Posts Tagged ‘Milton Rogovin

04
Oct
18

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

Exhibition dates: 22nd May – 7th October 2018

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

From a distance…

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

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

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

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

Marcus

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

Composite image of portraits of six men and six women

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press release from the J. Paul Getty Museum

 

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

 

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

 

 

Duchenne de Boulogne

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

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

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

 

The Mechanism of Human Facial Expression

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Depression-era photography

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

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

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

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Photography in Australia, the Far East, Java and London

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

Text from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

Text from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

The J. Paul Getty Museum
1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles, California 90049

Opening hours:
Tues – Friday 10 am – 5.30 pm
Saturday 10 am – 9 pm
Sunday 10 am – 5.30 pm
Monday closed

The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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10
Jun
18

Exhibition: ‘(un)expected families’ at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Exhibition dates: 9th December 2017 – 17th June 2018

 

Christopher Churchill (American, born in 1977) 'Hutterite Classroom, Gildford, MT' 2005

 

Christopher Churchill (American, born in 1977)
Hutterite Classroom, Gildford, MT
2005
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Elisa Fredrickson / Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

It’s hard to get a sense of this exhibition from the media images, therefore difficult to make any constructive comment on the strength of the exhibition.

Apparently, “The exhibition’s gallery feels very domestic. Groups of photos hang on the walls – different sizes, colors, formats and frames – like you’d see in a living room or hallway. MFA curator Karen Haas confirms that evocation is absolutely intentional.

“Photographers from the very beginning have been fascinated by the way that the camera could capture images of loved ones, freeze them in time,” she says. “They form sort of reliquaries of memory, and these sorts of relationships to the objects – that idea of the photograph as a talisman-like object I think has been somewhat forgotten in our contemporary world.” …

Haas’ goal in creating this show is to illustrate how broad and diverse family configurations can be – without defining them. “The families that we’re born into, generational families,” she describes, “but also romantic unions, couples and chosen families – families we have chosen for ourselves.” And that includes the military and the church, Haas says. “I think the family is such a basic social construct – so basic to so many of our lives – that I hope that these kinds of images will really resonate with people.” (Text from The ARTery website)

Outsider family, insider family, single parent family, nuclear family, extended family, reconstituted family, childless family, gay family, step family, “family has always taken diverse forms: affluent and destitute, cohesive and fractured, expected and unexpected. Taken together, the photographs challenge visitors to consider what family means to them.”

But what is most important is this: “There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to what is the best type of family structure. As long as a family is filled with love and support for one another, it tends to be successful and thrive. Families need to do what is best for each other and themselves, and that can be achieved in almost any unit.” (Types of Family Structure)

Families all have secrets, no matter how perfect they may seem to the outside world. Whether it be domestic violence behind closed doors or skeletons in the closet there is always more than meets the eye. And that’s where these photographs of families fail in their representation of the family. That, and the title of the exhibition – (un)expected families – because in the 21st century, nothing should be unexpected. By adding emphasis to the (un), the title merely propagates a form of discrimination, of outsider as different and therefore worthy of abuse because of that very difference. Expected families: we are all human beings and therefore anything is to be expected.

Marcus

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

 

Bringing together more than 80 pictures taken by American photographers from the 19th century to today, (un)expected families explores the definition of the American family – from the families we are born into to the ones we have chosen for ourselves. The works on view depict a wide range of relationships, including multiple generations, romantic unions, and alternative family structures. Using archival, vernacular, and fine art photographs, (un)expected families offers a variety of perspectives on the American family, from Dorothea Lange’s depiction of a migrant family at the time of the Dust Bowl to Louie Palu’s portraits of US Marines fighting in Afghanistan. The exhibition illustrates that the family has always taken diverse forms: affluent and destitute, cohesive and fractured, expected and unexpected. Taken together, the photographs challenge visitors to consider what family means to them. (un)expected families features celebrated practitioners like Nan Goldin, Carrie Mae Weems, LaToya Ruby Frazier, and Harry Callahan, as well as a number of renowned Boston-area artists, such as David Hilliard, Nicholas Nixon, Abe Morell, and Sage Sohier.

 

Lewis W. Hine (American, 1874-1940) 'Home Workers, New York' 1915

 

Lewis W. Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Home Workers, New York
1915
Lewis W. Hine/Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Migrant family, Texas' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Migrant family, Texas
1936
Gelatin silver print
Sophie M. Friedman Fun
Dorothea Lange/Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Louis Faurer (American, 1916-2001) 'Ritz Bar, New York' 1947-48

 

Louis Faurer (American, 1916-2001)
Ritz Bar, New York
1947-48
Estate of Louis Faurer/Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Duane Michals (American, born in 1932) 'When he was young, he could not imagine being old. And now that he is old, he cannot imagine ever having been young' 1979

 

Duane Michals (American, born in 1932)
When he was young, he could not imagine being old. And now that he is old, he cannot imagine ever having been young
1979
Gelatin silver print
Duane Michals, courtesy of the DC Moore Gallery, New York, and Osmos, New York

