Posts Tagged ‘Museum of Modern Art

19
Sep
21

Exhibition: ‘Fotoclubismo: Brazilian Modernist Photography, 1946-1964’ at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 8th May – 26th September 2021

Curators: Sarah Hermanson Meister, Curator, with Dana Ostrander, Curatorial Assistant, Robert B. Menschel Department of Photography

 

 

José Yalenti (Brazilian, 1895-1967) 'Angles' ( Angulos) 1951

 

José Yalenti (Brazilian, 1895-1967)
Angles (Angulos)
1951
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Courtesy Fernanda Feitosa and Heitor Martins

 

 

While we can’t travel around the world physically, it’s fantastic to virtually discover these hidden gems of photographic history – this time “men and women who joined São Paulo’s Foto-Cine Clube Bandeirante (FCCB) [who] bonded over their passion for photography: the club was instrumental to their individual artistic development and their esteemed reputation across a dynamic international circuit of amateur photo salons.”

My favourite photograph in the posting is Marcel Giró’s Light and Power, for its modernist, abstract form and beauty, for the light, and for its intonation… staves of music, birds on the wire.

Marcus

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

 

The Museum of Modern Art announces Fotoclubismo: Brazilian Modernist Photography, 1946-1964, the first museum exhibition of Brazilian modernist photography outside of Brazil. On view May 8 – September 26, 2021, the exhibition will focus on the unforgettable creative achievements of São Paulo’s Foto-Cine Clube Bandeirante, a group of amateur photographers widely heralded in Brazil, but essentially unknown to European and North American audiences. Fotoclubismo is comprised of over 60 photographs drawn generously from MoMA’s collection; together, they bring forward the extraordinary range of achievements of this group, provide valuable insight into the way photographic aesthetics were framed in the 1950s, and afford opportunities to reflect on the significance of amateur status today.

The exhibition is divided into thematic categories: Simplicity, Gertrudes Altschul, Abstractions from Nature, Texture and Shape, Geraldo de Barros, Experimental Processes, Daily Life, and Solitude.

 

 

The exhibition not only showcases the groundbreaking experimental and aesthetic sensibilities of FCCB, but it also invites the viewer to question the status of the amateur photographer.

Meister has positioned Fotoclubismo within the history of contemporary photography. Along with their stylistic merits, FCCB’s photos allow the viewer to reflect on the ways race, gender, and status affect how photography is consumed by the public.

“I’m particularly excited not only because I know that the work is going to resonate with audiences,” she [curator Sarah Meister] said, “but because it’s this wonderful opportunity to think, ‘what else can we do as curators or as museums to reflect and recuperate other elements of our history that have been overlooked and neglected?'” she told Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international broadcaster.

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Meka Boyle. “MoMA is the First Museum Outside of Brazil to Put the Spotlight on Brazilian Modernist Photography,” on the ‘Art Dealer Street’ website May 28 2021 [Online] Cited 26/08/2021

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Fotoclubismo: Brazilian Modernist Photography, 1946-1964' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation view of the exhibition Fotoclubismo: Brazilian Modernist Photography, 1946-1964 at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York
Photo: Jonathan Muzikar

 

FCCB members on an excursion to Paquetá Island to visit the Sociedade Fluminense de Fotografia

 

FCCB members on an excursion to Paquetá Island to visit the Sociedade Fluminense de Fotografia. Boletim foto-cine 17 (September 1947): 3. Image and annotations courtesy Rubens Fernandes Junior

 

FCCB members on an excursion to Paquetá Island to visit the Sociedade Fluminense de Fotografia (detail)

 

FCCB members on an excursion to Paquetá Island to visit the Sociedade Fluminense de Fotografia, with some of the women photographers singled out. Boletim foto-cine 17 (September 1947): 3. Image and annotations courtesy Rubens Fernandes Junior

 

 

The men and women who joined São Paulo’s Foto-Cine Clube Bandeirante (FCCB) bonded over their passion for photography: the club was instrumental to their individual artistic development and their esteemed reputation across a dynamic international circuit of amateur photo salons. The works on view in Fotoclubismo: Brazilian Modernist Photography, 1946-1964 highlight the achievements of more than 20 club members with unforgettable prints that traveled extensively along these networks. These are not intimate snapshots of family gatherings intended for the album page (a slightly different twist on the photographic amateur) but works of ambition and originality that had and continue to have a commanding presence on the walls of salons and museums. FCCB members’ success owes much to their distinctive blend of camaraderie and competition, nurtured in part by their frequent excursions.

Beginning in 1946 the FCCB published a small (often monthly or bimonthly) magazine, the Boletim foto-cine, which was given free to members and sold in local photo shops. Its modest scale belied its scope and seriousness: it won special awards for editorial content in the Photographic Society of America’s International Competition in 1949 and 1951. (It should be noted the Boletim was published exclusively in Portuguese, so perhaps the PSA was influenced by the fact that its own members and their writing – in translation – appeared frequently.)

The Boletim played a central role in advertising a social environment that drew people to the club, and also encouraged the competitive atmosphere within it. For many years, the Boletim published each new member’s name, birthday notices, wedding announcements, and snapshots from excursions, openings, and holiday celebrations at the club headquarters (Santa’s annual visit was a recurring feature). These personal touches served as a counter-balance to the equally prominent presence of club rankings: charts and accounts of prizes won and accolades received both domestically and around the world. One might conclude the social niceties were instrumental in fostering an environment in which critical feedback was possible, which in turn contributed to the club’s capacity for creative innovation.

Geraldo de Barros is arguably the best known member of the FCCB. He earned a living at the Banco do Brasil, but his creative spirit was not squelched by his day job. His satirical cartoons are peppered throughout the Boletim. This one betrays the anxiety of those whose work is being judged: three diminutive members, one waving a white flag, are menaced by others wielding a gun, a bomb, and a knife. He experimented with collage, montage, multiple exposures, and other interventions in his photographs, he was a founding member of the Grupo Ruptura, an inventive association of painters, and he later pursued a successful career in furniture design. The Museum of Art of São Paulo held a one-person exhibition of his photo-based work in January 1951, which was so confounding to his fellow FCCB members (some photos were rendered as sculptures on pedestals; all played fearlessly with conventions of representation) that this major accomplishment went unmentioned in the Boletim. Despite occasional moments of misunderstanding, de Barros was a principal force in the presentation of work by FCCB members in the second São Paulo Bienal in 1953-54, by which time even the club’s leadership had embraced the spirit of innovation de Barros had championed for years.

The excursions were not merely social outings: they were opportunities to learn alongside fellow members in the field, and to attempt to capture the “best” view of a particular subject. In one view of this distinctive building, German Lorca has accentuated the contrast between the corrugated roof and the adjacent shadows; in another, José Yalenti chose to frame the angular structure against the undulating form of a nearby building; in a third (noted in the Boletim as having been submitted to the club’s internal contest), Euclides Machado offered a study of texture, tone, and form. Although the club used “scorecards” to judge the relative strengths of images such as these, many of the attributes being judged were grouped within the category “factor psicológico” (psychological factors), which are surely more challenging to rank objectively. Then and now, it can be useful to acknowledge the ways in which something as invisible and inescapable as taste influences our judgment of a work of art.

Extract from Sarah Meister. “The Ambition and Originality of Fotoclubismo’s Amateur Photographers,” on the MoMA magazine website May 7, 2021 [Online] Cited 25/08/2021.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Fotoclubismo: Brazilian Modernist Photography, 1946-1964' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Fotoclubismo: Brazilian Modernist Photography, 1946-1964' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Fotoclubismo: Brazilian Modernist Photography, 1946-1964' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation views of the exhibition Fotoclubismo: Brazilian Modernist Photography, 1946-1964 at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York showing in the bottom image the sections Daily Life and German Lorca with third right bottom, German Lorca’s Every Day Scenes (1949, below); at second right, German Lorca’s Rascality (Malandragem) (1949, below) and at right, Lorca’s Apartments (Apartamentos) (1950-51, below)
Photos: Jonathan Muzikar

 

German Lorca (Brazilian, 1922-2021) 'Everyday Scenes' (Cenas quotidianas) 1949

 

German Lorca (Brazilian, 1922-2021)
Everyday Scenes (Cenas quotidianas)
1949
Gelatin silver print
11 × 15″ (27.9 × 38.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Committee on Photography Fund
© 2021 German Lorca

 

German Lorca (Brazilian, 1922-2021) 'Rascality (Malandragem)' 1949

 

German Lorca (Brazilian, 1922-2021)
Rascality (Malandragem)
1949
Gelatin silver print
10 3/4 × 12 3/4″ (27.3 × 32.4cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Richard O. Rieger
© 2021 German Lorca

 

German Lorca (Brazilian, 1922-2021) 'Apartments (Apartamentos)' 1950-51

 

German Lorca (Brazilian, 1922-2021)
Apartments (Apartamentos)
1950-51
Gelatin silver print
15 1/16 × 10 1/8″ (38.3 × 25.7cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Ernesto Poma through the Latin American and Caribbean Fund
© 2021 German Lorca

 

German Lorca (Brazilian, 1922-2021) 'White Roofs' (Telhados brancos) 1951

 

German Lorca (Brazilian, 1922-2021)
White Roofs (Telhados brancos)
1951
Gelatin silver print
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Courtesy Fernanda Feitosa and Heitor Martins
© 2021 German Lorca

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Fotoclubismo: Brazilian Modernist Photography, 1946-1964' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation view of the exhibition Fotoclubismo: Brazilian Modernist Photography, 1946-1964 at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York showing the work of German Lorca with at fourth from right, Congonhas Airport (1961, below); at third from right Open Window (1951); at second from right, Eating an Apple (1953); and at right, Solarized Portrait (c. 1953)
Photo: Jonathan Muzikar

 

German Lorca (Brazilian, 1922-2021) 'Congonhas Airport, São Paulo' 1961

 

German Lorca (Brazilian, 1922-2021)
Congonhas Airport, São Paulo
1961
Gelatin silver print
10 1/2 × 15″ (26.7 × 38.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of the artist
© 2021 German Lorca

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Fotoclubismo: Brazilian Modernist Photography, 1946-1964' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation view of the exhibition Fotoclubismo: Brazilian Modernist Photography, 1946-1964 at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York showing Geraldo de Barros’ photographs – at top left, Untitled (1948-50, below); at bottom left, Abstraction (1949, below); at second left, Geraldo de Barros’ Self-Portrait (Autorretrato) (c. 1949, below); and at fourth left, Fotoforma (c. 1949)
Photo: Jonathan Muzikar

 

Geraldo de Barros (Brazilian, 1923-1998) 'Untitled' 1948-50

 

Geraldo de Barros (Brazilian, 1923-1998)
Untitled
1948-50
Gelatin silver print
9 × 14 15/16″ (22.8 × 37.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Latin American and Caribbean Fund through gift of Agnes Gund
© 2021 Luciana Brito Galeria

 

Geraldo de Barros (Brazilian, 1923-1998) 'Abstraction' (Abstração) 1949

 

Geraldo de Barros (Brazilian, 1923-1998)
Abstraction (Abstração)
1949
Gelatin silver print
10 3/4 × 14 3/4″ (27.3 × 37.5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Latin American and Caribbean Fund
© 2021 Luciana Brito Galeria

 

Geraldo de Barros (Brazilian, 1923-1998) 'Self-Portrait' (Autorretrato) c. 1949

 

Geraldo de Barros (Brazilian, 1923-1998)
Self-Portrait (Autorretrato)
c. 1949
Gelatin silver print
15 7/16 × 11 1/2″ (39.2 × 29.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Christie Calder Salomon Fund
© 2021 Luciana Brito Galeria

 

Geraldo de Barros (Brazilian, 1923-1998) 'Fotoforma' 1952-53

 

Geraldo de Barros (Brazilian, 1923-1998)
Fotoforma
1952-53
Gelatin silver print
11 13/16 × 15 1/8 in. (30 × 38.4cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of John and Lisa Pritzker
© 2020 Arquivo Geraldo de Barros. Courtesy Luciana Brito Galeria

 

Geraldo de Barros (Brazilian, 1923-1998) 'Fotoforma' c. 1949

 

Geraldo de Barros (Brazilian, 1923-1998)
Fotoforma
c. 1949
Gelatin silver print
14 13/16 × 10 11/16″ (37.7 × 27.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Latin American and Caribbean Fund
© 2021 Luciana Brito Galeria

 

 

Geraldo de Barros (Brazilian, 1923-1998)

Geraldo de Barros (February 27, 1923 – April 17, 1998) was a Brazilian painter and photographer who also worked in engraving, graphic arts, and industrial design. He was a leader of the concrete art movement in Brazil, co-founding Grupo Ruptura and was known for his trailblazing work in experimental abstract photography and modernism. According to The Guardian, De Barros was “one of the most influential Brazilian artists of the 20th century.” De Barros is best known for his Fotoformas (1946-1952), a series of photographs that used multiple exposures, rotated images, and abstracted forms to capture a phenomenological experience of Brazil’s exponential urbanisation in the mid-twentieth century.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Fotoclubismo: Brazilian Modernist Photography, 1946-1964' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Fotoclubismo: Brazilian Modernist Photography, 1946-1964' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Fotoclubismo: Brazilian Modernist Photography, 1946-1964' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation views of the exhibition Fotoclubismo: Brazilian Modernist Photography, 1946-1964 at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York showing the section Abstractions from Nature showing at middle top, Thomaz Farkas’s Rushing Water Number 2 (c. 1945, below); beneath that his Rushing Water Number 1 (c. 1945); at bottom left of the group Dulce Carneiro’s Oneiric (Onírica) (c. 1958); and at centre right, three sand photographs by José Yalenti (see below)
Photos: Jonathan Muzikar

 

Abstractions from Nature

Thomaz Farkas (Brazilian, born Hungary. 1924-2011) 'Rushing Water Number 2' c. 1945

 

Thomaz Farkas (Brazilian, born Hungary. 1924-2011)
Rushing Water Number 2
c. 1945
Gelatin silver print
11 7/8 × 15 3/4″ (30.2 × 40cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of the artist
© 2021 Thomaz Farkas Estate

 

José Yalenti (Brazilian, 1895-1967) 'Sand' (Areia) c. 1950

 

José Yalenti (Brazilian, 1895-1967)
Sand (Areia)
c. 1950
Gelatin silver print
11 7/8 × 15 3/4″ (30.1 × 40cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Committee on Photography Fund
© 2021 José Yalenti

 

José Yalenti (Brazilian, 1895-1967) 'Sand' (Areia) c. 1950

 

José Yalenti (Brazilian, 1895-1967)
Sand (Areia)
c. 1950
Gelatin silver print
11 1/8 × 15 3/8″ (28.3 × 39cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Committee on Photography Fund
© 2021 José Yalenti

 

José Yalenti (Brazilian, 1895-1967) 'Sand' (Areia) c. 1950

 

José Yalenti (Brazilian, 1895-1967)
Sand (Areia)
c. 1950
Gelatin silver print
15 3/4 × 11 7/8″ (40 × 30.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros through the Latin American and Caribbean Fund
© 2021 José Yalenti

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Fotoclubismo: Brazilian Modernist Photography, 1946-1964' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Fotoclubismo: Brazilian Modernist Photography, 1946-1964' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Fotoclubismo: Brazilian Modernist Photography, 1946-1964' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Fotoclubismo: Brazilian Modernist Photography, 1946-1964' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation views of the exhibition Fotoclubismo: Brazilian Modernist Photography, 1946-1964 at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York showing the sections Daily Life, German Lorca and Solitude with in the bottom image at bottom right, Ademar Manarini’s Untitled [Várzea do Carmo housing complex, São Paulo] (c. 1951, below)
Photos: Jonathan Muzikar

 

Ademar Manarini (Brazilian, 1920-1989) 'Untitled [Várzea do Carmo housing complex, São Paulo]' c. 1951

 

Ademar Manarini (Brazilian, 1920-1989)
Untitled [Várzea do Carmo housing complex, São Paulo]
c. 1951
Gelatin silver print
11 11/16 × 14 9/16″ (29.7 × 37cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Richard O. Rieger
© 2021 Estate of Ademar Manarini

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Fotoclubismo: Brazilian Modernist Photography, 1946-1964' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation view of the exhibition Fotoclubismo: Brazilian Modernist Photography, 1946-1964 at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York showing Marcel Giró’s photograph Light and Power (c. 1950, below)
Photo: Jonathan Muzikar

 

Marcel Giró (Spanish, 1912-2011) 'Light and Power' (Luz e Força) c. 1950

 

Marcel Giró (Spanish, 1912-2011)
Light and Power (Luz e Força)
c. 1950
Gelatin silver print
13 1/16 × 20 3/16″ (33.1 × 51.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Richard O. Rieger
© 2021 Estate of Marcel Giró

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Fotoclubismo: Brazilian Modernist Photography, 1946-1964' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation view of the exhibition Fotoclubismo: Brazilian Modernist Photography, 1946-1964 at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York showing the sections Texture and Shape and Geraldo de Barros, with at third from left top, Maria Helena Valente da Cruz’s The Broken Glass (O vidro partido)
(c. 1952, below); at fourth from left top, Palmira Puig-Giró’s Untitled (c. 1960, below); at bottom left Marcel Giró’s Texture 2 (c. 1950, below); and at bottom centre, his Composition (Composição) (c. 1953)
Photo: Jonathan Muzikar

 

Texture and Shape

Maria Helena Valente da Cruz (Portuguese, b. 1927) 'The Broken Glass' (O vidro partido) c. 1952

 

Maria Helena Valente da Cruz (Portuguese, b. 1927)
The Broken Glass (O vidro partido)
c. 1952
Gelatin silver print
11 7/8 × 11 1/2 in. (30.2 × 29.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Donna Redel
© 2020 Estate of Maria Helena Valente da Cruz

 

Palmira Puig-Giró (Spanish, 1912-197) 'Untitled' c. 1960

 

Palmira Puig-Giró (Spanish, 1912-197)
Untitled
c. 1960
Gelatin silver print
15 3/8 × 11 1/16 in. (39.1 × 28.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Agnes Rindge Claflin Fund
© 2020 Estate of Palmira Puig-Giró

 

Marcel Giró (Spanish, 1912-2011) 'Texture 2' (Textura 2) c. 1950

 

Marcel Giró (Spanish, 1912-2011)
Texture 2 (Textura 2)
c. 1950
Gelatin silver print
12 1/8 × 15 3/4″ (30.8 × 40cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Committee on Photography Fund
© 2021 Estate of Marcel Giró

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Fotoclubismo: Brazilian Modernist Photography, 1946-1964' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Fotoclubismo: Brazilian Modernist Photography, 1946-1964' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation views of the exhibition Fotoclubismo: Brazilian Modernist Photography, 1946-1964 at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York showing the sections Simplicity and Gertrude Altschul, with at top left, Thomaz Farkas’ Ministry of Education (Ministério da Educação) [Rio de Janeiro] (c. 1945, below); and at right, Gertrudes Altschul’s Lines and Tones (Linhas e Tons) (c. 1953, below)
Photos: Jonathan Muzikar

 

Thomaz Farkas (Brazilian, born Hungary. 1924-2011) 'Ministry of Education (Ministério da Educação) [Rio de Janeiro]' c. 1945

 

Thomaz Farkas (Brazilian, born Hungary. 1924-2011)
Ministry of Education (Ministério da Educação) [Rio de Janeiro]
c. 1945
Gelatin silver print
12 13/16 × 11 3/4 in. (32.6 × 29.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of the artist

 

Gertrude Altschul

Gertrudes Altschul (Brazilian born Germany, 1904-1962) 'Lines and Tones' (Linhas e Tons) c. 1953

 

Gertrudes Altschul (Brazilian born Germany, 1904-1962)
Lines and Tones (Linhas e Tons)
c. 1953
Gelatin silver print
14 7/8 x 11″ (37.8 x 27.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Amie Rath Nuttall

 

 

Gertrudes Altschul was born in Germany in 1904 and, like many Jews in the 1930s, she was forced to leave the country under the threat of Nazism rise. Thus, in 1939, together with her husband Leon Altschul, she went into exile in Brazil and settled in the city of São Paulo, at the end of that year. She and her husband ran a business selling handmade decorative flowers for hats in São Paulo, Brazil.

See more Gertrudes Altschul photographs on the Isabel Amado Fotografia website.

 

A little over a year after joining the Foto Cine Clube Bandeirante (FCCB), an amateur camera club in São Paulo, Gertrude Altschul had already secured a spot for her work on the cover of its monthly bulletin. By September of 1953, her photograph Linhas e Tons (Lines and Tones) [above] was circulated to hundreds of fellow practitioners throughout Brazil. Lines and Tones reveals the urbanisation and precipitous vertical growth taking place in downtown São Paulo at midcentury; Altschul’s simple title strips away local context and persuades us to experience the image through its soaring curves and lines. This ability to reduce complex objects to their most elemental and visually striking forms would become a hallmark of her work.1

By the time Altschul joined the FCCB, the organisation had already been in operation for 13 years. During that time it succeeded in nurturing a passion for photography across a wide network of Paulistas (São Paulo residents), many of whom were recent European emigrés working as lawyers, doctors, accountants, or entrepreneurs. Altschul’s background was no different: after fleeing Nazi persecution in Germany, she settled in Brazil in 1939. With her husband, she ran a business making handmade decorative flowers for women’s hats and blouses. Her interest in botanical motifs found its way into her photographic work, resulting in dozens of lush vegetal prints.

