim as an’Other’ is that these perceived transgressions, not just the binary either/or, may ultimately free human beings and allow them to experience life and grow. Where nothing is named, everything is possible.

Marcus Bunyan 1996

.

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

.

.

.

Robert Mapplethorpe
Self Portrait
1975
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

.

.

Robert Mapplethorpe
Derrick Cross
1983
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

.

.

Robert Mapplethorpe
Thomas
1987
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

.

.

Robert Mapplethorpe
Two Tulips
1984
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

.

.

“A renowned figure of contemporary photography, Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989) was in his element in a domain defined by conventions and revolt, classicism and non-conformist cultures, where each picture serves as a document of hard-fought identities, as well as inciting and recording social and artistic debates. The Ludwig Museum Budapest features nearly two hundred works by Robert Mapplethorpe, from his early Polaroid photos to pieces from his final years. Realised in collaboration with the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation New York, this large-scale exhibition is presented to a Hungarian audience for the first time.

Initially, Mapplethorpe had no intention of becoming a photographer. His early collages and altar-like installations incorporated found elements including photos from magazines. Seeking to give these works a more personal and perfect touch, he decided to shoot the photos himself. His major subjects were his immediate environment and personal desires: the alternative circles of the New York art scene, his identity as a homosexual, non-traditional forms of sexuality, and the communities organised around them. The New York of the seventies was a great melting pot of contiguous subcultures, sexual freedom, post-Pop and rock’n’roll. Mapplethorpe’s environment included Andy Warhol and his entourage from the Factory, the superstars of his films as well as the inhabitants of the legendary Chelsea Hotel, who inspired his art and became part of his audience.

His portraits of famous individuals and those longing for fame also positioned their photographer within their circle. He was a renowned artist seeking to establish relationships with people who stand out, one way or another, from the rest of society, without submitting himself to them. Posing for his camera were film stars, musicians, writers and visual artists, the celebrities and central figures of New York in the seventies and eighties, including pornographic film stars and body builders. He made engaging and elegant portraits attesting to his intense attention, humour, and ambition toward a sense of the monumental.

Mapplethorpe developed an increasingly committed and professional attitude to photography. His quest for the perfect image led him to classical compositions and subjects. While precision of forms and a quality of reserve were combined in his works, his intense attention to his models remained unchanged; he photographed torsos and floral still-lifes with the same cool professionalism. His nudes evoke classical Greek statues and Renaissance masterpieces, with their arrangement and sculptural approach to the body dating back to traditions that have existed for several hundred years. Such an incarnation of classical formalism, however, was juxtaposed with shocking new subjects and stark sexual fetishes, resulting in radical re-creations of the approach to tradition.

The perfect image called for the perfect body: his shots of black men, female body-builders and austere flowers seem to articulate his one and only vision, again and again. He almost always worked in the studio, most often in black and white, using increasingly defined tones. With unified backgrounds and balance of forms, his photos remove the subjects from their own realities to relocate them in the timeless, frozen space of the photograph. In terms of their statue-like beauty and rigorous composition of every detail, his pictures continue and renew the classical photographic tradition all at once. Such classical virtues, however, did not make these photos exempt from criticism: both his subject matter and their manner of presentation sparked controversy. Their sexual themes aroused unease, and criticism of the work failed to make a distinction between the statue-like beauty of body parts and torsos, the sexual stereotypes associated with black male bodies, and the objectification of the bodies.

Mapplethorpe’s works created a place for homosexual and S&M identities in the domain of high art, subverting conventions, transgressing unspoken social agreements and revealing prejudices, in line with the artist’s personal desires and self-definition. In the United States, during the eighties, in the first moments of horror in the face of AIDS, the condemnation of homosexuality and the undefined dread of the disease became entwined. Such developments stirred up the already intense controversies around Mapplethorpe’s photos, adding a new overtone to the voice of conservative protesters. (Mapplethorpe was diagnosed with AIDS in 1986, and he died in the spring of 1989 due to complications related to the disease).

The cultural-political debates of the so-called Culture Wars in the late 1980s and 1990s in the United States, fuelled the decision of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to cancel its leg of the travelling exhibition “The Perfect Moment,” which included several thought-provoking photos that the conservative right-wing had denounced as obscene and arrogant assaults on public taste. A long and heated debate was to follow, including both hysterical and absurd commentaries, triggering police actions and a trial against a subsequent venue, the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati as well as its director. Though the museum and its director were eventually cleared of all charges, the case continued to shape the cultural-political landscape in the US, which partly concluded in a revision of the public funding of artworks and is still referred to today as an outstanding example of the methodology of censorship.”

Press release from the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art website

.

.

Robert Mapplethorpe
Ken Moody and Robert Sherman
1984
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

.

.

Robert Mapplethorpe
Untitled
c. 1973
1987
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

.

.

Robert Mapplethorpe
Lisa Lyon
1982
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

.

.

Robert Mapplethorpe
Ajitto
1981
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

.

.

Robert Mapplethorpe
Self Portrait
1988
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

.

.

1. Blain, Robert. The Decorated Body. London: Thames & Hudson, 1979, p.5, Introduction

2. Crump, James. F. Holland Day- Suffering the Ideal. Santa Fe: Twin Palms, 1995, p.11

3. Foster, Alasdair. Behold The Man – The Male Nude In Photography. Edinburgh: Stills, 1989, p.9

4. Jussim, Estelle. Slave To Beauty- The Eccentric Life And Controversial Career of F. Holland Day, Photographer, Publisher, Aesthete. Boston: Godine, 1981, pp.175-176; Ellenzweig, Allan. The Homoerotic Photograph. New York: Columbia University, 1992, p. 59

5. Ellenzweig, p.59

6. Weeks, Jeffrey. Against Nature:  Essays on history, sexuality and identity. London: Rivers Osram Press, 1991, p.164

7. Day, F. Holland. “Is Photography An Art?” p.8, quoted in Crump, James. F. Holland Day – Suffering The Ideal. Santa Fe: Twin Palms, 1995, p.20

8. Ellenzweig, p.39

9. Leslie, Charles. Wilhelm von Gloeden, Photographer. New York: Soho Photographic, 1997, p.86

10. Dutton, Kenneth R. The Perfectible Body. London: Cassell, 1995, p. 95

11. Ellenzweig, p.43

12. Bataille, Georges. Death And Sensuality. New York: Walker And Company, 1962, p. 24

13. Bateson, Gregory. Steps To An Ecology Of Mind – Collected Essays On Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution And Epistemology. St. Albans: Paladin, 1973

14. Danto, Arthur C. Mapplethorpe – Playing With The Edge. Essay. London: Jonathon Cape, 1992, p.331

15. Interview with Robert Mapplethorpe quoted in Cooper, Emmanuel. The Sexual Perspective. London: Routledge, 1986, p. 286

16. Ellenzweig, p. 205, Footnote 1

17. Cembalest, Robin. “The Obscenity Trial: How They Voted To Acquit,” in Art News December 1990 89 (10): 141 quoted in Ellenzweig, p.208

.

.

Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art
1095 Budapest  Komor Marcell Street 1
Hungary 06 1 555-3444

Opening hours:
Tuesday-Sunday: 10.00-20.00
Closed on Mondays

Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

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

.

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 organizations (for example, tall buildings); and sharp, black-and-white images. This objective, mechanized 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)

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 emphasizing 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 mechanized 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)

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.

.

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.

.

.

.

Paul Caponigro
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

.

.

Brett Weston
(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
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
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
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. For more images by Imre Kinszik please see the Articles and Texticles website from which this heartbreaking text is taken. 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?”]

.
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 emphasize 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)
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 organized. 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, organized 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
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

.

.

Currier Museum of Art
150 Ash Street, Manchester
New Hampshire 03104
T: 603.669.6144

Opening hours:
Sunday, Monday, Wednesday – Friday 11am – 5pm
Saturday 10am – 5pm

The Currier Museum of Art website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top




Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

Join 2,400 other followers

Follow Art_Blart on Twitter
Art Blart on Pinterest

Lastest tweets

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

November 2018
M T W T F S S
« Oct    
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
2627282930  

Archives

Categories