 

Nicholas Nixon (American, born in 1947) 'Yazoo City, Mississippi' 1979

 

Nicholas Nixon (American, born in 1947)
Yazoo City, Mississippi
1979
Gelatin silver contact print
Museum purchase with funds donated by the National Endowment for the Arts and Richard L. Menschel, Bela T. Kalman, Judge and Mrs. Matthew Brown, Mildred S. Lee, and Barbara M. Marshall
© Nicholas Nixon, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Nan Goldin (American, born in 1953) 'Jimmy Paulette and Tabboo! in the bathroom, New York' 1991

 

Nan Goldin (American, born in 1953)
Jimmy Paulette and Tabboo! in the bathroom, New York
1991
Cibachrome print
Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Fund for Photography
© Nan Goldin
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

“I used to think that I could never lose anyone if I photographed them enough. But in fact my pictures show me just how much I’ve lost.” ~ Nan Goldin

 

Tina Barney (American, born in 1945) 'Thanksgiving' 1992

 

Tina Barney (American, born in 1945)
Thanksgiving
1992
Chromogenic print
Contemporary Curator’s Fund, including funds donated by Barbara and Thomas Lee
Tina Barney/Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Tina Barney
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Sage Sohier (American, born in 1954) 'Mum in her bathtub, Washington, D.C.' 2002

 

Sage Sohier (American, born in 1954)
Mum in her bathtub, Washington, D.C.
2002
Inkjet print
Living New England Artists Purchase Fund, created by the Stephen and Sybil Stone Foundation
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Nicholas Nixon (American, born in 1947) 'Tammy Hindle' 2006

 

Nicholas Nixon (American, born in 1947)
Tammy Hindle
2006
Digital inkjet print
Gift of James N. Krebs
© Nicholas Nixon, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Julie Mack (American, born in 1982) 'Self-portrait (Julie) with family in SUV, Michigan' 2007

 

Julie Mack (American, born in 1982)
Self-portrait (Julie) with family in SUV, Michigan
2007
Chromogenic print
James N. Krebs Purchase Fund for 21st Century Photography
© Julie Mack. Courtesy Laurence Miller Gallery, New York
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

David Hilliard  (America, born 1964) 'Rock Bottom' 2008

 

David Hilliard  (America, born 1964)
Rock Bottom
2008
Panorama Construction

 

 

Rock Bottom features, in the left panel, a close up sharp focus portrait of Hilliard’s father standing in a lake, with a severe and harsh facial expression, yet vulnerably placing his hands on his chest between his two sailor swallow’s tattoos. In the right panel, Hilliard himself appears somewhat further from the camera. With a gentler facial expression, the photographer contrasts with his tense patriarchal figure, but features a similar hairy chest and matching tattoos  –  giving the viewer a hint on the subject’s father-son relationship. The middle panel is exclusive for environmental portraiture and the creation of meaning in the composition: a sunny day at the lake, where the blue skies and soft clouds perfectly reflect on the water and separate the subject matters. The real meaning of the juxtaposition relies on the knowledge of Hilliard’s personal life and the presence of the middle panel: although the father accept his son’s homosexuality, the issue has clearly been a source of tension between them, creating both emotional and physical distance between the subject matters. Represented by the central panel, a stunning view divides the two generations both visually and metaphorically, symbolizing the idea of emotional distance in an atypical form.

Like most of Hilliard’s photographs, Rock Bottom exposes how physical distance is often manipulated to represent emotional distance. The presence of the middle panel, exclusively dedicated to environmental portraiture and the emphasis on the importance of our surroundings, also suggests the emotional distance between the subjects. The lack of elements and presence of great depth of field of the center panel insinuates that, regardless of the level of intimacy between the subject matters  – distance is always palpable.

Marina Pedrosa. “David Hilliard: Building Meaning Through Composition,” on the medium website [Online] Cited 22/08/2018

 

Julie Blackmon (American, born in 1966) 'Baby Toss' 2009

 

Julie Blackmon (American, born in 1966)
Baby Toss
2009
Elizabeth and Michael Marcus
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

LaToya Ruby Frazier (American, born in 1982) 'Mom' 2008

 

LaToya Ruby Frazier (American, born in 1982)
Mom
2008
Gelatin silver print
From “The Notion of Family” (Aperture, 2014)
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Caleb Cole (American, born in 1981) 'The Big Sister' 2012

 

Caleb Cole (American, born in 1981)
The Big Sister
2012
From the series Odd One Out (2010-Present)
Archival pigment print
49 × 68 cm (19 5/16 × 26 3/4 in.)
Museum purchase with funds donated by James N. Krebs

 

 