Though Altschul belonged to a small contingent of women artists within the FCCB, her experimental ambitions rivaled those of her male peers. She photographed a diverse range of subjects, from urban landscapes to natural forms to still lifes. The resulting prints were routinely reproduced in the club’s monthly bulletin, mailed out for consideration by salons, and chosen for display in exhibitions. Between 1956 and 1962, Altschul was encouraged to submit Filigrana (Filigree) to no fewer than 18 different national and international salons, receiving an impressive eight acceptances.2 Despite its worldwide circulation, this photograph portrayed a thoroughly Brazilian subject: a papaya leaf, delicately transcribed into lattice-like veins.

Altschul fell ill in the late 1950s and, starting in 1957, her participation in the club waned. Following her death in 1962, the FCCB bulletin featured Filigree alongside her obituary, where it was praised as one of the first successful works of her brief but distinguished career.3

Dana Ostrander, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography, 2020

 

  1. The supporting research for this biography was provided by Abigail Lapin Dardashti, former Museum Research Consortium Fellow. For more, see Abigail Lapin Dardashti, “Gertrudes Altschul and Modernist Photography at the Foto Cine Clube Bandeirante,” on Medium, MoMA: Features and perspectives on art and culture, The Museum of Modern Art, June 7, 2017.
  2. Paula Kupfer, “Gertrudes Altschul: An Adopted Brazilian Photographer in São Paulo,” on post: notes on art in a global context, The Museum of Modern Art, May 2, 2018, https://post.moma.org/gertrudes-altschul-an-adopted-brazilian-photographer-in-sao-paulo/
  3. Ibid.

 

 

 

In Black and White: Photography, Race, and the Modern Impulse in Brazil at Midcentury

Live stream of the keynote panel from In Black and White: Photography, Race, and the Modern Impulse in Brazil at Midcentury (May 2, 2017, The Museum of Modern Art).

Join us for a conversation on Brazilian modernist photography, its relationship to race, and its place within a dynamic international network of images and ideas, moderated by Edward Sullivan, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University.

Guest speakers: Helouise Costa, Museu de Arte Contemporânea, Universidade de São Paulo Roberto Conduru, Rio de Janeiro State University Heloísa Espada, Instituto Moreira Salles, São Paulo Sarah Hermanson Meister, The Museum of Modern Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Fotoclubismo: Brazilian Modernist Photography, 1946-1964' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation view of the exhibition Fotoclubismo: Brazilian Modernist Photography, 1946-1964 at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York showing the section Gertrude Altschul with at centre left Untitled (c. 1955, below); at centre right, Untitled (c. 1955, below); at fourth right her Filigree, (Filigrana) (1953, below); and at top right, Untitled (c. 1955, below)

 

Gertrudes Altschul (Brazilian born Germany, 1904-1962) 'Untitled' c. 1955

 

Gertrudes Altschul (Brazilian born Germany, 1904-1962)
Untitled
c. 1955
Gelatin silver print
10 13/16 × 15 1/4″ (27.5 × 38.7cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of David Dechman and Michel Mercure
© 2021 Estate of Gertrudes Altschul

 

 

Like almost every member of Sáo Paulo’s famed Foto Cine Clube Bandeirante (FCCB), Altschul was an amateur, meaning she pursued photographic activity without any professional affiliation or ambition. She began attending workshops with the FCCB in the late 1940s and became a member in 1952. There are no written records of her creative intent, leaving only the visual evidence of her achievement: experimentations with process and form, and inventive compositions discovered within everyday life. These large-scale prints were made for the active circuit of contemporary salons and exhibitions that traveled throughout Brazil and internationally in this period.

Gallery label from Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction, April 19 – August 13, 2017.

 

Gertrudes Altschul (Brazilian born Germany, 1904-1962) 'Untitled' c. 1955

 

Gertrudes Altschul (Brazilian born Germany, 1904-1962)
Untitled
c. 1955
Gelatin silver print
15 1/16 × 11 1/2″ (38.3 × 29.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
John Szarkowski Fund
© 2021 Estate of Gertrudes Altschul

 

Gertrudes Altschul (Brazilian born Germany, 1904-1962) 'Filigree' (Filigrana) 1953

 

Gertrudes Altschul (Brazilian born Germany, 1904-1962)
Filigree, (Filigrana)
1953
Gelatin silver print
13 5/8 × 11 5/8″ (34.6 × 29.5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Amie Rath Nuttall
© 2021 Estate of Gertrudes Altschul

 

Gertrudes Altschul (Brazilian born Germany, 1904-1962) 'Untitled' c. 1955

 

Gertrudes Altschul (Brazilian born Germany, 1904-1962)
Untitled
c. 1955
Gelatin silver print
11 13/16 × 15 1/2″ (30 × 39.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
John Szarkowski Fund
© 2021 Estate of Gertrudes Altschul

 

 

Fotoclubismo explores the unforgettable creative achievements of São Paulo’s Foto-Cine Clube Bandeirante (FCCB), a group of amateur photographers whose ambitious and innovative works embodied the abundant originality of postwar Brazilian culture. Although their work was heralded around the world in the 1950s, it subsequently faded from view. This is the first museum exhibition to present this fascinating moment in photography’s history to audiences outside of Brazil.

Photography was a hobby for most FCCB members: on weekdays, group members – many of whom were women – went to their jobs as businessmen, accountants, journalists, engineers, biologists, and bankers. On weekends, they often traveled to photograph together. They were nonetheless quite serious about their artistic ambition, not unlike millions of people on Instagram today. Their pictures assumed many forms – from inventive experiments to distillations from everyday life – and their attentiveness to abstraction evolved in dialogue with leading critical thinkers and peers in design, painting, and film.

More than 60 photographs, drawn almost exclusively from MoMA’s collection, demonstrate the group’s extraordinary range. Their absence from international histories of the medium provide a valuable opportunity to reflect on the biases that led to these exclusions, and invite us to reflect on the status of the amateur today. Organised by Sarah Hermanson Meister, Curator, with Dana Ostrander, Curatorial Assistant, Robert B. Menschel Department of Photography.

 

Introduction

The members of São Paulo’s Foto-Cine Clube Bandeirante (FCCB), established in 1939, were doctors and lawyers, civil servants and businessmen, accountants and students. Though they pursued photography as a hobby, their work attests to the seriousness and skill with which they approached the medium. Their innovations were advanced by camaraderie as well as a competitive spirit: submissions to monthly internal contests were judged publicly, with points awarded accordingly. This installation is structured in constellations based on the themes of these contests, punctuated by focused presentations of the work of three key figures.

Bandeirante alludes to a colonial-era group of explorers and fortune hunters based in the São Paulo region, whom the FCCB celebrated for their pioneering spirit, overlooking their role in the enslavement of Indigenous people and the expansion of territory under Portuguese control. Though its identity was thus firmly anchored in the local, the club was an integral part of a dynamic international network of amateurs: the FCCB was widely heralded and its members’ work awarded prizes in salons on six continents. The club’s position in the Global South, and a bias against the amateur and its association with pictorial clichés, begin to explain its absence from international histories of the medium.

The dates that bracket this exhibition correspond to artistic and political realities in Brazil: the FCCB first published its monthly magazine (the Boletim foto-cine) in 1946, the year a new constitution restored democracy following a repressive regime. On the other end, 1964 marked the beginning of a brutal dictatorship, which contributed to the closing of an extraordinarily fertile chapter for photography in Brazil – one that has been, until now, largely overlooked beyond the country’s borders.

Text from the MoMA website

 

Julio Agostinelli. 'Circus' (Circense) 1951

 

Julio Agostinelli (Brazilian, b. 1919)
Circus (Circense)
1951
Gelatin silver print
11 7/16 × 15″ (29 × 38.1 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Richard O. Rieger
© 2020 Estate of Julio Agostinelli

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art opened Fotoclubismo: Brazilian Modernist Photography, 1946-1964, the first museum exhibition of Brazilian modernist photography outside of Brazil. On view May 8 – September 26, 2021, the exhibition focuses on the unforgettable creative achievements of São Paulo’s Foto-Cine Clube Bandeirante, a group of amateur photographers widely heralded in Brazil, but essentially unknown to European and North American audiences. Fotoclubismo is comprised of over 60 photographs drawn generously from MoMA’s collection; together, they bring forward the extraordinary range of achievements of this group, provide valuable insight into the way photographic aesthetics were framed in the 1950s, and afford opportunities to reflect on the significance of amateur status today. The exhibition is organised by Sarah Meister, Curator, with Dana Ostrander, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography.

The vast majority of Foto-Cine Clube Bandeirante members were amateurs, meaning they pursued photographic activity without any professional motive or affiliation. The club’s longtime president, Eduardo Salvatore, earned his living as a lawyer, and the list of professions on the membership cards includes businessmen, accountants, journalists, engineers, biologists, and bankers. While photography was an activity pursued outside their day jobs, FCCB members were nonetheless quite serious about their artistic ambition, as evidenced by the striking innovation of their photographs. Works such as Geraldo de Barros’s Fotoforma, São Paulo (1952-53), Thomaz Farkas’s Ministry of Education and Health, Rio (c. 1945), or Gertrudes Altschul’s Filigree (Filigrana) (c. 1952), for example, represent a few of their radical experimentations with process and form and underscore the discovery of imaginative compositions within everyday life. FCCB members responded to the abundant originality of contemporary Brazilian architects, and their attentiveness to the fertility of abstraction as a creative strategy emerged alongside peers in design, painting, and literature. Considering these works together provides a compelling context through which to explore the complex status of the amateur, evolving biases of taste or judgment, and local dynamics of race and gender.

Beyond creating photographs, a critical aspect of the club’s activity was their monthly Concursos Internos (internal contests) and Seminarios, in which photographs were submitted for peer review and discussed in public and private forums.

As with most amateur photo clubs around the world, the FCCB fostered a collegial environment that tolerated a wide range of artistic approaches. Yet it was also a competitive one, where critical judgment and artistic ambition were central to the club’s identity (and contributed to the enduring quality of the work). The annual salon they hosted and Boletim, a monthly magazine published by the FCCB, both demonstrate the breadth of activity pursued under the aegis of the club and highlighted the club’s achievements to the international circuit of salons in which they participated, including Otto Steinert and his fellow “Subjective” photographers in Germany, the Groupe des XV in Paris, La Ventana in Mexico City, and the Carpeta de los Diez in Buenos Aires.

Fotoclubismo has been installed along two intertwined, complementary threads within the galleries: monographic and thematic. Of the display’s three sections, each is anchored by a focused monographic presentation of an individual member: Geraldo De Barros, German Lorca, and Gertrudes Altschul. These sections begin and end with thematic groupings that suggest the breadth of the photographic community active in São Paulo at that time and offer additional context for the individual achievements. Each theme is derived from the monthly Concursos Internos held at the FCCB, which prompted members to respond to a certain theme, often awarding the winner with full-page reproductions and cover features. Two paintings from the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros gift and a generous selection of the FCCB’s monthly Boletim, recently acquired by the Museum Library, will expand the context for the photographs on view.

The exhibition is accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue with 140 plates from the Museum Collection and a number of important public and private collections in São Paulo, presenting Brazilian modernist photography to an international audience for the first time. The book situates these achievements within the broader contemporary art scene in Brazil as well as within a dynamic network of photographers around the world, and offering fresh insight into the status of the amateur in the postwar era.

Press release from the MoMA website

 

José Medeiros (Brazilian, 1921-1990) 'Pedra da Gávea, Morro Dois Irmãos and the Beaches Ipanema and Leblon, Rio de Janeiro' 1952

 

José Medeiros (Brazilian, 1921-1990)
Pedra da Gávea, Morro Dois Irmãos and the Beaches Ipanema and Leblon, Rio de Janeiro
1952
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Instituto Moreira Salles Collection

 

 

André Carneiro (Brazilian, 1922-2014) 'Rails' (Trilhos) 1951

 

André Carneiro (Brazilian, 1922-2014)
Rails (Trilhos)
1951
Gelatin silver print
11 5/8 × 15 9/16 in. (29.6 × 39.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of José Olympio da Veiga Pereira through the Latin American and Caribbean Fund
© 2020 Estate of André Carneiro

 

Aldo Augusto de Souza Lima (Brazilian, 1920-1971) 'Vertigo' (Vertigem) 1949

 

Aldo Augusto de Souza Lima (Brazilian, 1920-1971)
Vertigo (Vertigem)
1949
Gelatin silver print
11 × 14 3/4 in. (28 × 37.5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of James and Ysabella Gara in honor of Donald H. Elliott
© 2020 Estate of Aldo Augusto de Souza Lima

 

Roberto Yoshida. 'Skyscrapers' (Arranha-céus) 1959

 

Roberto Yoshida
Skyscrapers (Arranha-céus)
1959
Gelatin silver print
14 9/16 × 11 9/16 in. (37 × 29.3cm)
Collection Fernanda Feitosa and Heitor Martins
© 2020 Estate of Roberto Yoshida
Reproduction of the photographic collection by Hélio Martins

 

 

Boletim was pivotal for showcasing FCCB’s progress and attracting new members. The club held monthly photo competitions and listed the winners in each issue. The magazine fostered a healthy competition between members and provided an incentive to capture the “best view.”

Each issue there were internal competitions where photos were judged by visual qualities as well as psychological factors. Editors would list the winners’ names along with birthday announcements, weddings, and group photos. Recording the names of the members served as a way for FCCB to seal their place in history lest the world forgot.

And for a while, the world did forget.

It wasn’t until years after the club closed their doors that Helouise Costa, professor at University of São Paulo and curator of Museum of Contemporary Art, discovered FCCB in the eighties after applying for a grant at University of São Paulo meant to encourage academics to explore Brazilian photography.

Soon into her research, Costa came across works by members of FCCB and quickly realised that the group was the most influential photo collective in its time in both scope and skill.

Costa studied the club’s magazine and reached out to all the names listed in the pages. What she discovered was an entirely forgotten archive of some of the most influential mid century Brazilian photography. Costa was the first person to look at many of these prints in decades: many former members had been sitting on these negatives since the 50’s.

This discovery catapulted FCCB into national fame, although it wasn’t until another twenty plus years before the club’s legacy started to make a buzz internationally.

Meka Boyle. “MoMA is the First Museum Outside of Brazil to Put the Spotlight on Brazilian Modernist Photography,” on the Art Dealer Street website May 28 2021 [Online] Cited 26/08/2021

 

Cover of the exhibition catalogue 'Fotoclubismo: Brazilian Modernist Photography and the Foto-Cine Clube Bandeirante, 1946-1964', published by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2021

 

Cover of the exhibition catalogue Fotoclubismo: Brazilian Modernist Photography and the Foto-Cine Clube Bandeirante, 1946-1964, published by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2021.

 

 

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14
Feb
21

Exhibition: Gordon Parks and “The Atmosphere of Crime” at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409
From ‘New art from wall to wall’ ongoing

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

As you can imagine, with the tragic situation of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic around the world at the moment, there are few photography exhibitions on view.

This selection of images comes from the collection 1940s-1970s at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in an ongoing display. Please note that not all Gordon Parks photographs shown here are on display, but I include them to give the viewer an overview, a greater understanding of the breadth of photographs included in Parks’ cinematic photo-essay.

Can you imagine the fortitude of this man: “born into poverty and segregation in Fort Scott, Kansas, in 1912. An itinerant labourer, he worked as a brothel pianist and railcar porter, among other jobs, before buying a camera at a pawnshop, training himself and becoming a photographer. He evolved into a modern-day Renaissance man, finding success as a film director, writer and composer.” “The first Black member of the Farm Security Administration’s storied photo corps; the first Black photographer for the U.S. Office of War Information; the first Black photographer for Vogue; the first Black staff photographer at the weekly magazine Life; and, years later, the first Black filmmaker to direct a motion picture (Shaft) for a major Hollywood studio.” As a photographer he learnt his craft shooting dresses for department stores, taking portraits of society women in Chicago, and studying “the Depression-era images of photographers like Dorothea Lange”. Before joining them as a member of the FSA.

This body of work is remarkable for its non-judgemental gaze, a felt response to a subject which was an assignment for LIFE magazine: an objective reporter with a subjective heart as Parks proclaimed, one who had a certain kind of empathy, “expressing things for people who can’t speak for themselves… the underdogs… in that way I speak for myself.” Park’s photographic strategy was to use colour (rare and expensive in those days), and to close in on detail. Rarely if at all are there any mid to long shots in the photo-essay, placing the photograph in a particular location, the exception being the Untitled street scene under the Chicago “L” (short for “elevated”) rapid transit system and the night-time shot of an illuminated Alcatraz Island – remote, forbidding, isolated.

Photographed with candour – using low depth of field, silhouette, chiaroscuro, natural light, low light, night photography, no blur, little flash and challenging perspective, aesthetically a mixture of Dorothea Lange, Weegee and the colour images of Saul Leiter – other intimate images in the series create an “atmosphere” of everyday life on the streets and in the prisons, capturing how the disenfranchised, the desperate and the destitute are controlled and processed by force. “Parks coaxed his camera to record reality so vividly and compellingly that it would allow Life’s readers to see the complexity of these chronically oversimplified situations.” In Raiding Detectives, Chicago, Illinois (1957) we see two detectives of Italian descent raiding a dingy run-down tenement, busting the door open unannounced, guns drawn. In the photograph underneath in the posting, taken inside the oh so red room with floral curtains, one of the detectives questions a black suspect smoking a cigarette, while on the table covered with newspapers sits a burning candle probably providing the only illumination. Cowering in the shadows is a black women, almost unnoticed until you really look at the photograph. This is what abject poverty looks like. In another photograph, Untitled, New York, New York (1957), black and white men emerge from a police van – about the only time black and white men would have sat together in the segregated society of the time (other than being in prison). Can you imagine the atmosphere inside the paddy wagon, the looks, the conversation or lack of it?

Parks’ beautiful photographs, for they are that, include challenging depictions of death, drug use and nonchalantly displayed items such as guns and knuckledusters. Violence and the outcomes of it are an ever present theme in Parks’ documentation of the policing and criminalisation of marginalised people and communities. The photographs are frequently heartbreaking, such as the scars on the legs of a Black American; or devastating, such as the photograph Knifing Victim I (1957). Park’s compresses the space of the action, attacking the nitty gritty of the mise en scène but with no rush to judgement, just telling it how it is. As Sebastian Smee so eloquently observes, “If all of this were mere history – a series of episodes confined to the past – it would be one thing. But Parks’s photographs are alive to the many ways in which crime in the 1950s was a continuation of this legacy [of slavery, of lynching]. Sixty years after he took these photographs, it’s difficult to deny the conclusion that today’s crime-related inequities, from mass incarceration to police brutality, are likewise an extension of this racist legacy.”

And so it goes, both for the marginalised in America and for Indigenous Australians. “According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) in 2018 Black males accounted for 34% of the total male prison population, white males 29%, and Hispanic males 24%” (Wikipedia) while the percentage of US population that is black is 14%. “As of September 2019, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners represented 28% of the total adult prisoner population, while accounting for 3.3% of the general population.” (Wikipedia)

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to MoMA for allowing me to publish the photographs in posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All photographs are used for the purposes of education and research under fair use conditions.

 

 

In 1957, Life staff photographer Gordon Parks traversed New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco capturing crime scenes, police precincts, and prisons for “The Atmosphere of Crime,” as his photo essay was titled when it appeared in the magazine. Rather than identify or label “the criminal,” Parks – a fierce advocate for civil rights and a firm believer in photography as a catalyst for change – documented the policing and criminalisation of marginalised people and communities.

Here, Parks’s series is presented in relation to a long history of picturing criminality. In the nineteenth century, mug shots relied on photography’s supposed objectivity as the basis of their value for identification and surveillance. In the twentieth, more sensational images of victims, raids, and arrests circulated in newspapers and tabloids. In contrast, Parks urges us to look beyond individual people and events, to consider the forces of state and police power that are inextricable from any history of crime – a lesson as essential now as ever.

Text from the MoMA website

 

 

“I’m an objective reporter with a subjective heart,” proclaimed Gordon Parks. “I can’t help but have a certain kind of empathy… It’s more or less expressing things for people who can’t speak for themselves… the underdogs… in that way I speak for myself.” For over half a century, from the 1940s to the 2000s, Gordon Parks captured American life with his powerful photographs. After getting his first camera at the age of 25, he used this “weapon of choice” to attack issues including racism, poverty, urban life, and injustice. He became the first African American staff photographer at Life magazine – an immensely influential platform in the golden age of photo-illustrated magazines that not only allowed his art to be seen by many but also brought a critical, nuanced and, importantly, a Black perspective to the stories and depictions that he shared. For a 1957 assignment, he crisscrossed the streets of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, producing vivid colour images addressing the perceived rise in crime in the US. This series, “The Atmosphere of Crime,” challenged stereotypical images of delinquency, drug use, and corruption.

