Posts Tagged ‘minor white

26
Nov
22

Exhibition: ‘Baldwin Lee’ at Joseph Bellows Gallery, La Jolla, California

Exhibition dates: 22nd October – 10th December 2022

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Vicksburg, Mississippi' 1983

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Vicksburg, Mississippi
1983
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

 

“The work of two contemporary photographers, Bill Brandt of England and the American, Walker Evans, have influenced me. When I first looked at Walker Evans’ photographs, I thought of something Malraux wrote: “To transform destiny into awareness.” One is embarrassed to want so much for oneself. But, how else are you going to justify your failure and your effort?”

.
Robert Frank, ‘U.S. Camera Annual’, 1958, p. 115

 

 

In terms of training as a photographer, Baldwin Lee couldn’t have done much better than study with those two photographic greats, Minor White and Walker Evans. His work is suffused with their glow, especially the influence of Walker Evans. Lee’s works continues that wonderful tradition of documenting with frankness, things that are placed before the lens. In his photographs of “Black Americans: at home, at work, and at play, in the street, and among nature”, Lee responds with understanding and a “a sensitive eye for both poverty and dignity” to the plight of the lower echelons of American society, in work that “exposes the violence of poverty inherited from the plantation-economy past.” And though his photographs he tries to transform the destiny (of a race) into awareness (of their plight).

“In 1983, Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) left his home in Knoxville, Tennessee, with his 4 × 5 view camera and set out on the first of a series of road trips to photograph the American South.” Lee received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1984, and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1984 and 1987 to continue his project until the end of the decade. The resultant photographs show “attentiveness to the composure of his subjects that is echoed masterfully in the composition of his shots” … “Lee’s graceful pictures from this project perfectly balance the photographer’s presence and the subject’s will, honouring both through the resulting, beautifully printed 16 x 20-inch black-and-white photographs.”

At their best, Lee’s photographs (such as Vicksburg, Mississippi, 1983 above) have an incisive presence which illuminates the human condition through a revelation of spirit, the spirit of a people with the strength to survive and flourish against the forces of tyranny, discrimination and oppression. The proud stare of the child, the placement in of his hands, his large belt buckle, and the attitude of the father make this photograph a masterpiece of observation and composition. Other powerful photographs such as New Orleans, Louisiana (1984, below), Columbia, South Carolina (1984, below), Valdosta, Georgia (1984, below) and Valdosta, Georgia (1986, below) intimately capture the inter-generational strength that courses through generations of survivors – survivors of life, of hardship, of disenfranchisement. And then we must place those portraits in a historical context for their wider import to be understood: Vicksburg, Mississippi and its political and racial unrest after the Civil War; Montgomery, Alabama and the bus boycott that changed a nation; Mobile, Alabama and its race riots during the Second World War and the desegregation of the school system in 1964. And so it still goes…

Other photographs, such as Montgomery, Alabama (1984, below), Lula, Mississippi (1984, below), Natchez, Mississippi (1984, below) and Garnett, South Carolina (1985, below) are an extension of the work of Walker Evans. They really have no signature of the individual artist but continue the tradition, the story, of documentary photography in America. In the camera magazines of the mid- 60s to mid- 70s the photographer who was published would also have a small image check-list in the last pages of the magazine with technical information – aperture / developer / paper etc… Instead, for these pages, Minor White would say: “For technical information, the camera was faithfully used.” And one could imagine this artist saying the same thing, for there are no attempts at obfuscation or anything that would alter the intensity of his vision.

Of the remaining photographs in the posting… I have rather ambivalent feelings about them. All of the photographs possess a calmness and quietness to them, have balanced (perhaps too balanced) composition, but some leave me feeling rather cold. It’s almost as if I am looking at a “scene” from reality, rather than reality itself. Much like Edward S. Curtis and his storytelling of the First Nations peoples, that is, the myth that he wanted to tell of a “vanishing race” – some of Lee’s photographs are too staged, to constructed by the photographer that real life gets put in the deep freeze. A good example of this is the photograph Canton, Mississippi (1985, below). Imagine the time it would have taken Lee to set up his large format camera, to check the light, to focus the ground glass, and then to place the figures in such a deliberate arrangement. Did the subjects have a say in how they wanted to be portrayed? With this arrangement, especially the figure at left with her hand in the air, I suspect not… it’s all just so stilted and unmoving, particularly the spacing between the figures. Certainly, in this one particular photograph, the image does not balance photographer’s presence and the subject’s will. It’s a story that the photographer wants to tell in a particular way.

Other photographs teeter either side of this line, between seemingly spontaneous and obviously staged compositions. I don’t believe Vicksburg, Mississippi (1984, below) whereas I do feel Walls, Mississippi (1984, below), mainly because of the to stiff pose of the standing boy in the former and the languid pose and look of the girl in the latter. I believe in the direct stares of the children in Boyle, Mississippi (1985, below) and yet in the photograph below (Columbia, South Carolina 1984, below), that trust is dissolved. It is so difficult with a large format camera to stop the images becoming a facsimile of real life… something that appeals to the direction of the photographer but is a creation of their imagination, not a portrait of the real life of the subjects. In other words, the images do not go into that world with equal drama (usually the feeling is modified by Walker Evans directness), for there is a range of using this “drama” trope.

Here I am not appealing for something close to Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment” for that is almost impossible with a large format camera, but rather something more akin to the work of Minor White than that of Walker Evans – more a revelation of spirit rather than a humanist “family of man”. As with any portrait, whether it is in the objective but slightly surreal portraits by August Sander or the dynamic exposures by Diane Arbus, it is the ability of the photographer to reveal the Self behind the mask that creates memorable portraits.

This is why Lee’s photograph Vicksburg, Mississippi 1983 stands head and shoulders above all the other photographs in this posting. The portrait challenges our preconceptions of what is it to live this life, to be Black in America, and with fierce resolve that echoes down through the generations, it says, we will survive and flourish… for we are whole and free.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
PS. Sometimes we say something about an image which is “after the case” of its place in the world. Knowing the boundaries of when this stops and starts is the big challenge…

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

 

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Vicksburg, Mississippi' 1983

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Vicksburg, Mississippi
1983
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Vicksburg, Mississippi' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Vicksburg, Mississippi
1984
Gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Vicksburg, Mississippi' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Vicksburg, Mississippi
1984
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

 

Vicksburg, Mississippi

Civil War

During the American Civil War, the city finally surrendered during the Siege of Vicksburg, after which the Union Army gained control of the entire Mississippi River. The 47-day siege was intended to starve the city into submission. Its location atop a high bluff overlooking the Mississippi River proved otherwise impregnable to assault by federal troops. The surrender of Vicksburg by Confederate General John C. Pemberton on July 4, 1863, together with the defeat of General Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg the day before, has historically marked the turning point of the Civil War in the Union’s favour.

From the surrender of Vicksburg until the end of the war in 1865, the area was under Union military occupation. The Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, was based at his family plantation at Brierfield, just south of the city.

 

Political and racial unrest after Civil War

In the first few years after the Civil War, white Confederate veterans developed the Ku Klux Klan, beginning in Tennessee; it had chapters throughout the South and attacked freedmen and their supporters. It was suppressed about 1870. By the mid-1870s, new white paramilitary groups had arisen in the Deep South, including the Red Shirts [white supremacist paramilitary terrorist groups that were active in the late 19th century] in Mississippi, as whites struggled to regain political and social power over the black majority. Elections were marked by violence and fraud as white Democrats worked to suppress black Republican voting.

In August 1874, a black sheriff, Peter Crosby, was elected in Vicksburg. Letters by a white planter, Batchelor, detail the preparations of whites for what he described as a “race war,” including acquisition of the newest guns, Winchester 16 mm. On December 7, 1874, white men disrupted a black Republican meeting celebrating Crosby’s victory and held him in custody before running him out of town. He advised blacks from rural areas to return home; along the way, some were attacked by armed whites. During the next several days, armed white mobs swept through black areas, killing other men at home or out in the fields. Sources differ as to total fatalities, with 29-50 blacks and 2 whites reported dead at the time. Twenty-first-century historian Emilye Crosby estimates that 300 blacks were killed in the city and the surrounding area of Claiborne County, Mississippi. The Red Shirts were active in Vicksburg and other Mississippi areas, and black pleas to the federal government for protection were not met.

At the request of Republican Governor Adelbert Ames, who had left the state during the violence, President Ulysses S. Grant sent federal troops to Vicksburg in January 1875. In addition, a congressional committee investigated what was called the “Vicksburg Riot” at the time (and reported as the “Vicksburg Massacre” by northern newspapers.) They took testimony from both black and white residents, as reported by the New York Times, but no one was ever prosecuted for the deaths. The Red Shirts and other white insurgents suppressed Republican voting by both whites and blacks; smaller-scale riots were staged in the state up to the 1875 elections, at which time white Democrats regained control of a majority of seats in the state legislature.

Under new constitutions, amendments and laws passed between 1890 in Mississippi and 1908 in the remaining southern states, white Democrats disenfranchised most blacks and many poor whites by creating barriers to voter registration, such as poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses. They passed laws imposing Jim Crow [laws enforcing racial segregation in the Southern United States] and racial segregation of public facilities.

 

20th century to present

The exclusion of most blacks from the political system lasted for decades until after Congressional passage of civil rights legislation in the mid-1960s. Lynchings of blacks and other forms of white racial terrorism against them continued to occur in Vicksburg after the start of the 20th century. In May 1903, for instance, two black men charged with murdering a planter were taken from jail by a mob of 200 farmers and lynched before they could go to trial. In May 1919, as many as a thousand white men broke down three sets of steel doors to abduct, hang, burn and shoot a black prisoner, Lloyd Clay, who was falsely accused of raping a white woman. From 1877 to 1950 in Warren County, 14 African Americans were lynched by whites, most in the decades near the turn of the century…

Particularly after World War II, in which many blacks served, returning veterans began to be active in the civil rights movement, wanting to have full citizenship after fighting in the war. In Mississippi, activists in the Vicksburg Movement became prominent during the 1960s.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Montgomery, Alabama' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Montgomery, Alabama
1984
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

 

Montgomery, Alabama

In the post-World War II era, returning African-American veterans were among those who became active in pushing to regain their civil rights in the South: to be allowed to vote and participate in politics, to freely use public places, to end segregation. According to the historian David Beito of the University of Alabama, African Americans in Montgomery “nurtured the modern civil rights movement.” African Americans comprised most of the customers on the city buses, but were forced to give up seats and even stand in order to make room for whites. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man, sparking the Montgomery bus boycott. Martin Luther King Jr., then the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, and E.D. Nixon, a local civil rights advocate, founded the Montgomery Improvement Association to organise the boycott. In June 1956, the US District Court Judge Frank M. Johnson ruled that Montgomery’s bus racial segregation was unconstitutional. After the US Supreme Court upheld the ruling in November, the city desegregated the bus system, and the boycott was ended.

In separate action, integrated teams of Freedom Riders rode South on interstate buses. In violation of federal law and the constitution, bus companies had for decades acceded to state laws and required passengers to occupy segregated seating in Southern states. Opponents of the push for integration organised mob violence at stops along the Freedom Ride. In Montgomery, there was police collaboration when a white mob attacked Freedom Riders at the Greyhound Bus Station in May 1961. Outraged national reaction resulted in the enforcement of desegregation of interstate public transportation.

Martin Luther King Jr. returned to Montgomery in 1965. Local civil rights leaders in Selma had been protesting Jim Crow laws and practices that raised barriers to blacks registering to vote. Following the shooting of a man after a civil rights rally, the leaders decided to march to Montgomery to petition Governor George Wallace to allow free voter registration. The violence they encountered from county and state highway police outraged the country. The federal government ordered National Guard and troops to protect the marchers. Thousands more joined the marchers on the way to Montgomery, and an estimated 25,000 marchers entered the capital to press for voting rights. These actions contributed to Congressional passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, to authorise federal supervision and enforcement of the rights of African Americans and other minorities to vote.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Montgomery bus boycott

The Montgomery bus boycott was a political and social protest campaign against the policy of racial segregation on the public transit system of Montgomery, Alabama. It was a foundational event in the civil rights movement in the United States. The campaign lasted from December 5, 1955 – the Monday after Rosa Parks, an African-American woman, was arrested for her refusal to surrender her seat to a white person – to December 20, 1956, when the federal ruling Browder v. Gayle took effect, and led to a United States Supreme Court decision that declared the Alabama and Montgomery laws that segregated buses were unconstitutional. …

 

Background

Before the bus boycott, Jim Crow laws mandated the racial segregation of the Montgomery Bus Line. As a result of this segregation, African Americans were not hired as drivers, were forced to ride in the back of the bus, and were frequently ordered to surrender their seats to white people even though black passengers made up 75% of the bus system’s riders. Many bus drivers treated their black passengers poorly beyond the law: African-Americans were assaulted, shortchanged, and left stranded after paying their fares.

The year before the bus boycott began, the Supreme Court decided unanimously, in the case of Brown v. Board of Education, that racial segregation in schools was unconstitutional. The reaction by the white population of the Deep South was “noisy and stubborn”. Many white bus drivers joined the White Citizens’ Council as a result of the decision.

Although it is often framed as the start of the civil rights movement, the boycott occurred at the end of many black communities’ struggles in the South to protect black women, such as Recy Taylor, from racial violence. The boycott also took place within a larger statewide and national movement for civil rights, including court cases such as Morgan v. Virginia, the earlier Baton Rouge bus boycott, and the arrest of Claudette Colvin for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus. …

 

History

Under the system of segregation used on Montgomery buses, the ten front seats were reserved for white people at all times. The ten back seats were supposed to be reserved for black people at all times. The middle section of the bus consisted of sixteen unreserved seats for white and black people on a segregated basis.[22] White people filled the middle seats from the front to back, and black people filled seats from the back to front until the bus was full. If other black people boarded the bus, they were required to stand. If another white person boarded the bus, then everyone in the black row nearest the front had to get up and stand so that a new row for white people could be created; it was illegal for white and black people to sit next to each other. When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat for a white person, she was sitting in the first row of the middle section.

Often when boarding the buses, black people were required to pay at the front, get off, and reenter the bus through a separate door at the back. Occasionally, bus drivers would drive away before black passengers were able to reboard. National City Lines owned the Montgomery Bus Line at the time of the Montgomery bus boycott. Under the leadership of Walter Reuther, the United Auto Workers donated almost $5,000 (equivalent to $51,000 in 2021) to the boycott’s organising committee.

 

Boycott

See the full details of the bus boycott on the Wikipedia website

 

Aftermath

White backlash against the court victory was quick, brutal, and, in the short term, effective. Two days after the inauguration of desegregated seating, someone fired a shotgun through the front door of Martin Luther King’s home. A day later, on Christmas Eve, white men attacked a black teenager as she exited a bus. Four days after that, two buses were fired upon by snipers. In one sniper incident, a pregnant woman was shot in both legs. On January 10, 1957, bombs destroyed five black churches and the home of Reverend Robert S. Graetz, one of the few white Montgomerians who had publicly sided with the MIA.

The City suspended bus service for several weeks on account of the violence. According to legal historian Randall Kennedy, “When the violence subsided and service was restored, many black Montgomerians enjoyed their newly recognised right only abstractly … In practically every other setting, Montgomery remained overwhelmingly segregated …” On January 23, a group of Klansmen (who would later be charged for the bombings) lynched a black man, Willie Edwards, on the pretext that he was dating a white woman.

The city’s elite moved to strengthen segregation in other areas, and in March 1957 passed an ordinance making it “unlawful for white and colored persons to play together, or, in company with each other … in any game of cards, dice, dominoes, checkers, pool, billiards, softball, basketball, baseball, football, golf, track, and at swimming pools, beaches, lakes or ponds or any other game or games or athletic contests, either indoors or outdoors.”

Later in the year, Montgomery police charged seven Klansmen with the bombings, but all of the defendants were acquitted. About the same time, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled against Martin Luther King’s appeal of his “illegal boycott” conviction. Rosa Parks left Montgomery due to death threats and employment blacklisting. According to Charles Silberman, “by 1963, most Negroes in Montgomery had returned to the old custom of riding in the back of the bus.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Shreveport, Louisiana' 1985

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Shreveport, Louisiana
1985
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Walls, Mississippi' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Walls, Mississippi
1984
Gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Lula, Mississippi' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Lula, Mississippi
1984
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Lula, Mississippi' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Lula, Mississippi
1984
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Helena, Arkansas' 1986

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Helena, Arkansas
1986
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Natchez, Mississippi' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Natchez, Mississippi
1984
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

 

Joseph Bellows Gallery is pleased to announce its upcoming exhibition, Baldwin Lee. The exhibition will open with a reception for the artist on Saturday, the 22nd of October, from 4 – 6pm, and continue through December 10th. This will be the second solo exhibition of the photographer’s work presented by Joseph Bellows Gallery. The gallery first showcased Lee’s epic project online, from April 18th – June 26, 2020.

The upcoming show will present a remarkable selection of vintage prints from this critically acclaimed and highly celebrated body of work taken within Black communities in the South, that began in 1983, and continued throughout that decade. The resulting collection of images from this seven-year period contains nearly ten thousand black-and-white negatives taken with a 4 x 5-inch view camera. Lee’s graceful pictures from this project perfectly balance the photographer’s presence and the subject’s will, honouring both through the resulting, beautifully printed 16 x 20-inch black-and-white photographs. The esteemed photography curator Joshua Chuang has noted that, “The pictures stand apart, not because they are depictions of Black subjects by a first-generation Chinese-American, but because they were made by a photographer of rare perception and instinct.”

Baldwin Lee studied photography with Minor White at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in 1972. Lee then continued his education at Yale University, where he studied with Walker Evans. He received a Master of Fine Arts in 1975. After school, Lee began teaching photography at the Massachusetts College of Art and then at Yale, while creating his own photographs, which at the time were rooted in the exploration of the contemporary built environment. Lee’s later work from the early to late-1980s entitled, Black Americans in the South (from which this exhibition is drawn), is a compelling and empathic portrait that represents its subjects within their rural environments, expressing the joys of childhood, the gravity of adult life, and the places in between. Images from Lee’s Southern work were featured in Aperture Magazine, Issue 115, ‘New Southern Photography: Between Myth and Reality’ (1989), and now form the newly published monograph, Baldwin Lee (Hunters Point Press, 2022).

Lee’s work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Chrysler Museum of Art, the Knoxville Museum of Art, the Southeast Center for Contemporary Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia. His photographs are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the University of Michigan Museum of Art, the University of Kentucky Art Museum, the Yale University Art Gallery, The Morgan Library, and the Museum of the City of New York. He has been honoured with fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation (1984) and the National Endowment for the Arts (1984 and 1990).

Text from the Joseph Bellows Gallery website [Online] Cited 28/10/2022

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Boyle, Mississippi' 1985

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Boyle, Mississippi
1985
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Columbia, South Carolina' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Columbia, South Carolina
1984
Gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Rosedale, Mississippi' 1985

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Rosedale, Mississippi
1985
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Monroe, Louisiana' 1985

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Monroe, Louisiana
1985
Gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Mobile, Alabama' 1983

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Mobile, Alabama
1983
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

 

Mobile, Alabama

20th century

The turn of the 20th century brought the Progressive Era to Mobile. The economic structure developed with new industries, generating new jobs and attracting a significant increase in population.[50] The population increased from around 40,000 in 1900 to 60,000 by 1920. During this time the city received $3 million in federal grants for harbour improvements to deepen the shipping channels. During and after World War I, manufacturing became increasingly vital to Mobile’s economic health, with shipbuilding and steel production being two of the most important industries.

During this time, social justice and race relations in Mobile worsened, however. The state passed a new constitution in 1901 that disenfranchised most blacks and many poor whites; and the white Democratic-dominated legislature passed other discriminatory legislation. In 1902, the city government passed Mobile’s first racial segregation ordinance, segregating the city streetcars. It legislated what had been informal practice, enforced by convention. Mobile’s African-American population responded to this with a two-month boycott, but the law was not repealed. After this, Mobile’s de facto segregation was increasingly replaced with legislated segregation as whites imposed Jim Crow laws to maintain supremacy.

In 1911 the city adopted a commission form of government, which had three members elected by at-large voting. Considered to be progressive, as it would reduce the power of ward bosses, this change resulted in the elite white majority strengthening its power, as only the majority could gain election of at-large candidates. In addition, poor whites and blacks had already been disenfranchised. Mobile was one of the last cities to retain this form of government, which prevented smaller groups from electing candidates of their choice. But Alabama’s white yeomanry had historically favoured single-member districts in order to elect candidates of their choice. …

A race riot broke out in May 1943 of whites against blacks. ADDSCO management had long maintained segregated conditions at the shipyards, although the Roosevelt administration had ordered defence contractors to integrate facilities. That year ADDSCO promoted 12 blacks to positions as welders, previously reserved for whites; and whites objected to the change by rioting on May 24. The mayor appealed to the governor to call in the National Guard to restore order, but it was weeks before officials allowed African Americans to return to work, keeping them away for their safety.

In the late 1940s, the transition to the postwar economy was hard for the city, as thousands of jobs were lost at the shipyards with the decline in the defence industry. Eventually the city’s social structure began to become more liberal. Replacing shipbuilding as a primary economic force, the paper and chemical industries began to expand. No longer needed for defence, most of the old military bases were converted to civilian uses. Following the war, in which many African Americans had served, veterans and their supporters stepped up activism to gain enforcement of their constitutional rights and social justice, especially in the Jim Crow South. During the 1950s the City of Mobile integrated its police force and Spring Hill College accepted students of all races. Unlike in the rest of the state, by the early 1960s the city buses and lunch counters voluntarily desegregated. …

In 1963, three African-American students brought a case against the Mobile County School Board for being denied admission to Murphy High School. This was nearly a decade after the United States Supreme Court had ruled in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) that segregation of public schools was unconstitutional. The federal district court ordered that the three students be admitted to Murphy for the 1964 school year, leading to the desegregation of Mobile County’s school system.

The civil rights movement gained congressional passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, eventually ending legal segregation and regaining effective suffrage for African Americans. But whites in the state had more than one way to reduce African Americans’ voting power. Maintaining the city commission form of government with at-large voting resulted in all positions being elected by the white majority, as African Americans could not command a majority for their candidates in the informally segregated city. …

Mobile’s city commission form of government was challenged and finally overturned in 1982 in City of Mobile v. Bolden, which was remanded by the United States Supreme Court to the district court. Finding that the city had adopted a commission form of government in 1911 and at-large positions with discriminatory intent, the court proposed that the three members of the city commission should be elected from single-member districts, likely ending their division of executive functions among them. Mobile’s state legislative delegation in 1985 finally enacted a mayor-council form of government, with seven members elected from single-member districts. This was approved by voters. As white conservatives increasingly entered the Republican Party in the late 20th century, African-American residents of the city have elected members of the Democratic Party as their candidates of choice. Since the change to single-member districts, more women and African Americans were elected to the council than under the at-large system.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'New Orleans, Louisiana' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
New Orleans, Louisiana
1984
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Canton, Mississippi' 1985

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Canton, Mississippi
1985
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Plain Dealing, Louisiana' 1985

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Plain Dealing, Louisiana
1985
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Plain Dealing is a town in Bossier Parish, Louisiana, United States. The population was 893 in 2020.

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Columbia, South Carolina' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Columbia, South Carolina
1984
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Quitman, Georgia' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Quitman, Georgia
1984
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Quitman is a city in and the county seat of Brooks County, Georgia, United States. The population was 3,850 at the 2010 census.

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Valdosta, Georgia' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Valdosta, Georgia
1984
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

 

Valdosta, Georgia

Valdosta is a city in and the county seat of Lowndes County, Georgia, United States. As of 2019, Valdosta had an estimated population of 56,457.

On May 16, 1918, a white planter named Hampton Smith was shot and killed at his house near Morven, Georgia, by a black farm worker named Sidney Johnson who was routinely mistreated by Smith. Johnson also shot Smith’s wife but she later recovered. Johnson hid for several days in Valdosta without discovery. Lynch mobs formed in Valdosta ransacking Lowndes and Brooks counties for a week looking for Johnson and his alleged accomplices. These mobs lynched at least 13 African Americans, among them Mary Turner and her unborn eight-month-old baby who was cut from her body and murdered. Mary Turner’s husband Hazel Turner was also lynched the day before.

Sidney Johnson was turned in by an acquaintance, and on May 22 Police Chief Calvin Dampier led a shootout at the Valdosta house where he was hiding. Following his death, a crowd of more than 700 castrated Johnson’s body, then dragged it behind a vehicle down Patterson Street and all the way to Morven, Georgia, near the site of Smith’s murder. There the body of Johnson was hanged and burned on a tree. That afternoon, Governor Hugh Dorsey ordered the state militia to be dispatched to Valdosta to halt the lynch mobs, but they arrived too late for many victims. Dorsey later denounced the lynchings, but none of the participants were ever prosecuted.

Following the violence, more than 500 African Americans fled from Lowndes and Brooks counties to escape such oppressive conditions and violence. From 1880 to 1930, Brooks County had the highest number of lynchings in the state of Georgia. By 1922 local chapters of the Ku Klux Klan, which had been revived starting in 1915, were holding rallies openly in Valdosta.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Valdosta, Georgia' 1986

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Valdosta, Georgia
1986
Vintage gelatin silver print
20 x 16 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Garnett, South Carolina' 1985

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Garnett, South Carolina
1985
Vintage gelatin silver print
20 x 16 inches

 

 

In 1983, Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) left his home in Knoxville, Tennessee, with his 4 × 5 view camera and set out on the first of a series of road trips to photograph the American South. The subject of his pictures were Black Americans: at home, at work, and at play, in the street, and among nature. This project would consume Lee – a first-generation Chinese American – for the remainder of that decade, and it would forever transform his perception of his country, its people, and himself. The resulting archive from this seven-year period contains nearly ten thousand black-and-white negatives. This monograph, Baldwin Lee, presents a selection of eighty-eight images edited by the photographer Barney Kulok, accompanied by an interview with Lee by the curator Jessica Bell Brown and an essay by the writer Casey Gerald. Arriving almost four decades after Lee began his journey, this publication reveals the artist’s unique commitment to picturing life in America and, in turn, one of the most piercing and poignant bodies of work of its time.

“A new book – the first-ever collection of [Baldwin] Lee’s work – and a solo exhibition in New York make the case that he is one of the great overlooked luminaries of American picture-making. It’s not often that a body of photography is hoisted up from obscurity and straight into the canon.”

~ Chris Wiley, The New Yorker

“The warmth and soulfulness of his work is not the result of intellectual effort; it’s grounded in understanding, a combination of intensity and restraint, and, surely, a shared sense of otherness.”

~ Vince Aletti, Photograph Magazine

“… Walker Evans was one of Lee’s teachers. Like Evans, Lee has a sensitive eye for both poverty and dignity. But Lee’s southern exposure wasn’t overwhelmingly white, as it was in Evans’s classic “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.” Quite the contrary, Lee is a witness to those at the bottom of U.S. stratification, and their refusal to swallow that status. … The work is political, because it exposes the violence of poverty inherited from the plantation-economy past. But it is most of all attentiveness to the composure of his subjects that is echoed masterfully in the composition of his shots. …We are a motley assortment of people in the United States. Our relations are not tidy, not in their beauty, nor in their disastrous disaffection and cruelty. ”

~ Imani Perry, The Atlantic

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
20 x 16 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
20 x 16 inches

 

 

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09
Nov
22

Text: “Historical Pressings” chapter from Marcus Bunyan’s PhD research ‘Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male’, RMIT University, Melbourne, 2001

November 2022

 

Hippolyte Bayard (French, 1801–1887) 'Self-Portrait as a Drowned Man' 1840

 

Hippolyte Bayard (French, 1801-1887)
Self-Portrait as a Drowned Man
1840
Direct Positive Print
Public domain

 

 

Since the demise of my old website, my PhD research Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male (RMIT University, Melbourne, 2001) has no longer been available online.

I have now republished the first of twelve chapters, “Historical Pressings”, so that it is available to read. More chapters will be added as I get time. I hope the text is of some interest. Other chapters include Bench Press which investigates the development of gym culture, its ‘masculinity’, ‘lifestyle’, and the images used to represent it.

Dr Marcus Bunyan November 2022

 

 

“Historical Pressings” chapter from Marcus Bunyan’s PhD research Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male RMIT University, Melbourne, 2001

Through plain language English (not academic speak) the text of this chapter examines the history of photographic images of the male body, including the male body as desired by gay men, and the portrayal in photography of the gay male body.

NB. This chapter should be read in conjunction with the Bench Press and Re-Pressentation chapters for a fuller overview of the development of the muscular male body. This chapter also contains descriptions of sexual activity.

 

Keywords

male body image, gay beauty myth, history of photographs of the male body, development of bodybuilding, queer body, gay male body, gay male body and HIV/AIDS, HIV/AIDS, photographic images of the male body, male2male sex, ephebe, muscular mesomorph, muscular male body, photography, art, erotic art, physique photography, Kinsey Institute, One Institute, gay pornography magazines, Physique Pictorial, Tom of Finland, cult of muscularity.

 

Sections

  • Beginnings
  • Frederick Holland Day and Baron von Gloeden
  • The Development of Bodybuilding
  • WWI, Nature Worship, The Body and Propaganda
  • Surrealism and the Body: George Platt Lynes
  • 1930s Australian Body Architecture
  • Minor White
  • Physique Culture after WW2 (Tom of Finland, 1950s Australia, Later Physique Culture and gay pornography photographs)
  • Diane Arbus
  • Robert Mapplethorpe
  • Arthur Tress, Bill Henson and Bruce Weber
  • Herb Ritts, Queer Press, Queer body
  • And so it goes…

Word count 10,600

 

 

Historical Pressings

 

Beginnings

Since the invention of the camera people have taken photographs of the male body. The 1840 image by Hippolyte Bayard, Self-portrait as a drowned man (above) is a self-portrait by the photographer depicting his fake suicide, taken in protest at being ignored as one of the inventors of photography. It is interesting because it is one of the earliest known photographic images of the unclothed male body and also a reflection of his self, an act of self-reflexivity. It is not his actual body but a reflection on how he would like to be seen by himself and others. This undercurrent of being seen, of projecting an image of the male body, has gradually been sexualised over the history of photography. The body in a photograph has become a canvas, able to mask or reveal the sexuality, identity and desires of the body and its owner. The male body in photography has become an object of desire for both the male and female viewer. The body is on display, open to the viewers gaze, possibly a desiring gaze. In the latter half of the twentieth century it is the muscular male body in particular that has become eroticised as an object of a desiring male2male gaze. In consumer society the muscular male body now acts as a sexualised marketable asset, used by ourselves and others, by the media and by companies to sell product. How has this sexual image of the muscular male body developed?

Within the history of art there is a profundity of depictions of the nude female form upon which the desiring gaze of the male could linger. With the advent of photography images of the nude male body became an accessible space for men desiring to look upon the bodies of other men. The nude male images featured in the early history of photography are endearing in their supposed lack of artifice. The bodies are of a natural type: everyday, normal run of the mill bodies reveal themselves directly to the camera as can be seen in the anonymous c. 1843 French daguerreotype, “Male Nude Study”.1 Although posed and required to hold the stance for a long period of time in order to expose the mercury plate, the model in this daguerreotype assumes a quiet confidence and comfort in his own body, staring directly at the camera whilst revealing his manhood for all to see. This period sees the first true revealing of the male body since the Renaissance, and the beginning of the eroticising of the male body as a visual ‘spectacle’ in the modern era.

Artists with an inclination towards the beauty of naked men were drawn towards the new medium. The photograph opened up the male body to the desiring gaze of the male viewer. The photograph reflected both reality and deception: the reality that these bodies existed in the flesh and the deception that they could be ‘had’, that the viewer could possess the body by looking, by eroticising, and through purchasing the photograph. Friendship between men was generally accepted up until the 18th century but in Victorian times homosexuality was named and classified as a sexual orientation in the early 1870’s. According to Michel Foucault2 this ‘friendship’ only became a problem with the rise of the powers of the police and the judiciary, who saw it as a deviant act; of course photography, as an instrument of ‘truth’, could prove the criminal activities of homosexuals and lead to their prosecution. When homosexual acts did come to the attention of the police and the medical profession it led to great scandals such as the trial and imprisonment of Oscar Wilde for sodomy.

 

Eadweard Muybridge (English, 1830-1904) 'Nude men wrestling, lock' (plate 345) 1884/1886

 

Eadweard Muybridge (English, 1830-1904)
Nude men wrestling, lock (plate 345)
1884/1886
Public domain

Eadweard Muybridge. Animal locomotion: an electro-photographic investigation of consecutive phases of animal movements. 1872-1885 / published under the auspices of the University of Pennsylvania. Plates. The plates printed by the Photo-Gravure Company. Philadelphia, 1887

 

 

On reflection there seems to have been an explosion of images around the late 1880’s to early 1890’s onwards of what we can now call homoerotic imagery; to contemporary eyes the 1887 photographs of nude wrestlers by Eadweard Muybridge have a distinct air of homo-eroticism about them. To keep such images above moral condemnation and within the bounds of propriety men where photographed in poses that were used for scientific studies (as in the case of the Muybridge photographs), as studies for other artists, or in religious poses. They appealed to the classical Greek ideal of masculinity and therefore avoided the sanctions of a society that was, on the surface, deeply conservative. For a brief moment imagine being a homosexual man in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, gazing for the first time at men in close physical proximity, touching each other in the nude, pressing each others flesh when such behaviour was thought of as subversive and illegal – what erotic desires photographs of the male body must have caused to those that appreciated such delicious pleasures, seeing them for the first time!

 

Frederick Holland Day and Baron von Gloeden

Two of the most famous photographers of the late Victorian and early Edwardian era who used the male body significantly in their work were Frederick Holland Day in America and Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden in Europe. Frederick Holland Day’s photographs of the male body concentrated on mythological and religious subject matter. In these photographs he tried to reveal a transcendence of spirit through an aesthetic vision of androgynous physical perfection. He revelled in the sensuous hedonistic beauty of what he saw as the perfection of the youthful male body. In the 1904 photograph “St. Sebastian,” for example, the young male body is presented for our adoring gaze in the combined ecstasy and agony of suffering. In his mythological photographs Holland Day used the idealism of Ancient Greece as the basis for his directed and staged images. These are not the bodies of muscular men but of youthful boys (ephebes) in their adolescence; they seem to have an ambiguous sexuality. The models genitalia are rarely shown and when they are, the penis is usually hidden in dark shadow, imbuing the photographs with a sexual mystery. The images are suffused with an erotic beauty of the male body never seen before, a photographic reflection of a seductive utopian beauty seen through the desiring eye of a homosexual photographer.

 

Frederick Holland Day (American, 1864-1933) 'Saint Sebastian' c. 1906

 

Frederick Holland Day (American, 1864-1933)
Saint Sebastian
c. 1906
Platinum print

See Frederick Holland Day. “Saint Sebastian.” Platinum print, c. 1906, in Woody, Jack and Crump, James. F. Holland Day: Suffering The Ideal. Santa Fe: Twin Palms Publishers, 1995, Plate 53. Courtesy: Library of Congress

 

 

In Europe Wilhelm von Gloeden’s photographs of young ephebes (males between boy and man) have a much more open and confronting sexual presence. Using heavily set Sicilian peasant youths with rough hands and feet von Gloeden turned some of these bodies into heroic images of Grecian legend, usually photographing his nude figures in their entirety. In undertaking research into von Gloedens’ photographs at The Kinsey Institute, I was quite surprised at how little von Gloeden used classical props such as togas and vases in his photographs, relying instead on just the form of the body with perhaps a ribbon in the hair. His photographs depict the penis and the male rump quite openly and he hints at possible erotic sexual encounters between models through their intimate gaze and physical contact.

The photographs were collected by some people for their chaste and idyllic nature but for others, such as homosexual men, there is a subtext of latent homo-eroticism present in the positioning and presentation of the youthful male body. The imagery of the penis and the male rump can be seen as totally innocent, but to homosexual men desire can be aroused by the depiction of such erogenous zones within these photographs.

In both photographers work there is a reliance on the ‘natural’ body. In von Gloeden’s case it is the smooth peasant body with rough hands and feet; in Holland Day’s it is the smooth sinuous body of the adolescent. At the same time in both Europe and America, however, there began to emerge a new form for the body of a man, that of the muscular mesomorph, the V-shaped masculine ‘ideal’ expressed through the image of the bodybuilder, photographed in all his muscular splendour!

 

Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden (1856-1931), Germany 'Two nude men standing in a forest' Taormina, Sicily, 1899

 

Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden (German, 1856-1931)
Two nude men standing in a forest
Taormina, Sicily, 1899
Albumen print

 

 

The Development of Bodybuilding

Frederick Mueller, better known to the world as the Prussian bodybuilder Eugen Sandow, was launched on the public at the World’s Colombian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. He was the world’s first true bodybuilder and he had a thick set muscular body with an outstanding back and abdominal muscles.

Bodybuilding came into existence as a result of the perceived effeminization of men brought on by the effects of the industrial revolution – boxing, gymnastics and weightlifting were undertaken to combat slothfulness, lack of exercise and unmanliness. This led to the formation of what Elliott Gorn in his book The Manly Art (Robson Books, 1986) has called ‘The Cult of Muscularity’,3 where the ‘ideal’ of the perfect masculine body can be linked to a concern for the position and power of men in an industrialised world. Sandow promoted himself not as the strongest man in the world but as the man with the most perfect physique, the first time this had ever happened in the history of the male body. He projected an ideal of physical perfection. He used photography of his muscular torso to promote himself and his products such as books, dumbbells and a brand of cocoa. He often performed and was photographed in the nude by leading photographers in Europe and America and was not at all bashful about exposing his naked body to the admiring gaze of both men and women.

His torso appeared on numerous cartes de visite, inspiring other young men to take up bodybuilding and gradually the muscular male body became an object of adulation for middle-class men and boys. The popularity of the image of his perfect body encouraged other men to purchase images of such muscular edifices and allowed them to desire to have a body like Sandow’s themselves. It also allowed homosexual men to eroticise the body of the male through their desiring gaze. But the ‘normal’ standards of heterosexual masculinity had to be defended. A desiring male gaze (men looking at the bodies of other men) could not be allowed to be homosexual; homosexuals were portrayed by the popular press and society as effete and feminine in order to deny the fact that a ‘real’ man could desire other men.4 (See the Femi-nancy Press chapter for more details on how homosexuals were portrayed as feminine). A man had to be a ‘real’ man otherwise he could be queer, an arse bandit!

 

Napoleon Sarony (French, 1821-1896) 'Eugen Sandow' 1893

 

Napoleon Sarony (French, 1821-1896)
Eugen Sandow
1893
Photographic print on cabinet card
Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

 

 

Still, photographs of Greco-Roman wrestling continued to offer the opportunity for homosexual men to look upon the muscular bodies of other men in close physical proximity and intimacy. A classical wrestling style and classical props legitimised the subject matter. In static poses, which most photographs were at this time because of the length of the exposure, the genitalia were usually covered with a discreetly placed fig leaf or loin cloth, or the fig leaf / posing pouch were added later by retouching the photograph (as can be seen in the anonymous undated image of two wrestlers, “Otto Arco and Adrian Deraiz”).5 People such as Bernard MacFadden, publisher of Physical Culture, said these images were not at all erotic when viewed by other men. I think I would have found these images very horny (if a little illicit), if I had been a poof back in those days.

The physique of the muscular body had appeal across all class boundaries and bodybuilding was one of the first social activities that could be undertaken by any man no matter what his social position. Bodybuilding reinforced the power of traditional heterosexual behaviour – to be the breadwinner and provider for women, men had to see themselves as strong, tough and masculine. A fit, strong body is a productive body able to do more work through its shear physical bulk and endurance. Unlike the anonymous bodies in the photographs of Holland Day and von Gloeden here the bodies are named as individuals, men proud of their masculine bodies. It is the photographers that are anonymous, as though they are of little consequence in comparison to the flesh that is placed before their lenses.

I suggest that the impression the muscular body made on individual men was also linked to developments in other areas (art, construction and architecture for example), which were themselves influenced by industrialisation and its affect on social structure. In her book Space, Time and Perversion: Essays on the Politics of Bodies (Routledge, 1995), Elizabeth Grosz says that the city is an important element in the social production of sexually active bodies. As the cities became further industrialised and the population of cities increased in the Victorian era, space to build new buildings was at a premium. The 1890s saw the building of the first skyscrapers in America, impressive pieces of engineering that towered above the city skyline. Their object was to get more internal volume and external surface area into the same amount of space so that the building held more and was more visible to the human eye. I believe this construction has parallels in the similar development of the muscular male body, a facade with more surface area than other men’s bodies, which makes that man more visible, admired and (secretly) desired.

Further, in art the Futurists believed in the ultimate power of the machine and portrayed both the machine and the body in a blur of speed and motion. In the Age of the Machine the construction of the body became industrialised, the body becoming armoured against the outside world and the difficulty of living in it. The body became a machine, indestructible, superhuman. Within this demanding world men sought to confirm their dominance over women (especially after women achieved the ability to vote), and other men. Domination was affirmed partially through images of the muscular male (as can be seen in the image Charles Atlas and Tony Sansone in “The Slave” below), although viewed through contemporary eyes a definite homo-erotic element is also present.

Charles Atlas and Tony Sansone in “The Slave” also presents us with a man who challenged the fame of Eugen Sandow. His name was Tony Sansone and he emerged as the new hero of bodybuilding around the year 1925. Graced with a perfect physique for a taller man, Sansone was more lithe than the stocky, muscular Sandow and can be seen to represent a classical heroic Grecian body, perfect in it’s form. He had Valentino like features, perfect bone structure and was very photogenic, always a useful asset when selling a book of photographs of yourself.

 

Grace Salon of Art. 'Charles Atlas and Tony Sansone in "The Slave"' 1930s

 

Grace Salon of Art
Charles Atlas and Tony Sansone in “The Slave”
1930s

 

Edwin F. Townsend (American, 1877-1948) 'Portrait of Tony Sansone' Nd

 

Edwin F. Townsend (American, 1877-1948)
Portrait of Tony Sansone
Nd (1930s)

 

 

WWI, Nature Worship, The Body and Propaganda

The First World War caused a huge amount of devastation to the morale and confidence of the male population of Europe and America. Millions of young men were slaughtered on the killing fields of Flanders and Galipolli as the reality of trench warfare set in. Here it did not matter what kind of body a man had – every body was fodder for the machine guns that constantly ranged the lines of advancing men during an assault. A bullet or nerve gas kills a strong, muscular body just as well as a thin, natural body. The war created anxieties and conflicts in men and undermined their confidence and ability to cope in the world after peace came. During the war images of men were used to reinforce the patriotic message of fighting for your country. After the war the Surrealist and German Expressionist movements made use of photography of the body to depict the dreams, deprivations and abuse that men were suffering as a result of it. In opposition to this avant-garde art and to reinforce the message of the strong, omnipotent male – images of muscular bodies were again used to shore up traditional ‘masculine’ values. They were used to advertise sporting events such as boxing and wrestling matches and sporting heroes appeared on cigarette cards emphasising skills and achievements. These images and events ensured that masculinity was kept at the forefront of human endeavour and social cognisance.

After the devastation of The First World War, the 1920’s saw the development in Germany, America and England of the cult of ‘nature worship’ – a love of the outdoors, the sun and the naturalness of the body that would eventually lead to the formation of the nudist movement. This movement was exploited by governments and integrated into the training regimes of their armies in the search for a fitter more professional soldier. But the nudity aspect was frowned upon because of its homo-erotic overtones: Hitler banned all naturist clubs in Germany in 1933 and the obvious eroticism of training in the nude would not have been overlooked. Physical training had been introduced into the armies and navies of the Western world at the end of the 19th century and as the new century progressed physical fitness was seen as an integral part of the discipline and efficiency of such bodies. As fascist states started to emerge during the latter half of the 1920’s and the beginning of the 1930’s they started making use of the muscular male body as a symbol of physical perfection.

The idealised muscularity of the body was used by the state to encourage its aims. The use of classical images of muscular bodies reflected a nostalgia for the past and an appeal to nationalism. Heroic statues were recreated in stadiums in Italy and Germany, symbols that represented the power, strength and virility of the state and its leaders. In a totalitarian regime the body becomes the property of the state, and is used as a tool in collusion with the state’s moral and political agendas. Propaganda became a major tool of the state. During the decade leading up to the Second World War and during the war itself images of the body were used to help support the policies of the government, to encourage enlistment and bolster the morale of soldiers and public. Such images appealed to the patriotic nature of the population but could still include suspicions of homo-erotic activity, such as in the (probably Russian) poster from 1935 (below).

 

Anonymous photographer. 'The Ball Throwers' c. 1925

 

Anonymous photographer
The Ball Throwers
c. 1925
Army Training
Germany

 

“The training methods of Major Hans Suren, Chief of the German Army School of Physical Exercise in the 1920’s, involved training naked – pursuing ideals of physical perfection which were later promoted by Hitler as a sign of Aryan racial superiority.”

Anonymous photographer. “The Ball Throwers.” Army Training. Germany. c. 1925, in Dutton, Kenneth. The Perfectible Body. London: Cassell, 1995, p. 208

 

Unknown photographer. Josef Thorak "Comradeship" 1937

 

Unknown photographer
Josef Thorak “Comradeship”
1937
German Pavilion at the Paris Exposition Internationale

 

“Comradeship”, at the entrance to the German pavilion at the Paris World Exhibition 1937, by Josef Thorak, who was one of two “official sculptors” of the 3rd Reich. Nazi era statues were often strangely homoerotic.6

Here comradeship should not be confused with friendship which was discussed at the beginning of this chapter.

 

Anonymous artist. 'Propaganda poster' 1935

 

Anonymous artist
Propaganda poster
1935

 

 

Surrealism and the Body: George Platt Lynes

In contrast to the fascistic depictions of the male body used for propaganda, Surrealism (formed in the 1920s) was adapted by several influential gay photographers in the 1930s to express their own artistic interest in the male body. Although Surrealism was heavily anti-feminine and anti-homosexual, these gay male photographers, the Germans Herbert List, Horst P. Horst, and George Hoyningen-Huene and the American George Platt Lynes, made extensive use of the liberation of fantasies that Surrealism offered. Although the open depiction of homosexuality was still not possible in the 1930s there is an intuitive awareness on the part of the photographers and the viewer of the presence of sexual rituals and interactions. There is also the knowledge that there is a ready audience for these photographs, not only in the close circle of friends that surrounded the photographers, but also from gay men that instinctively recognise the homo-erotic quality of these images when shown them. The bodies in the images of the above photographers tend to be of two distinct types, the ephebe and the muscular mesomorphic body.

 

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

 

George Platt Lynes (American, 1907-1955)
A Forgotten Model
c. 1937
Gelatin silver print

 

George Platt Lynes. 'The Sleepwalker' 1935

 

George Platt Lynes (American, 1907-1955)
The Sleepwalker
1935
Gelatin silver print

 

George Platt Lynes (1907-1955) 'Names Withheld' 1952

 

George Platt Lynes (American, 1907-1955)
Names Withheld
1952
Gelatin silver print

 

Herbert List (German, 1903-1975) 'Armor II' 1934

 

Herbert List (German, 1903-1975)
Armor II
1934
Gelatin silver print
15 7/10 × 11 4/5 in (40 × 30cm)

 

Herbert List (German, 1903-1975) 'Young men on Naxos' 1937

 

Herbert List (German, 1903-1975)
Young men on Naxos
1937
Gelatin silver print

 

George Platt Lynes (American, 1907-1955) 'Untitled' 1936

 

George Platt Lynes (American, 1907-1955)
Untitled
1936
Gelatin silver print

 

 

In America George Platt Lynes was working as a fashion photographer. George Platt Lynes had his own studio in New York where he photographed dancers, artists and celebrities amongst others. He undertook a series of mythological photographs on classical themes (which are amazing for their composition which features Surrealist motifs). Privately he photographed male nudes but was reluctant to show them in public for fear of the harm that they could do to his reputation and business with the fashion magazines. Generally his earlier nude photographs concentrate on the idealised youthful body or ‘ephebe’. The 1936 photograph “Untitled” (above) is an exception. Here we gaze upon a smooth, defined muscular torso, the man (too old to be an ephebe) both in agony and ecstasy, his head thrown back, his eyes covered by one of his arms. Sightless he does not see the ‘other’ male hand that encloses his genitals, hiding them but also possibly about to molest them / release them at the same time. (NB. See my research notes on George Platt Lynes photographs in the Collection at the Kinsey Institute).

We can relate this photograph to Fred Holland Day’s photograph of “St. Sebastian” discussed earlier, this image stripped bare of most of the religious iconography of the previous image. The body is displayed for our adoration in all its muscularity, the lighting picking up the definition of diaphragm, ribs and chest, the hand hiding and perhaps, in the future, offering release to a suppressed sexuality. Here an-‘other’ hand is much closer to the origin of male2male sexual desire. Looking at this photograph you can visualise a sexual fantasy, so I imagine that it would have had the same effect on homosexual men when they looked at it in the 1930s.

In the slightly later nude photographs by George Platt Lynes the latent homo-eroticism evident in his earlier work becomes even more apparent.

In his image from 1942 “Untitled” we observe three young men in bare surroundings, likely to be Platt Lynes studio. The faces of the three men are not visible at all, evoking a sexual anonymity (According to David Leddick the models are Charles ‘Tex’ Smutney, Charles ‘Buddy’ Stanley, and Bradbury Ball.7 The image comes from a series of 30 photographs of these three boys undressing and lying on a bed together; please see my notes on Image 483 and others from this series in the Collection at The Kinsey Institute).

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled [Charles 'Tex' Smutney, Charles 'Buddy' Stanley, and Bradbury Ball]' c. 1942

 

George Platt Lynes (American, 1907-1955)
Untitled [Charles ‘Tex’ Smutney, Charles ‘Buddy’ Stanley, and Bradbury Ball]
c. 1942
Gelatin silver print

 

 

On a chair sits a pile of discarded clothes and in the background a man is removing the clothing of another man. The bulge of the man’s penis is quite visible through the material of the underpants. On the bed lies another man, face down, passive, unresisting, head turned away from us, the curve of his arse signalling a site of erotic activity for a gay man. Our gaze is directed to the arse of the man lying on the bed as a site of sexual desire and although nothing is actually happening in the photograph, there is a sexual ‘frisson’ in its composition.

As Lynes became more despondent with his career as a fashion photographer his private photographs of male nudes tended to take on a darker and sharper edge. After a period of residence in Hollywood he returned to New York nearly penniless. His style of photographing the male nude underwent a revision. While the photographs of his European colleagues still relied on the sun drenched bodies of young adolescent males evoking memories of classical beauty and the mythology of Ancient Greece the later nudes of Platt Lynes feature a mixture of youthful ephebes and heavier set bodies which appear to be more sexually knowing. The compositional style of dramatically lit photographs of muscular torsos of older men shot in close up (see the undated image “Untitled,” Frontal Male Nude, for example; see also my notes on this image, Image 144, in the Collection at The Kinsey Institute), were possibly influenced by a number of things – his time in Hollywood with its images of handsome, swash-buckling movie stars with broad chests and magnificent physiques; the images of bodybuilders by physique photographers that George Platt Lynes visited; the fact that his lover George Tichenor had been killed during WWII; and the knowledge that he was penniless and had cancer. There is, I think, a certain perhaps not desperation but sadness and strength in much of his later photographs of the male nude that harnesses the inherent sexual power embedded within their subject matter.

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled (Frontal Male Nude)' nd

 

George Platt Lynes (American, 1907-1955)
Untitled [Frontal Male Nude]
Nd
Gelatin silver print

Platt Lynes, George. “Untitled,” Nd in Ellenzweig, Allen. The Homoerotic Photograph. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992, p. 103.
Courtesy: Estate of George Platt Lynes.

 

“The depth and commitment he had in photographing the male nude, from the start of his career to the end, was astonishing. There was absolutely no commercial impulse involved – he couldn’t exhibit it, he couldn’t publish it.”

Allen Ellenzweig. Introduction to George Platt Lynes: The Male Nudes. Rizzoli, 2011.

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled' 1953

 

George Platt Lynes (American, 1907-1955)
Untitled
Date unknown (early 1950s)
Gelatin silver print

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled' 1953

 

George Platt Lynes (American, 1907-1955)
Untitled
1953
Gelatin silver print

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Ted Starkowski (standing, arms behind back)' c. 1950

 

George Platt Lynes (American, 1907-1955)
Ted Starkowski (standing, arms behind back)
c. 1950
Gelatin silver print from a paper negative

 

 

The monumentality of body and form was matched by a new openness in the representation of sexuality. There are intimate photographs of men in what seem to be post-coital revere, in unmade beds, genitalia showing or face down showing their butts off (See my description of Untitled Nude, 1946, in the Collection at The Kinsey Institute). Some of the faces in these later photographs remain hidden, as though disclosure of identity would be detrimental for fear of persecution. The “Untitled,” Frontal Male Nude photograph (above) is very ‘in your face’ for the conservative time from which it emerges, remembering it was the era of witch hunts against communists and subversives (including homosexuals).

This photograph is quite restrained compared to one of the most striking series of GPL’s photographs that I saw at The Kinsey Institute which involves an exploration the male anal area. A photograph from the 1951 series can be found in the book titled George Platt Lynes: Photographs from The Kinsey Institute.8 This image is far less explicit than other images of the same model from the same series that I saw during my research into GPL’s photographs at The Kinsey Institute,9 in particular one which depicts the model with his buttocks in the air pulling his arse cheeks apart (See my description of Images 186-194 in the Collection at The Kinsey Institute). After Lynes found out he had cancer he started to send his photographs to the German homoerotic magazine Der Kries under the pseudonym Roberto Rolf,10 and in the last years of his life he experimented with paper negatives, which made his images of the male body even more grainy and mysterious (See the photograph Ted Starkowski (1950, above), and see my notes on Male Nude 1951, in the Collection at The Kinsey Institute).

Personally I believe that Lynes understood, intimately, the different physical body types that gay men find desirable and used them in his photographs. He visited Lon of New York (a photographer of beefcake men) in his studio and purchased photographs of bodybuilders for himself, as did the German photographer George Hoyningen-Huene, another artist who was gay. It is likely that these images of bodybuilders did influence his later compositional style of images of men; it is also possible that he detected the emergence of this iconic male body type as a potent sexual symbol, one that that was becoming more visible and sexually available to gay men.

 

Max Dupain. 'Sunbaker' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Sunbaker
1937
Gelatin silver print

 

 

1930s Australian Body Architecture

Around the time that George Platt Lynes was photographing his earlier male nudes Max Dupain took what is seen to be an archetypal photograph of the Australian way of life. Called Sunbaker (1937, above), the photograph expresses the bronzed form of man lying prone on the ground, the man pressing his flesh into the warm sand as the sun beats down on a hot summers day. His hand touches the earth and his head rests, egg-like, on his arm. His shoulders remind me of the outline of Uluru (or Ayres Rock) in the centre of Australia, sculptural, almost cathedral like in their geometry and outline, soaring into the sky. Here the male body is a massive edifice, towering above the eye line, his body wet from the sea expressing the essence of Australian beach culture. In this photograph can be seen evidence of an Australian tradition of photographing hunky lifesavers and surfies to the delight of a gay audience which reached a peak in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, although I’m not sure that Max Dupain would have realised the homoerotic overtones of the photograph at the time.

 

Minor White

Another photographer haunted by his sexuality was the American Minor White. Disturbed by having been in battle in the Second World War and seeing some of his best male friends killed, White’s early photographs of men (in their uniforms) depict the suffering and anguish that the mental and physical stress of war can cause. He was even more upset than most because he was battling his own inner sexual demons at the same time, his shame and disgust at being a homosexual and attracted to men, a difficulty compounded by his religious upbringing. In his photographs White both denied his attraction to men and expressed it. His photographs of the male body are suffused with both sexual mystery and a celebration of his sexuality despite his bouts of guilt. After the war he started to use the normal everyday bodies of his friends to form sequences of photographs, sometimes using the body as a metaphor for the landscape and vice versa. Based on a religious theme the 1948 photograph Tom Murphy (San Francisco) (1948, below) from The Temptation of Saint Anthony is Mirrors, 1948, presents us with a dismembered hairy body front on, the hands clutching and caressing the body at the same time, the lower hand hovering near the exposed genitalia. As in the photographs of Platt Lynes we see the agony and ecstasy of a homo-erotic desire wrapped up in a religious or mythological theme.

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Tom Murphy (San Francisco)' 1948

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Tom Murphy (San Francisco)
1948
From The Temptation of Saint Anthony is Mirrors 1948
Gelatin silver print

 

Minor White (American, 1908–1976) 'Nude Foot, San Francisco' 1947

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Nude Foot, San Francisco
1947
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Other images (such as Nude Foot 1947, above) seem to have an aura of desire, mysticism, vulnerability and inner spirituality. White photographed when he was in a state of meditation, hoping for a “revelation,” a revealing of spirit in the subsequent negative and finally print. Perhaps this is why the young men in his photographs always seem vulnerable, alone, available, and have an air of mystery – they reflect his inner state of mind, and consequently express feelings about his own sexuality. In reading through my research notes on his photographs at The Minor White Archive, I notice that I found them a very intense, rich and rewarding experience. It was amazing to find Minor White photographs of erect penises dating from the 1940s amongst the archive but even more amazing was the presence that these photographs had for me. The other overriding feeling was one of perhaps loneliness, sadness, anguish(?), for the bodies seemed to be just observed and not partaken of. As with Platt Lynes photographs of men, very few of Minor White’s male portraits were ever exhibited in his lifetime because of his fear of being exposed as a homosexual.

 

Physique Culture after WW2

At the same time that Minor White was exploring anxieties surrounding his sexuality and his war experiences, many other American men were returning home from WWII to America to find that they had to reaffirm the traditional place of the male as the breadwinner within the family unit. Masculinity and a muscular body image was critical in this reaffirmation. Powerful in build and strong in image it was used to counter the threat of newly independent females, females who had taken over the jobs of men while they were away at war. Conversely, many gay men returned home to America after the war knowing that they were not as alone as they had previously thought, having socialised, associated, fought and had sex with others of their kind. There were other gay men out there in the world and the beginnings of contemporary gay society started to be formed. A desire by some gay men for the masculine body image found expression in the publications of body-building books and magazines that continued to be produced within the boundaries of social acceptability after the Second World War.

Photographers such as Russ Warner, Al Urban, Lon of New York (who began their careers in the late 1930’s), Bob Mizer (started Physique Pictorial in 1945), Charles Renslow (started Kris studio in 1954), and Bruce of Los Angeles, sought out models on both sides of the Atlantic (See my notes on the images of some of these photographers held in the Collection at the Kinsey Institute). Models appeared in posing pouches or the negatives were again airbrushed to hide offending genitalia. Some unpublished images from 1942-1950 by Bruce of Los Angeles show an older man sucking off a stiff younger man (See my notes on Images No. 52001-52004 from the link above) but this is the rare exception rather than the rule.

 

Bob Mizer/Athletic Model Guild. 'Irwin Kosewski and Jerry Ross' Nd

 

Bob Mizer (American, 1922-1992) / Athletic Model Guild
Irwin Kosewski and Jerry Ross
Nd

Mizer, Bob/Athletic Model Guild. “Irwin Kosewski and Jerry Ross,” Nd, in Domenique (ed.,). Art in Physique Photography. Vol. 1. Man’s World Publishing Company. Chesham: The Carlton Press, Nd, p. 19.

 

Joe Corey. 'Bill Henry and Bob Baker' Nd

 

Joe Corey
Bill Henry and Bob Baker
Nd

Corey, Joe. “Bill Henry and Bob Baker,” Nd, in Domenique (ed.,). Art in Physique Photography. Vol. 1. Man’s World Publishing Company. Chesham: The Carlton Press, Nd, p. 27.

 

 

Appealing to a closeted homosexual clientele the published images seem, on reflection, to have had a more open, homo-erotic quality to them than earlier physique photographs. This can be observed in the two undated images, “Irwin Kosewski and Jerry Ross,” by Bob Mizer / Athletic Model Guild and “Bill Henry and Bob Baker,” by Joe Carey. The first image carries on the tradition of the Sansone image “The Slave,” but further develops the sado-masochistic overtones; such wrestling photographs became popular just because the models were shown touching each other, which could provide sexual arousal for gay men looking at the photographs.

Some photographs were taken out of doors instead of always in the studio, possibly an expression of a more open attitude to ways of depicting the nude male body. The bodies in the ‘beefcake’ magazines of the 1950’s tend to be bigger than that of the ephebe, even when the models were quite young in some cases. As the name ‘beefcake’ implies, the muscular mesomorphic shape was the attraction of these bodies – perfectly proportioned Adonis’s with bulging pectorals, large biceps, hard as rock abdomens and small waists. The 1950’s saw the beginning of the fixation of gay men with the muscular mesomorph as the ultimate ideal image of a male body. The lithe bodies of young dancers and swimmers now gives way to muscle – a built body, large in its construction, solid and dependable, sculpted like a piece of rock. These bodies are usually smooth and it is difficult to find a hirsute body11 in any of the photographs from the physique magazines of this time. According to Alan Berube in his book, Coming Out Under Fire,

“The post-war growth and commercialization of gay male erotica in the form of mail-order 8 mm films, photographic stills, and physique magazines were developed in part by veterans and drew heavily on World War II uniforms and iconography for erotic imagery.”12

.
Looking through images from the 1940s in the collection at The Kinsey Institute, I did find that uniforms were used as a fetish in some of the explicitly erotic photographs as a form of sexual iconography. These photographs of male2male sex were for private consumption only. I found little evidence of the use of uniforms as sexual iconography in the published photographs of the physique magazines. Here image composition mainly featured classical themes, beach scenes, outdoor and studio settings.

 

Touko Valio Laaksonen (Tom of Finland) (Finnish, 1920-1991) 'Untitled' 1973

 

Touko Valio Laaksonen (Tom of Finland) (Finnish, 1920-1991)
Untitled
1973

 

'Physique Pictorial' Volume 7, Number 1, Spring 1957

 

Physique Pictorial Volume 7, Number 1, Spring 1957. Tom of Finland, Touko Laaksonen (cover)

This issue features the debut American appearance of “Tom, a Finnish artist,” a.k.a. Tom of Finland who produced both the cover illustration of loggers and an interior companion shot.

 

Bob Mizer (American, 1922-1992) / Athletic Model Guild. Cover of 'Physique Pictorial' Vol. 14, No. 2, 1964

 

Bob Mizer (American, 1922-1992) / Athletic Model Guild
Cover of Physique Pictorial Vol. 14, No. 2, 1964
32 pages, black and white illustrations
Illustrated saddle-stapled self-wrappers
21cm x 13cm

 

 

Tom of Finland

Although not a photographer one gay artist who was heavily influenced by the uniforms and muscularity of soldiers he lusted after and had sex with during the war was Touko Laaksonen, known as ‘Tom of Finland’. His images featured hunky, leather clad bikers, sailors, and rough trade ploughing their enlarged, engorged penises up the rears of chunky men in graphic scenes of male2male sex. His images portrayed gay men as the hard-bodied epitome of masculinity, contrary to the nancy boy image of the limp wristed poof that was the stereotype in the hetero / homosexual community up until the 1960s and even later. His early images were again only for private consumption. His first success was a (non-sexual) drawing of a well built male body that he sent to America. It appeared on the cover of the spring 1957 issue of Physique Pictorial (above). Here we see a link between the drawings of Tom of Finland and the construction of a body engineered towards selling to a homosexual market, the male body as marketable commodity. His drawings of muscular men were influenced by the bodies in the beefcake magazines and the bodies of the soldiers he desired. Tom of Finland, in an exaggerated way, portrayed the desirability of this type of body for gay men by emphasising that, for him, gay sex and gay bodies are ultimately ‘masculine’.

 

1950s Australia

Very little of this iconography of the muscular male was available to gay men in Australia throughout the 1950’s. The few publications that became available were likely to have come from America or the United Kingdom. Instead heterosexual photographers such as Max Dupain took images of Australian beach culture such as the 1952 image At Newport, Australia, 1952 (below). Dupain took a series of photographs of this beautiful young man, ‘the lad’ as he calls him,13 climbing out of the pool. Elegant in its structural form ‘the lad’ is oblivious to the camera’s and our gaze. Although the body is toned and tanned this body image is a much more ‘natural’ representation of the male body than the photographs in the physique magazines, with all their posing and preening for the camera.

 

Max Dupain. 'At Newport Baths' 1952

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
At Newport, Australia, 1952
1952
Gelatin silver print

Dupain, Max. “At Newport, Australia, 1952.” 1952, in Bilson, Amanda (ed.,). Max Dupain’s Australia. Ringwood: Viking, 1986, p. 157.

 

John Graham. 'Clive Norman' Nd

 

John Graham
Clive Norman
Nd

Graham, John. “Clive Norman,” Nd in Domenique (ed.,). Art in Physique Photography Vol. 1. Man’s World Publishing Company. Chesham: The Carlton Press, Nd, p. 38.

 

John Graham. 'Detail from Parthenon Frieze'. Elgin Marble Friezes, British Museum Nd and Lon of New York in London. 'Jim Stevens' Nd

 

John Graham
Detail from Parthenon Frieze
Elgin Marble Friezes, British Museum
Nd

Lon of New York in London
Jim Stevens
Nd

Graham, John. “Detail from Parthenon Frieze.” Elgin Marble Friezes, British Museum, Nd in Domenique (ed.,). Art in Physique Photography. Vol. 1. Man’s World Publishing Company. Chesham: The Carlton Press, Nd, p. vi.

Lon of New York in London. “Jim Stevens,” Nd in Domenique (ed.,). Art in Physique Photography. Vol. 1. Man’s World Publishing Company. Chesham: The Carlton Press, Nd, p. 13.

 

 

Later Physique Culture and gay pornography photographs

Images of the body in the physique magazines of the 1940s-1960s are invariably smooth, muscular and defined. A perfect example of the type can be seen in the undated image Clive Norman by John Graham (above). The images rely heavily on the iconography of classical Rome and Greece to legitimise their homo-erotic overtones. Use was made of columns, drapery, and sets that presented the male body as the contemporary equivalent of idealised male beauty of ancient times.

As the 1950s turned into the 1960s other stereotypes became available to the photographers – for example the imagery of the marine, the sailor, the biker, the boy on a tropical island, the wrestler, the boxer, the mechanic. The photographs become more raunchy in their depiction of male nudity. In the 1950s, however, classical aspirations were never far from the photographers minds when composing the images as can be seen in the undated photograph Jim Stevens by Lon of New York in London (above) taken from a book called ‘Art in Physique Photography’.14 This book, illustrated with drawings of classical warrior figures by David Angelo, is subtitled: ‘An Album of the world’s finest photographs of the male physique’.

Here we observe a link between art and the body. This connection was used to confirm the social acceptability of physique photographs of the male body while still leaving them open to other alternative readings. One alternative reading was made by gay men who could buy these socially acceptable physique magazines to gaze with desire upon the naked form of the male body. It is interesting to note that with the advent of the first openly gay pornography magazines after the ruling on obscenity by the Supreme Court in America in the late 1960s (See my research notes on this subject from The One Institute),15 classical figures were still used to justify the desiring gaze of the camera and viewer upon the bodies of men. Another reason used by early gay pornography magazines to justify photographs of men having sex together was that the images were only for educational purposes!

Even in the mid 1970s companies such as Colt Studios, which has built a reputation for photographing hunky, very well built masculine men, used classical themes in their photography of muscular young men. Most of the early Colt magazines have photographs of naked young men that are accompanied by photographs and illustrations based on classical themes as can be seen in the image below. In their early magazines quite a proportion of the bodies were hirsute or had moustaches as was popular with the clone image at the time. Later models of the early 1980s tend towards the buff, tanned, stereotypical muscular mesomorph in even greater numbers. Sometimes sexual acts are portrayed in Colt magazines but mainly they are not. It is the “look” of the body and the face that the viewers desiring gaze is directed towards – not the sexual act itself. As the Colt magazine says,

“Our aim in Olympus is to wed the classic elegance of ancient Greece and Rome to the contemporary look of the ’70s. With some models that takes some doing: they may have one or two exceptional features, but the overall picture doesn’t make it … Erron, our current subject, comes closer to the ideal – in his own way … Erron stands 5’10”. He is 22 years old and is the spirit of the free-wheeling, unhampered single stud … And to many the morning after, he is ‘the man that got away’.”16

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Erron' 1973

 

Anonymous photographer
Erron
Olympus from Colt Studios Vol. 1. No 2.
1973

 

 

Erron does attempt to come closer to the ‘ideal’ but not, I think, in his own way for it is an ‘ideal’ based on a stereotypical masculine image from a past culture. Is he doing his own thing or someone else’s thing, based on an image already prescribed from the past?

As social morals relaxed in the age of ‘free love’, physique photographers such as Bob Mizer from Athletic Model Guild produced more openly homo-erotic images. In his work from the 1970s full erections are not prevalent but semi-erect penises do feature, as do revealing “moon” shots from the rear focusing on the arsehole as a site for male libidinal desires. A less closeted, more open expression of homosexual desire can be seen in the photographs of the male body in the 1970s.17 What can also be seen in the images of gay pornography magazines from the mid 1970s onwards is the continued development of the dominant stereotypical ‘ideal’ body image that is present in contemporary gay male society – that of the smooth, white, tanned, muscular mesomorphic body image.

 

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

 

Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971)
Muscle Man in his dressing room with trophy, Brooklyn, N.Y.
1962
Gelatin silver print

 

Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971) 'Seated man in a bra and stockings, N.Y.C., 1967' 1967

 

Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971)
Seated man in a bra and stockings, N.Y.C., 1967
1967
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Diane Arbus

In the 1960s and 1970s other photographers were also interested in alternative representations of the male body, notably Diane Arbus. Arbus was renowned for ‘in your face’ photographs of the supposed oddities and freaks of society. She photographed body-builders with their trophies, dwarfs, giants, and all sorts of interesting people she found fascinating because of their sexual orientation, hobbies and fetishes. She photographed gay men, lesbians and transsexuals in their homes and hangouts.

I think the image Seated man in a bra and stockings, N.Y.C., 1967 (above), reveals a different side of masculinity, not conforming to the stereotypical depiction of ‘masculinity’ proposed by the form of the muscular body. Yes, the subject is wary of the camera, hand gripping the chair arm, legs crossed in a protective manner. But I think that the important significance of this photograph lies in the fact that the subject allowed himself to be photographed at all, with his face visible, prepared to reveal this portion of his life to the probing of Arbus’ lens. In the closeted and conservative era of the 1960s (remember this is before Gay Liberation), to allow himself to be photographed in this way would have taken an act of courage, because of the fear of discrimination and persecution including the possible loss of job, home, friends, family and even life if this photograph ever came to the attention of employers, landlords and bigots.

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Charles and Jim' 1974

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Charles and Jim' 1974

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Charles and Jim
1974
Gelatin silver prints

Mapplethorpe, Robert. Charles and Jim, 1974, in Holborn, Mark and Levas, Dimitri. Mapplethorpe Altars. London: Jonathan Cape, 1995, pp. 26-27.

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'White Sheet' 1974 (detail)

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
White Sheet (detail)
1974
Gelatin silver print

Mapplethorpe, Robert. Detail of White Sheet, 1974, in Holborn, Mark and Levas, Dimitri. Mapplethorpe Altars. London: Jonathan Cape, 1995, p. 74.

 

 

Robert Mapplethorpe

Robert Mapplethorpe. The name of one of the most controversial photographers of the 20th century. Well known to gay men around the world for his ground breaking depiction of sexuality and the body through his photographs of black men and the sadomasochistic acts within the leather scene in gay community. The exhibiting of his images was only possible after the liberation of sexualities brought about by Stonewall and the start of the fight for Gay Liberation in 1969. Early images, such as three from the sequence of photographs Charles and Jim (1974, above) feature ‘natural’ bodies – hairy, scrawny, thin – in close physical proximity with each other, engaged in gay sex, sucking each others dicks in other photographs from this sequence. There is a tenderness and affection to the whole sequence, as the couple undress, suck, kiss and embrace. Compare the photographs with the photograph by Minor White of Tom Murphy (San Francisco) (1948, above) Gone is the religious agony, loneliness and isolation of a man (the photographer), who fears an open expression of his sexuality, replaced by the gaze and touch of a man comfortable with his sexuality and the object of his desire.

Although Mapplethorpe used the bodies of his friends and himself in the early photographs he was still drawn to images of muscular men that had a definite homoerotic quality to them, as can be seen in the detail of the 1974 work White Sheet. Blatant in its hard muscularity the boys stare at each other, flexing their muscles, one arm around the back of the others neck. This attraction to the perfect muscular body became more obvious in the later work of Mapplethorpe, especially in his depiction of black men and their hard, graphic bodies. Mapplethorpe even used to coat his black models in graphite so that the skin took on a grey lustre, adding to the feeling that the skin was made of marble and was impenetrable. Mapplethorpe’s photographs of black men come from a lineage that can be traced back through Frederick Holland Day (see below) to Herbert List and George Platt Lynes who all photographed black men. In the 1979 image of Bob Love (below), Mapplethorpe worships the body and the penis of Bob Love, placing him on a pedestal reminiscent of those used in the physique magazines of an earlier era.

 

F. Holland Day. 'Ebony and Ivory' 1899

 

F. Holland Day (American, 1864-1933)
Ebony and Ivory
1899

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Bob Love' 1979

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Bob Love
1979
Gelatin silver print

Mapplethorpe, Robert. Bob Love, 1979, in Holborn, Mark and Levas, Dimitri. Mapplethorpe Altars. London: Jonathan Cape, 1995, p. 71.

 

 

Around the same time that Mapplethorpe was photographing the first of his black nudes he was also portraying acts of sexual pleasure in his photographs of the gay S/M scene. In these photographs the bodies are usually shielded from scrutiny by leather and rubber but are more revealing of the intentions and personalities of the people depicted in them, perhaps because Mapplethorpe was taking part in these activities himself as well as just depicting them. There is a sense of connection with the people and the situations that occur before his lens in the S/M photographs. In the photograph of Bob, however, Bob stares out at the viewer in a passive way, revealing nothing of his own personality, directed by the photographer, portrayed like a trophy. I believe this isolation, this objectivity becomes one of the undeniable criticisms of most of Mapplethorpe’s later photographs of the body – they reveal nothing but the clarity of perfect formalised beauty and aesthetic design, sometimes fragmented into surfaces. Mapplethorpe liked to view the body as though cut up into pieces, into different libidinal zones, much as in the reclaimed artefacts of classical sculpture. The viewer is seduced by the sensuous nature of the bodies surfaces, the body objectified for the viewers pleasure. The photographs reveal very little of the inner self of the person being photographed. This surface quality can also be seen in earlier work such as the 1976 photograph of bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger (1976, below).

 

Lorenzo Lotto (Italian, c. 1480 - 1556/1557) 'Young Man Before a White Curtain' c. 1506/1508

 

Lorenzo Lotto (Italian, c. 1480 – 1556/1557)
Young Man Before a White Curtain
c. 1506/1508
Oil on canvas

Lotto, Lorenzo. Young Man Before a White Curtain, Oil on Canvas. c. 1506/1508, in Schneider, Norbert. The Art of the Portrait. Koln: Benedikt Taschen, 1994, p. 66.

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Arnold Schwarzenegger' 1976

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Arnold Schwarzenegger
1976
Gelatin silver print

Mapplethorpe, Robert. Arnold Schwarzenegger, 1976, in Ellenzweig, Allen. The Homoerotic Photograph. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992, p. 139.

 

Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971) 'A naked man being a woman, N.Y.C.' 1968

 

Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971)
A naked man being a woman, N.Y.C. 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

Arbus, Diane. A naked man being a woman, N.Y.C. 1968, 1968, in An Aperture Monograph. Diane Arbus. New York: Millerton, 1972.

 

 

In the photograph Schwarzenegger is placed on bare floorboards with a heavy curtain pulled back to reveal a white wall. We can see connections to an oil painting by the Italian Lorenzo Lotto. According to Norbert Schneider in his book The Art of the Portrait the curtain motif is adapted from devotional painting and was used as a symbolic, majestical backdrop for saints.18 The curtain may be seen as a ‘velum’ to veil whatever was behind it, or by an act of ‘re-velatio’, or pulling aside of the curtain, reveal what is behind. In both the painting and the photograph very little is revealed about the person’s inner self, despite the fact that in Mapplethorpe’s photograph the curtain has been tied back. Schwarzenegger stands before a barren white wall, on bare floorboards. The photograph reveals nothing about his inner self or his state of mind; it is a barren landscape. Nothing is revealed about his personality or identity save that he is a bodybuilder with a body made up of large muscles that has been posed for the camera; his facial expression and look are blank much like the wall behind him. The body becomes a marketable product, the polished surface fetishised in its perfection.

Compare this photograph with the A naked man being a woman, N.Y.C. 1968, by Diane Arbus taken six years earlier (above). Again a figure stands before parted curtains in a room. Here we see an androgynous figure of a man being a woman surrounded by the physical evidence of his/her existence. The body is not muscular but of a ‘natural’ type, one leg slightly bent in quite a feminine gesture, a hand on the hip. Behind the figure is a bed, covered in a blanket. On the chair in front of the curtains and on the bed behind lies discarded clothing and the detritus of human existence. We can also see a suitcase behind the chair leg, an open beer or soft drink can on the floor and what looks like an electrical heater behind the figures legs. We are made aware we are looking at the persons place of living, of sleeping, of the bed where the person sleeps and possibly has sex. Framed by the open curtains the painted face with the plucked eyebrows stares back at us with a much more engaging openness, the body placed within the context of its lived surroundings, unlike the photograph of Schwarzenegger. Much is revealed about the psychological state of the owner and how he lives and what he likes to do. The black and white shading behind the curtains reveals the yin/yang dichotomy, the opposite and the same of his personality far better than the blank white wall that stands behind Mapplethorpe’s portrait of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

 

Arthur Tress (American, b. 1940) 'Superman Fantasy' 1977

 

Arthur Tress (American, b. 1940)
Superman Fantasy
1977
Gelatin silver print

Arthur Tress. Superman Fantasy, 1977, in Ellenzweig, Allen. The Homoerotic Photograph. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992, p. 143.

 

Bill Henson (Australian, b. 1955) 'Image No. 9 from an Untitled Sequence 1977' 1977

 

Bill Henson (Australian, b. 1955)
Image No.9 from an Untitled Sequence 1977
1977
Gelatin silver print

Henson, Bill. Image No.9 from an Untitled sequence 1977, 1977, in Henson, Bill. Bill Henson: Photographs 1974-1984. (exhibition catalogue). Melbourne: Deutscher Fine Art, 1989.

 

 

Arthur Tress, Bill Henson and Bruce Weber

Arthur Tress was not a photographer that pandered to the emerging “lifestyle” cult of gay masculinity that was beginning to formulate towards the end of the 1970’s and the early 1980’s. Borrowing elements from both a ‘camp’ aesthetic and Surrealism, his images from this time parodied the inner identity of gay men, prodding and poking beneath the surface of both the gay male psyche and their fantasies. In the 1977 image Superman Fantasy (above), Tress conveys the desire of some gay men for the ‘ideal’ of the superhero, powerful, with muscular body and large penis. But the desiree has a ‘natural’ body and it is his penis that projects between the Superman’s thighs. Superman is only a fantasy, a cut out figure with no relief, and Tress pokes fun at gay men who desire heroic masculine body images to reinforce their own sense masculinity.

At the same time in Australia there emerged the work of the photographer Bill Henson. Again, he did not use stereotypical masculine body images. In an early 1977 sequence of his work (above), we see a young man who looks emaciated (almost like a living skeleton) at rest, a moment of stasis while apparently in the act of masturbating. Here Henson links the sexual act (although never seen in the photographs) with death. Visually Henson represents Georges Bataille’s idea that the ecstasy of an orgasm is like the oblivion of death. The body in sex uses power as part of its attraction and the ultimate expression of power is death; this sequence of photographs links the two ideas together visually. With the explicit medical link between sex and death because of the HIV/AIDS virus these photographs have a powerful resonance within a contemporary social context, the emaciated body now associated in people’s minds with a person dying from AIDS.

Other photographers, notably Bruce Weber, confirmed the constructed ‘ideal’ of the commodified masculine body. Body became product, became part of an overall purchased “lifestyle,” chic, beautiful and available if you have enough money. Working mainly as a fashion photographer with an aspiration to high art, Weber paraded a plethora of stunning white, buff, muscular males before his lens. Advertising companies, such as Calvin Klein swooped on this image of perfect male flesh and played with the ambiguous homo-erotic possibilities inherent within the images. Gay men fell for what they saw as the epitome of ‘masculinity’, a reflection of their own “straight-acting” masculinity. These photographs, with a genetic lineage dating from Sansone and the photographs of sportsmen by German photographer Leni Riefenstahl in the 1930’s, are almost utopian in their aesthetic idealisation of the body.

In his personal work, examples of which can be seen below, Bruce Weber maintains his interest in the perfection of the male form. These men are just All American Jocks, supposedly your everyday boy next door, possessing no sexuality other than a placid, flaccid non-threatening penis, no messy secretions or interactions being attached to the bodies at all. There is no hint of disease or dis-ease among these images or models, even though AIDS was emerging at this time as a major killer of gay men. Perhaps even the possibility of homo/sexuality/identity is denied in the perfection of their form placed, like the Mapplethorpe photograph of Schwarzenegger, against a non-descriptive background, a context-less body in a context-less photograph.

 

Bruce Weber (American, b. 1946) 'Dan Harvey, New York Jets Trainer' 1983

 

Bruce Weber (American, b. 1946)
Dan Harvey, New York Jets Trainer
1983
Gelatin silver print

Weber, Bruce. Dan Harvey, New York Jets Trainer, 1983, 1983, in Cheim, John. Bruce Weber. New York: Alfred Knopf, 1988.

 

Bruce Weber (American, b. 1946) 'Paul Wadina, Santa Barbara California' 1987

 

Bruce Weber (American, b. 1946)
Paul Wadina, Santa Barbara California
1987
Gelatin silver print

Weber, Bruce. Paul Wadina, Santa Barbara, California, 1987, 1987, in Cheim, John. Bruce Weber. New York: Alfred Knopf, 1988.

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Fred with Tires' 1984

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Fred with Tires
1984
Gelatin silver print
24 × 20 in (61 × 50.8cm)

Ritts, Herb. Fred with Tires, 1984, in Ellenzweig, Allen. The Homoerotic Photograph. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992, p. 195.

 

 

Herb Ritts, Queer Press, Queer body

Fred with Tires (1984, above) became possibly the archetypal photograph of the male body in the 1980’s and made the world-wide reputation of its commercial photographer, Herb Ritts. Gay men flocked to buy it, including myself. I was drawn by the powerful, perfectly sculpted body, the butchness of his job, the dirty trousers, the boots and the body placed within the social context. At the time I realised that the image of this man was a constructed fantasy, ie., not the ‘real’ thing, and this feeling of having been deceived has grown ever since. His hair is teased up and beautifully styled, the grease is applied to his body just so, his body twisted to just the right degree to accentuate the muscles of the stomach and around the pelvis. You can just imagine the stylist standing off camera ready to readjust the hair if necessary, the assistants with their reflectors playing more light onto the body. This/he is the seduction of a marketable homoeroticsm, the selling of an image as sex, almost camp in its overt appeal to gay archetypal stereotypes. Herb Ritts, whether in his commercial work or in his personal images such as those of the gay bodybuilders Bob Paris and Rod Jackson, has helped increase the acceptance of the openly homo-erotic photograph in a wider sphere but this has been possible only with an increased acceptance of homosexual visibility within the general population. Openly gay bodies such as that of Australian rugby league star Ian Roberts or American diver Greg Luganis can become heroes and role models to young gay men coming out of the closet for the first time, visible evidence that gay men are everywhere in every walk of life. This is great because young gay men do need gay role models to look up to but the bodies they possess only conform to the one type, that of the muscular mesomorph and this reinforces the ideal of a traditional virile masculinity. Yes, the guy in the shower next to you might be a poofter, might be queer for heavens sake, but my God, what a body he’s got!

Herb Ritts photographs are still based on the traditional physique magazine style of the 1950’s as can be seen from the examples below. He also borrows heavily from the work of George Platt Lynes and the idealised perfection of Mapplethorpe. The bodies he uses construct themselves (through going to the gym) as the ‘ideal’ of what men should look like. Seduced by the perfection of his bodies gay men have rushed to the gym since the early 1980’s in an attempt to emulate the ideal that Ritts proposes, to belong to the ‘in’ crowd, to have “the look”. (This idealisation continues to this day in 2022).

From different cultures around the world other artists who are gay have also succumbed to the heroic musculature that is the modern day epitome of the representation of gay masculinity. Although he denies any linkage to the work of ‘Tom of Finland’, Sadao Hasegawa portrays the body as a demigod using traditional Japanese and Western iconography to emphasise his themes of homosexual bondage and ritual (see below). The body in his Shunga (Japanese erotic) paintings and drawings, as in most art and images of the muscular male, becomes a phallus, the armoured body being a metaphor for the hidden power of the penis, signifying the power of mesomorphic men over women and ‘other’ not so well endowed men.

 

Bob Delmonteque (American) 'Glenn Bishop' 1950s

 

Bob Delmonteque (American)
Glenn Bishop
1950s
Gelatin silver print

Delmonteque, Bob. Glenn Bishop, 1950s, in Domenique (ed.,). Art in Physique Photography. Vol. 1. Man’s World Publishing Company. Chesham: The Carlton Press, Nd, p. 8.

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Male Nude with Bubble, Los Angeles' 1987

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Male Nude with Bubble, Los Angeles
1987
Gelatin silver print

Ritts, Herb. Male Nude with Bubble, Los Angeles, 1987, in Ellenzweig, Allen. The Homoerotic Photograph. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992, p. 194.

 

Sadao Hasegawa (Japanese, 1945-1999) 'Untitled' 1990

 

Sadao Hasegawa (Japanese, 1945-1999)
Untitled
1990

Hasegawa, Sadao. Untitled, 1990, in Blue Magazine. Sydney: Studio Magazines, April 1997, p. 50.

 

 

But there are still other artists who are gay who challenge the orthodoxy of such stereotypical images, using as their springboard the ‘sensibility’ of queer theory, a theory that critiques perspectives of social and cultural ‘normality’. With the explosion of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the mid 1980’s, numerous artists started to address issues of the body: isolation, disease, death, beauty, gay sex, friendship between men, the inscription of the bodies surface, and the place of gay men in the world in a critical and valuable way. Ted Gott, commenting on Lex Middleton’s 1992 image Gay Beauty Myth (below) in the book Don’t Leave Me This Way: Art in the Age of AIDS observes that the image,

“… reconsiders Bruce Weber’s luscious photography of the naked male body for Calvin Klein’s celebrated underwear advertising campaigns of the early 1980s. The proliferation of Weber / Klein glistening pectorals and smouldering body tone across the billboards of the United States was reaching its crescendo at the same time as the gay male ‘body’ came under threat from a ‘new’ disease not yet identified as HIV/AIDS. In opposing the rippling musculature and perfect visage of an athlete with the fragmented image of a Calvin Klein Y-fronted ‘ordinary’ man, Middleton questions the ‘gay beauty myth’, both as it touches gay men who do not fit the ‘look’ that advertising has decreed applicable to their sexuality, and from the projected perspective of HIV positive gay men who face the reality of the daily decay of their bodies.”19

.
Other artists, such as David McDiarmid in his celebrated series of safe sex posters for the AIDS Council of New South Wales (below)) critique the body as site for libidinal and deviant pleasures for both positive and negative gay men as long as this is always undertaken safely. In the example from the series “Some of Us Get Out of It, Some of Us Don’t. All of Us Fuck With a Condom, Every Time,” 1992, we see a brightly coloured body, both positive and negative, filled with parties, drugs and alcohol, spreading the arse cheeks to make the arsehole the site of gay male desire. Note however, that the body still has huge arms, strong legs, and a massive back redolent of the desire of gay men for the muscular mesomorphic body image.

 

Lex Middleton. 'Gay Beauty Myth' 1992

 

Lex Middleton (Australian)
Gay Beauty Myth
1992
Gelatin silver photographs

 

David McDiarmid (Australian, 1952-1995) 'Some of Us Get Out of It, Some of Us Don't. All of Us Fuck With a Condom, Every Time!' 1992

 

David McDiarmid (Australian, 1952-1995)
Some of Us Get Out of It, Some of Us Don’t. All of Us Fuck With a Condom, Every Time!
1992
Colour offset print on paper
67.1 x 44.5cm

AIDS Council of New South Wales / McDiarmid, David (designer). Some of Us Get Out of It, Some of Us Don’t. All of Us Fuck With a Condom, Every Time! 1992, in Gott, Ted (ed.,). Don’t Leave Me This Way: Art in the Age of AIDS. Melbourne: Thames and Hudson/NGA, 1994, p. 154.

 

Brenton Heath-Kerr (Australian, 1962-1995) 'Homosapien' 1994

 

Brenton Heath-Kerr (Australian, 1962-1995)
Homosapien
1994
Laminated photomechanical reproductions and cloth

Heath-Kerr, Brenton. “Homosapien,” 1994, in Gott, Ted (ed.,). Don’t Leave Me This Way: Art in the Age of AIDS. Melbourne: Thames and Hudson/NGA, 1994, p. 75.

 

 

More revealing (literally) was the work and performance art of Brenton Heath-Kerr. Growing out of his involvement in the dance party scene in Sydney, Australia in 1991, Heath-Kerr’s combination of costume and photography made his creations come to life, and he sought to critique the narcissistic elements of this gay dance culture, such as the Mardi Gras and Sleaze Ball parties. Later work included the figure Homosapiens (1994, above) which observes the workings of the body laid bare by the ravages of HIV/AIDS and comments on the politics of governments who control funding for drugs to treat those who are infected.

Californian photographer Albert J. Winn, in his series My Life until Now (1993, below) does not seek to elicit sympathy for his incurable disease, but positions his having the disease as only a small part of his overall personality and life. Other photographs in the series feature pictures of his lover, his home, old family photographs, and texts reflecting on his childhood, sexuality, and religion. As Albert J. Winn comments,

“The pictures from My Life Until Now are a progression of thinking about identity. Now I am a gay man, a gay man with AIDS, a Jew, a lover, a person who has books on the shelf, etc., not just another naked gay man with another naked gay man, and I tried to load the photograph(s) with information. I feel I am determining my identity by making the choice to show all this stuff.”20

.
Personally I believe that integrating your sexuality into your overall identity is the last, most important part of ‘coming out’ as a gay man, and this phenomenon is what Albert J. Winn, in his own way, is commenting on.

One of my favourite artists, now dead, who just happened to be gay and critiqued the social landscape was named David Wojnarowicz. Using an eclectic mix of black and white and colour photography (mainly 35mm), drawing, painting, collage, documenting of performances and sculpture, Wojnarowicz created a commentary on his world, the injustices, the sex, the politics, the brutality, the environments, and the people who inhabited them to name just a little of his subject matter. The Untitled 1988-1989 image from the Sex Series (below) is not a collage but a photomontage, two colour slides reverse printed onto black and white paper to make the negative image. Images from the series feature text, babies, all manner of different sexual persuasions, tornadoes, trains, ships, war images, and cells. Wojnarowicz himself states that,

“By mixing variation of sexual expressions there is an attempt to dismantle the structures formed by category; all are affected by laws and policies. The spherical structures embedded in the series are about examination and or surveillance. Looking through a microscope or looking through a telescope or the monitoring that takes place in looking through the lens of a set of binoculars. Its all about oppression and suppression.”

.
Oppression and suppression are the continuing themes in Wojnarowicz’s 1989 image, Bad Moon Rising (below). Here the wounded body of St. Sebastian, a recurring figure in gay iconography, has been impaled not just by arrows but by a tree, the mythological ‘tree of life’ growing up/down, from/into the ‘earth’ of money, the politics of consumerism and the illness of consumption. Again, in the small vignettes we observe the home, the sex, time, cells and their surveillance.

 

Albert J Winn (American, 1947-2014) 'Drug Related Skin Rashes' 1993

 

Albert J Winn (American, 1947-2014)
Drug Related Skin Rashes
1993
Silver gelatin photograph

Winn, Albert J. Drug Related Skin Rashes, from the series My Life Until Now, 1993, in Gott, Ted (ed.,). Don’t Leave Me This Way: Art in the Age of AIDS. Melbourne: Thames and Hudson/NGA, 1994, p. 224.

 

David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992) 'Untitled' 1989 From the 'Sex Series (For Marion Scemama)'

 

David Wojnarowicz (American, 1954-1992)
Untitled
1989
From the Sex Series

 

David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992) 'Untitled' 1989 From the 'Sex Series (For Marion Scemama)'

 

David Wojnarowicz (American, 1954-1992)
Untitled
1989
From the Sex Series

 

David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992) 'Bad Moon Rising' 1989

 

David Wojnarowicz (American, 1954-1992)
Bad Moon Rising
1989
Black and white photographs, acrylic, string, and collage on Masonite

Wojnarowicz, David. Bad Moon Rising, 1989, in Harris, Melissa. Brushfires in the Social Landscape. New York: Aperture Publications, 1994, p. 39.

 

 

And so it goes…

Meanwhile in Australia, the burgeoning cult of body worship was being fuelled by the more traditional homo-erotic photographs from America. This iconography was assimilated by local commercial photographers. They played with the traditions of surf, sand, sun and sea for which Australia is renowned and Dennis Maloney, in particular, concentrated his attention on the surf lifesavers that patrolled the beach during surf carnivals. He photographed the guys with their well built tanned bodies, good looks, swimming costumes pulled up between buttocks, and let the homosexual market for such images do the rest. He also photographed what I would classify as soft-core porn images such as the Untitled 1990 image from the series Sons of Beaches (below), the idyllic man in his reverie, wet bathing costume moulded to the curve of his buttocks, legs spread invitingly in a suggestive homo-erotic sexual position.

This trend of using images of the muscular, smooth male body for both commercial purposes and as the ‘ideal’ of what a gay man should look like continues unabated to this day. Pick up any local gay newspaper or magazine and they are full of adverts for chat lines or escorts that feature this body type. The news photographs from around the clubs also feature nearly naked well built men with their buffed torsos.

Most images on the Internet also feature this particular body type (below), whether they belong to commercial sites or as the images that are chosen, desired and lusted after in the galleries of private home pages. The most alternative photographs of the male body I have found on the Internet occur when they are the personal photographs of their authors, when they picture themselves (below). These images exhibit a massive variety in the shape, size, hirsuteness and colour of gay men, most of whom don’t come anywhere near to the supposed ‘ideal’. And what of the future for the male body? Perhaps you would like to read the Future Press chapter in the CD ROM to get a few ideas.

Dr Marcus Bunyan 2001

 

Denis Maloney (Australian) 'Untitled' c. 1990

 

Denis Maloney (Australian)
Untitled
c. 1990
From the series Sons of Beaches
Colour photograph

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Untitled' 1998

 

Anonymous photographer
Untitled
1998
Image from a commercial Internet web page

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Untitled' 1998

 

Anonymous photographer
Untitled
1998
Image from a commercial Internet web page

 

 

Footnotes

1/ Anonymous (French). “Male Nude Study.” Daguerreotype, c. 1843, in Ewing, William. The Body. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1994, p. 65. Courtesy: Stefan Richter, Reutlingen, Germany.

2/ “One of the things that interests me is the problem of friendship … You can find, from the sixteenth century on, texts explicitly criticize friendship as something dangerous. The army, bureaucracy, administration, universities, schools, et cetera – in the modern senses of these words – cannot function with such intense friendships. I think there can be seen a very strong attempt in all these institutions to diminish, or minimize, the affectional relations … One of my hypotheses … is that homosexuality became a problem – that is, sex between men became a problem – in the eighteenth century. We see the rise of it as a problem with the police, within the justice system, and so on. I think the reason it appears as a problem, as a social issue, at this time is that friendship has disappeared. As long as friendship was something important, was socially accepted, nobody realized men had sex together. You couldn’t say that men didn’t have sex together – it just didn’t matter … Once friendship disappeared as a culturally accepted relation, the issue arose, “What is going on between men?” And that’s when the problem appears … I’m sure I’m right, that the disappearance of friendship as a social relation and the declaration of homosexuality as a social / political / medical problem are the same process.” (My emphasis).
Gallagher, Bob and Wilson, Alexander. “Sex and the Politics of Identity: An Interview with Michel Foucault,” in Thompson, Mark. Gay Spirit: Myth and Meaning. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987, pp. 32-34.

3/ The formation of ‘The Cult of Muscularity’ in the last decade of the 19th century was a reaction to the perceived effeminisation of heterosexual masculinity. The position of the active, heroic hetero-male was under attack from the passivity of industrialisation, from the expansion of women’s rights and their ability to become breadwinners, and through the naming of deviant sexualities that were seen as a threat to the stability of society. By naming deviant sexualities they became visible to the general public for the fist time, creating apprehension in the minds of men gazing upon the bodies of other men lest they be thought of as ‘pansies’… Muscles became the sign of heterosexual power, prowess, and virility. A man had control over his body and his physical world. His appearance affected how he interacted with this world, how he saw himself, and was seen by others, and how closely he matched the male physical ‘ideal’ impacted on his own levels of self-esteem. The gymnasium became a meeting point for exercise, for health, for male bonding, and to show off your undoubted ‘masculinity’. Sporting and war heroes became national icons. Muscle proved the ‘masculinity’ of men, fit for power, fit to dominate women and less powerful men. By the 1950s this masculine identity construction was well established in America and many gay men sought to hid their perceived feminine traits, their (homo)sexuality from public view for fear of persecution.
Bunyan, Marcus. “Bench Press,” in Marcus Bunyan. Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male. RMIT University, Melbourne, 2001.

4/ “The fear that swept gay men at the height of the McCarthy Era cannot be underestimated. It exploited a prevailing fear in American culture at large of effeminate men and instilled it further, even among gay men. Not only would men, gay and straight, not want to appear effeminate lest someone think they were homosexual, but the profusely masculine pose that straight men adopted in the 1950s had a profound effect on gay men that lasted for generations. Homosexuals are, after all, attracted to men, and if men in a given culture are assuming an even more masculine appearance than previously, thus redefining once again what it means to be a man, homosexuals will perhaps by default become more attracted to that more masculine appearance … The effeminate homosexual continued to become at best someone to avoid, even among a great many gay men themselves.”
Signorile, Michelangelo. Life Outside: The Signorile Report on Gay Men: Sex, Drugs, Muscles, and the Passages of Life. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1997, pp. 46-47 quoted in Bunyan, Marcus. Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male. Melbourne: RMIT University, 2000. Femi-nancy Press chapter, p. 1.

5/ Anonymous. “Otto Arco and Adrian Deraiz.” Nd in Berry, Mark. Physical Improvement. Vol. II. Philadelphia: Milo Publishing Company, 1930, p. 39.

6/ This sculpture tightly adheres to the many criteria of the Nazi aesthetic and therefore contains the visual and thematic aspects of the Nazi aesthetic. The sculpture depicts two men in front, both in an athletic pose. This sculpture depicts the Nazi ideals of masculinity and virility. It does this by depicting an extremely athletic, in-shape fighter. The static image idolized the idealized athletic form as a goal for the rest of the nation. The figure furthers the Nazi state’s anti-Bolshevist stance as it depicts a Nazi ideal of a strong and vigorous German man, in contrast to the degraded figures often portrayed in Bolshevik art, suffering as victims of class oppression.
Anonymous. “The Nazi Aesthetic: A Vehicle of Nazi Values,” on the Grappling with the Nazi Past website May 8, 2019 [Online] Cited 10/09/2022

7/ Leddick, David. Naked Men: Pioneering Male Nudes 1935-1955. New York: Universe Publishing, 1997, p. 21.

8/ Kinsey Institute and Crump, James. George Platt Lynes: Photographs From the Kinsey Institute. Boston: Bullfinch Press, 1993, Plate 78.

9/ Whole series of studio shots of male butt and arsehole in different positions. Quite explicit. Some close-up, others full body shots with legs in the air. Not his best work but interesting for its era. Very sexually anal or anally sexual! As in GPL’s work, very about form as well. In one photograph a guy spreads his cheeks while bending over from the waist, in another photograph he spreads his cheeks while standing slightly bent forward. These are the most explicit of GPL’s images in the Collection that I saw, though perhaps not the most successful or interesting photographically. 8″ x 10″ contact print.
See Plate 78 in Kinsey Institute and Crump, James. George Platt Lynes: Photographs From the Kinsey Institute. Boston: Bulfinch Press, 1993, for an image from this series.

10/ Der Kries. No. 1. Zurich: No Publisher, January, 1952. Homosexual magazine. Typical photographs of the era in this magazine. No frontal nudity even up to the later 1965 editions. Lithe young men, drawings and articles, including one on the Kinsey Report in the 1952 first edition (pp. 6-7). Some of the photographs in Der Kries of young European men are similar to German naturist movement photographs (Cat. No. 52423 – Oct, Nov, Dec 1949. Cat. No. 52452 – May, June 1949 showing 5 nude boys outdoors throwing medicine ball in the air with their arms upraised). Also some photographs are similar to von Gloeden’s Italian peasants (Cat. No. 52424 – July 1952. Cat. No. 52425 – August 1960. Cat. No. 52426 – May, Oct 1956: all 4 photographs). The 1949 photographs are possibly taken from earlier German magazines anyway? Discus, javelin, archer, and shot putter images. Mainly nudes. George Platt Lynes contributed to the magazine under the pseudonym Roberto Rolf.

11/ Image No. 52006. Bruce of Los Angeles. Kinsey Institute acquired 1950. Annotation: Tom Matthews, 24 years old. Older man, dark hair. Big pecs, arms, tanned, hairy arms and chest, looking down and away from camera. Nude, limp cut dick. Sitting on a pedestal which is on a raffia mat. Metal chain wrapped around both wrists which are crossed. Lighting seems to be from 2 sources – high right and mid-left. Unusual in that this physique photograph shows an older, hairy man who is nude.

12/ Bérubé, Allan. Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War Two. New York: The Free Press, 1990, pp. 272-273.

13/ Dupain, Max. Max Dupain’s Australia. Ringwood, Victoria: Viking/Penguin Books Australia, 1986, p. 157.

14/ Domenique (ed.,). Art in Physique Photography Vol. 1. (illus. by David Angelo, designed and produced by Lon of New York in London). Worcester Park, England: Man’s World Publishing Company Ltd., 195?

15/ Album 1501: A Study of Sexual Activity Between Males. Los Angeles: Greyhuff Publishing, 1970.
Bodies in this magazine are smooth, young toned men, much as in the early photographs of George Platt Lynes. The perform both oral and anal sex on each other in a lounge room lit by strong lights (shadows on walls). Black and white photographs, well shot, magazine is about 5″ wide and 10″ high, well laid out and printed. The magazine is a thin volume and features just the two models in one sex scene of them undressing each other and then having sex. One man wears a Pepsi-Cola T-shirt at first and he also has tattoos one of which says ‘Cheri’. The photographs almost have a private feel to them.
This is the earliest commercial gay pornography magazine that I have seen that features m2m anal and oral sex and comes after the American Supreme Court ruled on obscenity laws in the late 1960s. Note the progression from physique magazines and models in posing pouches in 1966-1968, then to full erection and stories of anal penetration in Action Line in 1969, to full on photographs of gay sex in this magazine in 1970. Bodies are all smooth, quite solid, toned natural physiques, not as ‘built’ as in earlier physique magazines, but still featuring younger smooth men and not older heavier set men. In their introduction the publishers disclaim any agreement with the content of the magazine and are only publishing it for the freedom of everybody to study the material in the privacy of their own homes. In other words m2m sex is a natural phenomenon and the publication is educational. This was a common ploy in early nudist and pornographic publications to justify the content – to claim that the material was for private educational purposes only.
Marcus Bunyan. “Research Notes on Physique Magazines and Early Gay Pornography Magazines of the 1960s from the Collection at the One Institute / International Gay and Lesbian Archives, Los Angeles, California, 28/08/1999,” in Marcus Bunyan. Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male. RMIT University, Melbourne, 2001.

16/ Anonymous quotation in Colt Studios. Olympus from Colt Studios Vol. 1. No 2. Hollywood, California: Colt Studios, 1973, p. 42.

17/ During my research at The One Institute in Los Angeles I investigated the type of body images that appeared in the transitional phase from physique magazines of the mid-late 1960s into the early gay pornography magazines of 1969-1970 in America which occurred after the Supreme Court ruling on obscenity. I wanted to find whether there had been a crossover, a continuation of the muscular mesomorphic body image that was a favourite of the physique photographers into the early pornography magazines. From the evidence of the images in the magazines I would have to say that there was a limited crossover of the bigger muscular bodies but most bodies that appeared in the early gay porn mags were of the youthful, smooth, muscular ephebe-type body image.
Most of the men featured in the early gay pornography magazines and films have bodies that appear to be quite ‘natural’ in their form. Models are mostly young, smooth, quite solid with toned physiques, not as ‘built’ as in the earlier physique magazines but still well put together. Examining the magazines at the One Institute I found that the bodies of older muscular / hairy men were not well represented. Perhaps this was due to the unavailability of the bigger and older bodybuilders to participate in such activity? In the male bodies of the c. late-1970s Super 8 mm pornography films we can observe the desirable image of the smooth youthful ephebe being presented for our erotic pleasure.
Marcus Bunyan. “Gay Male Pornography,” in the ‘In-Press’ chapter in Marcus Bunyan. Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male. RMIT University, Melbourne, 2001.

18/ Schneider, Norbert. The Art of the Portrait. Koln: Benedikt Taschen, 1994, p. 67.

19/ Gott, Ted. “Agony Down Under: Australian Artists Addressing AIDS,” in Gott, Ted. (ed.,). Don’t Leave Me This Way: Art in the Age of AIDS. Melbourne: Thames and Hudson/NGA (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra), 1994, p. 4.

20/ Winn, Albert J. quoted in Grover, Jan. “OI: Opportunistic Identification, Open Identification in PWA Portraiture,” in Gott, Ted. (ed.,). Don’t Leave Me This Way: Art in the Age of AIDS. Melbourne: Thames and Hudson/NGA (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra), 1994, p. 223.

 

 

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24
Jul
22

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

Exhibition dates: 28th June – 2nd October 2022

Curator: Karen Hellman, assistant curator in the Department of Photographs.

 

 

Maker unknown (American) 'Phonograph Demonstration' about 1900-1905

 

Maker unknown (American)
Phonograph Demonstration
about 1900-1905
Gelatin silver print
27 × 37.1cm (10 5/8 × 14 5/8 in)
Getty Museum

 

 

“Sometimes theory leads to an over determination. Something is gained but at a price. Finding images that evoke a sound can only be saved by paying the higher price of remembering how images look when their sound is removed.”

~ Ian Lobb

.
From my knowledge of photography, I have added further images that I can hear … but not in the exhibition that I know of. You may like to recall other photographs that you could include in the exhibition.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx 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.

 

Though photographs are silent, photographers have long conjured sound in their images. Whether depicting crowded urban spaces, musicians performing, people engaged in conversations, or even more abstract depictions of sound, the pictures in this exhibition show photography’s power to communicate beyond the visual. The images date from the 19th century to the recent past, and in each, the audible plays as much of a role as the visual. As you look at these photographs, you are invited to imagine what you might “hear” as well.

Text from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

 

 

Florence Henri (American, 1893-1982) 'Columbia Records' 1931

 

Florence Henri (American, 1893-1982)
Columbia Records
1931
Gelatin silver print
24.8 × 39.1cm (9 3/4 × 15 3/8 in)
Getty Museum
© Martini & Ronchetti, courtesy Archives Florence Henri

 

Gjon Mili (American born Albania, 1904-1984) 'Tap Dancer, September 29, 1949' 1949

 

Gjon Mili (American born Albania, 1904-1984)
Tap Dancer, September 29, 1949
1949
Gelatin silver print
33.8 × 26cm (13 5/16 × 10 1/4 in)
Getty Museum
© Gjon Mili / The LIFE Picture Collection / Shutterstock

 

 

Photographs may be silent, but photographers have long conjured sound in their images.

Whether depicting crowded urban spaces, musicians performing, or people engaged in conversation, the pictures in this exhibition prove photography’s power to communicate beyond the visual.

Drawn from Getty’s permanent collection, In Focus: Sound, on view June 28 through September 2, 2022, unites two sensory perceptions – sight and sound – in photographs that record the visual while also imitating the audible.

“Photography and sound have more in common than one might expect,” says Karen Hellman, curator of the exhibition. “Photographs can evoke a sensory perception that they cannot actually depict. Looking at photographs while thinking about sound could provide a new way of viewing and appreciating photography.”

The 19th century saw a keen scientific and philosophical interest in reproducing ephemeral phenomena. This led to the development of the photograph as well as the phonograph. This interlinked history perhaps explains photography’s connection to sound and why photographers, even subconsciously, have endeavoured to picture it. In each image in this exhibition, which date from the 19th century to the recent past, the audible plays as much of a role as the visual.

This exhibition includes works by known and lesser-known makers from the 19th century to the recent past, including Julia Margaret Cameron, Walker Evans, Man Ray, Graciela Iturbide, Marco Breuer, Naoya Hatakeyama, and Christian Marclay.

In Focus: Sound will be on view June 28 through September 2, 2022, at the Getty Center.

Text from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

 

Naoya Hatakeyama (Japanese, b. 1958) 'Blast #0608' 1995

 

Naoya Hatakeyama (Japanese, b. 1958)
Blast #0608
1995
Chromogenic print
Getty Museum
Gift of James N. and Susan A. Phillips
© Naoya Hatakeyama

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Record' 1933

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Record
1933
Gelatin silver print
28.9 × 22.5cm (11 3/8 × 8 7/8 in)
Getty Museum
© Man Ray Trust ARS-ADAGP

 

Albert Harlingue (French,1879-1963) 'Abbot Rousselot's Collection of Tuning Forks' about 1924

 

Albert Harlingue (French,1879-1963)
Abbot Rousselot’s Collection of Tuning Forks
about 1924
Gelatin silver print
17.9 × 12.7cm (7 1/16 × 5 in)
Getty Museum

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British born India,1815-1879) 'The Echo' 1868

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British born India,1815-1879)
The Echo
1868
Albumen silver print
27.1 × 22.7cm (10 11/16 × 8 15/16 in)
Getty Museum

 

Milton Rogovin (American,1909-2011) 'Storefront Churches' 1958-1961

 

Milton Rogovin (American,1909-2011)
Storefront Churches
1958-1961
Gelatin silver print
12.5 × 12cm (4 15/16 × 4 3/4 in.)
Getty Museum
Gift of Dr. John V. and Laura M. Knaus
© Milton Rogovin

 

Carrie Mae Weems (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled (Musical Score of "God Bless the Child")' 1995

 

Carrie Mae Weems (American, b. 1953)
Untitled (Musical Score of “God Bless the Child”)
1995
From the series From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried
Chromogenic print with sandblasted musical notations on frame glass
45.6 × 45.6cm (17 15/16 × 17 15/16 in)
Getty Museum
Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon in honour of Weston Naef
© Carrie Mae Weems

 

Will Connell (American, 1898-1961) 'Sound' 1936

 

Will Connell (American, 1898-1961)
Sound
1936
Gelatin silver print
34.2 × 26.7cm (13 7/16 × 10 1/2 in)
Getty Museum
Gift of Trish and Jan de Bont
© Will Connell

 

Lisette Model (American born Austria, 1901-1983) '[Singer, Sammy's Bar, New York]' about 1940-1944

 

Lisette Model (American born Austria, 1901-1983)
[Singer, Sammy’s Bar, New York]
about 1940-1944
Gelatin silver print
Getty Museum
© Estate of Lisette Model, courtesy of Baudoin Lebon/Keitelman

 

 

“Bowery old-timers claim her voice has had no match for power and ferocity since Maggie Cline used to stun with “Knock ‘Em Down McCloskey”.”

The uncredited text, referring to this photograph of the bar singer known as “Tillie,” accompanied a group of Lisette Model’s photographs made at Sammy’s Bar that were reproduced in the September 1994 Harper’s Bazaar magazine. Taken from below and at a slight diagonal angle, the image captures the vitality and vibrancy of the performer belting it out on the stage at Sammy’s, a local favourite in the Bowery district of New York, also visited by photographers Weegee and Diane Arbus. The angle from which the photograph was made also emphasises the gleaming microphone, which seem to rise up to meet the challenge of projecting Tillie’s already powerful voice.

Text from the J. Paul Getty app

 

Ralph Eugene Meatyard (American, 1925-1972) 'Untitled ("Motion-Sound" Landscape)' Negative 1969

 

Ralph Eugene Meatyard (American, 1925-1972)
Untitled (“Motion-Sound” Landscape)
Negative 1969, printed 1974
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Weston J. and Mary M. Naef
©  Estate of Ralph Eugene Meatyard

 

Christian Marclay (American-Swiss, b. 1955) 'Untitled (Death)' 2020

 

Christian Marclay (American-Swiss, b. 1955)
Untitled (Death)
2020
Chromogenic print
Courtesy of the artist, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Christian Marclay

 

 

Further images that I can hear … but not in the exhibition that I know of

Tracey Moffatt (Australian, b. 1960) 'The Movie Star (David Gulpilil)' 1985

 

Tracey Moffatt (Australian, b. 1960)
The Movie Star (David Gulpilil)
1985
Type C photograph on paper
Image: 50.7 x 77.3cm
Frame: 74.5 x 99.0cm
Gift of the artist 1998. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
© Tracey Moffatt

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951) 'John Cage chez Dorothea Tanning, Paris' 1979

 

Marion Kalter (Austrian, b. 1951)
John Cage chez Dorothea Tanning, Paris

 

Larry Fink (American, b. 1941) 'Studio 54' 1977

 

Larry Fink (American, b. 1941)
Studio 54, New York City
May 1977
Silver gelatin print

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946) 'Songs of the Sky' 1924

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946)
Songs of the Sky
1924
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946)
Songs of the Sky
1924
Gelatin silver print

 

Eva Besnyö (Dutch, 1910-2003) 'Boy With Cello, Balaton, Hungary' 1931

 

Eva Besnyö (Dutch, 1910-2003)
Boy With Cello, Balaton, Hungary
1931
Gelatin silver print
42.5 x 39.2cm (16.7 x 15.4 in)

 

Arnold Newman (American, 1918-2006) 'Igor Stravinsky' 1945

 

Arnold Newman (American, 1918-2006)
Igor Stravinsky
1945
Gelatin silver contact sheet

 

Santu Mofokeng (South African, b. 1956) 'Opening Song, Hand Clapping and Bells' 1986

 

Santu Mofokeng (South African, b. 1956)
Opening Song, Hand Clapping and Bells
1986
From the series Train Church
Gelatin silver print
Image: 19 x 28.5cm

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Pultneyville, New York' 1957

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Pultneyville, New York
1957
Gelatin silver print
24.4 x 25.1cm (9 5/8 x 9 7/8 in.)
Purchased in part with funds provided by Daniel Greenberg, Susan Steinhauser, and the Greenberg Foundation
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Street diversions (or B organ)' 1898-99

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Street diversions (or B organ)
1898-1899
Albumen print

 

Walker Evans. 'Church Organ and Pews' 1936

 

Walker Evans (Walker Evans, 1903-1975)
Church Organ and Pews
1936
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Bar, Las Vegas' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019)
Bar, Las Vegas
1955-1956
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019) 'Political Rally, Chicago' 1956

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019)
Political Rally, Chicago
1956
Gelatin silver print
35.1 x 23.7cm (13 13/16 x 9 5/16 in)

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Cellist' 1916

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Cellist
1916
Gelatin silver print

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Violoniste ambulant, Abony' (Traveling violinist, Abony) 1921

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Violoniste ambulant, Abony
Traveling violinist, Abony
1921
Gelatin silver print

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Eiffel Tower, Summer Storm' 1927

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Eiffel Tower, Summer Storm
1927
Gelatin silver print

 

Platt D Babbitt. 'Niagara Falls from the American side' whole plate daguerreotype c.1855

 

Platt D Babbitt (American, 1822-1879)
Niagara Falls from the American side
c. 1855
Whole plate daguerreotype

 

Platt D. Babbitt. '[Scene at Niagara Falls]' c. 1855

 

Platt D Babbitt (American, 1822-1879)
[Scene at Niagara Falls]
c. 1855
Daguerreotype

 

Platt D. Babbitt. 'Niagara Falls', c. 1860

 

Platt D Babbitt (American, 1822-1879)
Niagara Falls
c. 1860
Daguerreotype

 

Henri Huet (French, 1927-1971)/AP ''Life' magazine photographer Larry Burrows (far left) struggles through elephant grass and the rotor wash of an American evacuation helicopter as he helps GIs carry a wounded soldier on a stretcher from the jungle to the chopper in Mimot, Cambodia' 4 May 1970

 

Henri Huet (French, 1927-1971)/AP
‘Life’ magazine photographer Larry Burrows (far left) struggles through elephant grass and the rotor wash of an American evacuation helicopter as he helps GIs carry a wounded soldier on a stretcher from the jungle to the chopper in Mimot, Cambodia
4 May 1970
Gelatin silver print

 

Henri Huet, French (1927-1971) 'The body of an American paratrooper killed in action in the jungle near the Cambodian border is raised up to an evacuation helicopter, Vietnam' 1966

 

Henri Huet (French, 1927-1971)
The body of an American paratrooper killed in action in the jungle near the Cambodian border is raised up to an evacuation helicopter, Vietnam
1966
Gelatin silver print

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'E. K. Nyame, the legendary Ghanaian musician, photographed for a record cover, Accra' c. 1975

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
E. K. Nyame, the legendary Ghanaian musician, photographed for a record cover, Accra
c. 1975
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Roger Scott (Australian, b. 1944)
Ghost train
1972
Gelatin silver print

 

Diane Arbus. ‘The House of Horrors’ 1961

 

Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971)
The House of Horrors
1961
Gelatin silver print

 

Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971) 'A child crying, N.J.' 1967

 

Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971)
A child crying, N.J.
1967
Gelatin silver print

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'Lookout Hotel, Ogunquit, Maine, July 16, 1974'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
Lookout Hotel, Ogunquit, Maine, July 16, 1974
1974
Chromogenic colour print, printed 2013
17 × 21 3/4 in. (43.2 × 55.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of an anonymous donor
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Shooting Victim in Cook County Morgue, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Shooting Victim in Cook County Morgue, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Robert H. Jackson (American, born 1934) 'FATAL BULLET HITS OSWALD. Jack Ruby fires bullet point blank into the body of Lee Harvey Oswald at Dallas Police Station. Oswald grimaces in agony' November 24, 1963

 

Robert H. Jackson (American, born 1934)
FATAL BULLET HITS OSWALD. Jack Ruby fires bullet point blank into the body of Lee Harvey Oswald at Dallas Police Station. Oswald grimaces in agony
November 24, 1963

 

Robert H. Jackson (American, b. 1934) 'Jack Ruby (52) shoots Lee Harvey Oswald (24) 24 November 1963' 1963

 

Robert H. Jackson (American, b. 1934)
Jack Ruby (52) shoots Lee Harvey Oswald (24)
24 November 1963

 

 

Originally published in the Dallas Times Herald, November 25, 1963. Cropped from the source image to the portion that was published in 1963. Winner of the 1964 Pulitzer Prize for Photography.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Survivors of the atomic bomb attack of Nagasaki walk through the destruction as fire rages in the background Aug. 9 1945'

 

Unknown photographer
Survivors of the atomic bomb attack of Nagasaki walk through the destruction as fire rages in the background Aug. 9 1945
1945

 

John Williams (1933- 2016) 'Open Air Shower, Bronte Beach' 1964

 

John Williams (Australian, 1933-2016)
Open Air Shower, Bronte Beach
1964
Gelatin silver print

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Man Stepping from Cable Car, San Francisco' 1956

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Man Stepping from Cable Car, San Francisco
1956
Gelatin silver print

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Upper Yosemite Fall' 1946

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Upper Yosemite Fall
1946
Gelatin silver print

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Nevada Fall Profile' 1946

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Nevada Fall Profile
1946
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Kaho Yu (Australian)
Untitled from the series Infinitesimal Residual Vibration of An Unknown Sound
2009-2011

 

 

Kaho Yu (Australian)
Untitled from the series Infinitesimal Residual Vibration of An Unknown Sound
2009-2011

 

 

The photographs in this series were taken during a period when I was feeling existentially bored. Instead of distracting myself with activities and accumulating new sensations, I decided to “look” at boredom, to study, and perhaps to understand it. The most natural strategy was to observe the immediate environments where my daily activities take place – train stations, cubicles, copy machines room, etc. I carried a medium format camera on a tripod and spent the odd hours wandering alone through those familiar spaces.

My “study” did not lead me to any revelation or answer. Instead, I found myself spending a lot of time waiting in a long silence, between the opening and the closing of the camera shutter.

Charles Babbage, a scientist in 1837, postulated that every voice and sound, once imparted on the air particles, does not dissipate but remains in the diffused movements of all the particles in the atmosphere. Thus, there might one day come a person equipped with the right mathematical knowledge of these motions who will be able to capture the infinitesimal vibrations and to trace back to their ultimate source.

Taking a long exposure, letting the light slowly accumulate an image on the celluloid surface, to me, is not unlike a sound seeker searching in the air particles, for the tiny residual movements that have been conveyed through the history of mankind, from the beginning of time.

Kaho Yu artist statement

 

… i listen to the wind that obliterates my traces

 

 

 

… i listen to the wind that obliterates my traces brings together a collection of early photographs related to music, a group of 78rpm recordings, and short excerpts from various literary sources that are contemporary with the sound and images. It is a somewhat intuitive gathering, culled from artist Steve Roden’s collection of thousands of vernacular photographs related to music, sound, and listening. The subjects range from the PT Barnum-esque Professor McRea – “Ontario’s Musical Wonder” (pictured with his complex sculptural one man band contraption) – to anonymous African-American guitar players and images of early phonographs. The images range from professional portraits to ethereal, accidental, double exposures – and include a range of photographic print processes, such as tintypes, ambrotypes, cdvs, cabinet cards, real photo postcards, albumen prints, and turn-of-the-century snapshots.

The two CDs display a variety of recordings, including one-off amateur recordings, regular commercial releases, and early sound effects records. there is no narrative structure to the book, but the collision of literary quotes (Hamsun, Lagarkvist, Wordsworth, Nabokov, etc.). Recordings and images conspire towards a consistent mood that is anchored by the book’s title, which binds such disparate things as an early recording of an American cowboy ballad, a poem by a Swedish Nobel laureate, a recording of crickets created artificially, and an image of an itinerant anonymous woman sitting in a field, playing a guitar. The book also contains an essay by Roden.

Text from the Dust to Digital website Nd [Online] Cited 23/07/2022. Published by Dust-to-Digital, 2011. The book is out of stock but available on Abe.com website.

 

'... i listen to the wind that obliterates my traces' book cover (2011)

 

… i listen to the wind that obliterates my traces book cover (2011)

 

 

The J. Paul Getty Museum
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Los Angeles, California 90049

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Daily 10am – 5pm

The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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05
Jun
22

Exhibition: ‘Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 8th March – 12th June 2022

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'On Mount Rainer' 1915

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
On Mount Rainer
1915
Platinum print
18.4 × 23.4cm (7 1/4 × 9 3/16 in.)
Getty Museum
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

This is the second posting on this magnificent exhibition on the work of the American photographer Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976), this time its iteration at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Cunningham, whose broad expanse of work stretches from Pictorialism through avant-garde to Group f/64 modernism, has for too long been underrated in the pantheon of 20th century photographic stars.

In this posting there are 20 or so new images from the exhibition, including contributions from luminaries and friends such as Minor White, Edward Weston, Lisette Model and Dorothea Lange. Of interest is the close framing of the portraits (for example see Sonya Noskowiak 1928, below) and, with these media images, the ability to see the placement and size of the photographic print on the supporting backing card.

I particularly respond to the tonality and texture of the plant photographs and Imogen’s sensitivity to their form and structure.

My favourite photograph in the posting is an image of Cunningham’s I have never seen before – the wonderful late work, Aiko’s Hands (1971, below). The Stieglitz hands, the suspended leaf like Minor White, the message in the water…

There are parts of this image that are a quiet metaphor, but the overall impression is not. It talks directly and immediately to the viewer.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
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. See the posting on this exhibition when it was at the Seattle Art Museum.

 

In a career that spanned seventy years, Imogen Cunningham created a large and diverse body of work – from portraits, to nudes, to florals, and to street photographs. In a field dominated by men, she was one of a handful of women who helped to shape early modernist photography in America. This exhibition seeks to acknowledge her stature as equivalent to that of her male peers and to reevaluate her enormous contribution to twentieth century photographic history.

 

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Mrs. Walsh and Middie at the Window' 1907-1908

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Mrs. Walsh and Middie at the Window
1907-1908
Platinum print
10.6 × 15.7cm (4 3/16 × 6 3/16 in.)
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
The Dream / New-san-Koburi
about 1910
Platinum print
22.7 × 16.2cm (8 15/16 × 6 3/8 in.)
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Roi Partridge, Etcher' 1915

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Roi Partridge, Etcher
1915
Platinum print
20.6 × 15.5cm (8 1/8 × 6 1/8 in.)
Getty Museum
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

The Wood Beyond the World

After her graduation from the University of Washington, Cunningham took a job in the studio of photographer and ethnologist Edward S. Curtis. She learned the platinum printing process there, and received a grant that allowed her to continue her studies in Dresden, Germany. On her return to Seattle, she began making soft-focus platinum prints with an ethereal dreamlike quality. Her work in this period was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite movement in art and literature, which called for renewal within the Victorian art establishment through spiritualism and an enhanced connection with nature. An epic tale set in a medieval forest, The Wood Beyond the World (1894) by William Morris, a leading figure in the movement, particularly sparked her imagination.

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Wood Beyond the World 1' 1910

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Wood Beyond the World 1
1910
Platinum print
Getty Museum
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'In the Wood / Voice of the Wood' 1910

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
In the Wood / Voice of the Wood
1910
Platinum print
19.8 × 19.1cm (7 13/16 × 7 1/2 in.)
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Amaryllis' 1933

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Amaryllis
1933
Gelatin silver print
Getty Museum
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Aloe' 1925

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Aloe
1925
Gelatin silver print
20.8 × 16.5cm (8 3/16 × 6 1/2 in.)
Getty Museum
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

In Her Garden

After Cunningham moved her family to San Francisco in 1917, she turned away from soft-focus images and began to make sharply delineated pictures. She cultivated a garden, growing plants and flowers for a series of botanical studies, all while taking care of her three young sons. In 1929 the prominent photographer Edward Weston recommended that ten of Cunningham’s photographs be included in the seminal exhibition Film und Foto in Stuttgart, Germany. Although the show did not bring her financial success, it garnered international recognition for her as a leading American modernist photographer.

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Hen and Chickens' 1929

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Hen and Chickens
1929
Gelatin silver print
25.2 × 24.6cm (9 15/16 × 9 11/16 in.)
Getty Museum
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Flax' 1926

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Flax
1926
Gelatin silver print
23.5 × 16.1cm (9 1/4 × 6 5/16 in.)
Getty Museum
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Banana Plant' 1925-1929

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Banana Plant
1925-1929
Gelatin silver print
29.5 × 22.2cm (11 5/8 × 8 3/4 in.)
The Art Institute of Chicago, Julien Levy Collection
Gift of Jean Levy and the estate of Julien Levy
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Triangles' 1928

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Triangles
1928
Gelatin silver print
9.7 × 7.1cm (3 13/16 × 2 13/16 in.)
Getty Museum
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Two Callas' 1925-1929

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Two Callas
1925-1929
Gelatin silver print
30 × 22.6cm (11 13/16 × 8 7/8 in.)
The Art Institute of Chicago, Julien Levy Collection
Gift of Jean Levy and the estate of Julien Levy
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Calla Lily (Black and White Lily)' 1925-1933

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Calla Lily (Black and White Lily)
1925-1933
Gelatin silver print
30 × 23.5 cm (11 13/16 × 9 1/4 in.)
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Tower of Jewels' 1925

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Tower of Jewels
1925
Gelatin silver print
30.5 × 23.8cm
UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) '[Dogwood Blossoms, Yosemite National Park]' Negative about 1938; print 1941

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
[Dogwood Blossoms, Yosemite National Park]
Negative about 1938; print 1941
Gelatin silver print
16.8 × 11.4cm (6 5/8 × 4 1/2 in.)
© 2014 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) '[Sonya Noskowiak]' 1928

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
[Sonya Noskowiak]
1928
Gelatin silver print
8.9 × 7.6cm (3 1/2 × 3 in.)
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Martha Graham, Dancer' 1931

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Martha Graham, Dancer
1931
Gelatin silver print
18.5 × 25.2cm (7 5/16 × 9 15/16 in.)
Getty Museum
Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Frida Kahlo Rivera, Painter' 1931

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Frida Kahlo Rivera, Painter
1931
Gelatin silver print
Getty Museum, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

On the Portrait

When asked to describe the requirements for a successful portrait photographer, Cunningham replied, “You must be able to gain an understanding at short notice and at close range of the beauties of character, intellect, and spirit, so you can draw out the best qualities and make them show in the face of the sitter.” She would often engage her sitters in conversation until they relaxed, or ask them to think of the nicest thing they could imagine. She resisted indulging their vanity, however, and “face-lifting” was her word for the type of portrait work that required beautification – in her estimation an obstacle to a good likeness.

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Self-Portrait with Korona View' 1933

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Self-Portrait with Korona View
1933
Gelatin silver print
10.2 × 8.4cm (4 × 3 5/16 in.)
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Waiting for Work on Edge of the Pea Field, Holtville, Imperial Valley, California' February 1937 

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Waiting for Work on Edge of the Pea Field, Holtville, Imperial Valley, California
February 1937
Gelatin silver print
20.5 × 19.2 cm (8 1/16 × 7 9/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

“HUMAN EROSION [all underlined] / Erosion of the soil has its counterpart in erosion / of our society. / The one wastes natural resources; / the other human resources / Employment is intermittent. Jobs are precarious and / annual income is low. / Waited weeks for the maturity of 1937 winter pea / crop, which froze; then more weeks until maturity / of second crop. / Near Hollville,California / February 1937.”

 

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

 

Lisette Model (American born Austria, 1901-1983)
Woman with Veil, San Francisco
1949
Gelatin silver print
34.9 x 27cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Angel Island' 1952

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Angel Island
1952
Gelatin silver print
19.3 x 19.3cm
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Stan, San Francisco' 1959

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Stan, San Francisco
1959
Gelatin silver print
24.2 × 17.9cm (9 1/2 × 7 1/16 in.)
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958) 'Armco Steel' 1922

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Armco Steel
1922
Palladium print
24.4 × 19.4cm (9 5/8 × 7 5/8 in.)
© 1981 Arizona Board of Regents, Center for Creative Photography

 

 

West Coast Photography

In 1932 Imogen Cunningham, along with Ansel Adams, John Paul Edwards, Sonya Noskowiak, Henry Swift, Willard Van Dyke, and Edward Weston – all San Francisco Bay Area photographers – helped found Group f/64. (They adopted the name from the aperture setting on a large-format camera that would yield the greatest depth of field, making a photograph equally sharp from foreground to background.) The goal of this loosely formed association was to promote a modernist style through sharply focused images created with a West Coast perspective or sense of place. The works presented in this gallery, created by Cunningham’s closest colleagues – all contributors to the Group f/64 legacy – demonstrate how the influence they had on one another defined the future of West Coast photography.

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958) 'Bananas and Orange' 1927

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Bananas and Orange
1927
Gelatin silver print
Getty Museum
© 1981 Arizona Board of Regents, Center for Creative Photography

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Aiko's Hands' 1971

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Aiko’s Hands
1971
Gelatin silver print
27.2 × 34.7cm (10 11/16 × 13 11/16 in.)
Getty Museum
Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Minor White (American, 1908–1976) 'Nude Foot, San Francisco' 1947

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Nude Foot, San Francisco
Negative 1947; print 1975
Gelatin silver print
21.2 × 27cm (8 3/8 × 10 5/8 in.)
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum. © Trustees of Princeton University
Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Dancer, Mills College' 1929

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Dancer, Mills College
1929
Gelatin silver print
21.7 × 18.7cm (8 9/16 × 7 3/8 in.)
Getty Museum
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Snake' 1929

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Snake
1929
Gelatin silver print
19.7 × 16.5cm (7 3/4 × 6 1/2 in.)
The Art Institute of Chicago
Julien Levy Collection, Gift of Jean and Julien Levy
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Gertrude Stein, Writer' 1934

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Gertrude Stein, Writer
1934
Gelatin silver print
Getty Museum
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

A Parting of Ways

In 1934 Cunningham’s marriage to Roi Partridge ended in divorce. Their three teenage boys, Gryffyd, Rondal, and Padraic, remained in the family home with their mother until they finished high school. Cunningham never remarried, and although she received the house as part of her settlement, the divorce was the beginning of three decades of financial difficulties. Without Partridge, Cunningham had to pick up the pace of her work to stay afloat. She took more commissions, made more portraits, and began teaching portrait photography to students in her home. Despite the added stress, Cunningham sought out ways to challenge herself.

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Cornish School Trio 2' 1935

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Cornish School Trio 2
1935
Gelatin silver print
22.9 × 19.1cm (9 × 7 1/2 in.)
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Pentimento' 1973

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Pentimento
1973
Gelatin silver print
18.3 × 22.4cm (7 3/16 × 8 13/16 in.)
Getty Museum
Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'A Man Ray Version of Man Ray' 1961

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
A Man Ray Version of Man Ray
1961
Gelatin silver print
23.5 × 16.3cm (9 1/4 × 6 7/16 in.)
Getty Museum
Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Double Image, Sutter St. and Fillmore' c. 1947

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Double Image, Sutter St. and Fillmore
c. 1947
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the Oakland Museum of California, Gift of the Junior League of Oakland
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

Into the Street

In 1934, while in New York, Cunningham made what she called her first “stolen pictures,” documentary street photographs that she took while trying to hide herself and her camera from view. Her interest in street photography was renewed in 1946 when she met Lisette Model while they were both teaching at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute). Cunningham’s candid depictions of her subjects have often been described as gentler and more sympathetic than those by many of her contemporaries. Her “stolen pictures” capture people as they are and not how they look when they know they are being photographed.

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Tea at Foster's, San Francisco' 1940s

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Tea at Foster’s, San Francisco
1940s
Gelatin silver print
19.1 × 18.7cm (7 1/2 × 7 3/8 in.)
Seattle Art Museum
Gift of John H. Hauberg
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Self-Portrait with Grandchildren in Funhouse' 1955

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Self-Portrait with Grandchildren in Funhouse
1955
Gelatin silver print
22.2 × 18.5cm (8 3/4 × 7 5/16 in.)
Getty Museum
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

One of the greatest photographers of the 20th century, Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) enjoyed a career that spanned three-quarters of a century, creating a large and diverse body of work that underscored her vision, versatility, and commitment to the medium.

The first major retrospective in the United States in more than 35 years, Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective brings together her insightful portraits, elegant flower and plant studies, poignant street pictures, and groundbreaking nudes in a visual celebration of Cunningham’s enormous contributions to the history of photography.

“Despite Cunningham’s exceptional achievements as a photographic artist, her work has not received the attention accorded her male counterparts,” says Timothy Potts, Maria Hummer-Tuttle and Robert Tuttle Director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “Though struggling to meet the demands of family and career, she emerged by the second half of the 1920s as one of the most important and innovative modernist photographers in America, collaborating with leading practitioners, mentoring novices, and actively engaging with contemporary controversies in modern art. This exhibition and publication will provide the spotlight on her contribution to 20th-century photography that she so richly deserves.”

Cunningham was initially self-taught, learning the fundamentals of photography from the instructions that came with her first camera. After graduating from the University of Washington, she established a portrait studio in Seattle and began making soft-focus photographs. Her work in this period was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite movement in art and literature. In 1915, Cunningham married and started a family. After she moved her family to San Francisco in 1917, she turned away from soft-focus images and began making a series of sharply delineated botanical studies.

In 1932 Cunningham, along with Ansel Adams, John Paul Edwards, Sonya Noskowiak, Henry Swift, Willard Van Dyke, and Edward Weston – all San Francisco Bay Area photographers – helped found Group f/64. This loosely formed association promoted a modernist style through sharply focused images created with a West Coast perspective and sense of place.

From the mid-1940s forward, Cunningham could often be seen roaming the streets of San Francisco with her Rolleiflex, making environmental portraits of the city’s inhabitants. Her enlightened attitude about her place in the world extended to her relationships with people of different racial backgrounds and sexual orientations, which broke down social barriers while enriching and diversifying her oeuvre. Cunningham’s last major project, a series of portraits of older people, was started at age 92 and published posthumously in the book After Ninety: Imogen Cunningham in 1977. The project reflected her determination to keep active and provided a way to come to grips with being a nonagenarian herself.

Cunningham was a woman of exceptional intelligence and talent, yet competing in a male-dominated profession posed a formidable challenge. She felt disparaged by some of her male colleagues, who occasionally downplayed her talent and influence. As a bulwark against the stress, she joined San Francisco Women Artists, a group organised to promote, support, and expand the representation of women in the arts. Over the years Cunningham served as a resource for female artists such as Laura Andreson, Ruth Asawa, Alma Lavenson, Laura Gilpin, Dorothea Lange, Consuelo Kanaga, and Merry Renk, among others, providing advice, moral support, and essential connections throughout the art and business worlds.

“Cunningham continually sought out new opportunities to grow, learn, and change as an artist and a person” says Paul Martineau, curator of photographs at the Getty Museum, and curator of the exhibition. “She readily admitted that she was never fully satisfied with anything and considered self-improvement, in all its forms, her life’s work.”

Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective is organised by the Getty Museum, Los Angeles and curated by Paul Martineau, associate curator of Photographs. Major support from Jordan Schnitzer and the Harold & Arlene Schnitzer CARE Foundation. Accompanying the exhibition is a lavishly illustrated companion book, Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective.

Press release from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Ruth Asawa, Sculptor' 1952

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Ruth Asawa, Sculptor
1952
Gelatin silver print
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of Ruth Asawa and Albert Lanier
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

A Network of Women

Cunningham was a woman of exceptional intelligence and talent, yet competing in a male-dominated profession posed a formidable challenge, particularly after Partridge divorced her in 1934 and she struggled to support herself. To make matters worse, Cunningham felt disparaged by some of her male colleagues, who occasionally downplayed her talent and influence. As a bulwark against the stress, Cunningham joined San Francisco Women Artists, a group organised to promote, support, and expand the role of women in the arts. Over the years Cunningham served as a resource for female artists such as Laura Andresen, Ruth Asawa, Alma Lavenson, Laura Gilpin, Dorothea Lange, Consuelo Kanaga, and Merry Renk, among others, providing advice, moral support, and essential connections throughout the art and business worlds.

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'The Unmade Bed' 1957

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
The Unmade Bed
1957
Gelatin silver print
27.1 × 34.3cm (10 11/16 × 13 1/2 in.)
Getty Museum
Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Sandblaster, San Francisco' Negative 1949; print 1975

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Sandblaster, San Francisco
Negative 1949; print 1975
Gelatin silver print
21.6 × 25.1cm (8 1/2 × 9 7/8 in.)
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum. © Trustees of Princeton University
Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser

 

 

The Light Within

In 1964 the photographer and editor Minor White devoted an issue of the influential magazine Aperture to Cunningham. In an elegant tribute, he described his own experience of the spell she cast over her subjects as a kind of inner light. The first publication dedicated entirely to Cunningham’s work, this issue of Aperture contained a selection of forty-four images dating from 1912 to 1963, representing her wide range of genres and styles.

Between 1965 and 1973 Cunningham served as a visiting photography instructor at the California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland; Humboldt State College, Arcata; the San Francisco Art Institute; and San Francisco State College. In 1970 she was awarded a Guggenheim Foundation grant of $5,000 to make prints from her old negatives. This prestigious prize marked a turning point in her long career, an acknowledgment that coincided with a rising interest among museums and enthusiasts in collecting photographs, both historical and contemporary.

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Minor White, Photographer' 1963

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Minor White, Photographer
1963
Gelatin silver print
Getty Museum
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Phoenix Recumbent' 1968

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Phoenix Recumbent
1968
Gelatin silver print
19.1 × 22.2cm (7 1/2 × 8 3/4 in.)
Collection of Rudi Bianchi
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'My Father at Ninety' 1936

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
My Father at Ninety
1936
Gelatin silver print
Getty Museum
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

After Ninety

When she was ninety-two, Cunningham started a new project, photographing people of advanced age. She estimated that this would take two years to complete, and she planned to publish the photographs in a volume to be called After Ninety. She began to seek out subjects, visiting them in their homes, in hospitals, and in convents. The project provided an outlet for her determination to keep active as well as a way to come to grips with being a nonagenarian herself. Cunningham died on June 24, 1976, and the book was published the following year.

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'After Ninety' 1977

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
After Ninety
1977
Closed: 31.1 x 23.5 x 1.3cm
Private collection

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'The Coffee Gallery' 1960

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
The Coffee Gallery
1960
Gelatin silver print
19.5 x 22.4cm
Getty Museum
Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Another Arm' 1973

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Another Arm
1973
Gelatin silver print
23.2 × 19cm (9 1/8 × 7 1/2 in.)
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Judy Dater. 'Imogen Cunningham and Twinka Thiebaud' 1974

 

Judy Dater (American, born 1941)
Imogen and Twinka at Yosemite
1974
Gelatin silver print
24.2 × 19cm (9 1/2 × 7 1/2 in.)
© Judy Dater. All rights reserved

 

 

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

Opening hours:
Daily 10am – 5pm

The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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30
Jan
22

Exhibition: ‘Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective’ at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

Exhibition dates: 18th November, 2021 – 6th February, 2022

 

Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective

 

 

I’m not going to say a lot about the work of the Imogen Cunningham because the quality and breadth of the work speaks for itself. If you are attuned you can feel the strength of her images and imbibe of her sensitivity to subject matter, a sense of actual presence in light and form. For example, the portrait of Gertrude Stein, Writer (1934, below) is a masterpiece of light and form and of … perspicacity and intensity.

“An early feminist and inspiration to future generations, Cunningham engaged intensely with pictorialism and modernism, along with portraiture, landscape photography, the nude, still life and street photography… Under appreciated during her life, Cunningham was an inventive, inspired and prolific photographer who tirelessly explored her chosen medium until her death at the age of 93.”1

“Observing that her “taste lay somewhere between reality and dreamland,” Cunningham knew herself and her style well. The reality is the clarity of the images, and the dreamland could be seen in her abstract perspective.”2

.
I will tell an story though.

“[Ansel] Adams collaborated with Hills Brothers Coffee to have one of his images on the front of the can, which came out in 1968 [see below]. The idea was that the can would be a ‘keepsake’, for it had an original image by Ansel Adams of Yosemite during the winter [Winter Morning, Yosemite Valley, California c. 1940]. Cunningham summed up her disapproval when she sent the can to Ansel potted with a marijuana plant! Although hurtfully honest, Imogen was a tender, emotional woman. When Dorothea Lange’s marriage to Maynard Dixon had come to its end, Imogen burst into tears upon hearing the news.”3

.
Strength and tenderness. An independent spirit.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Anonymous. “Sheets ahead: the pioneering photography of Imogen Cunningham – in pictures,” on The Guardian website Wednesday 11 November 2020 [Online] Cited 27/01/2022
  2. Anonymous. “Imogen Cunningham,” on the International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum website Nd [Online] Cited 27/01/2022
  3. Ibid.,

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

 

 

Ansel Adams / Hills Brothers coffee can 1969

 

Hills Brothers coffee can, with a wraparound image of Adams’ Winter Morning, Yosemite Valley; this can with the rare original red and yellow “belly band” specifying the grind and date, and advertising a Kodak Instamatic II camera on special offer for only $4.75. Tin, 7 inches high and 6 1/4 in diameter (17.8 and 15.9 cm.), with the printed Hills Brothers and Adams credit and the date; with the original plastic top which reads “Head for the HILLS!” 1969

Anonymous text and image from the Swann Auction Galleries website February 26, 2016 [Online] Cited 27/01/2022

 

 

“These days, high modernism can sometimes look as distant as a faraway star, a place of heedless optimism and tranquil contemplation. For that very reason, though, the images can be tonic, lowering one’s blood pressure as they induce concentration of sight. Imogen Cunningham took up a camera at the dawn of the 20th century, when few women were working in the field, and made pictures for nearly seven decades. She took every sort of photo; portraits, street scenes and landscapes all figure brilliantly in her body of work. What she did best, though, was to convey the sensual impact of harmonious forms, finding these especially in nudes, both male and female, and in the vegetable kingdom. Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective, by Paul Martineau, displays her ecstatic studies of flowers – lilies, tuberoses, magnolias – seen in extreme close-up as if they were worlds in themselves, and juxtaposes them with languorous sprawled bodies that become dunes and arroyos. She can turn her eye with similar entrancement to ceramics, textiles, the organically flowing wire sculptures of Ruth Asawa, and even industrial structures. She has never been granted anywhere near the attention accorded her counterpart and contemporary Edward Weston, but revision is clearly in order.”

.
Luc Sante, The New York Times Book Review 12/1/2020

 

“‘Cunningham’s decision to become a photographer in the first decade of the 20th century was a daring career choice for a woman,’ says Timothy Potts, director of the J Paul Getty Museum. ‘The field was dominated by men, many of whom saw the complexity and physical demands of the photographic process as beyond the abilities of most women. Armed with intelligence and determination, Cunningham completed her college degree in three years, won a scholarship to study photographic chemistry in Dresden and opened her own portrait studio in Seattle in 1910′”

.
Text from “Sheets ahead: the pioneering photography of Imogen Cunningham – in pictures,” on the Guardian website Wed 11 Nov 2020 [Online] Cited 08/01/2022

 

“Cunningham had a peripatetic eye, and this combined with her innate curiosity and forward-thinking attitudes about gender, race and sexuality resulted in an unusually diverse body of work.”

.
Curator Paul Martineau in the book’s foreword

 

 

 

 

Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective | Nov 18 – Feb 6 | Seattle Art Museum

Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective showcases the endless innovation and profound influence of this remarkable photographer who pushed the boundaries for both women and photography within fine art. Nearly 200 of Cunningham’s insightful portraits, elegant flower and plant studies, poignant street pictures, and groundbreaking nudes present a singular vision developed over seven decades of work. The first major retrospective in the United States of Imogen Cunningham’s work in 35 years, the exhibition examines the artist’s Seattle upbringing and includes works by female artists such as Ruth Asawa and Martha Graham who Cunningham championed, as well as works by Group f/64 which she helped found with Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, and others. Cunningham’s spark of creative possibility asserted photography as a distinct and valuable art form in the 20th century.

This exhibition is organised by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective' at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

 

Installation view of the exhibition Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) showing at left, Magnolia Bud (1929); at second left, Amaryllis (1933); at third left, Agave Design 2 (1920s); and at right, Aloe (1925)
Photo: Natali Wiseman

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective' at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

 

Installation view of the exhibition Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) showing No. 7: Double Image, Sutter St. and Fillmore (c. 1940); 8: Under the Queensboro Bridge, 1934; 9: Sunbonnet Lady, Fillmore Street, San Francisco (c. 1950s); 10: Self-portrait in Copenhagen, 1961; 11: Leni in Chartres, 1960; 14: Reeds, 1952; 15: Me Too, 1955
Photo: Natali Wiseman

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Self-Portrait with Elgin Marbles, London' 1910

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Self-Portrait with Elgin Marbles, London
1910
Platinum print
6 9/16 × 4 7/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

An early feminist and inspiration to future generations, Cunningham engaged intensely with Pictorialism and Modernism, along with portraiture, landscape photography, the nude, still life and street photography.

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Self-Portrait' 1910

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Self-Portrait
1910
Platinum print
Image: 4 13/16 × 3 1/8 in.
Frame: 20 1/2 x 15 1/2 x 7/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'The Dream (Nei-san-Koburi)' about 1910

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
The Dream (Nei-san-Koburi)
about 1910
Platinum print
8 15/16 × 6 3/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

“Her first paying photo gig was making lantern slides of microscopic plant details for the university’s botany department. Cunningham also made some of her first creative work while at UW, including a nude self-portrait in the grass on the UW campus that was way ahead of its time (an early hint of the boundary-pushing career that would follow). After interning with and later working for Northwest photographer Edward S. Curtis, in 1910 she established her own studio in a small bungalow on what is now First Hill.”

Margo Vansynghel. “How Seattle’s Imogen Cunningham changed photography forever,” on the Crosscut website November 16, 2021 [Online] Cited 08/01/2022

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Wood Beyond the World I' 1910

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Wood Beyond the World I
1910
Platinum print
Image: 9 7/16 × 6 13/16 in.
Frame: 23 1/4 x 17 1/4 x 7/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'In the Wood (Voice of the Wood)' 1910

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
In the Wood (Voice of the Wood)
1910
Platinum print
Image: 7 13/16 × 7 1/2 in.
Frame: 21 1/4 x 17 1/4 x 7/8 in.

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Evening on the Duwamish River' About 1911

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Evening on the Duwamish River
About 1911
Platinum print
Image: 5 13/16 × 9 1/2 in.
Mount: 9 5/16 × 12 5/8 in.
Frame: 15 1/2 x 20 1/2 x 7/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Cunningham took this photo of an “Evening on the Duwamish River,” around 1911, after she established her photo studio on Seattle’s First Hill. (The Imogen Cunningham Trust)

 

 

 

Imogen Cunningham: The Dream c. 1910

In this soft-focused black and white photograph, a woman is visible from the waist-up. She sits in three-quarter profile and wears a loose, white robe which emphasises her pale skin. This woman, who glows in contrast to the dark, hazy background which surrounds her, is miniaturist painter Clare Shepard.

Imogen Cunningham photographed her friend, Shepard, at the peak of the Pictorialist movement. This movement saw photographers approach cameras as a tool – similar to a paintbrush – that made an artistic statement. Rather than capturing the real, Pictorialism emphasised the beauty of a subject and an image’s composition.

In this audio recording produced by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Chris Johnson, chair of the photography department at the California College of the Arts, considers the Pictorialist approach Cunningham took in creating The Dream (Nei-san-Koburi) and the romantic feelings it relays.

 

Transcript

Chris Johnson: It’s a kind of a classic, romantic, Pictorialist image of a young beautiful woman.

Narrator: Chris Johnson, chair of the photography department at the California College of the Arts.

Chris Johnson: You can see that Imogen is very sensitive to the falling of light and shadow over this young woman.

Narrator: The atmosphere around her, seems to glow. Diffused light falls on her headscarf and the folds of her painter’s smock. Her eyes are half closed, as if in a trance. The close framing of the portrait keeps the background abstract. The subject is Clare Shepard, a friend and miniaturist painter.

Chris Johnson: Imogen, in her heart of hearts, was really a romantic and a romantic takes her feelings very seriously so her feelings as she was projecting them on to this young woman are pretty clear.

Narrator: The otherworldly portrait hints at Shepard’s rumoured abilities as a clairvoyant. The image exemplifies Pictorialism, an approach that prioritised beauty and expressiveness, composition and atmospheric effects. The movement rejected the realistic, documentary nature of photography and instead looked to painters as artistic influences.

Chris Johnson: One of the ideas behind the Pictorialists was that you would use the soft-focus technique as a trope to indicate dreamy, romantic, ethereal, spiritual qualities. She’s catching this moment when Claire is lost within thought and it intends to try to draw us into the mood space that she’s occupying using pictorialist soft-focus as a formal strategy.

Narrator: When Cunningham took this portrait around 1910, Pictorialism was at its peak. Cunningham had recently opened her own studio in Seattle after studying photographic chemistry in Germany. The photograph marked a specific, early period in her career.

Chris Johnson: All of her photography subsequent to this phase is in marked contrast to the visual effects of this image.

~ Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator, “Imogen Cunningham: The Dream,” on the SAMBlog website December 21, 2021 [Online] Cited 06/01/2022

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'On Mount Rainier' 1915

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
On Mount Rainier
1915
Platinum print
7 1/4 × 9 3/16 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

With a series of photos of her husband naked “On Mount Rainier,” Imogen Cunningham caused quite the stir in 1915. It was unusual for a woman to be photographing male nudes. (The Imogen Cunningham Trust)

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'On the Mountain' 1915

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
On the Mountain
1915
Platinum print
Image: 9 × 7 1/4 in.
Sheldon Museum of Art, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Anna R. and Frank M. Hall Charitable Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Agave Design 1' 1920s

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Agave Design 1
1920s
Gelatin silver print
Image: 13 1/2 × 10 1/2 in.
Mat: 20 × 18 in.
Collection of The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Two Callas' 1925-1929

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Two Callas
1925-1929
Gelatin silver print
11 13/16 × 8 7/8 in.
The Art Institute of Chicago, Julien Levy Collection, Gift of Jean Levy and the Estate of Julien Levy
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Magnolia Blossom' Negative 1925; print 1930

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Magnolia Blossom
Negative 1925; print 1930
Gelatin silver print
9 5/16 × 11 5/8 in.
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Museum purchase, M.H. de Young Memorial Museum
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

 

Imogen Cunningham: Magnolia Blossom 1925

For nearly a decade of her 70-year career, Imogen Cunningham focused on capturing the beauty of botanicals. Having studied chemistry and worked in the botany department at the University of Washington, she wrote her thesis in 1907 on the chemical process of photography while employing a variety of plants as her subjects.

Magnolia Blossom is perhaps Cunningham’s most well-known botanical image. The close-cropped photograph of the flower reveals the cone of stamens and pistils hiding between the petals. Taken as a whole, the image represents a transfixing study of light and shadows within the history of black and white photography.

In this audio recording produced by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Meg Partridge, the granddaughter of Imogen Cunningham, discusses the significance of this photograph within Cunningham’s larger body of work and provides insight on the photographer’s fascination with botanicals.

 

Transcript

Narrator: This close-cropped image of a magnolia flower fills the entire frame. The petals have completely opened revealing the cone of stamens and curlicue carpels.

Meg Partridge: It’s really a beautifully sharp, focused, large-format image that is a simple subject, but it’s very powerful.

Narrator: For roughly a decade, Cunningham focused her attention on botanical studies. This is perhaps her most well-known example. She had an extensive knowledge of plants – as a chemistry major in college, she worked in the botany department, making slides for lectures and research.

Meg Partridge: She knew the botanical names of all of the plants that she had photographed and all the plants that she gardened with. She spent a good bit of time in the garden. So I think it was more about the relationship she had with her subject – be it a person or a plant – that we really see and respond to.

Narrator: There was a practical aspect to these botanical works as well. Cunningham once explained: “The reason I really turned to plants was because I couldn’t get out of my own backyard when my children were small. I photographed the plants in my garden and steered my children around at the same time.”

Meg Partridge: And she would do it in moments where she had children underfoot, but also a moment to focus. She always used natural light and she often took photographs either inside with a simple backdrop or she even took simple backdrops, a white board or a black cloth, out into the garden to photograph.

Narrator: Cunningham’s full-frame botanicals such as this one were groundbreaking in early modernist photography.

~ Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator, “Imogen Cunningham: Magnolia Blossom,” on the SAMBlog website December 7, 2021 [Online] Cited 06/01/2022

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Magnolia Bud' 1929

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Magnolia Bud
1929
Gelatin silver print
Image: 9 1/4 × 7 1/16 in.
Mount: 19 7/8 × 14 15/16 in.
George Eastman Museum, purchase

 

 

“The photos from this period, often tightly framed to the point of almost cropped, cast off much of Cunningham’s earlier romantic tendencies in favor of a modernist sharpness and chiaroscuro that, while still moody, nears abstraction. The leaves of rubber plants and flax plants become spears, and in close-up, paper-skinned magnolia blossoms almost look like thighs.”

Margo Vansynghel. “How Seattle’s Imogen Cunningham changed photography forever,” on the Crosscut website November 16, 2021 [Online] Cited 08/01/2022

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Rubber Plant' before 1929

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Rubber Plant
before 1929
Gelatin silver print
13 3/8 x 10 1/4 in. (34 x 26cm)
Seattle Art Museum, Gift of John H. Hauberg

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Aloe' 1925

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Aloe
1925
Gelatin silver print
8 13/16 × 6 1/2 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© The 2021 Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

Cunningham started photographing plants upon moving to the Bay Area from Seattle. “The reason I really turned to plants was because I couldn’t get out of my own backyard when my children were small,” Cunningham later said. (The Imogen Cunningham Trust)

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Banana Plant' 1925-1929

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Banana Plant
1925-1929
Gelatin silver print
Image: 11 5/8 × 8 3/4 in.
Sheet: 14 × 10 15/16 in.
The Art Institute of Chicago, Julien Levy Collection, Gift of Jean Levy and the Estate of Julien Levy

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Billbergia' 1929

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Billbergia
1929
Gelatin silver print
Image: 12 1/8 × 8 1/16 in.
Sheet: 13 7/8 × 10 15/16 in.
The Art Institute of Chicago, Julien Levy Collection, Gift of Jean Levy and the Estate of Julien Levy

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Tuberose' 1920s

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Tuberose
1920s
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 3/8 × 9 3/8 in.
Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Dorothy Levitt Beskind Gift, 1973

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Hen and Chickens' 1929

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Hen and Chickens
1929
Gelatin silver print
9 15/16 × 9 11/16 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

The Seattle Art Museum (SAM) presents Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective (November 18, 2021 – February 6, 2022), the photographer’s first major retrospective in the United States in more than 35 years. Organised by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, the exhibition is a visual celebration of Cunningham’s immense contribution to the history of 20th-century photography. It features nearly 200 works from her seventy-year career, including portraits of artists, musicians and Hollywood stars; elegant flower and plant studies; poignant street pictures; and groundbreaking nudes.

“We are thrilled to open this important retrospective here in Seattle, Cunningham’s first home as an artist,” says Amada Cruz, SAM’s Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO. “She once said that she ‘photographs anything the light touches’ – this is an extraordinary opportunity for our visitors to bask in the glow of her dynamic and expansive body of work and be inspired.”

“Imogen Cunningham was under appreciated for most of her career, only finding recognition in her last years – an unfortunately common tale for many women artists,” says Carrie Dedon, SAM’s Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. “Her photographs reveal an endlessly curious, innovative, and determined mind that places her as one of the most important photographers of the last century.”

 

Beginnings in Seattle

Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976) had deep connections to the Pacific Northwest; born in Portland, she grew up in Port Angeles and Seattle. The precocious child of a free-thinking father, Cunningham decided to become a photographer around 1901, while still in high school. Her father famously asked, “Why do you want to become a dirty photographer?” Yet he built her a darkroom in a woodshed, including the necessary and messy chemical supplies. Her first works were in the soft-focus, Pictorialist style.

Cunningham completed a chemistry degree at the University of Washington in 1907. During these years, she also participated in the artistic scene, becoming the youngest charter member – and only photographer – of the Seattle Fine Arts Society in 1908. She also apprenticed and then worked from 1907-1909 at the Seattle studio of well-known photographer Edward S. Curtis. After a year-long fellowship in Dresden, Germany, Cunningham returned to Seattle in 1910 and opened what is considered the first studio for artistic photography in Seattle. She lived and worked in this ivy-covered building located at 1117 Terry Avenue, making portraits of local figures as well as her own works in the then-popular Pictorialist mode, including some early daring nudes.

Cunningham married a Seattle artist, Roi Partridge, in 1915, and eventually had three sons with him, including twin boys. With her husband on the road, Cunningham struggled to run her studio and household, and eventually set out to join Partridge in San Francisco in 1917.

 

A Modernist Pioneer

The next decade of Cunningham’s life saw her balancing her roles as an artist, mother, and mentor to the students of Mills College in Oakland, where her husband taught. Amid the very real constraints of her life in California, Cunningham created photographs that are regarded today as historically radical and groundbreaking, including modernist botanicals and portraits.

Bound to the home while caring for her infant boys, Cunningham planted a garden in 1921 to create subjects for her camera. In these works, including perhaps her more celebrated botanical, Magnolia Blossom (1925), she isolates the plant forms, precisely revealing their essential elements in close-up compositions. Their sensuality is heightened by Cunningham’s choice of warm-toned matte-surface papers for printing. These works were included in a momentous avant-garde exhibition in 1925 in Stuttgart, Germany, which brought her international attention.

Her portrait subjects in these years featured people from her artistic community such as dancers Jose Limon and Hanya Holm, musicians from the Cornish College of the Arts, fencer Helene Mayer, and artists Frida Kahlo and Morris Graves. She also made portraits of Hollywood luminaries for Vanity Fair, including Cary Grant, Joan Blondell, and Spencer Tracy.

 

Artist and collaborator

SAM’s iteration of the exhibition highlights Cunningham’s collaborations with artists of many mediums, particularly dancer Martha Graham and sculptor Ruth Asawa. In a section of artist portraits is one of Graham, taken during a 1931 session that resulted in dramatic close-ups of the dancer’s face and body; also in this section is a video of the dancer in her iconic solo Lamentation (1930). Cunningham was introduced to Asawa in 1950, and the two, though 43 years apart in age, established a lasting friendship. Cunningham regularly photographed Asawa and her looped wire sculptures and wrote on her behalf for a Guggenheim Foundation grant. The exhibition features seven Asawa sculptures alongside Cunningham’s five portraits of the artist and her work.

Another section of the exhibition features examples from Group f/64, a Bay Area association of photographers begun in 1932 that championed a direct and objective approach. In addition to Cunningham, the group included Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Sonya Noskowiak, and more. Also on view are photographs by Gertrude Kasebier, Dorothea Lange, Listette Model, and more; they were all sources of inspiration for or collaborators with Cunningham.

 

The Light Within

The exhibition also explores the last 42 years of Cunningham’s life, as the artist continued to face challenges and late-in-life triumphs in her career. It was only in the final twelve years of her life that she finally began to receive attention, with major solo shows in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco; a 1964 Aperture monograph spearheaded by her champion and fellow photographer, Minor White; and a 1970 Guggenheim Foundation grant that enabled her to print a cache of her early glass plate negatives.

During these years, she continued to innovate, gravitating toward street photography and creating cleverly composed examples of the genre. She also taught and mentored young artists, and she became involved in civic issues in San Francisco, as well as the civil rights and the anti-war movements. At the age of 92, she embarked on a final series focusing on ageing, traveling with an assistant to document subjects. In 1976, just months before her death, she appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, charming the host and the audience. On view in this final gallery is Portrait of Imogen (1988), a short documentary film directed by Meg Partridge.

Press release from SAM

 

 

Portrait of Imogen – Part 1

 

 

Portrait of Imogen – Part 2

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Shredded Wheat Tower' 1928

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Shredded Wheat Tower
1928
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 7/8 × 6 9/16 in.
Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987

 

 

Radiating outward, the beams of this water tower unfold as if in bloom. Imogen Cunningham is best known for her floral studies, which monumentalise the intricate architecture of petals and leaves. Here, she turns her signature subject on its head, finding organic elegance in an industrial view. Cunningham exhibited this photograph at the landmark 1929 Film und Foto exhibition in Stuttgart, and its inverted viewpoint reflects the influence of the show’s avant-garde organisers. Pioneering a new West Coast modernism, Cunningham adapted European approaches to the California skyline, here depicting a Shredded Wheat factory near her home in Oakland.

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Dancer, Mills College' 1929

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Dancer, Mills College
1929
Gelatin silver print
8 9/16 × 7 3/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Martha Graham, Dancer' 1931

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Martha Graham, Dancer
1931
Gelatin silver print
7 5/16 × 9 15/16 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

Martha Graham (May 11, 1894 – April 1, 1991) was an American modern dancer and choreographer. Her style, the Graham technique, reshaped American dance and is still taught worldwide.

Graham danced and taught for over seventy years. She was the first dancer to perform at the White House, travel abroad as a cultural ambassador, and receive the highest civilian award of the US: the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction. In her lifetime she received honours ranging from the Key to the City of Paris to Japan’s Imperial Order of the Precious Crown. She said, in the 1994 documentary The Dancer Revealed: “I have spent all my life with dance and being a dancer. It’s permitting life to use you in a very intense way. Sometimes it is not pleasant. Sometimes it is fearful. But nevertheless it is inevitable.” Founded in 1926 (the same year as Graham’s professional dance company), the Martha Graham School is the oldest school of dance in the United States. First located in a small studio within Carnegie Hall the school currently has two different studios in New York City.

Text and more information on the Wikipedia website

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Self-Portrait with Korona View' 1933

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Self-Portrait with Korona View
1933
Gelatin silver print
4 × 3 5/16 in.
Collection of The Imogen Cunningham Trust
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Under the Queensboro Bridge' 1934

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Under the Queensboro Bridge
1934
Gelatin silver print
Image: 6 1/8 × 7 5/8 in.
Frame: 15 1/4 x 20 1/4 x 3/4 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Leslie and Judith Schreyer and Gabri Schreyer-Hoffman in honour of Virginia Heckert

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Gertrude Stein, Writer' 1934

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Gertrude Stein, Writer
1934
Gelatin silver print
Image: 7 9/16 × 6 11/16 in.
Frame: 22 5/8 x 16 5/8 x 1 3/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Cornish School Trio 2' 1935

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Cornish School Trio 2
1935
Gelatin silver print
9 × 7 1/2 in.
Collection of The Imogen Cunningham Trust
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

About the exhibition

Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976) had deep connections to the Pacific Northwest; born in Portland, she grew up in Port Angeles and Seattle. She completed a chemistry degree at the University of Washington in 1907 and in 1910 opened what is considered the first studio for artistic photography in Seattle, making portraits of local figures as well as her own works in the then-popular Pictorialist mode, including some early daring nudes.

Cunningham then moved to California, where she created photographs that are regarded today as historically radical and groundbreaking, including modernist botanicals and portraits. She began to earn international attention, and created portraits of people from her artistic community as well as celebrities including artist Frida Kahlo and actor Cary Grant.

SAM’s iteration of the exhibition highlights Cunningham’s collaborations with artists of many mediums, particularly dancer Martha Graham and sculptor Ruth Asawa. Another section of the exhibition features examples from the famous Group f/64, including Edward Weston and Ansel Adams.

The exhibition also explores the last 42 years of Cunningham’s life, as the artist continued to face challenges and late-in-life triumphs in her career. She created clever examples of street photography, taught and mentored young artists, and embarked on a final important series on ageing. Visitors can also watch Portrait of Imogen (1988), a short documentary film directed by Meg Partridge.

Text from SAM

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Mr. and Mrs. Ozenfant' 1935

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Mr. and Mrs. Ozenfant
1935
Gelatin silver print
Image: 9 3/8 × 7 1/4 in.
Frame: 23 1/4 x 17 1/4 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'My Father at Ninety' 1936

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
My Father at Ninety
1936
Gelatin silver print
9 3/4 × 7 11/16 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

 

Imogen Cunningham: My Father at Ninety, 1936

Around 1901, Imogen Cunningham purchased her first camera. Aware of his daughter’s interest in photography, Cunningham’s father, Isaac Burns Cunningham, built her a darkroom in a woodshed on their property in Seattle. With her photography career in full bloom, Cunningham returned to the site of the original darkroom more than 30 years later to photograph her first and biggest supporter, her father.

Seated on a log in front of split wood, Cunningham intimately captures her ageing father. In this recording produced by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Meg Partridge, the granddaughter of Imogen Cunningham, reflects on Cunningham’s loving relationship with her father and reveals the supportive role he played throughout her career.

 

Transcript

Meg Partridge: In all the photographs Imogen took of her father, you can just see that relationship between the two. You experienced that relationship a bit when you look into the eyes of Isaac Burns in this photograph.

Narrator: Cunningham had a host of ways for getting her subjects to relax and reveal a bit of themselves. She’d chat them up, catch them off guard, or mesmerise them with her own fluid, busy movement, all in order to, as she once said, “gain an understanding at short notice and at close range.” But with this sitter, those techniques weren’t necessary. Her father’s guard was never up.

Meg Partridge: Imogen was very close to her father. I think there was a real similar interest in their curiosity and their intellect and their pursuit of information.

Narrator: Isaac Burns Cunningham was a freethinker. His formal education was interrupted by the Civil War, yet he was a voracious reader and a student of all religions. He supported his large family with a wood and coal supply business. In his daughter, named for the Shakespearian character he found most noble, he nurtured a love of nature and art, buying her first set of watercolours and arranging painting lessons on weekends and summers.

Meg Partridge: This is from a very low-income, frugal family that didn’t have a lot of extra money to spare. Isaac Burns also made her a darkroom in his woodshed. So that’s how Imogen got started actually processing her own work as a teenager in Seattle.

Narrator: Like her father, Imogen Cunningham lived into her nineties. When asked in an interview two months before her death at age ninety-three which one of her photographs was her favourite, she replied, “The one I’m going to take tomorrow.”

~ Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator, “Imogen Cunningham: My Father at Ninety,” on the SAMBlog website December 28, 2021 [Online] Cited 06/01/2022

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Double Image, Sutter St. and Fillmore' c. 1940

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Double Image, Sutter St. and Fillmore
c. 1940
Gelatin silver print
7 3/4 × 7 1/2 in.
Collection of the Oakland Museum of California, Gift of the Junior League of Oakland
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Hand Weaving with Hand, Henning Watterson, Weaver' 1946

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Hand Weaving with Hand, Henning Watterson, Weaver
1946
Gelatin silver print
Image: 13 3/16 × 9 3/8 in.
Mount: 13 7/8 × 10 15/16 in.
Frame: 22 /8 x 18 5/8 x 1 3/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser

 

 

“Whenever I photographed anybody who does anything with his hands,” Cunningham once said, “I usually come down and focus on them, and do the hand.”

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Morris Graves, Painter' 1950

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Morris Graves, Painter
1950
Gelatin silver print
15 × 16 in.
Sheldon Museum of Art, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Anna R. and Frank M. Hall Charitable Trust
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

Morris Graves (August 28, 1910 – May 5, 2001) was an American painter. He was one of the earliest Modern artists from the Pacific Northwest to achieve national and international acclaim. His style, referred to by some reviewers as Mysticism, used the muted tones of the Northwest environment, Asian aesthetics and philosophy, and a personal iconography of birds, flowers, chalices, and other images to explore the nature of consciousness.

An article in a 1953 issue of Life magazine cemented Graves’ reputation as a major figure of the ‘Northwest School’ of artists. He lived and worked mostly in Western Washington, but spent considerable time traveling and living in Europe and Asia, and spent the last several years of his life in Loleta, California.

Text and more information on the Wikipedia website

 

 

 

Imogen Cunningham: Morris Graves In His Leek Garden 1973

From close friends to strangers, and even the artist herself, photographer Imogen Cunningham found inspiration in capturing the human form in various settings. Taking portraits of those around her, Cunningham aimed to find the “beauty of the inner self.”

Listen to this audio interview to hear Japanese and Chinese Canadian photographer Kayla Isomura discuss the lessons she has learned from Cunningham’s extensive body of work. Paying particular attention to the artist’s 1973 portrait, Morris Graves In His Leek Garden, Isomura highlights the intentional melancholy of the image and shares admiration for Cunningham’s keen ability to capture her subjects in their natural state.

 

Transcript

Narrator: Like Imogen Cunningham, photographer Kayla Isomura is known for her portraits.

Kayla Isomura: I am a fourth-generation Japanese and Chinese Canadian, with a background as well in journalism, all of which have influenced my interest in multimedia storytelling.

Narrator: Kayla identifies with Cunningham’s goal of finding the “beauty of the inner self” in her portraits. Here, Kayla notes Cunningham’s deft touch with her subject, the painter Morris Graves.

Kayla Isomura: For me, I really like capturing people kind of as they are. Even taking a photo on the spot. Sometimes people will feel self-conscious about that. But more often than not I’m taking a photo of them because there is something about them that is photogenic even if it might not be in the sort of what society might expect. It’s very important that anybody can feel comfortable in front of the camera, or anybody can feel like they’re able to see themself in a photograph.

Narrator: Twenty-three years after Cunningham first photographed her friend Graves, she received a somewhat concerning letter from him. In addition to asking if she would once again take his portrait, Graves wrote, “Like us all, I am undergoing changes that are beyond my comprehension. I am tired of life, and I understand less and less.” Soon after, Cunningham visited Graves at his retreat, a 380-acre property in Loleta, California, where she took this photo.

Kayla Isomura: Something that really stood out to me is how authentic I guess in a way that I feel like this image was captured. Looking at how the photo was taken through the leeks and the contemplative expression on his face, it made me feel like there was more to this too. Like I didn’t know if there’s a sense of even mourning or even loss or maybe he’s just kind of lost in thought in his garden.

Narrator: After developing her photographs, Cunningham sent them to Graves along with her own letter, complimenting his “aura of beauty” and hoping that her portrait would inspire him to paint again.

~ Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator, “Imogen Cunningham: Morris Graves In His Leek Garden,” on the SAMBlog website November 30, 2021 [Online] Cited 06/01/2022

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Sunbonnet Lady, Fillmore Street, San Francisco' c. 1950s

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Sunbonnet Lady, Fillmore Street, San Francisco
c. 1950s
Gelatin silver print
8 3/4 x 7 1/2 in. (22.2 x 19.1cm)
Seattle Art Museum, Gift of John H. Hauberg

 

 

“I don’t hunt for anything. I don’t hunt for things – I just wait until something strikes me,” Cunningham said. “Of course, I hunt for an expression when I’m trying to photograph people.”

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Reeds' 1952

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Reeds
1952
Gelatin silver print
Image: 6 13/16 × 8 3/4 in.
Mount: 12 3/16 × 13 in.
Frame: 20 5/8 x 16 5/8 x 1 3/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'The Beach, San Francisco' About 1955

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
The Beach, San Francisco
About 1955
Gelatin silver print
Image: 9 15/16 × 10 1/16 in.
Sheet: 11 7/16 × 10 7/8 in.
George Eastman Museum, museum accession

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'In Trinity Churchyard, No. 2, New York' 1956

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
In Trinity Churchyard, No. 2, New York
1956
Gelatin silver print
7 1/2 x 7 3/8 in. (19.1 x 18.7 cm)
Seattle Art Museum, Gift of John H. Hauberg

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Morris Graves in His Leek Garden' 1973

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Morris Graves in His Leek Garden
1973
Gelatin silver print
8 ¼ x 11 3/16 in.
Seattle Art Museum, Gift of John H. Hauberg

 

 

In 1973, at ninety years old, Cunningham traveled to Loleta, California, to photograph Morris Graves in his leek garden. (The Imogen Cunningham Trust)

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Ruth Asawa, Sculptor' 1952

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Ruth Asawa, Sculptor
1952
Sepia toned gelatin silver print
9 1/2 × 7 1/2 in.
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of Ruth Asawa and Albert Lanier
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust
Photo: Randy Dodson

 

 

Ruth Aiko Asawa (January 24, 1926 – August 5, 2013) was an American modernist sculptor. Her work is featured in collections at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. Fifteen of Asawa’s wire sculptures are on permanent display in the tower of San Francisco’s de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, and several of her fountains are located in public places in San Francisco. She was an arts education advocate and the driving force behind the creation of the San Francisco School of the Arts, which was renamed the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts in 2010. In 2020, the U.S. Postal Service honoured her work by producing a series of ten stamps that commemorate her well-known wire sculptures.

Text and more information on the Wikipedia website

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Ruth Asawa Family and Sculpture' 1957

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Ruth Asawa Family and Sculpture
1957
Gelatin silver print
10 3/8 x 10 3/8 in. (26.4 x 26.4cm)
Seattle Art Museum, Gift of John H. Hauberg

 

 

Cunningham struck up a friendship with Japanese American visual artist Ruth Asawa and took a keen interest in Asawa’s strong but delicate wire sculptures, some of which are included in the Seattle Art Museum exhibit. (The Cunningham Trust)

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Self-Portrait with Grandchildren in Funhouse' 1955

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Self-Portrait with Grandchildren in Funhouse
1955
Gelatin silver print
8 3/4 × 7 5/16 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

 

Imogen Cunningham: Self-Portrait with Grandchildren in Funhouse 1955

In Self-Portrait with Grandchildren in Funhouse, Imogen Cunningham captures a moment of joy with two of her young grandchildren, Joan and Loren, as they experiment with the effects of a warped mirror. Despite the playful nature of the image, Cunningham remains stoic in photographing herself. Her face points down as she looks into the viewfinder of her black and silver-lined rectangular camera which she steadies with both hands. She is small in comparison to her grandchildren, whose elongated arms stretch the entirety of the image, but identifiable by her white hair, gemmed cap, and metallic glasses.

Tune in to this audio recording to hear Imogen Cunningham’s granddaughter, Meg Partridge, discuss Cunningham’s relationship with her grandchildren. Produced by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Partridge describes how this image came together and emphasises Cunningham’s signature artistic style.

 

Transcript

Narrator: An outing with two of her granddaughters and a fun house mirror provided Imogen Cunningham with an irresistible subject. Meg Partridge, granddaughter of Imogen Cunningham.

Meg Partridge: Imogen was really being very playful as she always was with photography.

Narrator: Partridge was only two when this photograph was taken, and too young to tag along. Instead, we see her older sister Joan, in the middle with both hands raised, and her cousin Loren, on the right with a hyper-elongated arm.

Meg Partridge: Imogen did not spend a lot of time taking grandchildren places and doing grandmotherly-like things. She enjoyed children once they became, as I would say, of interest to her. They could be articulate. They could have opinions. They could share thoughts.

Narrator: Cunningham worked while raising her three sons, and continued to do so once their children came along.

Meg Partridge: Looking at her work, you can see some of the same subjects coming in again and again. So we see many photographs of Imogen looking into her camera and photographing herself in a reflection or often in a shadow as well. But another is a very sort of surrealistic view that she took with her camera.

Narrator: Unlike the distorted versions of her granddaughters, her reflection in the self-portrait remains relatively true. We get just a glimpse of her grey hair beneath an embroidered cap and one-half of her eyeglasses, as her hands adjust the dials on her ever-present Rolleiflex camera.

Meg Partridge: She was able to capture great shots that were unexpected because she had a camera around her neck and she just always wore it.

~ Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator, “Imogen Cunningham: Self-Portrait with Grandchildren in Funhouse,” on the SAMBlog website January 4, 2022 [Online] Cited 06/01/2022

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Jump Rope, New York' 1956

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Jump Rope, New York
1956
Gelatin silver print
7 1/2 x 7 3/8 in.
Seattle Art Museum, Gift of John H. Hauberg
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'The Unmade Bed' 1957

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
The Unmade Bed
1957
Gelatin silver print
10 11/16 × 13 1/2 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

 

Imogen Cunningham: The Unmade Bed 1957

While teaching at the California School of Fine Arts in 1957, Imogen Cunningham overheard her friend and co-worker Dorothea Lange give her students an assignment: photograph something you use every 24 hours. Inspired by the simple prompt, Cunningham returned to class the next week with a new photograph she had taken titled The Unmade Bed.

Listen to an interpretive analysis of the work from Cunningham’s close friend and collaborator Judy Dater. From the perfectly rumpled sheets to the spread out piles of bobby pins, Dater discusses how this image acts as a self-portrait of the artist and explains the reason why Cunningham often gifted a print of this image to newlyweds.

 

Transcript

Narrator: A rumpled sheet and blanket are thrown back to reveal a pile of hairpins and another of bobby pins. Subtle gradations vary from the crisp white sheets exposed by sunlight, to the grey wool blanket with a shimmery trim, to the completely dark background.

Judy Dater: I can’t look at that photograph and not think of it as a self-portrait, a very personal self-portrait.

Narrator: In 1957, Dorothea Lange, best known for documenting the Great Depression, was teaching at the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute. Cunningham was also teaching there when she heard her friend and fellow photographer give her students an intriguing assignment.

Judy Dater: And the assignment that, apparently, that Dorothea Lange, gave the class that day was to go home and photograph something you use every twenty-four hours. And so Imogen went home and made that particular photograph. And then when she came back the following week, she brought that in as her example.

Narrator: Did she intend it as a self-portrait? After all, those are her hair pins. Do they signify the letting down of one’s hair or one’s guard? Cunningham never said as much, but she did ascribe one message to the image.

Judy Dater: She sometimes would give that photograph to people as a wedding present so that the husband would know that the wife was going to be busy, that she had things to do, and not to expect the bed to always be made.

Narrator: Cunningham may have deliberately arranged the sheets and hairpins, or perhaps she happened upon the unmade bed exactly as she left it. For photographer Judy Dater, that’s irrelevant.

Judy Dater: She saw it and she was at the right angle at the right moment, and she knew what to do with it.

~ Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator, “Imogen Cunningham: The Unmade Bed,” on the SAMBlog website December 14, 2021 [Online] Cited 06/01/2022

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Self-Portrait on Geary Street' 1958

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Self-Portrait on Geary Street
1958
Gelatin silver print
9 3/16 × 6 7/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Stan, San Francisco' 1959

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Stan, San Francisco
1959
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 × 7 1/16 in.
Collection of The Imogen Cunningham Trust
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Cemetery In France' 1960

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Cemetery In France
1960
Gelatin silver print
8 1/2 x 7 1/4 in. (21.6 x 18.4cm)
Gift of John H. Hauberg

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Minor White, Photographer' 1963

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Minor White, Photographer
1963
Gelatin silver print
Image: 7 5/16 × 7 5/16 in.
Mat: 17 11/16 × 14 in.
Frame: 20 1/2 x 15 1/2 x 7/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Humboldt' 1968

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Humboldt
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image: 7 3/4 × 7 11/16 in.
Mat: 18 × 14 in.
Collection of The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Chris Through the Curtain' 1972

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Chris Through the Curtain
1972
Gelatin silver print
Image: 9 13/16 × 6 11/16 in.
Mat: 18 × 14 in.
Collection of The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Pentimento' 1973

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Pentimento
1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 7 3/16 × 8 13/16 in.
Mount: 14 1/2 × 14 7/16 in.
Frame: 16 5/8 x 22 5/8 x 1 3/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Another Arm' 1973

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Another Arm
1973
Gelatin silver print
9 1/8 × 7 1/2 in.
Collection of The Imogen Cunningham Trust
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

Through the final years of her life, Cunningham would continue to do street photography. She took this photo of “Another Arm” in 1973, three years before she passed away. (The Imogen Cunningham Trust)

 

Judy-Dater. 'Imogen Cunningham and Twinka Thiebaud' 1974

 

Judy Dater (American, b. 1941)
Imogen and Twinka at Yosemite
1974
Gelatin silver print
Image: 9 1/2 × 7 1/2 in.
Mount: 17 15/16 × 14 in.
Frame: 22 5/8 x 16 5/8 x 1 3/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Jack von Euw

 

 

Seattle Art Museum Downtown
1300 First Avenue
, Seattle, WA 98101-2003
206.654.3100
TTY 206.654.3137

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Sunday 10am – 5pm
Closed Monday and Tuesday

Seattle Art Museum website

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30
Mar
19

Exhibition: ‘Arnold Kramer: Domestic Scenes’ at Joseph Bellows Gallery, La Jolla, California

Exhibition dates: 15th February – 12th April 2019

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

 

I really like these.

While I disagree with some of the statements in the press release – I don’t see much Minor White in these photographs except for the occasional door / window, some small whiteness in these photographs, and his negatives aren’t that good – these photographs evidence Arnold Kramer’s unique way of seeing the world.

A dash of Walker Evans, a little Lewis Baltz (with the added smooth high values and distinct cool drama of a cold light head enlarger), a bit of Diane Arbus and her settings, and very much New Topographics for the interior space, they capture an original vision of these domestic scenes.

It’s the concept, high key, light, use of flash, wide angle lens and clinical presence that gets me in. As the press release correctly observes, “Kramer has a unique way of creating a three dimensional scene within the sheet of a two dimensional photographic paper: In his photographs of rooms, objects and patterns that can appear to look haphazard and random are flattened out and pieced together to create a marvellous kind of collage effect.”

This piecing together can be seen in the last photograph in the posting, where I analyse Kramer’s construction of pictorial space. He loves shapes thrusting in from the bottom of the image, or falling from the top, creating this complex assemblage flattened on the page. Very frontal, formal, banal as beauty (or the other way round), structured.

Ralph Gibson says: “I’m lucky to have a subconscious really” – Weston, Evans, and White can join in on that. But not Kramer. He doesn’t need the subconscious… for these images, with their paired back aesthetic, are almost scientific in their analytical probing. It’s as though the subconscious has been banished to be replaced by the cerebral.

A gesture of denial and concern at one and the same time – denial of the actual human inhabitants, and concern for their in/habitation – their habits and habitats.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

 

These black and white photographs, with their sharp eye for the pattern and details of domestic settings, established Kramer as a distinct talent whose avoidance of “romantic bombast” and “emphasis on formal clarity,” made his pictures particularly fresh, when they were exhibited by Jane Livingston at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1978. In their emphasis on emotionally restrained, frontal views of rooms they look back and reference the work of Walker Evans, especially Evans’ Message From the Interior. In their attention to pattern and line as visual motifs within everyday spaces, he reveals his bond with another 20th century photographic master, his mentor Minor White.

Kramer has a unique way of creating a three dimensional scene within the sheet of a two dimensional photographic paper: In his photographs of rooms, objects and patterns that can appear to look haphazard and random are flattened out and pieced together to create a marvellous kind of collage effect. “I try to strike a balance between commitment to craft and commitment to seeing,” Kramer once explained.

The impact of this thinking is evident in his seductive series of interiors, which began with pictures made in the Baltimore home of his wife’s parents. The range of interiors expanded to include settings in homes of friends, family and others that spanned Baltimore, Washington and his hometown of Boston/Cambridge.

“These places transcend their own banality to become rather fabulously beautiful,” Kramer aptly asserted. For Kramer, meeting Minor White was pivotal. He enrolled in one of White’s classes while earning a Master’s Degree in Electric Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (completed in 1968). On the basis of some pictures he had made for his high school yearbook, White allowed him to enter his advanced class in photography at M.I.T. and ultimately became Kramer’s mentor. He studied with White for five years beginning in 1967 and it was White’s insistence that his students strive for original vision in their work as much as excellent technique that was crucial to Kramer’s development as an artist.

He was the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts in both 1975 and 1979. From 1970 until 1981, Kramer was on the faculty of the School of Architecture at the University of Maryland, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in still photography. During the 1980s, he also had a flourishing practice as an architectural and commercial photographer in Washington, D.C. He has served on the staff of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum since 1987, heading up its Information Office and overseeing its technological initiatives for exhibitions and national outreach, as well as creating photographs for its archives and exhibits. Among collections in which Arnold Kramer is represented include: Birmingham Museum of Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, National Museum of American Art, Addison Gallery of American Art and The Baltimore Museum of Art.

Press release from the Joseph Bellows Gallery Cited 04/03/2019

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer graphic

 

Arnold Kramer picture construction graphic

 

 

Joseph Bellows Gallery
7661 Girrard Avenue
La Jolla, California
Phone: 858 456 5620

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Saturday 11am – 5pm and by appointment

Joseph Bellows Gallery website

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27
Apr
18

Exhibition: ‘In the Beginning: Minor White’s Oregon Photographs’ at the Portland Art Museum Phase 1, Part 2

Exhibition dates: 9th December 2017 – 6th May 2018

Curated by Julia Dolan PhD, the Minor White Curator of Photography

 

Over two postings, Phase 1 of this exhibition which features one of the greatest collections of early photographs by Minor White!

View Part 1 of the posting

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Dock)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Dock)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

 

Catching fire

It is a memorable experience to be able to observe a great artist experimenting with his craft, which is exactly what MW is doing in the photographs in these two postings. Here is an artist at the start of the path, honing his skills as a “creative photographer”: for these are creative, public photographs not expressive, private ones.

The photographs are a strange mix… part modernism, part romanticism, with a large dose of Pictorialism (dare I mention the word!) thrown in for good measure. I can see influences of the night work of Brassaï; the architectural photographs of Charles Sheeler; the photographs of Albert Renger-Patzsch and the German New Objectivity; the urban and urbane photographs of Walker Evans (The Customer, c. 1939 and Joseph, Oregon (Joseph Cemetery) c. 1940 below); the spatiality, surrealism and detail of Eugene Atget’s Paris photographs; and the landscape work of Ansel Adams. Overlay these influences with feelings of spirituality, sexuality and the atmosphere of place and you have a heady mix. And yet these photographs are purely his own.

What a time MW was having when he made these photographs. There were no limits to where he could point his camera.

As I talk to my friend and mentor about photography, we have brave conversations about artists, vision, looking, previsualisation, representation, the print, and more generally life, words, spirit. He observed of this group of photographs:

.
“There were things that looked like photographs that other people had made.
There were things that were naively interesting to him for what they were.
There were things that allowed him to experiment with ideas of metaphor.
There was a combination of subject matter and light that enabled him to touch upon a world of symbol and ritual without him ever really being confident
in that world (at this time).

There were also affirmations of how he could organise the world through his camera. He knew he was really accomplished with organising the edges of his image (particularly the right hand edge) and how this segued into the centre of his images where he hoped he could also organise subject matter – but he was not as skilled with this. He was still learning his craft.

He also knew that he could escape reality by changing scale, changing the lightness of his subject matter, changing the mood of his images with print colour (cold events printed warm) and then affirming the mood of his images with print colour. He knew there must be more with how he printed – was he beginning to understand that there his knowledge of printing chemistry could also be applied to film chemistry? Maybe there was an inkling of this but he was never extremely skilful with this. And he was not trying to expose and change film development techniques according to the subject matter – but there were emerging confused questions about this that would be exceptionally refined later.

I don’t think he applied labels like modernist or romantic to himself – but he was burningly aware of his authorship – and it excited him to the bone. Sometimes he was aware that he was walking an edge between various worlds and this was starting to take a form where he was both teacher and student – he could sense it starting to appear in his images and this made him secretly full of delight.”

.
My friend has such a tremendous knowledge of the work of MW and of photography and life in general. I most appreciate the passing on of these observations to me. You really can feel that the artist is walking an edge between various worlds and that the photographs embody a critical shift in consciousness, from “truth in appearances” to a longing for transcendence. The work is full of symbolic and metaphorical allusions/illusions.

That MW’s photographs still offer these affirmations to the viewer nigh on 80 years later show’s the intensity of their visualisation. They are a gift from the cosmos to one human being and back to the cosmos (in the form of an ensō, or Zen circle), and should be accepted as such.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

“A banquet of frustration”: Minor White penned the phrase in 1939, after reading T. S. Eliot’s 1922 poem The Waste Land. “I perceived that if one could put out the energy to produce a banquet of frustration, then frustration had power,” White commented. “It was worth pursuing.”1

“The duplicity one senses in White’s career, in both his writing and his images, stems certainly from this frustration about sexuality (as Peter Bunnell has written,”White’s sexuality underlies the whole of the autobiographical statement contained in his work”), but it also mirrors a much larger countertradition found within modernism itself, a romantic tradition that draws from Romanticism, Symbolism, Dada, and Surrealism. More specifically, White’s frustration coincides with the collapse of modernist ideals during the postwar era. This passage in the history of photography, if examined at all, is normally pinned to the arid vision of Robert Frank. Aesthetically, White’s vision was less dark than Frank’s, and in no sense nihilistic. Yet White’s work embodies a critical shift in consciousness, from the heroic modernist notion of “truth in appearances” toward the acknowledgment – and even the cultivation – of illusion, deception, and buried meanings. White’s banquet of frustration would look like a tea setting compared to the theoretical abattoirs of generations of later artists; nevertheless, the historical narrative of photographic modernism’s dissolution owes an early chapter to White and his longing for transcendence, which he seems not to have attained.”

Extracts from Kevin Moore. “Cruising and Transcendence in the Photographs of Minor White,” on the Aperture website [Online] Cited 27/04/2018

 

  1. Minor White. “Memorable Fancies,” 1932-1937 quoted in Peter C. Bunnell. Minor White: The Eye That Shapes. Princeton and Boston: The Art Museum, Princeton University; Bulfinch/Little Brown, 1989, p. 19.

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Propeller)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Propeller)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Freight Depot' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Freight Depot
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Girder)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Girder)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Portland Lumber Mills)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Portland Lumber Mills)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Log Boom' c. 1940

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Log Boom
c. 1940
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Boats at Dock' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Boats at Dock
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'East Side of Willamette' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
East Side of Willamette
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Boards' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Boards
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Lily Pads and Pike' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Lily Pads and Pike
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'The Patch' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
The Patch
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Horsetail and Skunk Cabbage' 1940

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Horsetail and Skunk Cabbage
1940
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Tree Root' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Tree Root
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Detail (California Foundry)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Detail (California Foundry)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Detail (227 Southeast Front Street)' 1938

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Detail (227 Southeast Front Street)
1938
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Front and Burnside' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Front and Burnside
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Ladd and Tilton Bank (1868 Southwest First and Stark Streets)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Ladd and Tilton Bank (1868 Southwest First and Stark Streets)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Pioneer Post Office and Portland Hotel Gate' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Pioneer Post Office and Portland Hotel Gate
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Southwest Fourth and Salmon Streets, Courthouse' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Southwest Fourth and Salmon Streets, Courthouse
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Kamm Building (Southwest Pine near First Avenue)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Kamm Building (Southwest Pine near First Avenue)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Fifth at Yamhill (Public Service Building)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Fifth at Yamhill (Public Service Building)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'New on Old (Southeast Corner, First and Burnside)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
New on Old (Southeast Corner, First and Burnside)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'The Iron Fronts' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
The Iron Fronts
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Front Street' 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Front Street
1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain