Posts Tagged ‘Migrant Mother Nipomo California

16
Dec
18

Exhibition: ‘Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing’ at Jeu de Paume, Concorde, Paris

Exhibition dates: 16th October 2018 – 27th January 2019

Curators: Drew Heath Johnson, Oakland Museum of California, Alona Pardo and Jilke Golbach, Barbican Art Gallery, Pia Viewing, Jeu de Paume.

 

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California
1936
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland. Gift of Paul S. Taylor

 

 

A further posting on this exhibition, now showing at Jeu de Paume in Paris.

Eleven new media images, two videos, a selection of quotes from Dorothea Lange, and text from the exhibition curator Pia Viewing.

The most interesting of the images is the wide shot Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California (1936, above), part of a series of six that Lange took of Florence Owens Thompson and her children, the last image of which was to become the iconic image (see text below). The story of that image is fascinating and is told in detail in text from Wikipedia and other sources below.

It would seem that Lange was mistaken or made up the story to fill in the blanks; and that the image was at first a curse (ashamed that the world could see how poor they were) and now a source of pride, to the Thompson family. As the text pertinently notes, “The photograph’s fame caused distress for Thompson and her children and raised ethical concerns about turning individuals into symbols.”

Marcus

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

 

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California [with thumb at bottom right removed]
1936
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland. Gift of Paul S. Taylor

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Destitute pea pickers in California' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California [original title, thumb removed; digital file, post-conservation]
1936
Library of Congress

 

Digital file was made from the original nitrate negative for “Migrant Mother” (LC-USF34-009058-C). The negative was retouched in the 1930s to erase the thumb holding a tent pole in lower right hand corner.

The file print made before the thumb was retouched can be seen at http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.12883

Title from caption card for negative. Title on print: “Destitute pea pickers in California. A 32 year old mother of seven children.”

 

 

Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California. In the 1930s, the FSA employed several photographers to document the effects of the Great Depression on Americans. Many of the photographs can also be seen as propaganda images to support the U.S. government’s policy distributing support to the worst affected, poorer areas of the country. Dorothea Lange’s image of a migrant pea picker, Florence Owens Thompson, and her family has become an icon of resilience in the face of adversity. Lange actually took six images that day, the last being the famous “Migrant Mother”. This is a montage of the other five pictures. Persons in picture (left to right) are: Viola (Pete) in rocker, age 14, standing inside tent; Ruby, age 5; Katherine, age 4, seated on box; Florence, age 32, and infant Norma, age 1 year, being held by Florence. Pete has moved inside the tent, and away from Lange, in hopes her photo can not be taken. Katherine stands next to her mother. Florence is talking to Ruby, who is hiding behind her mother, as Lange took the picture. Florence is nursing Norma. Katherine has moved back from her mother as Lange approached to take this shot. Ruby is still hiding behind her mother. Left to right are Florence, Ruby and baby Norma. Florence stopped nursing Norma and Ruby has come out from behind her. This photograph was the one used by the newspapers the following day to report the story of the migrants. Portrait shows Florence Owens Thompson with several of her children in a photograph known as “Migrant Mother”.

  1. Persons in picture (left to right) are: Viola (Pete) in rocker, age 14; standing inside tent, Ruby, age 5; Katherine, age 4; seated on box, Florence, age 32, and infant Norma, age 1 year, being held by Florence
  2. Viola has moved inside the tent. Katherine stands next to her mother. Florence is talking to Ruby, who is behind her mother
  3. Florence is nursing Norma. Katherine has moved back from her mother. Ruby is still behind her mother
  4. Left to right are Florence, Ruby and baby Norma
  5. Florence stopped nursing Norma. Ruby is still next to her mother. This photograph was the one used by the newspapers the following day to report the story of the starving migrants

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California' 1936

 

“We do not know the order in which these photographs were taken, since they are 4″ x 5” individual negatives rather than 35mm film strips, which provide a record of the sequence of continuous exposures. However, Lange indicates in the above statement she moved closer as she continued to photograph. If that is true, then we have a good idea of the general order. We do know that one was selected, likely as a joint decision between Lange and representatives of the Resettlement Administration.

While “Migrant Mother” is well known, what is far less known is that Lange took six or seven pictures, five of which still exist. Lange posed Ms. Florence Thompson in different positions and used some of her seven children to create a series of compelling images. She asked Thompson to shift the position of the child in her arms to get the greatest emotional effect. Linda Gordon’s biography of Lange describes this as follows:

Lange asked the mother and children to move into several different positions. She began with a mid-distance shot. Then she backed up for one shot, then came closer for others. She moved aside a pile of dirty clothes (she would never embarrass her subjects). She then moved closer yet, focusing on three younger children and sidelining the teenage daughter out of the later pictures altogether… she offered the photographs to the press. The San Francisco News published two of them on March 10, 1936. In response, contributions of $200,000 poured in for the destitute farmworkers stuck in Nipomo. (Gordon, 2009, p. 237)

One was eventually selected to represent this scene to the nation.”

Anonymous. “The Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and the New Deal,” on the Annenberg Learner website [Online] Cited 16/12/2018

 

 

Iconic photo

In March 1936, after picking beets in the Imperial Valley, Florence and her family were traveling on U.S. Highway 101 towards Watsonville “where they had hoped to find work in the lettuce fields of the Pajaro Valley.” On the road, the car’s timing chain snapped and they coasted to a stop just inside a pea-pickers‘ camp on Nipomo Mesa. They were shocked to find so many people camping there – as many as 2,500 to 3,500. A notice had been sent out for pickers, but the crops had been destroyed by freezing rain, leaving them without work or pay. Years later Florence told an interviewer that when she cooked food for her children that day little children appeared from the pea pickers’ camp asking, “Can I have a bite?”

While Jim Hill, her husband, and two of Florence’s sons went into town to get the car’s damaged radiator repaired, Florence and some of the children set up a temporary camp. As Florence waited, photographer Dorothea Lange, working for the Resettlement Administration, drove up and started taking photos of Florence and her family. She took six images in the course of ten minutes.

Lange’s field notes of the images read:

Seven hungry children. Father is native Californian. Destitute in pea pickers’ camp … because of failure of the early pea crop. These people had just sold their tires to buy food.

Lange later wrote of the encounter with Thompson:

I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was 32. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food.

Thompson claimed that Lange never asked her any questions and got many of the details incorrect. Troy Owens recounted:

There’s no way we sold our tires, because we didn’t have any to sell. The only ones we had were on the Hudson and we drove off in them. I don’t believe Dorothea Lange was lying, I just think she had one story mixed up with another. Or she was borrowing to fill in what she didn’t have.

In many ways, Migrant Mother is not typical of Lange’s careful method of interacting with her subject. Exhausted after a long road-trip, she did not talk much to the migrant woman, Florence Thompson, and didn’t record her information accurately. Although Thompson became a famous symbol of White motherhood, her heritage is Native American. The photograph’s fame caused distress for Thompson and her children and raised ethical concerns about turning individuals into symbols.