.
Text from the Gordon Parks Foundation website

 

“I don’t know that there is any one thing called “the Black experience,” but the way ‘Life magazine’ used Gordon Parks’ photographs for me actually reinscribed some of those notions of Black pathology, such as a story about a gang member (who was actually a pretty normal young man) or extreme poverty and social disenfranchisement. Parks was a much more complex photographer than that, as we came to fully know after his death, but that’s how we came to know him through ‘Life magazine’.”

.
Dawoud Bey quoted in Gail O’Neill. “Q&A: How Dawoud Bey uses photography to amplify his voice in the world,” on the ‘ARTS ATL’ website November 6, 2020 [Online] Cited 01/03/2021

 

 

 

Sarah Meister, curator in the Department of Photography, looks at images from Gordon Parks’s 1957 photo essay “The Atmosphere of Crime” (1957) and is moved by the power (and, sadly, continued relevance) of his ability to confront “the great social evils of his time” with an “incredible artistic sensibility.”

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

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

 

 

Closing in on a known criminal on Chicago’s South Side, police in a scout car check tensely by radio with headquarters. City lights rainbow the storm-splattered windshield as the car approaches the hideout.

Text from LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957, p. 46.

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Raiding Detectives, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

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

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

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

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Drug Search, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

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

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Drug Search, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

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

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

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

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
13 3/4 × 21″ (35 × 53.3cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957 (detail)

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois (detail)
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
13 3/4 × 21″ (35 × 53.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

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

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

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

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled' 1957

 

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

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

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

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Narcotics Addict, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

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

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, New York, New York' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, New York, New York
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
13 3/4 × 21″ (35 × 53.3cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled' 1957

 

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

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'San Quentin, California' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
San Quentin, California
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled (Alcatraz Island), San Francisco, California' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled (Alcatraz Island), San Francisco, California
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Gordon Parks: The Atmosphere of Crime 1957

Gordon Parks’ ethically complex depictions of crime in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, with previously unseen photographs.

When Life magazine asked Gordon Parks to illustrate a recurring series of articles on crime in the United States in 1957, he had already been a staff photographer for nearly a decade, the first African American to hold this position. Parks embarked on a six-week journey that took him and a reporter to the streets of New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

Unlike much of his prior work, the images made were in colour. The resulting eight-page photo-essay The Atmosphere of Crime was noteworthy not only for its bold aesthetic sophistication but also for how it challenged stereotypes about criminality then pervasive in the mainstream media. They provided a richly hued, cinematic portrayal of a largely hidden world: that of violence, police work and incarceration, seen with empathy and candour.

Parks rejected clichés of delinquency, drug use, and corruption, opting for a more nuanced view that reflected the social and economic factors tied to criminal behaviour and afforded a rare window into the working lives of those charged with preventing and prosecuting it. Transcending the romanticism of the gangster film, the suspense of the crime caper and the racially biased depictions of criminality then prevalent in American popular culture, Parks coaxed his camera to record reality so vividly and compellingly that it would allow Life‘s readers to see the complexity of these chronically oversimplified situations. The Atmosphere of Crime, 1957 includes an expansive selection of never-before-published photographs from Parks’ original reportage.

Anonymous. “Gordon Parks: The Atmosphere of Crime 1957,” on the Exibart Street website [Online] Cited 07/02/2021

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Crime Suspect with Gun, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

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

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Police Raid, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

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

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

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

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled' 1957

 

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

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, New York, New York' 1957

 

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

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, New York, New York' 1957

 

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

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled' 1957

 

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

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Checking In Suspect, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

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

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Detectives Grilling a Suspect, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

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

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Fingerprinting Addicts for Forging Prescription, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Fingerprinting Addicts for Forging Prescription, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

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

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Cops Bring In Knifing Victim, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Cops Bring In Knifing Victim, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
21 × 13 3/4″ (53.3 × 35cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

A sidewalk puddle reflects a common tragedy. A police van drives up to a Chicago hospital’s emergency door with a knifing victim. Tired attendants, once compassionate, sit idly by.

Text from LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Police Bring in Victim, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Police Bring in Victim, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, New York, New York' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, New York, New York
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
21 × 13 3/4″ (53.3 × 35cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, New York, New York' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, New York, New York
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

A prowl car halts in a New York street, a youth comes nervously to its side. “You clean?” the cop asks. “We’re watching you.”

Text from “The Atmosphere of Crime” photographed for LIFE by Gordon Parks. LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957, p. 50.

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Knifing Victim I, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

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

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

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

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

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

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Morgue Photos of Dope Peddler Killed by Cops, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Morgue Photos of Dope Peddler Killed by Cops, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, San Quentin, California' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, San Quentin, California [Pre-execution report]
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print
16 × 20″ (40.6 × 50.8 cm)
Gift of The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

The left hand of a man who knows the ropes nonchalantly dangles a cigaret through the bars of a Chicago prison. But the man’s right hand, grasping the bars below, betrays him: he is frustrated and locked in.

Text from LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957

 

 

MoMA acquires historic Gordon Parks series The Atmosphere of Crime

The photographs will go on view in the New York museum’s permanent collection galleries in May, along with a selection of works by other artists and a clip from the classic 1971 film Shaft

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York has acquired a full set of photographs by Gordon Parks from The Atmosphere of Crime series, a photographic essay examining crime in America he created on assignment with Life magazine in 1957. Along with 55 modern colour inkjet prints created from Parks’s transparencies, selected and bought in consultation with the Gordon Parks Foundation, the foundation has gifted a vintage gelatin silver print that matches a work already in MoMA’s collection, given by the photographer in 1993. Around 15 pieces from the series will go on view in a dedicated gallery on the fourth floor in May, along with an excerpt from his classic 1971 film Shaft and works by other artists from the collection, as part of the next reinstallation of the permanent galleries.

The acquisition comes through years of conversations with the Gordon Parks Foundation, which has been organising in-depth exhibitions of the photographer’s work at major museums since his death in 2006. “When Sarah Meister [MoMA’s curator of photography] and I began speaking a few years ago about how the museum could make a major acquisition, it was about what body of work would really have the most impact to what’s going on in the current world,” says Peter Kunhardt, Jr, the foundation’s executive director. “And we both felt that The Atmosphere of Crime was so relevant, not only because so much hasn’t changed today in our criminal justice system and with police brutality and violence, but also because the work is in colour.”

Colour photography was prohibitively expensive to produce outside of commercial projects at the time Parks first shot the series, Meister explains, and only a selection of images from the series were printed in colour in Life. “The transparencies that Gordon Parks made have been held back for a number of years for the right institution to thoughtfully put together an exhibition and book,” Kunhardt adds. The catalogue, published by Steidl with essays by Meister, Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, and the art historian Nicole Fleetwood, who also wrote Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration, includes all the images from the acquisition.

Extract from Helen Stoilas. “MoMA acquires historic Gordon Parks series The Atmosphere of Crime,” on The Art Newspaper website 11 February 2020 [Online] Cited 07/02/2021

 

Installation view of the Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409: 'Gordon Parks and "The Atmosphere of Crime"' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409: 'Gordon Parks and "The Atmosphere of Crime"' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409: 'Gordon Parks and "The Atmosphere of Crime"' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409: 'Gordon Parks and "The Atmosphere of Crime"' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409: 'Gordon Parks and "The Atmosphere of Crime"' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409: 'Gordon Parks and "The Atmosphere of Crime"' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation views of the Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409: Gordon Parks and “The Atmosphere of Crime” at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

 

None of these images is crude or cliched. A few, it’s true, are brutally direct, in the spirit of Robert Lowell (“Yet why not say what happened?”) or Walker Evans (“If the thing is there, why there it is.”). But others are oddly – and arrestingly – tentative. They’re optically blurred, obscured by visual impediments, as if filtered through the artist’s melancholy, his pity, his black-of-night bewilderment. Looking at them, you feel that something others might rush to – judgment, sentencing, finality – has been deliberately withheld. …

The presence of the word “atmosphere” in the title is apt. It captures both the cumulative impact of the imagery and the complexity of crime’s causes and effects. Park’s use of blur, his unexpected vantage points and his embrace of pooling darkness all elevate his feeling for complication and suffering over the usual simplistic story lines that crowd to the subject of crime. …

Between 1880 and 1950, lynchings were committed in open defiance of the law, terrorising a Black population that proceeded to escape to the ghettos of the North in massive numbers.

If all of this were mere history – a series of episodes confined to the past – it would be one thing. But Parks’s photographs are alive to the many ways in which crime in the 1950s was a continuation of this legacy. Sixty years after he took these photographs, it’s difficult to deny the conclusion that today’s crime-related inequities, from mass incarceration to police brutality, are likewise an extension of this racist legacy.

Big-city street crime has been in steady decline for three decades now. And yet the complexities and inequities of American crime still hinge on race and are still crudely narrated in the media.

Extract from Sebastian Smee. “With his camera, Gordon Parks humanized the Black people others saw as simply criminals,” on The Washington Post website August 5, 2020 [Online] Cited 07/02/2021

 

LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957

 

LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957 front cover

 

Robert Wallace. "Crime in the U.S." LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957, pp. 46-47.

 

Robert Wallace. “Crime in the U.S.” LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957, pp. 46-47. Photograph by Gordon Parks.

 

LIFE magazine 'Crime in the U.S.'

Robert Wallace. "Crime in the U.S." LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957

 

Robert Wallace. “Crime in the U.S.” LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957. Photographs by Gordon Parks.

 

 

Robert Wallace. “Crime in the U.S.” LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957, pp. 68-69.

 

 

“BANDIT’S ROOST” in New York’s Mulberry Street in 1890s housed Italians who, like most economically exploited immigrant groups, had a high incidence of crime. As Sellin explains, this dropped as they prospered.

Unattributed photograph by Jacob Riis (see below).

 

Jacob Riis (Danish-American, 1849-1914) 'Bandit's Roost at 59½ Mulberry Street' 1888

 

Jacob Riis (American, born Denmark 1849-1914)
Bandit’s Roost at 59½ Mulberry Street
1888
From How the Other Half Lives

 

This image is Bandit’s Roost at 59½ Mulberry Street, considered the most crime-ridden, dangerous part of New York City.

 

 

Jacob August Riis (1849-1914) was a Danish-American social reformer, “muckraking” journalist and social documentary photographer. He contributed significantly to the cause of urban reform in America at the turn of the twentieth century. He is known for using his photographic and journalistic talents to help the impoverished in New York City; those impoverished New Yorkers were the subject of most of his prolific writings and photography. He endorsed the implementation of “model tenements” in New York with the help of humanitarian Lawrence Veiller. Additionally, as one of the most famous proponents of the newly practicable casual photography, he is considered one of the fathers of photography due to his very early adoption of flash in photography.

While living in New York, Riis experienced poverty and became a police reporter writing about the quality of life in the slums. He attempted to alleviate the bad living conditions of poor people by exposing their living conditions to the middle and upper classes. …

 

Photography

Bandit’s Roost (1888) by Jacob Riis, from How the Other Half Lives. This image is Bandit’s Roost at 59½ Mulberry Street, considered the most crime-ridden, dangerous part of New York City. Riis had for some time been wondering how to show the squalor of which he wrote more vividly than his words could express. He tried sketching, but was incompetent at this. Camera lenses of the 1880s were slow as was the emulsion of photographic plates; photography thus did not seem to be of any use for reporting about conditions of life in dark interiors. In early 1887, however, Riis was startled to read that “a way had been discovered to take pictures by flashlight. The darkest corner might be photographed that way.” The German innovation, by Adolf Miethe and Johannes Gaedicke, flash powder was a mixture of magnesium with potassium chlorate and some antimony sulfide for added stability; the powder was used in a pistol-like device that fired cartridges. This was the introduction of flash photography.

Recognising the potential of the flash, Riis informed a friend, Dr. John Nagle, chief of the Bureau of Vital Statistics in the City Health Department who was also a keen amateur photographer. Nagle found two more photographer friends, Henry Piffard and Richard Hoe Lawrence, and the four of them began to photograph the slums. Their first report was published in the New York newspaper The Sun on February 12, 1888; it was an unsigned article by Riis which described its author as “an energetic gentleman, who combines in his person, though not in practice, the two dignities of deacon in a Long Island church and a police reporter in New York”. The “pictures of Gotham’s crime and misery by night and day” are described as “a foundation for a lecture called ‘The Other Half: How It Lives and Dies in New York.’ to give at church and Sunday school exhibitions, and the like.” The article was illustrated by twelve line drawings based on the photographs.

Riis and his photographers were among the first Americans to use flash photography. Pistol lamps were dangerous and looked threatening, and would soon be replaced by another method for which Riis lit magnesium powder on a frying pan. The process involved removing the lens cap, igniting the flash powder and replacing the lens cap; the time taken to ignite the flash powder sometimes allowed a visible image blurring created by the flash.

Riis’s first team soon tired of the late hours, and Riis had to find other help. Both his assistants were lazy and one was dishonest, selling plates for which Riis had paid. Riis sued him in court successfully. Nagle suggested that Riis should become self-sufficient, so in January 1888 Riis paid $25 for a 4×5 box camera, plate holders, a tripod and equipment for developing and printing. He took the equipment to the potter’s field cemetery on Hart Island to practice, making two exposures. The result was seriously overexposed but successful.

For three years, Riis combined his own photographs with others commissioned of professionals, donations by amateurs and purchased lantern slides, all of which formed the basis for his photographic archive.

Because of the nighttime work, he was able to photograph the worst elements of the New York slums, the dark streets, tenement apartments, and “stale-beer” dives, and documented the hardships faced by the poor and criminal, especially in the vicinity of notorious Mulberry Street. …

 

Social attitudes

Riis’s concern for the poor and destitute often caused people to assume he disliked the rich. However, Riis showed no sign of discomfort among the affluent, often asking them for their support. Although seldom involved with party politics, Riis was sufficiently disgusted by the corruption of Tammany Hall to change from being an endorser of the Democratic Party to endorse the Republican Party. The period just before the Spanish-American War was difficult for Riis. He was approached by liberals who suspected that protests of alleged Spanish mistreatment of the Cubans was merely a ruse intended to provide a pretext for US expansionism; perhaps to avoid offending his friend Roosevelt, Riis refused the offer of good payment to investigate this and made nationalist statements.

Riis emphatically supported the spread of wealth to lower classes through improved social programs and philanthropy, but his personal opinion of the natural causes for poor immigrants’ situations tended to display the trappings of a racist ideology. Several chapters of How the Other Half Lives, for example, open with Riis’ observations of the economic and social situations of different ethnic and racial groups via indictments of their perceived natural flaws; often prejudices that may well have been informed by scientific racism.

 

Criticism

Riis’s sincerity for social reform has seldom been questioned, but critics have questioned his right to interfere with the lives and choices of others. His audience comprised middle-class reformers, and critics say that he had no love for the traditional lifestyles of the people he portrayed. Stange (1989) argues that Riis “recoiled from workers and working-class culture” and appealed primarily to the anxieties and fears of his middle-class audience. Swienty (2008) says, “Riis was quite impatient with most of his fellow immigrants; he was quick to judge and condemn those who failed to assimilate, and he did not refrain from expressing his contempt.” Gurock (1981) says Riis was insensitive to the needs and fears of East European Jewish immigrants who flooded into New York at this time.

Libertarian economist Thomas Sowell (2001) argues that immigrants during Riis’s time were typically willing to live in cramped, unpleasant circumstances as a deliberate short-term strategy that allowed them to save more than half their earnings to help family members come to America, with every intention of relocating to more comfortable lodgings eventually. Many tenement renters physically resisted the well-intentioned relocation efforts of reformers like Riis, states Sowell, because other lodgings were too costly to allow for the high rate of savings possible in the tenements. Moreover, according to Sowell, Riis’s own personal experiences were the rule rather than the exception during his era: like most immigrants and low-income persons, he lived in the tenements only temporarily before gradually earning more income and relocating to different lodgings.

Riis’s depictions of various ethnic groups can be harsh. In Riis’s books, according to some historians, “The Jews are nervous and inquisitive, the Orientals are sinister, the Italians are unsanitary.”

Riis was also criticised for his depiction of African Americans. He was said to portray them as falsely happy with their lives in the “slums” of New York City. This criticism didn’t come until much later after Riis had died. His writing was overlooked because his photography was so revolutionary in his early books.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

“The Atmosphere of Crime” photographed for LIFE by Gordon Parks. LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957, p. 50.

 

Gordon Parks' photo essay 'The Atmosphere of Crime' in 'Life Magazine', September 9, 1957

 

Gordon Parks’ photo essay “The Atmosphere of Crime” in Life Magazine, September 9, 1957, pp. 58-59.

 

 

Because this year marks the 50th anniversary of his groundbreaking 1971 film, “Shaft”; because two fine shows of his pioneering photojournalism are on view at the Jack Shainman galleries in Chelsea; because a suite from his influential 1957 series, “The Atmosphere of Crime,” is a highlight of “In and Around Harlem,” on view at the Museum of Modern Art; and because, somehow, despite the long shadow cast by a man widely considered the preeminent Black American photographer of the 20th century, he is too little known, the time seems right to revisit some elements of the remarkable life, style and undimmed relevance of Gordon Parks.

 

Last born of 15 children, he made a career of firsts

Born Gordon Roger Alexander Buchanan Parks in Fort Scott, Kansas, on Nov. 30, 1912, he attended segregated schools where he was prohibited from playing sports and was advised not to aim for college because higher education was pointless for people destined to be porters and maids.

Once, he was beaten up for walking with a light-skinned cousin. Once, he was tossed into the Marmaton River by three white boys fully aware that he could not swim. Once, he was thrown out of a brother-in-law’s house where he was sent to live after his mother’s death. This was in St. Paul, at Christmas. He rode a trolley all night to keep warm.

 

The road to fame had plenty of detours

At various points in his early years, Parks played the piano in a brothel, was a janitor in a flophouse and was a dining car waiter on the cross-country railroad. He survived these travails to become, following a route that was anything but direct, the first Black member of the Farm Security Administration’s storied photo corps; the first Black photographer for the U.S. Office of War Information; the first Black photographer for Vogue; the first Black staff photographer at the weekly magazine Life; and, years later, the first Black filmmaker to direct a motion picture for a major Hollywood studio. By the standards of a Jim Crow era, Parks’ perseverance rose to the level of the biblical.

 

He got his break shooting dresses

As passengers have done everywhere and always, those on the North Coast Limited between Chicago and Seattle tossed their onboard reading when they were done. Parks scavenged the well-thumbed magazines and, taking them home, discovered both the Depression-era images of photographers like Dorothea Lange and the exotic spheres depicted in Vogue.

He bought his first camera at a pawnshop in Seattle in 1937 and taught himself how to use it. Returning to the Minneapolis area where he had lived for a time, he scouted work shooting for local department stores. All except one rebuffed him.

This, as it happened, was Frank Murphy, the most fashionable boutique in the city, a shop with a running fountain, a resident parrot and a clientele that ran to women from the Pillsbury, Ordway and Dayton dynasties and who relied on the buyers there to supply them with things like “telephone dresses,” for those who considered it unseemly to take calls in dishabille.

By legend, it was the owner’s wife, Madeleine, who insisted that her husband hire the fledgling photographer despite his inexperience, for reasons never made clear. The bet paid off, though, since the images Parks produced promptly resulted in more work, a local exhibition and a telephone call from Marva Louis, then the wife of the world heavyweight boxing champion, Joe Louis, who encouraged him to relocate to Chicago, where he began taking portraits of society women. It was a career transit compressed in a sequence of events so implausible as to seem cinematic. Yet, for Parks, it was just a beginning.

“From the start, Parks knew how to make a beautiful picture,” photography critic Vince Aletti said. And it is true that, long after Parks established his reputation with unflinching photographic series on the civil rights movement, Harlem gangs, the Black Panthers, Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam, he continued to move easily between photojournalism and the fashion work for which he maintained a lifelong regard – and which, along with his access to elements of Black life largely invisible to white readers, was among the reasons he was hired in the first place by Life.

© 2021 The New York Times Company

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled (Pages from an album of mugshots)' 1870s-80s

 

Unknown photographer
Untitled (Pages from an album of mugshots)
1870s-80s
Albumen silver prints
Each 9 1/8 × 4 7/16″ (23.2 × 11.2cm)

 

Times Wide World Photos. "Ms. Ruth Snyder as She Looks Today" April 1927

 

Times Wide World Photos
“Ms. Ruth Snyder as She Looks Today”
April 1927
Gelatin silver print
9 7/8 × 7 1/2″ (25.1 × 19.1cm)
The New York Times Collection
© 2021 Times Wide World Photos

 

 

Ruth Brown Snyder (March 27, 1895 – January 12, 1928) was an American murderer. Her execution in the electric chair at New York’s Sing Sing Prison in 1928 for the murder of her husband, Albert Snyder, was recorded in a well-publicised photograph.

 

Associated Press. "Mob Foiled in Attempted Lynching" 1934

 

Associated Press
“Mob Foiled in Attempted Lynching”
1934
Gelatin silver print
6 1/2 × 8 3/8″ (16.5 × 21.3cm)
The New York Times Collection
© 2021 Associated Press

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, 1899-1968) 'Charles Sodokoff and Arthur Webber Use Their Top Hats to Hide Their Faces' 1942

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, 1899-1968)
Charles Sodokoff and Arthur Webber Use Their Top Hats to Hide Their Faces
1942
Gelatin silver print
10 5/16 × 13 3/16″ (26.2 × 33.5cm)
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Weegee/ICP/Getty Images

 

Associated Press, Roger Higgins. 'Ethel and Julius Rosenberg on Their Way to Jail in New York' March 29, 1951

 

Associated Press, Roger Higgins
Ethel and Julius Rosenberg on Their Way to Jail in New York
March 29, 1951
Gelatin silver print
6 1/2 × 8 7/16″ (16.5 × 21.4cm)
The New York Times Collection
© 2021 Associated Press

 

 

Julius Rosenberg and Ethel Rosenberg were American citizens who were convicted of spying on behalf of the Soviet Union. The couple was accused of providing top-secret information about radar, sonar, jet propulsion engines, and valuable nuclear weapon designs; at that time the United States was the only country in the world with nuclear weapons. Convicted of espionage in 1951, they were executed by the federal government of the United States in 1953 in the Sing Sing correctional facility in Ossining, New York, becoming the first American civilians to be executed for such charges and the first to suffer that penalty during peacetime.

Other convicted co-conspirators were sentenced to prison, including Ethel’s brother, David Greenglass (who had made a plea agreement), Harry Gold, and Morton Sobell. Klaus Fuchs, a German scientist working in Los Alamos, was convicted in the United Kingdom.

For decades, the Rosenbergs’ sons (Michael and Robert Meeropol) and many other defenders maintained that Julius and Ethel were innocent of spying on their country and were victims of Cold War paranoia. After the fall of the Soviet Union, much information concerning them was declassified, including a trove of decoded Soviet cables (code-name: Venona), which detailed Julius’s role as a courier and recruiter for the Soviets. Ethel’s role was as an accessory who helped recruit her brother David into the spy ring and she worked in a secretarial manner typing up documents for her husband that were given to the Soviets. In 2008, the National Archives of the United States published most of the grand jury testimony related to the prosecution of the Rosenbergs.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Black Maria, Oakland' 1957

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Black Maria, Oakland
1957
Gelatin silver print
10 15/16 × 9 13/16″ (27.9 × 24.9cm)
Gift of the artist

 

Meyer Liebowitz (American, 1906-1976) / The New York Times. 'Umberto (Albert) Anastasia Shot to Death in Barber's Chair' October 25, 1957

 

Meyer Liebowitz (American, 1906-1976) / The New York Times
Umberto (Albert) Anastasia Shot to Death in Barber’s Chair
October 25, 1957
Gelatin silver print
7 5/8 × 8 7/16″ (19.4 × 21.4cm)
The New York Times Collection
© 2021 The New York Times

 

 

Umberto “Albert” Anastasia (1902-1957) was an Italian-American mobster, hitman, and crime boss. One of the founders of the modern American Mafia and a co-founder and later boss of the Murder, Inc. criminal collective, Anastasia eventually rose to the position of boss in what became the modern Gambino crime family. He was also in control of the New York waterfront for most of his criminal career, including the dockworker unions. He was murdered on October 25, 1957, on the orders of Vito Genovese and Carlo Gambino; Gambino subsequently became boss of the family.

Anastasia was one of the most ruthless and feared organised crime figures in American history; his reputation earned him the nicknames “The One-Man Army”, “Mad Hatter” and “Lord High Executioner”. …

 

Assassination

On the morning of October 25, 1957, Anastasia entered the barber shop of the Park Sheraton Hotel, at 56th Street and 7th Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. Anastasia’s driver parked the car in an underground garage and then took a walk outside, leaving him unprotected. As Anastasia relaxed in the barber’s chair, two men – scarves covering their faces – rushed in, shoved the barber out of the way, and fired at Anastasia. After the first volley of bullets, Anastasia reportedly lunged at his killers. However, the stunned Anastasia had actually attacked the gunmen’s reflections in the wall mirror of the barber shop. The gunmen continued firing until Anastasia finally fell dead on the floor.

The Anastasia homicide generated a tremendous amount of public interest and sparked a high-profile police investigation. Per The New York Times journalist and Five Families author Selwyn Raab, “The vivid image of a helpless victim swathed in white towels was stamped in the public memory”. However, no one was charged in the case. Speculation on who killed Anastasia has centred on Profaci crime family mobster Joe Gallo, the Patriarca crime family of Providence, Rhode Island, and certain drug dealers within the Gambino family. Initially, the NYPD concluded that Anastasia’s homicide had been arranged by Genovese and Gambino and that it was carried out by a crew led by Gallo. At one point, Gallo boasted to an associate of his part in the hit, “You can just call the five of us the barbershop quintet”. Elsewhere, Genovese had traditionally strong ties to Patriarca boss Raymond L. S. Patriarca.

Anastasia’s funeral service was conducted at a Brooklyn funeral home; the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn had refused to sanction a church burial. Anastasia was interred in Green-Wood Cemetery in Greenwood Heights, Brooklyn, attended by a handful of friends and relatives. It is marked “Anastasio”. In 1958, his family emigrated to Canada, and changed the name to “Anisio”.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942) 'Dominoes, Walls Unit, Texas' 1967-69

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Dominoes, Walls Unit, Texas
1967-69
Gelatin silver print
11 × 14″ (28 × 35.6cm)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James Hunter
© 2021 Danny Lyon

 

John Hubbard / Black Star Publishing Company. "Kennedy Car off Bridge to Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts" July 19, 1969

 

John Hubbard / Black Star Publishing Company
“Kennedy Car off Bridge to Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts”
July 19, 1969
Gelatin silver print
6 13/16 × 9 15/16″ (17.3 × 25.2cm)
The New York Times Collection
© 2021 John Hubbard/Black Star Publishing Co.

 

 

The Chappaquiddick incident (popularly known as Chappaquiddick) was a single-vehicle car crash that occurred on Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts some time around midnight between Friday, July 18, and Saturday, July 19, 1969. The crash was caused by Senator Edward M. (Ted) Kennedy’s negligence and resulted in the death of his 28-year-old passenger Mary Jo Kopechne, who was trapped inside the vehicle.

Kennedy left a party on Chappaquiddick at 11:15 p.m. Friday, with Kopechne. He maintained his intent was to immediately take Kopechne to a ferry landing and return to Edgartown, but that he accidentally made a wrong turn onto a dirt road leading to a one-lane bridge. After his car skidded off the bridge into Poucha Pond, Kennedy swam free, and maintained he tried to rescue Kopechne from the submerged car, but he could not. Kopechne’s death could have happened any time between about 11:30 p.m. Friday and 1 a.m. Saturday, as an off-duty deputy sheriff maintained he saw a car matching Kennedy’s at 12:40 a.m. Kennedy left the scene and did not report the crash to police until after 10 a.m. Saturday. Meanwhile, a diver recovered Kopechne’s body from Kennedy’s car shortly before 9 a.m. Saturday.

At a July 25, 1969, court hearing, Kennedy pled guilty to a charge of leaving the scene of an accident and received a two-month suspended jail sentence. In a televised statement that same evening, he said his conduct immediately after the crash “made no sense to me at all”, and that he regarded his failure to report the crash immediately as “indefensible”. A January 5, 1970, judicial inquest concluded Kennedy and Kopechne did not intend to take the ferry, and that Kennedy intentionally turned toward the bridge, operating his vehicle negligently, if not recklessly, at too high a rate of speed for the hazard which the bridge posed in the dark. The judge stopped short of recommending charges, and a grand jury convened on April 6, 1970, returning no indictments. On May 27, 1970, a Registry of Motor Vehicles hearing resulted in Kennedy’s driver’s license being suspended for a total of sixteen months after the crash.

The Chappaquiddick incident became national news that influenced Kennedy’s decision not to run for President in 1972 and 1976, and it was said to have undermined his chances of ever becoming President. Kennedy ultimately decided to enter the 1980 Democratic Party presidential primaries, but earned only 37.6% of the vote and lost the nomination to incumbent President Jimmy Carter.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Leonard Freed (American, 1929-2006) 'New York: Woman killed by her boyfriend at her place of employment' 1972

 

Leonard Freed (American, 1929-2006)
New York: Woman killed by her boyfriend at her place of employment
1972
Gelatin silver print
15 5/8 × 23 9/16″ (39.7 × 59.8cm)
Acquired through the generosity of Thomas L. Kempner, Jr.
© 2021 Leonard Freed/Magnum Photos

 

 

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25
Mar
20

Exhibition: ‘Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures’ at the Museum of Modern Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 9th February – 9th May 2020

MoMA has closed temporarily due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

#MuseumFromHome

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Six Tenant Farmers without Farms, Hardeman County, Texas' 1937, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Six Tenant Farmers without Farms, Hardeman County, Texas
1937, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
12 15/16 × 16 5/8″ (32.9 × 42.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

This image appeared in Land of the Free and later in Lange and Paul Taylor’s documentary photobook An American Exodus: A Record of Human Erosion (1941), where Lange cropped out the sixth, smaller man, perhaps to simplify the idea of strength and virility conveyed there.

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'A Half-Hour Later, Hardeman County, Texas' 1937, printed 1965

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
A Half-Hour Later, Hardeman County, Texas
1937, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
12 1/8 × 15 3/16″ (30.8 × 38.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

“All photographs – not only those that are so-called ‘documentary,’ … can be fortified by words.”

“And the assignment was… see what was really there. What does it look like, what does it feel like, what actually is the human condition.”

.
Dorothea Lange

 

“Lange took so many memorable photographs that it is challenging to shortlist them. One of the greatest is at the entrance to the MoMA show: “Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona” (1940). The farmworker’s hands are close to the lens of the camera. One hand is holding a wooden beam; it could be the implement of his impending crucifixion. The other hand, with its open palm and splayed fingers, covers his mouth. Unforgettably powerful, the photograph resembles self-portraits by Austrian expressionist painter Egon Schiele, who shared Lange’s interest in extremities – hands and feet, and also, wretched misery.”

.
Arthur Lubow

 

 

Closer and closer

While MoMA has closed temporarily due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, I believe it is important to document and write about those exhibitions that would have been running during this distressing time, as a form of social inclusion, social connection if you like, in the virtual world. I know that I am feeling particularly isolated at the moment, fighting off depression, with a lack of my usual routine and coffee with friends.

Great art always inspires, engages me, makes me feel and care about the world around me. In these photographs by that most excellent of photographers Dorothea Lange, of another desperate time, The Great Depression, we can feel her sincerity and intensity, that resolute gift of seeing the world clearly, despite the abject misery that surrounds her. Fast forward future, and we see the lines of the newly unemployed, desperate, penniless, snaking around the block of the social security buildings here in Australia, this very day.

Lange’s photographs don’t need words. Words are never enough.

The faces weary, furrowed, parched under baking sun, rutted like the land, Tractored Out, Childress County, Texas (1938). Dark eyes pierce the marrow, astringent lines, heavy eyebrows, mirror, set above, tight, tight mouth, Young Sharecropper, Macon County, Georgia (July 1937). I feel what, his pain? his sadness? his despair? Hands, arms, feet, form an important part of Lange’s visual armoury, arm/ory, amour. The hand to chin of Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California (March 1936); the bony arms of Woman of the High Plains, Texas Panhandle (June 1938); hand obscuring face, steely gaze, Funeral Cortege, End of an Era in a Small Valley Town, California (1938); weathered, beaten hands, beaten, Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona (November 1940). These extremities are expressions not just of her subjects, but of herself. A virtual self-portrait.

“One of the greatest is at the entrance to the MoMA show: “Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona” (1940). The farmworker’s hands are close to the lens of the camera. One hand is holding a wooden beam; it could be the implement of his impending crucifixion. The other hand, with its open palm and splayed fingers, covers his mouth. Unforgettably powerful, the photograph resembles self-portraits by Austrian expressionist painter Egon Schiele, who shared Lange’s interest in extremities – hands and feet, and also, wretched misery.” (Press release)

Lange “is a key link in a chain of photographic history. From Evans, she learned how to frame precise images of clapboard churches. But unlike Evans, who usually preferred to keep a distance and capture a building’s architectural integrity, Lange always wanted, as she said when describing how she made “Migrant Mother,” to move “closer and closer”.” Moving closer, her photographs possess an un/bridled intimacy with troubled creatures. Moving closer, seeing clearly. Closer and closer, till death, parts.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

 

Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures MoMA exhibition

 

Dorothea Lange introduction

 

Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures introduction text

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 with at right, Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona November 1940
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Lange San Francisco Streets

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

San Francisco Streets

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 showing at left, White Angel Bread Line, San Francisco 1933
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'White Angel Bread Line, San Francisco' 1933

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
White Angel Bread Line, San Francisco
1933
Gelatin silver print
10 3/4 x 8 7/8″ (27.3 x 22.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Albert M. Bender

 

 

About this photograph, one of the first made outside her studio, Lange recalled, “I was just gathering my forces and that took a little bit because I wasn’t accustomed to jostling about in groups of tormented, depressed and angry men, with a camera.”

 

Lange Government Work

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

Government Work

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 showing at fifth from left bottom, Funeral Cortege, End of an Era in a Small Valley Town, California 1938; at fourth from left top, Grayson, San Joaquin Valley, California 1938; and at fifth from left top, Ex-Slave with Long Memory, Alabama c. 1937
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Funeral Cortege, End of an Era in a Small Valley Town, California' 1938, printed c. 1958

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Funeral Cortege, End of an Era in a Small Valley Town, California
1938, printed c. 1958
Gelatin silver print
9 7/16 × 8″ (24 × 20.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Grayson, San Joaquin Valley, California' 1938, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Grayson, San Joaquin Valley, California
1938, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
10 3/8 x 16 15/16″ (26.3 x 43 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

Regarding this picture, Dorothea Lange’s field notes report: “Grayson was a migratory agricultural labourers’ shack town. It was during the season of the pea harvest. Late afternoon about 6 o’clock. Boys were playing baseball in the road that passes this building, which was used as a church. Otherwise, this corpse, lying at the church, was alone, unattended, and unexplained.” The full negative she made there represents not just this doorway but the entire whitewashed gabled façade. The concrete steps in front of the entrance and foundation blocks are visible. Apparently the form in the doorway was what drew Lange to the scene, however; it has been suggested that she later realised this central feature was important enough to carry the composition and proceeded to concentrate on the portion of the negative with the shallow portal holding the body. She published an even more severely cut-down version in the 1940 US Camera Annual. Bearing the title Doorstep Document, it eliminates the three plain boards that frame the doorway, making the depth of the threshold less evident and the wrapped figure and worn double doors more prominent and funereal.

It is not known why Lange identified the form as a corpse rather than a homeless person. Today we are more inclined to think the latter, since such scenes are common. The relaxed, uncovered pose of the feet indicates a voluntary reclining position. Lange was also some distance away when she made the exposure. One of the playing children may have suggested the corpse idea to test its shock value, and perhaps Lange adopted it for future propaganda purposes. Grayson was just a small town southwest of Modesto, and this church was probably one of the few places of refuge it offered.

It would seem peculiar for the feet of a dead person to be exposed. Here they represent the life, the personality, of this anonymous citizen. Always sensitive to the appearance and performance of others’ feet, due to her own deformity, Lange made hundreds of photographs on the theme. This one is among the most melancholy.

Judith Keller, Dorothea Lange, In Focus: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2002), 40. © 2002 J. Paul Getty Trust

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Ex-Slave with Long Memory, Alabama' c. 1937, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Ex-Slave with Long Memory, Alabama
c. 1937, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
15 3/16 × 11 15/16″ (38.5 × 30.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Lange 'Land of the Free'

Lange 'Land of the Free'

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Archibald Macleish (American, 1892-1982)
Land of the Free
1938
Letterpress open: 9 7/16 x 13 1/8″ (24 x 33.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art Library, New York

Open at Lange’s Ditched, Stalled and Stranded, San Joaquin Valley, California February 1936

 

Lange Land of the Free

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

Land of the Free

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 with at left, Ditched, Stalled and Stranded, San Joaquin Valley, California February 1936; and at centre, Six Tenant Farmers without Farms, Hardeman County, Texas 1937
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

Land of the Free and An American Exodus

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

 

FOR THE ENTIRE second half of Dorothea Lange’s life, a quotation from the English philosopher Francis Bacon floated in her peripheral vision: “The contemplation of things as they are, without error or confusion, without substitution or imposture, is in itself a nobler thing than a whole harvest of invention.” She pinned a printout of these words up on her darkroom door in 1933. It remained there until she died, at 70, in 1965 – three months before her first retrospective opened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and three decades after she took the most iconic photograph in the medium’s history.

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California' March 1936

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California
March 1936
Gelatin silver print
11 1/8 x 8 9/16″ (28.3 x 21.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

The captions used to describe Migrant Mother are as varied as the publications in which they appeared: “A destitute mother, the type aided by the WPA.” “A worker in the ‘peach bowl.'” “Draggin’-around people.” “In a camp of migratory pea-pickers, San Luis Obispo County, California.” Even in ostensibly factual settings such as newspapers, government reports, or a museum cataloguing sheet, no fixed phrase or set of words was associated with the image until 1952, when it was published as Migrant Mother.

 

Lange Migrant Mother / Popular Photography

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

Migrant Mother / Popular Photography

Installation views of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 with at left in the bottom photograph, Sunlit Oak c. 1957 (below)
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Sunlit Oak' c. 1957, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Sunlit Oak
c. 1957, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
30 7/8 × 41 1/8″ (78.4 × 104.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Kern County, California' 1938

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Kern County, California
1938
Gelatin silver print
12 7/16 x 12 1/2″ (31.6 x 31.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

Pictures of Words

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 with at left, Western Addition, San Francisco, California 1951 (below); at fifth from left, Kern County, California 1938 (above); at third from right, Crossroads Store, North Carolina July 1939 (below)
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Western Addition, San Francisco, California' 1951, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Western Addition, San Francisco, California
1951, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
7 3/16 × 6″ (23.8 × 17.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Crossroads Store, North Carolina' July 1939, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Crossroads Store, North Carolina
July 1939, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
9 11/16 × 13 9/16″ (24.6 × 34.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Tractored Out, Childress County, Texas' 1938

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Tractored Out, Childress County, Texas
1938
Gelatin silver print
9 5/16 x 12 13/16″ (23.6 x 32.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

Lange and Taylor’s captions in An American Exodus consider the human impact of environmental crises. The one for this image reads, “Tractors replace not only mules but people. They cultivate to the very door of the houses of those whom they replace.”

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'The Road West, New Mexico' 1938, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
The Road West, New Mexico
1938, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
9 5/8 × 13 1/16″ (24.5 × 33.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

The image was memorialised later by Robert Frank

 

Dorothea Lange and Paul S. Taylor. 'An American Exodus. A Record of Human Erosion' New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1939

Dorothea Lange and Paul S. Taylor. 'An American Exodus. A Record of Human Erosion' New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1939

 

 

A seminal work in documentary studies, with powerful photographs of the Depression era made by the wife and husband team of Dorothea Lange and Paul Taylor. They were hired by the Farm Security Administration to document the 300,000 strong, Depression era exodus from rural America, and the struggles these migrant workers overcame in search of basic necessities. The documentary photographer and social scientist’s goal was to “use the camera as a tool of research. Upon a tripod of photographs, captions, and text we rest themes evolved out of long observations in the field. We adhere to the standards of documentary photography as we have conceived them. Quotations which accompany photographs report what the persons photographed said, not what we think might be their unspoken thoughts.” p. 6.

Text from the Abe Books website [Online] Cited 24/02/2020

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Woman of the High Plains, Texas Panhandle' June 1938, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Woman of the High Plains, Texas Panhandle
June 1938, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
29 3/4 × 24″ (75.6 × 61 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

“IF YOU DIE, YOU’RE DEAD – THAT’S ALL”

When it was published in An American Exodus, this portrait was captioned “If you die, you’re dead—that’s all.” This line was taken from Lange’s field notes, which quote the woman at greater length: “‘We made good money a pullin’ bolls, when we could pull. But we’ve had no work since March. . . . You can’t get no relief here until you’ve lived here a year. This county’s a hard country. They won’t help bury you here. If you die, you’re dead, that’s all.’”