Bringing together more than 80 pictures taken by photographers from the 19th century to today, (un)expected families at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), explores the definition of the American family – from the families we’re born into to the ones we’ve chosen. The photographs in the exhibition, on view from December 9, 2017 through June 17, 2018, depict a wide range of relationships – multiple generations, romantic unions and alternative family structures – whether connected by DNA, shared life experiences, common interests or even a social media network. Encompassing both carefully staged portraits and serendipitous snapshots, the selection of vernacular, documentary and fine art photographs in (un)expected families illustrates that the concept of family has long taken many forms – a subject that has fascinated photographers since the invention of the camera – and challenges visitors to consider what family means to them. Drawn primarily from the MFA’s holdings, the exhibition includes photographs by celebrated artists such as Nan Goldin, Gordon Parks, Nicholas Nixon, Sally Mann, Diane Arbus, Tina Barney, Emmet Gowin and Bruce Davidson. Loans from private collections include Victorian-era “hidden mother” photographs of children and turn-of-the-century portraits of women in intimate relationships sometimes referred to as “Boston marriages.” Additionally, (un)expected families highlights many New England photographers whose work centers on familial relationships, debuting eight photographs – acquired specifically for the exhibition – by Zoe Perry-Wood, Arno Rafael Minkkinen, Amber Tourlentes, Caleb Cole, Tanja Hollander, David Hilliard and Jeannie Simms. An interactive component of (un)expected families invites visitors to share thoughts about their own families on response cards. A selection will be displayed in the gallery on a rotating basis, and all will be archived as part of the permanent exhibition record. Additionally, a free family guide engages children with close looking and drawing activities. The exhibition is generously supported by an anonymous donor.

“Almost as soon as exposure times became short enough to make portraiture feasible, photographers have been drawn to capture likenesses of loved ones. Perhaps that power to freeze a moment in time is what explains why family photographs are so often described as the first thing one would save from a burning building,” said Karen Haas, Lane Curator of Photographs. “I find it particularly fascinating that there seems to be a growing interest among contemporary photographers to focus on families in their work – even as with the rise of smartphones and social media, our own personal pictures are increasingly relegated to the ether, rarely experienced as tangible objects.”

The images presented in (un)expected families span 150 years. Among the oldest pictures are photographs of “hidden mothers” (1860s-70s), depicting infants in the laps of concealed adults – a trick to keep the children still during long sittings or exposures. The mothers or nursemaids were draped with scarves or blankets, or hidden behind furniture or painted backdrops. Similarly, the contemporary photograph Nayla, Ted, Alexandra, Nick, March 30, 1995 (1995) by Cambridge-based Elsa Dorfman (born 1937) focuses solely on the children. While names of the parents are among those handwritten on the bottom of the large-scale Polaroid, only their legs are visible in the composition. Another contemporary photograph juxtaposed with the Victorian-era “hidden mothers,” which were made during a period of high infant mortality rates, is Tammy Hindle (2006) by Nicholas Nixon (born 1947). Part of Nixon’s series documenting a family’s heartbreaking loss of a child, the image shows the mother, Tammy, carrying a portrait of the baby, Claire, to the funeral service, their bodies appearing to magically merge in the reflection within the picture frame.

Father-and-son relationships are explored in images by Dawoud Bey (born 1953), Duane Michals (born 1932) and Jim Goldberg (born 1953), all of which incorporate texts that amplify the moving and often painful stories behind the images, as well as recently acquired photographs by David Hilliard (born 1964) and Arno Rafael Minkkinen (born 1945). Hilliard’s triptych Rock Bottom (2008) is one of an extended series of panoramic photographs that trace the shifting narrative of the gay artist’s complicated relationship with his father. The beautifully choreographed self-portrait visually links the two men, unmistakably related to each other and sporting identical swallow tattoos, across a serene expanse of lake. Minkkinen’s 31-12-86, Self-Portrait with Daniel, Andover (1986), recently gifted to the MFA by the artist, is one of a little-known series of portraits that he took of his son Daniel as the boy grew and matured from infancy to adolescence. The photograph shows Daniel sitting on a bed, bathed in raking light and looking directly at his father’s large-format camera. With his head hidden from view, Minkkinen’s outstretched arms perfectly echo the curve of the headboard and create a haunting embrace that speaks to a parent’s deep-seated desire to encircle and protect a child.

Seventeen photographs representing multiple generations of a family are arranged in a salon-style hang, ranging from intimate depictions of parents with children, such as Baby Toss (2009) by Julie Blackmon (born 1966); to pairs of siblings, such as Twins at WDIA, Memphis (about 1948) by Ernest C. Withers (1922–2007); to a 1925 panorama capturing an extended family reunion encompassing about 200 people. The display also features recently acquired photographs by Sage Sohier (born 1954) and Jeannie Simms (born 1967). Sohier’s Mum in her bathtub, D.C. (2002) is from an extended series devoted to her mother, a former fashion model who had posed for Richard Avedon and Irving Penn in the 1940s. Simms’ Arnie, Susan & Elijah, Jamaica Plain, MA (2015) is from a series documenting the lives of couples married in Cambridge after Massachusetts became the first U.S. state to issue same-sex marriage licenses on May 17, 2004.

Recently acquired works by Amber Tourlentes (born 1970), Zoe Perry-Wood (born 1959) and Jess Dugan (born 1986) also document the experience of LGBTQ couples, families and individuals. Tourlentes has regularly made LGBTQ family portraits on the Town Hall stage in Provincetown, Massachusetts, during its annual Family Week, sometimes revisiting the same subjects over the course of several years. Perry-Wood has spent the last decade photographing another annual event, the Boston Alliance of Gay and Lesbian Youth (BAGLY) Prom, which offers a safe and celebratory occasion for young couples – an alternative to more traditional high-school proms. Allowing her subjects to pose in front of the camera in a studio-like setting, as seen in José and Luis (2015), Perry-Wood helps to give them a sense of personal agency and collective pride at a pivotal moment in their lives. Unlike Tourlentes and Perry-Wood, Dugan photographs her subjects – friends within the LGBTQ community – in natural light and the privacy of their own living spaces, exploring issues of gender, identity and social connection through large-format portraits such as Devotion, from the series Every Breath We Drew (2012).

With the invention of the small and affordable Kodak camera in the late 19th century, followed by the instant camera in the 1940s, many Americans no longer felt the need to visit formal portrait studios in order to record their personal lives. Among the casual snapshots featured in (un)expected families are Polaroids of Caroline Kennedy and her cousin Tina Radziwill, taken by Andy Warhol (1928-1987) in the summer of 1972 and exhibited at the MFA for the first time. The artist – along with filmmaker Jonas Mekas and photographer Peter Beard – was hired by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to teach the children filmmaking and photography. Also on view are an album of photographs commemorating a fraternity at Baker University in Kansas (1910s) and six snapshots depicting “Boston marriages” (1920s-30s) – a turn-of-the-century term used to describe two women living together without the support of a man – romantic relationships in some cases and simply platonic partnerships in others.

Several groupings in the exhibition are centered on places of family life. Working roughly 50 years apart, one on New York’s Lower East Side and the other in Harlem, Lewis Hine (1874-1940) and Bruce Davidson (born 1933) both found the kitchen table an ideal site for their documentary photographs of tenement families in New York City. The groundbreaking Kitchen Table series (1990) by Carrie Mae Weems (born 1953) – featuring the photographer herself as the central figure, alongside lovers, children and friends – speaks to all those who have loved, quarrelled and come together around a communal table. Similarly, Tina Barney (born 1945) often acts as both guide and participant in her photographs – including Thanksgiving (1992) – which portray complex family moments in the wealthy East Coast social scene that she grew up in. In another selection of photographs by Julie Mack (born 1982), Mary Ellen Mark (1940-2015) and Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), the car is shown as a setting for a contemporary family self-portrait, a shelter for a homeless family in Los Angeles, and a vehicle for escape for migrant farm workers and their families during the Dust Bowl.

Alongside biologically related families and romantic unions, the exhibition highlights bonds among close-knit communities – “chosen families” – often documented by photographers embedded within the groups. Louie Palu (born 1968) spent several years covering the conflict in Afghanistan, producing portraits of U.S. Marines that capture the terrible toll of war etched on their faces and reflected in their eyes. Danny Lyon (born 1942) was a student at the University of Chicago when he first befriended members of the Chicago Outlaws, a notorious motorcycle club. For a number of years, he documented the individual gang members, their families and friends, as well as races, meetings, social gatherings, rides throughout the Midwest and even their funerals. Nan Goldin (born 1953) uses her camera as a form of diary to record the lives of friends, whom she considers a surrogate family. In Jimmy Paulette and Tabboo! in the bathroom, NYC (1991), Goldin represents two drag queens in New York City’s East Village, working in her characteristically direct, snapshot-like style. For the artist, who has lost many in her circle to HIV-AIDS, such images form tangible records of powerful human connections in fragile times.

Ethel Shariff in Chicago (1963) by Gordon Parks (1912–2006) and Hutterite Classroom, Gilford, MT (2005) by Christopher Churchill (born 1977) are among the photographs depicting religious communities. Ethel Shariff, the eldest daughter of longtime Nation of Islam head Elijah Mohammed, stands at the apex of Parks’ group portrait, surrounded by fellow members of the organization’s women’s corps. Churchill’s photograph is from a series of pictures on the theme of American faith – a project he undertook in the years just after 9/11. Traveling across the country, he visited various sacred landscapes, places of worship and religious communities including the Hutterites, a branch of the Anabaptists who trace their beginnings back to the Protestant Reformation. For Churchill, the series became an exploration into the very basic human need to be connected to something greater than ourselves. Similarly, Tanja Hollander (born 1972) traveled all over the world – across the U.S. and Europe, but also as far away as Kuala Lumpur and New Zealand – for five years, tracking down all of her hundreds of Facebook friends and making portraits of them set in their own homes. Shot with an iPhone or a simple point-and-shoot camera, these intimate pictures – two of which were acquired for the exhibition – present a fascinating commentary on the role of social media and interpersonal relationships in the 21st century.

Additional highlights of (un)expected families include photographs in a variety of formats. Caleb Cole (born 1981) is a local photographer particularly fascinated by the dynamics of family photographs found at estate sales and flea markets in which one of the subjects – in contrast to the rest of the smiling faces – appears especially sad or downcast. Cole digitally alters these vernacular images to isolate the single, lonely figure, all the while maintaining the shapes of the remaining sitters so that the “odd one out” is set off against the blank, white expanse of the group. In The Big Sister (2012), a recent acquisition, a young girl whose parents have just introduced her to a new baby looks dejectedly off into space as if desperately wishing she could return to her former status as an only child. Digital projections from the series To Majority Minority (2014-15) by Annu Palakunnathu Matthew (born 1964) are also based on found snapshots, sourced from photo albums of immigrant families that have come to the U.S. from all over the world. Working with the owners of these albums, Matthew digitises the images and then recreates the figures and their poses using contemporary family members in place of the original sitters. By presenting them as projections that seamlessly flow from one generation into another, the artist measures the passage of time through the faces of subsequent generations, and the accompanying texts tell stories inspired by the treasured photographs of their ancestors.

Press release from Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Photographer unknown (American) 'Untitled [Hidden Mother]' c. 1860s-70s

 

Photographer unknown (American)
Untitled [Hidden Mother]
c. 1860s-70s
Hand-coloured tintype
Collection of Lee Marks and John C. DePrez, Jr., Shelbyville, Indiana
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Elaine Mayes (American, born in 1936) 'Group Portrait, Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco' c. 1970

 

Elaine Mayes (American, born in 1936)
Group Portrait, Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco
c. 1970
Elaine Mayes/Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Ernest C. Withers (American, 1922–2007) 'Twins at WDIA, Memphis' about 1948

 

Ernest C. Withers (American, 1922–2007)
Twins at WDIA, Memphis
about 1948
Gelatin silver print
Sophie M. Friedman Fund / Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Consuelo Kanaga (American, 1894-1978) 'She is a Tree of Life to Them' 1950

 

Consuelo Kanaga (American, 1894-1978)
She is a Tree of Life to Them
1950
Gelatin silver print
Lucy Dalbiac Luard Fund
Consuelo Kanaga/Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Ethel Shariff in Chicago' 1963

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Ethel Shariff in Chicago
1963
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Gus and Arlette Kayafas in honor of Karen E. Haas / Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Roswell Angier (American, born in 1940) 'Mr. and Mrs. Steve Mills, Pilgrim Theatre, Boston' 1973

 

Roswell Angier (American, born in 1940)
Mr. and Mrs. Steve Mills, Pilgrim Theatre, Boston
1973
Gelatin silver print
Polaroid Foundation Purchase Fund, reproduced with permission / Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Jock Sturges (American, born in 1947) 'Misty Dawn and Alisa, Northern California' 1989

 

Jock Sturges (American, born in 1947)
Misty Dawn and Alisa, Northern California
1989
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Elizabeth Lea
© Jock Sturges
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Milton Rogovin (American, 1909–2011) 'Felix and his Wife, Buffalo' 1992

 

Milton Rogovin (American, 1909–2011)
Felix and his Wife, Buffalo
1992
From the series Lower West Side Revisited
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Denise Jarvinen and Pierre Cremieux
© Milton Rogovin, Copyright 1952-2002 / Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Louie Palu (Canadian, born in 1968) 'U.S. Marine Gysgt. Carlos "OJ" Orjuela, age 31. Garmsir, Helmand, Afghanistan' 2008

 

Louie Palu (Canadian, born in 1968)
U.S. Marine Gysgt. Carlos “OJ” Orjuela, age 31. Garmsir, Helmand, Afghanistan
2008
Inkjet print
Museum purchase with funds donated in honour of Linda and Alex Beavers
Louie Palu/Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

And then there’s Louie Palu’s black and white portraits of Marines. These are some of the few single-person portraits among images of families or groups. Paired with a group photo, there is an initial sense of loneliness. But isolate the image and it’s a different story.

“In the military, you arrive alone and leave the military alone but live on a battlefield as part of a close group of people who will do everything to support you and are willing to risk their life to save yours,” he said. “When you are a soldier, your comrades can define a life-changing experience not a single member of your biological family will ever understand. When you come home, your mother, father, wife, brothers, sisters and children can never connect to that experience like your comrades can. When you are in a group, you are strong, and when you are alone, you are not.” (Text from the New York Times website)

 

Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987) 'Red Book: Tina Radziwill and Caroline Kennedy, Montauk' 1972

 

Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987)
Red Book: Tina Radziwill and Caroline Kennedy, Montauk
1972
Polaroid photograph
Sheet: 10.8 x 8.6 cm (4 1/4 x 3 3/8 in.)
Gift of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts
© The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY

 

Elsa Dorfman (American, born in 1937) 'Nayla, Ted, Alexandra, Nick, March 30, 1995' 1995

 

Elsa Dorfman (American, born in 1937)
Nayla, Ted, Alexandra, Nick, March 30, 1995
1995
Polaroid polacolor
Gift of Elsa Dorfman in memory of Dorothy Glaser
© Elsa Dorfman, 2013, all rights reserved / Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Dawoud Bey (American, born in 1953) 'Kevin' 2005

 

Dawoud Bey (American, born in 1953)
Kevin
2005
From the series Class Pictures
Chromogenic print
Museum purchase with funds donated by the Friends of Photography and The Heritage Fund for a Diverse Collection
© Dawoud Bey
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

Dawoud Bey (1953-) is a photographer known for his colour portraits of various subjects, perhaps most notably teenagers. This 2005 photograph is of a teen named Kevin and is from Bey’s series Class Pictures, which is a study of high school students across the country

 

Jess T. Dugan. 'Devotion' 2012

 

Jess T. Dugan
Devotion
2012
From the series Every Breath We Drew
Jess T. Dugan/Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Jess T. Dugan

 

Tanja Hollander (American, born in 1972) 'Brittany Marcoux and Brian McGuire, Swansea, Massachusetts' 2012

 

Tanja Hollander (American, born in 1972)
Brittany Marcoux and Brian McGuire, Swansea, Massachusetts
2012
Inkjet print
Museum purchase with funds donated by James N. Krebs
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Tanja Hollander

 

 

Annu Palakunnathu Matthew
To Majority Minority – Thuan
2014-15

 

 

The word immigrant conjures up families passing through Ellis Island or young men climbing across the southwest border fence. The United States of America of yesterday, filled with immigrants of European descent is giving way to a new multi-coloured and multicultural America. By 2050 “minority” populations in the U.S. will become the majority of the population. In this new multi-coloured America, we need to reframe our understanding of our newest immigrants in terms of their cultures, religions and stories.

In this project, I explore the generational transition from immigrant to native within families, starting with portrait photographs from these immigrant’s albums. These old photographs reflect where they have come from, revealing family histories and shared stories of immigration. The final portrait animation helps us empathise with these new Americans beyond the stereotype of the family at Ellis Island or the presumed terrorist.

 

 

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03
Jun
18

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

Exhibition dates: 21st March – 17th June 2018

Curator at Heide: Anne O’Hehir

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

The power of intention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marcus

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

.
Gillian Wearing

 

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

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

.
Dr Wayne Dyer from ‘The Power of Intention’

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Press release from Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Introduction

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

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

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

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

 

An uncompromising view of the world

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

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

Weegee

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

William Klein

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

Walker Evans

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

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

Lisette Model

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

 

The gap between intention and effect

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

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

 

The aristocrats

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

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

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

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

 

The prints

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

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

 

To know life

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

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

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

Garry Winogrand

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

Lee Friedlander

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

Milton Rogovin

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

 

The Arbus legacy

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

William Eggleston

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

Mary Ellen Mark

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

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

Text from the National Gallery of Australia website

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Text from the Artsy website

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Heide Museum of Modern Art
7, Templestowe Road
Bulleen, Victoria 3105

Opening hours:
(Heide II and Heide III)
Tue – Fri 10.00 am – 5.00 pm
Sat/Sun/Public Holidays 12.00 noon – 5.00 pm

Heide Museum of Modern Art website

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17
Mar
17

Exhibition: ‘Life and Labor: The Photographs of Milton Rogovin’ at the San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA

Exhibition dates: 18th August 2016 – 19th March 2017

 

I will be limiting my postings to one every 5 days because I am resting my injured hands.

From the lineage of Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine, Walker Evans and Margaret Bourke-White merges the work of Milton Rogovin, an artist who I had never heard of before. It is a blessing in my life that I do now. His gift to us, his job of seeing, was to document the lives of blue collar workers, working class neighbourhoods and multi-ethnic communities.

“Rogovin shed light on important social issues of the time: the plight of miners; the decline of the once-robust steel industry in upstate New York; the everyday struggles of the poor and working class in Buffalo, New York, where he lived. He spent more than three decades creating naturalistic portraits of the working class in the Lower West Side of Buffalo, photographing people in their homes, at work, and on the street.” He produced, “compelling narratives of the people he photographed. He believed deeply in photography’s ability to be an agent of social change.” Yes!

He was a social-documentary photographer and proud of it.

His powerful, classical portraits, often grouped in diptychs and triptychs, expound narrative in a single image and over time. They compress time intimately… and by that I mean the viewer is engaged in a conversation with the subject, where we can imagine that we live those lives AS THEY DO (transcending time), the lives of what Rogovin called “the forgotten ones.” He makes their countenance, their physicality, the hardships they endure, and their narrative, directly and intimately compelling. We are made to feel their plight (unlike so much contemporary photography) in the now and the forever. For these photographs are as relevant, if not more so, now as then.

The world needs artists like Rogovin, gifted and attentive image makers who possess a social conscience. Image makers who live, and picture, their egalitarian ideals. Respect.

Marcus

 

Definition of egalitarianism
1: a belief in human equality especially with respect to social, political, and economic affairs.
2: a social philosophy advocating the removal of inequalities among people.

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

 

 

“The rich ones have their own photographers.”

.
Milton Rogovin

 

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011) 'Untitled' from the series 'Lower West Side, Buffalo' 1973

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011)
Untitled from the series Lower West Side, Buffalo
1973
Gelatin silver print
8 x 10 inches
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jon Vein

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011) 'Untitled' from the series 'Lower West Side, Buffalo, Felix & Wife' 1974

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011)
Untitled from the series Lower West Side, Buffalo, Felix & Wife
1974
Gelatin silver print
8 x 10 inches
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jon Vein

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011) 'Untitled' from the series 'Lower West Side, Buffalo, Felix & Wife' 1985

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011)
Untitled from the series Lower West Side, Buffalo, Felix & Wife
1985
Gelatin silver print
8 x 10 inches
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jon Vein

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011) 'Untitled' from the series 'Lower West Side, Buffalo, Felix & Wife' 1992

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011)
Untitled from the series Lower West Side, Buffalo, Felix & Wife
1992
Gelatin silver print
8 x 10 inches
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jon Vein

 

 

In the early 1970s, Milton Rogovin set out to document the neighbourhood near his house. He made a series of portraits of working-class people in Buffalo’s Lower West Side. Then he returned to photograph the same people in the early 1980s and again in the 1990s. The result is this remarkable and moving portrait of time and place in America. Here are fifty of an acclaimed photographer’s engaging Triptychs – a visual chronicle of change, ageing, endurance, and finally survival. As Robert Coles writes in his foreword, “These photographs constitute a major contribution to the American documentary tradition. They represent the insistence of one careful, gifted, attentive photographer upon seeing through, as it were, his self-assigned job of seeing.” Here we see working people who, like most Americans, find partners, have children and grandchildren, sometimes separate, and sometimes die early. Some age considerably in the ten years between photographs, others almost not at all. Some lose children, change partners and houses, and some visibly change lifestyles. What remains constant is the passing of time and its effects upon his subjects, so evident in Rogovin’s work. These are among the themes observed and discussed in Stephen Jay Gould’s illuminating introduction.

Text from the Amazon website

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011) 'Untitled' from the series 'Lower West Side, Buffalo' 1972

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011)
Untitled from the series Lower West Side, Buffalo
1972
Gelatin silver print on paper
10 x 8 inches
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William Braunstein

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011) 'Untitled' from the series 'Lower West Side, Buffalo' 1973

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011)
Untitled from the series Lower West Side, Buffalo
1973
Gelatin silver print on paper
10 x 8 inches
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William Braunstein

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011) 'Untitled' from the series 'Lower West Side, Buffalo' 1992

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011)
Untitled from the series Lower West Side, Buffalo
1992
Gelatin silver print on paper
10 x 8 inches
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William Braunstein

 

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011) was proud to call himself a “social-documentary photographer.” For more than four decades, he photographed those whom he referred to as “the forgotten ones.” He was working as an optometrist in Manhattan in the early 1930s when he became increasingly involved in leftist causes. Distressed by the rampant social upheaval and widespread poverty caused by the Great Depression, Rogovin attended night classes sponsored by the New York Workers School and became an advocate for social equity. He read the Communist Party newspaper The Daily Worker and was introduced to the social-documentary photographs of Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine. In 1957, he was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee, whose hearings had led to the blacklisting and public persecution of many artists. A year later, he devoted himself full-time to photography: his art became the vehicle for his egalitarian ideals.

Drawn entirely from the permanent collection of the San Jose Museum of Art, this exhibition presents thirty-eight photographs from three series: “Lower West Side, Buffalo” (1972-84), “Working People” (1976-87), and “Family of Miners” (1988-89). Rogovin shed light on important social issues of the time: the plight of miners; the decline of the once-robust steel industry in upstate New York; the everyday struggles of the poor and working class in Buffalo, New York, where he lived. He spent more than three decades creating naturalistic portraits of the working class in the Lower West Side of Buffalo, photographing people in their homes, at work, and on the street. He later photographed in places such as Appalachian towns in Alabama, Kentucky, and West Virginia; Isla Negra, Chile; and later in China, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Greece, Mexico, Scotland, Spain, and Zimbabwe. He photographed miners in many of these places and created the series “Family of Miners.”

Life and Labor marks the public debut of these photographs, which were gifted to the Museum’s collection in 2011. Rogovin often grouped his pictures into diptychs and triptychs to produce compelling narratives of the people he photographed. He believed deeply in photography’s ability to be an agent of social change. In addition to their aesthetic value, Rogovin’s photographs serve as important records of the changing working class neighbourhoods and multi-ethnic communities he documented over the course of many decades, until well into his 90s. Rogovin’s powerful and provocative portraits raise questions that remain equally prescient today, amid current concerns over employment and income gaps.

“Rogovin believed deeply in photography’s ability to be an agent of social change,” said Marja van der Loo, curatorial assistant at SJMA and curator of the exhibition. “In addition to their aesthetic value, his photographs represent his egalitarian ideals and serve as important records of the changing neighbourhoods and communities he documented over the course of many decades.”

Press release from the San Jose Museum of Art

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011) 'Untitled' from the series 'Working People: Ford' 1977-1978

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011)
Untitled from the series Working People: Ford
1977-1978
Gelatin silver print on paper
10 × 8 inches
Gift of Dr. Philip Greider

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011) 'Untitled' from the series 'Working People: Shenango' 1978-1981

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011)
Untitled from the series Working People: Shenango
1978-1981
8 x 10 inches
Gelatin silver print on paper
Gift of Dr. Philip Greider

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011) 'Untitled' from the series 'Working People: Shenango' 1978-1981

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011)
Untitled from the series Working People: Shenango
1978-1981
8 x 10 inches
Gelatin silver print on paper
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jon Vein

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011) 'Untitled' from the series 'Working People: Shenango' 1978-1981

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011)
Untitled from the series Working People: Shenango
1978-1981
8 x 10 inches
Gelatin silver print on paper
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jon Vein

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011) 'Untitled' from the series 'Family of Miners: Cuba' 1989

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011)
Untitled from the series Family of Miners: Cuba
1989
Gelatin silver print
8 x 10 inches
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jon Vein

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011) 'Untitled' from the series 'Family of Miners: Cuba' 1989

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011)
Untitled from the series Family of Miners: Cuba
1989
Gelatin silver print
8 x 10 inches
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jon Vein

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011) 'Untitled' from the series 'Family of Miners: Mexico' 1988

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011)
Untitled from the series Family of Miners: Mexico
1988
Gelatin silver print on paper
10 × 8 inches
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William Braunstein

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011) 'Untitled' from the series 'Working People: Amherst Foundry' 1979

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011)
Untitled from the series Working People: Amherst Foundry
1979
Gelatin silver print
8 x 10 inches
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jon Vein

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011) 'Untitled' from the series 'Working People: Amherst Foundry' 1979

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011)
Untitled from the series Working People: Amherst Foundry
1979
Gelatin silver print
8 x 10 inches
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jon Vein

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011) 'Untitled' from the series 'Working People: Atlas, Jose' 1976

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011)
Untitled from the series Working People: Atlas, Jose
1976
Gelatin silver print on paper
10 × 8 inches
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jon Vein

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011) 'Untitled' from the series 'Working People: Atlas, Jose' 1978-1979

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011)
Untitled from the series Working People: Atlas, Jose
1978-1979
Gelatin silver print on paper
10 × 8 inches
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jon Vein

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011) 'Untitled' from the series 'Working People: Atlas, Jose' 1978-1979

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011)
Untitled from the series Working People: Atlas, Jose
1978-1979
Gelatin silver print on paper
10 × 8 inches
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jon Vein

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011) 'Untitled' from the series 'Working People: Atlas Steel, Frank Andrzewski' 1978-79

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011)
Untitled from the series Working People: Atlas Steel, Frank Andrzewski
1978-79
Gelatin silver print on paper
10 x 8 inches
Gift of Dr. Philip Greider

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011) 'Untitled' from the series 'Working People: Atlas Steel, Frank Andrzewski' 1978-79

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011)
Untitled from the series Working People: Atlas Steel, Frank Andrzewski
1978-79
Gelatin silver print on paper
10 x 8 inches
Gift of Dr. Philip Greider

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011) 'Untitled' from the series 'Working People: Atlas Steel, Frank Andrzewski' 1978-79

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011)
Untitled from the series Working People: Atlas Steel, Frank Andrzewski
1978-79
Gelatin silver print on paper
10 x 8 inches
Gift of Dr. Philip Greider

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011) 'Untitled' from the series 'Working People, Chevy' 1977-78

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011)
Untitled from the series Working People, Chevy
1977-78
Gelatin silver print on paper
10 x 8 inches
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William Braunstein

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011) 'Untitled' from the series 'Working People, Chevy' 1977-78

 

Milton Rogovin (1909-2011)
Untitled from the series Working People, Chevy
1977-78
Gelatin silver print on paper
10 x 8 inches
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William Braunstein

 

 

San Jose Museum of Art
110 South Market Street
San Jose, CA 95113

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday, 11am – 5pm
Closed Monday, and most Monday holidays

San Jose Museum of Art website

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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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.

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