According to Thompson, Lange promised the photos would never be published, but Lange sent them to the San Francisco News as well as to the Resettlement Administration in Washington, D.C. The News ran the pictures almost immediately and reported that 2,500 to 3,500 migrant workers were starving in Nipomo, California. Within days, the pea-picker camp received 20,000 pounds (9,100 kg) of food from the federal government. Thompson and her family had moved on by the time the food arrived and were working near Watsonville, California.

While Thompson’s identity was not known for over 40 years after the photos were taken, the images became famous. The sixth image, especially, which later became known as Migrant Mother, “has achieved near mythical status, symbolising, if not defining, an entire era in United States history.” Roy Stryker called Migrant Mother the “ultimate” photo of the Depression Era: “[Lange] never surpassed it. To me, it was the picture … . The others were marvellous, but that was special … . She is immortal.” As a whole, the photographs taken for the Resettlement Administration “have been widely heralded as the epitome of documentary photography.” Edward Steichen described them as “the most remarkable human documents ever rendered in pictures.”

Thompson’s identity was discovered in the late 1970s. In 1978, acting on a tip, Modesto Bee reporter Emmett Corrigan located Thompson at her mobile home in Space 24 of the Modesto Mobile Village and recognised her from the 40-year-old photograph. A letter Thompson wrote was published in The Modesto Bee and the Associated Press distributed a story headlined “Woman Fighting Mad Over Famous Depression Photo.” Florence was quoted as saying “I wish she [Lange] hadn’t taken my picture. I can’t get a penny out of it. She didn’t ask my name. She said she wouldn’t sell the pictures. She said she’d send me a copy. She never did.”

Lange was funded by the federal government when she took the picture, so the image was in the public domain and Lange never directly received any royalties. However, the picture did help make Lange a celebrity and earned her “respect from her colleagues.”

In a 2008 interview with CNN, Thompson’s daughter Katherine McIntosh recalled how her mother was a “very strong lady”, and “the backbone of our family”. She said: “We never had a lot, but she always made sure we had something. She didn’t eat sometimes, but she made sure us children ate. That’s one thing she did do.”

 

Later life, death, and aftermath

Though Thompson’s 10 children bought her a house in Modesto, California, in the 1970s, Thompson found she preferred living in a mobile home and moved back into one.

Thompson was hospitalised and her family appealed for financial help in late August 1983. By September, the family had collected $35,000 in donations to pay for her medical care. Florence died of “stroke, cancer and heart problems” at Scotts Valley, California, on September 16, 1983. She was buried in Lakewood Memorial Park, in Hughson, California, and her gravestone reads: “FLORENCE LEONA THOMPSON Migrant Mother – A Legend of the Strength of American Motherhood.”

Daughter Katherine McIntosh told CNN that the photo’s fame had made the family feel both ashamed and determined never to be as poor again. Son Troy Owens said that more than 2,000 letters received along with donations for his mother’s medical fund led to a re-appraisal of the photo: “For Mama and us, the photo had always been a bit of [a] curse. After all those letters came in, I think it gave us a sense of pride.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Cars on the Road' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Cars on the Road
1936
Library of Congress
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Near Eutah, Alabama' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Near Eutah, Alabama
1936
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland. Gift of Paul S. Taylor

 

Dorothea Lange (United States 1895-1965) 'Ditched, stalled and stranded, San Joaquin Valley, California' 1935, printed c. 1975

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Ditched, Stalled, and Stranded, San Joaquin Valley, California
1936
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

 

Quotes from Dorothea Lange

“One should really use the camera as though tomorrow you’d be stricken blind. To live a visual life is an enormous undertaking, practically unattainable, but when the great photographs are produced, it will be down that road. I have only touched it, just touched it.”

“On the Bowery I knew how to step over drunken men … I knew how to keep an expression of face that would draw no attention, so no one would look at me. I have used that my whole life in photographing.”

Interview with Lange, in Dorothea Lange, Part II : The Closer For Me, film produced by KQED for National Educational Television (NET), USA, 1965

 

“I never steal a photograph. Never. All photographs are made in collaboration, as part of their thinking as well as mine.”

“Often it’s just sticking around and being there, remaining there, not swopping in and swopping out in a cloud of dust; sitting down on the ground with people, letting the children look at your camera with their dirty, grimy little hands, and putting their fingers on the lens, and you let them, because you know that if you will behave in a generous manner, you’re very apt to receive it.”

Anne Whiston, Spirn, Daring to Look, p. 23-24

 

“My own approach is based upon three considerations. First – hands off! Whatever I photograph I do not molest or tamper with or arrange. Second – a sense of place. Whatever I photograph, I try to picture as part of its surroundings, as having roots. Third – a sense of time. Whatever I photograph, I try to show as having its position in the past or in the present.”

Beaumont and Nancy Newhall, Masters Of Photography, New York Castle Books, 1958, p. 140

 

“The good photograph is not the object, the consequences of the photograph are the objects.”

“I believe that the camera is a powerful medium for communication and I believe that the camera is a valuable tool for social research which has not been developed to its capacity.”

Dorothea Lange, quoted in Karen Tsujimoto, Dorothea Lange : Archive of an Artist, Oakland, Oakland Museum, 1995, p. 23

 

“Everything is propaganda for what you believe in, actually, isn’t it? … I don’t see that it could be otherwise. The harder and the more deeply you believe in anything, the more in a sense you’re a propagandist. Conviction, propaganda, faith. I don’t know, I never have been able to come to the conclusion that that’s a bad word […] But at any rate, that’s what the Office of War Information work was.”

“There is a sharp difference, a gulf. The woman’s position is immeasurably more complicated. There are not very many first class woman producers, not many. That is, producers of outside things. They produce in other ways. Where they can do both, it’s a conflict. I would like to try. I would like to have one year. I’d like to take one year, almost ask it of myself, ‘Could I have one year?’ Just one, when I would not have to take into account anything but my own inner demands. Maybe everybody would like that … but I can’t.”

Suzanne Riess, “Dorothea Lange: The Making of a documentary Photographer,” October 1960-August 1961, p. 181; 219-220

 

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Drought-abandoned house on the edge of the Great Plains near Hollis, Oklahoma' 1938

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Drought-abandoned house on the edge of the Great Plains near Hollis, Oklahoma
1938
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

Dorothea Lange (United States 1895-1965) 'Towards Los Angeles, California' 1936, printed c. 1975

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Toward Los Angeles, California
1937
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Family on the road, Oklahoma' 1938

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Family on the road, Oklahoma
1938
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Ancienne esclave à la longue mémoire, Alabama' 'Former slave with a long memory, Alabama' 1938

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Ancienne esclave à la longue mémoire, Alabama
Former slave with a long memory, Alabama
1938
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

 

The Politics of Seeing features major works by the world famous American photographer Dorothea Lange (1895, Hoboken, New Jersey-1966, San Francisco, California), some of which have never before been exhibited in France. The exhibition focuses on the extraordinary emotional power of Dorothea Lange’s work and on the context of her documentary practice. It features five specific series: the Depression period (1933-1934), a selection of works from the Farm Security Administration (1935-1939), the Japanese American internment (1942), the Richmond shipyards (1942-1944) and a series on a Public defender (1955-1957). Over one hundred splendid vintage prints taken between 1933 and 1957 are enhanced by the presence of documents and screenings broadening the scope of an oeuvre often familiar to the public through images such as White Angel Breadline (1933) and Migrant Mother (1936), which are icons of photographic history. The majority of prints in this exhibition belong to the Oakland Museum of California, where Lange’s considerable archive, donated to the museum after her death by her husband Paul Shuster Taylor, is conserved.