 

Lange 'An American Exodus'

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

An American Exodus

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 with at left, Young Sharecropper, Macon County, Georgia July 1937; at second left top, The Road West, New Mexico 1938; at centre Woman of the High Plains, Texas Panhandle June 1938; and second right, Jobless on the Edge of a Peafield, Imperial Valley, California February 1937
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Young Sharecropper, Macon County, Georgia' July 1937, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Young Sharecropper, Macon County, Georgia
July 1937, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
11 3/4 × 11 3/4″ (29.8 × 29.9 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Jobless on the Edge of a Peafield, Imperial Valley, California' February 1937, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Jobless on the Edge of a Peafield, Imperial Valley, California
February 1937, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
16 15/16 × 15 3/4″ (43 × 40.1 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange and Paul S. Taylor. 'An American Exodus. A Record of Human Erosion' New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1939

Dorothea Lange and Paul S. Taylor. 'An American Exodus. A Record of Human Erosion' New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1939

 

Dorothea Lange and Paul S. Taylor
An American Exodus. A Record of Human Erosion
New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1939
First edition. Hardcover
Letterpress open: 10 1/4 x 15 3/8″ (26 x 39.1 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art Library, New York

 

 

Empathy and Artistry: Rediscovering Dorothea Lange

John Szarkowski was about 13 when he saw an image by Dorothea Lange that “enormously impressed” him. After he had become the powerful director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, he would recall that he took it to be a “picture of the hard-faced old woman, looking out of the handsome oval window of the expensive automobile with her hand to her face as if the smell of the street was offending her, and I thought, ‘Isn’t that marvellous?’ That a photographer can pin that specimen to the board as some kind of exotic moth and show her there in her true colours.”

A quarter of a century after his initial encounter with the photo, working in 1965 with Lange on his first one-artist retrospective at MoMA, he read her full caption for “Funeral Cortege, End of an Era in a Small Valley Town, California,” and realised that the fancy car belonged to an undertaker and that the expression he took for haughtiness was grief.

The wry confession of his mistake, which Szarkowski made in 1982 to an interviewer, is not mentioned in “Dorothea Lange: Words and Pictures,” which opened Sunday at MoMA. But it illustrates the curatorial theme: Lange’s pictures require verbal commentary to be read legibly.

Curiously, though, the strength of Lange’s photographs at MoMA undercuts the exhibition’s concept. With or without the support of words, Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), created some of the greatest images of the unsung struggles and overlooked realities of American life. Her most iconic photograph, which came to be called “Migrant Mother,” portrays a grave-faced woman in ragged clothing in Nipomo, Calif., in 1936, with two small children burying their faces against her shoulders, and a baby nestled in her lap. It is one of the most famous pictures of all time.

Yet Lange was not simply a Depression photographer. As this revelatory, heartening exhibition shows, she was an artist who made remarkable pictures throughout a career that spanned more than four decades. The photos she took in 1942 of interned Japanese-Americans (which the government suppressed until 1964) display state-administered cruelty with stone-cold clarity: One dignified man in a three-piece suit and overcoat is wearing a tag, like a steer, while disembodied white hands on either side examine and prod him. Her prescient photographs of environmental degradation portray the human cost of building a dam that flooded the Berryessa Valley near Napa. Her empathetic portraits of African-American field hands shine a light on a system of peonage that predated and outlasted the 1930s.

Nevertheless, her fame rests largely on the indelible images she made, starting in 1935, as an employee of the Resettlement Administration and its successor, the Farm Security Administration, both under the leadership of Roy Stryker. Lange endured a fractious relationship with Stryker, who seemed deeply discomfited by a strong-minded woman. He fired her in 1940, saying she was “uncooperative.” To his credit, however, he always acknowledged that “Migrant Mother” was the key image of the Depression.

Seeking a deeper understanding of the economic crisis, Lange and her collaborators in the field interviewed her subjects, and she incorporated their words into her captions. She was the first photographer to do that systematically. The show’s curator, Sarah Hermanson Meister, who drew from the museum’s collection of more than 500 Lange prints, includes many of the captions in the wall labels, in an installation that is patterned after Szarkowski’s 1966 Lange show. (The artist died of esophageal cancer before it opened.)

Lange took so many memorable photographs that it is challenging to shortlist them. One of the greatest is at the entrance to the MoMA show: “Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona” (1940). The farmworker’s hands are close to the lens of the camera. One hand is holding a wooden beam; it could be the implement of his impending crucifixion. The other hand, with its open palm and splayed fingers, covers his mouth. Unforgettably powerful, the photograph resembles self-portraits by Austrian expressionist painter Egon Schiele, who shared Lange’s interest in extremities – hands and feet, and also, wretched misery. …

Many wonderful Lange photographs are not overtly political. “Bad Trouble Over the Weekend” (1964) is a close-up of a woman’s hands folded over her face; one hand bears a wedding band and holds an unlit cigarette. (The subject was her daughter-in-law.) And Lange photographed multitrunked oaks with the same acuity as fingered hands.

The fame of “Migrant Mother” has cropped Lange’s reputation unfairly. She is a key link in a chain of photographic history. From Evans, she learned how to frame precise images of clapboard churches. But unlike Evans, who usually preferred to keep a distance and capture a building’s architectural integrity, Lange always wanted, as she said when describing how she made “Migrant Mother,” to move “closer and closer.” Her 1938 photograph, “Death in the Doorway, ” of a church entrance in the San Joaquin Valley reveals a blanketed corpse that someone, probably unable to afford a burial, has deposited. Evans would never have gone there.

In turn, Lange was revered by the documentary photographers who followed her. The greatest of them, Robert Frank, paid her direct homage in “The Americans,” shooting from the same vantage point the New Mexico highway that Lange had memorialized in “An American Exodus.”

But photography was heading off in a different direction. A year after his Lange exhibition, Mr. Szarkowski mounted “New Documents,” which introduced a younger generation of American photographers: Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand. Speaking to me in 2003, he explained that these photographers were “rejecting Dorothea’s attitude” that “documentary photography was supposed to do some good” and instead using the camera “to explore their own experience and their own life and not to persuade somebody else what to do or what to work for.” That notion was hardly foreign to Lange. In a picture of a lame person, “Walking Wounded, Oakland” (1954), she found, as did the New Documents artists, a real-life subject that mirrored her own life.

One happy consequence of our dismal political moment is a rediscovery of Lange. In 2018, a major exhibition from her archive was staged at the Barbican Center in London and the Jeu de Paume in Paris.

Perhaps now younger photographers will be inspired to pick up her banner. The need is all too apparent. Where is the photographer of cleareyed empathy and consummate artistry to depict the disquiet, hopelessness and desperate fortitude that riddle the American body politic of today? Who will bring us our “Migrant Mother”?

Arthur Lubow. “Empathy and Artistry: Rediscovering Dorothea Lange,” on The New York Times website Feb. 13, 2020 [Online] Cited 24/03/2020.

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona' November 1940

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona
November 1940
Gelatin silver print
19 15/16 × 23 13/16″ (50.7 × 60.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Lange '12 Million Black Voices'

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Edwin Rosskam (American, 1903-1985)
Richard Wright (American, 1908-1960)
12 Million Black Voices: A Folk History of the Negro in the United States
1941
Offset lithography open: 10 1/4 x 14 1/2″ (26 x 36.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art Library

 

Lange 12 Million Black Voices

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

12 Million Black Voices

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Richmond, California' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Richmond, California
1942
Gelatin silver print
9 ¾ x 7 11/16″ (24.7 x 19.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Richmond, California' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Richmond, California
1942, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
10 7/16 × 13 3/16″ (26.5 × 33.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

During World War II, at the height of antiJapanese sentiment, Lange documented an explicitly racist billboard advertising the Southern Pacific railroad company. Rather than portraying the billboard in isolation, she disrupted the frame with a handmade sign that seems to undermine the commodification of such political sentiments.

 

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 with at second left top, One Nation Indivisible, San Francisco 1942 (below); and at second left bottom, Just About to Step into the Bus for the Assembly Center, San Francisco April 6, 1942 (below)
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'One Nation Indivisible, San Francisco' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
One Nation Indivisible, San Francisco
1942
Gelatin silver print
13 1/8 × 9 13/16″ (33.4 × 25 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Just About to Step into the Bus for the Assembly Center, San Francisco' April 6, 1942, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Just About to Step into the Bus for the Assembly Center, San Francisco
April 6, 1942, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
10 3/8 × 9 13/16″ (26.3 × 25 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art presents Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, the first major solo exhibition at the Museum of the photographer’s incisive work in over 50 years. On view from February 9 through May 9, 2020, Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures includes approximately 100 photographs drawn entirely from the Museum’s collection. The exhibition also uses archival materials such as correspondence, historical publications, and oral histories, as well as contemporary voices, to examine the ways in which words inflect our understanding of Lange’s pictures. These new perspectives and responses from artists, scholars, critics, and writers, including Julie Ault, Wendy Red Star, and Rebecca Solnit, provide fresh insight into Lange’s practice. Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures is organised by Sarah Meister, Curator, with River Bullock, Beaumont & Nancy Newhall Curatorial Fellow, assisted by Madeline Weisburg, Modern Women’s Fund Twelve-Month Intern, Department of Photography, The Museum of Modern Art.

Toward the end of her life, Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) remarked, “All photographs – not only those that are so-called ‘documentary,’ and every photograph really is documentary and belongs in some place, has a place in history – can be fortified by words.” Organised loosely chronologically and spanning her career, the exhibition groups iconic works together with lesser known photographs and traces their varied relationships to words: from early criticism on Lange’s photographs to her photo-essays published in LIFE magazine, and from the landmark photobook An American Exodus to her examination of the US criminal justice system. The exhibition also includes groundbreaking photographs of the 1930s – including Migrant Mother (1936) – that inspired pivotal public awareness of the lives of sharecroppers, displaced families, and migrant workers during the Great Depression. Through her photography and her words, Lange urged photographers to reconnect with the world – a call reflective of her own ethos and working method, which coupled an attention to aesthetics with a central concern for humanity.

“It seems both timely and urgent that we renew our attention to Lange’s extraordinary achievements,” said Sarah Meister. “Her concern for less fortunate and often overlooked individuals, and her success in using photography (and words) to address these inequities, encourages each of us to reflect on our own civic responsibilities. It reminds me of the unique role that art – and in particular photography – can play in imagining a more just society.”

The exhibition begins in 1933, when Lange, then a portrait photographer, first brought her camera outside into the streets of San Francisco. Lange’s increasing interest in the everyday experience of people she encountered eventually led her to work for government agencies, supporting their objective to raise public awareness and to provide aid to struggling farmers and those devastated by the Great Depression. During this time, Lange photographed her subjects and kept notes that formed the backbone of government reports; these and other archival materials will be represented alongside corresponding photographs throughout the exhibition. Lange’s commitment to social justice and her faith in the power of photography remained constant throughout her life, even when her politics did not align with those who were paying for her work. A central focus of the exhibition is An American Exodus, a 1939 collaboration between Lange and Paul Schuster Taylor, her husband and an agricultural economist. As an object and as an idea, An American Exodus highlights the voices of her subjects by pairing first-person quotations alongside their pictures. Later, Lange’s photographs continued to be useful in addressing marginalised histories and ongoing social concerns. Throughout her career as a photographer for the US Government and various popular magazines, Lange’s pictures were frequently syndicated and circulated outside of their original context. Lange’s photographs of the 1930s helped illustrate Richard Wright’s 12 Million Black Voices (1941), and her 1950s photographs of a public defender were used to illustrate Minimizing Racism in Jury Trials (1969), a law handbook published after Black Panther Huey P. Newton’s first trial during a time of great racial strife.

This collection-based exhibition would not be possible had it not been for Lange’s deep creative ties to the Museum during her lifetime. MoMA’s collection of Lange photographs was built over many decades and remains one of the definitive collections of her work. Her relationship to MoMA’s Department of Photography dates to her inclusion in its inaugural exhibition, in 1940 which was curated by the department’s director, Edward Steichen. Lange is a rare artist in that both Steichen and his successor, John Szarkowski, held her in equally high esteem. More than a generation after her first retrospective, organised by Szarkowski at MoMA in 1966, Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures uses both historical and contemporary words to encourage a more nuanced understanding of words and pictures in circulation.

Press release from MoMA website

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Richmond, California' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Richmond, California
1942
Gelatin silver print
7 3/8 x 6 5/8″ (18.8 x 16.9 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

The Family of Man and World War II

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 with at left, Richmond, California 1942 (above)
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Café near Pinole, California' 1956, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Café near Pinole, California
1956, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
11 15/16 × 16 7/8″ (30.3 × 42.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
“Guilty, Your Honor,” Alameda County Courthouse, California
1955-57, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
17 1/16 × 14 15/16″ (43.3 × 37.9 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Lange Public Defender

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

Public Defender and Late Work

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'The Defendant, Alameda County Courthouse, California' 1957

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
The Defendant, Alameda County Courthouse, California
1957
Gelatin silver print
12 3/8 x 10 1/8″ (31.4 x 25.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'The Witness, Alameda County Courthouse, California' 1955-57, printed c. 1958

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
The Witness, Alameda County Courthouse, California
1955-57, printed c. 1958
Gelatin silver print
10 5/16 × 8 1/2″ (26.2 × 21.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the artist

 

Lange Late Work

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

Late work

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 with at left Man Stepping from Cable Car, San Francisco 1956, and at third left Walking Wounded, Oakland, 1954
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Walking Wounded, Oakland' 1954, printed c. 1958

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Walking Wounded, Oakland
1954, printed c. 1958
Gelatin silver print
7 1/2 × 9 1/2″ (19 × 24.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the artist

 

 

Lange’s choice of title for this image was almost certainly influenced by her own experience with disability. As a child she had contracted polio, which left her with a permanent limp. Toward the end of her life she reflected, “No one who hasn’t lived the life of a semi-cripple knows how much that means. I think it perhaps was the most important thing that happened to me, and formed me, guided me, instructed me, helped me, and humiliated me. All those things at once. I’ve never gotten over it and I am aware of the force and the power of it.”

 

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

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Man Stepping from Cable Car, San Francisco
1956
Gelatin silver print
9 3/4 x 6 7/16″ (24.8 x 16.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Woman in Purdah, Upper Egypt' 1963, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Woman in Purdah, Upper Egypt
1963, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
12 7/16 × 15 15/16″ (31.6 × 40.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Bad Trouble Over the Weekend' 1964, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Bad Trouble Over the Weekend
1964, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
7 3/16 × 5 3/4″ (18.2 × 14.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

Lange grappled extensively with the titles of the photographs included in her 1966 MoMA retrospective. In a letter to the curator, John Szarkowski, she wrote, “I propose also to caption each print separately, beyond time and place, sometimes with two or three words, sometimes with a quotation, sometimes with a brief commentary. This textual material I shall be working on for some time, on and of.” Rather than identify the subject of this photo as her daughter-in-law, Lange’s title extends the image’s affective reach.

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) '“Guilty, Your Honor,” Alameda County Courthouse, California' 1955-57, printed 1965

 

 

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19
Feb
20

Photographs: Gordon Parks “The Atmosphere of Crime” 1957

February 2020

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, New York, New York' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, New York, New York
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
13 ¾ x 21″ (35 × 53.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Family of Man Fund
© The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

The photo essay as haunting and elegiac poem: “a richly-hued, cinematic portrayal of a largely hidden world: that of violence, police work and incarceration, seen with empathy and candour.”

Parks is one of my favourite photographers. He continues to astound me with his experimentation and percipience, his sensitive insight, into his subjects becoming: “a more nuanced view that reflected the social and economic factors tied to criminal behaviour and a rare window into the working lives of those charged with preventing and prosecuting it.” All captured by his probing camera – using natural light, flash, low depth of field, blur, high angles, low angles, perspective,  transience, informality and chiaroscuro.

Two photographs in the posting suffice to speak of the photographers art: pointing figure, veins, clenched first and revelation, the blue fairy of light, in the beautiful Narcotics Addict, Chicago, Illinois; and body carriage interior, overweight man, braced, shadow, fag hanging out of mouth, pulling – all dreams laid bare. The photographer crouching at the same level. Shooting Victim in Cook County Morgue, Chicago, Illinois.

Wonderful to see the layout of the Life Magazine photo essay as well. Notice how Raiding Detectives, Chicago, Illinois is cropped claustrophobically tight, giving little sense of the passage of the tenement. Similarly, the hand and cigarette in Untitled, Chicago, Illinois (cover for the new book about the series), is bound by the cropping and shadows. Other images from the shoots Drug Search, Chicago, Illinois and Untitled, San Quentin, California are also used, expanding the context of the scene.

His photographs “give shape to the ground against which poverty, addiction, and race become criminalised,” allowing “Life’s readers to see the complexity of these chronically oversimplified situations.” They also enable us to enter a liminal space, where we feel both the mundane horror and specular beauty of life in medias res.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 x 17 15/16″ (30.1 x 45.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Family of Man Fund
© The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
13 ¾ x 21″ (35 x 53.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Family of Man Fund
© The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Raiding Detectives, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Raiding Detectives, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 x 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Family of Man Fund
© The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

MoMA Acquires 56 Photographs from Gordon Parks’s Groundbreaking 1957 Series “The Atmosphere of Crime”

The Museum of Modern Art has acquired 56 prints from American artist Gordon Parks’s series of colour photographs made in 1957 for a Life magazine photo essay titled “The Atmosphere of Crime.” The Museum and The Gordon Parks Foundation collaborated closely on the selection of 55 modern colour prints that MoMA purchased from the Foundation, and the Foundation has also given the Museum a rare vintage gelatin silver print (a companion to a print Parks himself gave the Museum in 1993). A generous selection of these prints will go on view in May 2020 as part of the first seasonal rotation of the Museum’s newly expanded and re-envisioned collection galleries. The collection installation Gordon Parks and “The Atmosphere of Crime” will be located on the fourth floor, with Parks’s work as an anchor for exploring representations of criminality in photography, with a particular focus on work made in the United States.

One of the preeminent photographers of the mid-20th century, Gordon Parks (1912-2006) left behind a body of work that documents American life and culture from the early 1940s to the 2000s. Born in Fort Scott, Kansas, Parks worked as a youth in St. Paul, Minnesota, before discovering photography in 1937. He would come to view it as his “weapon of choice” for attacking issues including race relations, poverty, urban life, and injustice. After working for the US government’s Farm Security Administration in the early 1940s, Parks found success as a fashion photographer and a regular contributor to Ebony, Fortune, Glamour, and Vogue before he was hired as the first African American staff photographer at Life magazine in 1948.

In 1957, Life assigned Parks to photograph for the first in a series of articles addressing the perceived rise of crime in the US. With reporter Henry Suydam, Parks traversed the streets of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, producing a range of evocative colour images, 12 of which were featured in the debut article, “The Atmosphere of Crime,” on September 9, 1957. Parks’s empathetic, probing views of crime scenes, police precincts, hospitals, morgues, and prisons do not name or identify “the criminal,” but instead give shape to the ground against which poverty, addiction, and race become criminalised. Shot using available light, Parks’s atmospheric photographs capture mysterious nocturnal activity unfolding on street corners and silhouetted figures with raised hands in the murky haze of a tenement hallway.

A robust selection from this acquisition will anchor a display within a fourth-floor collection gallery, titled Gordon Parks and “The Atmosphere of Crime.” Using Parks’s work as a point of departure, the installation will draw from a range of other works in the Museum’s collection, offering varied representations of crime and criminality. Since the 1940s, the Museum has collected and exhibited photographs of crime as represented in newspapers and tabloids, exemplified by the dramatic, flash-lit work of Weegee, complemented by 19th-century precedents such as mug shots, whose purported objectivity was expected to facilitate the identification of criminals, as well as acquisitions across media that point to subsequent investigations and more contemporary concerns.

While Parks’s work was first displayed at MoMA in 1948, and was included in the landmark exhibition The Family of Man in 1955, it wasn’t until 1993 that five of his photographs were approved for the Museum’s collection (including a large-scale gelatin silver print from the 1957 series on crime mentioned above). The Museum has since supported the acquisition of additional vintage prints in 2011 and 2014 (including Harlem Newsboy, currently on view on the Museum’s fifth floor).

“As an artist of the highest order and a passionate advocate for civil rights, Parks made iconic photographs that continue to speak poignantly to the complexity of cultural politics and racial bias in the United States,” said Sarah Meister, curator in MoMA’s Department of Photography. “This acquisition substantially improves the Museum’s holdings of Gordon Parks’s achievement, reflecting our commitment to the artist and fostering the possibility of situating his work within a broad range of contemporary concerns. His enduring impact on the history of photography and representation cannot be overstated.”

“MoMA’s acquisition reinforces the significance of Gordon Parks as an artist whose practice continues to inspire future generations,” said Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr., executive director of The Gordon Parks Foundation. “Parks knew that his camera could be a powerful weapon, more potent than violence, and that pictures and words could further social change. The Atmosphere of Crime series remains as timeless and relevant today as when the photographs were made more than 50 years ago.”

Sarah Meister has also collaborated on The Gordon Parks Foundation’s forthcoming publication Gordon Parks: The Atmosphere of Crime, 1957, to be published by Steidl in spring 2020. The book’s expansive selection of never-before-published photographs from Parks’s original reportage was selected and sequenced by Meister, and her illustrated text situates this critically important photo essay within both Parks’s career and historic representations of crime and criminality. Other contributors include Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of Just Mercy (Spiegel & Grau, 2014), and Nicole Fleetwood, Professor of American studies and art history at Rutgers University and author of Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration (Harvard University Press, 2020). The book also features a foreword by MoMA’s director Glenn D. Lowry and The Gordon Parks Foundation’s executive director, Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr.

Press release from MoMA

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Drug Search, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Drug Search, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 x 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Family of Man Fund
© The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) '"Wrong Place at the Wrong Time," Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
“Wrong Place at the Wrong Time” Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Family of Man Fund
© The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, San Quentin, California' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, San Quentin, California
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 x 17 15/16″ (30.1 x 45.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Family of Man Fund
© The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Detectives Grilling a Suspect, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Detectives Grilling a Suspect, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Family of Man Fund
© The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Knifing Victim I, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Knifing Victim I, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Family of Man Fund
© The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

When Life magazine asked Gordon Parks to illustrate a recurring series of articles on crime in the United States in 1957, he had already been a staff photographer for nearly a decade, the first African American to hold this position. Parks embarked on a six-week journey that took him and a reporter to the streets of New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Unlike much of his prior work, the images made were in colour. The resulting eight-page photo-essay “The Atmosphere of Crime” was noteworthy not only for its bold aesthetic sophistication, but also for how it challenged stereotypes about criminality then pervasive in the mainstream media. They provided a richly-hued, cinematic portrayal of a largely hidden world: that of violence, police work and incarceration, seen with empathy and candour.

Parks rejected clichés of delinquency, drug use and corruption, opting for a more nuanced view that reflected the social and economic factors tied to criminal behaviour and a rare window into the working lives of those charged with preventing and prosecuting it. Transcending the romanticism of the gangster film, the suspense of the crime caper and the racially biased depictions of criminality then prevalent in American popular culture, Parks coaxed his camera to do what it does best: record reality so vividly and compellingly that it would allow Life‘s readers to see the complexity of these chronically oversimplified situations. The Atmosphere of Crime, 1957 includes an expansive selection of never-before-published photographs from Parks’ original reportage.

Co-published with The Gordon Parks Foundation and The Museum of Modern Art. Text by Nicole Fleetwood and Bryan Stevenson.

Text from the Steidl website [Online] Cited 16/02/2020

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Narcotics Addict, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Narcotics Addict, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Family of Man Fund
© The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Police Bring in Victim, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Police Bring in Victim, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Family of Man Fund
© The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

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

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Shooting Victim in Cook County Morgue, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Family of Man Fund
© The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks' photo essay 'The Atmosphere of Crime' in 'Life Magazine', September 9, 1957

Gordon Parks' photo essay 'The Atmosphere of Crime' in 'Life Magazine', September 9, 1957

Gordon Parks' photo essay 'The Atmosphere of Crime' in 'Life Magazine', September 9, 1957

Gordon Parks' photo essay 'The Atmosphere of Crime' in 'Life Magazine', September 9, 1957

Gordon Parks' photo essay 'The Atmosphere of Crime' in 'Life Magazine', September 9, 1957

 

Gordon Parks’ photo essay The Atmosphere of Crime in Life Magazine September 9, 1957

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Gelatin silver print
19 ¼ x 13″ (48.9 × 33 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the Gordon Parks Foundation
© The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

'The Atmosphere of Crime, 1957' (cover)

 

The Atmosphere of Crime, 1957 (cover)
Text by Nicole Fleetwood and Bryan Stevenson
Series edited by Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr.
Edited by Sarah Hermanson Meister
168 pages, 70 images
Hardback / Half-linen
25 x 29 cm
English
ISBN 978-3-95829-696-1
Published Spring 2020

 

 

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09
Feb
19

Exhibition: ‘Roman Vishniac Rediscovered’ at The Photographers’ Gallery and Jewish Museum London

Exhibition dates: 26th October 2018 – 24th February 2019

Curators: Maya Benton in collaboration with The Photographers’ Gallery curator, Anna Dannemann and Jewish Museum London curator, Morgan Wadsworth-Boyle.

Presented simultaneously at The Photographers’ Gallery and Jewish Museum London, Roman Vishniac Rediscovered is the first UK retrospective of Russian born American photographer, Roman Vishniac (1897-1990).

 

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Interior of the Anhalter Bahnhof railway terminus near Potsdamer Platz, Berlin' 1929-early 1930s

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Interior of the Anhalter Bahnhof railway terminus near Potsdamer Platz, Berlin
1929-early 1930s
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at The Photographers’ Gallery
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

Wondrous, glorious images

Apart from the title, Roman Vishniac “Rediscovered” – photographically, I never thought he went away? – this is a magnificent exhibition of Vishniac’s complete works.

Since the press release states, “Roman Vishniac Rediscovered offers a timely reappraisal of Vishniac’s vast photographic output and legacy and brings together – for the first time – his complete works including recently discovered vintage prints, rare and ‘lost’ film footage from his pre-war period, contact sheets, personal correspondence, original magazine publications, newly created exhibition prints as well as his acclaimed photomicroscopy…” perhaps the exhibition should have been titled: Roman Vishniac Reappraised or Roman Vishniac: Complete Works. Each makes more sense than the title the curators chose.

Vishniac’s work is powerful and eloquent, a formal, classical, and yet poetic representation of the time and space of the photographs taking. Modernist yet romantic, monumental, sociological yet playful, his work imbibes of the music of people and place, portraying the rituals of an old society about to be swept away by the maelstrom of war. They are a joy to behold.

Here is happiness and sadness, urban poverty, isolation (as in figures from each other, figures isolated within their world, and within the pictorial frame – see the people walking in every direction in Isaac Street, Kazimierz, Cracow 1935-38, below), and nostalgia (for what has been lost). Here is life… and death.

Here is a handsome man, Ernst Kaufmann, born in Krefeld, Germany, in 1911. Arrested in June 1941 and killed in August of that year in the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. Killed at barely 30 years old. As Vishniac recalls of his portrait of the seven year old David Eckstein, ‘I watched this little boy for almost an hour, and in this moment I saw the whole sadness of the world.’ Never forget what human beings are capable of, lest history repeat itself, and all our hard fought freedoms are destroyed.

Despite the hubbub and movement of the people, towns and marketplaces, for me it is the sensitivity of a quiet moment, beautifully observed, that gets me every time. That hand (Exhausted. A Carrier of Heavy Loads, Warsaw c. 1935-38, below), resting on the chest of an exhausted porter, seen in all its clarity and in humanity is transcendent. That intense feeling of an extended, (in)decisive moment, if ever there was one.

In my humble opinion, Vishniac is one of the greatest 20th century social documentary photographers to have ever lived.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

 

Interview with curator Maya Benton

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'German family walking between taxicabs in front of the Ufa-Palast movie theater, Berlin' late 1920s-early 1930s

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
German family walking between taxicabs in front of the Ufa-Palast movie theater, Berlin
late 1920s-early 1930s
Courtesy International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Woman washing windows above Mandtler & Neumann Speditionen (Mandtler & Neumann Forwarding Agents), Ferdinandstrasse, Leopoldstadt, Vienna' 1930s

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Woman washing windows above Mandtler & Neumann Speditionen (Mandtler & Neumann Forwarding Agents), Ferdinandstrasse, Leopoldstadt, Vienna
1930s
Courtesy International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Jewish school children, Mukacevo' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Jewish school children, Mukacevo
c. 1935-38
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at Jewish Museum London
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

From 1935 to 1938, Vishniac made numerous trips to the city of Mukacevo, a major center of religious learning among Jews from Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and the Carpathian region. Mukacevo was widely known for its famous rabbis and yeshivot (religious schools). This image of Jewish schoolchildren appears in cropped form on the cover of Vishniac’s first posthumous publication, To Give Them Light; the recently digitised negative reveals that it represents only one-fifth of the full frame. Vishniac often directed printers or publishers to crop his images to focus on religiously observant Jewish men or boys, identifiable by their dress, an editorial decision that sometimes detracted from the composition by subverting aesthetic considerations to emphasise religious and observant life. The negative reveals Vishniac’s instinctive compositional acumen: a bustling and vibrant street scene, with a boy’s beaming, slightly out-of-focus face in the foreground and numerous hands pushing into and out of the frame, communicating the vitality and liveliness of the students.

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Man purchasing herring, wrapped in newspaper, for a Sabbath meal, Mukacevo' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Man purchasing herring, wrapped in newspaper, for a Sabbath meal, Mukacevo
c. 1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Fish is the Favored Food for the Kosher Table' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Fish is the Favored Food for the Kosher Table
c. 1935-38
Gelatin silver print
Image (paper): 11 1/2 x 9 3/16 in. (29.2 x 23.3 cm)
Collection Philip Allen
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

“This image of a boy bending over a vat of herring communicates the excitement of the marketplace and the sheer abundance of herring. The unparalleled quality of the print transmits every detail, from the wet cobblestones and circular motion of the swimming fish to the rapid, eager movement of hands reaching in to grab the herring. Rather than focusing on religious life, these early prints demonstrate the vitality and frantic charm of a town rushing to prepare for the Sabbath.”

.
Maya Benton, ICP Adjunct Curator

 

These rare vintage prints are part of a collection of sixteen recently discovered prints that comprised Vishniac’s first exhibition abroad, and were displayed in the New York office of the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) in 1938. Vishniac developed these early prints in his apartment in Berlin, and they are rare early examples of his virtuosic skill as a master printmaker. He gifted all sixteen prints to an employee of the New York office of the JDC who had helped him to organise his first exhibit; these prints are on loan from his son.

The image of a boy bending over a vat of herring communicates the excitement of the marketplace and the sheer abundance of herring. The unparalleled quality of the print transmits every detail, from the wet cobblestones and circular motion of the swimming fish to the rapid, eager movement of hands reaching in to grab the herring. Rather than focusing on religious life, these early prints demonstrate the vitality and frantic charm of a town rushing to prepare for the Sabbath.

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Young Jewish boys suspicious of strangers, Mukachevo' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Young Jewish boys suspicious of strangers, Mukachevo
c. 1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Three women, Mukacevo' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Three women, Mukacevo
c. 1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) The notice on the wall reads "Come Celebrate Chanukah." c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
The notice on the wall reads “Come Celebrate Chanukah”
c. 1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Jewish street vendors, Warsaw, Poland' 1938

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Jewish street vendors, Warsaw, Poland
1938
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Children playing outdoors and watching a game' c. 1935-37

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Children playing outdoors and watching a game
c. 1935-37
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac. 'Children playing on a street lined with swastika flags' mid-1930s

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Children playing on a street lined with swastika flags
mid-1930s
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac. 'Nat Gutman's Wife, Warsaw' 1938

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Nat Gutman’s Wife, Warsaw
1938
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

Nat Gutman, the porter, Warsaw 1935-1938 from A Vanished World, 1983 is the photograph of her husband. After working as a bank cashier for six years, Nat Gutman was dismissed because he was a Jew. He became a porter. The loads usually weighed forty-five to ninety pounds. This was the kind of work that bank cashier Gutman, a man with a bad hernia, was reduced to in order to support his wife and son. The family were exterminated.

 

Roman Vishniac. 'A street of Kazimierz, Cracow' 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
A street of Kazimierz, Cracow
1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac. 'Isaac Street, Kazimierz, Krakow' 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Isaac Street, Kazimierz, Krakow
1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac. 'Isaac Street, Kazimierz, Cracow' 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Isaac Street, Kazimierz, Cracow
1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Window washer balancing on a ladder, Berlin' mid-1930s

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Window washer balancing on a ladder, Berlin
mid-1930s
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at The Photographers’ Gallery
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Exhausted. A Carrier of Heavy Loads, Warsaw' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Exhausted. A Carrier of Heavy Loads, Warsaw
c. 1935-38
Gelatin silver print
7 1/2 x 10 in. (19.1 x 25.4 cm)
International Center of Photography
Gift of Mara Vishniac Kohn, 2013
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

“This unpublished image of a porter at rest in his wagon demonstrates Vishniac’s modern aesthetic and the influence of the avant-garde on his work. The diagonal slope of the central figure, stretched out along a sloping plane, fills the entire frame. The intuitive amalgamation of patterns and textures, one of Vishniac’s greatest talents, is evident throughout the image: the light reflected on the ornamented belt buckle; the double-patterned cable knit of his shrunken wool vest, which barely conceals a plaid shirt; and the round shapes of a wheel and bucket that divide the angular line formed by the central figure. It is a triumph of textures, angles, and lines, yet the worn sign with the name Nuta Hersz and his porter license number reminds us that the subject of the photograph is the victim of anti-Semitic boycotts and the limited job opportunities (only vendors and porters) permitted to Jews in Poland at that time.”

.
Maya Benton, ICP Adjunct Curator

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Villagers in the Carpathian Mountains' c. 1935–38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Villagers in the Carpathian Mountains
c. 1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

“Vishniac traveled to remote Jewish villages in rural Carpathian Ruthenia throughout the late 1930s, and in many cases was the only photographer to ever document these communities, which had been isolated for hundreds of years, yet maintained an enduring connection to Jewish observance, customs, and traditions.

Every detail of this image makes it a nearly perfect photograph: the sense of movement and the figures’ varied gestures and vibrant expressions; the carefully balanced horizontal bands of shadow and striped fabric; the detail of a woman peering out of a window while a glass pane on the facing structure points in the direction of an impossibly angled triangular building that vertically divides the frame in half; and the collective sense of surprise at encountering the photographer. Like much of Vishniac’s unpublished work, this composition recalls Henri Cartier-Bresson’s description of the decisive moment (a precise organisation of forms that give a time and place its ideal expression) and places Vishniac on par with the great photographers of the 20th century.”

.
Maya Benton, ICP Adjunct Curator

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) '[David Eckstein, seven years old, and classmates in cheder (Jewish elementary school), Brod]' c. 1938

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
[David Eckstein, seven years old, and classmates in cheder (Jewish elementary school), Brod]
c. 1938
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

“The boy in this photograph has been identified as David Eckstein, a Holocaust survivor currently living in a commune in the American Southwest. Born in 1930 in the small town of Brod, Eckstein was seven years old when Vishniac took several photographs of him, his classmates, and his teacher just before the onslaught of World War II. Vishniac later recalled, ‘I watched this little boy for almost an hour, and in this moment I saw the whole sadness of the world.’ This portrait was later selected as the cover of Vishniac’s first publication, Polish Jews: A Pictorial Record (1947), and reprinted on the cover of I. B. Singer’s National Book Award-winning collection of stories, A Day of Pleasure: Stories of a Boy Growing Up in Warsaw (1969).”

.
Maya Benton, ICP Adjunct Curator

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) '[Grandmother and grandchildren in basement dwelling, Krochmaina Street, Warsaw]' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
[Grandmother and grandchildren in basement dwelling, Krochmaina Street, Warsaw]
c. 1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

“Vishniac documented urban poverty in Warsaw, often focusing on the dark, cold basement dwellings of families where hungry Jewish children lived in crowded conditions. Vishniac photographed this woman taking care of her grandchildren while their parents searched for work in one of 26 basement compartments, each inhabited by a large family. In June 1941, the National Jewish Monthly published this image with the caption ‘Polish Jewry, once the bulwark of world Jewry, is done for as a community. Even if Hitler were to lose power tomorrow, their institutions and organizations are hopelessly smashed, could not be rebuilt in generations. But individuals remain, starved and persecuted. This picture shows an old grandmother and her grandchildren. What is going to become of them, and of the millions of other innocent victims of Fascist violence and terror?'”

.
Maya Benton, ICP Adjunct Curator

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Sara, sitting in bed in a basement dwelling, with stencilled flowers above her head, Warsaw' c. 1935-37

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Sara, sitting in bed in a basement dwelling, with stencilled flowers above her head, Warsaw
c. 1935-37
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at The Photographers’ Gallery
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

Vishniac documented the basement dwellings of Warsaw using the scant natural light that trickled through a few narrow, high windows, necessitating that he shoot during the day, when adults were often out looking for work or peddling their wares and children were sometimes the only inhabitants indoors. This photograph of Sara, one of Vishniac’s most iconic images, was reproduced on charity tins, or tzedakah boxes, and circulated throughout France by Jewish social service organisations, including the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC) in the late 1930s.

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

 

An extraordinarily versatile and innovative photographer, Vishniac is best known for having created one of the most widely recognised and reproduced photographic records of Jewish life in Eastern Europe between the two World Wars. Featuring many of his most iconic works, this comprehensive exhibition further introduces recently discovered and lesser-known chapters of his photographic career from the early 1920s to the late 1970s. The cross-venue exhibition presents radically diverse bodies of work and positions Vishniac as one of the most important social documentary photographers of the 20th century whose work also sits within a broader tradition of 1930s modernist photography.

Born in Pavlovsk, Russia in 1897 to a Jewish family Roman Vishniac was raised in Moscow. On his seventh birthday, he was given a camera and a microscope which began a lifelong fascination with photography and science. He began to conduct early scientific experiments attaching the camera to the microscope and as a teenager became an avid amateur photographer and student of biology, chemistry and zoology. In 1920, following the Bolshevik Revolution, he immigrated to Berlin where he joined some of the city’s many flourishing camera clubs. Inspired by the cosmopolitanism and rich cultural experimentation in Berlin at this time, Vishniac used his camera to document his surroundings. This early body of work reflects the influence of European modernism with his framing and compositions favouring sharp angles and dramatic use of light and shade to inform his subject matter.

Vishniac’s development as a photographer coincided with the enormous political changes occurring in Germany, which he steadfastly captured in his images. They represent an unsettling visual foreboding of the growing signs of oppression, the loss of rights for Jews, the rise of Nazism in Germany, the insidious propaganda – swastika flags and military parades, which were taking over both the streets and daily life. German Jews routinely had their businesses boycotted, were banned from many public places and expelled from Aryanised schools. They were also prevented from pursuing professions in law, medicine, teaching, and photography, among many other indignities and curtailments of civil liberties. Vishniac recorded this painful new reality through uncompromising images showing Jewish soup kitchens, schools and hospitals, immigration offices and Zionist agrarian training camps, his photos tracking the speed with which the city changed from an open, intellectual society to one where militarism and fascism were closing in.

Social and political documentation quickly became a focal point of his work and drew the attention of organisations wanting to raise awareness and gain support for the Jewish population. In 1935, Vishniac was commissioned by the world’s largest Jewish relief organisation, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), to photograph impoverished Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. These images were intended to support relief efforts and were used in fundraising campaigns for an American donor audience. When the war broke out only a few years later, his photos served increasingly urgent refugee efforts, before finally, at the end of the war and the genocide enacted by Nazi Germany, Vishniac’s images became the most comprehensive photographic record by a single photographer of a vanished world.

Vishniac left Europe in 1940 and arrived in New York with his family on New Year’s Day, 1941. He continued to record the impact of World War II throughout the 1940s and 50s in particular focusing on the arrival of Jewish refugees and Holocaust survivors in the US, but also looking at other immigrant communities including Chinese Americans. In 1947, he returned to Europe to document refugees and relief efforts in Jewish Displaced Persons camps and also to witness the ruins of his former hometown, Berlin. He also continued his biological studies and supplemented his income by teaching and writing.

In New York, Vishniac established himself as a freelance photographer and built a successful portrait studio on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. At the same time he dedicated himself to scientific research, resuming his interest in Photomicroscopy. This particular application of photography became the primary focus of his work during the last 45 years of his life. By the mid-1950s, he was regarded as a pioneer in the field, developing increasingly sophisticated techniques for photographing and filming microscopic life forms. Vishniac was appointed Professor of Biology and Art at several universities and his groundbreaking images and scientific research were published in hundreds of magazines and books.

Although he was mainly embedded in the scientific community, Vishniac was a keen observer and scholar of art, culture, and history and would have been aware of developments in photography going on around him and the work of his contemporaries. In 1955, famed photographer and museum curator Edward Steichen featured several of Vishniac’s photographs in the influential book and travelling exhibition The Family of Man shown at the Museum of Modern Art. Steichen later describes the importance of Vishniac’s work. “[He]… gives a last minute look at the human beings he photographed just before the fury of Nazi brutality exterminated them. The resulting photographs are among photography’s finest documents of a time and place.”

Roman Vishniac Rediscovered offers a timely reappraisal of Vishniac’s vast photographic output and legacy and brings together – for the first time – his complete works including recently discovered vintage prints, rare and ‘lost’ film footage from his pre-war period, contact sheets, personal correspondence, original magazine publications, newly created exhibition prints as well as his acclaimed photomicroscopy.

Drawn from the Roman Vishniac Archive at the International Center of Photography, New York and curated by Maya Benton in collaboration with The Photographers’ Gallery curator, Anna Dannemann and Jewish Museum London curator, Morgan Wadsworth-Boyle, each venue will provide additional contextual material to illuminate the works on display and bring the artist, his works and significance to the attention of UK audiences. Roman Vishniac Rediscovered is organised by the International Center of Photography.

Press release from The Photographers’ Gallery

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Inside the Jewish quarter, Bratislava' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Inside the Jewish quarter, Bratislava
c. 1935-38
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at Jewish Museum London
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac. 'Children at Play, Bratislava' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Children at Play, Bratislava
c. 1935-38
Courtesy International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Vishniac's daughter Mara posing in front of an election poster for Hindenburg and Hitler' 1933

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Vishniac’s daughter Mara posing in front of an election poster for Hindenburg and Hitler that reads “The Marshal and the Corporal: Fight with Us for Peace and Equal Rights,” Wilmersdorf, Berlin
1933
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at Jewish Museum London
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

Vishniac’s daughter Mara, age seven, was photographed standing in front of this 1933 poster celebrating Hitler’s recent appointment as German chancellor. The poster advertises a plebiscite to permit withdrawal from the League of Nations and Geneva Disarmament Conference, which restricted Germany’s ability to develop a military. Other posters include the slogans “Mothers, fight for your children!,” “The coming generation accuses you!,” and “In 8 months… 2,250,000 countrymen able to put food on the table. Bolshevism destroyed. Sectionalism overcome. A kingdom and order of cleanliness built… Those are the achievements of Hitler’s rule…”

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Benedictine nun reading, probably France' 1930s

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Benedictine nun reading, probably France
1930s, printed 2012
Photo digital inkjet print
12 x 11 3/8 in. (30.5 x 29 cm)
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Ernst Kaufmann, center, and unidentified Zionist youth' 1938-39

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Ernst Kaufmann, center, and unidentified Zionist youth, wearing clogs while learning construction techniques in a quarry, Werkdorp Nieuwesluis, Wieringermeer, The Netherlands
1938-39
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at Jewish Museum London
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

Ernst Kaufmann was born in Krefeld, Germany, in 1911. He was arrested in June 1941 and killed in August of that year in the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria.

This photograph is strikingly similar in subject and composition to a bronze relief plaque made in 1935 by Dutch artist Hildo Krop (1884-1970) for the monument on the Afsluitdijk, a dam that was completed in 1933 in the north of the Netherlands. The relief depicts three stoneworkers below the text “A nation that lives builds for the future.” Dutch modernist architect Willem Dudok (1884-1974) designed the Afsluitdijk and in 1935 Krop’s plaque was added. The dam was a triumph of Dutch engineering and a source of national pride. Residents of the Werkdorp probably took Vishniac to the Afsluitdijk; the well-known relief undoubtedly inspired him to stage this shot, an ideal composition for his heroic image of Jewish pioneers in the Werkdorp, and an unusual conflation of Dutch nationalist and Zionist visual sensibilities.

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Beach dwellers in the afternoon, Nice, France' c. 1939

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Beach dwellers in the afternoon, Nice, France
c. 1939
Courtesy International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Boys exercising in the gymnasium of the Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn' 1949

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Boys exercising in the gymnasium of the Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn
1949
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at The Photographers’ Gallery
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

The Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst, known as the “J,” was established in 1927 to serve the growing population of first-generation American Jews migrating to South Brooklyn. The J’s mission, to “ennoble Jewish youth” by building and fostering a sense of Jewish community, was accomplished through the promotion of arts and recreation for all ages. American Jewish major league baseball legend Sandy Koufax, a regular at the J, had started his sports career there as a basketball player.

In a dramatic departure from his iconic photographs of impoverished children in prewar eastern Europe, here Vishniac focused on the strong, healthy young American children. The children’s vitality is reinforced by the diagonal lines and geometric angles of the ropes, contributing to a forceful and innovative composition reflective of Vishniac’s previously unknown American work from the 1940s.

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Customers waiting in line at a butcher's counter during wartime rationing, Washington Market, New York' 1941-44

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Customers waiting in line at a butcher’s counter during wartime rationing, Washington Market, New York
1941-44
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at The Photographers’ Gallery
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

New York’s Washington Market, famed for its exceptional variety and quantity of food, was established in the eighteenth century. Vishniac documented the mostly female customers waiting for service during a period of wartime restrictions and food rationing. Through careful framing – customers stand against bare counters and voided display cases – he captured disenchanted expressions that can be read as a projection of Vishniac’s own experience as a new immigrant in America, as well as a record of comparative privation in the former plenty of Washington Market. As such, they anticipate the isolation and indifference shown in The Americans by Robert Frank, another Jewish immigrant from war-torn Europe.

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

 

The Photographers’ Gallery
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Opening hours:
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Thursday: 10.00 – 20.00 during exhibitions
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London NW1 7NB
Phone: +44 (0)20 7284 7384

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03
Jun
18

Review: ‘Diane Arbus: American Portraits’ at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 21st March – 17th June 2018

Curator at Heide: Anne O’Hehir

 

Diane Arbus. 'Xmas tree in a living room in Levittown, L.I. 1963' 1963

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Xmas tree in a living room in Levittown, L.I. 1963
1963
Silver gelatin print

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Xmas tree in a living room in Levittown, L.I. 1963' 1963

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Xmas tree in a living room in Levittown, L.I. 1963 (installation view)
1963
Silver gelatin print
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1981

 

 

The power of intention

If I had to nominate one photographer who is my favourite of all time, it would be Diane Arbus. There is just something about her photographs that impinge on my consciousness, my love of difference in human beings, their subversiveness and diversity. She pictures it all, some with irony, some with love, some with outright contempt, but always with interest. In photographs of dwarfs you don’t get the majesty and beauty that Susan Sontag desired, you get something else instead: the closeness of intention and effect – this is who this person was at that particular moment represented in a photograph, the essence of their being at that particular time.

Arbus was fascinated by the relationships between the psychological and the physical, probing her subjects with the camera to elicit a physical response. Her sensory, emotional, intellectual and aesthetic intelligence creates a single experience in relation to subject, stimulating her to respond to the world in her own unique way. While Arbus may well have hated aspects of American culture – “Its hypocrisy, this ‘happy happy’ story after the war, the consumerism, the racism, she feels deeply about that,” as Anne O’Hehir, curator of the National Gallery of Australia’s American Portraits observes – she photographed everything that makes us human in profound and powerful photographs. To me, her subjects were not ‘caught off guard’ nor did they unintentionally reveal aspects of themselves – they revealed themselves to Arbus just as they are, because she gained their trust, she had empathy for who they were… an empathy that probably flowed both ways, enhanced by the subjects sense of Arbus’ own personal travails.

It is unfortunate then, that this exhibition at Heide Museum of Modern Art is such a disappointment. This has nothing to do with the wonderful installation by the Heide curatorial team in the beautiful gallery spaces, but in the prints themselves and the artists that accompany Arbus’ work. Let’s look at the prints first.

According to an article by Louise Maher on the ABC News website in 2016, “The collection is one of the largest public holdings of her work outside New York and, according to NGA curator of photography Anne O’Hehir, one of the most impressive in the world. “The gallery was buying a huge amount of work in 1980 and ’81 leading up to the opening of the gallery in 1982,” Ms O’Hehir said. “We were offered in two lots these extraordinary photographs – they were the first release of prints from the Arbus estate and they were expensive at the time.”

These vintage prints are by the hand of Arbus, not later printings by other people, and as such should be as close a rendition to what Arbus intended the work to look like as can be found. The exhibition text notes that, “All the same, she was very clear about how she wanted her images to look; she worked hard to achieve a particular quality in her prints, which have a distinct feel and appearance that are quite different from other photographs of the 1960s … She reminds us consistently through a number of careful and deliberate strategies that we are looking at a photograph that has been made by a particular person.”

Through these strategies Arbus sought to differentiate her prints from the West Coast Ansel Adams Zone system of printing which was prevalent at the time. The Zone System would have been the antithesis of what Arbus wanted from her photographs. Every popular magazine at that time would have had Zone System stuff… so Arbus didn’t dare align herself with that school. But truth be told, if these prints are the best that she could do as a printer, then they are not very good. As can be seen from the installation photographs in this posting (not the media photographs), some of the prints are so dark as to be beyond comparison to the clarity of the prints that were later produced by her daughter Doon Arbus for the Arbus estate and for reproduction in books. You only have to look at the installation photograph of Xmas tree in a living room in Levittown, L.I. 1963 (above) and another reproduction of this image to see how dark the National Gallery of Australia’s prints are. If you take time to actually look at the photographs one of the prints, Identical twins, Roselle, N.J., 1966 (1966, below) was barely in focus under the enlarger when developed, and several others have not been fixed properly. They may have been first release, but how far down the release were they? We don’t know whether these were the top shelf prints, or tenth in the stack. I know from personal experience that I have a numbering system from one to ten. You sell the best print and so number two then becomes number one, and so on.

The poorness of these prints again becomes a sign of intention. The print is the final, luminous rendition of a photographers previsualisation, the ultimate expression of their creativity. This is how I want to show you the world, through this photograph. It is the end point of a long process. I believe strongly that Arbus wanted to show things as clearly as possible, as clearly as the best possible use that photography could provide. She is like a razor the way she cuts through. But in these particular final renditions, she lets herself down. And the people who bought these photographs, should have realised what poor prints they were.

Turning to the artists that accompany the work of Arbus… was it really necessary to surround such a powerful artist’s work with such noise? While it is always a delight to see the work of Mary Ellen Mark, William Eggleston, Milton Rogovin, Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand, Lisette Model, Walker Evans, Weegee and William Klein, to try and embed the work of Arbus within a photographic milieu, within a cacophony of imagery that stretches from the 1930s to the 1980s, simply does not work. While Arbus emerges out of the concerns of her era, she is such a powerful presence and force that simply no one compares. She is so different from the organised Evans and or the macabre Weegee, more closely aligned to Model, and certainly by no stretch of the imagination does she influence Eggleston, Friedlander, Winogrand, Mark or Rogovin in any significant way… that these artists works just become filler for this exhibition. If the intention was to situate Arbus’ work in the chronological “flow” of photography then the concept falls between intention and effect. While no artist’s work appears without regard to historical precedent, their work is simply their own and needs its own space to breathe.

What would have been more interesting would have been to position Arbus’ work within an Australian context. Now there’s an idea, since we live in Australia!

Here we go: exhibit Arbus’ prints with 15 prints by Carol Jerrems (Vale Street, Mark and Flappers), 15 prints of the early work of Polixeni Papapetrou (drag queens, Elvis fans, circus performers and wrestlers) and 15 prints of the work of Sue Ford. Four strong women who deal with issues of gender and identity in a forthright manner – not a cacophony of noise (9 artists, 6 of them men) to accompany the work of a genius. Analyse the influence of Arbus on this generation of Australian photographers. Pretty simple. Clean, concise, accessible, relevant to Australia audiences. Then intention would have possibly met effect.

There are highlights to be had within this exhibition, two in particular.

It was a pleasure to see the work of Milton Rogovin. I have always admired his work, and the small, intimate prints from his Lower West Side series (1973-2002) did not disappoint. While Arbus’ portraits are powerful visualisations, front and centre, Rogovin’s working class families are just… present. His social documentary photographs of working class families are almost reticent in their rendition. “His classical portraits, often grouped in diptychs and triptychs, expound narrative in a single image and over time. They compress time intimately… and by that I mean the viewer is engaged in a conversation with the subject, where we can imagine that we live those lives as they do (transcending time), the lives of what Rogovin called “the forgotten ones.” He makes their countenance, their physicality, the hardships they endure, and their narrative, directly and intimately compelling. We are made to feel their plight in the now and the forever. For these photographs are as relevant, if not more so, now as then.”

The other highlight is to see three Arbus photographs that I have never seen before: Old black woman with gnarled hand; Large black family in small shack; and Addie Taylor in her shack, Beaufort, South Carolina (all 1968, installation views below), all three taken with flash. These works were a revelation for their observational intimacy and evocation of a dark place in the existence of the poorest of human beings. The gnarled hand of the old woman lying in a filthy bed with cardboard walls is particularly distressing to say the least. To compare these photographs with Walker Evans’ flash photograph Hudson Street boarding house detail, New York (1931, below) and his naturally aspirated Bedroom, shrimp fisherman’s house, Biloxi, Mississippi (1945, below) in their pristine emptiness is instructive. This ideation, together with Arbus’ photographs relationship to the work of her sometime teacher Lisette Model (particularly her Lower East Side photographs (1939-42); Albert-Alberta, Hubert’s 42nd St Flea Circus, New York (c. 1945) and Woman with Veil, San Francisco (1949) all below) are the zenith of this exhibition, where the intention of embedding Arbus’ photographs in the history of the medium come best to fruition, in effect.

Finally, I must say a big thank you to Heide Museum of Modern Art for allowing me to come out to the gallery to take the installation photographs. Many thanks indeed.

Marcus

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

 

 

“People who met Arbus often said she was incredibly seductive. Immensely curious, she was softly spoken and her ability to connect with and gain the trust of people was legendary. She talked about “the gap between intention and effect”, explaining “it really is totally fantastic that we look like this and you sometimes see that very clearly in a photograph. Something is ironic in the world and it has to do with the fact that what you intend never comes out like you intend it.””

.
Kerrie O’Brien, curator of the National Gallery of Australia’s Diane Arbus: American Portraits

 

“The people in an Arbus photograph are never trivialised; they have certainly a larger-than-life intensity that few other photographers can achieve. While they seem like figures from fairy tales or myth, they are also invested with powerful agency.”

.
Gillian Wearing

 

“When you’re awake enough to question your purpose and ask how to connect to it, you’re being prodded by the power of intention. The very act of questioning why you’re here is an indication that your thoughts are nudging you to reconnect to the field of intention. What’s the source of your thoughts about your purpose? Why do you want to feel purposeful? Why is a sense of purpose considered the highest attribute of a fully functioning person? The source of thought is an infinite reservoir of energy and intelligence.

In a sense, thoughts about your purpose are really your purpose trying to reconnect to you. This infinite reservoir of loving, kind, creative, abundant energy grew out of the originating intelligence, and is stimulating you to express this universal mind in your own unique way.”

.
Dr Wayne Dyer from ‘The Power of Intention’

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

 

Heide is delighted to host the National Gallery of Australia’s touring exhibition, Diane Arbus: American Portraits.

The photographs of Diane Arbus (1923-71) are among the most widely recognised in the history of photography. Her images stand as powerful allegories of post-war America, and once seen are rarely forgotten. Works such as Identical twins, Roselle, N.J., 1967 and Child with toy hand grenade, in Central Park, New York City have been described as two of ‘the most celebrated images in the history of the medium’.

Featuring 35 of Arbus’s most iconic and confrontational images from 1961-71, this exhibition examines the last decade of Arbus’s life,the period in which her style is in full flight. Her work has polarised viewers who question whether she exploited or empowered her subjects, who were often drawn from society’s margins. ‘The National Gallery of Australia is privileged to hold such an extraordinary collection of work by a photographer of Arbus’s significance,’ said Anne O’Hehir, curator. ‘This collection covers Arbus’s best-known pictures, and also includes images which are rarely seen. This exhibition is a testament to the power of Arbus’s extraordinary vision.’

Arbus’s photographs are exhibited alongside a selection of works by other leading American photographers whose work influenced Arbus, was shown alongside hers in the ’60s, or has been influenced by her. These include famous images by Lisette Model, Walker Evans and Weegee, her contemporaries William Klein, Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander and Milton Rogovin as well as a slightly younger generation, work by Mary Ellen Mark and William Eggleston.

Heide Director and CEO Dr Natasha Cica said: ‘Heide is delighted to present this exhibition of the renowned photographer Diane Arbus. Her uncompromising view challenged existing photography conventions in a surprising and enchanting way.’

Press release from Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne with at left, Weegee’s No title (at a concert in Harlem) c. 1948, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 1981 followed by William Klein’s Christmas shoppers, near Macy’s, New York 1954 and Stickball gang, New York 1955
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (1899-1968) 'No title (at a concert in Harlem)' c. 1948

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (1899-1968)
No title (at a concert in Harlem)
c. 1948
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of William Klein’s Christmas shoppers, near Macy’s, New York 1954 and Stickball gang, New York 1955
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Installation view of William Klein (born April 19, 1928) 'Christmas shoppers, near Macy's, New York' 1954

 

Installation view of William Klein’s Christmas shoppers, near Macy’s, New York 1954 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 1993
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

William Klein (born April 19, 1928) 'Christmas shoppers, near Macy's, New York' 1954

 

William Klein (born April 19, 1928)
Christmas shoppers, near Macy’s, New York
1954
Gelatin silver photograph

 

 

Klein sandwiched his relatively short photographic career, working as a fashion photographer for Vogue, between being a painter and a filmmaker. Self-taught, he experimented with flash, wide-angle lenses, blurring, abstraction and accidents, and produced grainy, high contrast prints. He is deliberately at the other end of the spectrum from the invisible, disinterested photographer. Klein deliberately got really close to his subjects, in their faces, and caught them reacting to being photographed on the street. ‘To be visible, intervene and show it’ was his mantra.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Installation view of William Klein's 'Stickball gang, New York' 1955

 

Installation view of William Klein’s Stickball gang, New York 1955 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 1993
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

William Klein (born April 19, 1928) 'Stickball gang, New York' 1955

 

William Klein (born April 19, 1928)
Stickball gang, New York
1955
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne with at right, Weegee’s No title (at a concert in Harlem) c. 1948, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 1981 and at left, his No title (listening to Frank Sinatra, Palace theatre) c. 1944, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 1981
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne with at right, Weegee’s No title (at a concert in Harlem) c. 1948, followed by his No title (listening to Frank Sinatra, Palace theatre) c. 1944 and Emmett Kelly, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus 1943
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (1899-1968) 'Emmett Kelly, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus' 1943 (installation view)

 

Installation view of Weegee’s Emmett Kelly, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus 1943, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 1981
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (1899-1968) 'No title (listening to Frank Sinatra, Palace theatre)' c. 1944

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (1899-1968)
No title (listening to Frank Sinatra, Palace theatre)
c. 1944
Silver gelatin print

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne showing the work of Walker Evans
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne showing from left to right, Diane Arbus’ Rocks on wheels, Disneyland, Cal 1962; Xmas tree in a living room in Levittown, L.I. 1963; and Lady in a rooming house parlour, Albion, N.Y. 1963, all National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 1981
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Rocks on wheels, Disneyland, Cal' 1962

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Rocks on wheels, Disneyland, Cal
1962
Silver gelatin print

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne showing at left, Diane Arbus’ Muscle Man in his dressing room with trophy, Brooklyn, N.Y. 1962 and at right, Burlesque comedienne in her dressing room, Atlantic City, N.J. 1963, both National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 1981 and 1980
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

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

 

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

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Two Ladies at the Automat, New York City, 1966' 1966 (installation view)

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Two Ladies at the Automat, New York City, 1966 (installation view)
1966
Silver gelatin print
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1981

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Transvestite with torn stocking, N.Y.C. 1966' 1966 (installation view)

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Transvestite with torn stocking, N.Y.C. 1966 (installation view)
1966
Silver gelatin print
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1981

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Mae West on bed' 1965

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Mae West on bed
1965
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1981

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Teenage couple on Hudson Street, N.Y.C. 1963' 1963 (installation view)

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Teenage couple on Hudson Street, N.Y.C. 1963 (installation view)
1963
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1980

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Teenage couple on Hudson Street, N.Y.C. 1963' 1963 (installation view)

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Teenage couple on Hudson Street, N.Y.C. 1963 (installation view)
1963
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1980

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Teenage couple on Hudson Street, N.Y.C. 1963' 1963

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Teenage couple on Hudson Street, N.Y.C. 1963
1963
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne showing from left to right, Diane Arbus’A Jewish giant at home with his parents in the Bronx, N.Y., 1970;Untitled (1) 1970-71; and Woman with a beehive hairdo 1965; and Mexican dwarf in his hotel room N.Y.C. 1970
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'A Jewish giant at home with his parents in the Bronx, N.Y., 1970' 1970

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
A Jewish giant at home with his parents in the Bronx, N.Y., 1970
1970
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Untitled (1)' 1970-71

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Untitled (1)
1970-71
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Mexican dwarf in his hotel room N.Y.C. 1970' 1970

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Mexican dwarf in his hotel room N.Y.C. 1970
1970
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Identical twins, Roselle, N.J., 1966' 1966

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Identical twins, Roselle, N.J., 1966
1966
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne showing from left to right, Diane Arbus’ Boy with a straw hat waiting to march in a pro-war parade, N.Y.C., 1967; A young man in curlers at home on West 20th St., N.Y.C. 1966; and A Family on Their Lawn One Sunday in Westchester, New York 1968
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Boy with a straw hat waiting to march in a pro-war parade, N.Y.C., 1967' 1967

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Boy with a straw hat waiting to march in a pro-war parade, N.Y.C., 1967
1967
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1980

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'A young man in curlers at home on West 20th St., N.Y.C. 1966' 1966 (installation view)

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
A young man in curlers at home on West 20th St., N.Y.C. 1966 (installation view)
1966
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1980

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'A young man in curlers at home on West 20th St., N.Y.C. 1966' 1966

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
A young man in curlers at home on West 20th St., N.Y.C. 1966 (installation view)
1966
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'A Family on Their Lawn One Sunday in Westchester, New York 1968' 1968

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
A Family on Their Lawn One Sunday in Westchester, New York 1968
1968
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne showing from left to right, Diane Arbus’ A young Negro boy, Washington Square Park, N.Y.C. 1965; Blonde girl in Washington Square Park c. 1965-68; Woman with a beehive hairdo 1965; and Girl in a watch cap, N.Y.C. 1965
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'A young Negro boy, Washington Square Park, N.Y.C. 1965' c. 1965

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
A young Negro boy, Washington Square Park, N.Y.C. 1965
c. 1965
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne showing from left to right, Diane Arbus’ Woman with a beehive hairdo 1965 and Girl in a watch cap, N.Y.C. 1965
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Woman with a beehive hairdo' 1965 (installation view)

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Woman with a beehive hairdo (installation view)
1965
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1981

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Woman with a beehive hairdo' 1965

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Woman with a beehive hairdo
1965
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Girl in a watch cap, N.Y.C. 1965' 1965

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Girl in a watch cap, N.Y.C. 1965
1965
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Child with toy hand grenade, in Central Park, New York City 1962' 1962

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Child with toy hand grenade, in Central Park, New York City 1962
1962
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1980

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Old black woman with gnarled hand' 1968 (installation view)

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Old black woman with gnarled hand (installation view)
1968
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1981

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Large black family in small shack [Robert Evans and his family, 1968]' 1968 (installation view)

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Large black family in small shack [Robert Evans and his family, 1968] (installation view)
1968
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1981

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Addie Taylor in her shack, Beaufort, South Carolina' 1968 (installation view)

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
Addie Taylor in her shack, Beaufort, South Carolina (installation view)
1968
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1981

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'A family of six at a nudist camp' c. 1963 (installation view)

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71)
A family of six at a nudist camp (installation view)
c. 1963
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1981

 

 

Introduction

The photographs of Diane Arbus (1923-1971) are powerful allegories of postwar America. Once seen they are rarely forgotten. Contemporary audiences found the way that Arbus approached the genre of portraiture confronting and her work continues to polarise opinion. The images raise difficult, uncomfortable questions concerning the intent of the photographer.

Arbus had a huge curiosity about the society around her; her favourite thing was ‘to go where I’ve never been’. As she was a photographer, this manifested as an obsessive exploration into what it means to photograph and be photographed, and what can happen at that moment of exchange – something elusive and a little bit magical. Whether Arbus is an empathetic champion of the outsider, or an exploitative voyeur, is something that each viewer alone must decide.

The National Gallery of Australia’s collection of Arbus photographs is among the most impressive in the world. The NGA is extremely fortunate to have bought 36 rare, vintage prints in 1980 and 1981, from the earliest releases of prints from the Arbus Estate. These works are from the last decade of the artist’s life, the period in which her recognisable style is in full flight and she was in total control of her medium.

These rare prints are shown alongside photographs by others who also sought to redefine the tradition of portraiture, and whose vision of America is also both challenging and moving. The work of these photographers relates to Arbus in a variety of ways: they are influencers, contemporaries or heirs to aspects of her worldview. Like Arbus, they are keen, singular observers of their worlds, transforming the sometimes banal and ugly into images of unexpected beauty.

 

An uncompromising view of the world

Diane Arbus was born Diane Nemerov, the daughter of wealthy Jewish New Yorkers; her father ran Russek’s, a department store on Fifth Avenue selling furs and women’s clothing. Growing up in an apartment in a towering building on Central Park West, her world was highly protected, one in which she never felt adversity. This was something Arbus resented both at the time and later; it seemed to her to be an unreal experience of the world. At 18 she married her childhood sweetheart, Allan Arbus, and for a decade from the mid 1940s, they ran a successful photography studio doing fashion shots for leading picture magazines.

In 1956 Arbus ceased working with Allan in the studio and began instead to explore subjects of her own choice. She was, apart from the occasional class, essentially self-taught and as she struck out on her own, she undertook a detailed study of the work of other photographers. Compelled to confront that which had been off-limits in her own privileged childhood, she looked to other photographers who had confronted the world head-on, including Weegee, William Klein, Walker Evans and Lisette Model. They recorded, each in their own way, their surroundings with an at-times frightening candour. In their images, Arbus found an uncompromising view of the world, stripped of sentimentality.

Weegee

Weegee turns the banal and seedy underbelly of New York city streets after hours into moments of great psychological drama. A freelance news photographer, he supplied images to the popular press but was also well regarded in art circles. The Museum of Modern Art collected his work and exhibited it in 1943. Arbus owned a number of Weegee’s books and greatly admired his Runyonesque view of the world. She closely studied aspects of his working method as she formulated her own, especially his use of flash. His ‘wild dynamics’ made everyone else ‘look like an academician’, she wrote.

William Klein

Returning to New York in 1954 from his émigré life in Paris, Klein was at once taken aback by what he perceived to be a society pursuing purely materialistic goals, but also excited by the energy he found on the streets. Self-taught, he experimented with flash, wide-angle lenses, blurring and close-ups, abstraction and accidents, and produced grainy, high contrast prints. Klein’s 1956 book, Life is Good & Good for You in New York: Trance Witness Revels, a copy of which Arbus owned, gave impetus to the emerging genre of street photography through his harsh, uncompromising vision of the city. His work was met, particularly in the United States, with misunderstanding and hostility.

Walker Evans

The writer James Agee travelled to Alabama in America’s South in 1936 to research an article on the plight of tenant farmers for Fortune magazine. He chose photographer Walker Evans to accompany him. The article did not eventuate but a book did, Let us now praise famous men. Both men were unnerved by what they saw: Agee wrote of ‘the nakedness, disadvantage and humiliation of … an undefended and appallingly damaged group of human beings’. And yet in the face of this, Evans made images of insistent frontality and careful symmetrical framing; devoid of cliché or pretention, and suggesting an impartiality. This gave the images a great authenticity and power.

Evans’ oeuvre is essentially concerned with how photography represents the world. His significance in the development of twentieth-century photography was reappraised during the 1960s, largely through the largesse of John Szarkowski, the head of the Museum of Modern Art’s photography department at the time. Szarkowski argued that the foundations for many of the key aesthetic and formal tendencies of 1960s photography rested in Evans’ work. The catalogue that accompanied his 1938 exhibition American photographs, in particular, had a huge impact on the new generation of photographers, and on Arbus in particular. She met Evans in 1961 and visited him regularly at his New York home throughout the decade. He wrote in support of her 1963 Guggenheim Grant application.

Lisette Model

Lisette Model’s satirical portraits of the rich on the French Riviera and the photographs she made in the 1940s of the Lower East Side’s poor and marginalised bear out the fact that she took her own advice: ‘Don’t shoot ’till the subject hits you in the pit of your stomach’. By the 1950s she had largely turned to teaching and her influence on Arbus, who took a number of her classes at the New School in 1956 and again in 1957-58, was profound. Model encouraged Arbus to pursue her own distinctive voice. Model recalled, ‘One day I said to her, and I think this was very crucial, “originality means coming from the source…” And from then on, Diane was sitting there and – I’ve never in my life seen anybody – not listening to me but suddenly listening to herself through what was said.’

 

The gap between intention and effect

Prior to 1962 Arbus worked primarily with a 35mm Nikon camera. Her images at this time were often about gesture, with grainy images and subjects frequently shown in movement. In 1962 Arbus switched to a 2 ¼ inch medium-format, twin-lens Rolleiflex (later a Mamiyaflex), which she used with a flash and which when printed full-frame, gave the photographs a square format. The pictures she took with these cameras are deceptively, deliberately simple. Compositionally they are often masterful with repetitions of shapes and minutely observed, subtly presented details. Despite the confronting subject matter, her images have a classical stillness, an insistent frontality that she borrowed from classic documentary photography. To this Arbus adds a very deliberate use of the snap-shot aesthetic, with slightly tilted picture planes and people caught unawares, to signal the authenticity of her connection with the subject.

Arbus developed a working method and style that offered what amounts to a critique of the photographic portrait. There is a palpable tension in the way she presents her subjects, a complicity in the image-making process which rubs up against the fact that her subjects seem caught off-guard, unintentionally revealing aspects of themselves. Arbus identified this as ‘the gap between intention and effect’, explaining that ‘it really is totally fantastic that we look like this and you sometimes see that very clearly in a photograph. Something is ironic in the world and it has to do with the fact that what you intend never comes out like you intend it’. Arbus’s ability to connect with and gain the trust of people is legendary. Fellow photographer Joel Meyerowitz felt that she was ‘an emissary from the world of feeling. She cared about these people. They felt that and gave her their secret’.

 

The aristocrats

As a student at the alternative Fieldston Ethical Culture School in the Bronx, Arbus developed a fascination with myths, ritual and public spectacle. This preoccupation remained steadfast throughout her life. For example, in 1963 she was awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship to document ‘American rites, manners and customs’. Arbus had an almost insatiable curiosity and fascination with the world and she sought to make photographs that addressed fundamental aspects of our humanity in the broadest terms. It was the photographer Lisette Model, with whom she studied in the late 1950s, who made her realise that, in a seemingly contradictory way, the more specific a photograph of something was, the more general its message became.

To this extent, it is notable that Arbus’s photographs rarely address the issues of the day in any overt and obvious way. While there are exceptions – for example, her work for magazines from the sixties, including portraits of celebrities and documentary work examining the plight of the poor in South Carolina – for the most part Arbus used the camera as a licence to enter the specifics of other people’s lives.

She was particularly drawn to marginalised people, who for whatever reason had fallen out of a conventional place in society and were forced (those born into disability) or chose (the nudists, for example) to construct their own identity. To find them, she frequented sideshow alleys and Hubert’s Freak Museum at Broadway and 42nd Street, joined nudist camps in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and visited seedy hotels; she also found them in public spaces, in streets and parks where social rules were often arbitrarily imposed and discarded.

Arbus’s subjects are often seen to play with society’s roles and restrictions. She classified these people as ‘aristocrats’, having achieved a certain freedom from social constraints, and they made her feel a mix of shame and awe.

 

The prints

Arbus stated that, for her, ‘the subject of the picture is more important than the picture’. There is no doubt that the emotional authenticity of what she photographed was of upmost importance. In keeping with this, she often undersold her skill as a photographer; she often complained of technical difficulties, and others frequently observed that she seemed weighed down by her equipment. In downplaying her relationship to the technical aspects of her work, Arbus sought to emphasise instead her rapport with her subjects. All the same, she was very clear about how she wanted her images to look; she worked hard to achieve a particular quality in her prints, which have a distinct feel and appearance that are quite different from other photographs of the 1960s.

From the mid 1960s, Arbus worked hard to emphasise the photographic-ness of her pictures. She modified the negative tray on her Omega ‘D’ enlarger, which produced the distinctive black border around her images; later again, she used strips of cardboard down the sides of the negatives to blur the edges of her images. Both of these techniques meant that each of her prints is slightly, wonderfully unique. And there is often, as in the cases of Woman with a beehive hairdo and Girl in a watch cap, both made in 1965, damage (tears and marks) on the negative that Arbus has made no effort to minimise or disguise. Close viewing of the collection of photographs held at the NGA reveal ghostly traces of the hand of Arbus. She reminds us consistently through a number of careful and deliberate strategies that we are looking at a photograph that has been made by a particular person.

 

To know life

Arbus was not alone in photographing the social landscape of America in the 1960s. Others, including Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander and Milton Rogovin, similarly took to the country’s streets. Rogovin’s life work was to photograph people from poor minority groups, much of his work being made in Buffalo, New York, where he himself lived. Like Arbus, he often knew and befriended his subjects, returning to photograph them over many years, collaborating with them to create images of great dignity and integrity.

Like Arbus, Winogrand and Friedlander were included in the landmark 1967 exhibition New documents, curated by John Szarkowski for the Museum of Modern Art, New York. This was the only major showing of Arbus’s work during her lifetime. While acknowledging that each of the artists in the exhibition had their own distinct styles, Szarkowski characterised them as part of a generation that used the documentary tradition ‘to more personal ends.’ As he wrote: ‘Their aim has been not to reform life, but to know it. Their work betrays a sympathy – almost an affection – for the imperfections and frailties of society’.

An essential aspect of their innovation was the way they positioned photography and the acts of taking and viewing a photograph as an essential aspect of the work. Their photographs were not intended simply as windows to the world. As Winogrand noted when asked how he felt about missing photographs while he reloaded his camera, ‘there are no photographs while I’m reloading’. Winogrand, Friedlander and Arbus were fascinated by how the real was translated into the language of photography, and how the experience of the photograph involves a fascinating, multilayered three-way interaction between the photographer, the subject and the viewer.

Garry Winogrand

Winogrand restlessly prowled the same streets of New York as Arbus in the 1960s, working stealthily, capturing people without their knowledge. His viewpoint, one he asks the viewer to join, is unashamedly, unapologetically voyeuristic. He used a Leica M4 with a wide-angle lens and tipped the picture plane, giving his compositions a particular feel. Traumatised by the fraught political tensions of the cold war period, anxiety found its way into the imagery – lending his work an edge that makes for a compelling reading of an alienated and fearful society in the throes of change. His city is a site of unexpected confrontations and strange, witty juxtapositions. Fellow photographer Joel Meyerowitz remarked that Winogrand ‘set a tempo on the street so strong that it was impossible not to follow it. It was like jazz. You just had to get in the same groove’.

Lee Friedlander

Friedlander’s images are invariably about looking and this includes turning the camera on himself. He often intrudes into his hastily grabbed, ironic studies of the city, through reflection or shadow or a pair of shoes. Thus, the viewer of his photographs is constantly reminded that this is an image of the world that is made by someone, in this case, the photographer Lee Friedlander. The works are laconic, witty and intensely personal: and certainly the self-portraits are rarely flattering. Coming at the end of a decade in which a particular, new brand of art photographer had begun to achieve celebrity status, through the efforts of curators like John Szarkowski at the Museum of Modern Art, Friedlander’s self-portraits can also be seen as a shrewd send-up of fame.

Milton Rogovin

Originally trained as an optometrist, Rogovin began his career as a social documentary photographer in 1958, recording gospel services held in ‘store-front’ churches in the African-American neighbourhood of Buffalo, New York. Profoundly influenced as a young man by the impact of the Great Depression, Rogovin reflected that, ‘I could no longer be indifferent to the problems of the people, especially the poor, the forgotten ones’. He worked in collaboration with his subjects, who were always allowed to determine how they should be photographed. His photographs focus on family life, the celebrations and events that bind a community together, and the particulars of an individual’s existence.

 

The Arbus legacy

Arbus occupies an important place in the development of American photography. Her work has indelibly influenced the way that the documentary tradition has continued to evolve over the last 50 years, with many of the leading contemporary photographers, such as William Eggleston and Mary Ellen Mark, continuing to rethink the tradition, looking back to Arbus just as she looked back to her predecessors. Although it has often infuriated, and continues to do so, those who take issue with the way Arbus photographed the world, her impact on audiences and photographers alike is incontestable.

William Eggleston

While Arbus used the snap-shot aesthetic in her work to increase its aura of authenticity and immediacy, when Eggleston employed the same technique in colour without the abstraction and artistic mediation of black-and-white, contemporary audiences reacted with confusion. Careful observation of the images though reveals a masterful eye, and a sophisticated understanding of the way photography transforms the world. Eggleston’s images are at once monumental and mundane, ordinary and strange, prosaic and poetic. The result is luminous, breathtaking and perfectly banal.

Mary Ellen Mark

The photojournalist Mary Ellen Mark built a career photographing those on the fringes of society, seeking out those who she felt displayed what she described as attitude and often working on projects over many years, slowly earning trust. Her commitment was to give the people she photographed a unique voice, an individuality. Commenting on a body of work, Mark spoke of her desire to let her subjects ‘make contact with the outside world by letting them reach out and present themselves. I didn’t want to use them. I wanted them to use me’.

Mark spent months photographing the New York bar scene at night. This work formed the basis of her first one person exhibition, at the Photographers’ Gallery in London. She reflected at the time, ‘I would like to have the means to travel the whole country and show what America is through its bars. Millions of people who do not want or can not stay at home. The majority of clients are loners, which is why it is extremely difficult to work in these places. I had to make myself accepted’.

Text from the National Gallery of Australia website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne showing at left, Lisette Model’s Coney Island Bather, New York 1939-41 and at right, Woman with Veil, San Francisco 1949
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Lisette Model (1901-1983) 'Coney Island Bather, New York' [Baigneuse, Coney Island] c. 1939-1941

 

Lisette Model (1901-1983)
Coney Island Bather, New York [Baigneuse, Coney Island]
c. 1939-1941
Silver gelatin print
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

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

 

Lisette Model (1901-1983)
Woman with Veil, San Francisco
1949
Silver gelatin print
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1978

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne showing at left, Lisette Model’s Lower East Side, New York
1942 and at right,Lower East Side, New York 1939-42
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Lisette Model (1901-1983) 'Lower East Side, New York' 1942

 

Lisette Model (1901-1983)
Lower East Side, New York
1942
Gelatin silver photograph
49.2 h x 39.5 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1978

 

Lisette Model (1901-1983) 'Lower East Side, New York' 1939-42

 

Lisette Model (1901-1983)
Lower East Side, New York
1939-42
Gelatin silver photograph
48.9 h x 38.9 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1978

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne showing from left to right, Lisette Model’s Fashion show, Hotel Pierre, New York City 1940-46; Cafe Metropole, New York City c. 1946; and Albert-Alberta, Hubert’s 42nd St Flea Circus, New York [Albert/Alberta] c. 1945
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Lisette Model (1901-1983) 'Fashion show, Hotel Pierre, New York City' 1940-46

 

Lisette Model (1901-1983)
Fashion show, Hotel Pierre, New York City
1940-46
Gelatin silver photograph
40.0 h x 49.6 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1978

 

Lisette Model (1901-1983) 'Cafe Metropole, New York City' c. 1946

 

Lisette Model (1901-1983)
Cafe Metropole, New York City
c. 1946
Gelatin silver photograph
49.5 h x 40.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1978

 

 

While training as a musician in Vienna, Lisette Model studied under the avant-garde composer Arnold Schoenberg, who introduced her to the Expressionist painters of the early 20th century. Influenced by European modernist philosophy and aesthetics, Model abandoned music in Paris in 1933, taking up painting and then photography. She gained initial renown for a series of photographs of men and women lounging in deck chairs along the Promenade des Anglais in the south of France. In 1938, she relocated to New York with her husband (the artist Evsa Model), where she took photographs of exuberant characters on the streets of New York – catching reflections of individuals in store windows and images of feet in motion and holidaymakers around Coney Island. Model taught at the New School where one of her most famous students was Diane Arbus, and was published by Harper’s Bazaar and other magazines.

Text from the Artsy website

 

Lisette Model (1901-1983) 'Albert-Alberta, Hubert's 42nd St Flea Circus, New York' c. 1945

 

Lisette Model (1901-1983)
Albert-Alberta, Hubert’s 42nd St Flea Circus, New York [Albert/Alberta]
c. 1945
Gelatin silver photograph
49.5 h x 39.7 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1981

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne showing work from Mary Ellen Mark’s The bar series 1977
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Mary Ellen Mark (1940-2015) 'Untitled' from 'The bar series' 1977

 

Mary Ellen Mark (1940-2015)
Untitled from The bar series
1977
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1980

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne showing from left to right, William Eggleston’s Huntsville, Alabama c. 1971; Memphis c. 1969; and Greenwood, Mississippi “The Red Ceiling” 1973
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

William Eggleston (America,born July 27, 1939) 'Huntsville, Alabama' c. 1971

 

William Eggleston (American, born July 27, 1939)
Huntsville, Alabama
c. 1971
Dye transfer colour photograph
46.6 h x 32.4 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1980

 

William Eggleston (America, born July 27, 1939) 'Memphis' c. 1970 printed 1980

 

William Eggleston (American, born July 27, 1939)
Memphis
c. 1970 printed 1980
Dye transfer colour photograph
30.2 h x 44.2 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1980

 

William Eggleston (America,born July 27, 1939) 'Greenwood, Mississippi' ["The Red Ceiling"] 1973, printed 1979

 

William Eggleston (American, born July 27, 1939)
Greenwood, Mississippi [“The Red Ceiling”]
1973, printed 1979
Dye transfer colour photograph
29.5 h x 45.4 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1980

 

 

With its intense red, Eggleston’s picture of the spare room in a friend’s home is one of the most iconic of all colour photographs. Often called The red room, this photograph was intended to be shocking: Eggleston described the effect of the colour as like ‘red blood that is wet on the wall’. But the radicalness of the picture is not just in its juicy (and impossible to reproduce) redness; it is also found in the strange view it provides of a domestic interior, one that Eggleston has described as a ‘fly’s eye view’.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne showing the work of Garry Winogrand
Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Garry Winogrand (1928-1984) 'No title [Centennial Ball, Metropolitan Museum, New York]' 1969

 

Garry Winogrand (1928-1984)
No title [Centennial Ball, Metropolitan Museum, New York]
1969
Gelatin silver photograph
27.2 h x 42.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1980

 

Garry Winogrand (1928-1984) 'New York City, New York'. From "Garry Winogrand" 1970

 

Garry Winogrand (1928-1984)
New York City, New York. From “Garry Winogrand”
1970
Gelatin silver photograph
21.6 h x 32.6 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1978

 

 

Winogrand was asked how he felt about missing photographs while he reloaded his camera. He replied ‘There are no photographs while I’m reloading’: There is no possibility in the Winograndian world view of regarding the camera as a window onto the world; it becomes a mirror reflecting back the photographer’s concerns. Winogrand was fascinated by how the real was translated into the photographic. In the end this fascination became an obsession from which he could not escape or find solace – or meaning. At the time of his death there were a third of a million exposures that he had never looked at including 2,500 undeveloped rolls of film.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra