Posts Tagged ‘mise en scène

21
Feb
17

Exhibition: ‘Film Stills: Photography between Advertising, Art and the Cinema’ at Albertina, Vienna

Exhibition dates: 4th November 2016 – 26th February 2017

 

I seem to have a bit of a thing for film and photography at the moment!

More delicious film fascination, this time for the still camera. German Expressionism, film noir, science-fiction, horror, murder and mayhem – photographers using all manner of artistic techniques to get their message across. Now often found in fine art auction houses.

I love the heading “Intermediality and Self-Reflexivity” … “intermediate images” that unite aspects of both media (film and photography) and self-reflexive images that take on a life of their own, developing “a filmic work further in an independent manner, thereby allowing it to be regarded from new perspectives. Such stills often contain self-reflexive commentary on the work’s specifically “filmic” aspects.”

Sensitive, sensual, snapshot; stars and auteurism; murder and mayhem; avant-garde, beauty and sex – it has it all. Great stuff.

Marcus

PS. Look at the amazing colours in Horst von Harbou’s stills for Metropolis (1927) which were produced as transparent foils and elaborately coloured by hand. Never heard of such a thing before, coloured transparent foils.

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

 

 

Anonymous. 'La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc' 1927

 

Anonymous
La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc
1927
Karl Theodor Dreyer (director)

 

 

Carl Theodor Dreyer (3 February 1889 – 20 March 1968), commonly known as Carl Th. Dreyer, was a Danish film director. He is regarded by many critics and filmmakers as one of the greatest directors in cinema. His best known films include The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), Vampyr (1932), Day of Wrath (1943), Ordet (1955), and Gertrud (1964) …

As a young man, Dreyer worked as a journalist, but he eventually joined the film industry as a writer of title cards for silent films and subsequently of screenplays. He was initially hired by Nordisk Film in 1913.

His first attempts at film direction had limited success, and he left Denmark to work in the French film industry. While living in France he met Jean Cocteau, Jean Hugo and other members of the French artistic scene and in 1928 he made his first classic film, The Passion of Joan of Arc. Working from the transcripts of Joan’s trial, he created a masterpiece of emotion that drew equally on realism and expressionism.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

 

 

Who doesn’t know them: that picture from The Seven-Year Itch of a smiling Marilyn Monroe with her white dress blown upward by the air from a subway grate, or the photo of a conspiratorial James Stewart in Rear Window? Regardless of whether one has seen the actual movies, such images are familiar. It’s film stills like these that have burnt themselves into the collective memory and had a major impact on how their films are perceived.

Film stills embody visual traces of films as well as independent photographic images. Taken on set during production, they are based on an elaborate process in which film photographers re-stage film scenes for the still camera.

In the first-ever major exhibition devoted to this hybrid genre, the Albertina is showing 130 film stills taken between 1902 and 1975 in cooperation with the Austrian Film Museum. That was the period during which black-and-white film stills reached their highest level of technical and aesthetic quality, simultaneously covering a sweeping cross-section of various artistic movements from photographic and cinematic history such as Pictorialism and Expressionism. Employing pictures by Deborah Imogen Beer, Horst von Harbou, Pierluigi Praturlon, Karl Struss, and others, three aspects of this genre’s intermedial relationships are highlighted: the functions performed by film stills, the interfaces between photography and film with their breaks and couplings, and the additional artistic value of still photographs as such.

 

For the Media and the Press

The purpose of film stills is clearly defined: as material for the press and various types of advertising, they help to market films. And alongside their use in trailers, film journalism, and other marketing tools such as posters, film stills also represent a key ingredient of audience expectations pertaining to a film upon its release. Even so, it is the production of visually appealing images – rather than authentic reproduction of the film itself – that is important, here. In display windows and the media, still images visualise different aspects of a production ranging from key scenes to the actual filming work. This motivic variety corresponds to various film still categories: portrait photos of the actors and actresses taken by in-house studio photographers, as well as scene photos and making-of photos, are used in these contexts. And fed into numerous distribution processes, such photos also serve as models for posters, lobby cards, photo books, and press materials.

 

Intermediality and Self-Reflexivity

Film stills unite functional requirements with photographic and filmic intentions. And in fact, still photography is the only way in which to show visual traces of a production outside of the filmic event – the screening – itself. The challenges that photographers face in taking such shots lie in the difference between the media of moving (projected) film images and static (material) photography. In a complex and laborious process, they work on set to restage film scenes specifically for the still camera, thus transforming the film from a moving to a static medium.

The employment of various photographic strategies makes possible film stills’ “filmic” reception, with momentary photos that evoke a film’s dynamics being just as exemplary here as panoramic shots that require a longer look. Still photos thus repeat a film’s constituent elements, inscribing them onto a photographic medium in various ways and thus functioning as “intermediate images” that unite aspects of both media. They can be read not only as static views of a filmic reality, but also as independent types of photographic image. This quality is reinforced by the fact that stills frequently develop a filmic work further in an independent manner, thereby allowing it to be regarded from new perspectives. Such stills often contain self-reflexive commentary on the work’s specifically “filmic” aspects.

 

Film Stills at the Interface to Fine Art

Being situated between film and photography, many film stills also possess artistic qualities that are clearly photographic in nature. Here, composition plays a major role as it bears witness to a pictorial conception that differs from that of a filmic image. For while moving images are designed as horizontal arrangements, with the pictorial elements sequenced one after the other to effect their visual continuation, still photographers stage still photos according to the (static) central perspective governed by the camera’s vanishing point. This positions observers at that place which has been assigned them since the Renaissance – that is, looking straight down the picture’s central axis. Correspondingly, many stills exhibit reminiscences of the proscenium stage from traditional live theatre, favouring views that render scenes more immediate and thus more easily legible.

Photographers, in composing their images, often borrow iconographic and stylistic elements from various artistic movements: Expressionism, Art Nouveau, and Pictorialism are examples of these.

And in this way, still photographers depart from the original filmic work and realise their own pictorial ideas. Their photos thus refrain from “authentic” reproduction of a film’s various aspects, instead using these aspects to realise subjective artistic practices, thereby implying a reversal of the classic hierarchy between photography and film.

Press release from the Albertina

 

Paul Ronald. Edra Gale in 'Otto e mezzo' (Edra Gale in '8½') 1963

 

Paul Ronald
Edra Gale in Otto e mezzo (Edra Gale in)
1963
Director: Federico Fellini, 1963
Ekatchrome
© Archivio Storico del Cinema / AFE

 

 

(Italian title: Otto e mezzo) is a 1963 comedy-drama film directed by Federico Fellini. Co-scripted by Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, Ennio Flaiano, and Brunello Rondi, it stars Marcello Mastroianni as Guido Anselmi, a famous Italian film director. Shot in black-and-white by cinematographer Gianni di Venanzo, the film features a soundtrack by Nino Rota with costume and set designs by Piero Gherardi.

 

Horst von Harbou. Georg John in 'M - A City searches for a Murderer' 1931

 

Horst von Harbou
Georg John in M – A City searches for a Murderer
1931
Gelatin silver print
Austrian Theatre Museum
© Horst von Harbou – Deutsche Kinemathek

 

 

M (German: M – Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder – “M – A city looks for a murderer”) is a 1931 German drama-thriller film directed by Fritz Lang and starring Peter Lorre. It was written by Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou and was the director’s first sound film. It concerns the manhunt for a serial killer of children, conducted by both the police and the criminal underworld. Now considered a classic, the film was deemed by Fritz Lang as his finest work.

Little Elsie Beckmann leaves school, bouncing a ball on her way home. She is approached by Hans Beckert, who is whistling “In the Hall of the Mountain King” by Edvard Grieg. He offers to buy her a balloon from a blind street-vendor [above] and walks and talks with her. Elsie’s place at the dinner table remains empty, her ball is shown rolling away across a patch of grass and her balloon is lost in the telephone lines overhead.

 

Unknown artist. 'Poster for "M"' 1931

 

Unknown artist
Poster for “M”
1931
Director: Fritz Lang (Austria, 1890-1976)
Collection of La Cinémathèque française

 

 

Wall texts

Advertising pictures

Aimed at inviting the public to buy a ticket, film stills were used as advertising photographs in cinema lobbies and as press material for the media. Directors and production companies depended on them for promoting their movies, because the film as a projected moving image is immaterial and does not exist beyond the screen. Stills comprise various types of pictures that show different aspects of a movie’s production: scenes, portraits of its actresses and actors, as well as production photographs capturing its shooting.

The production of stills was based on a division of labor. In major production companies like those of Hollywood, still photographers were assigned to the companies’ advertising or publicity departments. Sometimes involving the director, these departments selected the photographs intended for publication. The promotion photographs for the movie palaces’ lobbies were published in sets of twenty to forty pictures each, which visualised characteristic aspects of the film. A wider selection of stills was used for the press. Picture editors adapted the photographs according to their purposes. We find instructions for the material’s reproduction and cropping marks indicating new image areas; retouches deleted undesired elements and changed the motif in line with the planned layout.

 

Anonymous. Still from 'Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror' 1922

 

Anonymous
Still from Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror
1922
Director: Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau
Gelatin silver print
© Deutsche Kinemathek

 

Anonymous. Still from 'The Night of the Hunter' 1954

 

Anonymous
Still from The Night of the Hunter
1954
Silver gelatin print

 

Anonymous. Robert Mitchum in 'The Night of the Hunter' 1955

 

Anonymous
Robert Mitchum in The Night of the Hunter
1955
Director: Charles Laughton
Gelatin silver print
© The John Kobal Collection

 

 

The Night of the Hunter is a 1955 American film noir directed by Charles Laughton and starring Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters and Lillian Gish. The screenplay by James Agee was based on the 1953 novel of the same name by Davis Grubb. The plot focuses on a corrupt reverend-turned-serial killer who attempts to charm an unsuspecting widow and steal $10,000 hidden by her executed husband.

The novel and film draw on the true story of Harry Powers, hanged in 1932 for the murder of two widows and three children in Clarksburg, West Virginia. The film’s lyrical and expressionistic style with its leaning on the silent era sets it apart from other Hollywood films of the 1940s and 1950s, and it has influenced later directors such as David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Terrence Malick, Jim Jarmusch, Spike Lee, and the Coen brothers.

In 1992, The Night of the Hunter was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. The influential film magazine Cahiers du cinéma selected The Night of the Hunter in 2008 as the second-best film of all time, behind Citizen Kane.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

The Night of the Hunter film poster 1955

 

The Night of the Hunter film poster 1955

 

Anonymous. Still from the film 'Vertigo, Judy behind Madeleine' 1957/58

 

Anonymous
Still from the film Vertigo, Judy behind Madeleine
1957/58
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Silver gelatin print

 

Vertigo film poster 1957/58

 

Vertigo film poster 1957/58

 

Bud Fraker (attributed to) Janet Leigh, Vera Miles and John Gavin in 'Psycho' 1960

 

Bud Fraker (attributed to)
Janet Leigh, Vera Miles and John Gavin in Psycho
1960
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Gelatin silver print
© Berlin, Deutsche Kinemathek – Paramount Pictures

 

 

Star portraits

Regarded as the supreme discipline of still photography, the portraiture of stars was an integral part of the film industry’s elaborate promotion campaigns. Productions could be effectively marketed by using actresses and actors to project their image. With the emergence of the studio system, Hollywood perfected this business strategy from the 1920s on by employing specialised portrait photographers. These photographers worked in company-owned studios and – unlike set photographers who mostly remained anonymous – were known by name. Relying on sophisticated lighting and drastic retouching, they created the aesthetic of the glamour portrait. Don English perfectly translated the lighting as it had been exactly planned by Josef von Sternberg, the director, for his film in his portrait of Marlene Dietrich for Shanghai Express (1932). Generally, domestic production companies could not afford to run their own portrait studios and were thus unable to exercise any influence on photographic products from outside. This offered both the stars and the studios a certain degree of freedom when it came to the representation and interpretation of a certain look. The photograph taken of Hedy Kiesler (later Lamarr) in her role in Gustav Machatý’s Ecstasy (1933) by the renowned studio Manassé in Vienna is one of the rare portrait stills taken on the set at that time.

 

Karl Struss. Gloria Swanson in 'Male and Female' 1919

 

Karl Struss
Gloria Swanson in Male and Female
1919
Director: Cecil B. DeMille
Gelatin silver print
© The John Kobal Foundation

 

 

Don English. Marlene Dietrich in 'Shanghai Express' 1932

 

Don English
Marlene Dietrich in Shanghai Express
1932
Director: Josef von Sternberg
Silver gelatin print

 

Raymond Cauchetier (French, born 1920) 'Jean Paul Belmondo & Jean Seberg, Paris, 1959' 1959

 

Raymond Cauchetier (French, born 1920)
Jean Paul Belmondo & Jean Seberg, Paris, 1959
1959
Still from the film Breathless
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Gelatin silver print

 

Breathless film poster 1960

 

Breathless film poster 1960

 

Anonymous. Still from the film 'Breathless' 1959

 

Anonymous
Still from the film Breathless
1959
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Gelatin silver print

 

Georges Pierre. Delphine Seyrig in 'Last Year in Marienbad' 1961

 

Georges Pierre
Delphine Seyrig in Last Year in Marienbad
1961
Director: Alain Resnais
Astor Pictures Corporation / Photofest
© Astor Pictures Corporation

 

 

Delphine Claire Beltiane Seyrig (10 April 1932 – 15 October 1990) was a Lebanese-born French stage and film actress, a film director and a feminist.

As a young woman, Seyrig studied acting at the Comédie de Saint-Étienne, training under Jean Dasté, and at Centre Dramatique de l’Est. She appeared briefly in small roles in the 1954 TV series Sherlock Holmes. In 1956, she returned to New York and studied at the Actors Studio. In 1958 she appeared in her first film, Pull My Daisy. In New York she met director Alain Resnais, who asked her to star in his film Last Year at Marienbad. Her performance brought her international recognition and she moved to Paris. Among her roles of this period is the older married woman in François Truffaut’s Baisers volés (1968).

During the 1960s and 1970s, Seyrig worked with directors including Truffaut, Luis Buñuel, Marguerite Duras, and Fred Zinnemann, as well as Resnais. She achieved recognition for both her stage and film work, and was named best actress at the Venice Film Festival for her role in Resnais’ Muriel ou Le temps d’un retour (1963). She played many diverse roles, and because she was fluent in French, English and German, she appeared in films in all three languages, including a number of Hollywood productions.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

L’Année dernière à Marienbad (released in the US as Last Year at Marienbad and in the UK as Last Year in Marienbad) is a 1961 French-Italian film directed by Alain Resnais from a screenplay by Alain Robbe-Grillet.

Last Year at Marienbad is famous for its enigmatic narrative structure, in which truth and fiction are difficult to distinguish, and the temporal and spatial relationship of the events is open to question, even if it never quite ventures into surrealism. The film’s dreamlike nature has both fascinated and baffled viewers; many have hailed the work as a masterpiece, while others consider it incomprehensible.

At a social gathering at a château or baroque hotel, a man approaches a woman. He claims they met the year before at Marienbad and is convinced that she is waiting there for him. The woman insists they have never met. A second man, who may be the woman’s husband, repeatedly asserts his dominance over the first man, including beating him several times at a mathematical game (a version of Nim). Through ambiguous flashbacks and disorienting shifts of time and location, the film explores the relationships among the characters. Conversations and events are repeated in several places in the château and grounds, and there are numerous tracking shots of the château’s corridors, with ambiguous voiceovers. The characters are unnamed in the film; in the published screenplay, the woman is referred to as “A”, the first man is “X”, and the man who may be her husband is “M”.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

L'Année dernière à Marienbad Japanese film poster 1961

 

L’Année dernière à Marienbad Japanese film poster 1961

 

 

Artistic pictures

Until the 1950s still photographers used large-format plate cameras, which projected an inverted image onto the focusing screen at the back of the body. These cameras produced technically brilliant pictures, yet were complicated to handle because of their size and comparatively long exposure times. The staging of stills had to be meticulously planned and was fundamentally different from the shooting of a film. While the film camera is geared to the story in motion and its visual continuation in the pictures to follow, actresses and actors posed for the photographer in tableaux-vivants-like arrangements using additional light. The resultant static and apparently artificial compositions mirroring the performative staging process are typical of this kind of photographs. Still photographers drew inspiration from works of art for their mise-en-scène. The anonymous photographer in charge of the stills for Henrik Galeen’s The Student of Prague (1926) quotes the Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich’s works in his theatrical presentation of an atmospheric landscape. Horst von Harbou, who frequently worked with the director Fritz Lang, drew on Carl Otto Czeschka’s Jugendstil [Art Noveau] illustrations from 1908 for his stills accompanying the first part of Die Nibelungen (1924). Harbou translated ornamental motifs into two-dimensional pictures, as Czeschka had done before him. Presenting their pictures in exhibitions and providing fine-art prints, still photographers positioned their works as artistically independent achievements.

 

Anonymous. Werner Krauss in 'The Student of Prague' 1926

 

Anonymous
Werner Krauss in The Student of Prague
1926
Gelatin silver print
Austrian Theatre Museum

 

Anonymous. Werner Krauss in 'The Student of Prague' 1926 (detail)

 

Anonymous
Werner Krauss in The Student of Prague (detail)
1926
Gelatin silver print
Austrian Theatre Museum

 

 

Intermediate pictures

The difficulty in capturing the scene of a movie in a still lies in the difference between the two media of (moving) film and (static) photograph. Still photographers employ intermedia strategies which facilitate a reading of the still in analogy to the experience of the film. Snapshots evoking the dynamics of the movie are as exemplary of this approach as are series of pictures rendering a sequence in the form of the movement’s individual phases captured at short intervals. Panorama pictures are also related to the film’s spatial and temporal dimensions, since a series of motifs resembling the chronological order of films successively “unwinds” in reading them. Informed by the interwar avant-garde, the photo montages for Walter Ruttmann’s experimental film Berlin – Symphony of a Great City (1927) show an extraordinary solution. They congenially transform the subjective modern filmic point of view by relating the motifs of the film to each other through illogical perspectives and proportions. Some of Horst von Harbou’s stills for Metropolis (1927) were produced as transparent foils and elaborately coloured by hand. Presented in backlight illumination, they established a self-reflexive reference to the cinema as films also reveal their ephemeral quality in their projection.

 

Anonymous. 'Berlin - Symphony of a Great City' 1927

 

Anonymous
Berlin – Symphony of a Great City
1927
Director: Walther Ruttmann
Gelatin silver print
© Deutsche Kinemathek, Berlin

 

 

Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis (German: Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt) is a 1927 German film directed by Walter Ruttmann, co-written by Carl Mayer and Karl Freund.

The film is an example of the city symphony film genre. A musical score for an orchestra to accompany the silent film was written by Edmund Meisel. As a “city symphony” film, it portrays the life of a city, mainly through visual impressions in a semi-documentary style, without the narrative content of more mainstream films, though the sequencing of events can imply a kind of loose theme or impression of the city’s daily life…

The film displays the filmmaker’s knowledge of Soviet montage theory. Some socialist political sympathies, or identification with the underclass can be inferred from a few of the edits in the film, though critics have suggested that either Ruttmann avoided a strong position, or else he pursued his aesthetic interests to the extent that they diminished the potential for political content. Ruttmann’s own description of the film suggests that his motives were predominantly aesthetic: “Since I began in the cinema, I had the idea of making something out of life, of creating a symphonic film out of the millions of energies that comprise the life of a big city.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis poster

 

Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis poster

 

Horst von Harbou. Brigitte Helm in 'Metropolis' 1927

 

Horst von Harbou
Brigitte Helm in Metropolis
1927
Director: Fritz Lang
Gelatin silver print
Austrian Theatre Museum
© Horst von Harbou – Deutsche Kinemathek

 

Horst von Harbou. 'Metropolis' 1927

 

Horst von Harbou
Metropolis
1927
Director: Fritz Lang
Coloured transparent nitrocellulose film
Austrian Theatre Museum
© Horst von Harbou – Deutsche Kinemathek

 

 

Meta-pictures

Some directors supported the production of stills that put characteristic aspects of their films into a new perspective. In his masterpiece Persona (1966) Ingmar Bergman reflects the support material of film by showing the film strip crack and burn up during the projection. This self-referentiality of the medium was visualised by adding perforations to the photographs so that they resembled film frames. The perforations only served to quote the film as a medium; the motifs were actually mounted in black frames afterwards. Elaborate montages not to be seen in the film were also produced for Alfred Hitchcock’s movies. Rear Window (1954) confronts us with a photographer who watches a man whom he suspects of having committed a murder with binoculars and through a long-focus lens. By mounting pictures of the persons in the lens whom Stewart watches from his window in the film, the still photographer emphasised the issue of voyeurism as a central subject of the movie. The Austrian silent movie director Erich von Stroheim used film stills for visualising contents of his films that were regarded as problematic. Because of their length and supposedly questionable sexual passages Stroheim’s movies were regularly cut down by censorship authorities and production companies. This is why stills continuing the movie were planned in advance. The sexual allusions in a scene of Foolish Wives (1922) in which Stroheim embodies a Don Juan figure about to indecently assault a sleeping woman, for example, manifested themselves in a still in which we see him kissing the sleeping woman’s foot.

 

Anonymous. James Stewart in 'Rear Window' 1954

 

Anonymous
James Stewart in Rear Window
1954
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Gelatin silver print
© BFI National Archive: London

 

Anonymous. James Stewart in 'Rear Window' 1954 (detail)

 

Anonymous
James Stewart in Rear Window (detail)
1954
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Gelatin silver print
© BFI National Archive: London

 

Anonymous. Liv Ullman in 'Persona' (detail) 1966

 

Anonymous
Liv Ullman in Persona (detail)
1966
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Silver gelatin print

 

 

Persona is a 1966 Swedish psychological drama film written and directed by Ingmar Bergman and starring Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann. Persona’s story revolves around a young nurse named Alma (Andersson) and her patient, a well-known stage actress named Elisabet Vogler (Ullmann), who has suddenly ceased to speak. The two move to a cottage, where Alma cares for and talks to Elisabet about intimate secrets, and becomes troubled distinguishing herself from her.

Bergman wrote the film with Ullmann and Andersson in mind for the lead parts, and some idea of exploring their identities, and shot the film in Stockholm and Fårö. Often categorised as a psychological horror, Persona deals with themes of duality, insanity, and personal identity…

Persona has lent itself to a variety of interpretations, with Professor Thomas Elsaesser remarking it “has been for film critics and scholars what climbing Everest is for mountaineers: the ultimate professional challenge. Besides Citizen Kane, it is probably the most written-about film in the canon.” Much of the focus has been on the resemblance of the characters, demonstrated in shots of overlapping faces, and the possibility that the two characters are one. If they are one person, there is a question if Alma is fantasising about the actress she admires, or if Elisabet is examining her psyche, or if the boy is trying to understand who his mother is. In a question of duality, Alma represents soul while Elisabet represents a stern goddess. Susan Sontag suggests that Persona is constructed as a series of variations on a theme of “doubling”. The subject of the film, Sontag proposes, is “violence of the spirit”.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

'Persona' 1966 Swedish B1 Poster

 

Persona 1966 Swedish B1 Poster

 

Anonymous. Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullman in 'Persona' (detail) 1966

 

Anonymous
Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullman in Persona (detail)
1966
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Silver gelatin print

 

 

Key pictures

Stills precede the presentation of a film, decisively informing the expectations held by the public at the time of its release. What is important for a movie’s later success (or failure) is presenting visually enticing pictures rather than conveying an authentic picture of the movie. The most famous example in this regard is Sam Shaw’s still showing a scene of Billy Wilder’s The Seven Year Itch (1955). Shaw highlighted the moment in which Marilyn Monroe stands on a subway grating far more pointedly than Wilder in the film, which neither shows the actress’s whole figure nor the dress billowing so clearly above her waist. The production company did its best for the promotion of the scene in the media: launching an elaborate publicity campaign, it fixed a special date for reporters and journalists to capture the sequence themselves. Such key images become characteristic signatures of a film with their dissemination by the media, sometimes inscribing themselves more deeply into the collective memory than the actual film scenes because of their iconic recognition value.

 

Anonymous. Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt and Lil Dagover in 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari' 1919

 

Anonymous
Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt and Lil Dagover in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
1919
Director: Robert Wiene
Gelatin silver print
Austrian Theatre Museum

 

Anonymous. Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt and Lil Dagover in 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari' 1919 (detail)

 

Anonymous
Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt and Lil Dagover in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (detail)
1919
Director: Robert Wiene
Gelatin silver print
Austrian Theatre Museum

 

 

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (German: Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari) is a 1920 German silent horror film, directed by Robert Wiene and written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer. Considered the quintessential work of German Expressionist cinema, it tells the story of an insane hypnotist (Werner Krauss) who uses a somnambulist (Conrad Veidt) to commit murders. The film features a dark and twisted visual style, with sharp-pointed forms, oblique and curving lines, structures and landscapes that lean and twist in unusual angles, and shadows and streaks of light painted directly onto the sets…

The film presents themes on brutal and irrational authority; Dr. Caligari represents the German war government, and Cesare is symbolic of the common man conditioned, like soldiers, to kill. In his influential book From Caligari to Hitler, Siegfried Kracauer says the film reflects a subconscious need in German society for a tyrant, and it is an example of Germany’s obedience to authority and unwillingness to rebel against deranged authority. He says the film is a premonition of the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party, and says the addition of the frame story turns an otherwise “revolutionary” film into a “conformist” one. Other themes of the film include the destabilised contrast between insanity and sanity, the subjective perception of reality, and the duality of human nature.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari poster (1919)

 

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari poster (1919)

 

Sam Shaw. Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell in 'The Seven Year Itch' 1954

 

Sam Shaw
Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell in The Seven Year Itch
1954
Director: Billy Wilder
Gelatin silver print
© Sam Shaw Inc.- licensed by Shaw Family Archives, Private collection

 

Sam Shaw. Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell in 'The Seven Year Itch' 1954 (detail)

 

Sam Shaw
Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell in The Seven Year Itch (detail)
1954
Director: Billy Wilder
Gelatin silver print
© Sam Shaw Inc.- licensed by Shaw Family Archives, Private collection

 

 

Auteur pictures

The European auteur cinema of the 1950s and 1960s produced films outside the rigid studio system that had been the rule until then. Formal means such as editing and montage were used in an experimental way, and handy cameras made the shooting process more spontaneous. The changes in the production of films went hand in hand with new conditions for still photographers. As the photographers did not belong to the staff of the companies’ promotion departments like their US colleagues, most of their names are known. Whereas Hollywood photographers relied on large-format plate cameras, small-format cameras were used in Europe during the shooting of the film or directly before or after it. This resulted in spontaneous snapshots alongside traditional tableau-like stills. In the wake of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s decisive moment, the constitutive act lay in the choice of the right moment. Still photographers such as Raymond Cauchetier and Angelo Novi had already tested this approach as photojournalists in reportages and documentaries before they started working on the set.

 

Georges Pierre. Anna Karina in 'Pierrot le fou' 1965

 

Georges Pierre
Anna Karina in Pierrot le fou
1965
Director: Jean Luc Godard
Gelatin silver print
Private collection
© Georges Pierre

 

Poster for La Dolce Vita (The Sweet Life) 1959

 

Poster for La Dolce Vita (The Sweet Life) 1959

 

Pierluigi Praturlon. Anita Ekberg as Sylvia in 'La Dolce Vita' (The Sweet Life) 1959

 

Pierluigi Praturlon
Anita Ekberg as Sylvia in La Dolce Vita (The Sweet Life)
1959
Director: Federico Fellini
Gelatin silver print
Private Collection

 

 

La Dolce Vita (Italian for “the sweet life” or “the good life”) is a 1960 Italian comedy-drama film directed and co-written by Federico Fellini. The film follows Marcello Rubini, a journalist writing for gossip magazines, over seven days and nights on his journey through the “sweet life” of Rome in a fruitless search for love and happiness. La Dolce Vita won the Palme d’Or (Golden Palm) at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival and the Oscar for Best Costumes, and remains one of the most critically acclaimed films of all time.

Based on the most common interpretation of the storyline, the film can be divided into a prologue, seven major episodes interrupted by an intermezzo, and an epilogue. If the evenings of each episode were joined with the morning of the respective preceding episode together as a day, they would form seven consecutive days, which may not necessarily be the case.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

Hans Natge

Born in Berlin, Hans Natge began his career as a theatre photographer. In the 1920s, he turned to still photography. Taking pictures of Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau’s Faust (1926), he came to test a new photographic approach which he called “snapshot photography,” which was to revolutionise the tradition of static and artificial film stills. Using small-format cameras and doing without additional light, Natge photographed during the shooting of the film right next to the cameraman, which permitted him to produce spontaneous and dynamic pictures. As this form of still photography still resulted in blurred pictures and sometimes captured the actors to their disadvantage at that time, Natge also took conventional stills in the case of Faust.

 

Hans Natge Still from the film 'Faust' 1926

 

Hans Natge
Still from the film Faust
1926
Director: Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau
Gelatin silver print

 

 

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04
May
14

Exhibition: ‘Philippe Halsman, Astonish Me!’ at The Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

Exhibition dates: 29th January – 11th May 2014

 

He “photographed a little bit of everything: animals, Paris, the homeless, underwater, nudes, advertising, fashion and, above all, celebrities portraits, from Ali, Einstein, Churchill, Hepburn, Warhol, Hitchcock and, of course, Marilyn Monroe.”

You could say that he was a versatile photographer, doing everything to pay the bills and anything to make interesting images. He never stopped experimenting with the image, but it is the “straight” portraits that I find are his strongest work. Not the “jump” photos, Monroe, or the surreal experiments with Dalí, much as they delight, but the portraits of Hepburn, Einstein and Churchill for example.

Look at the photograph of Winston Churchill (1951, below). What a way to portray the great man. The bulk of the overcoat, the slope of the shoulders (evincing a certain weariness), the famous Homburg hat pulled down on the head, the leader staring into the tranquil landscape. But what makes the image is the seam down the back of the overcoat which speaks to history itself – the backbone of the country, the never say die spirit, stiff upper lip, the rock of the British empire which Nazism could not defeat – epitomising the British bulldog spirit. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Solid. Immovable. What a glorious photograph to capture that essence.

Marcus

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

 

 

“Shortly before World War I, the greatest sensation in Paris was the Russian Imperial Ballet under Serge Diaghilev. The divine Nijinsky and Pavlova were dancing for him, Stravinsky composed, Picasso, Bakst, and Chagall were painting scenery for him. To work for Diaghilev was the highest accolade for an artist. Jean Cocteau approached Diaghilev and asked: ‘What can I do for you?’ Diaghilev looked at him and answered: ‘Etonne-moi!’ (‘Astonish me!’) These two words can be considered as a motto, as a slogan for the development of the modern art which followed.”

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Philippe Halsman

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“Photography is a separate form of expression since it falls between two art forms… It’s not only trying to give us a visual impression of reality, like painting and graphic arts, but also to communicate and inform us the way writing does. No writer should be blamed for writing about subjects that exist only in his imagination. And no photographer should be blamed when, instead of capturing reality, he tries to show things that he has only seen in his imagination.”

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Philippe Halsman

 

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Folle Iseult' 1944

 

Philippe Halsman
Folle Iseult
1944
Musée de l’Elysée
© 2013 Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos

 

Philippe Halsman. 'The Versatile Jean Cocteau' 1949

 

Philippe Halsman
The Versatile Jean Cocteau
1949
Musée de l’Elysée
© 2013 Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos

 

 

“In my serious work I am striving for the essence of things and for goals which are possibly unobtainable. On the other hand, everything humorous has great attraction for me, and a childish streak leads me into all kinds of frivolous endeavour.”

Photographer Philippe Halsman had an exemplary career. Over a forty-year period, in Paris during the 1930s and in New York from 1940 on, he developed a broad range of activities (portraits, fashion, reportage, advertisements, personal projects, commissions from individuals and institutions). The Musée de l’Elysée presents the first study dedicated to his entire body of work, with a selection of over 300 pieces.

This project, produced in collaboration with the Philippe Halsman Archive, includes many exclusive unseen elements of the photographer’s work (contact sheets, annotated contact prints, preliminary proofs, original photomontages and mock-ups). The exhibition shows Philippe Halsman’s creative process and reveals a unique approach to photography: a means of expression to explore.

Born in 1906 in Riga, Latvia, Halsman studied engineering in Dresden before moving to Paris, where he opened a photographic studio in 1932. His years in Paris already heralded the approach he was to develop throughout his long career. A studio and reportage photographer, Halsman took inspiration from the contemporary art scene and participated in promoting it. Though he specialised in portraiture, he also branched out into advertising and publishing, which were thriving at the time. In 1940, the German invasion brought Halsman’s prosperous career to a halt, leading him to flee with his family to New York. Though initially unknown, he succeeded in establishing himself on the American market in under a year, and his studio soon became successful. Halsman stood out for his “psychological” approach to portraiture.

He distinguished himself in this area with his vast portrait gallery of celebrities (actors, industrialists, politicians, scientists, writers). Some of these images, such as Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Winston Churchill or Albert Einstein, became icons. He produced the largest number of covers (101) for Life magazine, the first weekly magazine to be illustrated only by photographs.

Halsman’s photography is characterised by a direct approach, masterful technique and a particular attention to detail. His work testifies to his constant research and his interest in all forms of technical and aesthetic experimentation, which he applied to a wide variety of subjects. For Halsman, photography was an excellent way of giving his imagination free reign. He was especially interested in mises en scène – in the form of single images or fictional series. He met Salvador Dalí in 1941 and the artist turned out to be the ideal accomplice. Their fruitful collaboration lasted 37 years. Philippe Halsman also introduced innovations through more personal creations such as the “photo-interview book” or ‘jumpology’.

Press release from the Musée de l’Elysée Lausanne website

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Winston Churchill' 1951

 

Philippe Halsman
Winston Churchill
1951
Musée de l’Elysée
© 2013 Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Albert Einstein' 1947

 

Philippe Halsman
Albert Einstein
1947
Musée de l’Elysée
© 2013 Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Audrey Hepburn' 1955

 

Philippe Halsman
Audrey Hepburn
1955
Musée de l’Elysée
© 2013 Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Sammy Davis Jr' 1965

 

Philippe Halsman 
Sammy Davis Jr
1965
Musée de l’Elysée
© 2013 Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos

 

 

Presentation of the exhibition

In 1921, Philippe Halsman found his father’s old camera, and spoke of a “miracle” when he developed his first glass plates in the family’s bathroom sink. He was 15 years old, and this was the first encounter with photography of someone who was to become one of the leading photographers of the 20th century. This exhibition, produced by the Musée de l’Elysée in collaboration with the Philippe Halsman Archive, showcases the American photographer’s entire career for the first time, from his beginnings in Paris in the 1930s to the tremendous success of his New York studio between 1940 and 1970.

Halsman was able to go to Paris thanks to the support of French minister Paul Painlevé -whose son Jean, a scientific filmmaker, gave him one of the best cameras of the time upon his arrival. He remained in Paris for ten years, until 1940. Over that period, he collaborated with the magazines Vogue, Vu and Voilà and created portraits of numerous celebrities like Marc Chagall, Le Corbusier and André Malraux. He exhibited his work several times at the avant-garde Pléiade gallery, alongside photographers like Laure Albin Guillot, whose work was exhibited at Musée de l’Elysée in 2013.

Fleeing Nazism, he left Paris in 1940 and moved to New York. There, he worked for many American magazines including Life, which brought him into contact with the century’s top celebrities – Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Duke Ellington, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Richard Nixon, Albert Einstein to name only a few. Halsman shot 101 covers for Life magazine. Far from restricting himself to photographing celebrities, throughout his whole life Halsman never stopped experimenting and pushing the limits of his medium. He collaborated with Salvador Dalí for over thirty years and invented ‘jumpology’, which consisted in photographing personalities in the middle of jumping, offering a more natural, spontaneous portrait of his subjects.

The exhibition Philippe Halsman, Astonish me! is divided into four sections illustrating memorable periods, collaborations and themes in the photographer’s work and life.

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Expérimentation pour un portrait de femme (Experimentation for a portrait of a woman)' 1931-1940

 

Philippe Halsman
Expérimentation pour un portrait de femme (Experimentation for a portrait of a woman)
1931-1940
Musée de l’Elysée
© 2013 Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Affiche exposition Pleiade (Poster for exhibition at La Pléiade gallery)' 1936

 

Philippe Halsman
Affiche exposition Pleiade (Poster for exhibition at La Pléiade gallery)
1936
Musée de l’Elysée
© 2013 Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos

 

 

“When I arrived in America in 1940 I had to adapt to the American style, that is to say, produce photographs that were technically perfect, clear, precise and properly modelled by the light without being distorted. Once, to accentuate the coldness of a rainy landscape I added a blue gelatin to my transparent film. Wilson Hicks took this gelatin off saying: ‘You’re cheating, Philippe’. Any hint of artifice was considered dishonest.”

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Philippe Halsman

 

Paris in the 1930s

Philippe Halsman was born in Riga, Latvia in 1906. When he was 22, his father died in a hiking accident in Austrian Tyrol, and Philippe Halsman was wrongly convicted of his murder in a highly anti-Semitic climate. He was freed thanks to his sister’s support; she organized the support of prominent European intellectuals, who endorsed his innocence.

He went to Paris, where he began his career as a photographer, quickly distinguishing himself through his portrait technique. He explored various genres, such as views of Paris, nudes and fashion. His work was exhibited three times at the La Pléiade gallery, a famous avant-garde gallery where artists like Man Ray, André Kertész and Brassaï presented their works.

Focus on La Pléiade gallery

Founded by publisher Jacques Schiffrin in the spring of 1931 and located in the heart of the Latin Quarter, this art gallery was one of the first to present photographic exhibitions, and it started specializing in this field in April 1933 under directorship of Rose Sévèk. Dedicated to contemporary photography, the program incorporated its new practices and applications. It was one of the places where New Photography was promoted in the form of solo, group or thematic exhibitions.

It was probably through his friend Jean Painlevé that Halsman entered in contact with La Pléiade gallery. He was given a first solo exhibition, Portraits and Nudes, which ran from March 28 to April 30, 1936. The following year, his name became associated with the New Vision movement in the context of two group exhibitions: Portraits of Writers (April 17 to May 14, 1937) which included Emmanuel Sougez, Rogi André, Roger Parry and others; La Parisienne de 1900… à 1937 (June 4-30, 1937), which included photographs by Florence Henri and Maurice Tabard. It was one of the last exhibitions at the gallery, which was sold a few months later in October, to Paul Magné.

Having initially been unable to flee wartime Paris, Halsman finally received an emergency visa in 1940 thanks to a letter from Albert Einstein to Eleanor Roosevelt, making it possible for him to join his family, who had left six months earlier.

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Marilyn Monroe jump' 1959

 

Philippe Halsman
Marilyn Monroe jump
1959
Musée de l’Elysée
© 2013 Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Marilyn Monroe jump' 1959

 

Philippe Halsman
Marilyn Monroe jump
1959
Musée de l’Elysée
© 2013 Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos

 

 

“Of the group of starlets only Marilyn emerged. Still photographers discovered her natural talent for flirting with the camera lens, and her blond looks of instant availability made her America’s most popular pin-up girl. Marilyn felt that the lens was not just a glass eye, but the symbol of the eyes of millions of men. She knew how to woo this lens better than any actress I ever photographed.”

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Philippe Halsman

 

Portraits

Champion of the direct approach, Philippe Halsman also experimented with a wide range of techniques in order to capture the essence of his subjects and express their individuality. Many portraits became iconic images such as his 101 Life magazine covers.

Focus on Marilyn Monroe

Philippe Halsman photographed Marilyn Monroe on several occasions between 1949 and 1959. This important corpus traces the actress’s career and reveals the photographer’s varied approach during this period. In the autumn of 1949, Halsman was sent to Hollywood by Life magazine to do a report on eight young models embarking on acting careers. Halsman photographed them in four scenes he imposed (the approach of a monster, embracing a lover, reacting to a funny story and drinking a favorite drink). He quickly noticed the talents of the young Marilyn Monroe.

This opinion was confirmed three years later when Life commissioned him to do a feature on the actress entitled “The Talk of Hollywood”. These shots, some in color and some in black and white, illustrated the actresses’s everyday life and talents. She acted out a series of scenes, humorously presenting the different stages of the strategy she used when being interviewed for roles. Most importantly, Halsman created several emblematic images of the actress and helped promote her by giving her a chance to have her first Life magazine cover.

In 1954, Halsman welcomed Marilyn Monroe to his New York studio. Halsman’s photographs reflect the ‘sex symbol’ image she cultivated. However, he managed to shoot a more natural portrait of the actress by asking her to jump in the air. There was only a few images of this type because when Halsman explained his ‘jumpology’ concept, Marilyn Monroe, frightened by the idea of revealing her personality, refused to repeat the experiment.

It took five years before she agreed to go along with ‘jumpology’. Marilyn Monroe had become a star by the time Life magazine offered to feature her on its cover in 1959 to illustrate a major article on Philippe Halsman’s ‘jumpology’. She treated it as a request for a performance. Over the course of three hours, the actress jumped over 200 times in front of Halsman’s lens, in order to achieve the “perfect jump”.

Several times Halsman suggested to Marilyn Monroe that they continue this collaboration, but without success. The actress was then at a turning point in her life that was foreshadowing her decline. However, Halsman continued his photographic work on the actress by creating new images, or more precisely variations of portraits he had previously shot. These compositions – montages of prints cut out and rephotographed together expressing the idea of movement, or reworked images transposed in negative format are characteristic of Halsman’s approach in the 1960s. Ten years later, he created a portrait of Marilyn Monroe as Chairman Mao, as requested by Salvador Dalí during his guest editorship of the French edition of Vogue magazine (December 1971-January 1972).

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Alfred Hitchcock for the promotion of the film 'The Birds'' 1962

 

Philippe Halsman
Alfred Hitchcock for the promotion of the film ‘The Birds’
1962
Musée de l’Elysée
© 2013 Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos

 

Cover of the magazine Life with a portrait of Marilyn Monroe jumping by Philippe Halsman, November 9, 1959

 

Cover of the magazine Life with a portrait of Marilyn Monroe jumping by Philippe Halsman, November 9, 1959
Musée de l’Elysée
© 2013 Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos

 

 

Mises en scène

Halsman was often commissioned to photograph the contemporary art scene for magazines including dance, cinema and theatre. Collaborations with artists were important in Halsman’s career and inspired performances resulting in picture stories or striking individual images.

Focus on ‘Jumpology’

In 1950, Halsman invented ‘jumpology’, a new way of creating spontaneous, authentic portraits: “When you ask a person to jump, his attention is mostly directed toward the act of jumping and the mask falls so that the real person appears”. Over a period of ten years, Halsman created an extraordinary gallery of portraits of American society.

Containing over 170 portraits, Philippe Halsman’s Jump Book illustrated a new “psychological portrait” approach developed by Philippe Halsman in the 1950s. His method was systematic. During commissioned work, at the end of shooting sessions Halsman would ask his subjects if they would agree to take part in his personal project, and then the jumps were done on the spot. In this way he managed to photograph hundreds of jumps. Producing these shots was in fact simple: his equipment was limited to a Rolleiflex camera and an electronic flash, and as he pointed out, the only constraint was the height of the ceiling.

Although these portraits are characterized by their lightheartedness, Halsman viewed ‘jumpology’ as a new scientific tool for psychology. While the subject was concentrating on his jump, “the mask” fell, and it was this moment that the photographer needed to capture. Over the time that he was conducting this experiment, Halsman noticed the great diversity of the various participants’ postures, and discerned in these gestures – leg positions, arm positions, facial expressions and other details revealing signs of their character, expressed unwillingly.

The arrangement of the portraits in Philippe Halsman’s Jump Book illustrated these views. Halsman made a distinction in the form of two corpuses. First he presented influential personalities from different fields (political, industrial, scientific, theological, literary, etc…) resulting in a gallery of unexpected portraits that contrasted with their official image. For this project, Halsman also enjoyed the collaboration of actors, singers, dancers, etc… Conscious of the special character of their performances, Halsman assembled their images in a second part, categorized by discipline. This organization was punctuated by various themes like American flamboyance, British reserve, and the eloquence of actresses’ legwork. The layout played with different photograph formats and assemblages.

Although it only presented well-known personalities, the publication nevertheless encouraged the democratization of this practice: it ended with a photograph of Philippe Halsman jumping on a beach, with a caption asking: “How do you jump?”

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Nu au pop-corn (Popcorn nude)' 1949

 

Philippe Halsman
Nu au pop-corn (Popcorn nude)
1949
Musée de l’Elysée
© 2013 Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Dalí Atomicus' 1948 contact sheet

 

Philippe Halsman
Dalí Atomicus
1948
Contact sheet
Musée de l’Elysée
© 2013 Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos
Exclusive rights for images of Salvador Dalí: Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres, 2014

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Dalí Atomicus' 1948

 

Philippe Halsman
Dalí Atomicus
1948
Musée de l’Elysée
© 2013 Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos
Exclusive rights for images of Salvador Dalí: Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres, 2014

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Épreuve préparatoire pour "Certainement. Je m'adonne personnellement à des explosions atomiques," Dalí's Mustache (Test event for "Certainly. I personally engaged in atomic explosions," Dalí's Mustache)' 1953-1954

 

Philippe Halsman
Épreuve préparatoire pour “Certainement. Je m’adonne personnellement à des explosions atomiques,” Dalí’s Mustache
(Test event for “Certainly. I personally engaged in atomic explosions,” Dalí’s Mustache)
1953-1954
Musée de l’Elysée
© 2013 Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Portrait de Salvador Dalí avec casque de footballeur américain (Portrait of Salvador Dalí with American football helmet)' 1964

 

Philippe Halsman
Portrait de Salvador Dalí avec casque de footballeur américain (Portrait of Salvador Dalí with American football helmet)
1964
Musée de l’Elysée
© 2013 Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Dalí Cyclops' 1949

 

Philippe Halsman
Dalí Cyclops
1949
Musée de l’Elysée
© 2013 Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos

 

 

“In the thirty years of our friendship I have made countless photographs showing the surrealist painter in the most incredible situations. Whenever I needed a striking or famous protagonist for one of my wild ideas, Dalí would graciously oblige. Whenever Dalí thought of a photograph so strange that it seemed impossible to produce, I tried to find a solution. ‘Can you make me look like Mona Lisa?… Can you make a man one half of whom would look like Dalí and the other half like Picasso?’ I could and I did.”

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Philippe Halsman

 

Halsman/Dalí

One of Halsman’s favourite subjects was Salvador Dalí with whom he shared a unique collaboration that spanned 37 years. Their 47 sittings, combining Dalí’s talent for performance and Halsman’s technical skill and inventiveness, resulting in an impressive repertoire of “photographic ideas”.

Focus on Dalí’s Mustache

As Halsman explains, Dalí’s Mustache is the fruit of this marriage of the minds. They conceived this book entirely dedicated to Dalí’s mustache, and created over thirty portraits of the painter absurdly answering Halsman’s questions. In 1953 Halsman realised that Salvador Dalí’s expanding mustache gave him the “chance to fulfil one his most ambitious dreams yet and create an extraordinarily eccentric work”. Dalí was enormously fond of his own person and of his mustache in particular, which he saw as a symbol of the power of his imagination, and was immediately thrilled at the idea. To create a “picture book” containing an interview with Salvador Dalí, Halsman reused an editorial concept he had introduced five years earlier with French actor Fernandel: a question asked of the artist was printed on one page, and the answer appeared on the following page in the form of a captioned photograph.

For this project, it was no longer just a matter of photographic expression, but of genuine mise en scène, combining Dalí’s theatrical character with Halsman’s impressive inventiveness and technical skill. Halsman presented the book as a genuine collaboration between two artists, representing their mutual understanding.

Halsman photographed Dalí with his 4×5 camera and his electronic flash through many sessions over a period of two years. Most of the plates in the book are portraits of the artist posing in a variety of positions, playing with his mustache in various ways, accentuated by light and framing effects. Dalí was ready to go along with any whim to create the scenes: he styles his precious mustache with the help of Hungarian wax, and agrees to take part in incongruous mises en scène, pressing his head behind a round of cheese to put the ends of his mustache through its holes, or plunging his head into a water-filled aquarium, his mouth full of milk.

As for Halsman, he put a lot of his effort into the post-production work in order to give concrete expression to their ideas. It sometimes took a laborious process to achieve images like the Mona Lisa portrait, inner conflicts, surrealism or the essence of Dalí, which not only required work on the print or negative (cutting, enlargement, deformation, double exposure) but also a montage and a new shot to create a negative of the final image. For the portrait of the artist in the form of a “soft watch”, Halsman worked around one hundred hours. He photographed Dali close up, then tacked a wet print of the image onto the edge of a table and re-photographed it at an angle that matched the angle of the original painting. He then cut it out, made a collage, and re-photographed it again – creating an image of Dali’s melted face. For the photographer, it was a genuine technical challenge, which he seized with patience and success.

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Like Two Erect Sentries, My Mustache Defends the Entrance to My Real Self, Dalí’s Mustache' 1954

 

Philippe Halsman
Like Two Erect Sentries, My Mustache Defends the Entrance to My Real Self, Dalí’s Mustache
1954
Philippe Halsman Archive
© 2013 Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos
Exclusive rights for images of Salvador Dalí: Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres, 2014

 

 

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

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07
Aug
13

Exhibition: ‘Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light’ at The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 6th March – 12th August 2013

 

“Brandt ranks among the visionaries who, in the diversity of their approach, established the creative potential of photography based on observation of the world around them. Brandt’s distinctive vision – his ability to present the mundane world as fresh and strange – emerged in London in the 1930s, and drew from his time in the Paris studio of Man Ray. His visual explorations of the society, landscape, and literature of England are indispensable to any understanding of photographic history and, arguably, to our understanding of life in Britain during the middle of the 20th century.”

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Text from the press release

 

 

I believe that Bill Brandt, along with Julia Margaret Cameron, is the greatest British photographer of all time.

Why is it so?

  1. There is the diversity of his approach over decades of artistic endeavour, from social documentary, portrait and landscape photography to nudes.
  2. There is a consistency to this enquiry. He is concerned with the same ideas in the 1930s as the 1960s, only expressed in a different form.
  3. There is a subtle ambiguity to all his work, no doubt influenced by his time in the Paris studio of Man Ray.
    For example, in the portrait of Northumbrian Miner at His Evening Meal (1937, below), there is an odd sense of surrealism to the mise-en-scène. Notice the placement of the objects on the table, the positioning of both people’s heads with the jardiniere between, and the askance attitude of the satchel and framed image covered by drying, hanging clothes on the wall behind. And then, just to emphasise this pictorial disjunction, we notice that the miner is leaning one way and, in the framed image, another man with a tie is leaning the other, peering around  the edge of the drying clothes. The man and wife and the framed man for a triangle within the pictorial plane.
  4. There is his understanding of light. Look at any of the images in this posting – Bombed Regency Staircase, Upper Brook Street, Mayfair (c. 1942, below), Evening in Kenwood (c. 1934, below) etc… and marvel at Brandt’s “ability to present the mundane world as fresh and strange.” Looking at the light of the world with a sense of wonder!
  5. And his understanding of “perspective”.
    Brandt is not afraid of the out of focus photograph as long as it gives him the “feeling” that he wants from the image. For example, see Losing at the Horse Races, Auteuil, Paris (c. 1932, below), shot from below, quickly, to capture the pensiveness of loosing money.
    Brandt is not afraid of foreshortening as in the photographs Evening in Kenwood (c. 1934, below) or A Snicket in Halifax (1937, below), where the use of this device leads the viewers eye into the body of the image.
    Brandt is also not afraid of a shallow depth of field or of placing objects or people right in the forefront of the image in order to create a complex picture plane. For example, in Kensington Children’s Party (c. 1934, below) the two children at bottom right are completely out of focus but hold up that corner of the image and give the image the stability and energy it needs to lead the eye into the small, frontal boy and the suspended balloons. Notice the really shallow depth of field, as only the girl at extreme right and a small number of balloons are in focus. Another later and more extreme example is the photograph Seaford, East Sussex Coast (1957, below) and the distortions in his book Perspective of Nudes (1961) – “a series that is both personal and universal, sensual and strange… rendering what might otherwise have been hopelessly clichéd aspects of the female form unfamiliar and surprising.”
    .

Brandt’s skewed perspectives are not only literal but also have psychological undertones. His work challenges traditional ideas of identity, place and time and makes the mundane seem fresh and strange. Over and over again. These photographs remain as fresh today as the day they were taken BECAUSE OF THE COMPLEXITY OF THOUGHT THAT LIES BEHIND EACH IMAGE.

Many a photographer could do no better than study the work of this incredible artist. I see so many images in Melbourne and from around the world that really say nothing and go nowhere, because of a lack of understanding of what is POSSIBLE when making a photograph, when telling a story. Rules are there to be broken, out of focus, shallow depth of field, complex pictures, complex thoughts succinctly and elegantly told. For Brandt in any photograph, the artifice necessary to make a work was irrelevant so long as he felt the picture rang true. That does not mean lazy story telling, poor conceptualisation, bland visual construction.

As a good friend of mine artist Joyce Evans is fond of saying, “There is no excuse for bad photography.”

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Parlourmaid Preparing a Bath before Dinner' c. 1936

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983)
Parlourmaid Preparing a Bath before Dinner
c. 1936
Gelatin silver print
9 1/16 x 7 11/16″ (23 x 19.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel
© 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Northumbrian Miner at His Evening Meal' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983)
Northumbrian Miner at His Evening Meal
1937
Gelatin silver print
8 3/4 x 7 3/8″ (22.2 x 18.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

brandt-northumbrian-b-web

 

brandt-northumbrian-a-web

 

Analysis of Brandt’s visual exploration in Northumbrian Miner at His Evening Meal (1937)

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Packaging Post for the War' c. 1942

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983)
Packaging Post for the War
c. 1942
Gelatin silver print
8 3/16 x 7 13/16″ (20.8 x 19.9 cm)
Acquired through the generosity of Mark Levine
© 2013 Estate of Bill Brandt

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Liverpool Street Underground Station Shelter' 1940

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983)
Liverpool Street Underground Station Shelter
1940
Gelatin silver print
11 11/16 x 9 11/16″ (29.7 x 24.6 cm)
© 2013 Estate of Bill Brandt

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Kensington Children's Party' c. 1934

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983)
Kensington Children’s Party
c. 1934
Gelatin silver print
8 5/8 x 7 3/16″ (21.9 x 18.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. Gift of David Dechman and Michel Mercure
© 2012 Estate of Bill Brandt

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Evening in Kenwood' c. 1934

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983)
Evening in Kenwood
c. 1934
Gelatin silver print
9 x 7 3/4″ (22.9 x 19.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. Acquired through the generosity of David Dechman and Michel Mercure and the Committee on Photography Fund.
© 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

“The Museum of Modern Art presents Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light, a major critical reevaluation of the heralded career of Bill Brandt (British, b. Germany, 1904-83) from March 6 to August 12, 2013. A founding figure in photography’s modernist traditions, Brandt ranks among the visionaries who, in the diversity of their approach, established the creative potential of photography based on observation of the world around them. Brandt’s distinctive vision – his ability to present the mundane world as fresh and strange – emerged in London in the 1930s, and drew from his time in the Paris studio of Man Ray. His visual explorations of the society, landscape, and literature of England are indispensable to any understanding of photographic history and, arguably, to our understanding of life in Britain during the middle of the 20th century. Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light is organized by Sarah Meister, Curator, with Drew Sawyer, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Curatorial Fellow, Department of Photography.

The impressive breadth of Brandt’s career, which suggests his restless experimental impulse, and the dramatic transformations of his printing style have often confounded those seeking to understand the link between the highly celebrated and seemingly unrelated chapters of his oeuvre. The exhibition brings together more than 150 works divided into six sections, each corresponding with a distinct aspect of Brandt’s achievement: London in the Thirties; Northern England; World War II; Portraits; Landscapes; and Nudes. Beginning with a highly selective display of albums and prints made around the European continent as Brandt was forming his artistic identity, the exhibition presents an opportunity to understand Brandt in a new light: one that establishes a chronological trajectory of his career, with an expanded consideration of his activity during World War II. In addition, a closer look at his printing methods with the finest known prints from across the range of Brandt’s career will clarify how the artist, whose early work is characterized by the muted, wistful portrait of a young housewife scrubbing the threshold to her home (East End Morning, 1937), would come to create a bold and unpredictable series of nudes on the rocky English coast (East Sussex Coast, 1957).

Brandt established his reputation before the Second World War with the publication of The English at Home (1936) and A Night in London (1938), books that distilled his early photographic studies of life in Britain. Noted works from this period on view include: Parlourmaid Preparing a Bath before Dinner (c. 1936); Soho Bedroom (1934); Street Scene, London (1936); and Losing at the Horse Races, Auteuil, Paris (c. 1932), which Brandt later re-titled Racegoers in Sandown Park in order to present it in the context of his English pictures, an expression of his disdain for slavish adherence to facts.

During this same period, Brandt ventured to several industrial towns in northern England to witness firsthand the impact of the Depression. Striking images from this group, including Snicket in Halifax (1937), Coal-Searcher Coming Home from Jarrow (1937), and Northumbrian Miner at His Evening Meal (1937), bear unequivocal witness to the devastating unemployment that plagued the region at the time, but there is a subtle ambiguity to many of these images that suggests Brandt found the artistic potential of these soot-blackened structures and faces competing for his attention.

Brandt’s activity during the Second World War – long distilled by Brandt and others to a handful of now-iconic pictures of moonlit London during the Blackout and improvised shelters during the Blitz – are presented for the first time in the context of his assignments for the leading illustrated magazines of his day, establishing a key link between his pre- and postwar work. In addition to photographs such as Liverpool Street Underground Station Shelter (1940) and Deserted Street in Bloomsbury (1942), this section includes lesser-known works from the period such as: Bombed Regency Staircase, Upper Brook Street, Mayfair (c. 1942); Packaging Post for the War (c. 1942); and a suite of extraordinary wartime portraits.

Brandt’s assignments for Picture Post and Lilliput magazines, as well as Harper’s Bazaar (UK and US), led variously into extended investigations of portraiture and landscape photography, with a strong emphasis on contemporary literary figures in Britain and the country’s rich literary heritage. A solemn, vaguely distracted expression became a hallmark of Brandt’s portraiture, and notable examples on view include Dylan Thomas, Norman Douglas, Evelyn Waugh, Reg Butler, Harold Pinter, Martin Amis, Tom Stoppard, Vanessa Redgrave, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, and Francis Bacon.

Brandt’s crowning artistic achievement – published as Perspective of Nudes in 1961 – is a series that is both personal and universal, sensual and strange, collectively exemplifying the “sense of wonder”, to quote Brandt, that is paramount in his photographs. His extended investigation of the female nude remains his most original and memorable work, defying preconceived notions of the genre with his choice of settings (inhospitably barren seashores or prim Victorian interiors that conflated the domestic and the sexual in lieu of sterile, but safe, studios), as well as the extreme exaggeration of his distortions, cropping, and printing styles, rendering what might otherwise have been hopelessly clichéd aspects of the female form unfamiliar and surprising. On view are over 40 photographs from this period, including four prints of his iconic London (1952), which together suggest Brandt’s willingness to reinterpret even the most supremely resolved images in his oeuvre.

Through a rigorous analysis of each chapter of Brandt’s career across a half century of work, the exhibition clarifies the achievement of this towering figure in photography’s modernist tradition.”

Press release from the MoMA website

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Bombed Regency Staircase, Upper Brook Street, Mayfair' c. 1942

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983)
Bombed Regency Staircase, Upper Brook Street, Mayfair
c. 1942
Gelatin silver print
9 x 7 5/8″ (22.8 x 19.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. Acquired through the generosity of Clarissa A. Bronfman
© 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'A Snicket in Halifax' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983)
A Snicket in Halifax
1937
Gelatin silver print
9 x 7 11/16″ (22.9 x 19.6 cm)
Carl Jacobs Fund
© 2013 Estate of Bill Brandt

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Street Scene, London' 1936

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983)
Street Scene, London
1936
Gelatin silver print
9 1/16 x 7 11/16″ (23 x 19.6 cm)
© 2013 Estate of Bill Brandt

 

This picture, first published in Brandt’s book A Night in London in 1938, recalls the work of the Hungarian-born photographer Brassaï, who had a particular talent for capturing illicit, marginalized, or unconventional activity in the lamplit streets of Paris. Many of Brandt’s pictures, however, feature his family members playing roles. Here he placed his brother and sister-in-law, Rolf and Esther Brandt, in front of a large poster. Using a nearby streetlight or perhaps his own floodlight, Brandt cast Rolf’s profile in melodramatic shadow. The artifice necessary to make a work was irrelevant for Brandt so long as he felt the picture rang true . (Text from MoMA website)

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Soho Bedroom' 1934

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983)
Soho Bedroom
1934
Gelatin silver print
8 3/4 x 7 9/16″ (22.2 x 19.2 cm)
Acquired through the generosity of Michèle Gerber Klein
© 2013 Estate of Bill Brandt

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Haworth Churchyard' 1945

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983)
Haworth Churchyard
1945
Gelatin silver print
8 15/16 x 7 11/16″ (22.7 x 19.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. Acquired through the generosity of Jon L. Stryker.
© 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Losing at the Horse Races, Auteuil, Paris' c. 1932

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983)
Losing at the Horse Races, Auteuil, Paris
c. 1932
Gelatin silver print
8 3/8 x 6 15/16″ (21.3 x 17.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. Gift of Edwynn Houk
© 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Jean Dubuffet' 1960

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983)
Jean Dubuffet
1960
Gelatin silver print
8 3/8 x 7 1/4″ (21.3 x 18.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'London' 1954

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983)
London
1954
Gelatin silver print
9 1/8 x 7 3/4″ (23.1 x 19.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. Acquired through the generosity of Clarissa Alcock Bronfman and Richard E. Salomon
© 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

Bill Brandt A Perspective of Nudes 1961

A book that looks back to Kertesz’s Distortions and forward to the psychedelia of the late 60s. As Vince Aletti writes in The Book of 101 Books, Brandt “conjure[d] a dream world of skewed perspectives in which his nude female subjects appeared to float unanchored or loom like giants.” Parr and Badger writing in The Photobook: A History, vol. 1, assert that these images “rewrote the language of nude photography in not one, but several quarters… [they are] as interesting for their psychological undertones as for the wealth of unexpected forms he conjured… Brandt pictured a world of faded grandeur, of Edwardian bourgeois homes metamorphosing into 1940s bedsit land – cavernous refuges for European émigrés or bohemian nonconformists.”

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Seaford, East Sussex Coast' 1957

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983)
Seaford, East Sussex Coast
1957
Gelatin silver print
9 x 7 11/16″ (22.9 x 19.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. Gift of David Dechman and Michel Mercure
© 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

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T: (212) 708-9400

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12
Jan
13

Text: ‘Orality, (n)framing and enactment in the art of Jacqui Stockdale’ in IANN magazine Vol.8, ‘Unfound in Australia’, October 2012

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“What does it mean, to rediscover an unknown continent through the medium of photography in the 21st century? The seven artists that appear in this “Unfound in Australia” issue are well versed in the photographic technique and language familiar to modern art, yet show cultural distinctness that is nothing short of extraordinary. Our readers might experience a sense of shock or alienation from their work, which combines the new with the old. This kind of unsettling feeling may very well be an unconscious reaction to what we consider to be the ‘other.’ It is my hope that our readers will rediscover the power of photography as a chronological and visual language through these works of long underappreciated modern Australian photography.

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IANN magazine
 Vol.8, “Unfound in Australia,” October 2012 IANN Magazine website

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My text that appears in IANN magazine Vol.8, “Unfound in Australia” (October 2012) on the art of Jacqui Stockdale is a reworking of the review of her exhibition Jacqui Stockdale: The Quiet Wild at Helen Gorie Galerie in April – May 2012. It is a good piece of writing but it is the “lite” version of the text that I wrote. Instead of the “heavy” version fragmenting away on some long forgotten backup hard drive, and for those of you that like a little more conceptual meat on the bone, it is published below.

Other artists featured in the Volume 8 edition of IANN magazine include Marian Drew, Henri Van Noordenburg, Justine Khamara, Magdalena Bors and Christian Thompson.

Marcus

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Orality, (n)framing and enactment in the art of Jacqui Stockdale

The concept of Orality is important in the art of Australian Jacqui Stockdale for her works are visual tone poems. Portraying identities in flux, her mythological creatures rise above the threshold of visibility to engage our relationship with time and space, to challenge the trace of experience.

Stockdale uses the body not as passive object but as descriptive and rhapsodic theme, the body as pliable flesh acting as a kind of threshold or hinge of experience – between interior and exterior, viewer and photograph, longing and desire. Drawing on personal places and stories, assemblage and performance (the process of painting the models and the outcome of this interaction), Stockdale creates a wonderful melange of archetypal characters that subvert traditional identities and narratives. Her creatures “shape-shift” and frustrate attempts at categorization and assimilation.

The artist inverts cultural stereotypes (which embody elements of fixity, repetition, and ambivalence) located within the realms of the fetish, the scopic, and the Imaginary in order to dis/place the collective memory of viewers that have been inscribed with a stereotypical collective vernacular. In this process the work elides “fantasy” which Bhabha suggests plays a formative role in colonial exercises of power.1 In Stockdale’s upside-down world (quite appropriate for the “land down under”), “Each new identity is one of inversion; man becomes woman, child becomes adult, animals transform into humans and vice-versa.”2

An example of this inversion can be seen in her latest series of photographs, The Quiet Wild (2012). Here Stockdale unsettles traditional textual readings, the titles of her photographic portraits indecipherable to the uninitiated, a coded language of identity and place. Lagunta, Leeawuleena and Jaara for example, are three Aboriginal names meaning, respectively, Tasmanian Tiger, the name for the land around Cradle Mountain on that island and the name for the Long Gully region around Bendigo, Victoria (Stockdale’s native area); El Gato is the cat and Gondwanan the name for the southernmost of two supercontinents (the other being Laurasia) before the world split apart into the structure that we known today.

Stockdale’s performative tactics and multiple modes of address, her polyvocal subject if you like, may be said to be an effect of intertextuality3: “a conscious recognition and pursuit of an altogether different set of values and historical and cultural trajectories.”4 Undeniably her re-iterations and re-writings of cultural trajectories as ritual performative acts have links to Bakhtin’s idea of the carnivalesque and the carnival paradigm, which accords to certain patterns of play where “the social hierarchies of everyday life… are profaned and overturned by normally suppressed voices and energies.”5

It is through this “play” that the context of the photographs and their relationship to each other and the viewer are “framed.” This device emphasises the aesthetic rather than information and encourages the viewer to think about the relationship between the body, the world of which it is part and the dream-reason of time.6

This intertextual (n)framing (n meaning unspecified number in mathematics) encourages the viewer to explore the inbetween spaces in the meta-narrative,and by leaps (intuitive leaps, poetic leaps, leaps of faith)”7 encourage escapism. Through the (n)framing of the body and the enactment of multiple selves Stockdale narrativises her mythological creatures, her charged bodies initiating new conditions of Otherness in the mise-en-scène of being. This is why her images are so powerful for her art approaches Otherness using a visual Orality and a theatrical openness that encourages disparate meanings to emerge into consciousness. It is up to us as viewers to seek the multiple, disparate significances of what is concealed in each photograph – in the myth of origin; in something that can’t be explained by man; in the expression of meaning of the things that are beyond us.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan
August 2012

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Jacqui Stockdale. 'Negro Returno, Long Gully' 2012

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Jacqui Stockdale
Negro Returno, Long Gully
2012
Type C Print
100 x 78cm

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Footnotes

1. “According to Bhabha, stereotypes are located within the realms of the fetish, the scopic, and the Imaginary. He suggests that fantasy plays a formative role in colonial exercises of power. Bhabha describes the mechanism of cultural stereotypes as embodying elements of fixity, repetition, fantasy, and ambivalence, and suggests that if certain types of images are constantly presented in a range of different contexts, they will become imprinted onto the collective memory of viewers and inscribed within a collective vernacular.”

Vercoe, Caroline. Agency and Ambivalence: A Reading of Works by Coco Fusco,” in Fusco, Coco. The Bodies That Were Not Ours. London: Routledge, 2001, p.240.

2. Stockdale, Jacqui. Artist statement 2012.

3. Intertextuality is always an iteration which is also a re-iteration, a re-writing which foregrounds the trace of the various texts it both knowingly and unknowingly places and dis-places. Intertexuality is how a text is constituted. It fragments singular readings. The reader’s own previous readings, experiences and position within the cultural formation” also influences these re-inscriptions.

Keep, Christopher, McLaughlin, Tim and Parmar, Robin. Intertextuality, on The Electronic Labyrinth website [Online] Cited 13/11/2011. elab.eserver.org/hfl0278.html.

4. Fisher, Jean. Witness for the Prosecution: The Writings of Coco Fusco,” in Fusco, Coco. The Bodies That Were Not Ours. London: Routledge, 2001, pp. 227-228.

5. Anon. Carnivalesque,” on Wikipedia. [Online] Cited 13/05/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnivalesque

6. Bacon, Julie Louise. Liquid Archive: On Ambivalence, in Liquid Archive. Melbourne: Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), 2012, p.119.

7. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara. The Museum – A Refuge for Utopian Thought, in Rüsen, Jörn; Fehr Michael, and Ramsbrock, Annelie (eds.). Die Unruhe der Kultur: Potentiale des Utopischen. Velbrück Wissenschaft, 2004. In German.

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Marcus Bunyan writing on his website

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20
Oct
12

Review: ‘Gregory Crewdson: In A Lonely Place’ at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Fitzroy, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 28th September – 11th November 2012

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Installation photographs of the series Beneath the Roses (2003-2008) from the exhibition Gregory Crewdson: In A Lonely Place at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Fitzroy, Melbourne (Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan)

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© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

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Details of one of Gregory Crewdson’s works from the series Beneath the Roses (2003-2008) (Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan)

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“The American middle-class nightmare: nothing is clean, orderly, idyllic, or romantic. In his perfectly staged, hyperrealistic tableaux, photographer Gregory Crewdson reveals the claustrophobic limbo and abyss of spiritual repression that is the typical suburb. Here, hushed-up violence, alienation, isolation, and emptiness are nothing new or unfamiliar, but rather part of the everyday neighbourhood experience.”

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Gregory Crewdson, In a Lonely Place, Abrams Publishing, New York, 2011

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“I have always been fascinated by the poetic condition of twilight. By its transformative quality. Its power of turning the ordinary into something magical and otherworldly. My wish is for the narrative in the pictures to work within that circumstance. It is that sense of in-between-ness that interests me.”

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Gregory Crewdson

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Downfall of a dream: (n)framing the enigma in Gregory Crewdson’s
Beneath the Roses

After the excoriating, unreasonably subjective diatribe by Robert Nelson in The Age newspaper (“Unreal stills, unmoving images” Wednesday October 17 2012) I hope this piece of writing will offer greater insight into the work of this internationally renowned artist. With some reservations, I like Crewsdon’s work, I like it a lot – as do the crowds of people flocking to the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Fitzroy to see the exhibition. Never have I seen so many people at the CCP looking at contemporary photography before and that can only be a good thing.

Let’s get the basics out of the way first. The early series Fireflies are small silver gelatin photographs that capture “the tiny insects’ transient moments of light as they illuminate the summer night.” These are minor works that fail to transcend the ephemeral nature of photography, fail to light the imagination of the viewer when looking at these scenes of dusky desire and discontinuous lives. The series of beautiful photographs titled Sanctuary (2010) evidence the “ruin of the legendary Cinecittà studios, which was founded by Mussolini in the 1930s and is associated with the great Italian film director Federico Fellini.” Wonderful photographs of doorways, temples, dilapidated stage sets with excellent use of soft miasmic light creating an atmosphere of de/generation (as though a half-remembered version of Rome had passed down through the generations) interfaced with contemporary Rome as backdrop. The digital prints show no strong specular highlights, no deep blacks but a series of transmutable grey and mid tones that add to the overall feeling of romantic ruin. It is a pity that these photographs are not printed as silver gelatin photographs, for they would have had much more depth of feeling than they presently possess. They just feel a little “thin” to me to sustain the weight of atmosphere required of them.

But it is the series Beneath the Roses (2003-2008) that has made Crewdson truly famous. Shot using a large format camera, Crewdson makes large-scale photographs of elaborate and meticulously staged tableaux, which have been described as “micro-epics” that probe the dark corners of the psyche. Working in the manner of a film director, he leads a production crew, which includes a director of photography, special effects and lighting teams, casting director and actors. He typically makes several exposures that he later digitally combines to produce the final image. Photographs in the series of “brief encounters” include external dioramas (shot in a down at heel Western Massachusetts town), where Crewdson shuts down streets and lights the whole scene; to interior dialogues where houses are built on sound stages and the artist can control every detail of the production. Influences on these works include, but are not limited to:

David Lynch (Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks), Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo), Steven Spielberg (Close Encounters), the paintings of Edward Hopper, Diane Arbus (the detritus of her photographic interiors), film noir, psychoanalysis, American suburbia, the American dream, the photographs of Walker Evans, Cindy Sherman and surrealism. Concepts that you could link to the work include loneliness, alienation, apathy, resignation, mystery, contemplation and confusion, identity, desire, memory and imagination.

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Now to the nuts and bolts of the matter.

Another major influence that I will add is that of the great Italian director Federico Fellini (La Dolce Vita – The Sweet Life) who shot most of that film on the sets at Cinecittà studios in Rome. It is perhaps no coincidence that Crewdson, on his first overseas film shoot, shot the series Sanctuary at the very same location. Crewdson’s photographs in the series Beneath the Roses are an American form of  “The Sweet Life.” In 1961, the New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther praised Fellini’s “brilliantly graphic estimation of a whole swath of society in sad decay and, eventually, a withering commentary on the tragedy of the over-civilized… Fellini is nothing if not fertile, fierce and urbane in calculating the social scene around him and packing it onto the screen. He has an uncanny eye for finding the offbeat and grotesque incident, the gross and bizarre occurrence that exposes a glaring irony. He has, too, a splendid sense of balance and a deliciously sardonic wit that not only guided his cameras but also affected the writing of the script. In sum, it is an awesome picture, licentious in content but moral and vastly sophisticated in its attitude and what it says.”1 The same could equally be said of the Crewdson and his masterpieces in Beneath the Roses. Crewdson is in love with Fellini’s gesture – of the uplifting of the characters and their simultaneous descent into “sweet” hedonism, debauchery and decadence using the metaphor of downfall (downfall links each scene in La Dolce Vita, that of a “downward spiral that Marcello sets in motion when descending the first of several staircases (including ladders) that open and close each major episode.”)2 Crewdson’s “spectacular apocalypses of social enervation”3 mimic Fellini’s gestural flourishes becoming Crewdson’s theme of America’s downfall, America as a moral wasteland. Crewdson’s is “an aesthetic of disparity” that builds up a cumulative impression on the viewer that finds resolution in an “overpowering sense of the disparity between what life has been or could be, and what it actually is.”4

Crewdson’s cinematic encounters are vast and pin sharp when seen in the flesh. No reproduction on the web can do their physical presence justice; it is the details that delight in these productions. You have to get up close and personal with the work. His dystopic landscapes are not narratives as such, not stills taken from a movie (for that implies an ongoing story) but open-ended constructions that allow the viewer to imagine the story for themselves. They do not so much evoke a narrative as invite the viewer to create one for themselves – they are an “invitation” to a narrative, one that explores the anxiety of the (American) imagination, an invitation to empathise with the dramas at play within contemporary environments. For me, Crewdson’s extra ordinary photographs are a form of enigma (a puzzling or inexplicable occurrence or situation), the picture as master puzzle (where all the pieces fit perfectly together in stillness) that contains a riddle or hidden meaning. Clues to this reading can be found in one of the photographs from the series (Blue Period, see detail image, above) where Crewdson deliberately leaves the door of a bedside cupboard open to reveal a “Perfect PICTURE PUZZLE” box inside. The viewer has to really look into the image and understand the significance of this artefact.

Another reading that I have formulated is of the transience of space and time within Crewdson’s series. In the disquieting, anonymous townscapes people look out from their porches (or the verandas are lit and empty), they abandon their cars or walk down desolate streets hardly ever looking directly out at the viewer. The photographs become sites of mystery and wonder hardly anchored (still precisely anchored?) in time and space. This disparity is emphasised in the interior dialogues. The viewer (exterior) looks at a framed doorway or window (exterior) looking into an scene (interior) where the walls are usually covered with floral wallpaper (interior / exterior) upon which hangs a framed image of a Monet-like landscape (exterior) (see detail image, above). Exterior, exterior, interior, interior / exterior, exterior. The trees of the landscape invade the home but are framed; exterior/framed, interior/mind. There is something mysterious going on here, some reflection of an inner state of mind.

In his visual mosaics Crewdson engages our relationship with time and space to challenge the trace of experience. His tableaux act as a kind of threshold or hinge of experience – between interior and exterior, viewer and photograph. His photographs are a form of monism in which two forces (interior / exterior) try to absorb each other but ultimately lead to a state of equilibrium. It is through this “play” that the context of the photographs and their relationship to each other and the viewer are “framed.” This device emphasises the aesthetic as much as information and encourages the viewer to think about the relationship between the body, the world of which it is part and the dream-reason of time.5 This intertextual (n)framing (n meaning unspecified number in mathematics) encourages the viewer to explore the inbetween spaces in the non-narrative / meta-narrative,”and by leaps (intuitive leaps, poetic leaps, leaps of faith)”6 encourage escapism in the imagination of the viewer. It is up to us as viewers to seek the multiple, disparate significances of what is concealed in each photograph as “felt knowledge” (Walter Benjamin), recalling to mind the sensory data placed before our eyes, something that can be experienced but cannot be explained by man: “the single moment of the present amidst the transience of life and searching for some kind of eternal truth.”7

Finally, in a more adverse reading of the photographs from the series Beneath the Roses, I must acknowledge the physically (not mentally) static nature of the images where every detail of the mise-en-scène is fully articulated and locked down: from the perfect trickle of blood running from the woman’s vagina in Blue Period, to the reflections in mirrors, the detritus of living scattered on the bedroom floor, the dirty telephone, packed suitcases and keys in locks to the desolate looks of the participants that never engage with the viewer. Despite allusions of despair, in their efficacy (their static and certain world order), there is no real chthonic madness here, no real messiness of the capture of death, murder and the wastage of human life (famine, AIDS, cancer or the blood running over the pavement in one of Weegee’s murder scenes for example). This is Fellini’s gross and bizarre LITE. Americurbana “is being addressed with the same reserve and elegance that ensures that the institution – artistic, political, what you will – is upheld and never threatened. It is pre-eminently legible, it elicits guilt but not so much as to cause offence.”8 I must also acknowledge the male-orientated viewpoint of the photographs, where men are seated, clothed, lazy or absent and all too often women are doing the washing or cooking, are naked and vulnerable. In their portrayal of (usually) half dressed or naked females the photographs evidence a particularly male view of the world, one that his little empathy or understanding of how a female actually lives in the world. For me this portrait of the feminine simply does not work. The male photographer maintains control (and power) by remaining resolutely (in)visible.

Overall this is a outstanding exhibition that thoroughly deserves that accolades it is receiving. Sitting in the gallery space for an hour and a half and soaking up the atmosphere of these magnificent works has been for me one of the art experiences of 2012. Make sure that you do not miss these mesmerising prophecies.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to the artist, Gagosian Gallery and the Centre for Contemporary Photography for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Special thankx to Director of the CCP Naomi Cass and Ms. James McKee from Gagosian Gallery for facilitating the availability of the media images. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

All photographs © Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.

Installation and detail photographs Dr Marcus Bunyan

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© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

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© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

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© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

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© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

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“In a Lonely Place presents selections from three major series by Gregory Crewdson, Fireflies (1996), Beneath the Roses (2003-2008), Sanctuary (2010) and, presented for the first time, the video Field Notes (2009). The exhibition title comes from Nicholas Ray’s 1950s film noir of the same name, one of many films that inspired Crewdson. In a Lonely Place is evocative of an underlying mood-a quiet feeling of alienation and loneliness that links the three series selected by curators Estelle Af Malmborg, Jens Erdman Rasmussen and Felix Hoffmann. In a Lonely Place presents the first comprehensive exhibition of Crewdson’s work in Australia.

In Beneath the Roses, anonymous townscapes, forest clearings and broad, desolate streets are revealed as sites of mystery and wonder; similarly, ostensibly banal interiors become the staging grounds for strange human scenarios. Crewdson’s scenes are tangibly atmospheric: visually alluring and often deeply disquieting. Never anchored precisely in time or place, these and the other narratives of Beneath the Roses are located in the dystopic landscape of the anxious American imagination. Crewdson explores the American psyche and the dramas at play within quotidian environments.

In his most recent series, Sanctuary (2010), Crewdson has taken a new direction, shooting for the first time outside the US. During a trip to Rome, he visited the legendary Cinecittà studios, which was founded by Mussolini in the 1930s and is associated with the great Italian film director Federico Fellini. Crewdson discovered fragments of a past glory, with occasional unexpected views of the surrounding contemporary Roman suburbia. Cinecittà is a lonely place deserted by the film crews who once used the site to recreate settings of ancient Rome, medieval Italy and nineteenth-century New York.

In the intimate photographs of Fireflies, Crewdson portrays the mating ritual of fireflies at dusk, capturing the tiny insects’ transient moments of light as they illuminate the summer night. Unlike the theatrical scale of the Beneath the Roses and Sanctuary series, Fireflies is a quiet meditation on the nature of light and desire, as the images reflect not only upon the fleeting movements of the insects in their intricate mating ritual, but upon the notion of photography itself, in capturing a single ephemeral moment.

Gregory Crewdson received a BA from the State University of New York, Purchase, New York in 1985 and an MFA in Photography from Yale School of Art, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut in 1988. He has exhibited widely in the United States and Europe. He is Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in Photography at the Yale School of Art, Yale University. Gregory Crewdson is represented by Gagosian Gallery and White Cube Gallery.”

Press release from the Gagosian Gallery website

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Installation photographs the series Sanctuary (2010) from the exhibition Gregory Crewdson: In A Lonely Place at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Fitzroy, Melbourne (Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan)

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© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

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© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

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© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

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© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

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© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

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1. Crowther’s review first published in The New York Times, April 20, 1961. In Fava and Vigano, 105 quoted in Anon. “La Dolce Vita,” on Wikipedia Footnote 30 [Online] Cited 20/10/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Dolce_Vita

2. Anon. “La Dolce Vita,” on Wikipedia Footnote 30 [Online] Cited 20/10/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Dolce_Vita

3. Sultanik, Aaron. Film, a Modern Art. Cranbury, N.J: Cornwall Books, 1986, p.408

4. Richardson, Robert. “Waste Lands: The Breakdown of Order,” in Bondanella (ed.), Federico Fellini: Essays in Criticism, p.111 quoted in Anon. “La Dolce Vita,” on Wikipedia Footnote 30 [Online] Cited 20/10/2012.
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Dolce_Vita

5. Bacon, Julie Louise. “Liquid Archive: On Ambivalence,” in Liquid Archive. Melbourne: Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), 2012, p.119

6. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara. “The Museum – A Refuge for Utopian Thought,” in Rüsen, Jörn; Fehr Michael, and Ramsbrock, Annelie (eds.). Die Unruhe der Kultur: Potentiale des Utopischen. Velbrück Wissenschaft, 2004. In German.

7. Kataoka, Mami commenting on the work of Allan Kaprow. “Transient Encounters,” in Broadsheet: Criticism, Theory, Art Vol 41.3, September 2012, p.174

8. Geczy, Adam. “A dish served lukewarm,” in Broadsheet: Criticism, Theory, Art Vol 41.3, September 2012, p.177

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Centre for Contemporary Photography
404 George St, Fitzroy
Victoria 3065, Australia
T: + 61 3 9417 1549

Opening Hours:
Wednesday – Saturday, 11am – 6pm
Sunday, 1pm – 5pm

Gagosian Gallery website

Centre for Contemporary Photography website

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02
Aug
12

Exhibition: ‘Painting in Photography. Strategies of Appropriation’ at the Städel Museum, Frankfurt

Exhibition dates: 27th June – 23rd September 2012

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“To understand the production of art at the end of tradition, which in our lifetime means art at the end of modernism, requires, as the postmodern debate has shown, a careful consideration of the idea of history and the notion of ending. Rather than just thinking ending as the arrival of the finality of a fixed chronological moment, it can also be thought as a slow and indecisive process of internal decomposition that leaves in place numerous deposits of us, in us and with us – all with a considerable and complex afterlife. In this context all figuration is prefigured. This is to say that the design element of the production of a work of art, the compositional, now exists prior to the management of form of, and on, the picture plane. Techniques of assemblage, like montage and collage – which not only juxtaposed different aesthetics but also different historical moments, were the precursors of what is now the general condition of production.”

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“Art Byting the Dust” Tony Fry 1990

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They said that photography would be the death of painting. It never happened. Recently they thought that digital photography would be the death of analogue photography. It hasn’t happened for there are people who care enough about analogue photography to keep it going, no matter what. As the quotation astutely observes, the digital age has changed the conditions of production updating the techniques of montage and collage for the 21st century. Now through assemblage the composition may be prefigured but that does not mean that there are not echoes, traces and deposits of other technologies, other processes that are not evidenced in contemporary photography.

As photography influenced painting when it first appeared and vice versa (photography went through a period known as Pictorialism where where it imitated Impressionist painting), this exhibition highlights the influence of painting on later photography. Whatever process it takes photography has always been about painting with light – through a pinhole, through a microscope, through a camera lens; using light directly onto photographic paper, using the light of the scanner or the computer screen. As Paul Virilio observes, no longer is there a horizon line but the horizon square of the computer screen, still a picture plane that evidences the history of art and life. Vestiges of time and technology are somehow always present not matter what medium an artist chooses. They always have a complex afterlife and afterimage.

PS. I really don’t think it is a decomposition, more like a re/composition or reanimation.
PPS. Notice how Otto Steinert’s Luminogramm (1952, below), is eerily similar to some of Pierre Soulages paintings.

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

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Installation views of the exhibition Painting in Photography. Strategies of Appropriation at the Städel Museum, Frankfurt

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Otto Steinert (1915-1978)
Ein-Fuß-Gänger
1950
Gelatin silver print
28,5 x 39 cm
Courtesy Galerie Kicken Berlin
© Nachlass Otto Steinert, Museum Folkwang, Essen

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Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
Photogram
ca.1923-25
Unique photogram, toned printing-out paper
12,6 x 17,6 cm
Courtesy Galerie Kicken Berlin
© Hattula Moholy-Nagy / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

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Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008)
10-80-C-17 (NYC)
1980
From the series: In + Out of City Limits: New York / Boston
Gelatin silver print on fibre-based paper
58 x 73 cm
DZ BANK Kunstsammlung at the Städel Museum
© Estate of Robert Rauschenberg / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2012

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Thomas Ruff (*1958)
Substrat 10
2002
C-type print
186 x 238 cm
DZ BANK Kunstsammlung
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2012

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Hiroshi Sugimoto (*1948)
Sam Eric, Pennsylvania
1978
Gelatin silver print
42.5 x 54.5 cm
Private collection, Frankfurt
© Hiroshi Sugimoto / Courtesy The Pace Gallery

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Wolfgang Tillmans (*1968)
paper drop (window)
2006
C-type print in artists frame, 145 x 200 cm
Property of Städelscher Museums-Verein e.V.
© Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Köln / Berlin
Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main
Acquired in 2008 with funds from the Städelkomitee 21. Jahrhundert

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Otto Steinert (1915–1978)
Luminogramm
1952
Gelatin silver print, printed ca. 1952
41,5 x 60 cm
Courtesy Galerie Kicken Berlin
© Nachlass Otto Steinert, Museum Folkwang, Essen

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“From 27 June to 23 September 2012, the Städel Museum will show the exhibition “Painting in Photography. Strategies of Appropriation.” The comprehensive presentation will highlight the influence of painting on the imagery produced by contemporary photographic art. Based on the museum’s own collection and including important loans from the DZ Bank Kunstsammlung as well as international private collections and galleries, the exhibition at the Städel will center on about 60 examples, among them major works by László Moholy-Nagy, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Wolfgang Tillmans, Thomas Ruff, Jeff Wall, and Amelie von Wulffen. Whereas the influence of the medium of photography on the “classic genres of art” has already been the subject of analysis in numerous exhibitions and publications, less attention has been paid to the impact of painting on contemporary photography to date. The show at the Städel explores the reflection of painting in the photographic image by pursuing various artistic strategies of appropriation which have one thing in common: they reject the general expectation held about photography that it will document reality in an authentic way.

The key significance of photography within contemporary art and its incorporation into the collection of the Städel Museum offer an occasion to fathom the relationship between painting and photography in an exhibition. While painting dealt with the use of photography in the mass media in the 1960s, today’s photographic art shows itself seriously concerned with the conditions of painting. Again and again, photography reflects, thematizes, or represents the traditional pictorial medium, maintaining an ambivalent relationship between appropriation and detachment.

Numerous works presented in the Städel’s exhibition return to the painterly abstractions of the prewar and postwar avant-gardes, translate them into the medium of photography, and thus avoid a reproduction of reality. Early examples for the adaption of techniques of painting in photography are László Moholy-Nagy’s (1895-1946) photograms dating from the 1920s. For his photographs shot without a camera, the Hungarian artist and Bauhaus teacher arranged objects on a sensitized paper; these objects left concrete marks as supposedly abstract forms under the influence of direct sunlight. In Otto Steinert’s (1915-1978) nonrepresentational light drawings or “luminigrams,” the photographer’s movement inscribed itself directly into the sensitized film. The pictures correlate with the gestural painting of Jackson Pollock’s Abstract Expressionism. A product of random operations during the exposure and development of the photographic paper, Wolfgang Tillmans’ (*1968) work “Freischwimmer 54” (2004) is equally far from representing the external world. It is the pictures’ fictitious depth, transparency, and dynamics that lend Thomas Ruff’s photographic series “Substrat” its extraordinary painterly quality recalling color field paintings or Informel works. For his series “Seascapes” the Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto (*1948) seems to have “emptied” the motif through a long exposure time: the sublime pictures of the surface of the sea and the sky – which either blur or are set off against each other – seem to transcend time and space.

In addition to the photographs mentioned, the exhibition “Painting in Photography” includes works by artists who directly draw on the history of painting in their choice of motifs. The mise-en-scène piece “Picture for Women” (1979) by the Canadian photo artist Jeff Wall (born in 1946), which relates to Édouard Manet’s famous painting “Un Bar aux Folies-Bergère” from 1882, may be cited as an example for this approach. The camera positioned in the center of the picture reveals the mirrored scene and turns into the eye of the beholder. The fictitious landscape pictures by Beate Gütschow (born in 1970), which consist of digitally assembled fragments, recall ideal Arcadian sceneries of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The photographs taken by Italian Luigi Ghirri (1943-1992) in the studio of Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964) “copy” Morandi’s still lifes by representing the real objects in the painter’s studio instead of his paintings.

Another appropriative strategy sees the artist actually becoming active as a painter, transforming either the object he has photographed or its photographic representation. Oliver Boberg’s, Richard Hamilton’s, Georges Rousse’s and Amelie von Wulffen’s works rank in this category. For her series “Stadtcollagen” (1998-1999) Amelie von Wulffen (born in 1966) assembled drawing, photography, and painting to arrive at the montage of a new reality. The artist’s recollections merge with imaginary spaces offering the viewer’s fantasy an opportunity for his or her own associations.

The exhibition also encompasses positions of photography for which painting is the object represented in the picture. The most prominent examples in this section come from Sherrie Levine (born in 1947) and Louise Lawler (born in 1947), both representatives of US Appropriation Art. From the late 1970s on, Levine and Lawler have photographically appropriated originals from art history. Levine uses reproductions of paintings from a catalogue published in the 1920s: she photographs them and makes lithographs of her pictures. Lawler photographs works of art in private rooms, museums, and galleries and thus rather elucidates the works’ artworld context than the works as such.”

Press release from the Städel Museum website

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Sherrie Levine (*1947)
After Edgar Degas (detail)
1987
5 lithographs on hand-made paper
69 x 56 cm
DZ BANK Kunstsammlung im Städel Museum, Frankfurt
© Sherrie Levine / Courtesy Jablonka Galerie, Köln

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Louise Lawler (*1947)
It Could Be Elvis
1994
Cibachrome, varnished with shellac
74.5 x 91 cm
DZ BANK Kunstsammlung at the Städel Museum
© Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

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Oliver Boberg (*1965)
Unterführung [Underpass]
1997
C-type print, 75 x 84 cm
DZ BANK Kunstsammlung
© Oliver Boberg / Courtesy L.A. Galerie – Lothar Albrecht, Frankfurt

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Richard Hamilton (1922–2011)
Eight-Self-Portraits (detail)
1994
Thermal dye sublimation prints
40 x 35 cm
DZ BANK Kunstsammlung
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2012

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Wolfgang Tillmans (*1968)
Freischwimmer 54
2004
C-type in artists frame
237 x 181 x 6 cm
Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main
© Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Köln / Berlin
Acquired in 2008 with funds from the Städelkomitee 21. Jahrhundert
Property of Städelscher Museums-Verein e.V.

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1. Fry, Tony. “Art Byting the Dust,” in Hayward, Phillip. Culture, Technology and Creativity in the Late Twentieth Century. London: John Libbey and Company, 1990, pp.169-170.

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Städel Museum
Schaumainkai 63
60596 Frankfurt

Opening hours:
Tuesday, Friday – Sunday 10 am – 6 pm
Wednesday and Thursday 10 am – 9 pm

Städel Museum website

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23
Feb
12

Review: ‘Looking at Looking’ at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 30th September 2011 – 4th March 2012

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“The paradox is the more we seek to fix our vision of the world and to control it the less sure we are as to who we are and what our place is in the world.”

Marcus Bunyan 2011

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This is a delightful, intimate exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria that examines how looking through a camera directs and structures the way we see the world. The exhibition mines the same ground as one of my top exhibitions from last year, In camera and in public that was presented at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Fitzroy.

Numerous artists use photography to examine the ways in which gender, race and sexuality have been ‘looked at’ in visual culture, including the politics of looking in relation to Indigenous cultures and identities. In I split your gaze (1997) by Brook Andrew, the artist has split the face of an Aboriginal man down the middle, and reassembled the face ear to ear. No longer can we look on the man as a whole because our gaze is split. Andrew is said to have “reclaimed” the image from colonial scientific, anthropological documentation but this presupposes some holistic whole existed a priori to white intervention. The split photograph does alter perception but to what extent it promotes a different reading, a postcolonial gaze that is understood as such by the viewer, is debatable.

Chi Peng poses more interesting gender reversals and masquerades. In Consubstantiality (2004, below) misaligned pairs of people, of androgynous face and hard to distinguish gender, are “reflected” in a pseudo mirror. Consubstantiality references the Christian principle describing the intertwined relationship of the Trinity (God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) as being of one essence, one being.

“Chi Peng uses digital technologies to manipulate photographic surfaces and often uses his own body and identity as a homosexual man living in China as a means of creating new ways of looking at himself and at the construction of identity… With powdered faces and bodies, the naked ‘reflections’ press the palms of their hands together across a pane of glass. At first glance, it is as though the photographer is intruding on a private scene, a moment of self-scrutiny in a mirror. However the hands do not quite align and the gazes diverge…”1

This self-reflexivity and its relation to the Lacan’s mirror stage in the development of male and female identity – in which the mirror can be looked at and looks back in return – lends these ethereal images real beauty and presence as they explore the psychology of identity and gender reversal.

“Photographers Ashley Gilbertson and John Imming, and collaborative artists Lyndell Brown and Charles Green have all used cameras to document war, and their works off three distinct views.The common link appears to be an engagement with ideas of the observer and the observed and questioning who is looking at whom, and why?”2 Attempting an apolitical view of the war in Iraq, Gilbertson was embedded with different US military outfits on numerous visits to the country between 2002-08, reliant on them for his safety. Many of his “objective” photographs deal with representations of surveillance and covert looking from ‘within the ranks’. But not from within enemy ranks. The very fact of his embedding, his lying down within a disciplinary system of control and power, to shoot from one point of view, politicises his gaze.

Brown and Green’s painterly photograph features a tightly choreographed scene, “a market within a military camp in which traders were invited to sell their wares. The scene is indicative, however, of the ‘strained atmosphere’ prevalent when different cultures interact in military situations – seemingly harmonious but concealing the ‘control that was exerted in the selection of traders’.”3 This traditional tableau vivant sees the traders become actors on a stage, their gaze directed towards the female officer at the centre of the group holding a piece of clothing which is blocked from our view. We the viewer are excluded from the circle of gazes; we become other, looking at the looking of the traders. Their gaze and our gaze are at cross-purpose; we wish to become a player on the stage but are denied access and can only observe the spectacle from a distance. Excluded, the viewer feels disempowered, the photographic mise en scène leaving me unmoved.

John Imming’s photographs use found images from the Vietnam war, the first war in which photographers had unrestricted access and were given absolute freedom to record what they saw. Vietnam was a stage for intense exploration, photographers bombarding the public with images of extreme violence. Imming rephotographs images from the television screen using a Leica camera, abstracting them into darkly hued creatures, the borders miming the shape of early television screens. “The images become abstracted and our gaze is ‘reduced’ into blurred shapes of contrasting tones … His photographs force us to slow down the memories of the somewhat ephemeral television imagery and look deeply at what is being portrayed, and how.”4 These photographs fail in that task for they are very surface photographs. The photographs do not have the structure to support such a vision nor the support of beauty to prick the consciousness of the gaze. They are ugly images because war is ugly and abstracting them in order to ask the viewer to look deeply and have an incredible insight into the condition ‘war’ and how it is portrayed simply did not work for me.

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The two standout works in the exhibition are Thomas Struth’s luminous photograph Pergamon Museum IV, Berlin (2001, below) and Bill Henson’s seminal (perhaps even ubiquitous) series Untitled 1980/82 (1980-82, see above) – these photographs seem to be everywhere at the moment, perhaps a change is as good as a rest!

Struth’s magnificent large colour photograph is an investigation into the theatre of seeing. In the photograph Struth directs his cast and choreographs the visitors, the arrangement of the spectators re-assembling the open-ended narrative of the 2nd century Telephos frieze behind. “Similarities between the poses of the audience members and the poses of the carve relief figures gradually emerge, suggesting an unconscious dialogue between the viewers and the objects they regard. The result of Struth’s directorial mode of working is the creation of a type of theatre based on intersecting viewpoints, raising questions about the gaze of the spectator and the process of looking at works of art and each other.”5

Beholders observe beholders and the subjects of vision become historical, according to art historian Wold-Dieter Heilmeyer.

The suffused light that falls from the skylight leaves no shadow.
A man who casts no shadow has no soul.
The shadow according to Jung is the seat of creativity.
Here there is no depth of field, the sculptures and the figures feel like they are almost on one plane.
None of the viewers looks at the camera, they avoid its probing gaze, passively becoming the feminine aspect – like the central raised figure, robbed of head and arms, being gazed upon from all sides. We, the viewer, are looking at the spectacle of the viewers looking at the frieze. Looking at looking the observer becomes the observed (surveillance camera where are you?)
Consider the freeze frame of the models as they posed for the sculptor all those years ago; the freeze frame of the sculptures themselves; the freeze frame of the spectators posing for the camera; the freeze frame of the photograph itself; and then consider the freeze frame of time and space as we stand before the photograph looking at it. Then notice the women in the photograph videotaping the scene, another excoriating layer that tears at the fabric of time and looking, that causes lacrimation for our absent soul. What a photograph!

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The Henson photographs are presented in a wonderfully musical installation, mimicking the movement of the crowds portrayed. I republish below my comments on this series from the review of the In camera and in public exhibition.

“A selection of photographs from the Crowd Series (1980 – 82) by Bill Henson. Snapped in secret these black and white journalistic surveillance photographs (‘taken’ in an around Flinders Street railway station in Melbourne) have a brooding intensity and melancholic beauty. Henson uses a flattened perspective that is opposed to the principles of linear perspective in these photographs. Known as The Art of Describing6 and much used in Dutch still life painting of the 17th century to give equal weight to objects within the image plane, here Henson uses the technique to emphasise the mass and jostle of the crowd with their “waiting, solemn and compliant” people.

“When exhibiting the full series, Henson arranges the works into small groupings that create an overall effect of aberrant movement and fragmentation. From within these bustling clusters of images, individual faces emerge like spectres of humanity that will once again dissolve into the crowd … all apparently adrift in the flow of urban life. The people in these images have an anonymity that allows them to represent universal human experiences of alienation, mortality and fatigue.”7

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Henson states, “The great beauty in the subject comes, for me, from the haunted space, that unbridgeable gap – which separates the profound intimacy and solitude of our interior world from the ‘other’… The business of how a child’s small hand appearing between two adults at a street crossing can suggest both a vulnerability, great tenderness, and yet also contain within it all of the power that beauty commands, is endlessly fascinating to me.”8 His observation is astute but for me it is the un/awareness of the people in these photographs that are their beauty, their insertion into the crowd but their isolation from the crowd and from themselves. As Maggie Finch observes, it is “that feeling of being both alone and private in a crowd, thus free but also exposed.”9

In the sociologist Erving Goffman’s terms the photographs can be seen as examples of what he calls “civil inattention”10 which is a carefully monitored demonstration of what might be called polite estrangement, the “facework” as we glance at people in the crowd, holding the gaze of the other only briefly, then looking ahead as each passes the other.

“Civil inattention is the most basic type of facework commitment involved in encounters with strangers in circumstances of modernity. It involves not just the use of the face itself, but the subtle employment of bodily posture and positioning which gives off the message “you may trust me to be without hostile intent” – in the street, public buildings, trains or buses, or at ceremonial gatherings, parties, or other assemblies. Civil inattention is TRUST as ‘background noise’ – not as a random collection of sounds, but as carefully restrained and controlled social rhythms. It is characteristic of what Goffman calls “unfocused interaction.””11

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This is what I believe Henson’s photographs are about. Not so much the tenderness of the child’s hand but a fear of engagement with the ‘other’. As such they can be seen as image precursors to the absence/presence of contemporary communication and music technologies. How many times do people talk on their mobile phone or listen to iPods in crowds, on trams and trains, physically present but absenting themselves from interaction with other people. Here but not here; here and there. The body is immersed in absent presence, present and not present, conscious and not conscious, aware and yet not aware of the narratives of a ‘recipro/city failure’. A failure to engage with the light of place, the time of exposure and an attentiveness to the city.

As Susan Stewart insightfully observes,

“To walk in the city is to experience the disjuncture of partial vision/partial consciousness … The walkers of the city travel at different speeds, their steps like handwriting of a personal mobility. In the milling of the crowd is the choking of class relations, the interruption of speed, and the machine.”12″

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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

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Bill Henson
Australian 1955-
Untitled 1980/82
1980-82
from the Untitled 1980/82 series 1980-82
gelatin silver photograph
43.0 x 38.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Anonymous gift, 1993
© Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

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Bill Henson
Australian 1955-
Untitled 1980/82
1980-82
from the Untitled 1980/82 series 1980-82
gelatin silver photograph
43.0 x 38.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Anonymous gift, 1993
© Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

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Bill Henson
Australian 1955-
Untitled 1980/82
1980-82
from the Untitled 1980/82 series 1980-82
gelatin silver photograph
29.2 x 47.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Anonymous gift, 1993
© Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

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“On 30 September the National Gallery of Victoria will present Looking at Looking: The Photographic Gaze, a unique exhibition exploring how photography can construct particular ways of looking. Looking at Looking will feature works by 10 Australian and international photographers including 20 photographs from Bill Henson’s Untitled 1980-82 series.

Drawn entirely from the NGV Collection, this exhibition will bring together a fascinating selection of photographs inviting the viewer to consider the diverse nature of the photographic gaze and explore the complex relationships between the subject, the photographer and the audience. The displayed photographs will include observations of people in crowds, surveillance images from war zones and photographs that explore different ways of looking at gender, race and identity.

Maggie Finch, Assistant Curator, Photography, NGV said: “The act of photographing people involves a process of observation and scrutiny.  At times, photographers remain detached and anonymous while at other times they are complicit, directing their subjects and encouraging specific actions.”

Frances Lindsay, Deputy Director, NGV, said: “In the NGV’s 150th year this exhibition allows visitors to explore the dynamic relationship between the observer and the observed. This is a rare opportunity to view these photographs in a truly unique context.”

Looking at Looking will consider the anonymous photographer, one who is able to look without being looked at in return and consequently see more than otherwise possible. This idea is explored in Bill Henson’s series Untitled 1980-82, where the artist photographed people on city streets. Hung in a dense display, these photographs provide a psychological study of the nature of people when in a crowd.

Looking at Looking will feature works by Brook Andrew, Chi Peng, Anne Ferran, Ashley Gilbertson, Charles Green and Lyndell Brown, Bill Henson, John Immig, Thomas Struth and David Thomas.”

Press release from the National Gallery of Victoria

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Thomas Struth
German 1954-
Pergamon Museum IV, Berlin
2001
type C photograph
144.1 x 219.9 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased with the assistance of The Bowness Family Fund for Contemporary Photography, 2008
© 2011 Thomas Struth

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David Thomas
born Northern Ireland 1951, arrived Australia 1958
Amid history 2 (Large version)
2006
enamel paint on type C photograph on aluminium and plastic
100.0 x 145.0 cm National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2007 © the artist

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Ashley Gilbertson
Australian 1978-
A member of the Mahdi Army RPG team
2004
from the Whiskey Tango Foxtrot series 2004
digital type C print
66.5 x 99.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2009
© Ashley Gilbertson / VII Network

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John Immig
Dutch/Australian 1940-
No title (T.V. images)
1975-76
from the Vietnam series 1975-76
gelatin silver photograph
20.2 x 25.3 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with the assistance of the Visual Arts Board, 1977 © John Immig

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Chi Peng
Chinese 1981-
Consubstantiality
2004
type C photograph
87.5 x 116.7 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with the assistance of the NGV Foundation, 2004 © Chi Peng, courtesy of Red Gate Gallery, Beijing

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Charles Green
Australian 1953-
Lyndell Brown
Australian 1961-
Afghan traders with soldiers, market, Taran Kowt Base Uruzgan Province, Afghanistan
2007 printed 2009
from The approaching storm series 2009
inkjet print
155.0 x 107.5 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2009
© Courtesy of the Artists and Arc One Gallery, Melbourne

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1. Finch, Maggie. Looking at Looking: The Photographic Gaze. Catalogue. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2011, p.10.

2. Ibid., p.16.

3. Ibid., p.21.

4. Ibid., p.24.

5. Ibid., p.7.

6. See Alpers, Svetlana. The Art of Describing: Dutch Art in the Seventeenth Century. University Of Chicago Press, 1984.

7. AnonBILL HENSON: early work from the MGA collection. Education Resource. A Monash Gallery of Art Travelling Exhibition [Online] Cited 14/10/2011. www.unisa.edu.au/samstagmuseum/exhibitions/2011/docs/HENSON_edukit.PDF

8. Henson, Bill quoted in the exhibition catalogue. First published as a pdf for the exhibition In camera and in public Curated by Naomi Cass. Centre for Contemporary Photography, 16 September – 23 October 2011.

9. Stephens, Andrew. “Who’s watching you?” in The Saturday Age. 23rd September 2011 [Online] Cited 14/10/2011.
www.theage.com.au/entertainment/whos-watching-you-20110923-1kot7.html

10. See  Goffman, E. Behaviour in Public Places. New York: Free Press, 1963.

11. Giddens, Anthony. The Consequences of Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1991, pp.82-83.

12. Stewart, Susan. On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection. Durham: Duke University Press, 1993, p.2. Prologue.

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NGV International
180 St Kilda Road

Opening hours
10am – 5pm. Closed Tuesdays.

National Gallery of Victoria website

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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