Like John Steinbeck’s famous novel The Grapes of Wrath, Dorothea Lange’s oeuvre has helped shape our conception of the interwar years in America and contributed to our knowledge of this period. However, this exhibition also introduces other aspects of Dorothea Lange’s practice, which she herself considered archival. By placing the photographic work in the context of her anthropological approach, it enables viewers to appreciate how its power also lies in her capacity to interact with her subjects, evident in her captions to the images. She thereby considerably enriched the informative quality of the visual archive and produced a form of oral history for future generations.

In 1932, during the Great Depression that began in 1929, Lange observed the unemployed homeless people in the streets of San Francisco and decided to drop her studio portrait work because she felt that it was no longer adequate. During a two-year period that marked a turning point in her life, she took photographs of urban situations that portrayed the social impact of the recession. This new work became known in artistic circles and attracted the attention of Paul Schuster Taylor, professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley. Taylor was a specialist in agricultural conflicts of the 1930s, and in particular Mexican migrant workers. He began using Lange’s photographs to illustrate his articles and in 1935 they started working together for the government agencies of the New Deal. Their collaboration lasted for over thirty years.

During the Second World War, Lange continued to practise photography and to document the major issues of the day, including the internment of Japanese-American families during the war; the economic and social development due to industries engaged in the war effort; and the criminal justice system through the work of a county public defence lawyer.

Dorothea Lange’s iconic images of the Great Depression are well known, but her photographs of Japanese-Americans interned during the Second World War were only published in 2006. Shown here for the first time in France, they illustrate perfectly how Dorothea Lange created intimate and poignant images throughout her career in order to denounce injustices and change public opinion. In addition to the prints, a selection of personal items, including contact sheets, field notes and publications allow the public to situate her work within the context of this troubled period.

The exhibition at the Jeu de Paume offers a new perspective on the work of this renowned American artist, whose legacy continues to be felt today. Highlighting the artistic qualities and the strength of the artist’s political convictions, this exhibition encourages the public to rediscover the importance of Dorothea Lange’s work as a landmark in the history of documentary photography.

Press release from Jeu de Paume

 

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Unemployed lumber worker goes with his wife to the bean harvest. Note social security number tattooed on his arm, Oregon' 1939

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Unemployed lumber worker goes with his wife to the bean harvest. Note social security number tattooed on his arm, Oregon
1939
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Manzanar Relocation Center' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Manzanar Relocation Center, Manzanar, California
1942
© Collection of the Oakland Museum of California, gift of Paul S. Taylor

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Japanese Children with Tags, Hayward, California, May 8 1942'

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Japanese Children with Tags, Hayward, California, May 8 1942
1942
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Jour de lessive, quarante-huit heures avant l’évacuation des personnes d’ascendance japonaise de ce village agricole du comté de Santa Clara, San Lorenzo, Californie' 'Laundry day, forty-eight hours before the evacuation of people of Japanese descent from this farming village of Santa Clara County, San Lorenzo, California' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Jour de lessive, quarante-huit heures avant l’évacuation des personnes d’ascendance japonaise de ce village agricole du comté de Santa Clara, San Lorenzo, Californie
Laundry day, forty-eight hours before the evacuation of people of Japanese descent from this farming village of Santa Clara County, San Lorenzo, California
1942
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Oakland, California, March 1942' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Oakland, California, March 1942
1942
Library of Congress
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

 

A large sign reading “I am an American” placed in the window of a store, at 401-403 Eight and Franklin streets, on December 8, the day after Pearl Harbor. The store was closed following orders to persons of Japanese descent to evacuate from certain West Coast areas. The owner, a University of California graduate, will be housed with hundreds of evacuees in War Relocation Authority centers for the duration of the war.

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Shipyard Worker, Richmond California' c. 1943

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Shipyard Worker, Richmond California
c. 1943
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland. Gift of Paul S. Taylor

 

 

Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing

Dorothea Nutzhorn (1895–1965), who took up photography at the age of eighteen, was born in Hoboken, New Jersey. The daughter of second-generation German immigrants, she adopted her mother’s maiden name, Lange, when she opened a portrait studio in San Francisco in 1918. In 1932, during the Great Depression, Lange shifted her focus from studio portraits to scenes showing the impact of the recession and the social unrest in the streets of San Francisco. This two-year period marked a turning point in her life. Paul Schuster Taylor, professor of economics at the University of California, and a specialist in agricultural conflicts, who later became her second husband, began using her photographs to illustrate his articles in 1934. They worked together for over thirty years. Co-authors of the famous book An American Exodus (1939), they were active in circulating images about social conditions in rural states.

Lange created some of the iconic images of the Great Depression, but this exhibition presents other aspects of her practice, which she herself considered archival. By placing her photographic work in the context of her anthropological approach, it reveals how her images were also rooted in her ability to connect with her subjects, evident in her captions to the images. She thus considerably enriched the informative quality of the visual archive and produced a form of oral history for future generations. Her work for government institutions and the publication of her images in the illustrated press enabled her to denounce injustice and change public opinion.

Her efforts to connect with her subjects can be seen in the five specific series featured in this exhibition: the Depression period (1932–1934), a selection of works from the Farm Security Administration (1935-1941), the Richmond shipyards (1942-1944), the Japanese American internment (1942) and a series on a public defender (1955-1957). By introducing contextual information and important archive material, the Jeu de Paume’s exhibition Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing endeavours to situate her majestic works within the social documentary context specific to the 1930s and 1940s, highlighting the artistic qualities of her work and the strength of her political convictions.

 

1. “The people that my life touched”, 1932-1934

In 1929 America’s urban and rural populations were hard hit by the Great Depression. Leading up to the stock market crash there had been a boom in agricultural production. However, by the late 1920s production was exceeding consumption, causing a drop in prices that had severe consequences for farmers. The textile and coal industries suffered sharp declines in wages and employment. In the 1930s, the oil, transportation and construction sectors declined at an even faster rate than agriculture, causing urban unemployment to rise above that of the rural states. In March 1933, in the midst of this crisis, Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president.

This context of considerable social unrest prompted a change in direction in Lange’s engagement with photography. From 1932 to 1934, she captured demonstrations and homeless people in the streets of San Francisco. Urban portraits like White Angel Breadline (1933) later became iconic images of the period. Her work from this period was recognised in artistic circles and Paul Shuster Taylor used one of her photographs of the May Day demonstrations to illustrate his article about the longest, largest maritime strike in the history of the USA, which was published in the progressive social welfare journal Survey Graphic in September 1934.

 

2. The documentary survey – the narration of migration, 1935-1941

In 1935, Lange accompanied Taylor on several field trips to study people migrating to rural California from the Midwest. Taylor used Lange’s images to illustrate the articles as well as his federal reports. Such was the impact of Lange’s powerful images that the authorities built the first migrant camps for agricultural workers as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal policy. The latter consisted of numerous programmes intended to combat the devastating effects of the Depression in all areas of life across the country. One such programme was the Farm Security Administration (FSA), which led to the creation of the largest American photographic archive ever, containing over 130,000 negatives documenting how the New Deal helped to relieve poverty in rural areas.

Lange, who worked in twenty-two different states, was given two contracts, one running from 1935 to 1937 and the other from 1938 to the closure of the programme in January 1941. Her photographs highlighted the plight of people who were caught up in the complex economic web of industrial farming, victims of the failure of the American dream. The images and the transcriptions of oral testimonies that Lange made were personal and intimate recollections of a history that became a cause of significant public concern in the late 1930s.
3. “A two-ocean war” – Kaiser Shipyards, Richmond, 1942-1944

During the early 1940s, Lange was interested in a new form of internal migration caused by the rapid expansion of industries, naval training programmes and military defence organisations in the Bay Area, California. Here part of the once scorned and rejected “Okie” population (migrant farm workers) moved to urban districts, where they proudly contributed to the war effort. In 1944, Lange was commissioned by Fortune magazine to photograph the Kaiser Shipyard in Richmond. This young corporation, established to help with the war effort, employed nearly 100,000 unskilled workers thanks to new techniques of manufacture and assembly. Lange captured the changing of shifts and the intensity of the shipyard’s activity, the diversity of the workforce, intimate details of their living conditions, and the isolation and loneliness of the newcomers, and in particular African Americans, who were excluded from the local community. She was also interested in the unions’ unsuccessful efforts to cope with this large, diverse workforce and in women’s new status in the industrial sector.

 

4. The internment of American citizens of Japanese descent, 1942

Lange’s various series reflect many aspects of America’s cultural geography. Her desire to portray the dignity of people enduring hardship and the complexity of their situations, coupled with the need to produce a historical document, enabled Lange to produce work of universal scope.

In March 1942, in the wake of the Japanese attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on 7 December 1941, the US government ordered the internment of over 110,000 Americans of Japanese descent from the Pacific Coast military zones, crowning a century of racism against Asian immigrants. Executive Order 9066 targeted three generations of Japanese Americans, who were “relocated” to ten remote and intemperate camps in California, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Colorado, Arkansas and Wyoming.

Lange was commissioned by the War Relocation Authority to cover the procedure from March to July 1942. Her sensitivity to the identity of cultural minorities was already evident in her photographs for the FSA commission. A decade later she captured the evacuation and incarceration of Japanese Americans, which lasted for over 18 months. These images belonged to a “military record” and were only released for publication in 2006.

 

5. The public defender, 1955-1957

A system of public defence for persons in need of legal support in court cases began in California in 1914 and by the 1950s had been introduced in many states throughout the country. Lange supported the idea of justice for all and was given an assignment by Life magazine to cover the subject at the Alameda County Court house, Oakland, to be published in May 1956 to mark Law Day. Lange was given permission to photograph in prison cells, as well as in and around the law court, taking over 450 images. She worked in conjunction with Martin Pulich, an American lawyer of Yugoslav descent, who recognised in Lange’s approach a social and political stance that mirrored his own commitment as a public defender. In this photographic essay she was able to pinpoint issues concerning racial prejudice that were omnipresent in the Bay Area at the time. The assignment did not appear in Life, but it was published in many newspapers, even internationally, and was also used by the national Legal Aid Society of New York to develop public services in the legal system.

Pia Viewing
Curator of the exhibition

 

Paul S. Taylor. 'Dorothea Lange in Texas on the Plains' c. 1935

 

Paul S. Taylor
Dorothea Lange on the Plains of Texas
c. 1935
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland. Gift of Paul S. Taylor

 

 

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29
Dec
12

Exhibitions: ‘Howard Greenberg, Collection’ and ‘Freaks, The Monstrous Parade: Photographs from Enrico Praloran Collection’ at the Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

Exhibition dates: both 21st September 2012 – 6th January 2013

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This is a meta-post where I have brought together photographs from the second exhibition Freaks, The Monstrous Parade: Photographs from Enrico Praloran Collection and all the good quality images of Todd Browning’s cult film Freaks (1932) that were available online, since the museum only provided me with three media images (the first three) on a fascinating subject. By reflection, the photographs from Freaks have a strange correlation to the photographs that appear in the Howard Greenberg, Collection.

There is an interesting discussion by Amanda Ann Klein on her blog (see link below) about her students reaction to the film that she taught as part of her Trash Cinema class. She observes that, “Freaks preaches acceptance and… the belief that we are all “God’s children.” And yet, the film was intended to “out horror” Frankenstein through its fantastic display of disabled bodies…” but that her students did not see it as an exploitation film, in fact they approved of the revenge taken by the freaks on Cleopatra and Hercules at the end of the film, even though this seemed to replicate the very imagery Browning denounced earlier in the film. Klein insightfully notes that “it did prove to be an interesting example of how a film’s reception can change dramatically over time.”

The content of a work of art is never fixed by the author as the context and meaning of the work is never fixed by the viewer. As David Smail notes the truth changes according to, among other things, developments in our values and understandings. There can be many truths depending on our line-of-sight and point-of-view but a subjective non-final truth has to be actively struggled for:

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“Where objective knowing is passive, subjective knowing is active – rather than giving allegiance to a set of methodological rules which are designed to deliver up truth through some kind of automatic process
[in this case the image], the subjective knower takes a personal risk in entering into the meaning of the phenomena to be known … Those who have some time for the validity of subjective experience but intellectual qualms about any kind of ‘truth’ which is not ‘objective’, are apt to solve their problem by appealing to some kind of relativity. For example, it might be felt that we all have our own versions of the truth about which we must tolerantly agree to differ. While in some ways this kind of approach represents an advance on the brute domination of ‘objective truth’, it in fact undercuts and betrays the reality of the world given to our subjectivity. Subjective truth has to be actively struggled for: we need the courage to differ until we can agree. Though the truth is not just a matter of personal perspective, neither is it fixed and certain, objectively ‘out there’ and independent of human knowing. ‘The truth’ changes according to, among other things, developments and alterations in our values and understandings … the ‘non-finality’ of truth is not to be confused with a simple relativity of ‘truths’.”

Smail, David. Illusion and Reality: The Meaning of Anxiety. London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1984, pp.152-153

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Many thankx to the Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne for allowing me to publish some of the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Dorothea Lange. 'Migratory Cotton Picker' Eloy, Arizona 1940

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Dorothea Lange
Migratory Cotton Picker
Eloy, Arizona, 1940
© Library of Congress
Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Collection

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Ruth Orkin. 'American Girl in Italy' 1951

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Ruth Orkin
American Girl in Italy
1951
© Ruth Orkin
Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Collection

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Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Madrid' 1933

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Henri Cartier-Bresson
Madrid
1933
© Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos
Courtesy of Fondation HCB and Howard Greenberg Collection

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Walker Evans. 'Negro Church, South Carolina' 1936

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Walker Evans
Negro Church, South Carolina
1936
© Library of Congress
Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Collection

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Dorothea Lange. 'Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California' 1936

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Dorothea Lange
Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California
1936
© Library of Congress
Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Collection

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Leon Levinstein. 'Fifth Avenue' c. 1959

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Leon Levinstein
Fifth Avenue
c. 1959
© Howard Greenberg Gallery
Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Collection

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“The Musée de l’Elysée presents different approaches to collecting photography by means of these original exhibitions.

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Howard Greenberg, Collection

Howard Greenberg has been a gallery owner for over thirty years and is considered today one of the pillars of the New York photography scene. While his position as a dealer is well established, little was known of his passion for collecting, presently revealed to the public for the first time. The primary reason to explain why it took so long to discover this collection is because building such a collection demands time. Only in time can the maturity of a collection be measured; the time necessary to smooth trends, confirm the rarity of a print, and in the end, validate the pertinence of a vision.
In an era of immediacy, when new collectors exhibit unachieved projects or create their own foundation, great original collections are rare. Howard Greenberg’s is certainly one of the few still to be discovered.

The quality of a collection does not rely on the sole accumulation of master pieces but can best be assessed through a dialectical movement: a collection is the collector’s oeuvre, a set of images operating a transformation in the perception not only of the photographs, but also of photography. This renewed perception is two-fold in the Greenberg collection; through the surprising combination of two approaches, the experimental practice of photography that questions the medium as such, bringing it to the limits of abstraction on one hand, and on the other, a documentary practice, carried out through its recording function of the real. This apparently irreconcilable duality takes on a particular signification in the Greenberg collection, an investigation of the possibilities offered by photography, a quest for photography itself, questioning what it is.

Howard Greenberg and his collection have largely contributed to the writing of a chapter of history. While contributing to the recogni­tion of long neglected figures of the New York post-war photogra­phy scene, filling a gap, as gallery owner, Howard Greenberg, the collector, ensured the preservation of a coherent body by building over that period a unique collection of major photographs.

This collection of over 500 photographs was patiently built over the last thirty years and stands out for the high quality of its prints. A set of some 120 works are exhibited for the first time at the Musée de l’Elysée, revealing different aspects of Howard Greenberg’s interests, from the modernist aesthetics of the 20s and 30s, with works by Edward Steichen, Edward Weston or the Czech School, to contemporary photographers such as Minor White,
Harry Callahan and Robert Frank. Humanist photography is particularly well represented, including among others, Lewis Hine and Henri Cartier-Bresson. An important section is dedicated to the Farm Security Administration’s photographers, such as Walker Evans or Dorothea Lange, witnesses to the Great Depression years of the 30s. Above all, the collection demonstrates the great influence of New York in the history of 20th century photography with the images of Berenice Abbott, Weegee, Leon Levinstein or Lee Friedlander conveying its architecture and urban lifestyle. Commending its work and prominent position, and wishing to make his private collection available to a large audience, Howard Greenberg selected the Musée de l’Elysée to host his collection.

The Musée de l’Elysée and the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson jointly produce this exhibition which, after Lausanne, will subsequently be presented in Paris.”

Press release from the Musée de l’Elysée website

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Freaks, The Monstrous Parade: Photographs from Enrico Praloran Collection 

American director Tod Browning (1880-1962) has a particular attraction for the uncanny. Freaks, his cult movie shot in 1932, is inspired by a short story written by Clarence Aaron “Tod” Robbins. Set in a circus, the performers are disabled actors. The movie caused a scandal when it was released and Freaks was soon censored, reedited, shortened, sometimes removed from theaters, and in cases banned in some countries. Not until the 60s, when it was presented at the Cannes Festival, was the movie acclaimed to the point of becoming a reference for artists such as Diane Arbus or David Lynch.

The Musée de l’Elysée presents a selection of some fifty vintage black and white silver prints, gathered by Enrico Praloran, a collector based in Zurich. This unique set is the opportunity for an encounter with the movie’s strange protagonists, Johny Eck, the Half Boy, Daisy and Violet Hilton, the Siamese sisters, Martha Morris, the “Armless Marvel”, or the Bearded Lady and the Human Skeleton. They all are artists for real, coming from the Barnum Circus.

The plot is transcribed in images through stills from the movie’s major scenes, completed by set or shooting photographs, taking us behind the scenes, including on the footsteps of Tod Browning himself.”

Press release from the Musée de l’Elysée website

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Tod Browning (director) 'Freaks' 1932 Still photograph Courtesy of Praloran Collection, Zurich

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Tod Browning (director)
Freaks (Cleopatra followed by the freaks)
1932
Still photograph
1932
Courtesy of Praloran Collection, Zurich

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Tod Browning (director) 'Freaks' 1932 Still photograph Courtesy of Praloran Collection, Zurich

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Tod Browning (director)
Freaks (Johnny Eck)
1932
Still photograph
Courtesy of Praloran Collection, Zurich

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Tod Browning (director) 'Freaks' 1932 Still photograph Courtesy of Praloran Collection, Zurich

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Tod Browning (director)
Freaks
1932
Still photograph
Courtesy of Praloran Collection, Zurich

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“Freaks centers on an enchanting preformer, Cleopatra, who entices a “midget,” named Hans, into falling in love with her. They were called midgets then, now they are referred to as little people. The “midget” is in fact enaged to another woman who is incedentally, also a “midget,” named Freida. Cleopatra was at first only trying to fool around with Hans and get money from him occasionally. She soon realized that Hans had inherited quite a large amount of money. She devises a plan to marry Hans and later poison him to inherit the money. Arguably, the most famous scene in Freaks is Hans and Cleo’s wedding reception. The “freaks” reluctantly decide to accept her despite her “normality” and chant the notoriously disturbing yet hilarious quote, “We accept you, one of us! Gooble Gobble!” Afterwards, Hans then becomes very ill by Cleo’s hand. He soon figures out her plan and the freaks become offended. They knew she could not be one of them. The film ends with a horrific and disturbing chase in the rain where the “freaks” follow her slowly and Cleo screams for her life. Her and her lover, the “muscle man,” are caught and not killed, but worse. They become freaks themselves. They are mutilated, castrated, and deformed until they are the subject of a freak show. They became one of the “freaks” they hated so much…

One of the most gut-wrenching things about this films is the fact that every “freak” in the film was a real person with the same deformity their characters had. This gives the story a profound sense of reality, making the betrayal of Hans by Cleo all the more tragic. The film was extremely controversial when released and hated by audiences. The scenes where Cleo and the muscle man were mutilated had to be cut from the film in order to be shown in theaters. That footage has since been lost. In a viewing of the film, a sudden jump takes place after the freaks catch Cleo. The audience feels cheated. We have waited so long to see Cleo get her punishment. Part of that dissatisfaction adds to the mystique of this bizzare trip. The film was forgotten about until the mid 1970s where it was rediscovered as a counterculture cult film. A counterculture film runs counter to the the norm of society. Freaks is a great example of fame by taboos and controversy. It explores themes of humanity that are still relatively unexplored today.”

