Posts Tagged ‘modern visual language

10
Jan
18

Exhibition: ‘Albert Renger-Patzsch: Things’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 17th October 2017 – 21st January 2018

Curator: Sérgio Mah, Universidade NOVA, Lisboa

 

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966) 'Stapelia variegata, Asclepiadaceae' 1923

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966)
Stapelia variegata, Asclepiadaceae
1923
Albert Renger-Patzsch Archiv / Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde. Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich
© Albert Renger-Patzsch / Archiv Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Zülpich / ADAGP, Paris 2017

 

 

Experiencing the image

“[Walter Isaacson] describes the photographs, of which 7200 … miraculously survive today, as the greatest record of curiosity, because his “cross-disciplinary brilliance whirls across every page, providing a delightful display of a mind dancing with nature”. Renger-Patzsch delighted in seeing patterns in nature, so he would juxtapose a photograph of the branching arteries of the heart with the roots of a sprouting tree.”1

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A mind dancing with nature.

Of course, the original quote (which I have altered) was talking about Leonardo da Vinci… but the same enquiring mind, the same display can be seen in the work of Albert Renger-Patzsch. His was a mind entranced by the nature of technology, and the technology, the structure of nature. However, he is ambivalent about the benefits of industrialisation even as he photographed it in ‘New Objectivity’ style – that is, supposedly free from emotion and subjectivity.

No writing about his work can put it better than this quote from when this exhibition was at Fundación MAPFRE in Madrid:

“Technical precision and exact representation of the subject; psychological contention and rejection of pictorial stylization and expressionism; a keen sense of composition with attention to details, structures and forms; a sharp and clear construction of the image: these were some of the fundamental premises of a tendency that understands photography as a privileged medium to promote an artistic and simultaneously perceptive shift.

Renger-Patzsch’s work amalgamates a great number of photographic subjects, typologies and genres. In a historical period marked by deep political tension and significant social and economic change, his work allows the viewer to envision a unique worldview, a platform of intersections and re-appreciations between the domains of nature and technology.”

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The only point I would not support in this quotation are these words, “psychological contention and rejection of pictorial stylization and expressionism.”

Of course, “through the disconcerting simplicity of the photographs Renger-Patzsch highlights the phenomenological and psychological aspects that are part of experiencing the image,” but he does so not through a REJECTION of pictorial stylization and expressionism (and all the baggage that those words embody), but through an INTENSIFICATION of a different form of pictorial style which forces? the image to emit a new form of expression. That is, the object is just its surface and is captured, instantly, by the camera in this perceptive shift.

Can you imagine seeing these photographs in the 1920s, having never seen anything like them before? They would have been revolutionary, in their rendering of the surface of the object and nothing more. Placing the camera directly before the object which requires nothing else but itself… the eye of the snake, the darkness of a tree trunk, the ordering of shoemakers’ irons. But then he finishes his ode to life, Die Welt ist schön [The World is Beautiful], with his version of Albrecht Dürer’s Praying Hands (c. 1508). I suspect that the idea the Renger-Patzsch was working with is that beauty is truth, and truth is beauty.

In contemporary society, have we lost the ability to see these photographs as he intended, with a child-like innocence? Was he saying, this is objective, do you agree? Or does the poetic intensity in the life of things refuse to be stilled?

For me, these photographs are not e/motion-less, they are the very essence of a reality rendered wonderful in my eyes.

Marcus

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

  1. Paraphrase of Tina Allen. “Prophetic Polymath,” on Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson in Weekend Australian Review January 6-7 2018, p. 14

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966), who produced a huge body of work spanning four and half decades, was one of the most influential photographers of the New Objectivity movement that emerged in Germany in the mid 1920s. His work helped to establish photography as a unique and important medium within modern art. Renger-Patzsch revived realism in photography, adopting an approach that was characterised by formal and technical rigour and a rejection of expressionism and pictorial stylisation. He had a highly developed sense of composition, and his attention to detail, structure and form resulted in images with sharp, clear compositions. For Renger-Patzsch, photography was a medium that made possible new forms of artistic imagery, while being perfectly in step with a period marked by industrialisation and the spread of technology. By highlighting the medium’s unique properties and the creative possibilities of documentary photography, Renger-Patzsch forged a unique role for photography within the arts of his time.

His original, simple images combine extraordinary realism and documentary value with poetic and phenomenological resonance, giving them great power. Renger-Patzsch was a highly prolific photographer who explored a wide range of subjects and genres. This exhibition highlights the invaluable legacy of this extraordinary photographer, whose work provides an ideal context for reflecting on the specificities and relevance of photography within the field of contemporary art and culture.

– The Design of Nature
– From Vernacular Landscape to the Modern City
– The vision of things
– Landscapes of the Ruhr: the Topography of a Transformation
– Industrial Objects and Architecture: Geometry and Series
– The Destiny of Nature

Sérgio Mah

 

 

 

The Design of Nature

During the initial phase of his career, Albert Renger-Patzsch produced a series of photographs depicting plants and flowers for the collection Die Welt der Pflanze [The World of Plants], coordinated by Ernst Fuhrmann as part of his biosophical studies.

The first two volumes in the series, both published in 1924, were Orchideen [Orchids] and Crassula. Renger-Patzsch worked within the general parameters of the book, reproducing fragments of nature with as much objectivity and clarity as possible. He produced a large number of photographs distinguished by their great technical and compositional rigour, including systematic close-ups of plants and flowers. In 1923, Renger-Patzsch wrote his first text, “Pflanzenaufnahmen” [Plant photographs], setting out his views on photography and its extraordinary capacity for capturing nature. Among the images and arguments in the text he outlines some of the key principles that would underpin his photography: attention to detail and emphasis on the formal, structural and material aspects of nature, as well as, correspondingly, a reiterative affirmation of the intrinsic qualities of photography – realism, objectivity, neutrality – and its unique role in expanding our perception of reality.

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966) 'Catasetum trindentatum, Orchidaceae' 1922-1923

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966)
Catasetum trindentatum, Orchidaceae
1922-1923
Albert Renger-Patzsch Archiv / Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich
© Albert Renger-Patzsch / Archiv Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Zülpich / ADAGP, Paris 2017

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966) 'Brasilianischer Melonenbaum von unten gesehen [Brazilian melon tree seen from below]' 1923

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966)
Brasilianischer Melonenbaum von unten gesehen [Brazilian melon tree seen from below]
1923
Galerie Berinson, Berlin
© Albert Renger-Patzsch / Archiv Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Zülpich / ADAGP, Paris 2017

 

 

From Vernacular Landscape to the Modern City

In 1927, Albert Renger-Patzsch published his most ambitious book to date, Die Halligen [The Halligen Islands], with images of the islands in the Wadden Sea, on the northern coast of Germany.

His photographs featured a number of subjects: landscapes, portraits, architectural motifs and everyday activities. These subjects encapsulated the relationship between local ways of life (genuine, deep-rooted, traditional) and the physical and symbolic characteristics of this peculiar area. This vernacular reality contrasted with the rampant industrialisation that was transforming many of the great urban centres in Germany.

Over the ensuing years, Renger-Patzsch published Lübeck (1928) and Hamburg (1930), books that highlight the emerging characteristics of the modern city, the coexistence of different historic periods and the intersection between historical culture and the impact of industrialisation. In these photographs the photographer’s interest in combining documentary objectives with the creative potential of a modern vision is evident in his use of close-cropped, asymmetrical compositions and innovative perspectives, alternating between general shots and a focus on details. He displays sensitivity to the formal and structural aspects of reality, rejecting the atavistic influence of painting in order to embrace the possibilities of a “new vision” governed by photography.

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966) 'Krabbenfischerin [Shrimp fisherwoman]' 1927

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966)
Krabbenfischerin [Shrimp fisherwoman]
1927
Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne – Centre de création industrielle, Paris. Acquisition en 1979
© Albert Renger-Patzsch / Archiv Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Zülpich / ADAGP, Paris 2017

 

 

The vision of things

In 1928, Albert Renger-Patzsch’s best-known book was published, Die Welt ist schön [The World is Beautiful], although the photographer would have preferred the title Die Dinge [Things].

It exemplifies the principles and characteristics of the photographer’s work: a desire to represent the immanent substance of an object/subject while demonstrating photography’s capacity for recording reality. In this respect, representing the unique character of a particular thing was also a way of affirming the unique character of photography.

The book encompasses a wide range of subjects and elements from the photographer’s world. It is an anthology of photographs taken since the beginning of his career, including several images produced for the books Die Welt der Pflanze, Die Halligen and Lübeck. Photographic genres are equally diverse, spanning portrait, landscape, still life and architectural images. The subjects are presented in an evolving thematic and conceptual sequence: first nature, plants, animals, people and landscapes; next, the manmade world of objects, architecture, the city, machines, and industrial structures and spaces. In this way a worldview is organised, a context of intersections and reappraisals, between nature and technology, between the sacred and the profane, between historical heritage and modernity.

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966) 'Ritzel and Zahnräder, Lindener Eisen-und Stahlwerke [Sprockets and gears, Lindener Eisen-und Stahlwerke factory]' 1927

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966)
Ritzel and Zahnräder, Lindener Eisen-und Stahlwerke [Sprockets and gears, Lindener Eisen-und Stahlwerke factory]
1927
Albert Renger-Patzsch. Albert Renger-Patzsch Archiv / Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich
© Albert Renger-Patzsch / Archiv Ann and Jürgen Wilde, Zülpich / ADAGP, Paris 2017

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966) 'Bügeleisen für Schuhfabrikation, Faguswerk Alfeld [Shoemakers' irons, Fagus factory, Alfeld]' 1928

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966)
Bügeleisen für Schuhfabrikation, Faguswerk Alfeld [Shoemakers’ irons, Fagus factory, Alfeld]
1928
Albert Renger-Patzsch Archiv / Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich
© Albert Renger-Patzsch / Archiv Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Zülpich / ADAGP, Paris 2017

 

 

Focus on the book Die Welt ist schön [The World is Beautiful]

Like other artists of his time, Renger-Patzsch was especially keen on exploring the formal analogies between the things of nature and industrial things. Industry led to mass production and the manufacture of standardised objects, exemplified in this image. This contrasts with other images from Die Welt ist schön [The World is Beautiful], such as Gebirgsforst im Winter [Mountain forest in winter] (below), which capture repetition in nature.

Renger-Patzsch identifies a coherence, a parity, between nature and culture as non-antagonistic doHands. He suggests a measure of naturalness in technology, and a measure of rationality in nature. For the photographer the emphasis on industrial seriality also allowed him to underscore the seriality of photography itself (as a means of technical reproduction), thus demonstrating the unique, mediating condition of this medium for visual reproduction in the connection between the natural world and the world of modern industry.

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966) 'Gebirgsforst im Winter (Fichtenwald im Winter)' [Mountain forest in winter (spruce forest in winter)] 1926

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966)
Gebirgsforst im Winter (Fichtenwald im Winter)
[Mountain forest in winter (spruce forest in winter)]
1926
Galerie Berinson, Berlin
© Albert Renger-Patzsch / Archiv Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Zülpich / ADAGP, Paris 2017

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966) 'Natterkopf [Head of an adder]' 1925

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966)
Natterkopf [Head of an adder]
1925
Galerie Berinson, Berlin
© Albert Renger-Patzsch / Archiv Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Zülpich / ADAGP, Paris 2017

 

 

Focus on the book Die Welt ist schön [The World is Beautiful]

Painstaking attention to detail is a central feature of Renger-Patzsch’s photography, as demonstrated by several images in Die Welt ist schön [The World is Beautiful]. Resorting to pronounced close-ups or subsequent reframing, the photographer breaks down and isolates the vision of certain things, thereby providing a fresh perspective: in this case, the image of a serpent’s head surrounded by a section of its body.

The close-up framing allows him to accentuate the two-dimensionality of the image, the part being more suggestive than the whole. This is a realistic, objective vision, but one aimed at creating a tension between the concrete nature of the motif and its abstract character.

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966) 'Hände [Hands]' 1926-1927

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966)
Hände [Hands]
1926-1927
Collection Ann und Jürgen Wilde
© Albert Renger-Patzsch / Archiv Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Zülpich / ADAGP, Paris 2017

 

 

Focus on the book Die Welt ist schön [The World is Beautiful]

This is the hundredth and last image of Die Welt ist schön [The World is Beautiful]. It shows a pair of hands joined together, isolated from the rest of the body, rising over a black background in a gesture heavy with symbolic, meditative and spiritual fervour.

Aware that photography was increasingly becoming mundane and banal, and that the experience of attention was crumbling in the face of the accelerating transformation of reality, in Die Welt ist schön Renger-Patzsch offers an imaginary world where modern subjects can be reconnected with the things surrounding them via the mediation of a diffuse and calm temporality, the temporality of tradition and myth. A symptom of this vision is precisely the closing image of the book.

 

 

“To do justice to modern technology’s rigid linear structure, to the lofty gridwork of cranes and bridges, to the dynamism of machines operating at one thousand horsepower – only photography can do that. […] The absolutely correct rendering of form, the subtlety of tonal gradation from the brightest light to the darkest shadow, impart to a technically expert photograph the magic of experience.”

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Albert Renger-Patzsch, “Ziele”, Das Deutsche Lichtbild, Berlin, 1927

 

“There is an urgent need to examine old opinions and look at things from a new viewpoint. There must be an increase in the joy one takes in an object, and the photographer should become fully conscious of the splendid fidelity of reproduction made possible by this technique.”

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Albert Renger-Patzsch, “Die Freude am Gegenstand,” Das Kunstblatt, Berlin, 1928

 

“[…] the eye is subjective; it views with pleasure the essential things and completely overlooks what is unimportant. The camera, on the other hand, has to reproduce the entire image in focus and in a particular size. It will see the essential and the inessential with equal clarity.”

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Albert Renger-Patzsch, in Meister der Kamera erzählen wie sie wurden und wie sie arbeiten, Halle (Saale), 1937

 

“[…] the eye is not isolated in its perception of the world. Rather its connections to the brain and the support of our senses in experience heat, cold wind, noise, smells and so on create an extraordinarily compact image of the world, whose plasticity and density are perhaps intensified by a particularly appropriate emotional state. Photography reduces this colourful world into a black-and-white rectangle. It is obvious that this most unpretentious of art forms requires the greatest reliability of taste, ability for abstraction, fantasy and concentration.”

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Albert Renger-Patzsch, in Meister der Kamera erzählen wie sie wurden und wie sie arbeiten, Halle (Saale), 1937

 

 

The aim of this exhibition is to rediscover and pay tribute to the legacy of this unique photographer in the conviction that his work offers a context for encouraging reflection on the nature and artistic and speculative potential of photography within the framework of contemporary art and culture.

Of enormous simplicity and originality, Renger-Patzsch’s photography is notable for being based on a documentary style that prioritised realist sobriety and frankness as fundamental characteristics of photographic representation. In other words, his work offers a rigorous approach in technical and formal terms, in which the camera is only used to intensify our vision and aware of things. For Renger-Patzsch, this not only explained his photographic procedures but above all the potential for an aesthetic and conceptual identity for photography that visibly distanced itself from the Pictorialist legacy and from the hybrid experimentalism characteristic of the early 20th-century avant-gardes.

Both Renger-Patzsch’s photography and the various texts in which he set out his ideas reveal his determination to exploit the qualities inherent in the photographic medium. He stated that his aim was: “to use photographic means to create a photography that could exist through its own photographic nature.” In another text Renger-Patzsch wrote that,

“the eyes are not isolated from their perception of the world.

On the contrary, they are part of our senses and, by being connected to the brain, allow us to experience heat, cold, wind, noise, smell, and to rapidly construct a remarkably compacted image of the world, the plasticity and density of which also depend on our emotional states.

Photography reduces the world in colour to a rectangle in black and white. And logically, given that it is the least pretentious form of art, it requires rigorous taste, a capacity for abstraction, imagination and concentration.”

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Such statements reveal that the exceptional quality of Renger-Patzsch’s work and thought is also notable for the way it conceives and expands the horizon and scope of the idea of documentary photography. As a result, the descriptive and objective qualities of photography are combined with and articulated by its aesthetic, poetic and phenomenological powers.

This retrospective aims to encompass the principal themes, periods and genres that define Renger-Patzsch’s photographic output through the identification of three moments that are fundamental for an understanding of his career: firstly, his early years, from his photographs of plants taken for Folkwang/Auriga publishers, to the profusion of themes and photographic eclecticism which would be decisive for the creation of his book Die Welt ist schön [The World is Beautiful] of 1928. The period that began after his move to Essen was one of intense photographic creation on the Ruhr area, principally involving subjects associated with places, buildings and industrial objects. Finally, the years after World War II reveal a new interest in the themes of nature and landscape particularly trees and rocks.

Including around 154 photographs, this is one of the largest retrospectives on the artist to date and undoubtedly the one to bring together the largest number of works by Renger-Patzsch from institutional and private collections: the Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde/Pinakothek der Moderne München (Munich), the Museum Folkwang (Essen), the Ludwig Museum (Cologne), the Galerie Berinson (Berlin), the Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris).

Press release from Jeu de Paume

 

Highlights of the exhibition

Author of a monumental oeuvre created over four and a half decades, Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966) was the leading photographer of the New Objectivity movement that appeared in German art in the mid 1920s.

Renger-Patzsch was a prolific photographer and his oeuvre encompasses a variety of themes, types and genres. This exhibition covers the most important stages in Renger-Patzsch’s career, from his first photographs of plant details, urban scenes and industrial subjects to his later landscape work. In total the exhibition features more than 150 photographs, mostly vintage prints from the most important collections in Germany.

Renger-Patzsch devoted himself to creating a new photographic realism, characterised by an extreme simplicity and originality. He created a modern visual language that was imbued with a poetic resonance and helped to redefine the photographic image.
For Renger-Patzsch, photography was the most appropriate medium for carrying out a change that was simultaneously artistic and perceptual, i.e., the possibility of a new kind of image that reflected the changes of the 1920s and 1930s, a period marked by industrialisation and the spread of technology.

Albert Renger-Patzsch is the author of one of the seminal books in the history of photography, Die Welt ist schön [The World is Beautiful], which was published in 1928. This work reveals the full scope of Renger-Patzsch’s approach, which was to capture the unique character of each concrete thing in order to affirm also the unique character of photography.

Renger-Patzsch produced an exceptional body of work on the theme of industrial architecture, which he helped to turn into a genre in itself. He exerted a decisive influence on generations of photographers, not least Bernd and Hilla Becher. This exhibition sets out to highlight the vital legacy of this extraordinary photographer. In so doing, it sheds light on the important role of photography within the context of contemporary art and culture.

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966) 'Landstraße bei Essen [Country road near Essen]' 1929

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966)
Landstraße bei Essen [Country road near Essen]
1929
Albert Renger-Patzsch Archiv / Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich
© Albert Renger-Patzsch / Archiv Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Zülpich / ADAGP, Paris 2017

 

 

Landscapes of the Ruhr: the Topography of a Transformation

In 1929, Renger-Patzsch relocated to Essen, in the Ruhr, Germany’s leading industrial region and one the photographer was familiar with.

Two years earlier, he had produced the first images in an ambitious project focusing on the landscapes of the Ruhr, which he would work on until 1935. In this realm of contrasts, he became particularly interested in spaces that were between cities, between the urban and the rural, landscapes that displayed the process of change that the region was undergoing due to industrialisation and the development of public infrastructure.

The works reflect a change in Renger-Patzsch’s photographic vision: the compositions are widened, in some cases into large panoramic views. The images now focus on a multiplicity of elements and explore interpretative relationships and associations. His preference for more open images that include the surroundings of objects, rather than just close-ups, reflects a more inclusive objectivity. Some images include people, usually seen from afar. These figures are set in particular socio-spatial contexts and help to highlight the enormous disparity in scale between the human figure and the new industrial complexes. Vertical and horizontal elements, close up and in the distance, are combined and juxtaposed. The relationship between different planes, between foreground and background, is intensified in order to show how industry has shaped the landscape, turning it into a heterogeneous and paradoxical landscape (in historical and social terms).

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966) 'Landschaft bei Essen und Zeche "Rosenblumendelle" [Landscape near Essen with the Rosenblumendelle colliery]' 1928

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966)
Landschaft bei Essen und Zeche “Rosenblumendelle” [Landscape near Essen with the Rosenblumendelle colliery]
1928
Albert Renger-Patzsch Archiv / Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich
© Albert Renger-Patzsch / Archiv Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Zülpich / ADAGP, Paris 2017

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966) 'Zeche "Victoria Mathias" in Essen [Colliery "Victoria Mathias" in Essen]' 1929

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966)
Zeche “Victoria Mathias” in Essen [Colliery “Victoria Mathias” in Essen]
1929
Albert Renger-Patzsch Archiv / Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich. © Albert Renger-Patzsch / Archiv Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Zülpich / ADAGP, Paris 2017

 

 

Focus on the Ruhr

In the photographs of the Ruhr, the landscape emerges as a genre in which disparate elements are combined and contrasted, a way of exploring the boundaries between the rural and industrial worlds, the city and the periphery.

One of the most extraordinary examples from this period is the 1928 image Landschaft bei Essen und Zeche “Rosenblumendelle” [Landscape near Essen with the Rosenblumendelle colliery] (above). This photograph that seems to result from the collage of two layers (two regions, two realities), bringing together the idyllic serenity of the rural world, in the foreground, and the massive and disproportionate character of the new industrial complexes in the background, as the fatal destiny of the modern world.

At the centre is a road, a metaphor for history, mediating two different realities and suggesting the dilemma between tradition and modernity – a dilemma that highlights Renger-Paztsch’s ambivalent and paradoxical stance towards industrialisation.

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966) 'Kauper, Hochofenwerk Herrenwyk, Lübeck [Cowper, blast furnace Herrenwyk, Lübeck]' 1927

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966)
Kauper, Hochofenwerk Herrenwyk, Lübeck [Cowper, blast furnace Herrenwyk, Lübeck]
1927
Albert Renger-Patzsch Archiv / Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich. © Albert Renger-Patzsch / Archiv Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Zülpich / ADAGP, Paris 2017

 

 

Industrial Objects and Architecture: Geometry and Series

From the late 1920s onwards, Renger-Patzsch produced numerous works following commissions from architects and industrial companies.

At this time, the expansion of the press and advertising, boosted by industry, was having a big impact on art, providing an abundance of work opportunities for artists and photographers.

Photographs of industrial objects and buildings lent themselves to rigorous, carefully calculated compositions. In many cases, the viewer’s perception is guided by planimetric compositions, which are sometimes orthogonal, sometimes diagonal. His architectural photographs combine structural and formal aspects with a desire to record the functional reality of industrial complexes. His images of objects are characterised by their attention to detail and a desire to give aesthetic meaning to each of the objects photographed through meticulous graphic composition.

However, Renger-Patzsch emphasises the repetitive, standardised nature of the objects – aspects inherent to mass production. For him, the theme of technology was further confirmation of how photography differed from painting and provided the most suitable medium for representing the new reality – technical, material and spatial – of modern industrialisation.

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966) 'Ein Knotenpunkt der Fachwerkbrücke Duisburg-Hochfeld [A node from the latticework bridge in Duisburg-Hochfeld]' 1928

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966)
Ein Knotenpunkt der Fachwerkbrücke Duisburg-Hochfeld [A node from the latticework bridge in Duisburg-Hochfeld]
1928
Vintage gelatin silver print
Albert Renger-Patzsch Archiv / Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich
© Albert Renger-Patzsch / Archiv Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Zülpich / VEGAP, Madrid 2017

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966) 'Zeche "Heinrich-Robert", Turmförderung, Pelkum bei Hamm [Headframe at the Heinrich-Robert colliery in Pelkum, near Hamm]' 1951

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966)
Zeche “Heinrich-Robert”, Turmförderung, Pelkum bei Hamm [Headframe at the Heinrich-Robert colliery in Pelkum, near Hamm]
1951
Albert Renger-Patzsch Archiv / Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich
© Albert Renger-Patzsch / Archiv Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Zülpich / ADAGP, Paris 2017

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966) 'Zeche "Graf Moltke", Gelsenkirchen-Gladbeck [Graf Moltke colliery, in the Gladbeck district of Gelsenkirchen]' 1952-1953

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966)
Zeche “Graf Moltke”, Gelsenkirchen-Gladbeck [Graf Moltke colliery, in the Gladbeck district of Gelsenkirchen]
1952-1953
Albert Renger-Patzsch Archiv / Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich
© Albert Renger-Patzsch / Archiv Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Zülpich / ADAGP, Paris 2017

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966) 'Zeche "Katharina", Schacht Ernst Tengelmann, Essen-Kray [Katharina colliery, Ernst Tengelmann well, in the Kray district of Essen]' 1955-1956

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966)
Zeche “Katharina”, Schacht Ernst Tengelmann, Essen-Kray [Katharina colliery, Ernst Tengelmann well, in the Kray district of Essen]
1955-1956
Albert Renger-Patzsch Archiv / Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich. © Albert Renger-Patzsch / Archiv Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Zülpich / ADAGP, Paris 2017

 

 

Focus on architecture

Throughout his career, Renger-Patzsch created a huge number of photographs of industrial architecture. Its emergence as an artistic genre owes much to him, and his legacy exerted a decisive influence on generations of future photographers, including Bernd and Hilla Becher.

The perspective and the composition accentuate the geometry of the vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines. The photographer seeks to highlight the significance of a building designed according to strict functional and rational principles. In doing so, Renger-Patzsch reveals a correspondence between method and object in the sense that precision, objectivity and the documentary value of photography were in harmony with the rationality, coherence and functionality of the new industrial and modern architecture.

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966) 'Jenaer Glas (Zylindrische Gläser) [Jena glass (cylinders)]' 1934

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966)
Jenaer Glas (Zylindrische Gläser) [Jena glass (cylinders)]
1934
Museum Folkwang, Essen
© Albert Renger-Patzsch / Archiv Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Zülpich / ADAGP, Paris 2017

 

 

Focus on series

For Renger-Patzsch commercial commissions also provided opportunities for a personal and creative approach to photography. This image is part of a commission from the Jenaer Glaswerke Schott company, for whom he photographed several sets of laboratory objects in glass (recipients, flasks, tubes, jars). In this particular image Renger-Patzsch arranges eight glass beakers, all with the same cylindrical shape but of differing dimensions, on a reflecting surface and photographs them from a slightly elevated angle. The larger items are placed to the rear. The objects overlap with each other. The mirroring effect of the base creates the impression that the glassware is floating, especially at the centre of the image where the smaller cylinder (on which the manufacturer’s logo can be read) is the focal point. In their simple, standardised shape, and their transparency, the objects create a choreography of light, shadows and reflections, an experiment with the possibilities of looking at objects and reconfiguring their shapes.

 

 

The Destiny of Nature

In 1944, a large part of his archives at the Folkwang Museum were destroyed in an Allied bombing raid. With his family, Renger-Patzsch moved to the rural area of Wamel, close to Soest. He began to work on a new theme, returning to natural subjects, although now with an emphasis on landscape.

The photographer seemed to find among the trees, forests, rocks and craggy scenes a vital energy. These images suggest a diffuse sense of time contrasting with the linear nature of history and immune to the contingencies of modernity and the devastating consequences of war. In this final phase of his life, Renger-Patzsch published Baüme [Trees] in 1962 and Gestein [Rocks] in 1966, two volumes that exemplify the conceptual and aesthetic bases of this renewed, revitalised view of nature. Both books include essays by the writer and philosopher Ernst Jünger, with whom the photographer maintained an intense and regular correspondence for over twenty years.

The photographs in Baüme and Gestein are the logical corollary to Renger-Patzsch’s extraordinary trajectory. The images are less graphic, in part due to the fact that they depict forms that are apparently disordered, uncontrollable and unpredictable. Nevertheless, through the disconcerting simplicity and sobriety of these photographs, Renger-Patzsch also highlights the phenomenological and psychological aspects that are part of experiencing the image.

Nature can thus be seen as a subject that allows the viewer to experience a primal gaze. This is the condition for a vision simultaneously concrete, poetic and metaphysical that leads to a rediscovery of nature, its destiny, its silence, its rhythms, forms and forces.

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966) 'Buchenwald [Beech forest]' 1936

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966)
Buchenwald [Beech forest]
1936
Albert Renger-Patzsch Archiv / Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich
© Albert Renger-Patzsch / Archiv Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Zülpich / ADAGP, Paris 2017

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966) 'Das Bäumchen [The little tree]' 1928

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966)
Das Bäumchen [The little tree]
1928
Galerie Berinson, Berlin
© Albert Renger-Patzsch / Archiv Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Zülpich / ADAGP, Paris 2017

 

 

Focus on vertical landscape

This is one of Renger-Patzsch’s best-known and most outstanding photographs. This landscape with a tree in the middle heralds his later work. Because of its links to the history of painting, landscape was not a central theme of New Objectivity. In this image Renger-Patzsch chose a vertical landscape, a less usual format than the horizontal landscape. It is a hybrid image in the sense that it combines the tree as the central motif (leafless and reduced to its branch structure) with a panoramic view of a vast landscape. Of particular note is the way the photographer explores the different planes within the image, playing with depth and distance, with the foreground, where the tree stands and the background of the endless landscape. The differences between near and far are diluted on the two-dimensional surface of the image.

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966) 'Mechanismus der Faltung [Fold mechanism]' 1962

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966)
Mechanismus der Faltung [Fold mechanism]
1962
Albert Renger-Patzsch Archiv / Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich
© Albert Renger-Patzsch / Archiv Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Zülpich / ADAGP, Paris 2017

 

 

Focus on geology

Rocks and geological phenomena became of great interest to Renger-Patzsch in the latter phase of his career as a photographer, during which he travelled to France, Norway, Northern Ireland, Italy, Sweden and several parts of Germany to take the photographs published in Gestein [Rocks]. In the book, the images are strategically interspersed with text by geologist and palaeontologist Max Richter and an essay by writer and philosopher Ernst Jünger.

Renger-Patzsch photographed the rocks and layers of rock as evidence of the slower phenomena of nature, but also as metaphors for time and history. This image, taken on the coast of Brittany, shows a series of geological folds, a phenomenon that occurs when different forces cause the planar rock sheets to curve or fold. The photographic precision and objectivity of the image, along with the stunning (peculiar, expressive, pictorial) appearance generated by tectonic forces on the surface of the rock, create a vision that combines figuration and abstraction.

 

 

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27
May
16

Exhibition: ‘Sight Reading: Photography and the Legible World’ at the Morgan Library & Museum, New York

Exhibition dates: 19th February – 30th May 2016

 

This looks to be a fascinating exhibition. I wish I could see it.

While Sight Reading cuts across conventional historical and geographic divisions, with the exhibition being organized into nine “conversations” among diverse sets of works, we must always remember that these “themes” are not exclusory to each other. Photographs do cross nominally defined boundaries and themes (as defined by history and curators) so that they can become truly subversive works of art.

Photographs can form spaces called heterotopia, “a form of concept in human geography elaborated by philosopher Michel Foucault, to describe places and spaces that function in non-hegemonic conditions. These are spaces of otherness, which are neither here nor there, that are simultaneously physical and mental, such as the space of a phone call or the moment when you see yourself in the mirror… Foucault uses the term “heterotopia” (French: hétérotopie) to describe spaces that have more layers of meaning or relationships to other places than immediately meet the eye.”1

In photographs, there is always more than meets the eye. There is the association of the photograph to multiple places and spaces (the histories of that place and space); the imagination of the viewer and the memories they bring to any encounter with a photograph, which may change from time to time, from look to look, from viewing to viewing; and the transcendence of the photograph as it brings past time to present time as an intimation of future time. Past, present and future spacetime are conflated in the act of just looking, just being. Positioning this “‘annihilation of time and space’ as a particular moment in a dynamic cycle of rupture and recuperation enables a deliberate focus on the process of transition.”2 And that transition, Doreen Massey argues, ignores often-invisible contingencies that define spaces those relations that have an effect upon a space but are not visible within it.3

Photographs, then, form what Deleuze and Guattari call assemblages4, where the assemblage is “the processes by which various configurations of linked components function in an intersection with each other, a process that can be both productive and disruptive. Any such process invovles a territorialization; there is a double movement where something accumulates meanings (re-territorialization), but does so co-extensively with a de-territorialization where the same thing is disinvested of meanings. The organization of a territory is characterized by such a double movement … An assemblage is an extension of this process, and can be thought of as constituted by an intensification of these processes around a particular site through a multiplicity of intersections of such territorializations.”5 In other words, when looking at a photograph by William Henry Fox Talbot or Timothy H. O’Sullivan today, the meaning and interpretation of the photograph could be completely different to the reading of this photograph in the era it was taken. The photograph is a site of both de-territorialization and re-territorialization – it both gains and looses meaning at one and the same time, depending on who is looking at it, from what time and from what point of view.

Photographs propose that there are many heterotopias in the world, many transitions and intersections, many meanings lost and found, not only as spaces with several places of/for the affirmation of difference, but also as a means of escape from authoritarianism and repression. We must remember these ideas as we looking at the photographs in this exhibition.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

.
Many thankx to the Morgan Library & Museum for allowing me to publish the text and photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

  1. Heterotopia (space) on Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 27/05/2016.
  2. McQuire, Scott. The Media City. London: Sage Publications, 2008, p. 14.
  3. Massey, Doreen. Space, Place and Gender. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1994, p. 5 in Wood, Aylish. “Fresh Kill: Information technologies as sites of resistance,” in Munt, Sally (ed.,). Technospaces: Inside the New Media. London: Continuum, 2001, pp. 163-164.
  4. Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolisand London: University of Minneapolis Press, 1987.
  5. Wood, Aylish. “Fresh Kill: Information technologies as sites of resistance,” in Munt, Sally (ed.,). Technospaces: Inside the New Media. London: Continuum, 2001, p.166

 

 

'Sight Reading: Photography and the Legible World' exhibition sections

 

Sight Reading: Photography and the Legible World exhibition sections

 

 

“As its name declares, photography is a means of writing with light. Photographs both show and tell, and they speak an extraordinary range of dialects.

Beginning February 19 the Morgan Library & Museum explores the history of the medium as a lucid, literate – but not always literal – tool of persuasion in a new exhibition, Sight Reading: Photography and the Legible World. A collaboration with the George Eastman Museum of Film and Photography, the show features more than eighty works from the 1840s to the present and reveals the many ways the camera can transmit not only the outward appearance of its subject but also narratives, arguments, and ideas. The show is on view through May 30.

Over the past 175 years, photography has been adopted by, and adapted to, countless fields of endeavor, from art to zoology and from fashion to warfare. Sight Reading features a broad range of material – pioneering x-rays and aerial views, artifacts of early photojournalism, and recent examples of conceptual art – organized into groupings that accentuate the variety and suppleness of photography as a procedure. In 1936, artist László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946) defined “the  illiterate of the future” as someone “ignorant of the use of the camera as well as the pen.” The JPEG and the “Send” button were decades away, but Moholy-Nagy was not the first observer to argue that photography belonged to the arts of commentary and persuasion. As the modes and motives of camera imagery have multiplied, viewers have continually learned new ways to read the information, and assess the argument, embodied in a photograph.

“Traditional narratives can be found throughout the Morgan’s collections, especially in its literary holdings,” said Colin B. Bailey, director of the Morgan. “Sight Reading encourages us to use a critical eye to read and discover the stories that unfold through the camera lens and photography, a distinctly modern, visual language. We are thrilled to collaborate with the Eastman Museum, and together unravel a rich narrative, which exemplifies photography’s deep involvement in the stories of modern art, science, and the printed page.”

 

The exhibition

Sight Reading cuts across conventional historical and geographic divisions. Featuring work by William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877), Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904), John Heartfield (1891-1968), Lewis Hine (1874-1940), Harold Edgerton (1903-1990), John Baldessari (b. 1931), Sophie Calle (b. 1953), and Bernd and Hilla Becher (1931-2007; 1934-2015), among many others, the exhibition is organized into nine “conversations” among diverse sets of works.

 

I. The Camera Takes Stock

Photography’s practical functions include recording inventory, capturing data imperceptible to the human eye, and documenting historical events. In the first photographically illustrated publication, The Pencil of Nature (1845), William Henry Fox Talbot used his image Articles of China to demonstrate that “the whole cabinet of a … collector … might be depicted on paper in little more time than it would take him to make a written inventory describing it in the usual way.” Should the photographed collection suffer damage or theft, Talbot speculated, “the mute testimony of the picture … would certainly be evidence of a novel kind” before the law.

A century later, Harold Edgerton, an electrical engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, used the pulsing light of a stroboscope to record states of matter too fleeting for the naked eye. Gun Toss, an undated image of a spinning pistol, is not a multiple exposure: the camera shutter opened and closed just once. But during that fraction of a second, seven bright flashes of light committed to film a seven-episode history of the gun’s trajectory through space.

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 1800-1877) 'Articles of China' c. 1843, printed c. 1845

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 1800-1877)
Articles of China
c. 1843, printed c. 1845
Salted paper print from calotype negative
Collection of Richard and Ronay Menschel

 

In The Pencil of Nature (1845), the first photographically illustrated publication, Talbot used Articles of China to demonstrate that “the whole cabinet of a … collector … might be depicted on paper in little more time than it would take him to make a written inventory describing it in the usual way.” Should the collection suffer damage or theft, Talbot added, “the mute testimony of the picture … would certainly be evidence of a novel kind” before the law.

 

Timothy H. O'Sullivan (American, b. Ireland, 1840-1882) 'Historic Spanish Record of the Conquest, South Side of Inscription Rock' 1873

 

Timothy H. O’Sullivan (American, b. Ireland, 1840-1882)
Historic Spanish Record of the Conquest, South Side of Inscription Rock
1873
From the album Geographical Explorations and Surveys West of the 100th Meridian
Albumen silver print
George Eastman Museum, purchase

 

In 1873 O’Sullivan joined Lieutenant George Wheeler’s Geographic Survey in New Mexico and Arizona. At El Morro, a sandstone promontory covered with ancient petroglyphs and historic-era inscriptions, the photographer singled out this handsomely lettered sentence to record and measure. It states: By this place passed Ensign Don Joseph de Payba Basconzelos, in the year in which he held the Council of the Kingdom at his expense, on the 18th of February, in the year 1726. Nearby, the rock record now bears another inscription that reads T. H. O’Sullivan.

 

Harold Edgerton (American, 1903-1990) 'Gun Toss' 1936-50

 

Harold Edgerton (American, 1903-1990)
Gun Toss
1936-50
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Richard and Ronay Menschel

 

Edgerton, an electrical engineer, used the rapidly pulsing light of a stroboscope to record states of matter too fleeting to be perceived by the naked eye. This image of a spinning pistol is not a multiple exposure: the camera shutter opened and closed just once. But during that fraction of a second, seven bright flashes of light committed to film a seven-episode history of the gun’s trajectory through space.

 

John Pfahl (American, b. 1939) 'Wave Theory I–V, Puna Coast, Hawaii, March 1978' 1978

 

John Pfahl (American, b. 1939)
Wave Theory I-V, Puna Coast, Hawaii, March 1978
1978
From the series Altered Landscapes
Chromogenic development (Ektacolor) process prints, 1993
George Eastman Museum, purchase

 

In this sequence, Pfahl twisted the conventions of photographic narrative into a perceptual puzzle. The numbered views appear to chronicle a single event: a wave breaking on the shore. Close inspection, however, reveals that the numeric caption in each scene is made of string laid on the rock in the foreground. The exposures, then, must have been made over a span of at least several minutes, not seconds – and in what order, one cannot say.

 

 

II. Crafting A Message

The camera is widely understood to be “truthful,” but what photographs “say” is a product of many procedures that follow the moment of exposure, including page layout, captioning, and cropping of the image. During World War I, military personnel learned to interpret the strange, abstract looking images of enemy territory made from airplanes. Their specialized training fundamentally altered the nature of wartime reconnaissance, even as the unusual perspective unique to aerial photography introduced a new dialect into the expanding corpus of modern visual language. An Example of an Annotated Photograph with Local Names of Trenches Inserted (1916), on view in the exhibition, shows that the tools of ground strategy soon included artificial bunkers and trenches, designed purely to fool eyes in the sky.

In László Moholy-Nagy’s photocollages of the late 1920s, figures cut out of the plates in massmarket magazines appear in new configurations to convey messages of the artist’s devising. Images such as Massenpsychose (Mass Psychosis) (1927) propose a new kind of visual literacy for the machine age. To contemporary eyes, Moholy’s collages seem to foreshadow cut-andpaste strategies that would later characterize the visual culture of cyberspace.

 

László Moholy-Nagy (American, b. Hungary, 1895-1946) 'Massenpsychose' (Mass Psychosis) 1927

 

László Moholy-Nagy (American, b. Hungary, 1895-1946)
Massenpsychose (Mass Psychosis)
1927
Collage, pencil, and ink
George Eastman Museum, Purchased with funds provided by Eastman Kodak Company

 

To make his photocollages of the late 1920s, Moholy-Nagy cut figures out of photographs and photomechanical reproductions and arranged them into new configurations that convey messages of his own devising. By extracting the images from their original context and placing them into relationships defined by drawn shapes and volumes, he suggested a new visual literacy for the modern world. In this world – one in which images course through mass culture at a psychotic pace – a two-dimensional anatomical drawing acquires sufficient volume to cast a man’s shadow and a circle of bathing beauties cues up for a pool sharp. To contemporary eyes, the language of Moholy-Nagy’s photo collages seems to foreshadow strategies common to the visual culture of cyberspace.

 

Unidentified maker. 'An Example of an Annotated Photograph with Local Names of Trenches Inserted' c. 1916

 

Unidentified maker
An Example of an Annotated Photograph with Local Names of Trenches Inserted
c. 1916
Gelatin silver print
George Eastman Museum

 

During World War I, aerial photography progressed from a promising technological experiment to a crucial strategic operation. As advances in optics and engineering improved the capabilities of cameras and aircraft, military personnel learned to identify topographic features and man-made structures in the images recorded from above. Such training fundamentally altered the significance and practice of wartime reconnaissance. At the same time, the unusual perspective unique to aerial photography introduced a new dialect into the expanding corpus of modern visual language.

 

PhotoMetric Corporation, 1942-74 'PhotoMetric Tailoring' c. 1942-48

 

PhotoMetric Corporation, 1942-74
PhotoMetric Tailoring
c. 1942-48
Gelatin silver prints
George Eastman Museum

 

In an effort to streamline the field of custom tailoring, textile entrepreneur Henry Booth devised a method for obtaining measurements by photographing customers with a special camera and angled mirrors. The system was said to be foolproof, making it possible for any sales clerk to operate it. The resulting slides were sent to the manufacturer along with the customer’s order. A tailor translated the images into physical measurements using a geometric calculator, and the company mailed the finished garment to the customer.

 

 

III. Photographs in Sequence

Photography’s debut in the late 1830s happened to coincide with the birth of the modern comic strip. Ultimately the narrative photo sequence would lead to the innovations that gave rise to cinema, another form of storytelling altogether. Exact contemporaries of one another, Eadweard J. Muybridge in the United States and Étienne-Jules Marey (1830–1904) in France both employed cameras to dissect human movement. Muybridge used a bank of cameras positioned to record a subject as it moved, tripping wires attached to the shutters. The result was a sequence of “stop-action” photographs that isolated gestures not otherwise visible in real time. Beginning in 1882, Marey pursued motion studies with a markedly different approach. In the works for which he is best known, he exposed one photographic plate multiple times at fixed intervals, recording the arc of movement in a single image.

 

Étienne Jules Marey (French, 1830-1904) 'Chronophotographic study of man pole vaulting' c. 1890

 

Étienne Jules Marey (French, 1830-1904)
Chronophotographic study of man pole vaulting
c. 1890
Albumen silver print
George Eastman Museum, Exchange with Narodni Technical Museum

 

Exact contemporaries, Muybridge and Marey (the former in the United States, the latter in France) both employed cameras to dissect human movement. Muybridge used a bank of cameras positioned and timed to record a subject as it moved, tripping wires attached to the shutters. The result was a sequence of “stop-action” photographs that isolated gestures not otherwise visible in real time. Beginning in 1882, Marey took a markedly different approach. In the works for which he is best known – such as the image of the man pole-vaulting – he exposed a single photographic plate multiple times at fixed intervals, recording the arc of movement in a single image. In Marey’s chronophotograph of a man on a horse, the action reads from bottom to top. The convention of arranging sequential photographic images from left to right and top to bottom, on the model of written elements on a page, was not yet firmly established.

 

William N. Jennings (American, b. England, 1860-1946) 'Notebook pages with photographs of lightning' c. 1887

 

William N. Jennings (American, b. England, 1860-1946)
Notebook pages with photographs of lightning
c. 1887
Gelatin silver prints mounted onto bound notepad paper
George Eastman Museum, Gift of 3M Foundation; Ex-collection of Louis Walton Sipley

 

With his first successful photograph of a lightning bolt on 2 September 1882, Jennings dispelled the then widely held belief – especially among those in the graphic arts – that lightning traveled toward the earth in a regular zigzag pattern. Instead, his images revealed that lightning not only assumed an astonishing variety of forms but that it never took the shape that had come to define it in art.

 

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007) Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015) 'Industriebauten' 1968

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007) Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015) 'Industriebauten' 1968

 

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Industriebauten
1968
Gelatin silver prints in presentation box
George Eastman Museum, Purchase

 

The photographs in this portfolio were made only a few years into what would become the Bechers’ decades-long project of systematically documenting industrial architecture in Europe and the United States. The straightforward and rigidly consistent style of their work facilitates side-by-side comparison, revealing the singularity of structures that are typically understood to be generic.

 

 

IV. The Legible Object

Some photographs speak for themselves; others function as the amplifier for objects that can literally be read through the image. In her series Sorted Books, American artist Nina Katchadourian (b. 1968) composes statements by combining the titles of books drawn from the shelves of libraries and collections. Indian History for Young Folks, 2012, shows three books from the turn of the twentieth century that she found in the Delaware Art Museum’s M.G. Sawyer Collection of Decorative Bindings. The viewer’s eye silently provides punctuation: “Indian history for young folks: Our village; your national parks.” Though at first glance it appears merely to arrange words into legible order, Katchadourian’s oblique statement – half verbal, half visual – would be incomplete if divorced from the physical apparatus of the books themselves.

 

David Octavius Hill (Scottish, 1802-1870) Robert Adamson (Scottish, 1821-1848) 'The Artist and the Gravedigger (Denistoun Monument, Greyfriars Churchyard, Edinburgh)' c. 1845

 

David Octavius Hill (Scottish, 1802-1870)
Robert Adamson (Scottish, 1821-1848)
The Artist and the Gravedigger (Denistoun Monument, Greyfriars Churchyard, Edinburgh)
c. 1845
Salted paper print from calotype negative
George Eastman Museum, Gift of Alvin Langdon Coburn

 

Hill, his two nieces, and an unidentified man pose for the camera at the tomb of Robert Denistoun, a seventeenth-century Scottish ambassador. Contemplative poses helped the sitters hold still during the long exposure, even while turning them into sculptural extensions of the monument. Hill puts pen to paper, perhaps playing the part of a graveyard poet pondering mortality. Above him, the monument’s Latin inscription begins: “Behold, the world possesses nothing permanent!”

 

Robert Cumming (American, b. 1943) 'Submarine cross-section; feature film, "Gray Lady Down" - Stage #12, March 14, 1977' 1977

 

Robert Cumming (American, b. 1943)
Submarine cross-section; feature film, “Gray Lady Down” – Stage #12, March 14, 1977
1977
Inkjet print
George Eastman Museum, Gift of Nash Editions

 

In the Studio Still Lifes he photographed on the backlots of Universal Studios, Cumming sought to portray the mechanisms behind cinema vision “in their real as opposed to their screen contexts.” Admiring yet subversive, his documents use strategies native to the still camera – distance, point of view, and clear-eyed testimony – to translate Hollywood’s familiar illusions into worksites where “marble is plywood, stone is rubber, . . . rooms seldom have ceilings, and when the sun shines indoors, it casts a dozen shadows.”

 

Nina Katchadourian (American, b. 1968) 'Indian History for Young Folks' 2012

 

Nina Katchadourian (American, b. 1968)
Indian History for Young Folks
2012
From Once Upon a Time in Delaware / In Quest of the Perfect Book
Chromogenic print
The Morgan Library Museum, Purchase, Photography Collectors Committee

 

In her ongoing series Sorted Books, Katchadourian composes statements by combining the titles of books from a given library – in this case, the M. G. Sawyer Collection of Decorative Bindings at the Delaware Art Museum. Though her compositions are driven by the need to arrange words in a legible order, Katchadourian’s oblique jokes, poems, and koans would be incomplete if divorced from the cultural information conveyed by the physical books themselves.

 

 

V. The Photograph Decodes Nature

As early as 1840, one year after photography’s invention was announced, scientists sought to deploy it in their analysis of the physical world. Combining the camera with the microscope, microphotographs recorded biological minutiae, leading to discoveries that would have been difficult, if not impossible, to obtain by observing subjects in real time. Similarly, the development of X-ray technology in 1895 allowed scientists to see and understand living anatomy to an unprecedented degree. Such innovations not only expanded the boundaries of the visible world but also introduced graphic concepts that would have a profound impact on visual culture. In other ways, too, nature has been transformed in human understanding through the interpretive filter of the lens, as seen in Sight Reading in the telescopic moon views of astronomers Maurice Loewy (1833-1907) and Pierre Henri Puiseux (1855-1928) and in the spellbinding aerial abstractions of William Garnett (1916-2006).

 

William Garnett (American, 1916-2006) 'Animal Tracks on Dry Lake' 1955

 

William Garnett (American, 1916-2006)
Animal Tracks on Dry Lake
1955
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, Purchased on the Charina Endowment Fund

 

After making films for the U.S. Signal Corps during World War II, Garnett used GI-Bill funding to earn a pilot’s license. By the early 1950s, he had the field of artistic aerial landscape virtually to himself. This print, showing the ephemeral traces of wildlife movement on a dry lake bed, appeared in Diogenes with a Camera IV (1956), one in a series of exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art that highlighted the great variety of ways in which artists used photography to invent new forms of visual truth.

 

William Henry Jackson (American, 1843-1942) '"Tea Pot" Rock' 1870

 

William Henry Jackson (American, 1843-1942)
“Tea Pot” Rock
1870
Albumen silver print
George Eastman Museum, Purchase

 

Jackson made this photograph as a member of the survey team formed by Ferdinand V. Hayden to explore and document the territory now known as Yellowstone National Park. Hayden’s primary goal was to gather information about the area’s geological history, and Jackson’s photographs record with precision and clarity the accumulated layers of sediment that allow this natural landmark to be fit into a geological chronology. The human figure standing at the left of the composition provides information about the size of the rock, demonstrating that photographers have long recognized the difficulty of making accurate inferences about scale based on photographic images.

 

Dr. Josef Maria Eder (Austrian, 1855-1944) Eduard Valenta (Austrian, 1857-1937) 'Zwei Goldfische und ein Seefisch (Christiceps argentatus)' 1896

 

Dr Josef Maria Eder (Austrian, 1855-1944)
Eduard Valenta (Austrian, 1857-1937)
Zwei Goldfische und ein Seefisch (Christiceps argentatus)
1896
From the book Versuche über Photographie mittelst der Röntgen’schen Strahlen
Photogravure
George Eastman Museum, Gift of Eastman Kodak Company; Ex-collection of Josef Maria Eder

 

As early as 1840 – a year after photography’s invention was announced – scientists sought to deploy it in their analysis of the physical world. Combining the camera with the microscope, microphotographs recorded biological minutiae, leading to discoveries that would have been difficult, if not impossible, to obtain by observing subjects in real time. Similarly, the development of x-ray technology in 1895 allowed doctors to study living anatomy to an unprecedented degree. Such innovations not only expanded the boundaries of the visible world but also introduced graphic concepts that would have a profound impact on visual culture.

 

Dr James Deane (American, 1801-1858) 'Ichnographs from the Sandstone of Connecticut River' 1861

 

Dr James Deane (American, 1801-1858)
Ichnographs from the Sandstone of Connecticut River
1861
Book illustrated with 22 salted paper prints and 37 lithographs
George Eastman Museum, Gift of Alden Scott Boyer

 

These photographs, which depict traces of fossils discovered in a sandstone quarry, illustrate a book written by Massachusetts surgeon James Deane, who was the author of texts on medicine as well as natural history. Published posthumously using his notes and photographs as a guide, the volume is an early demonstration of photography’s potential as a tool of scientific investigation.

 

 

VI. The Photograph Decodes Culture

The photograph not only changed but to a great extent invented the modern notion of celebrity. Modern-age celebrities live apart from the general public, but their faces are more familiar than those of the neighbors next door. Since the mid-nineteenth century, viewers have come to “know” the famous through accumulated photographic sightings, which come in formats and contexts that vary as much as real-life encounters do. In four images that would have communicated instantly to their intended viewers in 1966, Jean-Pierre Ducatez (b. 1970) portrayed the Beatles through closeups of their mouths alone. The graphic shorthand employed by Jonathan Lewis in his series The Pixles is of a more recent variety, but he, too, relies on the visual familiarity conferred by tremendous celebrity. Each print in the series reproduces the iconic art of a Beatles album cover at life size (12 x 12 inches) but extremely low resolution (12 x 12 pixels). Like celebrities themselves, perhaps, the images look more familiar to the eye at a distance than close-up.

 

Unidentified maker. 'U. S. Grant' c. 1862

 

Unidentified maker
U. S. Grant
c. 1862
Albumen silver print
George Eastman Museum, Purchase

 

Timothy H. O'Sullivan (American, b. Ireland, 1840-1882) 'A Council of War at Massaponax Church, Va. 21st May, 1864. Gens. Grant and Meade, Asst. Sec. of War Dana, and Their Staff Officers' 1864

 

Timothy H. O’Sullivan (American, b. Ireland, 1840-1882)
A Council of War at Massaponax Church, Va. 21st May, 1864. Gens. Grant and Meade, Asst. Sec. of War Dana, and Their Staff Officers
1864
From the series Photographic Incidents of the War
Albumen silver print stereograph
George Eastman Museum, Gift of Albert Morton Turner

 

Modern celebrities live apart from the general public, yet their faces are more familiar than those of the neighbors next door. Since the mid-nineteenth century, viewers have come to “know” the famous through accumulated photographic sightings, which come in formats and contexts that vary as much as real-life encounters do. First as a Union hero in the American Civil War and later as president, Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) lived in the public imagination through news images, popular stereographs, campaign buttons, and ultimately the (photo-based) face on the $50 bill. Grant was even a subject for Francois Willème’s patented process for generating a sculpted likeness out of photographs made in the round – an early forerunner to the technology of 3-D printing.

 

Jonathan Lewis (British, b. 1970) 'Abbey Road' 2003

 

Jonathan Lewis (British, b. 1970)
Abbey Road
2003
From The Pixles
Inkjet print
George Eastman Museum, By exchange with the artist

 

Jonathan Lewis (British, b. 1970) 'Please Please Me' 2003

 

Jonathan Lewis (British, b. 1970)
Please Please Me
2003
From The Pixles
Inkjet print
George Eastman Museum, By exchange with the artist

 

Jonathan Lewis (British, b. 1970) 'Rubber Soul' 2003

 

Jonathan Lewis (British, b. 1970)
Rubber Soul
2003
From The Pixles
Inkjet print
George Eastman Museum, By exchange with the artist

 

Synecdoche is a poetic device in which a part stands in for the whole. (In the phrase “three sails set forth,” sails mean ships.) In four images that would have communicated instantly to their intended viewers in 1966, Ducatez portrayed the Beatles solely through close-ups of their mouths. The graphic shorthand Lewis employs in his series The Pixles is of a more recent variety, though he, too, relies on the visual familiarity conferred by tremendous celebrity. Each print in the series reproduces a Beatles album cover at life size (12 x 12 inches) but extremely low resolution (12 x 12 pixels).

 

 

VII. Meaning is on the Surface

Photographs are not just windows onto the world but pieces of paper, which can themselves be inscribed or otherwise altered in ways that enrich or amend their meaning. The group portrait Joint Meeting of the Railway Surgeons Association, Claypool Hotel, Indianapolis (1920) is contact printed, meaning that the negative was the same size as the print. After the portrait sitting, the photographer appears to have presented the developed film to the sixty-four sitters for signing during the three days they were assembled for their convention. The result is a document that unites two conventional signifiers of character: facial features and the autograph.

 

Gravelle Studio, Indianapolis (American, active 1920) 'Joint Meeting of the Railway Surgeons Association, Claypool Hotel, Indianapolis' 1920

 

Gravelle Studio, Indianapolis (American, active 1920)
Joint Meeting of the Railway Surgeons Association, Claypool Hotel, Indianapolis
1920
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, Purchased as the gift of Peter J. Cohen

 

Panoramic group portraits such as this are made using a banquet camera, which admits light through a narrow vertical slit while rotating on its tripod. This image was contact printed, meaning the negative was the same size as the print. The photographer appears to have presented the developed film to the sixty-four sitters for signing during the three days they were assembled. The result is a document that unites two conventional signifiers of character: facial features and the autograph.

 

Keith Smith (American, b. 1938) 'Book 151' 1989

 

Keith Smith (American, b. 1938)
Book 151
1989
Bound book of gelatin silver prints, thread, and leather
Collection of Richard and Ronay Menschel

 

This unique object unites the arts of photography, quilting, and bookmaking. The composite image on each right-hand page appears to be made of prints cut apart and sewn together. In fact, Smith began by printing patchwork-inspired photomontages in the darkroom. He then stitched along many of the borders where abutting images meet, creating the illusion of a photographic crazy quilt.

 

 

VIII. Photography and the Page

News of the world took on a newly visual character in the 1880s, when the technology of the halftone screen made it practical, at last, to render photographs in ink on the printed page.

Among the earliest examples of photojournalism is Paul Nadar’s (1820-1910) “photographic interview” with Georges Ernest Boulanger, a once-powerful French politician. The article’s introduction explains that the photographs were printed alongside the text in order to provide evidence of the encounter and to illustrate Boulanger’s dynamic body language during the conversation.

 

Stephen Henry Horgan (American, 1854-1941) 'Shanty Town' April 1880

 

Stephen Henry Horgan (American, 1854-1941)
Shanty Town
April 1880
Photomechanical printing plate A Scene in Shantytown, New York, c. 1928
Lithograph
George Eastman Museum, Gift of 3M Foundation; Ex-collection of Louis Walton Sipley

 

Paul Nadar (French, 1856-1939) 'Interview with Georges Ernest Jean Marie Boulanger' 1889

 

Paul Nadar (French, 1856-1939)
Interview with Georges Ernest Jean Marie Boulanger
1889
Le Figaro, 23 November 1889
Photomechanical reproduction
George Eastman Museum, gift of Eastman Kodak Company; ex-collection Gabriel Cromer

 

Among the earliest examples of photojournalism is Nadar’s “photographic interview” with Georges Ernest Boulanger, a once-powerful French politician who had fallen out of public favor by the time this was published. The article’s introduction explains that the photographs were printed alongside the text in order to provide evidence of the encounter and to illustrate Boulanger’s body language during the conversation.

 

Lewis W. Hine (American, 1874–1940) 'Italian Family Looking for Lost Baggage, Ellis Island' 1905

 

Lewis W. Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Italian Family Looking for Lost Baggage, Ellis Island
1905
Ellis Island Group, 1905
Gelatin silver print
George Eastman Museum, Gift of Photo League Lewis Hine Memorial Committee

 

In an effort to counter American xenophobia in the early years of the twentieth century, Hine photographed immigrants as they arrived at Ellis Island, composing his images to stir sympathy and understanding among viewers. He understood the importance of disseminating his photographs and actively sought to publish them in newspapers, magazines, and pamphlets. The white outline in the photograph on the right instructs the designer and printer where to crop the image for a photomontage featuring figures from multiple portraits.

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954) 'La Poupée' (Puppet) 1936

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
La Poupée (Puppet)
1936
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Richard and Ronay Menschel

 

John Heartfield (German, 1891-1968) 'Hurrah, die Butter ist alle!' (Hooray, the Butter Is Finished!) 1935

 

John Heartfield (German, 1891-1968)
Hurrah, die Butter ist alle! (Hooray, the Butter Is Finished!)
1935
Rotogravure
George Eastman Museum, purchase

 

This is one of 237 photomontages that Heartfield created between 1930 and 1938 for the antifascist magazine Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung (Worker’s Pictorial Newspaper). It is a parody of the “Guns Before Butter” speech in which Hermann G.ring exhorted German citizens to sacrifice necessities in order to aid the nation’s rearmament. The text reads: “Iron ore has always made an empire strong; butter and lard have at most made a people fat.” Heartfield combined details from several photographs to conjure the image of a German family feasting on tools, machine parts, and a bicycle in a swastika-laden dining room, complete with a portrait of Hitler, a framed phrase from a popular Franco-Prussian war-era song, and a throw pillow bearing the likeness of recently deceased president Paul von Hindenburg.

 

Unidentified maker. 'Certificate of Marriage between Daniel W. Gibbs and Matilda B. Pierce' c. 1874

 

Unidentified maker
Certificate of Marriage between Daniel W. Gibbs and Matilda B. Pierce
c. 1874
Tintypes in prepared paper mount
George Eastman Museum, Purchase

 

Graphic cousins to one other, these wedding certificates are equipped with precut windows for photographs of the bride, groom, and officiant. The portraits, in partnership with the printed and inscribed text on the forms, contribute both to the documentary specificity of the certificates and to their value as sentimental souvenirs.

 

 

IX. Empire of Signs

The plethora of signs, symbols, and visual noise endemic to cities has attracted photographers since the medium’s invention. Their records of advertisers’ strident demands for attention, shopkeepers’ alluring displays, and the often dizzying architectural density of metropolitan life chronicle sights that are subject to change without notice. The photographer’s perspective on contemporary social life – whether it is anectodal, as in John Thompson’s (1837-1921) Street Advertising from Street Life in London (1877), or haunting, as in Eugène Atget’s (1857-1927) Impasse des Bourdonnais (ca. 1908) – is embedded in each image.

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921) 'Street Advertising' 1877

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921)
Street Advertising
1877
From Street Life in London, 1877
Woodburytype
George Eastman Museum, Gift of Alden Scott Boyer

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921) 'Street Advertising' 1877

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Impasse des Bourdonnais
c. 1908
Albumen silver print
George Eastman Museum, Purchase

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971) 'At the Time of the Louisville Flood' 1937

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971)
At the Time of the Louisville Flood
1937
Gelatin silver print
George Eastman Museum

 

The plethora of signs, symbols, and visual noise endemic to cities has attracted photographers since the medium’s invention. Their records of advertisers’ strident demands for attention, shopkeepers’ alluring displays, and the often dizzying architectural density of metropolitan life chronicle sights that are subject to change without notice. The photographer’s perspective on contemporary social life – whether it is ironic, as in Margaret Bourke-White’s image of a line of flood victims before a billboard advertising middle-class prosperity, or bemused, as in Ferenc Berko’s photograph of columns of oversized artificial teeth on the street – is embedded in each image.

 

Ferenc Berko (American, b. Hungary, 1916-2000) 'Rawalpindi, India' 1946

 

Ferenc Berko (American, b. Hungary, 1916-2000)
Rawalpindi, India
1946
Gelatin silver print
George Eastman House, Gift of Katharine Kuh

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991) 'New York 6' 1951

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991)
New York 6
1951
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, Gift of Richard and Ronay Menschel

 

Alex Webb (American, b. 1952) 'India' 1981

 

Alex Webb (American, b. 1952)
India
1981
Chromogenic development print
George Eastman Museum, Purchased with funds from Charina Foundation

 

 

The Morgan Library & Museum
225 Madison Avenue, at 36th Street
New York, NY 10016-3405
Tel: (212) 685-0008

Opening hours:
Tuesday through Thursday: 10.30 am – 5 pm
Friday: 10.30 am – 9 pm
Saturday: 10 am to 6 pm
Sunday: 11 am – 6 pm

The Morgan Library & Museum 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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