Posts Tagged ‘minor white

06
Dec
17

New work: ‘The Shape of Dreams’ 2013 – 2017 by Marcus Bunyan

December 2017

 

CLICK ON AND ENLARGE THE IMAGES BELOW TO SEE THE FULL SEQUENCE AND SPACING OF THE IMAGES

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'The Shape of Dreams' 2013 - 2017

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'The Shape of Dreams' 2013 - 2017 (detail)

Marcus Bunyan. 'The Shape of Dreams' 2013 - 2017 (detail)

Marcus Bunyan. 'The Shape of Dreams' 2013 - 2017 (detail)

 

Marcus Bunyan
The Shape of Dreams 
(detail of sequence)
2013 – 2017
Digital photographs
42 images in the series
© Marcus Bunyan

 

The form of formlessness
The shape of dreams

 

 

A Christmas present to myself… my most complex and enigmatic sequence to date.

Shot in Japan, all of the images come from two 1950s photography albums, one of which has a large drawing of a USAF bomber on it’s cover. The images were almost lost they were so dirty, scratched and deteriorated. It has taken me four long years to scan, digitally clean and restore the images, heightening the colour already present in the original photographs.

Sometimes the work flowed, sometimes it was like pulling teeth. Many times I nearly gave up, asking myself why I was spending my life cleaning dirt and scratches from these images. The only answer is… that I wanted to use these images so that they told a different story.

Then to sequence the work in such a way that there is an enigmatic quality, a mystery in that narrative journey. Part auteur, part cinema – a poem to the uncertainty of human dreams.

Marcus

PLEASE GO TO MY WEBSITE TO SEE THE THUMBNAILS AND LARGER IMAGES

 

A selection of individual images from the sequence

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2013 - 2017

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2013 - 2017

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2013 - 2017

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2013 - 2017

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2013 - 2017

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2013 - 2017

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2013 - 2017

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2013 - 2017

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2013 - 2017

 

Marcus Bunyan
Untitled from the series The Shape of Dreams
2013 – 2017
Silver gelatin print
© Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Sequencing The Shape of Dreams 2013 – 2017

Sequencing The Shape of Dreams at a cafe table in Richmond, Melbourne, Victoria in July 2017 with my friend.

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Sequenceing 'The Shape of Dreams' 2013 - 2017' 2017

Marcus Bunyan. 'Sequenceing 'The Shape of Dreams' 2013 - 2017' 2017

Marcus Bunyan. 'Sequenceing 'The Shape of Dreams' 2013 - 2017' 2017

 

Marcus Bunyan
Sequenceing ‘The Shape of Dreams’ 2013 – 2017
July 2017

 

 

Marcus Bunyan website

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26
Jan
16

Exhibition: ‘The Time Between: The Sequences of Minor White’ at the Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego

Exhibition dates: 20th October 2015 – 31st January 2016

 

This is such as disappointing posting… not for the quality of the work, which is exceptional, but for the lack of it.

I have been waiting for this exhibition for a very long time and asked MoPA for the press images:

1/ Nine were supplied from the Jupiter Portfolio, NOT even the whole sequence, to illustrate the exhibition
2/ The images supplied were so small as to be more than useless
3/ I then wrote to the Minor White Archive at Princeton University asking for more images. No reply

.
So I have scanned the images from the Jupiter Portfolio myself so that at least you can see one whole MW sequence online. Unfortunately, I can only show you the sequence vertically on this site but the space between the images, that frisson between two disparate images (what MW calls ice/fire), is part of ** what you should FEEL in your HEART. To experience this, see a horizontal version of the Jupiter Portfolio on my personal website.

In the sequence we have the line of light over the sea in the first image, Devil’s Slide, San Mateo County, California (1947), which is then picked up in the line of the upper thigh and buttock in the second image Nude Foot, San Francisco (1947) with its gorgeous sensuality. Again, that line is illuminated in the third image Columbus Avenue, San Francisco (1949) by the white above the sandblaster’s head, while the heart shape arrow points back to the buttock in the previous image, perhaps subconsciously referencing White’s homosexuality. The white lettering of this image is then intensified, expanded and abstracted in the next image, Birdlime and Surf, Point Lobos, California (1951), these markings then flowing through into the lines of the telegraph pole in the infra red photograph of two barns Vicinity of Danville, New York (1955).

Transposing down a pitch, MW then turns these lines from the horizontal plane to the vertical and they descend softly into the swirling cosmos of Windowsill Daydreaming, Rochester, New York (1958), one of my favourite photographs by the artist for its indeterminate, morphic “air.” These striations and nodules of presence are then repeated in varying forms through the next four images – through peeling paint, ice crystals, rock and the darkly printed ivy and wood. These photographs move you through the elements, like a piece of music. The markings on wood in Ivy, Portland, Oregon (1964) are then echoed in the marker in the photograph Cape Breton, Nova Scotia (1970), to be finally stretched and elongated vertically in the sublime Vermont (1971).

Just imagine holding this composition, this music (“visual literacy”) in your head for nigh on 28 years before you sequenced these images, before you had them all together and you knew what you needed to say… as a human being and as an artist. ** The time between does indeed reference references White’s belief that the space between the images is as important as the image itself, but it is also the ability of the images to speak to images further down the line (and time) of the sequence, and further down the line of the imagination. How seeds planted earlier in the sequence can reappear as puncture, prick, punctum, spirit, revelation even, the closer we come in meditation and a sense of quietness to the photographs. This is the joy of the art of Minor White.

To finish let me say a couple of things. As far as I can ascertain, this is about the only complete sequence of his online. It is such a pity that so great an artist, who taught photography as art to the world (and was my absolute hero when I started studying photography in 1991), should not have his work available to be seen as it should be seen, in a sequence. Free for everyone to see around the world, to study and to understand what he was trying to say with his revelatory art.

I am so over museums trying to protect what they have, instead of spreading the love and the understanding of the art. They are custodians of the art NOT the owners. Some of them should remember that…

Dr Marcus Bunyan

PS. Minor White was always the person I most looked up to when I started photography as I tried to photograph in meditation, forming a link between myself, the object back through the camera to the film, hoping for some form of revelation in the negative and the subsequent print. He, Paul Strand and Eugene Atget, with a bit of Stieglitz and Aaron Siskind thrown in for good measure, where my guiding stars.

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

 

 

“Photographs side by side cannot help being mutually affected. Transpose them, the meaning changes.”

.
Minor White, 1976

 

 

Minor White (American, 1908–1976) 'Jupiter Portfolio' 1975 Portfolio of 12 gelatin silver prints

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Jupiter Portfolio
1975
Portfolio of 12 gelatin silver prints

 

 

“The Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA) presents an original exhibition dedicated to the work and legacy of American photographer Minor White (1908 – 1976) in The Time Between: The Sequences of Minor White.

The exhibition is the first major museum examination solely focusing on White’s sequences, a unique style of presentation he refined throughout his career. As a poet, writer, educator, curator and photographer, White believed in the power of images to be transformed when positioned sequentially, creating a new whole and a new level of interpretation, said MOPA Executive Director Deborah Klochko.

“One the most important American photographers of the 20th century, White’s work is still vital and important 40 years after his death,” Klochko said. “The title of the exhibition, The Time Between, references White’s belief that the space between the images is as important as the image itself.”

Many of the images in The Time Between are considered to be White’s most iconic. The exhibition features two bound albums, three digital sequences and eight print sequences presented together for the first time as White intended. White promoted the idea of “visual literacy,” which teaches the reading of images, similar to how his sequences encourage viewers to see the images in a larger context.”

Press release from MOPA

 

“Grouping photographs was Minor White’s preferred mode of presentation, and the sequence, of all his arrangements, was his most sophisticated form of pictorial expression.

Initially the sequence was an outgrowth of White’s work in poetry. However, in the realm of photographic art, perhaps his most important inspiration was the sequences of Alfred Stieglitz begun in the 1920s. Stieglitz taught that no all photographs need function as individual or summational works, but that certain images in a structured context could serve in support of others and could create a total statement more complex and multifaceted than single works alone or loose assortments of related pictures.

In addition to the influence of Stieglitz’s sequences, White learned a great deal about laying out of photographs from Nancy Newhall at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1945-46. She had been influenced by Stieglitz’s work and by her conversations with him beginning in the late 1930s, and it was she who encouraged Minor White to meet Stieglitz.

While White was at the museum, Nancy Newhall was organising a retrospective of Edward Weston’s photographs. Her installation of this exhibition was a revelation to him. Nancy Newhall was gifted in her understanding of photographs and had a remarkable feeling for the dynamics of expression in pictorial art and an acute sensitivity for the photographer’s unique approach. Her interpretation of the iconographic elements contained in individual photographs was superb, and the way in which she could create a sympathetic ordering of such pictures was extraordinary.

Minor White’s sequences, highly structured groupings of pictures with similar formats, sometimes contain ten, twenty, or thirty photographs. They need to be studied in a state of concentration, or heightened awareness, and involve recognition of both the content and feeling, the intellectual and emotional aspects, of each image in relation to its adjacent images. However, one must read the images as an ensemble, in their cumulative assertion of a complex and inter-connected idea, to sense the import of the artist’s statement.

Describing the sequence as “a cinema of stills,” Minor White wrote, “The time between photographs is filled by the beholder, first of all from himself, then from what he can read in the implications of design, the suggestions springing from treatment, and any symbolism that might grow from within the work itself … The meaning appears in the mood they [the symbols] raise in the beholder; and the flow of the sequence eddies in the river of his associations as he passes from picture to picture.”

Reading White’s sequences depends on understanding both the symbolic and the descriptive capabilities of his photography…”

“The Sequence,” from Bunnell, Peter. Minor White: The Eye That Shapes. The Art Museum, Princeton University, 1989, p. 231

 

Minor White (American, 1908–1976) 'Devil's Slide, San Mateo County, California' 1947

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Devil’s Slide, San Mateo County, California
1947
No. 1 from Jupiter Portfolio, sequenced 1975
Gelatin silver print
The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Minor White
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

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

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Nude Foot, San Francisco
1947
No. 2 from Jupiter Portfolio, sequenced 1975
Gelatin silver print
The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Minor White
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White (American, 1908–1976) 'Columbus Avenue, San Francisco' 1949

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Columbus Avenue, San Francisco
1949
No. 3 from Jupiter Portfolio, sequenced 1975
Gelatin silver print
The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Minor White
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White (American, 1908–1976) 'Birdlime and Surf, Point Lobos, California' 1951

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Birdlime and Surf, Point Lobos, California
1951
No. 4 from Jupiter Portfolio, sequenced 1975
Gelatin silver print
The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Minor White
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White (American, 1908–1976) 'Vicinity of Danville, New York' 1955

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Vicinity of Danville, New York
1955
No. 5 from Jupiter Portfolio, sequenced 1975
Gelatin silver print
The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Minor White
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White (American, 1908–1976) 'Windowsill Daydreaming, Rochester, New York' 1958

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Windowsill Daydreaming, Rochester, New York
1958
No. 6 from Jupiter Portfolio, sequenced 1975
Gelatin silver print
The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Minor White
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White (American, 1908–1976) 'Rochester, New York' 1959

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Rochester, New York
1959
No. 7 from Jupiter Portfolio, sequenced 1975
Gelatin silver print
The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Minor White
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White (American, 1908–1976) 'Beginnings, Rochester, New York' 1962

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Beginnings, Rochester, New York
1962
No. 8 from Jupiter Portfolio, sequenced 1975
Gelatin silver print
The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Minor White
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White (American, 1908–1976) 'Notom, Utah' 1963

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Notom, Utah
1963
No. 9 from Jupiter Portfolio, sequenced 1975
Gelatin silver print
The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Minor White
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White (American, 1908–1976) 'Ivy, Portland, Oregon' 1964

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Ivy, Portland, Oregon
1964
No. 10 from Jupiter Portfolio, sequenced 1975
Gelatin silver print
The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Minor White
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White (American, 1908–1976) 'Cape Breton, Nova Scotia' 1970

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
1970
No. 11 from Jupiter Portfolio, sequenced 1975
Gelatin silver print
The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Minor White
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White (American, 1908–1976) 'Vermont' 1971

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Vermont
1971
No. 12 from Jupiter Portfolio, sequenced 1975
Gelatin silver print
The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Minor White
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

 

Museum of Photographic Arts
1649 El Prado
San Diego, CA 92101
Phone: 619.238.7559

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday: 10.00 am – 5.00 pm

MOPA website

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17
Oct
14

Review: ‘Minor White: Manifestations of the Spirit’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 8th July – 19th October 2014

Curator: Paul Martineau is associate curator in the Department of Photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum.

 

Never the objective camera, always a mixture of spirit and emotion

Minor White and Eugène Atget. Eugène Atget and Minor White. These two photographers were my heroes when I first started studying photography in the early 1990s. They remain so today. Nothing anyone can say can take away from the sheer simple pleasure of really looking at photographs by these two icons of the art form.

I have waited six years to do a posting on the work of Minor White, and this exhibition is the first major retrospective of White’s work since 1989. This posting contains thirty seven images, one of the biggest collections of his photographs available on the web.

What drew me to his work all those years ago? I think it was his clarity of vision that so enthralled me, that showed me what is possible – with previsualisation, clear seeing, feeling and thinking – when exposing a photograph. And that exposing is really an exposing of the Self.

Developing the concept of Steiglitz’s ‘equivalents’ (where a photograph can stand for an/other state of being), White “sought to access, and have connection to, fundamental truths… Studying Zen Buddhism, Gurdjieff and astrology, White believed in the photographs’ connection to the subject he was photographing and the subject’s connection back via the camera to the photographer forming a holistic circle. When, in meditation, this connection was open he would then expose the negative in the camera hopeful of a “revelation” of spirit in the subsequent photograph.” (MB) The capturing of these liminal moments in the flux of time and space is such a rare occurrence that one must be patient for the sublime to reveal itself, if only for a fraction of a second.

Although I cannot view this exhibition, I have seen the checklist of all the works in the exhibition. The selection is solid enough covering all the major periods in White’s long career. The book is also solid enough BUT BOTH EXHIBITION AND BOOK ARE NOT WHAT WE REALLY WANT TO SEE!

At first, Minor White photographed for the individual image – and then when he had a body of work together he would form a sequence. He seemed to be able to switch off the sequence idea until he felt “a storm was brewing” and his finished prints could be placed in another context. It was only with the later sequences that he photographed with a sequence in mind (of course there is also the glorious fold-out in The Eye That Shapes that is the Totemic sequence that is more a short session that became a sequence). In his maturity Minor White composed in sequences of images, like music, with the rise and fall of tonality and range, the juxtaposition of one image next to another, the juxtaposition of twenty or more images together to form compound meanings within a body of work. This is what we really need to see and are waiting to see: an exhibition and book titled: THE SEQUENCES OF MINOR WHITE. I hope in my lifetime! **

How can you really judge his work without understanding the very form that he wanted the work to be seen in? We can access individual images and seek to understand and feel them, but in MW their meaning remains contingent upon their relationship to the images that surround them, the ice/fire frisson of that space between images that guides the tensions and relations to each other. Using my knowledge as an artist and musician, I have sequenced the first seven images in this posting just to give you an idea of what a sequence of associations may look like using the photographs of Minor White. I hope he would be happy with my selection. I hope I have made them sing.

Other than a superb range of tones (for example, in Pavilion, New York 1957 between the flowers in shadow and sun – like an elegy to Edward Weston and the nautilus shell/pepper in the tin) the size, contrast, lighter/darker – warmer/cooler elements of MW’s photographs are all superb. These are the first things we look at when we technically critique prints from these simple criteria, and there aren’t many that pass. But these are all well made images by MW. He was never Diogenes with a camera, never the objective camera, he was always involved… and his images were printed with a mixture of spirit and emotion. Now, try and FEEL your response to the first seven images that I have put together. Don’t be too analytical, just try, with clear, peaceful mind and still body, to enter into the space of those images, to let them take you away to a place that we rarely allow ourselves to visit, a place that is is out of our normal realm of existence. It is possible, everything is possible. If photography becomes something else -then it does -then it does.

Finally, I want to address the review of the book by Blake Andrews on the photo-eye blog (October 6, 2014). The opening statement opines: “Is photography in crisis again? Well then, it must be time for another Minor White retrospective.” What a thrown away line. As can be seen from the extract of an interview with MW (published 1977, below), White didn’t care what direction photography took because he could do nothing about it. He just accepted it for what it is and moved with it. He was not distressed at the direction of contemporary photography because it was all grist to the mill. To say that when photography is in crisis (it’s always in crisis!) you wheel out the work of Minor White to bring it back into line is just ridiculous… photography is -what it is, -what it is.

Blake continues, “Minor White was a jack-of-all-styles in the photo world, trying his hand at just about everything at one time or another. The plates in the book give a flavor of his shifting – some might say dilettantish – photo styles.” Obviously he agrees with this assessment otherwise he would not have put it in. I do not. Almost every artist in the world goes on a journey of discovery to find their voice, their metier, and that early experimentation is part of the overall journey, the personal and universal narrative that an artist pictures. Look at the early paintings of Jackson Pollock or Mark Rothko in their representational ease, or the early photographs of Aaron Siskind and how they progress from social documentary to abstract expressionism. The same with MW. In this sense every artist is a dilettante. Every photograph is part of his journey as an artist and has value in an of itself.

And I don’t believe that his mature voice was “internalized, messy, and deliberately obtuse,” – it is only so to those that do not understand what he sought to achieve through his images, those who don’t really understand his work.

Blake comments, “Twenty-five years later White’s star is rising again. One could speculate the reasons for the timing, that photography is in crisis, or at least adrift, and in need of a guru. But the truth is photography has been on the therapist’s couch since day one, going through this or that level of doubt or identity crisis. Is it an art? Science? Documentation? Can it be trusted? When Minor White came along none of these questions had been resolved, and they never will. But every quarter century or so it sure feels good to hang your philosopher’s hat on something solid. Or at least someone self-assured.”

Every quarter of a century, hang your philosophers hat on something solid? Or at least someone self-assured? The last thing that you would say about MW was that the was self-assured (his battles with depression, homosexuality, God, and the aftermath of his experiences during the Second World War); and the last thing that you would say about the philosophy and photographs of MW is that they are something solid and immovable.

For me, the man and his images are always moving, always in a constant state of flux, as avant-garde (in the sense of their accessing of the eternal) and as challenging and essential as they ever were. Through his work and writings Minor White – facilitator, enabler – allowed the viewer to become an active participant in an aesthetic experience that alters reality, creating an über reality (if you like), one whose aesthetics promotes an interrogation of both ourselves and the world in which we live.

“There are plays written on the simplest themes which in themselves are not interesting. But they are permeated by the eternal and he who feels this quality in them perceives that they are written for all eternity.”

Constantin Stanislavsky, (1863 – 1938) / My Life in Art.

 

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

** The Minor White Archive at Princeton University Museum of Art has a project called The Minor White Archive proof cards: “The ultimate goal of this project is a stand-alone website dedicated to the Minor White Archive, and the completely scanned proof cards represent significant progress to this end. The website will be an authoritative source for the titles and dates of White’s photographs. All of the scanned proof cards will be available on the website so that users can search the primary source information as well as major published titles. Additionally, the website will include White’s major published sequences, with additional sequences uploaded gradually until the complete set is online. Eventually, the hope is to have subject-term browsing available, adding another access point to the Archive.”

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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.

 

 

“Self-discovery through a camera? I am scared to look for fear of discovering how shallow my Self is! I will persist however … because the camera has its eye on the exterior world. Camera will lead my constant introspection back into the world. So camerawork will save my life.”

“When you try to photograph something for what it is, you have to go out of yourself, out of your way, to understand the object, its facts and essence. When you photograph things for what ‘Else’ they are, the object goes out of its way to understand you.”

.
Minor White

 

 

When Paul Martineau, an associate curator at the J. Paul Getty Museum, in Los Angeles, was collecting photographs for a new retrospective of Minor White’s photography, he discovered an album called The Temptation of Saint Anthony Is Mirrors. Only two copies of the volume were produced, each containing thirty-two images of Tom Murphy, Minor’s student and model. “It’s a visual love letter: he only created two, one given to Tom and one for him,” Martineau told me.

Martineau’s show, Minor White: Manifestations of the Spirit, is the first major retrospective of White’s work since 1989. White was born in Minneapolis, in 1908, took photographs for the Works Progress Administration during the nineteen-thirties, and served in the Army during the Second World War. He kept company with Ansel Adams, Alfred Steiglitz, and Edward Steichen, and, in 1952, he helped found the influential photography magazine Aperture. Martineau said that, while the Getty retrospective “comes at a time when life is rife with visual imagery, most of it designed to capture our attention momentarily and communicate a simple message,” White aimed to more durably express “our relationships with one another, with the natural world, with the infinite.” White believed that all of his photographs were self-portraits; as Martineau put it, “he pushed himself to live what he called a life in photography.”

 

 

Minor White. 'Vicinity of Rochester, New York' 1954

 

Minor White 
Vicinity of Rochester, New York
1954
Gelatin silver print
18.4 x 23.2 cm (7 1/4 x 9 1/8 in.)
Promised gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Stony Brook State Park, New York' 1960

 

Minor White 
Stony Brook State Park, New York
1960
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 24.1 cm (12 x 9 1/2 in.)
Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. '72 N. Union Street, Rochester, New York' 1960

 

Minor White 
72 N. Union Street, Rochester, New York
1960
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 24.1 cm (12 x 9 1/2 in.)
Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Pultneyville, New York' 1957

 

Minor White 
The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Pultneyville, New York
1957
Gelatin silver print
24.4 x 25.1 cm (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

 

Minor White. 'Haags Alley, Rochester, New York' 1960

 

Minor White
Haags Alley, Rochester, New York
1960
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 24.1 cm (12 x 9 1/2 in.)
Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Tom Murphy, San Francisco, California' 1948

 

Minor White
Tom Murphy, San Francisco, California
1948
Gelatin silver print
12.5 x 10 cm (4 15/16 x 3 15/16 in.)
The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Minor White
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. '72 N. Union Street, Rochester, New York' 1958

 

Minor White 
72 N. Union Street, Rochester, New York
1958
Gelatin silver print
26.7 x 29.2 cm (10 1/2 x 11 1/2 in.)
Promised gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

 

“Controversial, misunderstood, and sometimes overlooked, Minor White (American 1908-1976) pursued a life in photography with great energy and ultimately extended the expressive possibilities of the medium. A tireless worker, White’s long career as a photographer, teacher, editor, curator, and critic was highly influential and remains central to understanding the history of photographic modernism. Minor White: Manifestations of the Spirit, on view July 8 – October 19, 2014 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center is the first major retrospective of his work since 1989.

The exhibition includes never-before-seen photographs from the artist’s archive at Princeton University, recent Getty Museum acquisitions, a significant group of loans from the collection of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser, alongside loans from the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Portland Art Museum, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Also featured is White’s masterly photographic sequence Sound of One Hand (1965).

“Minor White had a profound impact on his many students, colleagues, and the photographers who considered him a true innovator, making this retrospective of his work long overdue” says Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “The exhibition brings together a number of loans from private and public collections, and offers a rare opportunity to see some of his greatest work alongside unseen photographs from his extensive archive.”

One of White’s goals was to photograph objects not only for what they are but also for what they may suggest, and his pictures teem with symbolic and metaphorical allusions. White was a closeted homosexual, and his sexual desire for men was a source of turmoil and frustration. He confided his feelings in the journal he kept throughout his life and sought comfort in a variety of Western and Eastern religious practices. This search for spiritual transcendence continually influenced his artistic philosophy.

Early Career, 1937-45

In 1937, White relocated from Minneapolis, where he was born and educated, to Portland, Oregon. Determined to become a photographer, he read all the photography books he could get his hands on and joined the Oregon Camera Club to gain access to their darkroom. Within five years, he was offered his first solo exhibition at the Portland Art Museum (1942). White’s early work exhibits his nascent spiritual awakening while exploring the natural magnificence of Oregon. His Cabbage Hill, Oregon (Grande Ronde Valley) (1941) uses a split-rail fence and a coil of barbed wire to demonstrate the hard physical labor required to live off the land as well as the redemption of humankind through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

During World War II, White served in Army Intelligence in the South Pacific. Upon discharge, rather than return to Oregon, he spent the winter in New York City. There, he studied art history with Meyer Shapiro at Columbia University, museum work with Beaumont Newhall at the Museum of Modern Art, and creative thought in photography with photographer, gallerist, and critic Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946).

Midcareer, 1946-64

In 1946, famed photographer Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) invited White to teach photography at the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA) in San Francisco. The following year, White established himself as head of the program and developed new methods for training students. His own work during this period began to shift toward the metaphorical with the creation of images charged with symbolism and a critical aspect known as “equivalence,” meaning an image may serve as an idea or emotional state beyond the subject pictured. In 1952, White co-founded the seminal photography journal Aperture and was its editor until 1975.

In 1953, White accepted a job as an assistant curator at the George Eastman House (GEH) in Rochester, New York, where he organized exhibitions and edited GEH’s magazine Image. Coinciding with his move east was an intensification of his study of Christian mysticism, Zen Buddhism, and the I Ching. In 1955, he began teaching a class in photojournalism at the Rochester Institute of Technology and shortly after began to accept one or two live-in students to work on a variety of projects that were alternately practical and spiritually enriching. During the late 1950s and continuing until the mid-1960s, White traveled the United States during the summers, making his own photographs and organizing photographic workshops in various cities across the country.

By the late 1950s, at the height of his career, White pushed himself to do the impossible – to make the invisible world of the spirit visible through photography. White’s masterpiece – and the summation of his persistent search for a way to communicate ecstasy – is the sequence Sound of One Hand, so named after the Zen koan which asks “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”

“White’s sequences are meant to be viewed from left to right, preferably in a state of relaxation and heightened awareness,” says Paul Martineau, associate curator of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum and curator of the exhibition. “White called on the viewer to be an active participant in experiencing the varied moods and associations that come from moving from one photograph to the next.”

Late Career, 1965-76

In 1965, White was appointed professor of creative photography at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he developed an ambitious program in photographic education. As he aged, he became increasingly concerned with his legacy, and began working on his first monograph, Mirrors Messages Manifestations, which was published by Aperture in 1969. The following year, White was awarded a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, and he was the subject of a major traveling retrospective organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1971.

Beginning in the late 1960s and continuing until the early 1970s, White organized a series of groundbreaking thematic exhibitions at MIT – the first of which served as a springboard for forming the university’s photographs collection. In 1976, White died of heart failure and bequeathed his home to the Aperture Foundation and his photographic archive of more than fifteen thousand objects to Princeton University. The exhibition also includes work by two of White’s students, each celebrated photographers in their own right, Paul Caponigro (American, born 1932) and Carl Chiarenza (American, born 1935).

“An important aspect of Minor White’s legacy was his influence on the next generation of photographers,” says Martineau. “Over the course of a career that lasted nearly four decades, he managed to maintain personal and professional connections with hundreds of young photographers – an impressive feat for a man dedicated to the continued exploration of photography’s possibilities.”

Press release from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

 

Minor White. 'Navarro River, California' 1947

 

Minor White 
Navarro River, California
1947
Gelatin silver print
35.6 x 45.7 cm (14 x 18 in.)
Lent by Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Nude Foot, San Francisco, California' Negative, 1947; print, 1975

 

Minor White 
Nude Foot, San Francisco, California
Negative, 1947; print, 1975
Gelatin silver print
22.9 x 30.5 cm (9 x 12 in.)
Promised gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum. © Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Pavilion, New York' 1957

 

Minor White 
Pavilion, New York
1957
Gelatin silver print
22.5 x 29.5 cm (8 7/8 x 11 5/8 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

 

Minor White. 'Cabbage Hill, Oregon (Grande Ronde Valley)' 1941

 

Minor White
Cabbage Hill, Oregon (Grande Ronde Valley)
1941
Gelatin silver print
18 x 22.9 cm (7 1/16 x 9 in.)
The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Minor White
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Self-Portrait, West Bloomfield, New York' 1957

 

Minor White
Self-Portrait, West Bloomfield, New York
1957
Gelatin silver print
17.8 x 20.6 cm (7 x 8 1/8 in.)
The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Minor White
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

 

Interview with Minor White

Q. How would you like to see photography develop?

A. It makes absolutely no difference what I want it to do. It’s going to do what it’s going to do. All I can do is stand back and observe it.

Q. What don’t you want it to do?

A. That doesn’t make any difference either, It’ll do that whether I want it to or not!

Q. Surely , you’ve got to have some feelings?

A. In one sense I don’t care what photography does at all. I can just watch it do it. I can control my photography, I can do what I want with it  – a little. If I can get into  contact  with something much wiser than myself , and it says get out of photography , maybe I would. I hesitate to say this because I know its going to be misunderstood. I’ll put I this way  – I’m trying to be in contact with my Creator when I photograph. I know perfectly well its not possible to do this all the time, but there can be moments.

Q. Do you see anything in contemporary photography that distresses you?

A. What ever they do is fine.

Q. Is there any work that you are particularly interested in?

A. What ever my students are doing.

Q. There seems to be a passing on of certain sets of ideas and understandings. Do you feel yourself to be an inheritor of a set of ideas or ideals?

A. Naturally. After all I have two parents, so I inherited some thing.  I’ve had many spiritual fathers for example. The photographers who I have been influenced by for example. There have been many other external influences. Students have had an influence. In a sense that’s an inheritance. After a while we work with material that comes to us and it becomes ours, we digest it. It becomes energy and food for us, its ours . And then I can pass it on to somebody else with a sense of responsibility and validity. I am quoting it in my words, it has become mine and that person will take it from me – just as I have taken it from people who have influenced me. Take what you can use, digest it, make it yours, and then  transmit it to your children or your students.

Q. It’s a cycle?

A. No, it’s a continuous line. Not a cycle at all.

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Interview by Paul Hill and Thomas Cooper of Minor White, published in 3 parts in the January, February and March editions of Camera 1977.

 

Minor White. 'Point Lobos, California' 1948

 

Minor White 
Point Lobos, California
1948
Gelatin silver print
16.8 x 19.5 cm (6 5/8 x 7 11/16 in.)
The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Minor White
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'San Francisco, California' 1949

 

Minor White
San Francisco, California
1949
Gelatin silver print
18.5 x 18.7 cm (7 5/16 x 7 3/8 in.)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Vicinity of Dansville, New York' Negative, 1955; print, 1975

 

Minor White 
Vicinity of Dansville, New York
Negative, 1955; print, 1975
Gelatin silver print
22.9 x 30.5 cm (9 x 12 in.)
Promised gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White Images in the bound sequence 'The Temptation of Saint Anthony Is Mirrors'

 

(top)
Minor White
Images 9 and 10 in the bound sequence The Temptation of Saint Anthony Is Mirrors
1948
Gelatin silver prints
9.3 x 11.8 cm; 11.2 x 9.1 cm
The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Minor White
© Trustees of Princeton University

(bottom)
Minor White
Images 27 and 28 in the bound sequence The Temptation of Saint Anthony Is Mirrors
1948
Gelatin silver prints
5.3 x 11.6 cm; 10.6 x 8.9 cm
The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Minor White
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Rochester, New York' 1963

 

Minor White 
Rochester, New York
1963
Gelatin silver print
9.2 x 7.3 cm (3 5/8 x 2 7/8 in.)
Promised gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

 

Minor White: Manifestations of the Spirit book

Controversial, eccentric, and sometimes overlooked, Minor White (1908-1976) is one of the great photographers of the twentieth century, whose ideas and philosophies about the medium of photography have exerted a powerful influence on a generation of practitioners and still resonate today. Born and raised in Minneapolis, his photographic career began in 1938 in Portland, Oregon with assignments as a “creative photographer” for the Oregon Art Project, an outgrowth of the Works Progress Administration (WPA).

After serving in World War II as a military intelligence officer, White studied art history at Columbia University in New York. It was during this period that White’s focus started to shift toward the metaphorical. He began to create images charged with symbolism and a critical aspect called “equivalency,” which referred to the invisible spiritual energy present in a photograph made visible to the viewer and was inspired by the work of Alfred Stieglitz. White’s belief in the spiritual and metaphysical qualities in photography, and in the camera as a tool for self-discovery, was crucial to his oeuvre.

Minor White: Manifestations of the Spirit (Getty Publications, 2014) gathers together for the first time a diverse selection of more than 160 images made by Minor White over five decades, including some never published before. Accompanying the photographs is an in-depth critical essay by Paul Martineau entitled “‘My Heart Laid Bare’: Photography, Transformation, and Transcendence,” which includes particularly insightful quotations from his journals, which he kept for more than forty years.

The result is an engaging narrative that weaves through the main threads of White’s work and life – his growth and tireless experimentation as an artist; his intense mentorship of his students; his relationships with Edward Weston, Alfred Stieglitz, and Ansel Adams, who had a profound influence on his work; and his labor of love as cofounder and editor of Aperture magazine from 1952 until 1976. The book also addresses White’s life-long spiritual search and ongoing struggle with his own sexuality and self-doubt, in response to which he sought comfort in a variety of religious practices that influenced his continually metamorphosing artistic philosophy.

Published here in its entirety for the first time is White’s stunning series The Temptation of Anthony Is Mirrors, consisting of 32 photographs of White’s student and model Tom Murphy made in 1947 and 1948 in San Francisco. White’s photographs of Murphy’s hands and feet are interspersed within a larger group of portraits and nude figure studies. White kept the series secret for years as at the time he made the photographs it was illegal to publish or show images with male frontal nudity. Anyone making such images would be assumed to be homosexual and outed at a time when this invariably meant losing gainful employment.

Other works shown in this rich collection are White’s early images of the city of Portland that depict his experimentations with different styles and nascent spiritual awakening; his photographs of the urban streets of San Francisco where he lived for a time; his elegant images of rocks, sandy beaches and tidal pools in Point Lobos State Park in Northern California that are an homage to Edward Weston; and the series The Sound of One Hand made in the vicinity of Rochester, New York where he also taught classes at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and curated shows at the George Eastman House (GEH). Paul Martineau describes this iconic series as “White’s chef d’oeuvre, the work that is the summation of his persistent search or a way to communicate ecstasy.” Among the eleven images in the Getty collection are Windowsill Daydreaming, Rochester, Night Icicle, 72 N. Union Street, Rochester, and Pavilion, New York.

Text from the J. Paul Getty Museum

 

Minor White. '"Something Died Here," San Francisco, California' 1947

 

Minor White 
“Something Died Here,” San Francisco, California
1947
Gelatin silver print
22.8 x 17.5 cm (9 x 6 7/8 in.)
The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Minor White
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Dodd Building, Portland, Oregon' c. 1939

 

Minor White 
Dodd Building, Portland, Oregon
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
34.3 x 26.7 cm (13 1/2 x 10 1/2 in.)
Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration

 

Minor White. 'San Mateo County, California / Leonard Nelson, Vicinity of Stinson Beach, Marin County, California, November 1947' 1947

 

Minor White 
San Mateo County, California / Leonard Nelson, Vicinity of Stinson Beach, Marin County, California, November 1947
1947
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 50.8 cm (12 x 20 in.)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Ralph M. Parsons Fund
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Lily Pads and Pike, Portland, Oregon' c. 1939

 

Minor White 
Lily Pads and Pike, Portland, Oregon
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
34 x 26.8 cm (13 3/8 x 10 9/16 in.)
Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services

 

Minor White. 'Design (Cable and Chain), Portland, Oregon' c. 1940

 

Minor White 
Design (Cable and Chain), Portland, Oregon
c. 1940
Gelatin silver print
33.8 x 25.8 cm (13 5/16 x 10 3/16 in.)
Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration

 

Minor White. 'Peeled Paint, Rochester, New York' 1959

 

Minor White 
Peeled Paint, Rochester, New York
1959
Gelatin silver print
31.1 x 22.9 cm (12 1/4 x 9 in.)
Promised gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Empty Head, 72 N. Union Street, Rochester, New York' 1962

 

Minor White
Empty Head, 72 N. Union Street, Rochester, New York
1962
Gelatin silver print
30 x 23 cm (11 13/16 x 9 1/16 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

 

Minor White. 'Burned Mirror, Rochester, New York' 1959

 

Minor White 
Burned Mirror, Rochester, New York
1959
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 22 cm (12 x 8 11/16 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

 

Minor White. 'Essence of Boat, Lanesville, Massachusetts' 1967

 

Minor White 
Essence of Boat, Lanesville, Massachusetts
1967
Gelatin silver print
31.8 x 23.8 cm (12 1/2 x 9 3/8 in.)
Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Ivy, Portland, Oregon' Negative,1964; print, 1975

 

Minor White 
Ivy, Portland, Oregon
Negative,1964; print, 1975
Gelatin silver print
22.9 x 30.5 cm (9 x 12 in.)
Promised gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. '72 N. Union Street, Rochester, New York' 1960

 

Minor White 
72 N. Union Street, Rochester, New York
1960
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 24.1 cm (12 x 9 1/2 in.)
Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Moencopi Strata, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah' 1962

 

Minor White 
Moencopi Strata, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
1962
Gelatin silver print
32.7 x 24.1 cm (12 7/8 x 9 1/2 in.)
Promised gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Windowsill Daydreaming, Rochester, New York' 1958

 

Minor White 
Windowsill Daydreaming, Rochester, New York
1958
Gelatin silver print
24.4 x 25.1 cm (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

 

Minor White. 'Notom, Utah' 1963

 

Minor White 
Notom, Utah
1963
Gelatin silver print
39.4 x 31.1 cm (15 1/2 x 12 1/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Gloucester, Massachusetts' 1973

 

Minor White
Gloucester, Massachusetts
1973
Gelatin silver print
21.6 x 29.2 cm (8 1/2 x 11 1/2 in.)
Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Batavia, New York' 1958

 

Minor White
Batavia, New York
1958
Gelatin silver print
34 x 20.3 cm (13 3/8 x 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

 

Minor White. 'Night Icicle, 72 N. Union Street, Rochester, New York' 1959

 

Minor White 
Night Icicle, 72 N. Union Street, Rochester, New York
1959
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 23 cm (12 x 9 1/16 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

 

Minor White. '203 Park Ave., Arlington, Massachusetts' 1966

 

Minor White
203 Park Ave., Arlington, Massachusetts
1966
Gelatin silver print
34.3 x 12.7 cm (13 1/2 x 5 in.)
Promised gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

gm_34199701-WEB

 

Minor White 
Easter Sunday, Stony Brook State Park, New York
1963
Gelatin silver print
23.7 x 9.2 cm (9 5/16 x 3 5/8 in.)
Promised gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

 

Minor White. 'Mission District, San Francisco, California' 1949

 

Minor White 
Mission District, San Francisco, California
1949
Gelatin silver print
33.8 x 9.5 cm (13 5/16 x 3 3/4 in.)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum. © Trustees of Princeton University

 

 

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20
Oct
13

Review: ‘Joyce Evans: Edge of the road’ at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 3rd October – 3rd November 2013

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At close range

This exhibition at the Monash Gallery of Art features the series Edge of the road by Melbourne photographer Joyce Evans. It is an intense, if less than fully successful, presentation of a body of work completed between 1988 and 1996. The photographs were made with a Widelux F7 35mm panoramic camera, a camera that has a rotating fixed focus lens (see images of the camera below). Rather than the normal horizontal panoramic orientation, Evans has mostly used the camera in a vertical orientation to shoot these images. At the same time she has twisted the camera along unfamiliar axes, sometimes on a diagonal line, which has produced unexpected distortion within the final images.

Evans professed aim in her artist statement (below) is to let go of control of what is captured by the camera, to let go of some previsualisation (what the photographer imagines that they want the photograph to be in their mind’s eye before they press the shutter) and rely on a certain amount of planning and chance. She cites the example of the American photographer Minor White (1908-1976) who popularised the idea of previsualisation as a means of aesthetically controlling the outcome of what the camera captures. Evans wants little of this and sees her photographs as using the camera’s inherent capabilities to image the minutiae of the world, using “the camera’s capacity to see detail, which in the 60th of a second of the firing of the shutter my subconscious may perceive, but may not fully know.” In this sense, the artist is appealing to Walter Benjamin’s idea of film serving as an optical unconscious, a medium that captures everyday objects of ordinary experience which are revealed as strange and unsettling, a “different” nature presenting itself to the camera than to the naked eye.1 As Richard Prouty has noted, “Film changed how we view the least significant minutiae of reality just as surely as Freud’s Psychopathology of Everyday Life changed how we look at incidental phenomenon like slips of the tongue.”2

This enrichment of human perception by a scientific technology, the camera, happens at a level below human recognition, for although the retina frequently receives these aspects, they are not transformed into information by the perceptive system.3 “These new technical images helped discover hitherto unknown – ie. unacknowledged and analysed by perception and therefore restricted to the space of the unconscious or, as he [Benjamin] called it, of an “optical unconscious” – movements and dimensions of reality.”4 In other words, these new technical images may include information that was not retained, processed or even intended by the operator (hence the hoped for serendipity of the images). These images then surprise with the unexpected. As François Arago has observed, “When observers apply a new instrument to the study of nature, what they had hoped for is always but little compared with the successions of discoveries of which the instrument becomes the source – in such matters it is on the unexpected that one can especially count.”5 This is evidenced in Evans photographs through the POTENTIAL of chance. Not chance itself, but the potential of chance of the optical unconscious (of film) to capture something unexpected.

I must disagree with Evans, however, about the photographic process of Minor White and the process of “letting go” that she proposes to adhere to in this body of work. In fact, I would go so far as to invert her rationalisation. Having studied the work of Minor White and visited his archive at Princeton University Museum of Art I understand that previsualisation was strong in White’s photographs, but there was an ultimate letting go of control when he opened the shutter to his camera. In meditation, he sought a connection from himself to the object, from the object back through the camera to form a Zen circle of connection which can be seen in one of his famous Canons: “Let the Subject generate its own Composition.” Then something (spirit?) might take over. This is the ultimate in paradoxical letting go of control for a photographer – to previsualise something, to see it on the ground glass, to capture it on film, to then print it out to find that there is something amorphous in the negative and in the print that you cannot quite put your finger on. Some indefinable element that is not chance, not the unexpected, but spirit itself. Evans photographs are not of this order.

What these photographs are about is an intimate view of the land and our relationship to it, an examination of something that is very close to the artist, but evidenced through the subjectivity of the artist’s control and the objectivity of the cameras optical unconscious. They are shot “at close range,” the picture being taken very close (both physically and psychologically) to the person who is taking the photograph. In their multifaceted perspectives – some images, such as Flood on Murray River on Wodonga side, Victoria (1996) have double horizon lines – the viewer is immersed in the disorientating sweep of the landscape. The photographs become almost William Robinson-esque in their panoramic distortion of both time and space. For example, the descent from the light of the trees, to ferns, to the mulch of palaeontological existence in Mount Bulla Ferns, Victoria (1996, below) is particulalry effective, as is the booted front prints of Anzses Trip, Talaringa Springs, Great Victorian Desert, South Australia (1993, below). The transition of time is further emphasised by the inclusion of the film sprocket holes in some of the works, such as Pine Barbed Wire Fence and Orchard, Tyabb, Mornington Peninsula (1992, below). However, out of the thirteen photographs presented from the series some photographs, such as Bin, Toorak, Victoria (1990, below) simply do not work, for the image is too didactic in its political and aesthetic definition.

At their best these photographs capture an intensity that is at the boundary of some threshold of understanding (edge of the road, no man’s land, call it whatever you will or the artist wills) of our European place in this land, Australia. There are no bare feet on the ground, only booted footprints, barbed wire, gravel roads, dustbins, tyre tracks and hub caps. The reproductions do not do the work justice. One has to stand in front of these complex images to appreciate their scale and impact on the viewer. They resist verbal description, for only when standing in front of the best of these images does one observe in oneself a sense of disorientation, as though you are about to step off the edge of the world. They do not so much attempt to capture the energy of the landscape but our fragmented and possessive relation to it.

Ultimately, Evans photographs are highly conceptual photographs. Despite protestations to the contrary her photographs are about the control of the photographer with the potential of chance (through the recognition of the process of the optical unconscious of the camera) used knowingly by the artist to achieve the results that she wants. They are about the control of humans over landscape. Evans knows her medium, she knows the propensities of her camera, she plans each shot and despite not knowing exactly what she will get, she roughly knows what they results will be when she tilts the lens of her camera along different axes. These are not emotionally evocative landscapes but, because of the optical unconscious embedded in their construction, they are intimate, political statements about our relationship to the land.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Marcus is a friend of Joyce Evans

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

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Joyce Evans. 'Wilcannia, New South Wales' 1990

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Joyce Evans
Wilcannia, New South Wales
1990
Silver gelatin photograph
© Joyce Evans

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Joyce Evans. 'Wilcannia, New South Wales' 1990

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Joyce Evans
Wilcannia, New South Wales
1990
Silver gelatin photograph
© Joyce Evans

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Holden,-Victoria-1990-WEB

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Joyce Evans
Holden, Victoria
1990
Silver gelatin photograph
© Joyce Evans

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“Evidenced in these photographs is one of the things that attracted me to photography – namely, its ability to capture the millisecond. While there are many schools of photography, the one popularised by the American photographer Minor White (1908-1976) suggests that the photographer pre-visualises the image prior to pressing the shutter. In other words, the photographer is in control and is the controller of what is captured by the camera. In terms of the resolution of the final image this is technically an important concept. However aesthetically, I enjoy the camera’s capacity to see detail, which in the 60th of a second of the firing of the shutter my subconscious may perceive, but may not fully know.

This appreciation of aesthetics goes back to my university days in 1969-71 when I did a degree in fine arts at Sydney University. Here the ability to deconstruct imagery was passed on to us by Dr Anton Wilhelm and the understanding of the limits and potentials of two-dimensional imagery (with constant reference to the picture plane), was demonstrated by Professor Bernard Smith. This understanding was further enhanced when I painted at the Bakery Art School in Sydney, 1977-78. Studying under the inspiring tutelage of John Olsen (b.1928) he made me aware of the power of the edge of the image to relate to what was not shown in the image.

This awareness is reflected in the exhibition through my fascination with, and imaging of, the Edge of the Road, that no man’s land which has a rarely noticed life of its own. I use the 180 degree vista of the Widelux camera, with its ability to capture elongated elements of the landscape, to conceptually explore the lack of control that is offered by the camera. The results are serendipitous: the cigarette butts, the spiders home, the intruding foot, the fecund compost under snow laden ferns. All of these elements combine with the time freeze of the camera to image places of survival and change.

While the images may not be fully visualised they rely on both planning and chance. I choose to point the camera at the subject and let the ‘snap’ of the shutter do the rest. The images that emerge from the flow of time are images that I have imagined in my mind but which the camera has interpreted through an (ir)rational act: the fixity of the image frame challenged by the very act of taking the photograph at the edge of consciousness. As such they ask the question of the viewer: what exactly is being imaged and did it really exist in the first place?”

Joyce Evans with Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Joyce Evans 'Edge of the road' installation photographs and artist talk at Monash Gallery of Art

Joyce Evans 'Edge of the road' installation photographs and artist talk at Monash Gallery of Art

Joyce Evans 'Edge of the road' installation photographs and artist talk at Monash Gallery of Art

Shaune Lakin, Director of the Monash Gallery of Art, speaking to the assembled

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Shaune Lakin, Director of the Monash Gallery of Art, speaking to the assembled

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Joyce Evans 'Edge of the road' installation photographs and artist talk at Monash Gallery of Art

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Joyce Evans Edge of the road installation photographs and artist talk at Monash Gallery of Art.
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

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View of the Widelux F7 camera

View of the Widelux F7 camera

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Two views of the Widelux F7 camera

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marcus-posting

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Shaune Lakin, Director of the Monash Gallery of Art, speaking to the photographer Joyce Evans
Photo: Jason Blake

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“Joyce Evans (b. 1929) has been a key figure in Australian photography for many decades. As a gallerist, Evans introduced audiences to the work of many young and established photographers, and as a photographer she has assiduously documented the Australian landscape and the Australian cultural scene.

Evans’s initial contribution to photography in Australia was largely as an advocate for the medium. She established Church Street Photographic Centre in 1976, which became one of Australia’s most significant commercial photographic galleries. Church Street encourage a broad interest in photography and assisted the careers of many of Australia’s most important photographers. At Church Street. Evans also introduced Melbourne audiences to the work of many of the key figures in international photography, including Julia Margaret Cameron, Eugène Atget, Alfred Steiglitz, Berenice Abbott, Paul Strand, Brett Weston, Henri Cartier-Bresson and André Kertész.

Evans devised to become a photographer well before she opened Church Street. But it was in the early 1980s that she began to focus more productively on her own practice. This exhibition includes a selection of colour photographs drawn from the MGA Collection, each of which demonstrates Evans’s quite formal interest in landscape. The exhibition mainly features the series Edge of the road, large panoramic prints that have only rarely been exhibited and which reflect a decidedly different photographic relationship to landscape.

Evans’s landscapes are often political. They reflect her keen interest in the way that we relate to land, and engage with the politics of Indigenous land ownership. Evans is also interested in the way that landscape has featured in Australian art history, and often draws on the work and lessons of the legendary painter of abstract landscapes John Olsen, who taught her during the 1960s.

A fine example is Edge of the road, a series of landscapes made between 1988 and 1996 with a Widelux F7 35mm camera. The Widelux is a swing-lens panoramic camera which provides only basic functionality. Its rotating lens is fixed focus at 3.3 metres. Evans embraced these limitations, and in fact played with them by introducing chance to the photographic process. During exposure Evans twisted her camera, sometimes on a diagonal line which produced unexpected distortion. Rather than the straight vertical or horizontal axis usually associated with panoramic photographs, the axis of some of these landscapes chops and changes. In doing so, Evans is attempting to capture the energy of the landscape. These large panoramas were printed by the artist and her assistant Christian Alexander in her darkroom.”

Wall text from the exhibition

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Joyce Evans. 'Bin, Toorak, Victoria' 1990

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Joyce Evans
Bin, Toorak, Victoria
1990
Silver gelatin photograph
© Joyce Evans

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Joyce Evans. 'Anzses Trip, Talaringa Springs, Great Victorian Desert, South Australia' 1993

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Joyce Evans
Anzses Trip, Talaringa Springs, Great Victorian Desert, South Australia
1993
Silver gelatin photograph
© Joyce Evans

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Joyce Evans. 'Pine Barbed Wire Fence and Orchard, Tyabb, Mornington Peninsula' 1992

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Joyce Evans
Pine Barbed Wire Fence and Orchard, Tyabb, Mornington Peninsula
1992
Silver gelatin photograph
© Joyce Evans

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Mount-Bulla-Ferns,-Victoria-1996-WEB

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Joyce Evans
Mount Bulla Ferns, Victoria
1996
Silver gelatin photograph
© Joyce Evans

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1. Prouty, Richard. “The Optical Unconscious,” on the One-Way Street blog, October 16th 2009 [Online] Cited 20th October 2013. http://onewaystreet.typepad.com/one_way_street/2009/10/the-optical-unconscious.html

2. Ibid.,

3. Flores, Victor. “Optical unconscious,” on the Fundação Côa Parque website [Online] Cited 20th October 2013.
http://www.arte-coa.pt/index.php?Language=en&Page=Saberes&SubPage=ComunicacaoELinguagemImagem&Menu2=Autores&Slide=39

4. Ibid.,

5. Arago, Francois. “Rapport sur le daguerréotype,” in AA.VV. Du Bon Usage de la Photographie: une anthologie de textes. Paris: Centre National de la Photographie, 1987, p. 14 quoted in Flores, op. cit.,

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Monash Gallery of Art
860 Ferntree Gully Road, Wheelers Hill
Victoria 3150 Australia
T: + 61 3 8544 0500

Opening hours:
Tue – Fri: 10am – 5pm
Sat – Sun: 12pm – 5pm
Mon/public holidays: closed

Monash Gallery of Art website

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17
Jun
13

Review: ‘Johsel Namkung: A Retrospective’ published by Cosgrove Editions, 2013

Published by Cosgrove Editions, Johsel Namkung • A Retrospective is a collection of one hundred exquisite images selected from a remarkable career in photography spanning six decades.

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“I like to give my viewers questions, not answers. Let them find beauty in the most mundane things, like roadside wildflowers and tumbled weeds.”

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Johsel Namkung

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“When we can find the abstract in nature we find the deepest art.”

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Mark Tobey

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“Photographs give us information; it seems that they give us information that is very packaged and they give us the information that we are already prepared to recognize obviously. It’s as if the words don’t have the weight they should have, so that one of the statements being made by any photograph is: “This really exists.” The photograph is a kind of job for the imagination to do something that we should have been able to do if we were not so disturbed by so many different kinds of information that are not really absorbed. Photographs have this authority of being testimony, but almost as if you have some direct contact with the thing, or as if the photograph is a piece of the thing; even though it’s an image, it really is the thing.”

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Susan Sontag. Excerpt from a speech, Wellesley College photographic symposium, April 21, 1975

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This is a superlative book by Cosgrove Editions that celebrates the sixty-year life in photography of the now 94-year-old Johsel Namkung. Rather than a retrospective I see this book as testimony to Johsel Namkung’s vision as an artist and the photographs, as Susan Sontag observes above, as testaments that allow the viewer to have some direct contact with the things that Johsel photographed, to see and feel with him the places that he visited and the things that he saw.

Some of the photographs in this book take your breath away. Taken with a large format camera Johsel’s compositions are heavily influenced by music and are almost fugue-like in their structure. They vibrate and sing like few other landscape photographs that I have ever seen. There is the absence of a horizon, so that his photographs seem to agree with the picture-plane rather than with the world at large.1 Rather, Johsel lets his images flow and in that flow he creates patterning that distinctly creates layers of landscape. The juxtaposing of lines on the landscape is reinforced in the sequencing of the book, where binary opposites are paired on facing pages: feminine / masculine, yang / ying, macro / micro. For example Rainy Pass, Washington July, 1989 is printed opposite Picture Lake, Mount Baker, Washington July 1979 (feminine / masculine); Steptoe Butte, Washington January, 1989 is printed opposite Oak Creek, Washington March, 1991 (yang / ying); and the vast Denali National Park, Alaska September, 1987 is printed opposite the almost Japanese-like delicacy of Arrigetch, Alaska September, 1980 (macro / micro). Although there are links to Abstract Expressionist painters such as Jackson Pollock and Mark Toby and photographers Ansel Adams, Minor White and Eliot Porter this work is wholly Johsel’s in its compositional structure – the position that the photographer puts himself in, both physically and mentally, to obtain these most beautiful of images.

Johsel has a love of small triangular shapes within the pictorial frame. They act like small punctum or pizzicato in musical terms and these given details are intended as such by the photographer. The little punctum in Johsel’s individual works become an accumulation of small punctum that resonate throughout the whole testimony of his work – through the placement of rocks and twigs, the use of triangles and layers whose presence Johsel so loves within the photograph. In this sense (that the photograph is written by the photographer), these are photographs of the mind as much as they are of the landscape. Working in the manner of Minor White (photographing in meditation, creating a pathway from the self to the object, from the object through the camera and back to the self, forming a circle), harmonising all elements (visual, physical, elemental, spiritual), Johsel exposes himself as much as the landscape he is photographing. This is his spirit in relation to the land, to the cosmos, even. Like Monet’s paintings of water lilies these photographs are a “small dreaming” of his spirit with a section of the land not necessarily, as in Aboriginal art, a dreaming and connection to the whole land.

As Minor White observes of the “recognition” of such dreaming when working with the view camera,

“First, there is a store of images, experience, ego problems, ideals, fears, which the man brings to his seeing at the start. Second, during the activity of seeing they are matched against the images in the visual world, like matching colors. This is done with some conscious effort and a great deal of unconscious participation. At the moment of matching or “recognition” there is a feeling of important at least, and sometimes a merciless impact. This in turn is secured by exposure – like a sudden gust of wind drops a ripe apple. So we can say “recognition” is the trigger of exposure. In view camera work the lapse between recognition and exposure may be relatively long. There is time for analysis and criticism of image and idea, and exposure sums up the entire experience.”2

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Like the sudden gust of wind drops the ripe apple.

Oh the joy Johsel must have found when he recognised such invocations, by being aware of his surroundings and his relationship to the earth. I know from my own experience that when you find such a place and recognise it for what it is, it is then an entirely different matter to capture it on film for the camera imparts its own perspective. It is almost as if Johsel and the camera are one, and that the camera itself has disappeared into the landscape (I like the way that you can nearly see his camera but it is actually hidden in the photograph at the bottom of the posting). I get the feeling that Johsel is quite consciously working within an adopted aesthetic – sort of like a tea ceremony – and just making things purposefully and having faith that it is some sort “of way” of doing things. At no point is there any sense of difficulty here – it has all been removed. Yet there was so much physical effort: climbing, walking, waiting, patience, no trace of it. What a heroic act this is!

Johsel approaches a metaphysics of the Real, creating authentic visualisations of the world – an idealised, abstracted Real tending towards a (mental) s(t)imulation. In other words, he photographs the world not to reveal a specific place but a particular state of mind. Is the link to indexicality broken? No, but there is no ultimate truth or origin here, for his is an art of transformation (theatricality) through structure (modernism) which is the essence of aesthetic arts.

“This strategy rejects the search for an origin or ultimate Truth and instead interprets reality as composed, contingent and intersubjective; reality is, therefore, theatrical… Theatricality is made of this endless play and of these continuous displacements of the position of desire, in other words, of the position of the subject in process with an imaginary constructive space.”3

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In Johsel’s photographs desire is displaced, ego is removed and his photographs become images of the mind as much as they are of the landscape. This is Johsel at play recognising, becoming these imaginary, constructive spaces. He is in the zone, he becomes the zone, even. Finally we can say: his photographs and his life are transformational; his imagination is the representation of possibility; his work is testimony to that representation.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to Johsel Namkung, Dick Busher and Cosgrove Editions for allowing me to publish the text and photographs in the posting. Dick Busher allowed me to pick the photographs that I wanted to illustrate this posting and for that I am most grateful. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

The book has recently taken top honors in two different award competitions among independent publishers for photography books: The Independent Book Publishers Association’s Benny Awards, and the Independent Publishers IPPY Awards.

PS. I think that photographer is very aware of: “Let the subject generate its own composition” (MW) – coming from Weston’s “Composition is the strongest way of seeing.”

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 Johsel Namkung. 'Big Meadow, Washington Pass, Washington September, 2000' 2000

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Johsel Namkung
Big Meadow, Washington Pass, Washington September, 2000
2000

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 Johsel Namkung. 'Cougar Lake, Oregon June 1991' 1991

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Johsel Namkung
Cougar Lake, Oregon June 1991
1991

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Johsel Namkung. 'Rainy Pass, Washington July, 1989' 1989

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Johsel Namkung
Rainy Pass, Washington July, 1989
1989

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Johsel Namkung. 'Picture Lake, Mount Baker, Washington July 1979' 1979

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Johsel Namkung
Picture Lake, Mount Baker, Washington July 1979
1979

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“In his photography Johsel brings attention and importance to elements of nature that most people pass by on their way to the grand vistas. One of my favorite locations in Washington is the Palouse as seen from Steptoe Butte; Johsel’s interpretations of the undulating wheat fields just greening with new growth are sensuous and impressionistic. One feels the slope of the earth, the texture of the tilled fields rather than seeing it. The sophisticated simplicity of his vision is highlighted in a simple composition of a dark pond surface, afloat with delicate grasses; the fine lines flowing this way and that give a sense of constant movement, yet it is a still photograph. In a twig reaching out of the snow, the subtle reflection on a pond in late afternoon light, delicate frozen ripples of ice clinging to river rock, the geometric chaos of tree branches covered in snow, the rich patina of weather-beaten stone, Johsel celebrates the minute in a grand way; it becomes the symbol for the greater whole. Textures, rhythm of line and movement become the foremost elements in his work. Some of Johsel’s images are quiet and abstract, singing a single note, while others are full-out symphonies in a celebration of the rhythms. In particular I find his Korean landscapes extraordinary. In winter the alpine hillsides bare their architecture; ridge after ridge, speckled with leafless birch and pyramidal conifers, they overlap in a crescendo of natural beauty.”

Art Wolfe, Introduction to Johsel Namkung • A Retrospective

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Johsel Namkung. 'Steptoe Butte, Washington January, 1989' 1989

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Johsel Namkung
Steptoe Butte, Washington January, 1989
1989

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Johsel Namkung. 'Oak Creek, Washington March, 1991' 1991

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Johsel Namkung
Oak Creek, Washington March, 1991
1991

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Johsel Namkung. 'Steptoe Butte, Washington October, 1977' 1977

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Johsel Namkung
Steptoe Butte, Washington October, 1977
1977

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Johsel Namkung. 'Steptoe Butte, Washington October, 1983' 1983

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Johsel Namkung
Steptoe Butte, Washington October, 1983
1983

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Johsel Namkung. 'Denali National Park, Alaska  September, 1987' 1987

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Johsel Namkung
Denali National Park, Alaska September, 1987
1987

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Johsel Namkung. 'Arrigetch, Alaska September, 1980' 1980

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Johsel Namkung
Arrigetch, Alaska September, 1980
1980

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“Photography as a medium is still relatively young. Introduced publicly in 1839, its definition has remained complicated in discourse and practice, oscillating between practical application – whether scientific illustration, family record, or aid to commerce – and aesthetic or expressive concerns. Debates that arose shortly after its invention, contesting whether photography could be an artistic medium, remained heated a century later and beyond, resolving only after Photoshop and other types of photographic manipulation became commonplace. Questions about the role of the photographer, the relative merits of color versus black-and-white, truth to the original shot versus darkroom manipulation, investigations about canon, hierarchy, and genre have continued to multiply, as have the social organizations – art schools, technical assistance and supplies, professional and amateur societies, regular shows and publications – that foster photographic work. Becoming a photographer in the middle of the twentieth century, Johsel Namkung emerged at the intersection of all these social and conceptual shifts. Taking advantage of this opening, he made several unconventional choices: deciding to work in color although it was black and white that signified art photography until the 1970s or later; working abstractly, but hewing to the dictates of straight photography: available light, no darkroom manipulation, print the full negative.

From the acquisition of his first camera, Namkung developed high standards for his photographic practice, recalling to interviewer Alan Lau, “I always had a confidence in myself… I had a sort of a vision toward my photographic future. I knew I was going to be something.”1 Trained first as a musician, from the beginning Namkung defined photography in abstract terms, approaching his motifs in terms of rhythms, tonal relationships, pattern, and texture. Individual works reveal specific affinities. The calligraphic grasses in Lizzard Lake, Stampede Pass, WA, August 1976 suggests Harry Callahan’s images of reeds, which are associated with Abstract Expressionist photography. The lichen-covered stone in Blue Mountain, Olympic National Park, WA, September 1976 resembles Jackson Pollock or the famed White Paintings of Namkung’s friend Mark Tobey. The screen of regular tree trunks in Sherman Pass, WA, August 1993, recalls the hatched lines representing driving rain in modern Japanese printmaking. Like limpid watercolor strokes, the rolling hills of the Palouse – distinct in each version of Steptoe Butte, of 1976, 1977, and 1983 – allude to Morris Louis’s color field paintings.

Namkung’s preface here recounts how successive unusual jobs supplied him with professional training as a photographer. Seattle in the postwar boom years also provided a rich and supportive context for his art. Skilled artists from the ranks of first- and second-generation immigrants, from Japan, China, Korea, and the Philippines, gathered in the International District but worked and showed farther afield. Art photography had a popular following and many innovative practitioners; Pictorialism – promoted by annual exhibitions like those organized by the Seattle Camera Club – encouraged aesthetic and technical exploration with cameras. The so-called Northwest Mystics represented only one of several artistic communities exploring abstraction, some emphasizing its expressive potential, others seeking formal invention. Creativity was equally celebrated beyond fine art. Rarefied technical challenges were tackled and mastered at The Boeing Company as well as the scientific laboratories of the University of Washington. The richness of this cultural ecology fostered the unique development of Namkung’s career. In return, his thoughtful production has nourished local and international audiences for over four decades.”

Elizabeth Brown, Former Chief Curator, Henry Art Gallery, Introduction to Johsel Namkung • A Retrospective

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1 Alan Chong Lau interview of Johsel Namkung conducted in Seattle, Washington, on October 5, 1989, for the Archives of American Art Northwest Asian American Project.

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Johsel Namkung. 'Shi Shi Beach Buoy, Olympic National Park, Washington August, 1981' 1981

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Johsel Namkung
Shi Shi Beach Buoy, Olympic National Park, Washington August, 1981
1981

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Johsel Namkung. 'Bissell, Washington December, 1981' 1981

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Johsel Namkung
Bissell, Washington December, 1981
1981

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Johsel Namkung. 'Alaska Lichens, Date Unknown' Nd

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Johsel Namkung
Alaska Lichens, Date Unknown
Nd

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Johsel Namkung. 'Blue Mountain, Olympic National Park, Washington September, 1976' 1976

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Johsel Namkung
Blue Mountain, Olympic National Park, Washington September, 1976
1976

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Johsel Namkung. 'Weston Beach, Point Lobos, California May, 1988' 1988

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Johsel Namkung
Weston Beach, Point Lobos, California May, 1988
1988

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Johsel Namkung. 'Frenchman Coulee, Washington May, 2002' 2002

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Johsel Namkung
Frenchman Coulee, Washington May, 2002
2002

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Johsel Namkung. 'Kalaloch Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington October, 1984' 1984

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Johsel Namkung
Kalaloch Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington October, 1984
1984

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joshel-camera

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Joshel Namkung on Hurricane Ridge, photographed by his friend Ken Levine

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1. Adapted from Robert Nelson commenting on the painting of Monet. “Impressionist’s ode to beauty trips into light fantastic,” The Age newspaper, Wednesday May 22nd 2013, p.42.

2. White, Minor. “Exploratory Camera,” 1949 in Bunnell, Peter C. (ed.,). Aperture Magazine Anthology – The Minor White Years 1952-1976. Aperture, 2013, p.64.

3. Féral, Josette. “Performance and Theatricality: The Subject Demystified,” in Modern Drama 25 (March) 1982, p.177.

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Johsel Namkung • A Retrospective website

Cosgrove Editions website

Cosgrove Editions is an independent publisher of books on photography. We also provide production and printing assistance for artists who self publish their work. Many of our projects have won some of the highest international awards for printing quality.

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26
Jan
13

Exhibition: ‘Flatlands: photography and everyday space’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Sydney

Exhibition dates: 13th September 2012 – 3rd February 2013

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This posting contains one of my favourite early works by Fiona Hall, Leura, New South Wales (1974, below) which is redolent of all the themes that would be expressed in the later work – an alien landscape that examines “the relationship between humankind and nature and the symbolic role of the [fecund] garden in western iconography.” In her work the “nature” of things (plants, money, videotape, plumbing fittings, birds nests, etc…) are re/classified, re/ordered and re/labelled.

Another stunning photograph in this posting is Minor White’s Windowsill daydreaming (1958, below). It is one of my favourite images of all time: because of the power of observation (to be able to recognise, capture and present such a manifestation!); because of the images formal beauty; and because of its metaphysical nature – a poetry full of esoteric allusions, one that addresses a very profound subject matter that is usually beyond ordinary knowledge or understanding. This alien presence, like the structure of an atom, is something that lives beyond the edges of our consciousness, some presence that hovers there, that we can feel and know yet can never see. Is it our shadow, our anima or animus? This is one of those rare photographs that will always haunt me.

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Many thankx to the Art Gallery of New South Wales for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All text accompanying photographs © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007.

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Cecil Bostock (Australia 1884–1939) 'Phenomena' c. 1938

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Cecil Bostock Australia 1884-1939
Phenomena
c. 1938
gelatin silver photograph
26.3 x 30.5cm
Gift of Max Dupain 1980

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Bostock remains an enigmatic personality in Australian pictorial and early modernist photography. This is at least in part due to his body of work being scattered on his death in 1939 as it was auctioned to cover his debts. Fortunately Phenomena was left to his former assistant Max Dupain who had worked with him from 1930 to 1933.

Phenomena was one of 11 photographs Bostock exhibited with the Contemporary Camera Groupe and it was placed in the window at David Jones along with other photographs such as Plum blossom 1937 by Olive Cotton and Mechanisation of art by Laurence Le Guay. Phenomena is a wonderful modernist work with its plays of light and dark and disorienting shapes and curving lines. It is impossible to tell exactly how the shapes are made or where the light is coming from, nor what the objects are. It could easily be exhibited upside down where the viewer could be looking down on objects arranged on a flat surface. Phenomena is a tribute to Bostock’s restless, inventive and exacting abilities.

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Fiona Hall. 'Leura, New South Wales' 1974

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Fiona Hall Australia b.1953
Leura, New South Wales
1974
Gelatin silver photograph
27.8cm x 27.8cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney purchased 1981
© Fiona Hall

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The rich tones and fine detail of Leura, New South Wales were made possible by Hall’s use of a large-format nineteenth-century view camera. The antiquated technology, once used by colonial photographers to document nature and the taming of the Australian landscape, here records instead the verdant foliage of a floral-patterned couch and carpet. Made at the beginning of Hall’s career, it demonstrates her burgeoning interest in the representation of nature. The relationship between humankind and nature and the symbolic role of the garden in western iconography has since been a recurrent theme in her work, which ranges across photography, sculpture and installation. Leura… differs from Hall’s other photographs in that it documents a “found” object. Hall’s later works, such as The Antipodean suite 1981 and her large-format polaroids of 1985, are of her own constructions and sculptures. Her Paradisus terrestris series 1989-90, 1996, 1999, of aluminium repousse sculptures takes the garden of Eden as its subject and treats it as an Enlightenment florilegium, wherein nature is classified, ordered and labelled. This kind of botanical transcription, like photography, was the process through which the alien Australian landscape was ‘naturalised’ by its colonists – a process which Hall wryly comments on in this acutely observed encounter within a domestic interior.

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David Moore. 'Light pattern, camera in motion' c. 1948, printed 1997

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David Moore Australia 1927 – 2003
Light pattern, camera in motion
c. 1948, printed 1997
Gelatin silver photograph
50.7cm x 40.3cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Gift of Karen, Lisa, Michael and Matthew Moore, 2004

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Simryn Gill. From 'A long time between drinks' 2005

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Simryn Gill Singapore/Malaysia/Australia b.1959
From A long time between drinks
2005
Portfolio of 13 offset prints
29.8cm x 29.7cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
© Simryn Gill

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Among Simryn Gill’s multi-disciplinary explorations of identity and belonging, investigations of suburban locations carry a particular resonance due to their often autobiographical nature. A long time between drinks 2009 is an intensely focused look at suburban Adelaide which was the artist’s first experience of Australia when she arrived in 1987 from Kuala Lumpur, and the city where she first exhibited. Gill returned to Adelaide in 2005 to revisit this early point of contact, producing an evocative series of 13 images.

The photographs impart an ostensible sense of alienation and isolation that corresponds to the artist’s position as an outsider looking in. Gill’s viewpoint of these empty streets that seem to lead nowhere is forensic and detached. But surprisingly, as repetitious compositions and details culminate across the photographs, the prosaic subject matter becomes increasingly surreal, abstract and even poetic.

As Sambrani Chaitanya has stated, “Gill’s work is an investigation of the limits of categorisation,”1 and this group of works, just as in Gill’s examination of Marrickville (where she now lives) in May 2006, emphasises the difficulty of defining an idea of place through mere description. Memory, time and pure invention are required to fill in the gaps. The eerie, yet evocative environment in these photographic prints is further enhanced by their presentation in a square box emulating those of sets of vinyl LP recordings.

1. Sambrani, C “Other realties, someone else’s fictions: the tangled art of Simryn Gill,” [Online], Art and Australia Vol.42, No.2, Summer 2004, p.220/

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David Stephenson USA/Australia b1955 'Sant’ivo alla Sapienza 1645-50 Rome, Italy' 1997

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David Stephenson USA/Australia b.1955
Sant’ivo alla Sapienza 1645-50 Rome, Italy
1997
From the series Domes 1993-2005
Type C photograph
55 × 55 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney purchased with funds provided by Joanna Capon and the Photography Collection Benefactors Program 2002
© David Stephenson

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With poetic symmetry the Domes series considers analogous ideas. It is a body of work which has been ongoing since 1993 and now numbers several hundred images of domes in countries including Italy, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, England, Germany and Russia. The typological character of the series reveals the shifting history in architectural design, geometry and space across cultures and time, demonstrating how humankind has continually sought meaning by building ornate structures which reference a sacred realm.2 Stephenson photographs the oculus – the eye in the centre of each cupola. Regardless of religion, time or place, this entry to the heavens – each with unique architectural and decorative surround – is presented as an immaculate and enduring image. Placed together, the photographs impart the infinite variations of a single obsession, while also charting the passage of history, and time immemorial.

2. Hammond V 2005, “The dome in European architecture,” in Stephenson D 2005, Visions of heaven: the dome in European architecture, Princeton Architectural Press, New York p.190

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“A new exhibition, Flatlands: photography and everyday space, examines photography’s role in transforming the way we perceive, organise and imagine the world. The 39 works by 23 Australian and international artists included in the exhibition have been drawn from the Gallery’s permanent collection of 20th century and contemporary photography.

Definitions of space have always depended on the scientific, social and cultural aspects of the human experience. At its birth in the 19th century, photography’s monocular vision was seen as the ultimate tool for representation and classification. Elusive phenomena such as distance, depth and emptiness seemed within grasp. Yet, limited to freezing single moments or viewpoints in time, the photograph’s ability to objectively represent the world was under question by the turn of the 20th century. Technological advancements, such as faster exposure times transformed the potential of the medium to not only show things that escaped the eye but new ways of seeing them as well.

Embracing partiality and ambivalence, modernist photography sought to capture the fragments, details and blurred boundaries in the expanses we call personal space. What the photograph began to reveal were dimensions which German cultural theorist Walter Benjamin described in 1931 as the ‘optical unconscious’ of reality. The works of photographers such as Melvin Vaniman, Frederick Evans, Harold Cazneaux, William Buckle, Franz Roh, Olive Cotton, David Moore, Josef Sudek, Minor White and Robert Rauschenberg explore the intangible in spaces which define our physical and spiritual relationship with reality. Windows, doorways, ceilings, staircases – these mundane and ordinary passageways suddenly acquire a centrality and metaphysical depth normally denied to them.

The edges between sacred and profane, public and private, natural and artificial, real and dreamed environments became further entangled in the subjective visions of late 20th century and contemporary photographic work. For Daido Moriyama, Fiona Hall, Pat Brassington, Simryn Gill, Christine Godden, Geoff Kleem, Leonie Reisberg, Ingeborg Tyssen, David Stephenson and Justine Varga, space is seen to be a product of the perception of the individual. Photographs are able to reveal realms outside of the scientific – that is those created by emotion, memory and desire.

As Fiona Hall commented in 1996, our belief might be maintained, for at least as long as the image can hold our attention, in the possibility of inhabiting a world as illusory as the two-dimensional one of the photograph.” Collectively, these images destabilise naturalised certainties while activating the imaginary dimension and the unsettling, albeit poetic potential of photography to impact and alter our view of the world.”

Press release from the AGNSW website

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Olive Cotton Australia 1911-2003 'By my window' 1930

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Olive Cotton Australia 1911-2003
By my window
1930
Gelatin silver photograph
20.3 x 15.1cm
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2006

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Olive Cotton. 'Skeleton Leaf' 1964

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Olive Cotton Australia 1911-2003
Skeleton Leaf
1964
Gelatin silver photograph
24.7 × 19.6 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2006
© artist’s estate

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Minor White America 1908-1976 'Christmas ornament, Batavia, New York, January 1958' 1958

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Minor White America 1908-1976
Christmas ornament, Batavia, New York, January 1958
1958
From the portfolio Sound of one hand 1960-1965
Gelatin silver photograph mounted on card
Gift of Patsy Asch 2005
Reproduction with permission of the Minor White Archive
© Princeton University Art Museum

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Minor White. 'Windowsill daydreaming' 1958

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Minor White American 1908-1976
Windowsill daydreaming
Rochester, New York, July 1958
From the portfolio Sound of one hand 1960-1965
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Reproduction with permission of the Minor White Archive
© Princeton University Museum of Art

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Informed by the esoteric arts, eastern religion and philosophy, Minor White’s belief in the spiritual qualities of photography made him an intensely personal and enigmatic teacher, editor and curator. White’s initial experience with photography was through his botanical studies at the University of Minnesota where he learned to develop and print photomicrography images, a view of life that he saw as akin to modern art forms. White advocated Stieglitz’s concept of ‘Equivalence’ in which form directly communicated mood and meaning, that ‘darkness and light, objects and spaces, carry spiritual as well as material meanings’.1 White disseminated his photographic theories through the influential quarterly journal ‘Aperture’, which he edited and co-founded with his contemporaries Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Beaumont Newhall and others.

Like Stieglitz, White also worked in sequences that through abstraction, expression and metaphor emphasised his mystical interpretation of the visual world. The sequences allow for a dialogue to continue through and in-between the images, engaging the viewer in a visual poem rather than any strict or formal narrative. The series, Sound of one hand, exemplifies White’s study of Zen and esoteric philosophies, reflecting his meditation of the Zen koan from which he saw rather than heard any sound. The first of the series, Metal ornament, Pultneyville, New York, October 1957 presents an abstracted form that is both sensual and elusive, slipping in and out of ocular register. The ambiguous graduated tones and reflected light pull the eye into the centre of the image before vicariously dragging it back. This broken semi-elliptical shape is mirrored in Windowsill daydreaming, Rochester, New York, July 1958 as the gently moving curtains play with the light and shadows of White’s flat, creating abstracted organic forms. Abstracted forms of nature were of great interest to White as can be seen in the rest of the series that capture the frosted window of his flat with its crystallised ice, condensation and glimpses of the outside world.

1. Rice S 1998, “Beyond reality,” in A new history of photography, ed M Frizot, Könemann, Cologne pp.669-73

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Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road, The Domain
Sydney NSW 2000, Australia

Opening hours:
Open every day 10am – 5pm
except Christmas Day and Good Friday

Art Gallery of New South Wales website

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27
Sep
12

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

Exhibition dates: 25th May – 30th September 2012

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

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Robert Mapplethorpe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marcus Bunyan 1996

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press release from the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art website

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Ellenzweig, p.59

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

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

8. Ellenzweig, p.39

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

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

11. Ellenzweig, p.43

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

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

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

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

16. Ellenzweig, p. 205, Footnote 1

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

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

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

Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art website

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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