Text from the Cult Films and Cultural Significance website

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“Freaks is a tale of love and vengeance in a traveling circus…

In her essay “Intolerable Ambiguity: Freaks as/at the Limit,” Elizabeth Grosz attempts to unpack our fascination with freak shows. She concludes that the individuals most frequently showcased in these spectacles, including Siamese twins, hermaphrodites, “pinheads” (microcephalics), midgets, and bearded ladies “imperil the very definitions we rely on to classify humans, identities and sexes – our most fundamental categories of self-definition and boundaries dividing self from otherness” (57). In other words, while we comfort ourselves by breaking down the world into neat binary oppositions, such as Male/Female, Self/Other, Human/Animal, Child/Adult, “freaks” blur the boundaries between these reassuring oppositions. She concludes, “The freak confirms the viewer as bounded, belonging to a ‘proper’ social category. The viewer’s horror lies in the recognition that this monstrous being is at the heart of his or her identity, for it is all that must be ejected or abjected from self-image to make the bounded, category-obeying self possible” (65). We need the freak to confirm our own static, bounded identities. And yet, I think there is a certain terror that we may not be as bounded as we think. If the hermaphrodite can transcend traditional gender categories, then perhaps our own genders are more fluid. For many that is a truly horrifying thought.

For example, in one of the film’s earliest scenes we witness the “pinheads” Schlitze, Elvira and Jenny Lee dancing and playing in the forest. From a distance they look like innocent, happy children. But as the camera approaches, it is clear that they are neither children, nor are they quite adults either. Thus it is the ambiguity here, rather than the disability itself, which is momentarily disturbing…

Grosz also mentions that “Any discussion of freaks brings back into focus a topic that has had a largely underground existence in contemporary cultural and intellectual life, partly because it is considered below the refined sensibilities of ‘good taste’ and ‘personal politeness’ in a civilized and politically correct milieu” (55).”

Amanda Ann Klein. “Teaching Todd Browning’s Freaks,” on the Judgemental Observer blog
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  • Grosz, Elizabeth. “Intolerable Ambiguity: Freaks as/at the Limit,” in Rosemarie Garland Thomson (ed.). Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body. New York: New York University Press, 1996, pp.55-68
  • Hawkins, Joan. ”’One of Us’: Tod Browning’s Freaks,” in Rosemarie Garland Thomson (ed.). Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body. New York: New York University Press, 1996, pp.265-276
  • Norden, Martin F. The Cinema of Isolation: A History of Physical Disability in the Movies. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1994

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Tod Browning (director) 'Freaks (Cleopatra and freaks)' 1932

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Tod Browning (director)
Freaks (Cleopatra and freaks)
1932
Still photograph

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Tod Browning (director) 'Publicity photo for Freaks, featuring much of the cast with director, Tod Browning' 1932

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Tod Browning (director)
Publicity photo for Freaks, featuring much of the cast with director, Tod Browning
1932
Still photograph

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Tod Browning (director) 'Freaks (with Siamese Twins Daisy and Violet Hilton)' 1932

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Tod Browning (director)
Freaks (with Siamese Twins Daisy and Violet Hilton)
1932
Still photograph

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Tod Browning (director) 'Freaks' 1932

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Tod Browning (director)
Freaks
1932
Still photograph

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Tod Browning (director) 'Freaks (shooting the wedding banquet)' 1932

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Tod Browning (director)
Freaks (shooting the wedding banquet)
1932
Still photograph

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Tod Browning (director) 'Freaks (with Cleopatra and Hans at the wedding banquet)' 1932

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Tod Browning (director)
Freaks (with Cleopatra and Hans at the wedding banquet)
1932
Still photograph

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Tod Browning (director) 'Freaks (Olga Baclanova as Cleopatra after her transformation into chicken woman)' 1932

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Tod Browning (director)
Freaks (Olga Baclanova as Cleopatra after her transformation into chicken woman)
1932
Still photograph

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Theatrical poster for Freaks 1932

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Theatrical poster for Freaks
1932

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The Musée de l’Elysée 
18, avenue de l’Elysée
CH – 1014 Lausanne
T: + 41 21 316 99 11

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday, 11am – 6pm
Closed Monday, except for bank holidays

The Musée de l’Elysée website

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22
Jun
11

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

Exhibition dates: 16th April – 10th July 2011

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

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

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Dorothea Lange
Kern County California
1938
gelatin silver print
Exchange with Roy Stryker
Collection of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film

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Ansel Adams
Winter Storm
1942

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Diane Arbus
Untitled (6)
1971

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Actual size of print: 9.2 x 11.8 cm

Size of print in catalogue: 18.5 x 13.9 cm

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

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Alfred Stieglitz
Equivalent
1923
gelatin silver print
Collection of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film 

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Actual size of print: 16.9 x 11.8 cm

Size of print in catalogue: 23.2 x 15.8 cm

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

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

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

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

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Margaret Bourke-White
Chrysler Building
New York City
1930
Silver gelatin photograph

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press release from the Bendigo Art Gallery

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

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

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Dorothea Lange
Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California
1936, printed c2003
photogravure print
Gift of Sean Corcoran
Collection of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film

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1. Anon. “Zone System,” on Wikipedia [Online] Cited 13/06/2011
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zone_System

2. Anon. “Equivalents,” on Wikipedia [Online] Cited 13/06/2011. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equivalents

3. Huyssen, Andreas. Twilight Memories: Marking Time in a Culture of Amnesia. London: Routledge, 1995, pp. 23-24.

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Bendigo Art Gallery
42 View Street Bendigo
Victoria Australia 3550
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16
Apr
09

Exhibition: ‘Into the Sunset: Photography’s Image of the American West’ at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 29th March – 8th June 2009

 

Carelton Watkins. 'View from the Sentinel Dome, Yosemite' 1865-66

Carelton Watkins. 'View from the Sentinel Dome, Yosemite' 1865-66

Carelton Watkins. 'View from the Sentinel Dome, Yosemite' 1865-66

 

Carelton Watkins (American, 1829-1916)
Views from the Sentinel Dome, Yosemite
1865-66
Albumen silver prints from glass negatives
Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art presents Into the Sunset: Photography’s Image of the American West, a survey of 138 photographic works dating from 1850 to 2008 that chart the West’s complex, rich, and often compelling mythology via photography. The exploration of a large part of the American West in the mid-nineteenth century by European Americans coincided with the advent of photography, and photography and the West came of age together. The region’s seemingly infinite bounty and endless potential symbolised America as a whole, and photography, with its ability to construct persuasive and seductive images, was the perfect medium with which to forge a national identity. This relationship has resulted in a complex association that shapes the perception of the West’s social and physical landscape to this day. With political, cultural, and social attitudes constantly shifting in the region over the last 150 years, Into the Sunset further examines the way photographers have responded to these changes. The exhibition is organised by Eva Respini, Associate Curator, Department of Photography, The Museum of Modern Art, and is on view in the Special Exhibitions Gallery on the third floor from March 29 to June 8, 2009.

Organised thematically rather than chronologically, Into the Sunset brings together the work of over 70 photographers, including Robert Adams, John Baldessari, Dorothea Lange, Timothy O’Sullivan, Cindy Sherman, Joel Sternfeld, Carleton E. Watkins, and Edward Weston, among others. The exhibition draws extensively from MoMA’s collection, along with private and public collections in the United States, and features new acquisitions from Adam Bartos, Katy Grannan, and Dennis Hopper, with each work also on view for the first time at the Museum.

Ms. Respini states: “Ranging from grand depictions of paradise to industrial development, from pictures taken on the road to prosaic suburban scenes, the photographs included in Into the Sunset do not all picture the West from the same point of view, or even perhaps, picture the same West. Rather, each is one part in a continually shifting and evolving composite image of a region that has itself been growing and changing since the opening of the frontier.”

Into the Sunset begins with the birth of photography and the American West. In the mid-nineteenth century, the region’s seemingly infinite bounty and endless potential symbolised America as a whole, and Carleton E. Watkins (American, 1829-1916) captured the grand depictions of an American paradise in his photographs of Yosemite Valley in California. Arguably the world’s first renowned landscape photographer, Watkins made his first photographs there in 1861 – large sized prints made with an 18-by-22-inch mammoth plate camera, well suited to the grandeur of the land. Included are the three contiguous photographs that make up his extraordinarily detailed View from the Sentinel Dome (1865-66).

The exhibition balances the early work of landscape photographers with the twentieth century focus on the failure of the West’s promised bounty. In Joel Sternfeld’s (American, b. 1944) After a Flash Flood, Rancho Mirage, California (1979), the photographer documents the impact of a natural disaster, specifically a landslide, shot with neutral tones softly camouflaging the extent of flash flood on this suburban neighbourhood. And in Karin Apollonia Müller’s (German, b. 1963) Civitas (1997), the photographer shows a very different view of California than that of Watkins, with Müller revealing a contemporary Los Angeles as a littered wasteland of freeways and anonymous glass towers.

As highways and interstate travel became more prevalent, the automobile and the open road became synonymous with the region, with Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958) as the first great photographer of these open roads. Included is Weston’s iconic Hot Coffee, Mojave Desert (1937), a humorous black-and-white photograph of a road sign revealing a greater thematic shift to the highway and its signage as an inescapable element in picturing the West in the twentieth century.

Once the West became more populated, photographers began to showcase humans’ effects on the land, including images of industrial development. In the 1950s William Garnett (American, 1916-2006) was hired by a real estate company to record the efficiency of mass-produced housing. For this series, Lakewood, California (1950), Garnett took photographs of the neighbourhood from an airplane, resulting in images that are completely devoid of people and focus on the progress of mass-produced construction. However, the series subsequently came to represent all that was wrong with such development and the massive sprawl of the West in the eyes of its critics.

Photographs of the people of the West represent a diversity of archetypes: gold miners and loggers, Native Americans, cowboys, suburbanites, city dwellers, starlets, dreamers, and drifters. Into the Sunset explores these archetypes, and their mutability into the twenty-first century. Included is Half Indian/Half Mexican (1991), from the photographer James Luna (Native American, Pooyukitchum/Luiseno, b. 1950), an artist of Native American ancestry. This tongue-in-cheek self-portrait captures in profile both an identity photograph and a mug shot, and works as a counterpoint to the tokenised portrayals of Native Americans from the past 150 years.

A similar reevaluation of past archetypes occurs in Richard Prince’s (American, b. 1949) Cowboy series from 1980, with one work from the series included in the exhibition. For that series Prince famously photographed Marlboro advertisements, cutting out the text, cropping the images, and enlarging them, highlighting the artifice of the virile image of the cowboy and its potency as a deeply ingrained figure in American mythology.

The suburbs and their inhabitants have been a rich subject for photographers of the West, and included are Larry Sultan’s (American, b. 1946) Film Stills from the Sultan Family Home Movies (1943-1972), in which Sultan chose individual frames from his family’s home movies and enlarged them. Although the images feature the activities that epitomise suburban life, a sense of unease lurks beneath the surface of these images; cropped and grainy, they resemble surveillance or evidence photographs.

Into the Sunset concludes with the theme of the failed promise of Western migration. Dorothea Lange’s well-known 1936 photograph Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, photographed when Lange was employed by the Farm Security Administration, is included and documents the conditions of the West in rural areas during the Great Depression. Her photographs had a humanist purpose and resulted in putting a face on the hardships of that era.

This tradition of capturing the downtrodden of the West continues into this century with Katy Grannan (American, b. 1969), a photographer who recently completed a series of new pioneers, individuals struggling to define themselves in the West of today. In Nicole, Crissy Field Parking Lot (I) (2006), a woman, “Nicole,” poses seductively on a gravel parking lot, with her makeup-streaked face and harsh light alluding to her perilous existence on the fringe of society.”

Text from the MoMA website [Online] Cited 12/04/2009 (no longer online)

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

 

 

Joel Sternfeld. 'After a Flash Flood, Rancho Mirage, California' 1979

 

Joel Sternfeld (American, b. 1944)
After a Flash Flood, Rancho Mirage, California
1979
Chromogenic colour print, printed 1987
15 15/16 x 20″ (40.5 x 50.8 cm)
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Beth Goldberg Nash and Joshua Nash

 

 

During the 1970s, Joel Sternfeld’s work reflected a trend towards a newly dispassionate, less idealised approach to nature and culture. His photographs have a seductive beauty, even though they often focus on those places where the natural and man-made worlds come together in uncomfortable ways. Working with a large-format camera and luminous colour to create images that are frequently ironic or even humorous, his compositions appear simple but in fact are surprisingly complex and often unsettling. In this photograph of a suburban California neighbourhood in the aftermath of a flash flood, the lovely monochrome tones trick us into not immediately seeing the car that has toppled into the gaping sinkhole or realising that the buildings above could be on the verge of falling, too.

Text from the Museum of Fine Arts Boston website

 

Apollonia Müller. 'Civitas' 1997

 

Apollonia Müller
Civitas
1997
From Angels in Fall
Chromogenic colour print
19 3/4 x 24 1/2″ (50.1 x 62.2 cm)
Gift of Howard Stein
Museum of Modern Art, New York
© 2018 Karin Apollonia Müller

 

William Garnett. 'Foundations and Slabs, Lakewood, California' 1950

 

William A. Garnett (American, 1916-2006)
Foundations and Slabs, Lakewood, California
1950
Gelatin silver print
18.9 × 23.8 cm (7 7/16 × 9 3/8 in.)
© J. Paul Getty Museum

 

William Garnett. 'Grading, Lakewood, California' 1950

 

William A. Garnett (American, 1916-2006)
Grading, Lakewood, California
1950
Gelatin silver print
18.9 × 24 cm (7 7/16 × 9 7/16 in.)
© J. Paul Getty Museum

 

William Garnett. 'Trenching, Lakewood, California' 1950

 

William A. Garnett (American, 1916-2006)
Trenching, Lakewood, California
1950
Gelatin silver print
7 5/16 x 9 7/16 in.
© J. Paul Getty Museum

 

 

“I was hired commercially to illustrate the growth of that housing project. I didn’t approve of what they were doing. Seventeen thousand houses with five floor plans, and they all looked alike, and there was not a tree in sight when they got through.”

“I was discharged and heard you could hitchhike on the transport taking GIs home. The airplane was full, but the captain let me sit in the navigator’s seat so I had a command view. I was amazed at the variety and beauty of these United States. I had never seen anything like that – in a book, in school, or since then. So I changed my career.”

.
William A. Garnett

 

 

Lakewood, located on the outskirts of Los Angeles, was the location for the second major postwar housing development built in the United States. Some 17,500 tract houses were constructed assembly-line style on 3,500 acres of cleared farmland. Mass production made the houses affordable, so a greater number of people could take part in the American dream of home ownership. The developers hired William Garnett to document different phases of the subdivision’s construction from his Cessna airplane. He often photographed his subjects early in the day, so the angled light would emphasise their otherwise flat-looking forms. The photographs serve a utilitarian purpose but also demonstrate Garnett’s impeccable sense of design. In Trenching Lakewood, California, stacked lumber appears for the foundations, utility poles are installed, and the main roads are carved out. …

William Garnett took his first cross-country flight after serving as a United States Army Signal Corps cameraman during World War II. What he saw below inspired him to learn how to pilot a plane so he could photograph the American landscape. Garnett’s aerial photographs resemble abstract expressionist paintings or views through a microscope. As landscapes, they do not have the conventional grounding of a horizon line. All reveal astonishing patterns that are not seen from the ground. Garnett honed his elegant design sensibility well before earning a pilot’s license. Before the war, he attended Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles. Later, he headed the Pasadena Police Department’s photography lab. In the 1940s and 1950s, he began to rack up flying hours around Los Angeles, speaking out about the area’s increasing air pollution. He illustrated Nathaniel Owings’s American Aesthetic, a book about land-use practices. During ten thousand hours of flying, Garnett simultaneously piloted a plane while photographing out the window – traveling above every state and many parts of the world. His light 1956 Cessna plane allowed him to fly to just the right location to capture subjects with precision. At first, he experimented with a variety of camera formats and films but found that two 35mm cameras (one loaded with black-and-white film, the other with colour film) best suited his needs. Garnett’s work defies the stereotype of aerial photography as purely scientific and devoid of artistry. He became the first aerial photographer to earn a prestigious Guggenheim fellowship.

Anonymous. “Historical Witness, Social Messaging,” from the J. Paul Getty Museum Education Department [Online] Cited 13/01/2019

 

William Garnett. 'Framing, Lakewood, California' 1950

 

William A. Garnett (American, 1916-2006)
Framing, Lakewood, California
1950
Gelatin silver print
18.4 × 24.1 cm (7 1/4 × 9 1/2 in.)
© J. Paul Getty Museum

 

half-mexican-1991

 

James Luna (American, 1950-2018)
Half Indian/Half Mexican (installation view)
1991
Gelatin silver print

 

 

James Luna (February 9, 1950 – March 4, 2018) was a Payómkawichum, Ipi, and Mexican-American performance artist, photographer and multimedia installation artist. His work is best known for challenging the ways in which conventional museum exhibitions depict Native Americans. With recurring themes of multiculturalism, alcoholism, and colonialism, his work was often comedic and theatrical in nature. In 2017 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship.

 

Richard Prince. 'Untitled (Cowboy)' 1989

 

Richard Prince (American, b. 1949)
Untitled (Cowboy)
1989
Chromogenic print
127 x 177.8cm (50 x 70in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, and Jennifer and Joseph Duke Gift, 2000
© Richard Prince

 

 

In the mid-1970s Prince was an aspiring painter who earned a living by clipping articles from magazines for staff writers at Time-Life Inc. What remained at the end of the day were the advertisements, featuring gleaming luxury goods and impossibly perfect models; both fascinated and repulsed by these ubiquitous images, the artist began rephotographing them, using a repertoire of strategies (such as blurring, cropping, and enlarging) to intensify their original artifice. In so doing, Prince undermined the seeming naturalness and inevitability of the images, revealing them as hallucinatory fictions of society’s desires.

“Untitled (Cowboy)” is a high point of the artist’s ongoing deconstruction of an American archetype as old as the first trailblazers and as timely as then-outgoing president Ronald Reagan. Prince’s picture is a copy (the photograph) of a copy (the advertisement) of a myth (the cowboy). Perpetually disappearing into the sunset, this lone ranger is also a convincing stand-in for the artist himself, endlessly chasing the meaning behind surfaces. Created in the fade-out of a decade devoted to materialism and illusion, “Untitled (Cowboy)” is, in the largest sense, a meditation on an entire culture’s continuing attraction to spectacle over lived experience.

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California
1936
Gelatin silver print
11 1/8 x 8 9/16″ (28.3 x 21.8 cm)
Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

Dorothea Lange took this photograph on assignment for the U.S. government’s Farm Security Administration (FSA) program, formed during the Great Depression to provide aid to impoverished farmers. FSA photographers documented the conditions that Americans faced throughout the course of the Great Depression, a period of economic crisis. Lange’s photograph suggests the impact of these harsh conditions on a 32-year-old mother of seven. She took a number of pictures of the mother with her children and chose this image as the most effective. Her keen sense of composition and attentiveness to the power of historical images of the Madonna and Child have helped this photograph transcend its original documentary function and become an iconic work of art.

Text from the MoMA website

 

Katy Grannan. 'Nicole, Crissy Field Parking Lot (I)' 2006

 

Katy Grannan (American, b. 1969)
Nicole, Crissy Field Parking Lot (I)
2006
Pigmented inkjet print
40 x 50″ (101.6 x 127 cm)
Cornelius N. Bliss Memorial Fund
Museum of Modern Art, New York
© Katy Grannan

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled Film Still #43' 1979

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled Film Still #43
1979
Gelatin silver print
7 9/16 x 9 7/16″ (19.2 x 24 cm)
Acquired through the generosity of Sid R. Bass
Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills is a suite of seventy black-and-white photographs in which the artist posed in the guises of various generic female film characters, among them, ingénue, working girl, vamp, and lonely housewife. Staged to resemble scenes from 1950s and ’60s Hollywood, film noir, B movies, and European art-house films, the printed images mimic in format, scale, and quality the often-staged “stills” used to promote films. By photographing herself in such roles, Sherman inserts herself into a dialogue about stereotypical portrayals of women. Whether she was the one to release the camera’s shutter or not, she is considered the author of the photographs. However, the works in Untitled Film Stills are not considered self-portraits.

Text from the MoMA website

 

Bill Owens (American, b. 1938) 'We're really happy. Our kids are healthy, we eat good food, and we have a really nice home' 1972

 

Bill Owens (American, b. 1938)
We’re really happy. Our kids are healthy, we eat good food, and we have a really nice home
1972
Gelatin silver print
8 1/16 x 9 15/16″ (20.4 x 25.3 cm)
Gift of the photographer
Museum of Modern Art, New York
© Bill Owens

 

 

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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