Posts Tagged ‘minor white

30
Jan
22

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

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

 

Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective

 

 

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

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

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

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I will tell an story though.

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

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Strength and tenderness. An independent spirit.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

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

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

 

 

Ansel Adams / Hills Brothers coffee can 1969

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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Curator Paul Martineau in the book’s foreword

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

Imogen Cunningham: The Dream c. 1910

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

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

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

 

Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Imogen Cunningham: Magnolia Blossom 1925

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

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

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

 

Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

Beginnings in Seattle

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

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

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

 

A Modernist Pioneer

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

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

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

 

Artist and collaborator

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

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

 

The Light Within

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

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

Press release from SAM

 

 

Portrait of Imogen – Part 1

 

 

Portrait of Imogen – Part 2

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

Text and more information on the Wikipedia website

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

About the exhibition

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

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

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

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

Text from SAM

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Imogen Cunningham: My Father at Ninety, 1936

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

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

 

Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

Text and more information on the Wikipedia website

 

 

 

Imogen Cunningham: Morris Graves In His Leek Garden 1973

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

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

 

Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Text and more information on the Wikipedia website

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Imogen Cunningham: Self-Portrait with Grandchildren in Funhouse 1955

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

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

 

Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Imogen Cunningham: The Unmade Bed 1957

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

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

 

Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator, “Imogen Cunningham: The Unmade Bed,” on the SAMBlog website December 14, 2021 [Online] Cited 06/01/2022

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Self-Portrait on Geary Street' 1958

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Self-Portrait on Geary Street
1958
Gelatin silver print
9 3/16 × 6 7/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

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

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Stan, San Francisco
1959
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 × 7 1/16 in.
Collection of The Imogen Cunningham Trust
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Cemetery In France' 1960

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Cemetery In France
1960
Gelatin silver print
8 1/2 x 7 1/4 in. (21.6 x 18.4cm)
Gift of John H. Hauberg

 

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

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Minor White, Photographer
1963
Gelatin silver print
Image: 7 5/16 × 7 5/16 in.
Mat: 17 11/16 × 14 in.
Frame: 20 1/2 x 15 1/2 x 7/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Humboldt' 1968

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Humboldt
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image: 7 3/4 × 7 11/16 in.
Mat: 18 × 14 in.
Collection of The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Chris Through the Curtain' 1972

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Chris Through the Curtain
1972
Gelatin silver print
Image: 9 13/16 × 6 11/16 in.
Mat: 18 × 14 in.
Collection of The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

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

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Pentimento
1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 7 3/16 × 8 13/16 in.
Mount: 14 1/2 × 14 7/16 in.
Frame: 16 5/8 x 22 5/8 x 1 3/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser

 

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

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Another Arm
1973
Gelatin silver print
9 1/8 × 7 1/2 in.
Collection of The Imogen Cunningham Trust
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

Through the final years of her life, Cunningham would continue to do street photography. She took this photo of “Another Arm” in 1973, three years before she passed away. (The Imogen Cunningham Trust)

 

Judy-Dater. 'Imogen Cunningham and Twinka Thiebaud' 1974

 

Judy Dater (American, b. 1941)
Imogen and Twinka at Yosemite
1974
Gelatin silver print
Image: 9 1/2 × 7 1/2 in.
Mount: 17 15/16 × 14 in.
Frame: 22 5/8 x 16 5/8 x 1 3/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Jack von Euw

 

 

Seattle Art Museum Downtown
1300 First Avenue
, Seattle, WA 98101-2003
206.654.3100
TTY 206.654.3137

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Sunday 10am – 5pm
Closed Monday and Tuesday

Seattle Art Museum website

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30
Mar
19

Exhibition: ‘Arnold Kramer: Domestic Scenes’ at Joseph Bellows Gallery, La Jolla, California

Exhibition dates: 15th February – 12th April 2019

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

 

I really like these.

While I disagree with some of the statements in the press release – I don’t see much Minor White in these photographs except for the occasional door / window, some small whiteness in these photographs, and his negatives aren’t that good – these photographs evidence Arnold Kramer’s unique way of seeing the world.

A dash of Walker Evans, a little Lewis Baltz (with the added smooth high values and distinct cool drama of a cold light head enlarger), a bit of Diane Arbus and her settings, and very much New Topographics for the interior space, they capture an original vision of these domestic scenes.

It’s the concept, high key, light, use of flash, wide angle lens and clinical presence that gets me in. As the press release correctly observes, “Kramer has a unique way of creating a three dimensional scene within the sheet of a two dimensional photographic paper: In his photographs of rooms, objects and patterns that can appear to look haphazard and random are flattened out and pieced together to create a marvellous kind of collage effect.”

This piecing together can be seen in the last photograph in the posting, where I analyse Kramer’s construction of pictorial space. He loves shapes thrusting in from the bottom of the image, or falling from the top, creating this complex assemblage flattened on the page. Very frontal, formal, banal as beauty (or the other way round), structured.

Ralph Gibson says: “I’m lucky to have a subconscious really” – Weston, Evans, and White can join in on that. But not Kramer. He doesn’t need the subconscious… for these images, with their paired back aesthetic, are almost scientific in their analytical probing. It’s as though the subconscious has been banished to be replaced by the cerebral.

A gesture of denial and concern at one and the same time – denial of the actual human inhabitants, and concern for their in/habitation – their habits and habitats.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

 

These black and white photographs, with their sharp eye for the pattern and details of domestic settings, established Kramer as a distinct talent whose avoidance of “romantic bombast” and “emphasis on formal clarity,” made his pictures particularly fresh, when they were exhibited by Jane Livingston at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1978. In their emphasis on emotionally restrained, frontal views of rooms they look back and reference the work of Walker Evans, especially Evans’ Message From the Interior. In their attention to pattern and line as visual motifs within everyday spaces, he reveals his bond with another 20th century photographic master, his mentor Minor White.

Kramer has a unique way of creating a three dimensional scene within the sheet of a two dimensional photographic paper: In his photographs of rooms, objects and patterns that can appear to look haphazard and random are flattened out and pieced together to create a marvellous kind of collage effect. “I try to strike a balance between commitment to craft and commitment to seeing,” Kramer once explained.

The impact of this thinking is evident in his seductive series of interiors, which began with pictures made in the Baltimore home of his wife’s parents. The range of interiors expanded to include settings in homes of friends, family and others that spanned Baltimore, Washington and his hometown of Boston/Cambridge.

“These places transcend their own banality to become rather fabulously beautiful,” Kramer aptly asserted. For Kramer, meeting Minor White was pivotal. He enrolled in one of White’s classes while earning a Master’s Degree in Electric Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (completed in 1968). On the basis of some pictures he had made for his high school yearbook, White allowed him to enter his advanced class in photography at M.I.T. and ultimately became Kramer’s mentor. He studied with White for five years beginning in 1967 and it was White’s insistence that his students strive for original vision in their work as much as excellent technique that was crucial to Kramer’s development as an artist.

He was the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts in both 1975 and 1979. From 1970 until 1981, Kramer was on the faculty of the School of Architecture at the University of Maryland, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in still photography. During the 1980s, he also had a flourishing practice as an architectural and commercial photographer in Washington, D.C. He has served on the staff of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum since 1987, heading up its Information Office and overseeing its technological initiatives for exhibitions and national outreach, as well as creating photographs for its archives and exhibits. Among collections in which Arnold Kramer is represented include: Birmingham Museum of Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, National Museum of American Art, Addison Gallery of American Art and The Baltimore Museum of Art.

Press release from the Joseph Bellows Gallery Cited 04/03/2019

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer graphic

 

Arnold Kramer picture construction graphic

 

 

Joseph Bellows Gallery
7661 Girrard Avenue
La Jolla, California
Phone: 858 456 5620

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Friday, 10am – 5pm, and Saturday by appointment

Joseph Bellows Gallery website

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27
Apr
18

Exhibition: ‘In the Beginning: Minor White’s Oregon Photographs’ at the Portland Art Museum Phase 1, Part 2

Exhibition dates: 9th December 2017 – 6th May 2018

Curated by Julia Dolan PhD, the Minor White Curator of Photography

 

Over two postings, Phase 1 of this exhibition which features one of the greatest collections of early photographs by Minor White!

View Part 1 of the posting

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Dock)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Dock)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

 

Catching fire

It is a memorable experience to be able to observe a great artist experimenting with his craft, which is exactly what MW is doing in the photographs in these two postings. Here is an artist at the start of the path, honing his skills as a “creative photographer”: for these are creative, public photographs not expressive, private ones.

The photographs are a strange mix… part modernism, part romanticism, with a large dose of Pictorialism (dare I mention the word!) thrown in for good measure. I can see influences of the night work of Brassaï; the architectural photographs of Charles Sheeler; the photographs of Albert Renger-Patzsch and the German New Objectivity; the urban and urbane photographs of Walker Evans (The Customer, c. 1939 and Joseph, Oregon (Joseph Cemetery) c. 1940 below); the spatiality, surrealism and detail of Eugene Atget’s Paris photographs; and the landscape work of Ansel Adams. Overlay these influences with feelings of spirituality, sexuality and the atmosphere of place and you have a heady mix. And yet these photographs are purely his own.

What a time MW was having when he made these photographs. There were no limits to where he could point his camera.

As I talk to my friend and mentor about photography, we have brave conversations about artists, vision, looking, previsualisation, representation, the print, and more generally life, words, spirit. He observed of this group of photographs:

.
“There were things that looked like photographs that other people had made.
There were things that were naively interesting to him for what they were.
There were things that allowed him to experiment with ideas of metaphor.
There was a combination of subject matter and light that enabled him to touch upon a world of symbol and ritual without him ever really being confident
in that world (at this time).

There were also affirmations of how he could organise the world through his camera. He knew he was really accomplished with organising the edges of his image (particularly the right hand edge) and how this segued into the centre of his images where he hoped he could also organise subject matter – but he was not as skilled with this. He was still learning his craft.

He also knew that he could escape reality by changing scale, changing the lightness of his subject matter, changing the mood of his images with print colour (cold events printed warm) and then affirming the mood of his images with print colour. He knew there must be more with how he printed – was he beginning to understand that there his knowledge of printing chemistry could also be applied to film chemistry? Maybe there was an inkling of this but he was never extremely skilful with this. And he was not trying to expose and change film development techniques according to the subject matter – but there were emerging confused questions about this that would be exceptionally refined later.

I don’t think he applied labels like modernist or romantic to himself – but he was burningly aware of his authorship – and it excited him to the bone. Sometimes he was aware that he was walking an edge between various worlds and this was starting to take a form where he was both teacher and student – he could sense it starting to appear in his images and this made him secretly full of delight.”

.
My friend has such a tremendous knowledge of the work of MW and of photography and life in general. I most appreciate the passing on of these observations to me. You really can feel that the artist is walking an edge between various worlds and that the photographs embody a critical shift in consciousness, from “truth in appearances” to a longing for transcendence. The work is full of symbolic and metaphorical allusions/illusions.

That MW’s photographs still offer these affirmations to the viewer nigh on 80 years later show’s the intensity of their visualisation. They are a gift from the cosmos to one human being and back to the cosmos (in the form of an ensō, or Zen circle), and should be accepted as such.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

“A banquet of frustration”: Minor White penned the phrase in 1939, after reading T. S. Eliot’s 1922 poem The Waste Land. “I perceived that if one could put out the energy to produce a banquet of frustration, then frustration had power,” White commented. “It was worth pursuing.”1

“The duplicity one senses in White’s career, in both his writing and his images, stems certainly from this frustration about sexuality (as Peter Bunnell has written,”White’s sexuality underlies the whole of the autobiographical statement contained in his work”), but it also mirrors a much larger countertradition found within modernism itself, a romantic tradition that draws from Romanticism, Symbolism, Dada, and Surrealism. More specifically, White’s frustration coincides with the collapse of modernist ideals during the postwar era. This passage in the history of photography, if examined at all, is normally pinned to the arid vision of Robert Frank. Aesthetically, White’s vision was less dark than Frank’s, and in no sense nihilistic. Yet White’s work embodies a critical shift in consciousness, from the heroic modernist notion of “truth in appearances” toward the acknowledgment – and even the cultivation – of illusion, deception, and buried meanings. White’s banquet of frustration would look like a tea setting compared to the theoretical abattoirs of generations of later artists; nevertheless, the historical narrative of photographic modernism’s dissolution owes an early chapter to White and his longing for transcendence, which he seems not to have attained.”

Extracts from Kevin Moore. “Cruising and Transcendence in the Photographs of Minor White,” on the Aperture website [Online] Cited 27/04/2018

 

  1. Minor White. “Memorable Fancies,” 1932-1937 quoted in Peter C. Bunnell. Minor White: The Eye That Shapes. Princeton and Boston: The Art Museum, Princeton University; Bulfinch/Little Brown, 1989, p. 19.

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Propeller)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Propeller)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Freight Depot' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Freight Depot
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Girder)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Girder)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Portland Lumber Mills)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Portland Lumber Mills)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Log Boom' c. 1940

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Log Boom
c. 1940
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Boats at Dock' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Boats at Dock
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'East Side of Willamette' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
East Side of Willamette
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Boards' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Boards
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Lily Pads and Pike' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Lily Pads and Pike
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'The Patch' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
The Patch
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Horsetail and Skunk Cabbage' 1940

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Horsetail and Skunk Cabbage
1940
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Tree Root' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Tree Root
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Detail (California Foundry)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Detail (California Foundry)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Detail (227 Southeast Front Street)' 1938

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Detail (227 Southeast Front Street)
1938
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Front and Burnside' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Front and Burnside
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Ladd and Tilton Bank (1868 Southwest First and Stark Streets)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Ladd and Tilton Bank (1868 Southwest First and Stark Streets)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Pioneer Post Office and Portland Hotel Gate' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Pioneer Post Office and Portland Hotel Gate
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Southwest Fourth and Salmon Streets, Courthouse' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Southwest Fourth and Salmon Streets, Courthouse
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Kamm Building (Southwest Pine near First Avenue)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Kamm Building (Southwest Pine near First Avenue)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Fifth at Yamhill (Public Service Building)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Fifth at Yamhill (Public Service Building)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'New on Old (Southeast Corner, First and Burnside)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
New on Old (Southeast Corner, First and Burnside)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'The Iron Fronts' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
The Iron Fronts
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Front Street' 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Front Street
1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Arches of the Dodd Building (Southwest Front Avenue and Ankeny Street)' 1938

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Arches of the Dodd Building (Southwest Front Avenue and Ankeny Street)
1938
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, no known copyright restrictions

 

 

In 1939 White was living at the Portland YMCA, where he had organised a camera club and had built a darkroom and modest gallery for exhibiting pictures. White’s photographs from this period concentrate on the environs of Portland, particularly the area of the commercial waterfront, which was undergoing demolition for redevelopment. Hired by the Oregon Art Project, an arm of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), White trawled the city’s Front Avenue neighbourhood, documenting the nineteenth-century buildings with cast-iron façades that were about to be torn down. White’s photographs are anything but clinical. His street views, many taken at night, have a ghostlike quality, with the occasional lone figure haunting the wet pavement; boarded-up doorways are cast in deep shadow; and mercantile objects, heaped onto the sidewalk before emptied warehouses, take on a forlorn anthropological character.

Among these pictures is a group of five depicting a handsome young man leaning in a doorway on Front Avenue. He is dressed like a labourer in jeans, work shirt, and boots, but there is something of the dandy in the raffish positioning of the man’s newsie cap, the tight cut of his trousers, pulled high and cinched at the waist, and the studied nonchalance of his pose. In one image, his hand is shoved into a pocket, leaving the index finger exposed and pointing downward toward a prominent bulge. Most importantly, he gazes – not at the photographer but down the street – intently and expectantly, as if anticipating something that has not yet come into view. A second photograph shows the man from behind, revealing the nape of his neck, a pair of rounded buttocks, and white stains splashed down the right thigh of his trousers. The pose suggests that he is urinating in this abject doorway with its peeling paint and debris underfoot; he could be taken for a plasterer relieving himself during a break. Another image, taken in a different boarded-up doorway, shows the man leaning with one arm raised and smiling coyly (again, not at the photographer), with his thumbs slipped under his belt and his fingers cupped, calling attention once again to his bulge. An “Air Circus” poster behind him advertises “Tex Rankin and other famous flyers” as well as “stunts” and “thrills.”

The scene is both explicit and coded, even to contemporary eyes. This handsome loitering man might have been taken by certain passersby for an ordinary labourer, on break or looking for work. Others might have recognised him as a man looking for sex (or for another kind of work) with other men. White’s sexual interest in men and his approach to looking at things “for what else they are” stratify the two narratives, establishing layers of meaning on parallel planes. This man is both a labourer and a cruising homosexual. He is, then, just what the photographic image in general would come to signify for White: a common trace from the visible world, transformed into another set of charged meanings.

.
Extract from Kevin Moore. “Cruising and Transcendence in the Photographs of Minor White,” on the Aperture website [Online] Cited 27/04/2018

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Doorway, Dodd Building' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Doorway, Dodd Building
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

 

White’s earlier Portland series, by contrast, is the darker product of a romantic turn of mind and conveys not the affirmative, civic-minded Whitman of poems such as “A Broadway Pageant” but the melancholy, searching Whitman of the “Calamus” poems. In Portland, we see White engaging Front Avenue for its sense of mystery and possibility, an investigation among darkened doorways and in the silhouettes of passing strangers for moments of revelation. More than simply a celebration of the manifold aspects of the city, the desired charge might be specified as the possibility of an erotic connection, however ephemeral, as proposed by Whitman in “City of Orgies”:

City of orgies, walks and joys,
City whom that I have lived and sung in your midst will one
   day make you illustrious,
Not the pageants of you, not your shifting tableaus, your
   spectacles, repay me,
Not the interminable rows of your houses, nor the ships
   at the wharves,
Nor the processions in the streets, nor the bright windows
   with goods in them,
Nor to converse with learn’d persons, or bear my share in
   the soiree or feast;
Not those, but as I pass O Manhattan, your frequent and
   swift flash of eyes offering me love,
Offering response to my own—these repay me, 
Lovers, continual lovers, only repay me.

.
Extract from Kevin Moore. “Cruising and Transcendence in the Photographs of Minor White,” on the Aperture website [Online] Cited 27/04/2018

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Pilaster and Hood Molding, Dodd Building (Southwest Front and Ankeny)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Pilaster and Hood Molding, Dodd Building (Southwest Front and Ankeny)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Door of Iron - First Brick Building in Portland, 1852 (Ladd and Tilton Building)' 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Door of Iron – First Brick Building in Portland, 1852 (Ladd and Tilton Building)
1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'China Town' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
China Town
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Morrison Bridge - Winter' 1938

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Morrison Bridge – Winter
1938
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'St. Johns Bridge' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
St. Johns Bridge
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Catherine Creek' c. 1941

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Catherine Creek
c. 1941
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Joseph, Oregon (Joseph Cemetery)' c. 1940

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Joseph, Oregon (Joseph Cemetery)
c. 1940
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Hurricane Creek (Trees and Rock)' 1941

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Hurricane Creek (Trees and Rock)
1941
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Ice Lake' 1940

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Ice Lake
1940
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'The Customer' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
The Customer
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) '1323-29 Southwest First Avenue' 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
1323-29 Southwest First Avenue
1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Young Man)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Young Man)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Shipmates Visit the Photographer' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Shipmates Visit the Photographer
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Woman Sitting)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Woman Sitting)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Man Praying)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Man Praying)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

 

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Portland, OR 97205

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15
Apr
18

Exhibition: ‘In the Beginning: Minor White’s Oregon Photographs’ at the Portland Art Museum Phase 1, Part 1

Exhibition dates: 9th December 2017 – 6th May 2018

Curated by Julia Dolan PhD, the Minor White Curator of Photography

 

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Union Station Loading Platform)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Union Station Loading Platform)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

 

Phase 1 of this exhibition, over two postings on Art Blart, features one of the greatest collections of early photographs by Minor White!

In this posting it’s so nice to see the great man metaphorically getting his hands dirty – feet in the water, hand cupped to the eye looking through it to gauge the composition (his previsualisation), before getting under the black cloth to make final adjustments to his 4 x 5 view camera.

Other things to note in the Minor White During a Workshop photographs of MW using his camera are this:

  • MW has tilted forward the front of the camera to extend the depth of field that recedes away from him, for example the sand or the surface of the water
  • MW has also raised the front of the camera slightly
  • MW is using a large Majestic tripod
  • MW is possibly using a Weston light meter, for which he gave specific instructions in the first edition of his Zone System manual. The light meter can be seen still in it’s leather case with hanging strap in various images, with MW’s thumb on the dial in two images. In one image you can see him calculating his light meter exposure
  • His glasses case is in his top shirt pocket, and he is wearing a well used hat (so important when taking photographs) with sweat stains on its brim

.
In these valuable pictures, the 51 year-old Minor White is making tiny adjustments to the camera movements to control the depth of field.

Paul Caponigro, a student of Minor White, observed that watching MW use the view camera was more than instructive, it was a joy. The very last sentence in the Fourth Sequence colophon reinforces the notion that the camera’s strongest point was its photographic authenticity, that is, a faithful camera technique leads to an authentic photograph, or to authenticity.1

“For technical data – the camera was faithfully used.” ~ MW

Further comment on the photographs in Part 2 of the posting.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Andrew E. Hershberger. “White’s Theory of Sequential Photography,” in Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka (ed.,). Analecta Husserliana: The Yearbook of Phenomenological Research Vol. LXXXVII. Human Creation Between Reality and Illusion. Springer, 2005, p. 212.

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

 

 

Maxwell Allara (American, born Italy, 1906-1981) 'Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)' 1959

 

Maxwell Allara (American born Italy, 1906-1981)
Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)
1959
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the artist by his family: Helen D. Allara, Morgan F. Allara, and Mitchell W. Allara
© Maxwell Allara

 

Maxwell Allara (American, born Italy, 1906-1981) 'Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)' 1959

 

Maxwell Allara (American born Italy, 1906-1981)
Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)
1959
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the artist by his family: Helen D. Allara, Morgan F. Allara, and Mitchell W. Allara
© Maxwell Allara

 

Maxwell Allara (American, born Italy, 1906-1981) 'Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)' 1959

 

Maxwell Allara (American born Italy, 1906-1981)
Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)
1959
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the artist by his family: Helen D. Allara, Morgan F. Allara, and Mitchell W. Allara
© Maxwell Allara

 

Maxwell Allara (American, born Italy, 1906-1981) 'Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)' 1959

 

Maxwell Allara (American born Italy, 1906-1981)
Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)
1959
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the artist by his family: Helen D. Allara, Morgan F. Allara, and Mitchell W. Allara
© Maxwell Allara

 

Maxwell Allara (American, born Italy, 1906-1981) 'Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)' 1959

 

Maxwell Allara (American born Italy, 1906-1981)
Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)
1959
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the artist by his family: Helen D. Allara, Morgan F. Allara, and Mitchell W. Allara
© Maxwell Allara

 

Maxwell Allara (American, born Italy, 1906-1981) 'Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)' 1959

 

Maxwell Allara (American born Italy, 1906-1981)
Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)
1959
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the artist by his family: Helen D. Allara, Morgan F. Allara, and Mitchell W. Allara
© Maxwell Allara

 

Maxwell Allara (American, born Italy, 1906-1981) 'Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)' 1959

 

Maxwell Allara (American born Italy, 1906-1981)
Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)
1959
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the artist by his family: Helen D. Allara, Morgan F. Allara, and Mitchell W. Allara
© Maxwell Allara

 

Maxwell Allara (American, born Italy, 1906-1981) 'Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)' 1959

 

Maxwell Allara (American born Italy, 1906-1981)
Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)
1959
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the artist by his family: Helen D. Allara, Morgan F. Allara, and Mitchell W. Allara
© Maxwell Allara

 

Maxwell Allara (American, born Italy, 1906-1981) 'Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)' 1959

 

Maxwell Allara (American born Italy, 1906-1981)
Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)
1959
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the artist by his family: Helen D. Allara, Morgan F. Allara, and Mitchell W. Allara
© Maxwell Allara

 

Maxwell Allara (American, born Italy, 1906-1981) 'Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)' 1959

 

Maxwell Allara (American born Italy, 1906-1981)
Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)
1959
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the artist by his family: Helen D. Allara, Morgan F. Allara, and Mitchell W. Allara
© Maxwell Allara

 

Maxwell Allara (American, born Italy, 1906-1981) 'Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)' 1959

 

Maxwell Allara (American born Italy, 1906-1981)
Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)
1959
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the artist by his family: Helen D. Allara, Morgan F. Allara, and Mitchell W. Allara
© Maxwell Allara

 

Maxwell Allara (American, born Italy, 1906-1981) 'Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)' 1959

 

Maxwell Allara (American born Italy, 1906-1981)
Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)
1959
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the artist by his family: Helen D. Allara, Morgan F. Allara, and Mitchell W. Allara
© Maxwell Allara

 

 

Long before co-founding Aperture magazine or establishing the groundbreaking photography program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, renowned modernist photographer Minor White (American, 1908-1976) moved to Portland, where he sowed the seeds of what would become a forceful artistic vision. This exhibition of White’s rarely exhibited early works celebrates the artist’s influence on the region, and honours the Portland Art Museum’s dedication to acquiring and exhibiting photography as the institution enters its 125th year.

In 1937, after traveling to Portland from Minnesota and taking up residence at the downtown YMCA, White joined the Oregon Camera Club, using its darkroom and library to hone his photography skills. He instituted a darkroom, education, and exhibition program at the YMCA, and in 1938 was hired as a “creative photographer” for the Oregon Art Project, a division of the federal government’s Works Progress Administration. Charged with documenting the Front Avenue buildings slated for demolition as well as the waterfront factories, he captured the beauty of iron-front facades, the distinct forms of industrial architecture, and the cultural undercurrents of a city under transition. These photographs, much more than straightforward government documents, mark a critical period in Portland’s history and hold clues to White’s mature modernist approach.

In 1942, after touring the nation, White’s WPA images returned to Portland and became the first photographs to be accessioned into the Museum’s permanent collection. That same year, the Museum gave White his first solo exhibition and commissioned him to photograph two historic Portland homes. White was drafted into the Army later that spring, and although he never returned to live in the city, his bonds to the community remained strong, resulting in multiple Oregon-based workshops in the 1950s and 1960s. To this day he remains a significant influence on photographic practice in the Northwest and beyond.

The first phase of In the Beginning (on view December 9, 2017, through May 6, 2018) presents approximately 60 photographs of waterfront industrial buildings, Portland Civic Theatre portraits, night scenes, and images of Minor White teaching workshops in Oregon during the late 1950s and early 1960s. The second phase of the exhibition (on view May 6 through October 21, 2018) will feature downtown and Front Street scenes, photographs of Eastern Oregon, and images of two historic houses that White photographed for the Museum in 1942.

Text from the Portland Art Museum website

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Plane Study' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Plane Study
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Plane Study' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Plane Study
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Grain Elevators)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Grain Elevators)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Grain Tanks' c. 1940

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Grain Tanks
c. 1940
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Grain Loading Depot' 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Grain Loading Depot
1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Elevator, Tree, Car)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Elevator, Tree, Car)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Grain Elevator from the Water)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Grain Elevator from the Water)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Ship and Grain Elevator)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Ship and Grain Elevator)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Dagmar Salen)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Dagmar Salen)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Water Street, Portland' 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Water Street, Portland
1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'After the Fire Architecture (1211 Southwest First Avenue at Madison)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
After the Fire Architecture (1211 Southwest First Avenue at Madison)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (House at 27th Southwest Hall Street)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (House at 27th Southwest Hall Street)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Houses at Hall and First Street)' 1940

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Houses at Hall and First Street)
1940
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Jacobs House (Jacobs-Dolph House, Southwest Park and Montgomery)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Jacobs House (Jacobs-Dolph House, Southwest Park and Montgomery)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (St. Mary's Academy, Third Avenue Entrance)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (St. Mary’s Academy, Third Avenue Entrance)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Beach and Pilings)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Beach and Pilings)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Portland' 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Portland
1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Hand Forge' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Hand Forge
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Sawdust)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Sawdust)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Municipal Market, from a Barge on East Side of the River)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Municipal Market, from a Barge on East Side of the River)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Pier B Municipal Terminal No. 1)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Pier B Municipal Terminal No. 1)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Design (Portland Dry Docks)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Design (Portland Dry Docks)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Design' 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Design
1939
Gelatin silver print
Image: 13 1/2 in x 10 3/8 in
Sheet: 13 1/2 in x 10 3/8 in
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration. Commissioned through the New Deal art projects

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Design (Cable and Chain)' c. 1940

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Design (Cable and Chain)
c. 1940
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

 

Portland Art Museum
1219 SW Park Avenue
Portland, OR 97205

Opening hours:
Tues – Wed, Sat – Sun 10am – 5pm
Thurs – Fri 10am – 8pm
Closed Monday

Portland Art Museum website

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06
Dec
17

Photographs: Marcus Bunyan. ‘The Shape of Dreams’ 2013-2017

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 (detail)

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

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

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
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

 

 

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 LARGER IMAGES

Photographs are available from this series for purchase. As a guide, a digital colour 16″ x 20″ costs $1000 plus tracked and insured shipping. For more information please see my Store web page.

 

 

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 (Australian, b. 1958)
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 (Australian, b. 1958)
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.

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 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.

.
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.

 

 

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

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Vicinity of Rochester, New York
1954
Gelatin silver print
18.4 x 23.2cm (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

 

 

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 website (Blake Andrews. “Book Review: Manifestations of the Spirit,” on the photo-eye blog website October 6, 2014 [Online] Cited 26/06/2021). 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 flavour 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 “internalised, 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

 

** 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.”

Sarah Moore. “The Minor White Archive proof cards,” on the Princeton University Art Museum website 2014 [Online] Cited 26/06/2021

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

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Stony Brook State Park, New York
1960
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 24.1cm (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 (American, 1908-1976)
72 N. Union Street, Rochester, New York
1960
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 24.1cm (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 (American, 1908-1976)
The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Pultneyville, New York
1957
Gelatin silver print
24.4 x 25.1cm (9 5/8 x 9 7/8 in.)
Purchased in part with funds provided by Daniel Greenberg, Susan Steinhauser, and the Greenberg Foundation
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

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

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Haags Alley, Rochester, New York
1960
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 24.1cm (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 (American, 1908-1976)
Tom Murphy, San Francisco, California
1948
Gelatin silver print
12.5 x 10cm (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 (American, 1908-1976)
72 N. Union Street, Rochester, New York
1958
Gelatin silver print
26.7 x 29.2cm (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 organised 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 organising 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 organised by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1971.

Beginning in the late 1960s and continuing until the early 1970s, White organised 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 (American, 1908-1976)
Navarro River, California
1947
Gelatin silver print
35.6 x 45.7cm (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 (American, 1908-1976)
Nude Foot, San Francisco, California
Negative, 1947; print, 1975
Gelatin silver print
22.9 x 30.5cm (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 (American, 1908-1976)
Pavilion, New York
1957
Gelatin silver print
22.5 x 29.5cm (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 (American, 1908-1976)
Cabbage Hill, Oregon (Grande Ronde Valley)
1941
Gelatin silver print
18 x 22.9cm (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 (American, 1908-1976)
Self-Portrait, West Bloomfield, New York
1957
Gelatin silver print
17.8 x 20.6cm (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.

.
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 (American, 1908-1976)
Point Lobos, California
1948
Gelatin silver print
16.8 x 19.5cm (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 (American, 1908-1976)
San Francisco, California
1949
Gelatin silver print
18.5 x 18.7cm (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 (American, 1908-1976)
Vicinity of Dansville, New York
Negative, 1955; print, 1975
Gelatin silver print
22.9 x 30.5cm (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 (American, 1908-1976)
Images 9 and 10 in the bound sequence The Temptation of Saint Anthony Is Mirrors
1948
Gelatin silver prints
9.3 x 11.8cm; 11.2 x 9.1cm
The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Minor White
© Trustees of Princeton University

(bottom)
Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Images 27 and 28 in the bound sequence The Temptation of Saint Anthony Is Mirrors
1948
Gelatin silver prints
5.3 x 11.6cm; 10.6 x 8.9cm
The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Minor White
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Rochester, New York' 1963

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Rochester, New York
1963
Gelatin silver print
9.2 x 7.3cm (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 (American, 1908-1976)
“Something Died Here,” San Francisco, California
1947
Gelatin silver print
22.8 x 17.5cm (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 (American, 1908-1976)
Dodd Building, Portland, Oregon
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
34.3 x 26.7cm (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 (American, 1908-1976)
San Mateo County, California / Leonard Nelson, Vicinity of Stinson Beach, Marin County, California, November 1947
1947
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 50.8cm (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 (American, 1908-1976)
Lily Pads and Pike, Portland, Oregon
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
34 x 26.8cm (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 (American, 1908-1976)
Design (Cable and Chain), Portland, Oregon
c. 1940
Gelatin silver print
33.8 x 25.8cm (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 (American, 1908-1976)
Peeled Paint, Rochester, New York
1959
Gelatin silver print
31.1 x 22.9cm (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 (American, 1908-1976)
Empty Head, 72 N. Union Street, Rochester, New York
1962
Gelatin silver print
30 x 23cm (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 (American, 1908-1976)
Burned Mirror, Rochester, New York
1959
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 22cm (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 (American, 1908-1976)
Essence of Boat, Lanesville, Massachusetts
1967
Gelatin silver print
31.8 x 23.8cm (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 (American, 1908-1976)
Ivy, Portland, Oregon
Negative,1964; print, 1975
Gelatin silver print
22.9 x 30.5cm (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 (American, 1908-1976)
72 N. Union Street, Rochester, New York
1960
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 24.1cm (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 (American, 1908-1976)
Moencopi Strata, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
1962
Gelatin silver print
32.7 x 24.1cm (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 (American, 1908-1976)
Windowsill Daydreaming, Rochester, New York
1958
Gelatin silver print
24.4 x 25.1cm (9 5/8 x 9 7/8 in.)
Purchased in part with funds provided by Daniel Greenberg, Susan Steinhauser, and the Greenberg Foundation
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Notom, Utah' 1963

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Notom, Utah
1963
Gelatin silver print
39.4 x 31.1cm (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 (American, 1908-1976)
Gloucester, Massachusetts
1973
Gelatin silver print
21.6 x 29.2cm (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 (American, 1908-1976)
Batavia, New York
1958
Gelatin silver print
34 x 20.3cm (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 (American, 1908-1976)
Night Icicle, 72 N. Union Street, Rochester, New York
1959
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 23cm (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 (American, 1908-1976)
203 Park Ave., Arlington, Massachusetts
1966
Gelatin silver print
34.3 x 12.7cm (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 (American, 1908-1976)
Easter Sunday, Stony Brook State Park, New York
1963
Gelatin silver print
23.7 x 9.2cm (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 (American, 1908-1976)
Mission District, San Francisco, California
1949
Gelatin silver print
33.8 x 9.5cm (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

 

Joyce Evans. 'Wilcannia, New South Wales' 1990

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019)
Wilcannia, New South Wales
1990
Silver gelatin photograph
© Joyce Evans

 

 

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 paleontological existence in Mount Bulla Ferns, Victoria (1996, below) is particularly 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

.
Marcus is a friend of Joyce Evans.

 

Footnotes

  1. Prouty, Richard. “The Optical Unconscious,” on the One-Way Street blog, October 16th 2009 [Online] Cited 20th October 2013.
  2. Ibid.,
  3. Flores, Victor. “Optical unconscious,” on the Fundação Côa Parque website [Online] Cited 20th October 2013 no longer available online
  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.,

.
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.

 

 

Joyce Evans. 'Wilcannia, New South Wales' 1990

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019)
Wilcannia, New South Wales
1990
Silver gelatin photograph
© Joyce Evans

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019) 'Holden, Victoria' 1990

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019)
Holden, Victoria
1990
Silver gelatin photograph
© Joyce Evans

 

 

“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

 

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

 

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

 

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
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

View of the Widelux F7 camera

View of the Widelux F7 camera

 

Two views of the Widelux F7 camera

 

Shaune Lakin, Director of the Monash Gallery of Art, speaking to the photographer Joyce Evans

 

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

 

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019) 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

 

Joyce Evans. 'Bin, Toorak, Victoria' 1990

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019)
Bin, Toorak, Victoria
1990
Silver gelatin photograph
© Joyce Evans

 

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

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019)
Anzses Trip, Talaringa Springs, Great Victorian Desert, South Australia
1993
Silver gelatin photograph
© Joyce Evans

 

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

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019)
Pine Barbed Wire Fence and Orchard, Tyabb, Mornington Peninsula
1992
Silver gelatin photograph
© Joyce Evans

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019) 'Mount Bulla Ferns, Victoria' 1996

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019)
Mount Bulla Ferns, Victoria
1996
Silver gelatin photograph
© Joyce Evans

 

 

Monash Gallery of Art
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Victoria 3150 Australia
Phone: + 61 3 8544 0500

Opening hours:
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17
Jun
13

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

June 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.

 

 

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

 

Johsel Namkung (Korean American, 1919-2013)
Big Meadow, Washington Pass, Washington September, 2000
2000

 

 

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

.
Johsel Namkung

 

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

.
Mark Tobey

 

“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 recognise 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.”

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

 

 

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 colours. 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

.
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

.
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.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

  • 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

 

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 honours 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.”

 

 

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

 

Johsel Namkung (Korean American, 1919-2013)
Cougar Lake, Oregon June 1991
1991

 

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

 

Johsel Namkung (Korean American, 1919-2013)
Rainy Pass, Washington July, 1989
1989

 

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

 

Johsel Namkung (Korean American, 1919-2013)
Picture Lake, Mount Baker, Washington July 1979
1979

 

 

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 favourite 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

 

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

 

Johsel Namkung (Korean American, 1919-2013)
Steptoe Butte, Washington January, 1989
1989

 

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

 

Johsel Namkung (Korean American, 1919-2013)
Oak Creek, Washington March, 1991
1991

 

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

 

Johsel Namkung (Korean American, 1919-2013)
Steptoe Butte, Washington October, 1977
1977

 

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

 

Johsel Namkung (Korean American, 1919-2013)
Steptoe Butte, Washington October, 1983
1983

 

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

 

Johsel Namkung (Korean American, 1919-2013)
Denali National Park, Alaska September, 1987
1987

 

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

 

Johsel Namkung (Korean American, 1919-2013)
Arrigetch, Alaska September, 1980
1980

 

 

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 colour 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 organisations – 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 colour 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 colour 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 organised 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 emphasising 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

.
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.

 

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

 

Johsel Namkung (Korean American, 1919-2013)
Shi Shi Beach Buoy, Olympic National Park, Washington August, 1981
1981

 

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

 

Johsel Namkung (Korean American, 1919-2013)
Bissell, Washington December, 1981
1981

 

Johsel Namkung. 'Alaska Lichens, Date Unknown' Nd

 

Johsel Namkung (Korean American, 1919-2013)
Alaska Lichens, Date Unknown
Nd

 

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

 

Johsel Namkung (Korean American, 1919-2013)
Blue Mountain, Olympic National Park, Washington September, 1976
1976

 

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

 

Johsel Namkung (Korean American, 1919-2013)
Weston Beach, Point Lobos, California May, 1988
1988

 

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

 

Johsel Namkung (Korean American, 1919-2013)
Frenchman Coulee, Washington May, 2002
2002

 

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

 

Johsel Namkung (Korean American, 1919-2013)
Kalaloch Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington October, 1984
1984

 

Joshel Namkung on Hurricane Ridge

 

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

 

 

Johsel Namkung • A Retrospective website

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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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
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.

 

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

 

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

 

 

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.

 

Fiona Hall. 'Leura, New South Wales' 1974

 

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

 

 

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.

 

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

 

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

 

 

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.

 

David Stephenson (USA/Australia, b. 1955) 'Sant’ivo alla Sapienza 1645-50 Rome, Italy' 1997

 

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

 

 

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.

 

 

“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

 

Olive Cotton (Australia, 1911-2003) 'By my window' 1930

 

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

 

Olive Cotton. 'Skeleton Leaf' 1964

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Minor White. 'Windowsill daydreaming' 1958

 

Minor White (America, 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

 

 

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 Frizot, M. (ed.,). A new history of photography, Könemann, Cologne pp. 669-73.

 

 

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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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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