Posts Tagged ‘New Topographics

29
Aug
21

Exhibition: ‘Michael Schmidt: A new German Perspective’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 8th June – 29th August 2021

Curators: Thomas Weski and Laura Bielau

 

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Untitled, Berlin-Kreuzberg. Stadtbilder' 1981-82

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Untitled, Berlin-Kreuzberg. Stadtbilder (Berlin-Kreuzberg. Cityscapes)
1981-82
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

 

Dark atmosphere of a grey reality

The contribution of German photographers to the development of photography in the 20th century cannot be underestimated. When we think of quantum leaps in the development of the medium and its languages, we can think of Wilhelm von Gloeden, August Sander, Lisette Model, Germaine Krull, Ilse Bing, Erich Salomon, Albert Renger-Patzsch, Bernd and Hiller Becher, Wolfgang Tillmans, Aenne Biermann, Erwin Blumenfeld, Bill Brandt, Candida Höfer, Andreas Gursky, Thomas Ruff, Thomas Demand and many more too numerous to mention. And then we have the (mainly Jewish) photographers of the German diaspora of the 1920s-1940s who emigrated to all parts of Europe, South America, America and Australia and who went on to influence photographers in their adopted countries.

Perhaps there is something inherent in the German psyche which promotes a certain awareness, a certain understanding of the mechanics of photography. Perhaps this is a link between German psychology (such as Urformen: the original, archetypal form1), psychoanalysis (such as Freud’s term Das Unheimliche: “the uncanny” in the sense of something that produces unease and is disturbing) and photography – a relationship which promotes objective seeing, seeing things in new and unexpected ways. Perhaps this ability to perceive in new ways has something to do with Germany’s European roots and that continent’s history of war, destruction and reclamation, where the archetypes are constantly being dissolved and constructed – in a circle which leads us back to the roots of German psychology. These are only thoughts which are slowly forming, nascent thoughts in a long process of research, which could possibly be interesting, or not.

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Added to these many German photographers is another intelligent, inventive artist that I admire – an artist that also redefined the language of photography in the 20th century. His name is Michael Schmidt.

Much as Bill Brandt considered “atmosphere” a term fundamental in his images (“I only know it is a combination of elements … which reveals the subject as familiar and yet strange”) in order to capture the very essence of a place, so Schmidt’s inimitable understanding of his environment and its people, namely his beloved Berlin, allowed him to dissect and disseminate the dystopian “atmosphere” and habitus of its inhabitants.

Schmidt (and here I précis a lot of people) perceives and reacts to the world, offering through “fragmentation, condensation, abstraction” a “sense of space distorted in depth”, in which “existence is hollowed out to its extremes” that “take his subjects out of their historical anchorage” to offer a “harsh and completely unique view of the fragility of human existence” – “a subjective, deeply felt work of the life and suffering of people in the shadow of Berlin.”

“This is the strength of Michael Schmidt’s work. An ability to transcend the present – its present – and to fragment it in order to better represent it. Creations with shallow backgrounds, which play with nuances and break free from simple black and white to offer a shade of grey, evoking the rainy sky of Berlin. A true love letter, tortured, raw, deep and complex, to the city where it was born, grew and disappeared.”2

As Joe Lloyd has observed of Schmidt’s masterpiece Waffenruhe (Ceasefire) (1985-87) “It is difficult to imagine a future for these anxious youths, whose lives are encircled by an evil empire on the cusp of dissolution. The Berlin Wall appears on the verge of subsiding. Vegetation grows unbidden, new life to replace the old. Schmidt turns his camera on the city’s insignificant minutiae, a shadowy realm between the sights and, in doing so, captures its liminality.”3

Liminality is one of the key words I associate with the work of Michael Schmidt… the other being language.

Liminality is a term used to describe the psychological process of transitioning across boundaries and borders. The term “limen” comes from the Latin for threshold; it is literally the threshold separating one space from another. It is the place in the wall where people move from one room to another.4

As he probed and prodded the threshold of existence in his photography, Schmidt transited the line between representation and abstraction, photographing the ever mutable spaces of Berlin and the people that were stationed there, under the Wall – even as the subject matter he chose transitioned from dour city to blank officer workers, from women to children, old people and disaffected youths.

Schmidt sought new ways to transition across the boundaries and borders of both the city and his mind in order to create a “new reality” of visual language, not to reproduce real things as he said, but to show how things really are. As the curator Thomas Weski has observed, “”Every time he finished a series, he went through periods of turmoil where he looked for new ways to approach reality…”5

The liminal, interstitial spaces the artist creates, these fragments of time, these “shards of reality” are tough, gritty photographs – of love, desire, work, destitution, despair, loneliness, sadness and fortitude – realities expressed in sombre tones of grey that recite a sense of foreboding. Forty years after the end of the war, the clash of cultures between stoicism and rebellion, between rich and poor, between communism and freedom is still in full flight in a divided Berlin… for here (unlike Brandt’s photographs where the fragments are part of the whole) there is no unity, no ceasefire, no holistic healing, there is only a language of dissolution and despair. Here, there is no way hope can be deployed to distort one’s relationship with reality.

Schmidt’s relationship between photography and subject is always about the artist metaphorically “becoming naked” and open, pushing the boundaries of the possible when looking for new ways to approach reality. Schmidt’s language of the fragmentation bomb shows the benefits of working on language to break any self-imposed limits – to picture the ‘deep time’6 so intimately linked with the life of the city.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

  1. “The original, archetypal form… the first form of a narrative from which all known variants emerged; the archetype version that provides a model and pattern for all variants (alternatively, Urform). The term comes from the German Urform (plural Urformen), meaning primitive form, original form, or archetype, and is derived from Ur, the mythological first city.
    Randal S. Allison. “Ur-Form,” in Thomas A. Green (ed.,). Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Beliefs, Customs, Tales, Music and Art Volume 1, ABC-CLIO, 1997, p. 823.
  2. Lou Tsatsas. “Michael Schmidt décompose Berlin au Jeu de Paume,” on the Fisheye Magazine website June 2021 [Online] Cited 12/08/2021
  3. Joe Lloyd. “Michael Schmidt Retrospective: Photographs 1965-2014,” on the Studio International website 12/10/202 [Online] Cited 12/08/2021
  4. Larson, P. “Liminality,” in Leeming, D.A. (eds). Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion. Springer, Boston, MA, 2014
  5. Thomas Weski quoted in Laure Etienne. “Michael Schmidt: A New German Perspective,” on the Bind Magazine website 17 June 2021 [Online] Cited 12/08/2021.
  6. “As the Anangu people of Uluru explain, the land contains proof of a spoken narrative, like a photograph. The land’s markings are the archives, the inscriptions revealing and proving deep history stories.”
    Ann McGrath. “‘All things will outlast us’: how the Indigenous concept of deep time helps us understand environmental destruction,” on The Conversation website, August 19, 2020 [Online] Cited 29/08/2021.

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

 

 

“Realism consists not in reproducing real things, but in showing how things really are.”

“Black and white are always the darkest grey and the lightest grey.”

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Michael Schmidt

 

“His language is a language of precision and his tool is the most simple one: a small, 35mm camera, and a few rolls of films. His pictures look simple at first glance, and their anti-sentimentality, their refusal of all the tricks of the usual seduction, their concision and their clarity, give them great efficiency. They show what they show but they manage to retain an opacity, a mystery, and they become a support for our imagination.”

“Schmidt does not accuse, he simply reveals, and the interpretation is left to the viewer. He can do so because he has confidence in the power of his medium and confidence in the intelligence of the viewer.”

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Luc Delahaye

 

“His photography no longer follows a means of pure documentation, but rather formulates a dystopian attitude towards the life of a generation shortly before the fall of the wall in surprising image contexts. Schmidt develops a world of breaks and gaps that defies any claim to a sovereign overview.”

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Einar Schleef

 

“Amongst the pages of photographer Michael Schmidt’s seminal book, ‘Waffenruhe’ – a fragmented psychological portrait of West Berlin shot between 1985 and 1987 – is an image of an outstretched wrist, the camera’s flash igniting a jagged scar across its milky skin. The space opposite is obscured with a blank pull-out page that expands to reveal a tree in full bloom, bright flowers swelling between branches. The Berlin Wall looms in the background, like a shadow sunshine can’t dispel. In Schmidt’s Waffenruhe, life and death cohabitate – existence is hollowed out to its extremes. Four decades after the end of World War II, Waffenruhe (German for “ceasefire”) captured the gloom of a bisected city as it waited for the smoke to clear.”

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Ashleigh Kane. “Why Michael Schmidt is the perfect photographer for our dystopia,” on the Highsnobiety website February 2021 [Online] Cited 12/08/2021

 

 

 

 

Exposition “Michael Schmidt. Une autre photographie allemande” 

 

Berlin-Wedding 1976-78

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Müller-Ecke Seestrasse, Berlin-Wedding' (Berlin-Wedding) 1976-78

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Müller-Ecke Seestrasse, Berlin-Wedding (Berlin-Wedding)
1976-78
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'City Inspector at the Wedding District Office' 1976-78

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
City Inspector at the Wedding District Office
1976-78
From Berlin-Wedding
Silver gelatin print
43.4 x 46cm
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'City Inspector at work in his Wedding District Office' 1976-78

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
City Inspector at work in his Wedding District Office
1976-78
From Berlin-Wedding
Silver gelatin print
43.4 x 46cm
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Schüler der 4. Klasse, Grundschule, Berlin-Wedding' (Pupil, elementary school, Berlin-Wedding) 1976-78

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Schüler der 4. Klasse, Grundschule, Berlin-Wedding (Pupil, elementary school, Berlin-Wedding)
1976-78
From Berlin-Wedding
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Schüler der 4. Klasse, Grundschule, Berlin-Wedding' (CM1 pupil, primary school, Berlin-Wedding) 1976-78

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Schüler der 4. Klasse, Grundschule, Berlin-Wedding (CM1 pupil, primary school, Berlin-Wedding)
1976-78
From Berlin-Wedding
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Untitled' from 'Berlin-Wedding' 1976-78

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Untitled from Berlin-Wedding
1976-78
Silver gelatin print
24 x 30cm
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

 

Jeu de Paume in Paris is the second venue of the major retrospective of Michael Schmidt’s work. Michael Schmidt (1945-2014) occupies a unique position in contemporary German photography and internationally. Born in Berlin and with no formal training in photography, he discovered the medium as a mode of artistic expression in the mid-1960s. For each of his themes he developed his own approach to reality. His oeuvre owing to continual exploration and innovation has been seminal for a younger generation of photographers. The exhibition, the most comprehensive to date, offers a complete overview of his oeuvre from 1965 to 2014.

After the presentation at Jeu de Paume, Paris (2021) and Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwartskunst Berlin (2020), the exhibition will be on view at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid (September 22–February 28, 2022) and the Albertina Museum in Vienna (March 24–June 12, 2022).

Michael Schmidt (1945-2014) occupies a unique position in contemporary German photography. Born in Berlin, he was self-taught, adopting photography as his artistic medium in the mid-1960s. For each of his themes, he developed his own approach to reality. The Michael Schmidt retrospective at the Jeu de Paume, the most comprehensive to date, offers a complete overview of his oeuvre from 1965 to 2014.

Press release from Jeu de Paume

 

“At the end of the 1970s, with the series ‘Berlin-Wedding’, Michael Schmidt imposed a very rigid set of rules on himself in order to achieve a form of neutrality, if such a thing is possible… He later said he felt like he had pushed himself into a corner with these rules, and in the early 1980s he struggled to relax them. He went back to shooting spontaneously, camera in hand and no longer on a tripod. This led to “Waffenruhe (Ceasefire),” where he broke free from those rules. It became less a question of delivering a precise description than of communicating a feeling.”

~ Thomas Weski quoted in Laure Etienne. “Michael Schmidt: A New German Perspective,” on the Bind Magazine website 17 June 2021 [Online] Cited 12/08/2021.

 

“Every time he finished a series, he went through periods of turmoil where he looked for new ways to approach reality… He described himself as a “dead-end photographer” who would get into one lane and needed a long time to get out of it. ”

~ Thomas Weski quoted in Laure Etienne. “Michael Schmidt: A New German Perspective,” on the Bind Magazine website 17 June 2021 [Online] Cited 12/08/2021.

 

“Michael Schmidt’s raw, harsh, and fragmented photographs of Waffenruhe are less documents of the existing situation at that time than they are creating a certain dark atmosphere, which echoed the ‘no future’-feeling of my generation.”

~ Thomas Weski

 

“Man is at the centre of the environment. He is shaped by it and he shapes it… As such, I don’t want to show him isolated, but in his environment, I want to show how he lives, where he works, what he does in his free time.”

~ Michael Schmidt quoted in Laure Etienne. “Michael Schmidt: A New German Perspective,” on the Bind Magazine website 17 June 2021 [Online] Cited 12/08/2021.

 

 

Berlin nach 1945

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Berlin nach 1945' (Berlin after 1945) 1980

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Berlin nach 1945 (Berlin after 1945)
1980
Silver gelatin print
23.4 x 29.2cm
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

 

In 1980 Michael Schmidt photographed his series “Berlin after 1945”. West Berlin already had a reputation as a young and rebellious city. Schmidt portrayed his hometown quite differently: grey on grey, barren, if not dreary. With his approach of portraying the human-shaped living environment instead of untouched nature, Schmidt became a representative of the New Topographics movement, which had recently emerged in the USA: these photographers no longer focused on an ideal conception of landscape, but rather on human intervention.

Google translated from Michael Schmidt. “So fühlte sich das Leben in Berlin an,” on the Zeit Online website 17 October 2020 [Online] Cited 12/08/2021.

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Berlin nach 1945' (Berlin after 1945) 1980

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Berlin nach 1945 (Berlin after 1945)
1980
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Berlin nach 1945' (Berlin after 1945) 1980

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Berlin nach 1945 (Berlin after 1945)
1980
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Berlin-Kreuzberg 1969-1973

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'No title, Berlin-Kreuzberg. Stadtbilder' 1981-82

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
No title, Berlin-Kreuzberg. Stadtbilder (Berlin-Kreuzberg. Urban views)
1981-82
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

 

How Schmidt broke away from the strict image structure of his photographs can be seen in his series “Berlin-Kreuzberg. Stadtbilder 1981-82”. The camera moves closer to the sitter and no longer locks them in a strict composition.

Google translated from Michael Schmidt. “So fühlte sich das Leben in Berlin an,” on the Zeit Online website 17 October 2020 [Online] Cited 12/08/2021.

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'No title, Berlin-Kreuzberg. Stadtbilder' (Berlin-Kreuzberg. Urban views) 1982

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
No title, Berlin-Kreuzberg. Stadtbilder (Berlin-Kreuzberg. Urban views)
1982
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'No title, Berlin-Kreuzberg. Stadtbilder' 1981-82

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
No title, Berlin-Kreuzberg. Stadtbilder (Berlin-Kreuzberg. Urban views)
1981-82
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'No title, Berlin-Kreuzberg. Stadtbilder' 1981-82

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
No title, Berlin-Kreuzberg. Stadtbilder (Berlin-Kreuzberg. Urban views)
1981-82
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'No title, Berlin-Kreuzberg. Stadtbilder' 1981-82

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
No title, Berlin-Kreuzberg. Stadtbilder (Berlin-Kreuzberg. Urban views)
1981-82
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

 

The bulk of Schmidt’s work in the 70s and early 80s was commissioned by local authorities, and served as a survey of West Berlin’s crumbing Wall-side districts. If they wanted straightforward documentation, they should have turned elsewhere. In Kreuzberg, Schmidt captured two tree trunks rising from the ground as if a pair of legs, and in Wedding an empty phone box, the pages of its directory left open. Schmidt’s Berlin is riddled with holes. We see a row of tenements from behind, naked and exposed by the loss of their adjoining street. A similar – or perhaps the same – row is glimpsed diagonally through a gap in a scaffolding platform. This is a city scrambled, quite unlike the straight-ahead perspectives of Struth’s near-contemporaneous Unconscious Places series. When we see council employees, the walls of their chintzy apartments and spartan offices seem like armour against the bleak outside.

Text from Joe Lloyd. “Michael Schmidt Retrospective: Photographs 1965-2014,” on the Studio International website 12/10/202 [Online] Cited 12/08/2021.

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'No title, Berlin-Kreuzberg' (Berlin-Kreuzberg) 1969-1973

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
No title, Berlin-Kreuzberg (Berlin-Kreuzberg)
1969-1973
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

 

Foreword

Michael Schmidt (1945-2014) occupies a unique position in contemporary German photography. Born in Berlin, he was self-taught, adopting photography as his artistic medium in the mid- 1960s. For each of his themes, he developed his own approach to reality. The Michael Schmidt retrospective at the Jeu de Paume, the most comprehensive to date, offers a complete overview of his oeuvre from 1965 to 2014.

Schmidt initially focused on Berlin in his work, receiving commissions in the early 1970s from district offices and from the Berlin Senate on districts such as Kreuzberg and Wedding and on social themes. The Waffenruhe (Ceasefire) book and exhibition project, a visually stunning psychological study of the still divided city, which was shown in Berlin for the first time in 1987, brought Schmidt international renown. With Ein-heit/U-ni-ty, a group of works examining the unification process, he shifted his focus away from the world of his native city.

Schmidt’s oeuvre comprises portraits, self-portraits, landscapes and still lifes. His work highlights the importance of urban space, the continued relevance of history, female identity, the role of the province and the significance of nature. In his last project, he highlighted the contemporary food industry.

In addition to providing a glimpse of sometimes very rich ensembles through original prints, this retrospective also includes work prints, book projects and archive documents. As far as possible, it respects Schmidt’s own approach to presenting and displaying his works. His career was exemplary for the way he endlessly refined his photographic practice and explored new publication formats. The exhibition thus reveals a unique approach to photography in the context of German post-war and contemporary photography, at odds with the Subjective Photography of Otto Steinert and the Düsseldorf School centred around Bernd and Hilla Becher. Schmidt’s oeuvre is now seen as one of the outstanding pillars of photography in the history of German twentieth-century art. As well as celebrating the work he produced in the course of his lifetime, the exhibition seeks to cover the development of photography as a mode of artistic expression since the 1970s.

Thomas Weski, curator of the exhibition

 

Introduction

On the occasion of the reopening, Jeu de Paume offers for the first time in France a large dedicated exhibition to photographer Michael Schmidt, considered one of the major figures of 20th century German art. This large chronological retrospective pays tribute to the artist through original prints, unpublished works and a vast corpus of archives that illustrate the evolution of his work spanning nearly five decades.

A Model

Michael Schmidt wrote a section of the history of photography. Through his work as a photographer and teacher he notably influenced artists like Andreas Gursky, with whom he befriends at the end of the 1970s. He is still a model for a whole generation of young photographers.

West Berlin

Self-taught photographer born in Berlin in 1945, Michael Schmidt devoted most of from his photography to his hometown, more particularly in West Berlin, where he will live until his death in 2014. The districts of Kreuzberg and, more particularly Wedding, were his favourite places. Initially portrayed in a purely documentary style (most often of order), Schmidt will detach himself from traditional visual language and in the 1980s look for a more daring vocabulary.

Postwar

Beginning in the middle of 1960s the postwar work of Michael Schmidt can be considered as a process of the quest for artistic identity, and also as an illustration of the development artistic photography in postwar Germany.

Grey

In the late 1970s, grey becomes the chromatic element central to the photographer’s work, which he considers a full colour. Wishing to describe the world around him, the artist cannot be limited to the use of black and white, who are too Manichean for his taste. The world is undefined, not so neat and clear. Schmidt is looking for more nuance, he has need a wider palette. He draws, then, in these grey tones that we find in the skies of Berlin, the cityscapes and interior views where characters appear weakly illuminated.

 

On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the birth of Michael Schmidt, Jeu de Paume presents a large retrospective of this artist, considered one of the major pillars of the history of 20th century German art.

A tribute to a great photographer, this exhibition will present originals, unpublished work prints, book projects and other archives illustrating the evolution of his artistic work. The exhibition also highlights the process of recognising photography as a form of artistic expression in Germany and Europe from the 1970s.

Like Bernd and Hilla Becher, Michael Schmidt is among the most influential post-war photographers. He tirelessly developed his work for five decades. Through the publication of his work in the form of books and installations, always in dialogue with their place of exhibition, he developed different types of innovative presentation. By the incessant renewal of its formal language and by the choice of its themes, Michael Schmidt wrote a part of the history of photography and is today a role model for a whole generation of young photographers.

Born in Berlin on October 6, 1945, it was in this city that he lived and worked until his death in 2014. This autodidact works as a photographer from the mid-1970s, initially exclusively in his hometown. This is where the series dedicated to Kreuzberg and Wedding saw the light of day, – two districts of West Berlin –, which already go beyond the simple description of a neighbourhood, taking on a broader meaning. It is with the project, book and exhibition developed in collaboration with the director and playwright Einar Schleef, Waffenruhe (Ceasefire), first presented in Berlin in 1987, that Michael Schmidt does undeniably artistic work.

This series is made up of raw images with a loaded atmosphere, which draw a very personal portrait of the city near the end of the cold war – and of its youth – a city still cut in half, shortly before the change of epoch.

Michael Schmidt abandons this focus on the thematic universe of Berlin with the series Ein-heit (Uni-té), in which he explores the visual languages ​​of the different forms of society and different political systems that marked Germany in the 20th century. He uses on this occasion already mediatised images that he mixes with photographs taken by himself, publishing everything in a book without text. The first exhibition of this series is in 1996 at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Schmidt was thus the first German photographer for decades to have personal exposure in this place. Subsequently, he devotes other work to the image of the woman, to the role of regions and the importance of nature. His last big series, Lebensmittel (Foodstuffs), in which he explores contemporary food production, has earned him the Pictet Prize just a few days before his death.

 

The exhibition

First photographs, commissioned works and series, 1965-1985

Michael Schmidt discovered an interest in photography when he was working in the West Berlin police force. Although he joined amateur photography clubs, he was chiefly self-taught, working hard to improve his technique. In the mid-1960s, he took the first photographs that he did not reject later on. Although the motifs in these early photographs vary greatly, they all defy the quick readability that is usually associated with the medium.

From his earliest photographic work of the mid-1960s to Germany’s reunification, Schmidt chose his native city of Berlin as his main subject, examining it from various angles. By 1973 he was working as a professional photographer, having been commissioned by the district office in Kreuzberg to do a book on the neighbourhood. It was published in the same year, with a second edition being printed almost immediately. It was followed by commissions from other city districts and Berlin’s Senate. In Die berufstätige Frau in Kreuzberg (The Working Woman in Kreuzberg) he depicted a typical day in the life of two women juggling work and leisure.

In the early 1970s he began teaching photography courses at colleges of further education. In 1976, he founded the Werkstatt für Photographie (Workshop for Photography) at the Volkshochschule Kreuzberg, which continued until 1986. Works by contemporary American photographers were exhibited there that had not previously been accessible to the German public. From 1976 to 1978, he photographed the Berlin-Wedding district and its inhabitants in a strictly documentary style. He made prints in rich shades of grey and published the series in 1978.

Between 1978 and 1980 he photographed Berlin’s Friedrichstadt neighbourhood in the south of the city, which was badly damaged during the Second World War. These photographs capture the mood of post-war West Berlin, a city scarred by gaps between buildings, brownfield sites and fire walls. Dominant motifs include urban wastelands and utility buildings, which he photographed in diffuse light using a large plate camera. In these works, Schmidt found pictorial solutions that straddle the boundary between documentation and abstraction. His Berlin nach 45 (Berlin after 1945) was not published until 2005, twenty-five years after the photographs were taken.

In 1980 in another project funded by the Berlin Senate he documented the everyday lives of four people dealing with chronic illness or disability. This work was published under the title Benachteiligt (Disadvantaged).

With the photo book Berlin-Kreuzberg. Stadtbilder, published in 1983, he began turning away from the traditional documentary idiom, experimenting with a more subjective approach.

In the mid-1990s, Schmidt identified his archive as a potent new source for reinterpreting earlier work. It assumed growing importance for him and he returned to it with increasing regularity in order to subject his early work to a critical re-examination and to make new prints. In the late 1990s, for example, for his project Menschenbilder (Ausschnitte) (Pictures of People (Excerpts)), he presented re-framed versions of an older series of portraits. Divorced from their previous context, the portraits became emblems of the human condition.

At that time, Schmidt also published Selbst (Self), a series of self-portraits dating from the mid-1980s, in which he appeared directly and unsparingly, in a self-critical attitude.

 

Waffenruhe (Ceasefire), 1985-1987

Unlike the studiedly sober photos of his earlier series, the portrait of the still divided city that Schmidt created in the mid-1970s in the book and exhibition project Waffenruhe, with its condensed, fragmentary, strongly contrasting black and white photographs, is highly subjective and multifaceted. With this work group, the photographer used a more evocative approach to convey the complex and moribund political situation in Berlin.

Here Schmidt eschewed a documentary approach in favour of unexpected pictorial sequences that express the dystopian attitude of a generation living before the fall of the Wall. Schmidt creates a picture of a world marked by fragmentation and discontinuity which remains open to interpretation. The photographs in the artist’s book are interwoven with a text by theatre director and writer Einar Schleef, which offers a very personal and uncompromising take on the fragility of human existence.

The project, funded with public money as part of the celebrations marking Berlin’s 750th anniversary, was first shown in the Berlinische Galerie at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in the immediate vicinity of the Wall. When the Waffenruhe series was included in a group exhibition at MoMA in New York, in 1988, it brought Schmidt immediate international notoriety.

 

Portraits, 1987-1994
Natur (Nature), 1987-1997
89/90, 1989-1990
Architektur (Architecture), 1989-1991

In between his major series, Michael Schmidt created work of more modest scope, which afforded him more artistic freedom and enabled him to hone his photographic method and pictorial language. The works that followed Waffenruhe (Ceasefire) are characterised by their tight framing, shallow depth of field and formats that were unusually large for the time. In them Schmidt focused increasingly on architecture and portraiture, unrestrained by any concern for intelligibility. Motifs became detached from their urban or personal contexts, functioning as emblems of metropolitan life, history and society. The series Architektur (Architecture) and Portraits are distinguished by the presence and materiality of their objects and the immediacy of encounter.

In 1989, Schmidt turned his attention to his native city for one last time, recording visual traces of German unification. He found many of his motifs in what used to be the border zone between the wall and no man’s land. This work, entitled 89/90, was not published until 2010.

Similarly, the photos he was taking around the same time of the rural landscape near his second home in Lower Saxony were not published until much later, when he assembled them in the artist book Nature shortly before his death. The book testifies to the importance he attached to landscape during this part of his life.

 

Ein-heit (U-ni-ty), 1989-1994

This series, which took shape during reunification, is concerned with history and the universal symbolism of the dominant social systems in Germany since 1933: National Socialism, Socialism and Democracy. This is the context for the photographer’s examination of the individual’s essential role in society and the stand they choose to take.

For Schmidt, a published image was an integral part of objective reality and no less worthy of being photographed than, say, a person or a building. In Ein-heit/U-ni-ty, he took this approach further. His photographs of photographs, which account for roughly one third of this series, comprise severely cropped and occasionally inverted photographs together with straightforward renderings of existing photographic material, which he typically combined with his own photographs. In so doing, Schmidt reformulates the content of the original photographs for his own purposes, depriving them of their unambiguousness and added further layers of possible meaning. He also used the technique of repeating and varying motifs he had deployed in some of his early works. Arranged in this way, the photographs form the grammar of a unique visual idiom, one that is challenging for viewers, but rich in associations. Ein-heit/U-ni-ty premiered in 1996 at MoMA in New York, where it was the first solo exhibition devoted to a German photographer for several decades.

 

Frauen (Women), 1997-1999

In the late 1990s, Michael Schmidt embarked on a series of portraits of young men and women. He eventually focused on women from the younger generation, shooting portraits and photographs of their bodies, both fully dressed and in the nude. In Schmidt’s view, these young women’s own sense of self-worth was increasingly reflected in their relationship to their own bodies. His photographs examined how a sense of individuality was being affected by socially mediated norms and ideals. The phenomenon made itself felt in a wide range of spheres, from the choice of outer garments and underwear to the stylisation of the body, even the private parts. He reveals the traces left by this growing imposition of uniformity on physical appearance in the form of posture and bearing, scars and lesions.

Schmidt interpreted these phenomena as the formative collective experience of an entire generation, as was evident in his exhibitions of the Frauen group of works. He presented the works as a block or tableau, emphasising what this age group had in common instead of the individual. Closer inspection reveals that this group of works added another facet to the photographer’s preoccupation with the role of the individual in society.

In 2000, Schmidt published the Frauen series in an eponymous artist’s book. At the 6th Berlin Biennale in 2010, he showed extracts in the form of full-page ads in a national newspaper and as posters in public spaces.

 

Irgendwo (Somewhere), 2001-2004
Lebensmittel (Foodstuff), 2006-2010

Following Germany’s reunification, Michael Schmidt never photographed Berlin again. Instead, he developed an interest in provincial scenes, as these were in his view both interchangeable and conducive to a sense of identity. Having acquired a caravan, he and his wife set off on tours across Germany – sixteen in all. He published the resulting images in an artist’s book entitled Irgendwo (Somewhere). They were exhibited outside Germany’s big cities. The experiences he gained on these trips and his increasing interest in eating and drinking, mirroring that of German society as a whole, led to a series entitled Lebensmittel (Foodstuff). For this, Schmidt carried out research in Germany, Norway, the Netherlands, Austria, Italy and Spain, where he visited sausage, pasta and cheese factories, fish farms, fruit and vegetable farms, fattening farms and abattoirs, green houses, olive plantations, insect farms and food processing plants.

In Lebensmittel (Foodstuff), Michael Schmidt used colour for the first time in his work, in addition to his customary black and white. The pictures are untitled and make no reference to location, making it impossible to pin them down geographically. Schmidt developed further the method he first used in Ein-heit/U-ni-ty, creating unsettling works that sometimes fuse two different halves or contain repeated images or shapes, or else variations of motifs. The result undermines belief in the documentary power of photography and the universal validity of the isolated shot.

Often it remains unclear what foodstuff is actually being presented. Both failsafe identification and seasonality have become things of the past, with production now oriented towards standardisation, alienation and globalisation rather than individuality, transparency and regional context. Schmidt critiques the excesses of an economic system that is notorious for its wastefulness. Today’s crises make it clear that we have arrived at the limits of agricultural growth. Schmidt’s photographs reflect this fact and the loss of confidence in the idea of permanent growth.

For this series, he was awarded the prestigious Prix Pictet only a few days before his death in 2014.

 

Waffenruhe (Ceasefire), 1985-1987

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Untitled' from 'Waffenruhe' (Ceasefire) 1985-87

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Untitled from Waffenruhe (Ceasefire)
1985-87
Silver gelatin print
90 x 69.6cm
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

 

Waffenruhe (Ceasefire) (1985-87), inaugurated the second act of Schmidt’s career. It remains his masterpiece, and one of the most intoxicating photographic projects of the late-20th century. Laying aside the realism of his first two decades, Schmidt instead shot voraciously without quarter, before embarking on an intensive process of editing and ordering. The final works were then exhibited like a continuous reel, a sequence whose parts combine in the mind to construct a place, an atmosphere and narratives. …

This is the Berlin of Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire, except without that film’s passage to hope. Schmidt’s greyscale world never erupts into technicolour. It is difficult to imagine a future for these anxious youths, whose lives are encircled by an evil empire on the cusp of dissolution. The Berlin Wall appears on the verge of subsiding. Vegetation grows unbidden, new life to replace the old. Schmidt turns his camera on the city’s insignificant minutiae, a shadowy realm between the sights and, in doing so, captures its liminality.

Text from Joe Lloyd. “Michael Schmidt Retrospective: Photographs 1965-2014,” on the Studio International website 12/10/202 [Online] Cited 12/08/2021

 

“This is the strength of Michael Schmidt’s work. An ability to transcend the present – its present – and to fragment it in order to better represent it. Creations with shallow backgrounds, which play with nuances and break free from simple black and white to offer a shade of grey, evoking the rainy sky of Berlin. A true love letter, tortured, raw, deep and complex, to the city where it was born, grew and disappeared.”

Lou Tsatsas. “Michael Schmidt décompose Berlin au Jeu de Paume,” on the Fisheye Magazine website June 2021 [Online] Cited 12/08/2021

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Untitled' from 'Waffenruhe' (Ceasefire) 1985-87

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Untitled from Waffenruhe (Ceasefire)
1985-87
Silver gelatin print
90 x 69.6cm
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

 

With “Waffenruhe” from 1985-87, Schmidt moved away from the documentary and found a new photographic language. He blocked the viewer’s view of the subject – here with a black line – and made the visual obstacle itself the motif. Schmidt continued to take photos in Berlin, only that his photographs increasingly irritated the view of the city.

Google translated from Michael Schmidt. “So fühlte sich das Leben in Berlin an,” on the Zeit Online website 17 October 2020 [Online] Cited 12/08/2021.

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Untitled' from 'Waffenruhe' (Ceasefire) 1985-87

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Untitled from Waffenruhe (Ceasefire)
1985-87
Silver gelatin print
90 x 69.6cm
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

 

Schmidt also revised the imagery of his portraits in the “Ceasefire” series: the surroundings disappear, and the direct expression of the sitter takes its place. The blurring reinforces the impression that this is a spontaneous snapshot.

Google translated from Anonymous. “Michael Schmidt. So fühlte sich das Leben in Berlin an,” on the Zeit Online website 17 October 2020 [Online] Cited 12/08/2021.

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Untitled' from 'Waffenruhe' (Ceasefire) 1985-87

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Untitled from Waffenruhe (Ceasefire)
1985-87
Silver gelatin print
90 x 69.6cm
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

 

Schmidt increasingly photographed surfaces and materials such as the many graffiti that have long characterised Berlin’s aesthetics. He was interested in how people and time inscribe themselves on it.

Google translated from Anonymous. “Michael Schmidt. So fühlte sich das Leben in Berlin an,” on the Zeit Online website 17 October 2020 [Online] Cited 12/08/2021.

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Untitled' from 'Waffenruhe' (Ceasefire) 1985-87

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Untitled from Waffenruhe (Ceasefire)
1985-87
Silver gelatin print
90 x 69.6cm
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Untitled' from 'Waffenruhe' (Ceasefire) 1985-87

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Untitled from Waffenruhe (Ceasefire)
1985-87
Silver gelatin print
90 x 69.6cm
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

 

“Through Schmidt’s dramatic perspective and keen eye for telling details and subtle nuances, he creates an air of inconsolable emptiness in his images of the Wall and those affected by it. These photographs will leave you speechless.”

.
Martin Parr. The Photobook: A History Volume 2 2006

 

 

In the following decades, his approach became more impressionistic. He would shoot thousands of frames for each project without thinking too much about the end result, which would emerge later out of rigorous editing. Increasingly, he was drawn to series over single images, atmosphere over documentary representation. The Berlin that emerges out of Waffenruhe is a darkly atmospheric place, where nothing is quite what it seems and everything – a bandaged tree, a bank of earth beneath a wall, a stuffed toy criss-crossed by barbed wire – is loaded with ominous suggestion. The Wall is a looming presence, but there are images that evoke an altogether more intimate kind of dislocation, not least the stark portraits of Schmidt’s sad-looking daughter – in one, she has a bandaged wrist.

Sean O’Hagan. “Michael Schmidt obituary,” on the Guardian website 29 May, 2014 [Online] Cited 12/08/2021

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Untitled' from 'Waffenruhe' (Ceasefire) 1985-87

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Untitled from Waffenruhe (Ceasefire)
1985-87
Silver gelatin print
90 x 69.6cm
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Untitled' from 'Waffenruhe' (Ceasefire) 1985-87

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Untitled from Waffenruhe (Ceasefire)
1985-87
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Untitled' from 'Waffenruhe' (Ceasefire) 1985-87

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Untitled from Waffenruhe (Ceasefire)
1985-87
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Untitled' from 'Waffenruhe' (Ceasefire) 1985-87

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Untitled from Waffenruhe (Ceasefire)
1985-87
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Untitled' from 'Waffenruhe' (Ceasefire) 1985-87

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Untitled from Waffenruhe (Ceasefire)
1985-87
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Untitled' from 'Waffenruhe' (Ceasefire) 1985-87

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Untitled from Waffenruhe (Ceasefire)
1985-87
Silver gelatin print
90 x 69.6cm
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

 

Waffenruhe swerved any explicit documentation of West Berlin’s political stasis for haunting photographs of its dilapidated buildings, unkempt nature, a defaced Swastika, the inside of a watchtower, cityscapes obscured by shadowy figures, and portraits of disillusioned young people. While the wall is occasionally present, its presence is unwavering. Waffenruhe was a collaboration with Einar Schleef, a playwright and theatre director who left East for West Germany in 1976. For his part, Schleef penned the inner thoughts of a divorced man living with his estranged daughter’s rabbit in the now-empty family house. As historian and fellow photographer Janos Frecot writes in the book’s closing pages: “The text itself does not simply tell a story, but instead narrates a finding, a wounding, a consciousness of a dully nagging pain in an apparent stillness: Berlin 1987.” Structured as one long-running paragraph, Schleef’s text cuts through the book’s centre, like the wall itself. The lack of white space around the text is oppressive, almost suffocating.

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Untitled' from 'Waffenruhe' (Ceasefire) 1985-87

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Untitled from Waffenruhe (Ceasefire)
1985-87
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Untitled' from 'Waffenruhe' (Ceasefire) 1985-87

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Untitled from Waffenruhe (Ceasefire)
1985-87
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Portraits 1987-1994

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'No title, Portraits' (Portraits) 1987-1994

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
No title, Portraits (Portraits)
1987-1994
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

 

Schmidt’s portraits from the 1980s are reminiscent of private photos. Their meaning does not arise from complex picture contexts, but from the direct expression, the presence of the portrayed and the associations of the viewers.

Google translated from Anonymous. “Michael Schmidt. So fühlte sich das Leben in Berlin an,” on the Zeit Online website 17 October 2020 [Online] Cited 12/08/2021.

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'No title, Portraits' (Portraits) 1989

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
No title, Portraits (Portraits)
1989
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Architektur 1989-1991

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'No title, Architektur' (Architecture) 1989-1991

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
No title, Architektur (Architecture)
1989-1991
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Ein-heit (Uni-ty) 1991-94

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'No title, Ein-heit' (Uni-ty) 1991-94

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
No title, Ein-heit (Uni-ty)
1991-94
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

 

For U-nit-y, made between 1991 and 1994, Schmidt turned his eye on his newly reunited city, this time using found images from newspapers, magazines and propaganda material from Nazi and communist pamphlets alongside his own photographs. The end result is a highly personal evocation of a reborn city still haunted by unresolved issues from the recent past and a collective anxiety about the future. His images evoke both the weight of history and the pulse of the everyday, summoning up a Berlin of the imagination that is both solid and dreamlike.

Sean O’Hagan. “Michael Schmidt obituary,” on the Guardian website 29 May, 2014 [Online] Cited 12/08/2021

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'No title, Ein-heit (Uni-ty)' 1991-94

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
No title, Ein-heit (Uni-ty)
1991-94
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'No title, Ein-heit (Uni-ty)' 1991-94

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
No title, Ein-heit (Uni-ty)
1991-94
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

 

Although unforeseen at the time, two years after Waffenruhe was published, the Berlin Wall was torn down. For Schmidt’s next book, he explored East and West Germany’s reunification in Ein-heit (or U-Ni-Ty) – signalled to in its split title. The country was beginning to heal from its deep and bloody ideological divisions, five decades after the Nazis took power in 1933. Ein-heit, made between 1991 and 1994, surveyed the relationship between the individual and the state, and the grappling of national identity. For the first time in his career, Schmidt moved beyond Berlin and reckoned with Germany’s past and present through found and new photography (around half of the Ein-heit‘s 163 images were repurposed from old newspapers, propaganda materials, and magazine clippings).

Ashleigh Kane. “Why Michael Schmidt is the perfect photographer for our dystopia,” on the Highsnobiety website February 2021 [Online] Cited 12/08/2021

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'No title, Ein-heit (Uni-ty)' 1991-94

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
No title, Ein-heit (Uni-ty)
1991-94
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'No title, Ein-heit (Uni-ty)' 1991-94

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
No title, Ein-heit (Uni-ty)
1991-94
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'No title, Ein-heit (Uni-ty)' 1991-94

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
No title, Ein-heit (Uni-ty)
1991-94
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'No title, Ein-heit (Uni-ty)' 1991-94

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
No title, Ein-heit (Uni-ty)
1991-94
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

 

Biography

1945

Born in Berlin-Kreuzberg on 6 October.

1950

His family moves several times between West Berlin and Erkner, which is near East Berlin.

1963

Joins the West Berlin riot police.

1965

Starts taking photographs.

1969

Teaches a photography course at the Volkshochschule Kreuzberg, a local adult education centre.

1970

Teaches photography courses at adult education centres, with an emphasis on encouraging personal expression in his students.

1973

Leaves the police force and starts working as a freelance photographer while continuing to teach at various adult education centres. His exhibition Kreuzberger Motive is organised by the Berlin Museum and the Bezirksamt Kreuzberg (district office). His book Berlin Kreuzberg is published.

1974

He organises the exhibition Ausländische Mitbürger (Foreign Fellow Citizens in Kreuzberg), which features his own work together with photographs submitted by Kreuzberg residents from migrant backgrounds. Commission for a book on his hometown, which is published in 1978 under the title Berlin. Stadlandschaft und Menschen (Berlin. Urban Landscape and People).

1975

Exhibits his series Senioren in Berlin (Senior Citizens in Berlin), commissioned by the Berlin Senate, in a U-Bahn station. Develops the concept for his Werkstatt für Photographie (Photography Workshop) in West Berlin. He is assigned by the Senate to photograph Die berufstätige Frau in Kreuzberg (The Working Woman in Kreuzberg), which is exhibited at the Rathaus Kreuzberg.

1976

Stops working in the field of applied photography in order to focus on his own photographic projects. Opens the Werkstatt für Photographie at the adult education centre in Kreuzberg, taking over artistic and organisational management. With its intensive programme of exhibitions, workshops and specialised courses, the Werkstatt achieves international renown. It would host the first solo exhibitions in Germany, and in some cases Europe, of American photographers like Robert Adams, Diane Arbus, Lewis Baltz, Larry Clark, William Eggleston and John Gossage.

1977

Quits as director of the Werkstatt für Photographie, but continues to teach and give advice there.

1978

His series Berlin-Wedding is shown at the Rathaus Wedding, in conjunction with the release of his book Berlin-Wedding. 1979 Teaches courses in documentary photography at the University of Essen. 1980 He applies to the Senate to photograph people with disabilities and is accepted. The series is published in a small book titled Benachteiligt (Disadvantaged). Photographs post-war architecture in the area around Anhalterbahnhof, West Berlin, which suffered massive destruction in the war. The topic would be the focus of the Internationale Bauausstellung (International Building Exposition) in 1984. Berlin nach 45 would not be published until 2005.

1981

Stops his activities at the Werkstatt für Photographie, which closes in 1986.

1984

Receives the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach – Foundation Grant for Contemporary Photography.

1985-88

Teaches at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste (Academy of Fine Arts), Berlin.

1987

His book Waffenruhe (Ceasefire), a collaboration with theatre director and writer Einar Schleef, is published and the work group is exhibited at Martin-Gropius-Bau as part of the 750th anniversary celebrations of Berlin.

1988

Waffenruhe is shown as part of the group exhibition New Photography 4 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

1989

He starts working on a project, in which he examines the repercussions of reunification and which he later titled Ein-heit/U-ni-ty.

1995

First retrospective of his photographic career at the Museum Folkwang, Essen. He uses the exhibition to go through his archive spanning his life’s work and selecting works that are of particular importance to him. In the future, he returns regularly to his archive in order to generate new works.

1996

Ein-heit/U-ni-ty is exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and published as an artist’s book. It is the first solo exhibition of a German photographer at MoMA for several decades.

1999

Appointed to the Akademie der Künste (Academy of Arts), Berlin. He co-founds the Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive.

2000

Publishes his portrait series Frauen (Women).

2005

Exhibits and publishes Irgendwo (Somewhere), which he photographed on 16 trips across Germany examining the relevance of the provinces.

2006

Takes part in the 5th Berlin Biennale and shows Ein-heit at Kunst-Werke, Berlin.

2010

Is invited to participate in the 6th Berlin Biennale and shows Frauen in public and in the media in the form of placards and full-page advertisements. Major exhibition Grau als Farbe. Fotografien bis 2009 (Grey as colour. Photographs until 2009) at the Haus der Kunst, Munich.

2013

Exhibits Lebensmittel as part of the main exhibition Il Palazzo Enciclopedico at the Venice Biennale. After returning to Berlin, he is diagnosed with cancer. While receiving treatment he edits and designs the artist’s book Natur (Nature).

2014

Wins the Fifth Prix Pictet Award, the prestigious international award for photography and sustainability. Michael Schmidt dies on 24 May in Berlin.

 

 

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12
Feb
17

Exhibitions: ‘The Rebellious Image: Kreuzberg’s “Werkstatt für Photographie” and the Young Folkwang Scene in the 1980s’ at Museum Folkwang Essen / ‘Kreuzberg – Amerika: Die Berliner Werkstatt für Photographie 1976-86’ at C/O Berlin, Germany

Museum Folkwang Essen exhibition dates: 9th December 2016 – 19th February 2017
C/O Berlin exhibition dates: 10th December 2016 – 12th February 2017

 

It’s so good to see these essential, vital, rebellious images from Germany as a counterpoint and “additional chapter to the history of West German photography of the time beyond that of the Düsseldorf School,” ie. the New Objectivity of Bernd and Hilla Becher with their austere “images of the water towers, oil refineries and silos of the fast-disappearing industrial landscape of the Ruhr valley.”

“A special artistic approach emerged from a dialog between renowned photographers and amateurs, between conceptual approaches and documentary narrations, between technical mediation and substantive critique and altered the styles of many photographers over time thanks to its direct access to their reality.”

I love the rawness and directness of these images. They speak to me through their colour, high contrast, frontality and narrative. A conversation in art and life from people around the world.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to Museum Folkwang Essen and C/O Berlin for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All photographs from The Rebellious Image exhibition unless it states differently underneath the photograph.

 

 

Uschi Blume. From the series 'Worauf wartest Du?' (What are you waiting for?) 1980

 

Uschi Blume
From the series Worauf wartest Du? (What are you waiting for?)
1980
Silver gelatine print
27.3 x 40.3 cm
Museum Folkwang, Essen
© Uschi Blume

 

Michael Schmidt. 'Untitled', from 'Portrait' 1983

 

Michael Schmidt
Untitled, from the series Portrait
1983
© Stiftung für Fotografie und Medienkunst, Archiv Michael Schmidt

From the exhibition at C/O Berlin Kreuzberg – Amerika
Die Berliner Werkstatt für Photographie 1976-86
10th December 2016 – 12th February 2017

 

C/O Berlin Kreuzberg America

 

Michael Schmidt. 'Menschenbilder Ausschnite' 1983/97

 

Michael Schmidt
Menschenbilder Ausschnite
1983/97
© Stiftung für Fotografie und Medienkunst, Archiv Michael Schmidt

From the exhibition at C/O Berlin Kreuzberg – Amerika
Die Berliner Werkstatt für Photographie 1976-86
10th December 2016 – 12th February 2017

 

Larry Fink. 'Peter Beard and friends' 1976

 

Larry Fink
Peter Beard and friends
1976
From the series Black Tie
Gelatin silver print
35.8 x 36.4 cm
© Larry Fink

 

Ursula Kelm. 'Self portrait 4' 1983

 

Ursula Kelm
Self portrait 4
1983
© Ursula Kelm

From the exhibition at C/O Berlin Kreuzberg – Amerika
Die Berliner Werkstatt für Photographie 1976-86
10th December 2016 – 12th February 2017

 

Wolfgang Eilmes. From the series 'Kreuzberg' 1979

 

Wolfgang Eilmes
From the series Kreuzberg
1979
© Wolfgang Eilmes

From the exhibition at C/O Berlin Kreuzberg – Amerika
Die Berliner Werkstatt für Photographie 1976-86
10th December 2016 – 12th February 2017

 

Wilmar Koenig. 'Untitled', from the series 'Portraits', 1981-1983

 

Wilmar Koenig
Untitled, from the series Portraits, 1981-1983
© Wilmar Koenig

From the exhibition at C/O Berlin Kreuzberg – Amerika
Die Berliner Werkstatt für Photographie 1976-86
10th December 2016 – 12th February 2017

 

Michael Schmidt. 'Müller-/Ecke Seestraße' 1976-1978

 

Michael Schmidt
Müller-/Ecke Seestraße
1976-1978
from the series Berlin-Wedding
1979
© Foundation for Photography and Media Art with Archive Michael Schmidt

From the exhibition at C/O Berlin Kreuzberg – Amerika
Die Berliner Werkstatt für Photographie 1976-86
10th December 2016 – 12th February 2017

 

Petra Wittmar From the series 'Medebach' 1979-83

 

Petra Wittmar
From the series Medebach
1979-83
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the artist
© Petra Wittmar

 

Wendelin Bottländer. 'Untitled' 1980

 

Wendelin Bottländer
Untitled
1980
From the series Stadtlandschaften (City landscapes)
C-Print
24 x 30.2 cm
Courtesy of the artist
© Wendelin Bottländer

 

Andreas Horlitz. 'Essen Frühling' (Essen Spring) 1981

 

Andreas Horlitz
Essen Frühling (Essen Spring)
1981
© Andreas Horlitz

 

 

The exhibition The Rebellious Image (December 9, 2016 – February 19, 2017) – part of the three-part collaborative project Werkstatt für Photographie 1976-1986 , held in association with C/O Berlin and Sprengel Museum Hannover – sheds light on this period of upheaval and generational change within German photography, focusing on the photography scene in Essen.

Towards the end of the 1970s, two developments took place in Essen: the first was a revolt, a search for a new path, for a ‘free’ form of artistic photography beyond the confines of photojournalism and commercial photography; the second was the institutionalisation of photography which occurred with the foundation of the Museum Folkwang’s Photographic Collection. Some 300 photographs and a range of filmic statements and documentary material help to bring this era of change and flux in the medium of photography back to life: showing the evolution of new visual languages which – in contrast to the Düsseldorf School’s aesthetics of distance ‘ placed an emphasis on colour, soft-focus blurring and fragmentation.

The show sets out from the climate of uncertainty that developed in the wake of the death of Otto Steinert in 1978, who, as a photographer, teacher and curator, had been particularly influential in Essen in the field of photojournalism. In the area of teaching, photographic design began to come to the fore, while with the founding of the Photographic Collection at Museum Folkwang under Ute Eskildsen, the institutionalisation of artistic photography began. Young students – among them, Gosbert Adler, Joachim Brohm, Uschi Blume, Andreas Horlitz and Petra Wittmar – developed a form of photography that was divorced from typical clichés and commercial utility. The impulse behind this development was provided by the Berlin-based photographer Michael Schmidt. In 1979 and 1980, he taught in Essen and fostered a close dialogue with the Berlin and American scenes.

Over seven chapters, The Rebellious Image traces the development of photography in the 1980s in Germany: the show presents the early alternative exhibitions of these young photographers and provides an insight into the formative projects of the first recipients of the Stipendium Für Zeitgenössische Deutsche Fotografie (German Contemporary Photography Award) awarded by the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach-Stiftung. It shows how these young photographic artists refined topographic and documentary photography through their work with colour and their deliberate adoption of the anti-aesthetics of amateur photography. The Rebellious Image reflects on the debates and themes of the exhibition Reste Des Authentischen: Deutsche Fotobilder der 80er Jahre (The Remains of Authenticity: German Photography in the 80s). The largest and most ambitious photographic exhibition of this era, it took place in 1986 at the Museum Folkwang. This exhibition brought together representatives of the Berlin Werkstatt für Photographie, graduates of the Essen School and artists from the Rhineland who were united by their postmodern conception of reality. As such, The Rebellious Image presents a different, subjective perspective, which developed parallel to the objectivising style of the Düsseldorf School and their aesthetic of the large-format images.

The exhibition brings together important and rarely exhibited groups of works by former students in Essen such as Gosbert Adler, Volker Heinze, Joachim Brohm, Uschi Blume, Andreas Horlitz and Petra Wittmar. References to the American photography of the time – such as Stephen Shore, Larry Fink, Diane Arbus, Larry Clark or William Eggleston – make the preoccupations of this young scene apparent. In addition, with works by Michael Schmidt, Christa Mayer and Wilmar Koenig, members of the Berlin Werkstatt für Photographie are also represented.”

Press release from Museum Folkwang Essen

 

C/O Berlin is presenting the exhibition Kreuzberg – Amerika from December 10th, 2016 to February 12th, 2017.  The exhibition is part of the project about the Werkstatt für Photographie 1976-1986, in which C/O Berlin, the Museum Folkwang Essen and the Sprengel Museum Hannover are presenting the history, influences and effects of the legendary Berlin-based photographic institute and its key players in an intercity cooperation.

“We try to help students to recognise or even find their personality, where photography becomes irrelevant with regard to its commercial applicability.” – Michael Schmidt, 1979

Starting in the 1970s, a unique departure in photography took place in Germany. A younger generation in various initiatives quickly established a new infrastructure for a different perspective on photography and consciously defined the medium as an independent art form – to this very day. The Werkstatt für Photographie (Workshop for Photography), founded in Berlin by Michael Schmidt in 1976, is one of these innovative models and as an institution was completely unique. That’s because it offered an openly accessible cultural production and intensified adult education beyond academic hurdles and without access limitations. A special artistic approach emerged from the unconventional dialog between renowned photographers and amateurs, between technical mediation and substantive critique as well as on the basis of documentary approaches. Its special access to reality defined styles for a long time. The Werkstatt für Photographie reached the international level through exhibitions, workshops and courses and established itself as an important location for the transatlantic photographic dialog between Kreuzberg, Germany and America. A unique and pioneering achievement!

In the beginning of the Werkstatt für Photographie, a strict documentary perspective prevailed that was based on the neutral aesthetic of the work of Michael Schmidt and concentrated on the blunt representation of everyday life and reality in a radical denial of common photographic norms. He and the young photographer scene later experimented with new forms of documentary that emphasised the subjective view of the author. They discovered colour as an artistic form of expression and developed an independent, artistic authorship with largely unconventional perspectives.

The Werkstatt für Photographie offered anyone who was interested a free space to develop their artistic talents. In addition to its open, international and communicative character, it was also a successful model for self-empowerment that at the same time was characterised by paradoxes. That‘s because the vocational school set in the local community developed into a lively international network of contemporary photographers. The students were not trained photographers but rather self-taught artists and as such had a freer understanding of the medium than their professional counterparts. Moreover, the majority of teachers had no educational training but were all active in the context of adult education. At that time, there were also no curators for photography in Germany but the Werkstatt für Photographie were already independently hosting exhibitions alternating between unknown and renowned photographers…

On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Werkstatt für Photographie, C/O Berlin, the Museum Folkwang Essen and the Sprengel Museum Hannover are presenting a joint exhibition project, which for the first time portrays the history, influences and effects of this institution and its key players divided between three stages. Furthermore, the three stages outline the situation of a changing medium, which focuses on independent, artistic authorship encouraged by consciousness of American photography. As such, they’re designing a lively and multi-perspective presentation of photography in the 1970s and 1980s that adds an additional chapter to the history of West German photography of the time beyond that of the Düsseldorf School.

Text from the C/O Berlin website

 

 

 

 

 

 

Andreas Gursky. 'Düsseldorf, Terrace' 1980

 

Andreas Gursky
Düsseldorf, Terrace
1980
C-Print
43.2 x 49.4 cm
© Andreas Gursky, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017
Courtesy of the artist + Sprüth Magers

 

Joachim Brohm. 'Revierpark Nienhausen, Gelsenkirchen' (Parking area Nienhausen, Gelsenkirchen) 1982

 

Joachim Brohm
Revierpark Nienhausen, Gelsenkirchen
Parking area Nienhausen, Gelsenkirchen
1982
From the series Ruhr, 1980-83
C-Print
22.2 x 27.2 cm
© Joachim Brohm
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017

 

 

Reining in the picture
Joachim Brohm

Born in Dülken, Brohm studied at the Gesamthochschule, Essen and was one of the few photographers who used colour photography in the late 1970s. In his series Ruhr he tries to create a new view of the Ruhr area through the occasional recording of urban space. Brohm’s approach coincides with the claim of the then current “New Topographics” to capture the social reality in the direct environment in a documentary style. In the German-speaking photo landscape here he took a leading role.

 

Larry Fink New. 'York Magazine Party, New York City, October 1977'

 

Larry Fink
New York Magazine Party, New York City, October 1977
1977
From the series Social Graces
1984 © Larry Fink

From the exhibition at C/O Berlin Kreuzberg – Amerika
Die Berliner Werkstatt für Photographie 1976-86
10th December 2016 – 12th February 2017

 

William Eggleston. 'Whitehaven, Mississippi' 1972

 

William Eggleston
Whitehaven, Mississippi
1972
© William Eggleston, Courtesy Laurence Miller Gallery, New York

From the exhibition at C/O Berlin Kreuzberg – Amerika
Die Berliner Werkstatt für Photographie 1976-86
10th December 2016 – 12th February 2017

 

Gosbert Adler from the series 'Ohne Titel' 1982-83

 

Gosbert Adler
from the series Ohne Titel
1982-83
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016

 

William Eggleston. 'Memphis' 1970

 

William Eggleston
Memphis
1970
Dye-Transfer
33.5 x 51.5 cm
© Eggleston Artistic Trust, Memphis

 

Wilmar Koenig. 'Floating Chair' 1984

 

Wilmar Koenig
Floating Chair
1984
From the series Die Wege (The Ways)
C-Print
162 x 126.8 cm
Courtesy Berlinische Galerie, Berlin
© Wilmar Koenig

 

 

“The working-class district of Kreuzberg at the end of the 1970s on the outer edge of West Berlin – and yet the lively center of a unique transatlantic cultural exchange. In the midst of the Cold War, the newly founded Werkstatt für Photographie (Workshop for Photography) located near Checkpoint Charlie started an artistic “air lift” in the direction of the USA, a democratic field of experimentation beyond traditional education and political and institutional standards. A special artistic approach emerged from a dialog between renowned photographers and amateurs, between conceptual approaches and documentary narrations, between technical mediation and substantive critique and altered the styles of many photographers over time thanks to its direct access to their reality. The Werkstatt für Photographie reached the highest international standing with its intensive mediation work through exhibitions, workshops, lectures, image reviews, discussions and specialized courses.

In 1976, the Berlin-based photographer Michael Schmidt founded the Werkstatt für Photographie at the adult education center in Kreuzberg. Its course orientation with a focus on a substantive examination of contemporary photography was unique and quickly lead to a profound understanding of the medium as an independent art form. When the institution was closed in 1986, it fell into obscurity.

On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Werkstatt für Photographie, C/O Berlin, the Museum Folkwang Essen and the Sprengel Museum Hannover are presenting a joint exhibition project, which for the first time portrays the history, influences and effects of this institution and its key players divided between three stages. Furthermore, the three stages outline the situation of a changing medium, which focuses on independent, artistic authorship encouraged by consciousness of American photography. As such, they’re designing a lively and multi-perspective presentation of photography in the 1970s and 1980s that adds an additional chapter to the history of West German photography of the time beyond that of the Düsseldorf School.

C/O Berlin is addressing the history of the Werkstatt für Photographie in its contribution entitled Kreuzberg – Amerika (December 10, 2016 – February 12, 2017). Within the context of adult education, a unique forum for contemporary photography emerged. A special focus is placed on the exhibitions of the American photographers that were often presented in the workshop for the first time and had an enormous effect on the development of artistic photography in Germany. The exhibition combines the works of faculty, students and guests into a transatlantic dialogue.

The Museum Folkwang in Essen is exploring the reflection of the general change of those years in its own Folkwang history with its work entitled The Rebellious Image (December 9, 2016 – February 19, 2017). After the death of the influential photography teacher Otto Steinerts in 1978, a completely open and productive situation of uncertainty reigned. Essen became more and more of a bridgehead for the exchange with Berlin and a point of crystallization for early contemporary photography in the Federal Republic. Along with Michael Schmidt, who made provocative points during his time as a lecturer at the GHS Essen, Ute Eskildsen counted among the key players at Museum Folkwang as a curator. Early photography based in Essen addressed urbanity and youth culture, discovered color as a mode of artistic expression, asked questions following new documentarian approaches, authentic images and attitudes and contrasted the objective distance of the Düsseldorf School with a research-based and subjective view.

The Sprengel Museum Hannover complements both exhibitions with a perspective in which the focus rests on publications, institutions and exhibitions that encouraged the transatlantic exchange starting in the mid 1960s. Using outstanding examples And Suddenly this Expanse (December 11, 2016 – March 19, 2017) tells of the development of the infrastructure that laid the foundation for and accompanied the context of the documentarian approach. The photo magazine Camera also takes on an equally central role as the founding of the first German photo galleries such as Galerie Wilde in Cologne, Lichttropfen in Aachen, Galerie Nagel in Berlin and the Spectrum Photogalerie initiative in Hanover. The documenta 6 from 1977 and the photo magazines that emerged in the 1970s, particularly Camera Austria, have separate chapters devoted to them.

Werkstatt für Photographie 1976 – 1986
A cooperation between C/O Berlin, Museum Folkwang, Essen, and Sprengel Museum Hannover

Sprengel Museum Hannover
And Suddenly this Expanse
December 11, 2016 – March 19, 2017
www.sprengel-museum.de

C/O Berlin
Kreuzberg – Amerika
Werkstatt für Photographie 1976-86
December 10, 2016 – February 12, 2017
www.co-berlin.org

Text from the Museum Folkwang Essen website

 

Larry Clark. 'Untitled' 1971

 

Larry Clark
Untitled
1971
From the series Tulsa
Silver gelatin print
© Larry Clark, Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York

From the exhibition at  C/O Berlin Kreuzberg – Amerika
Die Berliner Werkstatt für Photographie 1976-86
10th Dezember 2016 – 12th February 2017

 

'Camera Nr. 8, August 1970' 1970

 

Camera Nr. 8, August 1970
1970
C. J. Bucher Verlag Luzern, Schweiz,
Title: John Gossage, Kodak TRI-X
Sprengel Museum Hannover

From the exhibition at Sprengel Museum Hannover And Suddenly this Expanse
December 11, 2016 – March 19, 2017

 

Gosbert Adler. 'Untitled' 1982

 

Gosbert Adler
Untitled
1982
C-Print
38.4 x 29 cm
© Gosbert Adler
© VG-Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017

 

Volker Heinze. 'Bill Eggleston' 1985

 

Volker Heinze
Bill Eggleston
1985
C-Print
85 x 62 cm
© Volker Heinze

 

Christa Mayer. 'Untitled' 1983

 

Christa Mayer
Untitled
1983
From the series Porträts aus einer psychatrischen Langzeitstation/Porträts auf einer Station für psychisch Kranke (Portraits from a long term psychiatric facility)
Gelatin silver print
28.3 x 28.1 cm
© Christa Mayer, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017

From the exhibition at  C/O Berlin Kreuzberg – Amerika
Die Berliner Werkstatt für Photographie 1976-86
10th Dezember 2016 – 12th February 2017

 

 

Museum Folkwang
Museumsplatz 1, 45128 Essen

Opening hours:
Tue, Wed 10am – 6pm
Thur, Fri 10am – 8pm
Sat, Sun 10am – 6pm
Mon closed

Museum Folkwang website

C/O Berlin
Hardenbergstraße 22-24, 10623 Berlin

Opening hours:
Daily 11 am – 8 pm

C/O Berlin website

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09
Dec
16

Exhibition: ‘Lewis Baltz NEVADA’ at Joseph Bellows Gallery, La Jolla, California

Exhibition dates: 15th November – 30th December 2016

 

I love this man’s work. Elegant, formalist, classical photographs of man altered landscapes and their environs.

New Topographics.

From the lineage of Carleton E. Watkins, Timothy O’Sullivan and Eadweard Muybridge in the 19th century through until today, these “modern and postmodern photographic landscapes mark a progressively disquieting understanding of humanity’s relationship to the natural universe.” First there was exploration and documentation, now there is the glare of blown-out skies, broken fluorescent tubes and soulless, tract homes.

The brooding mountain behind Model Home; the evanescent light of Night Construction falling into imperishable darkness; and the twinkling, star studded wall of New Construction, Shadow Mountain. Light-filled space traced onto film producing timeless, twisted dioramas. Landscape as conceptual performance.

Marcus

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

 

 

“In Nevada, Lewis Baltz alternates unbuilt views with home construction, trailer parks, and roads in a documentation of a rapidly changing landscape in the desert valleys surrounding Reno, an area he once described as “landscape-as-real-estate.” Baltz, like Joe Deal and Harold Jones, whose works are on view in this gallery, developed projects as portfolios, believing that a single photograph cannot capture a complete portrait of a place. In Baltz’s series, a multifaceted, occasionally contradictory image of Nevada emerges through the accumulation of photographs.”

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Text from the exhibition America in View: Landscape Photography 1865 to Now

 

“Once continental expansion had reached its limits, however, and no existential threats to white settlement remained, American landscape images began to reflect a new criticality – at turns romantic and realistic – that persists to this day. Indeed, for the last century, landscape photography has consistently mirrored Americans’ anxieties about nature, or rather its imminent loss, whether due to industrialization, pollution, population growth, real estate profiteering, or bioengineering. Alternately portraying nature as a balm for the alienated modern soul or a dystopian fait accompli, modern and postmodern photographic landscapes mark a progressively disquieting understanding of humanity’s relationship to the natural universe.”
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Deborah Bright. Photographing Nature, Seeing Ourselves 2012 in America in View: Landscape Photography 1865 to Now catalogue, p.32

 

 

Lewis Baltz. 'Reno Sparks, Looking South' 1977

 

Lewis Baltz
Reno Sparks, Looking South [1]
1977
Silver gelatin print

 

Lewis Baltz. 'Hidden Valley, Looking South' 1977

 

Lewis Baltz
Hidden Valley, Looking South [2]
1977
Silver gelatin print

 

Lewis Baltz. 'Hidden Vlley, Looking Southeast' 1977

 

Lewis Baltz
Hidden Valley, Looking Southeast [3]
1977
Silver gelatin print

 

Lewis Baltz. 'Fluorescent Tube' 1977

 

Lewis Baltz
Fluorescent Tube [4]
1977
Silver gelatin print

 

Lewis Baltz. 'US 50, East of Carson City' 1977

 

Lewis Baltz
US 50, East of Carson City [5]
1977
Silver gelatin print

 

Lewis Baltz. 'New Construction, Shadow Mountain' 1977

 

Lewis Baltz
New Construction, Shadow Mountain [6]
1977
Silver gelatin print

 

Lewis Baltz. 'Night Construction' 1977

 

Lewis Baltz
Night Construction [7]
1977
Silver gelatin print

 

 

Joseph Bellows Gallery is pleased to announce its upcoming exhibition, NEVADA by the late American photographer, Lewis Baltz (1945-2014). NEVADA will present the entire portfolio of 15 black and white photographs created by Baltz in 1977. The exhibition will open on November 15th and continue through December 30th, 2016.

Nevada is a central work of Baltz’s continued interest in the American West and its changing landscape. The photographs describe the development of the desert region of Nevada, near Reno: construction sites and their artifacts, vistas of newly built tract communities, and the desert environments that surround their imprint are traced with the high-key light of the western sun or glow of artificial light illuminating the darkness of night.

Biography

Lewis Baltz was born in Newport Beach, California in 1945. He received his BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1969 and his MFA from Claremont Graduate School in 1971. That same year he was included in The Crowed Vacancy: Three Los Angeles Photographers, an exhibition that also included Anthony Hernandez and Terry Wild.

Baltz’s photographs of the transforming American landscape defined a central role in 1970’s landscape photography and influenced forthcoming generations of photographic practice. He, along with other notable photographers including Frank Gohkle, Robert Adams, Stephen Shore and John Schott came to prominence through their inclusion in the groundbreaking and influential exhibition, New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-altered Landscape, an exhibition organized at the George Eastman House in 1975.

Baltz’s serial work often took the form of published portfolios relating to a particular landscape theme or geographic location. Portfolios include: The New Industrial Parks Near Irvine, California (1974), Nevada (1978), Park City (1980), San Quentin Point (1985) and Candlestick Point (1989). Baltz received two National Endowment for the Arts grants in 1973 and 1977 and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1977. His photographs have been the subject of over 50 one-person exhibitions and seventeen monographs.

Press release from the Joseph Bellows Gallery

 

Lewis Baltz. 'Model Home, Shadow Mountian' 1977

 

Lewis Baltz
Model Home, Shadow Mountain [8]
1977
Silver gelatin print

 

Lewis Baltz. 'B Street, Sparks' 1977

 

Lewis Baltz
B Street, Sparks [9]
1977
Silver gelatin print

 

Lewis Baltz. 'Lemmon Valley, Looking North' 1977

 

Lewis Baltz
Lemmon Valley, Looking North [11]
1977
Silver gelatin print

 

Lewis Baltz. 'Lemmon Valley, Looking Northeast' 1977

 

Lewis Baltz
Lemmon Valley, Looking Northeast [12]
1977
Silver gelatin print

 

Lewis Baltz. 'Lemmon Valley, Looking Northwest, Toward Stead' 1977

 

Lewis Baltz
Lemmon Valley, Looking Northwest, Toward Stead [13]
1977
Silver gelatin print

 

Lewis Baltz. 'Nevada 33, Looking West' 1977

 

Lewis Baltz
Nevada 33, Looking West [14]
1977
Silver gelatin print

 

Lewis Baltz. 'Mustang Bridge Exit, Interstate 80' 1977

 

Lewis Baltz
Mustang Bridge Exit, Interstate 80 [15]
1977
Silver gelatin print

 

 

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

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

Joseph Bellows Gallery website

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05
Jul
15

Exhibition: ‘In Light of the Past’ at the National Gallery of Art, Washington

Exhibition dates: 3rd May – 26th July 2015

Curators: The curators of In Light of the Past: Celebrating 25 Years of Photography at the National Gallery of Art are Sarah Greenough, senior curator and head of the department of photographs, and Diane Waggoner, associate curator, department of photographs, National Gallery of Art.

 

 

Charles Nègre. 'Market Scene at the Port of the Hotel de Ville, Paris' before February 1852

 

Charles Nègre (French, 1820-1880)
Market Scene at the Port of the Hotel de Ville, Paris
before February 1852
Salted paper print
14.7 x 19.9cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 2003

 

 

What a great title for an exhibition. Photography always evidences light of the past, we live in light of the past (the light of the Sun takes just over 8 minutes to reach Earth) and, for whatever reason, human beings never seem to learn from mistakes, in light of the past history of the human race.

My favourites in this postings are the 19th century photographs, to which I am becoming further attuned the more I look at them. There is almost a point when you become psychologically enmeshed with their light, with the serenity of the images, a quality that most contemporary photographs seem to have lost. There is a quietness to their presence, a contemplation on the nature of the world through the pencil of nature that is captivating. You only have to look at Gustave Le Gray’s The Pont du Carrousel, Paris: View to the West from the Pont des Arts (1856-1858, below) to understand the everlasting, transcendent charisma of these images. Light, space, time, eternity.

Marcus

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

The Collection of Photographs at the National Gallery of Art, Washington (110kb Word doc)

 

 

William Henry Fox Talbot. 'A Scene in York: York Minster from Lop Lane' 1845

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (English, 1800-1877)
A Scene in York: York Minster from Lop Lane
1845
Salted paper print
16.2 x 20.4cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Edward J. Lenkin Fund, Melvin and Thelma Lenkin Fund and Stephen G. Stein Fund, 2011

 

 

A British polymath equally adept in astronomy, chemistry, Egyptology, physics, and philosophy, Talbot spent years inventing a photographic process that created paper negatives, which were then used to make positive prints – the conceptual basis of nearly all photography until the digital age. Calotypes, as he came to call them, are softer in effect than daguerreotypes, the other process announced in 1839. Though steeped in the sciences, Talbot understood the ability of his invention to make striking works of art. Here the partially obstructed view of the cathedral rising from the confines of the city gives a sense of discovery, of having just turned the corner and encountered this scene.

 

Carleton E. Watkins. 'Piwac, Vernal Falls, 300 feet, Yosemite' 1861

 

Carleton E. Watkins (American, 1829-1916)
Piwac, Vernal Falls, 300 feet, Yosemite
1861
Albumen print
39.9 x 52.3cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and David Robinson, 1995

 

 

The westward expansion of America opened up new opportunities for photographers such as Watkins and William Bell. Joining government survey expeditions, hired by railroad companies, or catering to tourists and the growing demand for grand views of nature, they created photographic landscapes that reached a broad audience of scientists, businessmen, and engineers, as well as curious members of the middle class. Watkins’s photographs of the sublime Yosemite Valley, which often recall landscape paintings of similar majestic subjects, helped convince Congress to pass a bill in 1864 protecting the area from development and commercial exploitation.

 

Eugène Cuvelier. 'Belle-Croix' 1860s

 

Eugène Cuvelier (French, 1837-1900)
Belle-Croix
1860s
Albumen print
Image: 25.4 x 34.3cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gail and Benjamin Jacobs for the Millennium Fund, 2007

 

 

In the second half of the nineteenth century, some photographers in France, hired by governmental agencies to make photographic inventories or simply catering to the growing demand for pictures of Paris, drew on the medium’s documentary abilities to record the nation’s architectural patrimony and the modernisation of Paris. Others explored the camera’s artistic potential by capturing the ephemeral moods of nature in the French countryside. Though photographers faced difficulties in carting around heavy equipment and operating in the field, they learned how to master the elements that directly affected their pictures, from securing the right vantage point to dealing with movement, light, and changing atmospheric conditions during long exposure times.

 

Gustave Le Gray. 'The Pont du Carrousel, Paris: View to the West from the Pont des Arts' 1856-1858

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-1884)
The Pont du Carrousel, Paris: View to the West from the Pont des Arts
1856-1858
Albumen print
37.8 x 48.8cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 1995

 

Édouard-Denis Baldus. 'Toulon, Train Station' c. 1861

 

Édouard-Denis Baldus (French, 1813-1889)
Toulon, Train Station
c. 1861
Albumen print
27.4 x 43.1cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 1995

 

 

In Light of the Past: Celebrating 25 Years of Photography at the National Gallery of Art, on view in the West Building from May 3 through July 26, 2015, will commemorate more than two decades of the Gallery’s robust photography program. Some 175 of the collection’s most exemplary holdings will reveal the evolution of the art of photography, from its birth in 1839 to the late 1970s. In Light of the Past is one of three stellar exhibitions that will commemorate the 25th anniversary of the National Gallery of Art’s commitment to photography acquisitions, exhibitions, scholarly catalogues, and programs.

In Light of the Past includes some of the rarest and most compelling photographs ever created,” said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art, Washington. “It also honours the generous support of our donors who have enabled us to achieve this new place of prominence for photography at the Gallery.

 

About the exhibition

In Light of the Past begins with exceptional 19th-century salted paper prints, daguerreotypes, and albumen prints by acclaimed early practitioners such as William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877), Gustave Le Gray (1820-1884), Roger Fenton (1819-1869), Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879), Albert Sands Southworth (1811-1894, and Josiah Johnson Hawes (1808-1901). It also displays works by American expeditionary photographers, including William Bell (1830-1910) and Carleton E. Watkins (1829-1916).

The exhibition continues with late 19th- and early 20th-century American Pictorialist photographs by Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), Clarence H. White (1871-1925), Gertrude Käsebier (1852-1934), and Alvin Langdon Coburn (1882-1966), among others, as well as European masters such as Eugène Atget (1857-1927). The exhibition also examines the international photographic modernism of artists such as Paul Strand (1890-1976), André Kertész (1894-1985), Marianne Brandt (1893-1983), László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946), and Ilse Bing (1899-1998) before turning to the mid-20th century, where exceptional work by Walker Evans (1903-1975), Robert Frank (b. 1924), Harry Callahan (1912-1999), Irving Penn (1917-2009), Lee Friedlander (b. 1934), and Diane Arbus (1923-1971) will be on view.

The exhibition concludes with pictures from the 1960s and 1970s, showcasing works by photographers such as Robert Adams (b. 1937), Lewis Baltz (1945-2014), and William Eggleston (b. 1939), as well as Mel Bochner (b. 1940) and Sol LeWitt (1928-2007), which demonstrate the diverse practices that invigorated photography during these decades.

Press release from the National Gallery of Art

 

Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes. 'The Letter' c. 1850

 

Albert Sands Southworth (American, 1811-1894) and Josiah Johnson Hawes (American, 1808-1901)
The Letter
c. 1850
Daguerreotype
Plate: 20.3 x 15.2cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 1999

 

 

Working together in Boston, the portrait photographers Southworth and Hawes aimed to capture the character of their subjects using the daguerreotype process. Invented in France and one of the two photographic processes introduced to the public in early 1839, the daguerreotype is made by exposing a silver-coated copper plate to light and then treating it with chemicals to bring out the image. The heyday of the technique was the 1840s and 1850s, when it was used primarily for making portraits. The daguerreotype’s long exposure time usually resulted in frontal, frozen postures and stern facial expressions; this picture’s pyramidal composition and strong sentiments of friendship and companionship are characteristic of Southworth and Hawes’s innovative approach.

 

Clarence H. White. 'The Hillside' c. 1898

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
The Hillside
c. 1898
Gum dichromate print
20.8 x 15.88cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 2008

 

 

The Photo-Secession

At the turn of the century in America, Alfred Stieglitz and his colleague Edward Steichen led the movement to establish photography’s status as a fine art. In 1902 Stieglitz founded an organisation called the Photo-Secession, consisting of young artists who shared his belief in the creative potential of the medium. Many of the photographers featured here were members of the group, including Gertrude Käsebier, Clarence White, and Alvin Langdon Coburn. Through the exhibitions Stieglitz organised in his New York gallery, called 291, and the essays he published in his influential quarterly, Camera Work, he and the Photo-Secession promoted the Pictorialist aesthetic of softly textured, painterly pictures that elicit emotion and appeal to the imagination. Occasionally the photographers’ compositions refer to other works of art, such as Steichen’s portrait of his friend Auguste Rodin, whose pose recalls one of the sculptor’s most famous works, The Thinker. Influenced by the modern European and American painting, sculpture, and drawing he exhibited at 291, Stieglitz lost interest in the Photo-Secession in the early 1910s and began to explore a more straightforward expression.

 

Eugène Atget. 'Saint-Cloud' 1926

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Saint-Cloud
1926
Albumen print
22.2 x 18.1cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon and Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 2006

 

 

Using a cumbersome camera mounted on a tripod, Atget recorded the myriad facets of Paris and its environs at the turn of the century. Transforming ordinary scenes into poetic evocations, he created a visual compendium of the objects, architecture, and landscapes that were expressive of French culture and its history. He sold his photographs to artists, architects, and craftsmen, as well as to libraries and museums interested in the vanishing old city. Throughout his career he returned repeatedly to certain subjects and discovered that the variations caused by changing light, atmosphere, and season provided inexhaustible subjects for the perceptive photographer.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'The Mountain Nymph, Sweet Liberty' June 1866

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, 1815-1879)
The Mountain Nymph, Sweet Liberty
June 1866
Albumen print
36.1 x 26.7cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, New Century Fund, 1997

 

 

Ensconced in the intellectual and artistic circles of midcentury England, Cameron manipulated focus and light to create poetic pictures rich in references to literature, mythology, and history. Her monumental views of life-sized heads were unprecedented, and with them she hoped to define a new mode of photography that would rival the expressive power of painting and sculpture. The title of this work alludes to John Milton’s mid-seventeenth-century poem L’Allegro. Describing the happy life of one who finds pleasure and beauty in the countryside, the poem includes the lines:

Come, and trip it as ye go
On the light fantastic toe;
And in thy right hand lead with thee,
The mountain nymph, sweet Liberty.

 

Dr Guillaume-Benjamin-Amant Duchenne (de Boulogne). 'Figure 63, "Fright" from "Mécanisme de la physionomie humaine (Mechanism of human physiognomy)" (1862)' 1854-1855

 

Dr Guillaume-Benjamin-Amant Duchenne (de Boulogne) (French, 1806-1875)
Figure 63, “Fright” from “Mécanisme de la physionomie humaine (Mechanism of human physiognomy)” (1862)
1854-1855
Albumen print
21.5 × 16cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund, 2015

 

 

A neurologist, physiologist, and photographer, Duchenne de Boulogne conducted a series of experiments in the mid-1850s in which he applied electrical currents to various facial muscles to study how they produce expressions of emotion. Convinced that these electrically-induced expressions accurately rendered internal feelings, he then photographed his subjects to establish a precise visual lexicon of human emotions, such as pain, surprise, fear, and sadness. In 1862 he included this photograph representing fright in a treatise on physiognomy (a pseudoscience that assumes a relationship between external appearance and internal character), which enjoyed broad popularity among artists and scientists.

 

Lewis Hine. 'An Anaemic Little Spinner in a New England Cotton Mill (North Pownal, Vermont)' 1910

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
An Anaemic Little Spinner in a New England Cotton Mill (North Pownal, Vermont)
1910
Gelatin silver print
24.1 × 19.2cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund, 2015

 

 

Trained as a sociologist and initially employed as a teacher, Hine used the camera both as a research tool and an instrument of social reform. One of the earliest and most influential social documentary photographers of his time, he made many pictures under the auspices of the National Child Labor Committee, an organisation formed in 1904 to promote better working conditions for children. Hine’s focus on the thin, frail body of this barefoot twelve-year-old spinner, who stands before rows of bobbins in the mill where she worked, was meant to illustrate the unhealthy effects of her employment. Photographs like this one were crucial to the campaign to change American child labor laws in the early twentieth century.

 

 

In Light of the Past: Twenty-Five Years of Photography at the National Gallery of Art

Georgia O’Keeffe and the Alfred Stieglitz Estate laid the foundation of the photography collection of the National Gallery of Art in 1949 with their donation of 1,650 Stieglitz photographs, an unparalleled group known as the Key Set. Yet the Gallery did not start actively acquiring photographs until 1990, when it launched an initiative to build a collection of works by European and American photographers from throughout the history of the medium and mount major exhibitions with scholarly publications. Now including nearly fifteen thousand prints, the collection encompasses the rich diversity of photographic practice from fine art to scientific and amateur photography, as well as photojournalism. It is distinguished by its large holdings of works by many of the medium’s most acclaimed masters, such as Paul Strand, Walker Evans, André Kertész, Ilse Bing, Robert Frank, Harry Callahan, Lee Friedlander, Gordon Parks, Irving Penn, and Robert Adams, among others.

In Light of the Past celebrates the twenty-fifth anniversary of the 1990 initiative by presenting some of the Gallery’s finest photographs made from the early 1840s to the late 1970s. It is divided into four sections arranged chronologically. The first traces the evolution of the art of photography during its first decades in the work of early British, French, and American practitioners. The second looks at the contributions of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century photographers, from Stieglitz and the American Pictorialists to European masters such as Eugène Atget. The third section examines the international photographic modernism of the 1920s and 1930s, and the fourth features seminal mid-twentieth-century photographers. The exhibition concludes with pictures representing the varied practices of those working in the late 1960s and 1970s.

 

The Nineteenth Century: The Invention of Photography

In 1839 a new means of visual representation was announced to a startled world: photography. Although the medium was immediately and enthusiastically embraced by the public at large, photographers themselves spent the ensuing decades experimenting with techniques and debating the nature of this new invention. The works in this section suggest the range of questions addressed by these earliest practitioners. Was photography best understood as an art or a science? What subjects should photographs depict, what purpose should they serve, and what should they look like? Should photographers work within the aesthetics established in other arts, such as painting, or explore characteristics that seemed unique to the medium? This first generation of photographers became part scientists as they mastered a baffling array of new processes and learned how to handle their equipment and material. Yet they also grappled with aesthetic issues, such as how to convey the tone, texture, and detail of multicoloured reality in a monochrome medium. They often explored the same subjects that had fascinated artists for centuries – portraits, landscapes, genre scenes, and still lifes – but they also discovered and exploited the distinctive ways in which the camera frames and presents the world.

 

Photography at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

In the late nineteenth century, improvements in technology and processing, along with the invention of small handheld cameras such as the Kodak, suddenly made it possible for anyone of middle-class means to take photographs. Many amateurs took up the camera to commemorate family, friends, and special events. Others, such as the sociologist Lewis Hine, used it as a tool for social and political change. Partially in response to the new ease of photography, more serious practitioners in America and Europe banded together to assert the artistic merit of the medium. Called Pictorialists, they sought to prove that photography was just as capable of poetic, subjective expression as painting. They freely manipulated their prints to reveal their authorial control, often resulting in painterly effects, and consciously separated themselves from amateur photographers and mechanised processes.

 

Photography Between the Wars

In the aftermath of World War I – the first modern, mechanised conflict – sweeping changes transformed photography. Avant-garde painters, graphic designers, and journalists turned to the medium, seeing it as the most effective tool to express the fractured, fast-paced nature of modernity and the new technological culture of the twentieth century. A wide variety of new approaches and techniques flourished during these years, especially in Europe. Photographers adopted radical cropping, unusual angles, disorienting vantage points, abstraction, collage, and darkroom alchemy to achieve what the influential Hungarian teacher László Moholy-Nagy celebrated as the “new vision.” Other photographers, such as the German August Sander or the Americans Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston, and Walker Evans, sought a more rigorous objectivity grounded in a precise examination of the world.

 

Postwar Photography

Photography thrived in the decades after World War II, invigorated by new ideas, practices, and expanding venues for circulating and displaying pictures. Immediately after the war, many photographers sought to publish their pictures in illustrated magazines, which prospered during these years. Some, such as Gordon Parks, made photographs highlighting racial, economic, and social disparities. Others, such as Louis Faurer, Sid Grossman, and Robert Frank, turned to the street to address the conditions of modern life in pictures that expose both its beauty and brutality. Using handheld cameras and available light, they focused on the random choreography of sidewalks, making pictures that are often blurred, out of focus, or off-kilter.

In the later 1950s and 1960s a number of photographers pushed these ideas further, mining the intricate social interactions of urban environments. Unlike photographers from the 1930s, these practitioners, such as Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander, and Diane Arbus, sought not to reform American society but to record it in all its complexity, absurdity, and chaos. By the late 1960s and 1970s, other photographers, such as Robert Adams and Lewis Baltz, looked beyond conventional notions of natural beauty to explore the despoliation of the urban and suburban landscape. Their pictures of tract houses, highways, and motels are stripped of any artistic frills, yet they are exquisitely rendered and replete with telling details. Also starting in the 1960s, many conceptual or performance artists working in a variety of media embraced what they perceived to be photography’s neutrality and turned to it as an essential part of their experiments to expand traditional notions of art. In the late 1960s, improvements in colour printing techniques led others, such as William Eggleston, to explore the artistic potential of colour photography.

 

Edward Steichen. 'An Apple, A Boulder, A Mountain' 1921

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
An Apple, A Boulder, A Mountain
1921
Platinum print
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 2014

 

 

After World War I, Steichen became disillusioned with the painterly aesthetic of his earlier work and embarked on a series of experiments to study light, form, and texture. Inverting an apple, he demonstrated how a small object, when seen in a new way, can assume the monumentality and significance of a much larger one. His close-up scrutiny of a natural form closely links this photograph with works by other American modernists of the 1920s, such as Edward Weston, Paul Strand, and Georgia O’Keeffe.

 

Paul Strand. 'People, Streets of New York, 83rd and West End Avenue' 1916

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
People, Streets of New York, 83rd and West End Avenue
1916
Platinum print
24.2 x 33cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 1990

 

 

Strand was introduced to photography in high school by his teacher Lewis Hine, who instilled in him a strong interest in social issues. In 1907, Hine took his pupil to Alfred Stieglitz’s 291 gallery in New York, which launched Strand’s desire to become a fine art photographer. By the early 1910s, influenced by Stieglitz, he began to make clearly delineated portraits, pictures of New York, and nearly abstract still lifes. Strand came to believe that photography was a gift of science to the arts, that it was an art of selection, not translation, and that objectivity was its very essence.

 

American 20th Century. 'Untitled' c. 1930

 

American 20th Century
Untitled
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print
5.7 x 10cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert E. Jackson, 2007

 

 

Snapshots

After World War I, a parade of technological improvements transformed the practice of photography. With smaller cameras, faster shutter speeds, and more sensitive film emulsions, both amateurs and more serious practitioners could now easily record motion, investigate unexpected angles and points of view, and work in dim light and inclement weather. The amateur’s less staid, more casual approach began to play an important role in the work of modernist photographers as they explored spontaneity and instantaneity, seeking to capture the cacophony and energy of modern life. Blurriness, distorted perspectives, and seemingly haphazard cropping-once considered typical amateur mistakes-were increasingly embraced as part of the modern, vibrant way of picturing the world.

 

Robert Frank. 'City of London' 1951

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
City of London
1951
Gelatin silver print
23 x 33.6cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Robert Frank Collection, Purchased as a Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation, in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of the National Gallery of Art, 1991

 

Robert Frank. 'Woman/Paris' 1952

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
Woman/Paris
1952
Gelatin silver print in bound volume
Image: 35.1 x 25.4cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Robert Frank Collection, Gift (Partial and Promised) of Robert Frank, in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of the National Gallery of Art, 1990

 

 

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Frank made several handbound volumes of photographs, exploring different ways to link his pictures through non-narrative sequences. While in Zurich in October 1952, he assembled pictures taken in Europe, South America, and the United States in a book called Black White and Things. With a brief introductory quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry – “it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye” – the photographs are arranged in a sophisticated sequence that uses formal repetition, conceptual contrasts, and, as here, witty juxtapositions to evoke a range of ideas …

While in Zurich in October of 1952, Frank assembled photographs taken in Europe, South America, and the United States in the preceding years into a bound book called Black White and Things. Designed by Frank’s friend Werner Zryd, and with only a brief introductory statement describing the three sections, the photographs appear in a sophisticated sequence that relies on subtle, witty juxtapositions and powerful visual formal arrangements to evoke a wide range of emotions.

Frank made three copies of this book, all identical in size, construction, and sequence. He gave one copy to his father, gave one to Edward Steichen, and kept one. The book that belonged to his father is now in a private collection; Steichen’s copy resides at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and in 1990 Frank gave his copy to the Robert Frank Collection at the National Gallery of Art.

 

Robert Frank. 'Trolley - New Orleans' 1955

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
Trolley – New Orleans
1955
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 21 x 31.6cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Maria and Lee Friedlander, 2001

 

Roy DeCarava. 'Mississippi Freedom Marcher, Washington, D.C.' 1963

 

Roy DeCarava (American, 1919-2009)
Mississippi Freedom Marcher, Washington, D.C.
1963
Gelatin silver print
25.5 x 33cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation through Robert and Joyce Menschel, 1999

 

Lee Friedlander. 'New York City' 1966

 

Lee Friedlander (American, b. 1934)
New York City
1966
Gelatin silver print
Image: 13.3 x 20.6 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Trellis Fund, 2001

 

 

Heir to the tradition of documentary photography established by Eugène Atget, Walker Evans, and Robert Frank, Friedlander focuses on the American social landscape in photographs that can seem absurd, comical, and even bleak. In dense, complex compositions, he frequently depicts surprising juxtapositions that make the viewer look twice. He has made numerous self-portraits, yet he appears in these pictures in oblique and unexpected ways, for example reflected in a mirror or window. The startling intrusion of Friedlander’s shadow onto the back of a pedestrian’s coat, at once threatening and humorous, slyly exposes the predatory nature of street photography.

 

Giovanni Anselmo. 'Entering the Work' 1971

 

Giovanni Anselmo (Italian, b. 1934)
Entering the Work
1971
Photographic emulsion on canvas
49 x 63.5cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Glenstone in honor of Eileen and Michael Cohen, 2008

 

 

Conceptual Photography

In the 1960s, many painters and sculptors questioned the traditional emphasis on aesthetics and turned to creating art driven by ideas. Photography’s association with mechanical reproduction appealed to them as they sought to downplay the hand of the artist while promoting his or her role as idea maker. Some conceptual artists, such as Sol Lewitt and Mel Bochner, used photographs to explore an interest in perspective, scale, and mathematics. Others turned to photography as a tool to record performances and artistic undertakings, the resulting pictures acting as an integral part of those projects.

Anselmo was a member of the Italian Arte Povera group, which sought to break down the separation of art and life through experimental performances and the use of natural materials such as trees and leaves. To make this work, Anselmo set his camera up with a timed shutter release, and raced into view so that his running figure creates a modest yet heroic impression on the landscape.

 

Robert Adams. 'Colorado Springs, Colorado' 1974

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Colorado Springs, Colorado
1974
Gelatin silver print, printed 1983
15.2 x 15.2cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon and Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 2006

 

 

For more than forty years, Adams has recorded the changing American landscape, especially the ongoing settlement of the West. Although he has photographed roads, tract houses, and strip malls that have utterly transformed the landscape, he has also captured the beauty that remains and indeed, that refuses to die, as in his poetic picture of morning fog over California hills. He is convinced, as he wrote in 1974, that “all land, no matter what has happened to it, has over it a grace, an absolutely persistent beauty.”

 

Margaret Bourke-White. 'Fort Peck Dam, Montana' 1936

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971)
Fort Peck Dam, Montana
1936
Gelatin silver print
33.02 × 27.31cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 2014

 

 

One of the most iconic photographs by the pioneering photojournalist Bourke-White, Fort Peck Dam, Montana was published on the cover of the inaugural issue of Life magazine on November 23, 1936. A striking representation of the machine age, the photograph depicts the stark, massive piers for an elevated highway over the spillway near the dam. The two men at the bottom of the print indicate the piers’ massive scale while revealing the vulnerable position of the worker in the modern industrial landscape.

 

György Kepes. 'Juliet with Peacock Feather and Red Leaf' 1937-1938

 

György Kepes (American born Hungary, 1906-2001)
Juliet with Peacock Feather and Red Leaf
1937-1938
Gelatin silver print with gouache
15.7 × 11.6cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund, 2014

 

 

Trained as a painter at the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest, Kepes was an influential designer, educator, aesthetic theorist, and photographer. In 1930 he moved to Berlin, where he worked with László Moholy-Nagy, but eventually settled in Chicago and later Cambridge, Massachusetts. Created soon after his arrival in America, this startling photograph is both an intimate depiction of Kepes’s wife and a study of visual perception. Like the red leaf that seems to float above the image, the peacock feather – its eye carefully lined up with Juliet’s – obscures not only her vision but also the viewer’s ability to see her clearly.

 

Irving Penn. 'Woman with Roses (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn in Lafaurie Dress), Paris' 1950

 

Irving Penn (American, 1917-2009)
Woman with Roses (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn in Lafaurie Dress), Paris
1950
Platinum/palladium print, 1977
55.1 x 37cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Irving Penn, 2002

 

 

One of the most influential fashion and portrait photographers of his time, Penn made pictures marked by refinement, elegance, and clarity. Trained as a painter and designer, he began to photograph in the early 1940s while working at Vogue; more than 150 of his photographs appeared on the cover of the magazine during his long career. A perfectionist, Penn explored earlier printing techniques, such as a late nineteenth-century process that used paper coated with solutions of platinum or palladium rather than silver, to achieve the subtle tonal range he desired.

 

 

National Gallery of Art
National Mall between 3rd and 7th Streets
Constitution Avenue NW, Washington

Opening hours:
Open daily 10.00 am – 5.00pm

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05
Apr
15

Exhibition: ‘Bevan Davies: New York’ at Joseph Bellows Gallery, La Jolla, California

Exhibition dates: 14th March – 9th May, 2015

 

Bevan Davies. '94 Greene Street, New York' 1975

 

Bevan Davies (American, b. 1941)
94 Greene Street, New York
1975
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches
© Bevan Davies

 

 

This stunning suite of large format photographs emanates from an esteemed lineage: the early morning light of Atget’s photographs of Old Paris during that cities urban renewal; the frontality of Walker Evans and his photographs of Southern churches (with both artist’s attention to the storefront facade); and the formal qualities of the New Topographic movement and the gridded topos of Bernd and Hilla Becher.

While Eugène Atget photographed the vanishing environs of Old Paris, Davies captures the urban decay of New York City, a city that was undergoing serious urban renewal in the 1970s.

The redevelopment of large sections of New York City and New York State by Robert Moses between the 1930s and the 1970s was a notable and prominent example of urban redevelopment. Moses directed the construction of new bridges, highways, housing projects, and public parks. Moses was a controversial figure, both for his single-minded zeal and for its impact on New York City… The Rondout neighbourhood in Kingston, New York (on the Hudson River) was essentially destroyed by a federally funded urban renewal program in the 1960s, with more than 400 old buildings demolished, most of them historic brick structures built in the 19th century. Similarly ill-conceived urban renewal programs gutted the historic centres of other towns and cities across America in the 1950s and 1960s.” (Anon. “Urban Renewal,” on the Wikipedia website)

In Davies’ project (and essential to his task), is the revealing of detail in these undervalued buildings. An ethereal light radiates, almost pulsates from these night time buildings – all rendered in beautifully ferrotyped prints that display a surplus of detail.

The previsualisation in these photographs is excellent. Notice how Davies pushes and pulls the viewer forward and backward in the image plane by using the device of the footpath to frame his compositions. In an image such as 94 Greene Street, New York (1975, above) – one of my favourite in this posting – the artist frames the image to stop at the edge of the pavement, allowing enough room so that the eye is led into the image. In other images, such as Broadway, New York (1976, below) or 425 Broome Street, New York (1976, below), Davies crops right up to the base of the building, forcing the viewer to acknowledge the geometric, cellular structure of the facade and nothing else. In yet other images, such as Column, Mercer Street, New York (1975, below) or 155 West Broadway, New York (1975, below) the artist pulls back from the building, allowing the pavement to anchor the building’s displacement while emphasising the columns grounding within the scene.

These really are magnificent photographs that bring the silence of the city to the fore front of our consciousness. Without the presence of human beings, the buildings take on a majesty that is usually usurped, overlooked or just plain passed by during the humdrum nature of everyday life.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

Bevan Davies. '652 Broadway, New York' 1976

 

Bevan Davies (American, b. 1941)
652 Broadway, New York
1976
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches
© Bevan Davies

 

Bevan Davies. 'Broadway, New York' 1976

 

Bevan Davies (American, b. 1941)
Broadway, New York
1976
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches
© Bevan Davies

 

Bevan Davies. '425 Broome Street, New York' 1976

 

Bevan Davies (American, b. 1941)
425 Broome Street, New York
1976
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches
© Bevan Davies

 

Bevan Davies. 'Walker Street., New York' 1976

 

Bevan Davies (American, b. 1941)
Walker Street., New York
1976
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches
© Bevan Davies

 

Bevan Davies. 'Hudson Street, New York' 1975

 

Bevan Davies (American, b. 1941)
Hudson Street, New York
1975
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches
© Bevan Davies

 

 

Joseph Bellows Gallery is pleased to announce its upcoming solo exhibition, Bevan Davies New York. The exhibition opens on March 14th and will continue through May 9, 2015. An opening reception will be held on Saturday, March 14th, from 6-8 pm. New York will present Davies’ luminous and highly detailed large-format black and white architectural views from the mid 1970’s, along with a selection of his earlier street portraiture from the preceding decade, in the atrium gallery.

Bevan Davies studied photography with Bruce Davidson, at the University of Chicago in early 1960’s and benefitted greatly through mentoring from Diane Arbus later in that decade. After working the street in both daylight and evening hours, photographing people at odds with society, with a hand camera, Davies changed his working methodology to describing the physical environs of the street: the building facades, alleys and streets with a tripod mounted view camera.

This change in subject and approach resulted in Davies most celebrated work. Created in 1975/76 Bevan Davies’ architectural photographs situated themselves wholly within the dictum laid forth by William Jenkins, as “New Topographics”. In fact, Davies writes of his approach as, “an effort being made to let the camera almost see by itself.” This notion was carried further by the late photographer, Lewis Baltz, who in 1976, referred to Davies’ photographs as, “rigorously contemporary, while acknowledging a use of the camera which dates from the inception of the medium.” The New York facades, taken in the early morning hours and devoid of people, describe spaces defined by light and shadow. They depict a specific time and place, as seen by the window dressings and signage, as well as portray a formal grace among the building’s details that are included within Davies’ camera frame. New York is the first comprehensive exhibition of Davies’ photographs in over two decades.

Davies photographs can be found in the collections of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Center for Creative Photography, Art Institute of Chicago, Nelson-Atkins Museum, Minneapolis Institute of the Arts, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, George Eastman House, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Harry Ransom Center, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the International Center of Photography.

In 2014, Nazraeli Press released Los Angeles, 1976, a monograph on Davies’ photographs from that region and era. The photographs depict the residential architecture and neighbourhoods through nuanced arrangement and clarity. A forthcoming volume on Davies’ New York photographs is in prepublication.

Press release from the Joseph Bellows Gallery

 

Bevan Davies. '144 Wooster Street, New York' 1976

 

Bevan Davies (American, b. 1941)
144 Wooster Street, New York
1976
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches
© Bevan Davies

 

Bevan Davies. 'View from 475 Broadway, New York' 1976

 

Bevan Davies (American, b. 1941)
View from 475 Broadway, New York
1976
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches
© Bevan Davies

 

Bevan Davies. 'Bond Street, Facing North, New York' 1976

 

Bevan Davies (American, b. 1941)
Bond Street, Facing North, New York
1976
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches
© Bevan Davies

 

Bevan Davies. 'Franklin and West Broadway, New York' 1976

 

Bevan Davies (American, b. 1941)
Franklin and West Broadway, New York
1976
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches
© Bevan Davies

 

Bevan Davies. '426 West Broadway, New York' 1975

 

Bevan Davies (American, b. 1941)
426 West Broadway, New York
1975
Vintage gelatin silver print
20 x 16 inches
© Bevan Davies

 

Bevan Davies. 'Column, Mercer Street, New York' 1975

 

Bevan Davies (American, b. 1941)
Column, Mercer Street, New York
1975
Vintage gelatin silver print
20 x 16 inches
© Bevan Davies

 

Bevan Davies. '11 Mercer Street, New York' 1976

 

Bevan Davies (American, b. 1941)
11 Mercer Street, New York
1976
Vintage gelatin silver print
20 x 16 inches
© Bevan Davies

 

Bevan Davies. '155 West Broadway, New York' 1975

 

Bevan Davies (American, b. 1941)
155 West Broadway, New York
1975
Vintage gelatin silver print
20 x 16 inches
© Bevan Davies

 

 

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

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

Joseph Bellows Gallery website

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24
Dec
13

Exhibition: ‘A Democracy of Images: Photographs from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’ at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC

Exhibition dates: 28th June 2013 – 5th January 2014
1st floor West, American Art Museum (8th and F Streets, N.W.)

Browse the exhibition and related works on the exhibition website

 

 

Unidentified artist. '[Bird in Basin with Thread Spool and Patterned Cloth]' c. 1855

 

Unidentified artist
[Bird in Basin with Thread Spool and Patterned Cloth]
c. 1855
Daguerreotype
Plate: 2 3/4 x 3 1/4 in. (6.9 x 8.2cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

 

 

The next two weeks sees a lot of exhibitions finish their run on the 5th January 2014.

Here is a bumper posting which contains one of my favourite photographs of all time: Danny Lyon’s Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville (1966, below). From a distance, this looks to be a very interesting exhibition on a large topic, delineated for the viewer into four main sections. The task of the curator cannot have been easy, picking 113 images to represent a “democracy” of images out of a collection of over 7,000 images. Of course there can never be a true “democracy” of images as some will always be more valued within our culture than others. There is a meritocracy in this exhibition which features images by masters of the medium but this is balanced by the inclusion of images by anonymous photographers, little known photographers and vernacular and street photography.

What is most impressive is the specially developed website which includes many images from the different sections of the exhibition. These images are of good quality and, along with relevant text, help the viewer place the images in context. Related content is also suggested from the full photographic collection at The Smithsonian which has been placed online with good image quality. This is a far cry from many exhibitions at state galleries in Australia where there are hardly any dedicated exhibition websites. Most of the photographic collection from these galleries is not available online and if it has been scanned, the image quality is generally poor. How many times have I searched a state gallery or library collection and come up with the answer: “Image not available” ?

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

“More often, though, the moments, places, people and views that have been collected here feel offhand and stumbled upon, telling a fragmentary, incomplete tale. Sometimes it’s literally a glance, as in “Girl Holding Popsicle,” a 1972 image by Mark Cohen, who rarely even looked through his viewfinder. Other times, it’s more like a long stare, as in William Christenberry’s 1979 “China Grove Church – Hale County, Alabama,” a locale that the Washington-based artist and Alabama native returned to again and again. These 113 pictures are, at the same time, quietly telling, revealing bits of America in oblique, prismatic ways.”

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Part of Michael O’Sullivan’s review of the exhibition in The Washington Post.

 

 

American Characters

Photographers have captured the texture of everyday life since the medium’s arrival in the United States in 1839. Photographic portraits have made both the iconic and the commonplace serve as stand-ins for all of us, forging a shared language of political and social understanding. In charting the passing parade of history – the faces of the anonymous and the famous; evolving stories of immigration, disenfranchisement, and assimilation; as well as emblematic objects and celebrated landmarks lodged within our collective memory – photographs reveal the complexities of America.

 

Larry Sultan. 'Portrait of My Father with Newspaper' 1988

 

Larry Sultan (American, 1946-2009)
Portrait of My Father with Newspaper
1988
Chromogenic print
Image: 28 5/8 x 34 5/8 in. (72.7 x 87.9cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Nan Tucker McEvoy
© 1988, Larry Sultan

 

 

In Portrait of My Father with Newspaper, Irving Sultan reads the Los Angeles Times as light pours in behind him. This carefully composed portrait reveals the artist’s father almost entirely through reflections and shadows. Thin newsprint shields his body from the camera, while only a vague profile of his face is discernible on the right half of the spread. Prompted by the discovery of a box of home movies, Larry Sultan embarked on an eight-year enquiry into his parents’ lives. He stayed in their home for weeks at a time, interviewing them about their marriage and photographing their domestic activities.

 

Eugene Richards. 'First Communion (Dorchester, Mass.)' 1976

 

Eugene Richards (American, b. 1944)
First Communion (Dorchester, Mass.)
1976
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 x 12 in. (20.3 x 30.5cm)
Sheet: 11 x 14 in. (27.9 x 35.6cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts
© 1974, Eugene Richards

 

Mark Cohen. 'Girl Holding Popsicle' 1972, printed 1983

 

Mark Cohen (American, b. 1943)
Girl Holding Popsicle
1972, printed 1983
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 14 x 17 in. (35.5 x 43.2cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Dene and Mel Garbow
© 1972, Mark Cohen

 

 

In Girl Holding Popsicle a young girl twists shyly as she poses before a graffiti-inscribed brick wall. Mark Cohen took this photograph spontaneously as he passed through a back alley. Cohen does not hesitate to get assertively close to the strangers he meets in his hometown of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Many of his photographs are made without looking through a viewfinder, and so remain a mystery even to Cohen until they are developed.

 

Unidentified artist. '[Gold Nugget]' c. 1860s

 

Unidentified artist
[Gold Nugget]
c. 1860s
Albumen silver print
Image: 2 1/8 x 3 5/8 in. (5.4 x 9.2cm)
Sheet: 2 3/8 x 3 7/8 in. (6.1 x 9.8cm) irregular
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Charles Isaacs and Carol Nigro

 

Mathew B. Brady. 'Reviewing Stand in Front of the Executive Mansion, Washington, D.C., May, 1865' 1865, printed early 1880s

 

Mathew B. Brady (American, 1823-1896)
Reviewing Stand in Front of the Executive Mansion, Washington, D.C., May, 1865
1865, printed early 1880s
Albumen silver print
Sheet and image: 6 1/2 x 9 in. (16.5 x 22.9cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase through the Julia D. Strong Endowment

 

Kevin Bubriski. 'World Trade Center Series, New York City' 2001

 

Kevin Bubriski (American, b. 1954)
World Trade Center Series, New York City
2001
Gelatin silver print
Image: 18 x 18 in. (45.7 x 45.7cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of the Consolidated Natural Gas Company Foundation
© 2001, Kevin Bubriski

 

 

In the weeks and months following the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001, Kevin Bubriski photographed people who gathered at Ground Zero. Frozen in awe, struck with disbelief, and overcome with loss, people stood before the destroyed building site to confront the horrible tragedy. More than ten years later, Bubriski’s photographs preserve the emotional impact of this infamous day through images of those who witnessed its aftermath first-hand.

 

Deborah Luster. '01-26 Location. 1800 Leonidas Street (Carrollton) Date(s). July 14, 2009 7:55 a.m. Name(s). Brian Christopher Smith (22) Notes. Face up with multiple gunshot wounds' 2008-2012

 

Deborah Luster (American, b. 1951)
01-26 Location. 1800 Leonidas Street (Carrollton) Date(s). July 14, 2009 7:55 a.m. Name(s). Brian Christopher Smith (22) Notes. Face up with multiple gunshot wounds
2008-2012
Gelatin silver print
55 x 55 in. (139.7 x 139.7cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment
© 2010, Deborah Luster

 

 

This photograph, from a series that documents contemporary and historical homicide sites in New Orleans, presents Deborah Luster’s interpretation of the last view of the crime victim lying face up on the ground. The title is the entry from the New Orleans Police blotter, but the photograph is Luster’s meditation on looking, seeing, and the power of images to haunt our imagination.

 

Unidentified artist. '[Two Workmen Polishing a Stove]' c. 1865

 

Unidentified artist
[Two Workmen Polishing a Stove]
c. 1865
Albumen silver print
Sheet and image: 14 1/8 x 11 in. (35.9 x 28cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

 

Anthony Barboza. '"Marvelous" Marvin Hagler, boxer' 1981

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944)
“Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, boxer
1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 13 7/8 x 13 7/8 in. (35.2 x 35.2cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Kenneth B. Pearl
© 1981, Anthony Barboza

 

Edward S. Curtis. 'Girl and Jar - San Ildefonso' 1905

 

Edward S. Curtis (American, 1868-1952)
Girl and Jar – San Ildefonso
1905
Photogravure
Sight 16 5/8 x 12 1/4 in. (12.3 x 31.1cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the United States Marshal Service of the U.S. Department of Justice

 

 

Between 1900 and 1930, Edward S. Curtis traveled across the continent photographing more than seventy Native American tribes. The photographs, compiled into twenty volumes, presented daily activities, customs, and religions of a people he called “a vanishing race.” Curtis hoped to preserve the legacy of Native peoples in lasting images. To this end, Curtis often costumed his subjects and set up scenes, mixing tribal artefacts and traditions to match his romantic vision of the people he studied. In this intimate portrait, a young Tewa woman named Povi-Tamu (“Flower Morning”) balances a large jug with help from a hidden fiber ring. She is from the San Ildefonso Pueblo of New Mexico, which is famed for its rich tradition of fine pottery. Curtis associated the serpentine design of the vessel with the serpent cult, which he noted was central to Tewa life.

 

Oliver H. Willard. 'Portrait of a Young Woman' c. 1857

 

Oliver H. Willard (American, active 1850s-70s, died 1875)
Portrait of a Young Woman
c. 1857
Salted paper print
8 7/8 x 6 3/4 in. (22.5 x 17.1cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase through the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, 1999.29.1

 

 

Spiritual Frontier

The earliest photographs made in America describe an awesome land blessed with such an abundance of natural beauty that it seemed heaven sent. Images of waterfalls, mountains, and vast open spaces conveyed the beauty, the grandeur, the sublimity, and dynamics of a great spiritual endeavour. In the nineteenth century photographers pictured wilderness landscapes that symbolised American greatness. More recently, photographers have described a landscape no less romantic, but now recalibrated to account for the interaction of nature and culture.

 

Eadweard Muybridge. 'Valley of the Yosemite from Union Point' 1872

 

Eadweard Muybridge (English, 1830-1904)
Valley of the Yosemite from Union Point
1872
Albumen silver print
Sheet: 17 x 21 1/2 in. (43.2 x 54.6cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Charles T. Isaacs

 

 

Eadweard Muybridge went to great lengths to photograph the best possible views of the West. He chopped down trees if they obstructed his camera, and ventured to “points where his packers refused to follow him.” Muybridge was determined to produce the most comprehensive photographs ever made of Yosemite and the surrounding region. His views were sold widely in both large-format prints and stereograph cards, which are viewed through a device that creates the illusion of three-dimensional space. This allowed Muybridge to transport his audience, if just for a moment, to a faraway place caught on film.

 

Robert Frank. 'Butte, Montana' 1956, printed 1973

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
Butte, Montana
1956, printed 1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 3/4 x 13 in. (22.2 x 33cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase

 

Robert Adams. 'New Housing, Longmont, Colorado' 1973

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
New Housing, Longmont, Colorado
1973
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 6 x 7 5/8 in. (15.1 x 19.3cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts
© 1973, Robert Adams

 

 

As both a photographer and writer, Robert Adams is committed to describing the western American landscape as both awe-inspiring and scarred by man. In New Housing, Longmont Colorado, Adams contrasted the vast space of the distant landscape view with a foreground image of the wall of a newly constructed suburban tract house. Adams invites a consideration of the balance between myth and reality and the land as home as well as scenic backdrop.

 

Charles L. Weed. 'Mirror Lake and Reflections, Yosemite Valley, Mariposa County, California' 1865

 

Charles L. Weed (American, 1824-1903)
Mirror Lake and Reflections, Yosemite Valley, Mariposa County, California
1865
Albumen silver print
Sheet and image: 15 1/2 x 20 1/4 in. (39.4 x 51.4cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Charles T. Isaacs

 

 

Like Carleton Watkins, his better-known competitor, Charles Weed recognised the pictorial dividend to be gained by showing Yosemite’s glorious geological features in duplicate, using the valley’s lakes as reflecting ponds. Weed first traveled to what was then known as “Yo-Semite,” in 1859, but with a relatively small camera; he returned in 1865 with a larger model capable of using what were called mammoth plates. Like Watkins, he sold his prints to buyers eager to own a photograph of majestic natural beauty.

 

Ansel Adams. 'Monolith: The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite Valley' 1926-1927, printed 1927

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Monolith: The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite Valley
1926-1927, printed 1927
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 11 7/8 x 9 7/8 in. (30.2 x 25.1cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase
© 2013 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

 

At just over 4,700 feet above the valley, Half Dome is the most iconic rock formation in Yosemite National Park. Adams squeezed the monolith into the frame to emphasise the majesty of its scale and the drama of its cliff. As it thrusts out of the brilliant white snow, Half Dome stands as a symbol of the unspoiled western landscape. Ansel Adams made his first trip to the Sierra Nevada mountain range when he was fourteen years old, and he returned every year until the end of his life, often for month-long stretches. Throughout his career Adams traveled widely – from Hawaii to Maine – to photograph the most picturesque vistas in America. After his death in 1984, a section of the Sierra Nevada was named the Ansel Adams Wilderness in his honor.

 

John Pfahl. 'Goodyear #5, Niagara Falls, New York' 1989

 

John Pfahl (American, 1939-2020)
Goodyear #5, Niagara Falls, New York
1989
Chromogenic print
Sheet: 20 x 24 in. (50.8 x 61.0cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of the Consolidated Natural Gas Company Foundation, 1991.27.3, © 1989, John Pfahl

 

 

John Pfahl’s photographs embody the conflict between progress and preservation. Throughout the 1980s he focused on oil refineries and power plants. He chose the sites strategically based on their location in picturesque landscapes, where he observed a “transcendental” connection between industry and nature. In Goodyear #5 a nuclear power plant occupies the horizon. The setting sun provides a romantic colour palette as light filters through clouds of billowing steam. The landscape is reduced to an abstract composition that celebrates colour and texture. Pfahl’s intention with this series, titled Smoke, was to “make photographs whose very ambiguity provokes thought.” This photograph complicates popular notions of power plants by revealing an uncommonly beautiful view of a controversial structure.

 

 

A Democracy of Images: Photographs from the Smithsonian American Art Museum celebrates the numerous ways in which photography, from early daguerreotypes to contemporary digital works, has captured the American experience. The photographs presented here are selected from the approximately 7,000 images collected since the museum’s photography program began thirty years ago, in 1983. Ranging from daguerreotype to digital, they depict the American experience and are loosely grouped around four ideas: American Characters, Spiritual Frontier, America Inhabited, and Imagination at Work.

The exhibition’s title is inspired by American poet Walt Whitman’s belief that photography provided America with a new, democratic art form that matched the spirit of the young country and his belief that photography was a quintessentially American activity, rooted in everyday people and ordinary things and presented in a straightforward way. Known as the “poet of democracy,” Whitman wrote after visiting a daguerreotype studio in 1846: “You will see more life there – more variety, more human nature, more artistic beauty… than in any spot we know.” At the time of Whitman’s death, in 1892, George Eastman had just introduced mass market photography when he put an affordable box camera into the hands of thousands of Americans. The ability to capture an instant of lasting importance and fundamental truth mesmerised Americans then and continues to inspire photographers working today. Marking the thirtieth anniversary of the establishment of the museum’s pioneering photography collection, the exhibition examines photography’s evolution in the United States from a documentary medium to a full-fledged artistic genre and showcases the numerous ways in which it has distilled our evolving idea of “America.”

The exhibition features 113 photographs selected from the museum’s permanent collection, including works by Edward S. Curtis, Timothy H. O’SullivanBerenice AbbottDiane ArbusRoy DeCaravaWalker Evans,Irving PennTrevor Paglen, among others, as well as vernacular works by unknown artists. A number of recent acquisitions are featured, including works by Ellen CareyMitch EpsteinMuriel HasbunAlfredo Jaar, Annie Leibovitz, Deborah Luster, and Sally Mann. Landscapes, portraits, documentary-style works from the New York Photo League and images from surveying expeditions sent westward after the Civil War are among the images on display, and explore how photographs have been used to record and catalogue, to impart knowledge, to project social commentary, and as instruments of self-expression.

Photography’s arrival in the United States in 1840 allowed ordinary people to make and own images in a way that had not been previously possible. Photographers immediately became engaged with the life of the emerging nation, the activity of new urban centers, and the possibilities of unprecedented access to the vast western frontier. From the nineteenth to the twentieth century, photography not only captured the country’s changing cultural and physical landscape, but also developed its own language and layers of meaning.

A Democracy of Images: Photographs from the Smithsonian American Art Museum is organised around four major themes that defined American photography. “American Characters” examines the ways in which photographs of individuals, places, and objects become a catalogue of our collective memory and have contributed to the ever-evolving idea of the American character. “Spiritual Frontier” investigates early ideas of a vast, inexhaustible wilderness that symbolised American greatness. “America Inhabited” traces the nation’s rapid industrialisation and urbanisation through images of speed, change, progress, immigration, and contemporary rural, urban, and suburban landscapes. “Imagination at Work” demonstrates how photography’s role of spontaneous witness gradually gave way to contrived arrangement and artistic invention. The exhibition is organised by Merry Foresta, guest curator and independent consultant for the arts. She was the museum’s curator of photography from 1983 to 1999.

Connecting online

A complementary website designed for viewing on tablets includes photographs on view in the exhibition, an expanded selection of works from the museum’s collection and a timeline of American photography. It is available through tablet stations in the exhibition galleries, online, and on mobile devices.”

Press release from the Smithsonian American Art Museum website

 

 

America Inhabited

Photography’s early presence in America coincided with the rise of an industrial economy, the growth of major urban population centers, and the fulfilling of what some saw as the Manifest Destiny of spanning the continent from sea to sea. Images of progress and industry, as well as of city and suburbs, quickly added themselves to photography’s catalogue of places and people. Some of these images reflect idealistically, and at times nostalgically, on the beauty and humanity of our own backyards. Others stand as social documents that can be seen as critical and ironic, inviting outrage as well as compassion about the way we now live our lives.

 

Helen Levitt. 'New York' c. 1942, printed later

 

Helen Levitt (American, 1913-2009)
New York
c. 1942, printed later
Gelatin silver print
Image: 7 1/8 x 10 1/2 in. (18.1 x 26.6cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase
© 1981, Helen Levitt

 

 

Caught before they run off into the streets, three masked youngsters pause on their front stoop. Expressive postures and mysterious disguises give this trio a theatrical quality. Helen Levitt, who found poetry in the uninhibited gestures of children, used a right-angle viewfinder to capture boys and girls roaming freely and playing with found objects. Working in New York City during the years surrounding World War II, her photographs show the drama of life that unfolded on the sidewalks of poor and working-class neighbourhoods.

 

Louis Faurer. 'Broadway, New York, N.Y.' 1949-1950, printed 1980-1981

 

Louis Faurer (American, 1916-2001)
Broadway, New York, N.Y.
1949-1950, printed 1980-1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 3/8 x 12 9/16 in. (21.3 x 32cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of David L. Davies and John D. Weeden and museum purchase
© Estate of Louis Faurer

 

Danny Lyon. 'Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville' 1966, printed 1985

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville
1966, printed 1985
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 3/4 x 12 7/8 in. (22.2 x 32.7cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase made possible by Mrs. Marshall Langhorne
Photo courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery

 

William Eggleston. 'Tricycle (Memphis)' about 1975, printed 1980

 

William Eggleston (American, b. 1939)
Tricycle (Memphis)
about 1975, printed 1980
Dye transfer print
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Amy Loeserman Klein

 

 

An ordinary tricycle is made monumental in this playful colour photograph. Taken from below, it suggests a child’s perspective – elevating this rusty tricycle to a symbol of innocence and freedom. The quiet Memphis suburb in the background typifies the safe neighbourhoods where children could spend hours playing after school. This print was made with the expensive and exacting dye imbibition process, which was typically used for fashion and advertising at the time. Eggleston began experimenting with colour photography in the mid-1960s. Inspired by trips to a commercial photography lab, he developed an approach that imitates the random, imperfect style of amateur snapshots to describe his immediate surroundings combined with a keen interest in the effects of colour.

 

Tina Barney. 'Marina's Room' 1987

 

Tina Barney (American, b. 1945)
Marina’s Room
1987
Chromogenic print
Sheet: 48 x 60 in. (121.9 x 52.3cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase
© 1987, Tina Barney, Courtesy Janet Borden, Inc.

 

Aaron Siskind. 'Untitled' 1937, printed later

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991)
Untitled
1937, printed later
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 10 x 14 in. (25.4 x 35.5cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Tennyson and Fern Schad, courtesy of Light Gallery
© 1940, Aaron Siskind

 

 

In this untitled photograph Aaron Siskind focused on the regular grid of boarded-up windows on a derelict tenement building. Once portals into intimate domestic spaces, the windows represent loss in a community plagued by poverty, unemployment, and racial discrimination. Building upon the traditions of social documentary photographers before him, Siskind used his camera to raise public awareness of Harlem’s struggle, even as he created a modernist work of art.

 

Walker Evans. 'Kitchen Wall, Alabama Farmstead' 1936, printed 1974

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Kitchen Wall, Alabama Farmstead
1936, printed 1974
Gelatin silver print
Sheet and image: 9 3/8 x 12 in. (23.9 x 30.5cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Lee and Maria Friedlander

 

 

During the summer of 1936, Walker Evans joined writer James Agee in rural Alabama to work on a magazine assignment on cotton farming. Evans and Agee met with three tenant farm families and documented every detail of their experiences. The result, which the magazine declined to publish, was released as the book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men in 1941. It contains some of the most iconic and contentious photographs to document the Great Depression. Kitchen Wall, Alabama Farmstead reads like a modern novel. Every crack in the wood, every speck of paint tells part of the story. Evans drew special attention to the scarcity of cooking tools at the family’s disposal. These everyday utensils illustrate a metaphor for the struggle to meet basic needs.

 

Judy Fiskin. 'Long Beach Pike (broken fence)', from the 'Long Beach, California Documentary Survey Project' 1980

 

Judy Fiskin (American, b. 1945)
Long Beach Pike (broken fence), from the Long Beach, California Documentary Survey Project
1980
Gelatin silver print
Image: 2 1/2 x 2 1/2 in. (6.2 x 6.2cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts
© 1980, Judy Fiskin

 

 

For this series, sponsored by the National Endowment of the Art’s Long Beach Documentary Survey Project, Judy Fiskin focused on the Long Beach Pike, an amusement park that was demolished soon after she made the photographs. By printing in high contrast and restricting the scale of her prints, Fiskin reduced form to its bare essentials. Devoid of superfluous detail, these photographs appear more like conjured images than documents of reality. Judy Fiskin systematically catalogues the world of architecture and design in order to study variations of historical styles. Her series carefully investigate esoteric subjects such as military base architecture, “dingbat” style houses in southern California, and the art of flower arranging.

 

Berenice Abbott. 'Brooklyn Bridge, Water and Dock Streets, Brooklyn' 1936

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Brooklyn Bridge, Water and Dock Streets, Brooklyn
1936
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 18 x 14 3/8 in. (45.7 x 36.6cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the Evander Childs High School, Bronx, New York through the General Services Administration

 

 

Berenice Abbott returned home in 1929 after nearly eight years abroad and found herself fascinated by the rapid growth of New York City. She saw the city as bristling with new buildings and structures which seemed to her as solid and as permanent as a mountain range. Aiming to capture “the past jostling the present,” Abbott spent the next five years on a project she called Changing New York. In Brooklyn Bridge, Water and Dock Streets, Brooklyn, Abbott presented a century of history in a single image. The Brooklyn Bridge, once a marvel of modern engineering, seems dark and heavy compared with the skeletal structure beneath it. The construction site at center suggests the never-ending cycle of death and regeneration. And the Manhattan skyline, veiled and weightless, hangs just out of reach, its shape accommodating the ambitious spirit of American modernism.

 

Robert Disraeli. 'Cold Day on Cherry Street' 1932

 

Robert Disraeli (American, 1905-1987)
Cold Day on Cherry Street
1932
Gelatin silver print
Image and sheet: 14 x 11 in. (35.5 x 28cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase made possible by Mr. and Mrs. G. Howland Chase, Mrs. James S. Harlan (Adeline M. Noble Collection), Lucie Louise Fery, Berthe Girardet, and Mrs. George M. McClellan
© 1932, Robert Disraeli

 

 

Imagination at Work

Nineteenth-century French commentator Alexis de Tocqueville observed that in America, nothing is ever quite what it seems. Yet the idea that “seeing is believing” is deeply ingrained in the American character. By yoking together style and subject under the guise of the real, today’s photographers borrow from photography’s rich past while embracing the conceptual framework of contemporary art. They read reality as something on the surface of a picture or, more complexly, as something located in the mind of its beholder.

 

Sonya Noskowiak. 'Calla Lily' c. 1930s

 

Sonya Noskowiak (American, born Germany 1900-1975)
Calla Lily
c. 1930s
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 7 3/8 x 9 3/4 in. (18.8 x 24.7cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase made possible through Deaccession Funds

 

Ray K. Metzker. 'Composites: Philadelphia (Car and Street Lamp)' 1966

 

Ray K. Metzker (American, 1931-2014)
Composites: Philadelphia (Car and Street Lamp)
1966
Gelatin silver prints
Image: 25 3/8 x 17 3/4 in. (64.5 x 45cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase
© 1966, Ray K. Metzker

 

 

Ray Metzker’s Composites series, begun in 1964, connected in a dramatic fashion his interests in contrasts of light and shadow, his strong sense of design, and his earlier explorations of the multiple image. Metzker studied at Chicago’s Institute of Design, where a rigorously formal, problem-solving approach to photography was taught. For this series he assembled grids of individual photographs to create complex image-fields. When viewed from a distance, this work reads as an abstract, rhythmic pattern of light and dark. On closer inspection, however, many crisply descriptive images are revealed. The Composites function somewhat like short filmstrips. The mystery of these brief narratives is exaggerated by the repetitive design and provides a unique opportunity, in Metzker’s words, “to deal with complexity of succession and simultaneity, of collected and related moments.”

 

Irving Penn. 'Mud Glove - New York' 1975, printed 1976

 

Irving Penn (American, 1917-2009)
Mud Glove – New York
1975, printed 1976
Platinum-palladium print
Sheet and image: 29 3/4 x 22 1/4 in. (75.5 x 56.5cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of the artist

 

 

Irving Penn was one of the most important and influential photographers of the twentieth century. In a career that spanned almost seventy years, Penn worked across multiple genres, from celebrity portraits to fashion, from still lives to images of native cultures in remote places of the world. Throughout his career Penn also worked on a series of photographs of discarded objects: things that had been lost, neglected, or misused. Printed in platinum, these detailed photographs of objects such as a lost glove found in the gutter, are Penn’s photographic memento mori, offering beauty compromised by age or disuse.

 

Edward Weston. 'Pepper no. 30' 1930

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Pepper no. 30
1930
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 9 1/2 x 7 1/2 in. (24.3 x 19.2cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase

 

Imogen Cunningham. 'Auragia' 1953, printed c. 1960s

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Auragia
1953, printed c. 1960s
Gelatin silver print
Sheet and image: 11 1/8 x 8 3/4 in. (28.3 x 22.2cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Charles Isaacs and Carol Nigro

 

Ellen Carey. 'Dings and Shadows' 2012

 

Ellen Carey (American, b. 1952)
Dings and Shadows
2012
Chromogenic print
Sheet and image: 40 x 30 in. (101.6 x 76.2cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Linda Cheverton Wick and Walter Wick
© 2012, Ellen Carey

 

 

Ellen Carey created the series she calls Dings and Shadows by exposing photosensitive paper to light projected through primary and complementary colour filters. The artist first folds and crushes paper; then after exposing the paper to light from a colour enlarger, flattens it out again for processing. In doing so, Carey dissects the process of developing film, and evokes the hand-crafted nature of early photographic techniques.

 

 

Some images from the Timeline on the website

1843

Daguerreotypists Albert S. Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes begin a partnership, establishing Southworth & Hawes as the most highly regarded portrait studio in Boston, Mass. The studio caters to the city’s elite, and is visited by Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, among many other influential people of the time.

 

Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes. 'A Bride and Her Bridesmaids' 1851

 

Albert Sands Southworth (American, 1811-1894) and Josiah Johnson Hawes (American, 1808-1901)
A Bride and Her Bridesmaids
1851
Daguerreotype
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase made possible by Walter Beck

 

 

1853

The New York Daily Tribune estimates that in the United States, three million daguerreotypes are being produced annually.

 

Unidentified artist. 'Mother and Son' c. 1855

 

Unidentified artist
Mother and Son
c. 1855
Daguerreotype with applied colour
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

 

 

1857

Julian Vannerson and Samuel Cohner make the first systematic photographs of Native American delegations to visit Washington, D.C. They photograph ninety delegates representing thirteen tribes who conduct treaty and other negotiations with government officials.

 

Julian Vannerson. 'Shining Metal' 1858

 

Julian Vannerson (American, 1827-1875)
Shining Metal
1858
Salted paper print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

 

 

1861

American Civil War begins with shots fired on Fort Sumter by Confederate troops. Portrait photographer Mathew Brady is given permission by President Abraham Lincoln to photograph the First Battle of Bull Run, but comes so close to the battle that he narrowly avoids capture. Using paid assistants Alexander Gardner, Timothy O’Sullivan, George N. Barnard, and others, Brady’s studio makes thousands of photos of the sites, material, and people of the war. Civilian free-lance photographer Egbert Guy Fowx sells numerous negatives to Brady’s studio, which publishes and copyrights many of them. Many other images are credited to Fowx, including this group of Union officers.

 

Egbert Guy Fowx. 'New York 7th Regiment Officers' c. 1863

 

Egbert Guy Fowx (American, 1821-1889)
New York 7th Regiment Officers
c. 1863
Salted paper print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

 

 

1867

Eadweard Muybridge begins trip to photograph in Yosemite Valley. He publishes his photographs under the name “Helios,” which is also the name of his San Francisco studio. An exhibition of more than 300 photographic portraits of Native American delegates to Washington, D.C., opens in the Smithsonian Castle. Clarence R. King begins direction of the U.S. Geological Expedition of the Fortieth Parallel, appointing Timothy O’Sullivan as the official photographer. Photographer Carleton Watkins joins the survey in 1871.

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Timothy H. O'Sullivan. 'Tufa Domes, Pyramid Lake, Nevada' 1867

 

Timothy H. O’Sullivan  (American, born Ireland, 1840-1882)
Tufa Domes, Pyramid Lake, Nevada
1867
Albumen silver print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

 

 

1869

Andrew J. Russell’s album, The Great West Illustrated in a Series of Photographic Views across the Continent; Taken along the Line of the Union Pacific Railroad from Omaha, Nebraska, Volume I, is published. George M. Wheeler begins direction of the United States Geological Surveys West of the 100th Meridian for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Wheeler makes fourteen trips to the West over the next eight years. Photographer Timothy O’Sullivan accompanies him in 1871, 1873, and 1874.

 

Andrew Joseph Russell. 'Sphinx of the Valley' 1869

 

Andrew Joseph Russell (American, 1829-1902)
Sphinx of the Valley
1869
Albumen silver print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

 

 

1967

The Friends of Photography is founded in Carmel, California, by Ansel Adams, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall, Brett Weston, and others, with the aim of promoting creative photography and supporting its practitioners. It remains in existence until 2001.

 

Brett Weston. 'Untitled (Snow Covered Mountains)' 1973

 

Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993)
Untitled (Snow Covered Mountains)
1973
Gelatin silver print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts
© 1973, Brett Weston

 

 

1975

New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape opens at the International Museum of Photography in Rochester, N.Y. It includes photographs by Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Joe Deal, Frank Gohlke, Nicholas Nixon, John Schott, Stephen Shore, and Henry Wessel Jr.

 

Frank Gohlke. 'Grain Elevator, Dumas, Texas, 1973' 1973, printed 1994

 

Frank Gohlke (American, b. 1942)
Grain Elevator, Dumas, Texas, 1973
1973, printed 1994
Gelatin silver print
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment
© 1973, Frank Gohlke

 

 

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8th and F Streets, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20004

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28
Oct
13

Text: ‘Transgressive Topographies, Subversive Photographies, Cultural Policies’ Dr Marcus Bunyan

October 2013

 

Upsetting the court of public opinion…

A very interesting article, Covering their arts by John Elder (Sydney Morning Herald, October 13, 2013), examined the controversy over Bill Henson’s images of children sparked an age of censorship that is still spooking artists and galleries in Australia. At the end of the article Chris McAuliffe, ex-director of the Ian Potter Museum of Art, states that “There’s an assumption that the avant-garde tradition is a natural law as opposed to a constructed space.”

Almost everything (from the landscape to identity) is a constructed space, but that does not mean that the avant grade cannot be deliberately transgressive, subversive, and break taboos. Artists should make art without fear nor favour, without looking over the shoulder worrying about the court of public opinion. McAuliffe’s statement may be logical but it certainly isn’t pro artist’s standing up to critique things that they see wrong in the world or expose different points of view that challenge traditional hegemonies.

While artists may not be outside the law if they believe in something enough to challenge the status quo they must have the courage of their convictions and go for it.

The essay below, written in October 2010 and revised in September 2012 and published here for the first time, examines similar topics, investigating the use of photography as subversive image of reality. Download the full paper (2Mb pdf)

 

Transgressive Topographies, Subversive Photographies, Cultural Policies

Dr Marcus Bunyan

September 2012

.
Abstract

This research paper investigates the use of photography as subversive image of reality. The paper seeks to understand how photography has been used to destabilise notions of identity, body and place in order to upset normative mores and sensibilities. The paper asks what rules are in place to govern these transgressive potentialities in local, national and international arts policy and argues that prohibitions on the display of such transgressive acts are difficult to enforce.

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Keywords

Topography, photography, mapping, transgression, identity, space, time, body, place, arts policy, culture, obscenity, blasphemy, defamation, nudity, shock art, transgressive art, law, censorship, free speech, morality, subversion, freedom of speech, Social Conservatism, taboo, Other.

 

 

“Through their power, institutions (such as the Arts Council of Australia) produce rituals of truth and we as artists can and must challenge this perceived truth through the use of transgressive texuality. This texuality “can become a mode of agential resistance capable of fragmenting and releasing the subject, and thereby producing a zone of invisibility where knowledge/power is no longer able ‘find its target’.”44

Only through resistance can transgressive art, including subversive photography, challenge the status quo of a conservative worldview.”

.
Dr Marcus Bunyan September 2012

 

 

Thomas J. Nevin. 'Hugh Cowan, aged 62 yrs' 1878

 

Thomas J. Nevin (Australian, 1842-1923)
Hugh Cowan, aged 62 yrs
1878
Detail of criminal register, Sheriff’s Office, Hobart Gaol to 1890, page 120, GD6719 TAHO
Used for literary criticism under fair use, fair dealing

 

 

Thomas J. Nevin produced large numbers of stereographs and cartes within his commercial practice, and prisoner ID photographs on government contract and in civil service. He was one of the first photographers to work with the police in Australia, along with Charles Nettleton (Victoria) and Frazer Crawford (South Australia). His Tasmanian prisoner vignettes (“mugshots”) are the earliest to survive in public collections.

Found guilty of wilful murder in early April 1878, Hugh Cowan’s sentence of death by hanging was commuted to life imprisonment. The negative was taken and printed in the oblong format in late April 1878, and was pasted to the prisoner’s revised criminal sheet after commutation, held at the Hobart Gaol, per notes appearing on the sheet. More information can be found on the “Two mugshots of convict Hugh COHEN or Cowen / Cowan 1878” page on the Thomas J. Nevin: Tasmanian Photographer blog, Wednesday, September 11, 2013.

 

Andre-Adolphe Eugene Disderi (1819-1889) 'Communards in Their Coffins' c. 1871

 

Andre-Adolphe Eugene Disderi (French, 1819-1889)
Communards in Their Coffins
c. 1871
Used for literary criticism under fair use, fair dealing

 

Francis Galton (British, 1822-1911) 'Composite portraits of Advanced Disease' 1883

 

Francis Galton (British, 1822-1911)
Composite portraits of Advanced Disease
1883
From Inquiries into Human Faculty and its Development 1883
Used for literary criticism under fair use, fair dealing

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Crowds lined up to visit Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art), Schulausstellungsgebaude, Hamburg' November - December 1938

 

Anonymous photographer
Crowds lined up to visit Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art), Schulausstellungsgebaude, Hamburg
November – December 1938
Used for literary criticism under fair use, fair dealing

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibition' 1936

 

Anonymous photographer
Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibition
1936
Used for literary criticism under fair use, fair dealing

 

 

Introduction

 

“The artist is also the mainstay of a whole social milieu – called a “scene” – which allows him to exist and which he keeps alive. A very special ecosystem: agents, press attachés, art directors, marketing agents, critics, collectors, patrons, art gallery managers, cultural mediators, consumers… birds of prey sponge off artists in the joyous horror of showbiz. A scene with its codes, norms, outcasts, favourites, ministry, exploiters and exploited, profiteers and admirers. A scene which has the monopoly on good taste, exerting aesthetic terrorism upon all that which is not profitable, or upon all that which doesn’t come from a very specific mentality within which subversion must only be superficial, of course at the risk of subverting. A milieu which is named Culture. Each regime has its official art just as each regime has its Entartete Kuntz (‘Degenerate art’).”1

 

Throughout its history photography has been used to record and document the world that surrounds us, producing an image of a verifiable truth that visually maps identity, body and place. This is the topography of the essay title: literally, the photographic mapping of the world, whether it be the mapping of the Earth, the mapping of the body or the visualisation of identities as distinct from one person to another, one nation or ethnic group to another. At the very beginning of the history of photography the first photographs astounded viewers by showing the world that surrounded them. This ability of photography to map a visual truth was used in the mid-Victorian period by the law to document the faces of criminals (such as in the “mugshot” by Tasmanian photographer Thomas J. Nevin, above): “Photography became a modern tool of criminal investigation in the late nineteenth century, allowing police to identify repeat offenders,”2 and through the pseudo-science of physiognomy to identify born criminals solely from photographs of their faces (see the “composite” photograph Francis Galton, above), this topography used by the Nazis in their particular form of eugenics.3 In the Victorian era photography was also used by science to document medical conditions4 and by governments to document civil unrest (such as the death of the Communards in Paris, above).5

Paradoxically, photography always lies for the photograph only depicts one version of reality, one version of a truth depending on what the camera is pointed at, what it excludes, who is pointing the camera and for what reasons, the context of the event or person being photographed (which is fluid from moment to moment) and the place and reason for displaying the photograph. In other words all photographs are, by the very nature, transgressive because they have only one visual perspective, only one line of sight – they exclude as much as they document and this exclusion can be seen as a volition (a choice of the photographer) and a violation of a visual ordering of the world (in the sense of the taxonomy of the subject, an upsetting of the normal order or hierarchy of the subject).6 Of course this line of sight may be interpreted in many ways and photography problematises the notion of a definitive reading of the image due to different contexts and the “possibilities of dislocation in time and space.”7 As Brian Wallis has observed, “The notion of an autonomous image is a fiction”8 as the photograph can be displaced from its original context and assimilated into other contexts where they can be exploited to various ends. In a sense this is also a form of autonomy because a photograph can be assimilated into an infinite number of contexts. “This de and re-contextualisation is itself transgressive of any “integrity” the photograph itself may have as a contextualised artefact.”9 As John Schwartz has insightfully noted, “[Photographs] carry important social consequences and that the facts they transmit in visual form must be understood in social space and real time,”10 “facts” that are constructions of reality that are interpreted differently by each viewer in each context of viewing.

Early examples of the break down of the indexical nature of photography (the link between referent and photograph as a form of ‘truth’) – the subversion of the order of photography – are the Victorian photographs of children at the Dr Barnados’ homes (in this case to support the authority of an institution, not to undermine it as in the case of subverting cultural hegemony – see next section). “In the 1870s Dr. Barnardo had photographs taken that showed rough, dirty, and dishevelled children arriving at his homes, and then paired them with photographs of the same children bright as a new pin, happy and working in the homes afterwards. These photographs were used to sell the story of children saved from poverty and oppression and happy in the homes; they appeared on cards which were sold to raise money to support the work of these homes. Dr. Barnardo was taken to court when one such pair of photographs was found to be a fabrication, an ‘artistic fiction’.”11

Here the photographs offered one interpretation of the image (that of the happy child) that supports the authority of Dr Barnardo, the power of his institution in the pantheon of cultural forces. The power of truth that is vested in these photographs is validated because people know the key to interpret the coded ‘sign’ language, the semiotic language through which photographs, and indeed all images, speak. But these photographs only portray one supposed form of ‘truth’ as viewed from one perspective, not the many subjective and objective truths viewed from many positions. Conversely, two examples can be cited of the use of photography to undermine dominant hegemonic cultural power – one while being officially accepted because of references to classical Greek antiquity, the other seemingly innocuous photographic documentary reportage of the genetic makeup of the German people being rejected as subversive by the Nazis because it did not represent their view of what the idealised Aryan race should look like.

Baron von Gloeden’s photographs of nude Sicilian ephebes (males between boy and man) in the late 19th and early 20th century were legitimised by the use of classically inspired props such as statues, columns, vases and togas. “The photographs were collected by some people for their chaste and idyllic nature but for others, such as homosexual men, there is a subtext of latent homo-eroticism present in the positioning and presentation of the youthful male body. The imagery of the penis and the male rump can be seen as totally innocent, but to homosexual men desire can be aroused by the depiction of such erogenous zones within these photographs.”12 Such photographs were distributed through what was known as the “postcard trade” that reached its zenith between the years 1900-1925.13

August Sander’s 1929 photo-book Face of Our Time (part of a larger unpublished project to be called Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts (People of the Twentieth Century) “included sixty portraits representing a broad cross-section of German classes, generations, and professions. Shot in an un-retouched documentary style and arranged by social groups, the portraits reflected Sander’s desire to categorise society according to social and professional types in an era when class, gender, and social boundaries had become increasingly indistinguishable.”14 Liberal critics such as Walter Benjamin and photographer Walker Evans hailed Sander as a master photographer and a documenter of human types but with the rise of National Socialism in the mid-1930s “the Reichskulturkammer ordered the destruction of Face of Our Time‘s printing plates and all remaining published copies. Various explanations for this action have been offered. Most cast Sander in the flattering role of an outspoken resistor to the regime … While it is certainly plausible that the book’s destruction was a kind of punishment for the photographer’s “subversive” activities, it is more likely that the members of the new regime disagreed with Sander’s inclusion of Jews, communists, and the unemployed.”15 After this time his work and personal life were greatly curtailed under the Nazi regime. In an excellent article by Rose-Carol Washton Long recently, the author argues that Sander’s ‘The Persecuted’ and ‘Political Prisoners’ portfolios from People of the Twentieth Century counter the characterisation that his work was politically neutral.16

 

Wilhelm von Gloeden (1856-1931) 'Two Male Youths Holding Palm Fronds' c. 1885-1905

 

Wilhelm von Gloeden (German, 1856-1931)
Two Male Youths Holding Palm Fronds
c. 1885-1905
Albumen silver
233mm (9.17 in). x 175mm (6.89 in)
The J. Paul Getty Museum
This work is in the public domain

 

Wilhelm von Gloeden (1856-1931) 'Bacchanal' c. 1890s

 

Wilhelm von Gloeden (German, 1856-1931)
Bacchanal
c. 1890s
Catalogue number: 135 (or 74)
Gaetano Saglimbeni, Album Taormina, Flaccovio 2001, p. 18
This work is in the public domain

 

August Sander (1876-1964) 'Unemployed Man in Winter Coat, Hat in Hand' 1920

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Unemployed Man in Winter Coat, Hat in Hand
1920
Silver gelatin photograph mounted on paper
Used for literary criticism under fair use, fair dealing

 

August Sander (1876-1964) 'Victim of Persecution' 1938, printed 1990

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Victim of Persecution
1938, printed 1990
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland
Lent by Anthony d’Offay 2010
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne; DACS, London, 2013
Used for literary criticism under fair use, fair dealing

 

August Sander (1876-1964) 'Victim of Persecution' c. 1938

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Victim of Persecution
c. 1938
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland
Lent by Anthony d’Offay 2010
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne; DACS, London, 2013
Used for literary criticism under fair use, fair dealing

 

August Sander (1876-1964) 'Political Prisoner [Erich Sander]' 1943, printed 1990

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Political Prisoner [Erich Sander]
1943, printed 1990
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland
Lent by Anthony d’Offay 2010
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne; DACS, London, 2013
Used for literary criticism under fair use, fair dealing

 

 

The conditions of photography leave open spaces of interpretation and transgression, in-between spaces that allow artists to subvert the normative mapping of reality. While the term ‘transgressive art’ may have only been coined in the 1980s it is my belief that photography has, to some extent, always been transgressive because of the conditions of photography: its contexts and half-truths. Photography has always opened up to artists the possibility of offering the viewer images open to interpretation, where the constructed personal narratives of the viewer are mediated through mappings of identity, body and place that challenge how the viewer sees the world and the belief systems that sustain that view. Here photography can subvert, can undertake a more surreptitious eroding of the basis of belief in the status quo. Photography can address the idea of subjective and objective truths, were there is never a single truth but many truths, many different perspectives and lines of sight, never one definitive ‘correct’ interpretation. As David Smail rightly notes of subjective and objective truths,

“Where objective knowing is passive, subjective knowing is active – rather than giving allegiance to a set of methodological rules which are designed to deliver up truth through some kind of automatic process [in this case the image], the subjective knower takes a personal risk in entering into the meaning of the phenomena to be known… Those who have some time for the validity of subjective experience but intellectual qualms about any kind of ‘truth’ which is not ‘objective’, are apt to solve their problem by appealing to some kind of relativity. For example, it might be felt that we all have our own versions of the truth about which we must tolerantly agree to differ. While in some ways this kind of approach represents an advance on the brute domination of ‘objective truth’, it in fact undercuts and betrays the reality of the world given to our subjectivity. Subjective truth has to be actively struggled for: we need the courage to differ until we can agree. Though the truth is not just a matter of personal perspective, neither is it fixed and certain, objectively ‘out there’ and independent of human knowing. ‘The truth’ changes according to, among other things, developments and alterations in our values and understandings… the ‘non-finality’ of truth is not to be confused with a simple relativity of ‘truths’.”17

The truth changes due to alterations of our values and understandings; “truth” is perhaps even constructed by our values and understandings. What an important statement this is with regard to the potential subversive nature of photography.

 

The Subversion of Cultural Hegemony: Cultural Policy, Photography and Problems of Interpretation

Some of the most common themes that transgressive art may address are the power of institutions (such as governments), the portrayal of sex as art (which may address the notion of when is pornography art and not obscenity),18 issues of faith, religion and belief, of nationalism, war, of death, of gender, of drug use, of culturally suppressed minorities, ‘Others’ that have been socially excluded (see definition of ‘Other’ above). Conversely, art that lies (another form of transgression) can be used to uphold institutions that wish to reinforce the perception of their social position through the verification of truth in reality. An example of this are photographs which purport to tell the ‘truth’ about an event but are in fact constructions of reality, emphasising the link between the referent and the photograph that is the basis of photography while subverting it (through faking it, through manipulation of the image) to the benefit of the ruling social class.19

Transgressive art that subverts cultural hegemony (the philosophical and sociological concept whereby a culturally-diverse society can be ruled or dominated by one of its social classes)20 by upsetting predominant cultural forces such as patriarchy,21 individualism (which promotes individual moral choice),22 family values,23 and resisting social norms24 (institutions, practices, beliefs) that impose universal (if sometimes hidden) public moral25 and ethical26 values, has, seemingly, free rein in terms of local and centralised art policy in Australia because the responsibility for the outcomes of transgression rests in the hands of the artists and the galleries that display this art. This is in itself a cultural policy statement, a statement by abrogation rather than action. The statement below on the Australia Council for the Arts website, the Australian Government’s arts funding and advisory body is, believe it or not, the only statement giving advice to artists about defamation and obscenity laws in Australia. The website then refers artists to the Arts Law Centre of Australia Online for more information, of which there is very little, about issues such as defamation, obscenity, blasphemy, sedition and the morals and ethics of producing and exhibiting art that challenges dominant cultural stereotypes, images and beliefs.

“Defamation and obscenity laws in Australia can be very tough and vary substantially from state to state. If you have any doubts discuss them with others and try and assess the level of risk involved. Unfortunately, these are highly subjective areas and obscenity laws are driven by current community standards that are constantly shifting. Defaming someone in Australia can be a very serious offence. Don’t think that just because your project is small it won’t be noticed. Sometimes controversy can bring a project to public attention. (Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing!) And just because your project is small, this does not protect you from potential prosecution in the courts. Although not advised, if you do take risks in these areas make sure your project team are all equally aware of them and all in favour of doing so.”27

While challenging the dominant paradigm (through the use of shock art28 for example) might raise the profile of the artist and gallery concerned, the risks can be high. Even when artistic work is seemingly innocuous (for example the media and family values furore over the work of Australian artist Bill Henson29 that eventually led the Australia Council for the Arts to issue protocols for working with children in art,)30 – forces opposed to the relaxing of social and political morals and ethics (such as governments, religious authorities and family groups) can ramp up public sentiment against provocative and, what is in their opinion, licentious art (art that lacks moral discipline) because they believe that it is art that is not “in the public interest” or is considered offensive to a “common sense of decency.” The ideology of social conservatism31 is ever present in our society but this ideology is never fixed and is forever changing; the same can be said of what is deemed to be transgressive as the above quotation by the Australia Council notes. For example George Platt Lynes photographs of homosexual men associating together taken in the 1940s were never shown in his lifetime in a gallery for fear of the moral backlash  and the damage this would cause his career as a fashion photographer in America. Some of these photographs now reside in The Kinsey Institute (see my research into these images on my PhD website).32 Today these photographs would not even raise a whisper of condemnation such is their chaste imagery.33

.
During my research I have been unable to find a definition of the theoretical role of arts policy in dealing with transgression in art. Perhaps this is acceptable for surely the purpose of an arts policy is primarily to facilitate artistic activity of any variety, whether is be transgressive or not, as long as that artistic activity challenges people to look at the world in a new light. The various effects, or impacts, of the arts and artistic activities can include, “social impacts, social effects, value, benefits, participation, social cohesion, social capital, social exclusion or inclusion, community development, quality of life, and well-being. There are two main discernable approaches in this research. Some tackle the issues ‘top-down’, by exploring the social impacts of the arts, where ‘social’ means non-economic impacts, or impacts that relate to social policies. Others, and in the USA in particular, approach effects from the ‘bottom up’, by exploring individual motivations for and experiences of arts participation, and evaluating the impacts of particular arts programs.”34

Personally I believe that the purpose of a cultural arts policy is to promote open artistic inquiry into topics that challenge the notion of self and the formation of national and personal identity. Whether this inquiry fits in with the socio-political imperative of nation building or the economic rationalism of arts as a cultural industry and how censorship and free speech fit in with this economic modelling is an interesting topic for research. Berys Gaut questions what role, if any, “ought the state to play in the regulation and promotion of art? The spectre of censorship has cast a long shadow over the debate … And wherever charges of film’s and popular music’s ethically corrupting tendencies are heard, calls for censorship or self-restraint are generally not far behind. Such a position is in a way the converse side of the humanistic tradition’s espousal of state subsidies for art, because of art’s purported powers to enhance the enjoyment of life and promote the spread of civilisation.”35

In terms of art and ethics the immoralist approach, “has as its most enduring motivation the idea of art as transgression. It acknowledges that ethical merits or demerits of works do condition their aesthetic value.”36 Often the definition of the ethical merits or demerits of an artwork come down to the contextualisation of the work of art: who is looking and from what perspective. “When you look at the history of censorship, it becomes clear that what is regarded as obscene in one era is often regarded as culturally valuable in another. Whether something is pornography or art, in other words, depends a lot on who’s looking, and the cultural and historical viewing point from which they’re looking.”37

The ideal political system of arts policy is an arms length policy free from political interference; the reality may be something entirely different for bureaucracy may seek to control an artist’s freedom of expression through censorship and control of economic stimulus while preserving bureaucracy itself as a self-referential self-reproducing system:

“The balance of power between the different systems of rationalities in a given society in a given historical is decisive for which forms of rationality will be dominating. For example, the rationality of the economic market forces, the political media and bureaucracies, the intrinsic values of the aesthetic rationality and of the anthropological conceptualisation of culture are all different rationalities in play in the cultural field … in a broader sense cultural policy, however, is also about the clash of ideas, institutional struggles and power relations in the production, dissemination and reception of arts and symbolic meaning in society.

In democratic societies governed by law, cultural policy according to this argumentation is the outcome of the debate about which values (forms of recognition) are considered important for the individuals and collectives a given society. Is it the instrumental rationality of the economic and political medias or the communicative rationality of art and culture, which shall be dominating in society?”38

This is an ongoing debate. In the United States of America grants from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to artists including Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano led to the culture wars of the 1990s. Their work was described as indecent and in 1998 the Supreme Court determined that the statute mandating the NEA to consider “general standards of decency and respect for the diverse beliefs and values of the American public” in awarding grants was constitutional.39 In Australia there was the furore over the presentation of the photograph “Piss Christ” by Andres Serrano at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1997 that led to it’s attack by a vandal and the closing of the exhibition of which it was a part, as well as other incidents of cultural vandalism.40 In consideration of these culture wars, it would be an interesting research project to analyse the grants received by artists from the Australia Council for the Arts and Arts Victoria, for example, to see how many artists receive grants for transgressive art projects. My belief would be that, while the ideal is for the “arms length” principle of art funding, very few transgressive art projects that challenge the norm of cultural sensibilities and mores in Australia would achieve a level of funding. Australia is at heart a very conservative country and arts funding policies, while not specifically stating this, still support the status quo and their self-referential position within this system of power and control.

 

George Platt Lynes (American, 1907-1955) 'Tex Smutley and Buddy Stanley [no title (two sleeping boys)]' 1941

 

George Platt Lynes (American, 1907-1955)
Tex Smutley and Buddy Stanley [no title (two sleeping boys)]
1941
Gelatin silver photograph
19.2 x 24.4cm
Collection of the National Gallery of Australia
Used for literary criticism under fair use, fair dealing

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled' date unknown (probably early 1950s)

 

George Platt Lynes (American, 1907-1955)
Untitled
Date unknown (probably early 1950s)
Vintage gelatin silver print
9 x 7 1/2 in. (22.9 x 19.1cm)
Collection of Steven Kasher Gallery
Used for literary criticism under fair use, fair dealing

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989) 'Joe' 1978

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Joe
1978
Silver gelatin photograph
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Used for literary criticism under fair use, fair dealing

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989) 'Brian Ridley and Lyle Heeter' 1979

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Brian Ridley and Lyle Heeter
1979
Silver gelatin photograph
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Used for literary criticism under fair use, fair dealing

 

 

Mapplethorpe’s photos of gay and leather subcultures were at the center of a controversy over NEA funding at the end of the ’80s. Sen. Jesse Helms proposed banning grants for any work treating “homoerotic” or “sado-masochistic” themes. When Helms showed the photos to his colleagues, he asked “all the pages and all the ladies to leave the floor.”

 

Bill Henson. 'Untitled #8' 2007/08

 

Bill Henson (Australian, b. 1955)
Untitled #8
2007/08
Type C photograph
127 × 180cm
Edition of 5 + 2 A/Ps
© Bill Henson/Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery
Used for literary criticism under fair use, fair dealing

 

Andres Serrano (American, b. 1950) 'Immersion (Piss Christ)' 1987

 

Andres Serrano (American, b. 1950)
Immersion (Piss Christ)
1987
Cibachrome print
60 x 40 inch
© Andres Serrano
Used for literary criticism under fair use, fair dealing

 

 

Conclusion

“Policy in Australia aspires to achieve a high-level of consistency – if not to say universality – and so struggles with concepts as amorphous as mores, norms or sensibilities.”41 Hence there is no local or centralised public arts policy with regard to photography, or any art form, that transgresses and violates basic mores and sensibilities, usually associated with social conservatism. Implementing national guidelines for transgressive art would be impossible because of the number of artists producing work, the number of galleries showing that work, the number of exhibitions that take place every week throughout Australia (including artist and gallery online web presences) and the commensurate task of enforcing and policing such guidelines. These guidelines would also be impossible to establish due to a lack of agreement in the definition of what transgressive art is for the meaning of transgressive art, or any art for that matter, depends on who is looking, at what time and place, from what perspective and in what context. Photography opens up to artists the possibility of offering the viewer personal narratives and constructions of worlds that they have never seen before, transgressive text(ur)al mappings of identity, body and place that challenge how the viewer sees the world and the belief systems that sustain that view and that is at it should be. Art should challenge human beings to be more open, to see further up the road without the fear of a cultural arts policy or any institutional policy for that matter dictating what can or cannot be said.

Brain Long has suggested that arts policy is primarily to facilitate artistic activity and questions of public morality are best left to the legal system with its juries, judges, checks and balances42 but I believe that this position is only partially correct. I believe that it is not just the legal system but the hidden agendas of committees that decide grants and the hypocritical workings of the institutions that enforce a prejudiced world view that govern censorship and free speech in Australia. Freedom of expression in Australia is not just governed by the laws of defamation, obscenity and blasphemy that vary from state to state but by hidden disciplinary forces, systems of control that seek to create a reality of their own making.

“To reiterate the point, it should be clear that when Foucault examines power he is not just examining a negative force operating through a series of prohibitions… We must cease once and for all to describe the effects of power in negative terms – as exclusion, censorship, concealment, eradication. In fact, power produces. It produces reality. It produces domains of objects, institutions of language, rituals of truth.”43

Through their power, institutions (such as the Arts Council of Australia) produce rituals of truth and we as artists can and must challenge this perceived truth through the use of transgressive texuality. This texuality “can become a mode of agential resistance capable of fragmenting and releasing the subject, and thereby producing a zone of invisibility where knowledge/power is no longer able ‘find its target’.”44

Only through resistance can transgressive art, including subversive photography, challenge the status quo of a conservative worldview.

 

Dr Marcus Bunyan
September 2013

Word count: 3,933

 

 

Glossary of terms

Transgressive art refers to art forms that aim to transgress; ie. to outrage or violate basic mores and sensibilities. The term transgressive was first used by American filmmaker Nick Zedd and his Cinema of Transgression in 1985.45

Subversion refers to an attempt to overthrow the established order of a society, its structures of power, authority, exploitation, servitude, and hierarchy… The term has taken over from ‘sedition’ as the name for illicit rebellion, though the connotations of the two words are rather different, sedition suggesting overt attacks on institutions, subversion something much more surreptitious, such as eroding the basis of belief in the status quo or setting people against each other.46.

Blasphemy is irreverence toward holy personages, religious artefacts, customs, and beliefs.47 The Commonwealth of Australia does not recognise blasphemy as an offence although someone who is offended by someone else’s attitude toward religion or toward one religion can seek redress under legislation which prohibits hate speech.48.

Defamation – also called calumny, vilification, slander (for transitory statements), and libel (for written, broadcast, or otherwise published words) – is the communication of a statement that makes a claim, expressly stated or implied to be factual, that may give an individual, business, product, group, government, or nation a negative image. In common law jurisdictions, slander refers to a malicious, false and defamatory spoken statement or report, while libel refers to any other form of communication such as written words or images… Defamation laws may come into tension with freedom of speech, leading to censorship.49

An obscenity is any statement or act which strongly offends the prevalent morality of the time, is a profanity, or is otherwise taboo, indecent, abhorrent, or disgusting, or is especially inauspicious. The term is also applied to an object that incorporates such a statement or displays such an act. In a legal context, the term obscenity is most often used to describe expressions (words, images, actions) of an explicitly sexual nature.50

Freedom of speech is the freedom to speak freely without censorship or limitation, or both. The synonymous term freedom of expression is sometimes used to indicate not only freedom of verbal speech but any act of seeking, receiving and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used. In practice, the right to freedom of speech is not absolute in any country and the right is commonly subject to limitations, such as on “hate speech”… Freedom of speech is understood as a multi-faceted right that includes not only the right to express, or disseminate, information and ideas, but three further distinct aspects:

  • the right to seek information and ideas
  • the right to receive information and ideas
  • the right to impart information and ideas51

Censorship is the suppression of speech or other communication which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or inconvenient to the general body of people as determined by a government, media outlet, or other controlling body.

  • Moral censorship is the removal of materials that are obscene or otherwise considered morally questionable52

taboo is a strong social prohibition (or ban) relating to any area of human activity or social custom that is sacred and forbidden based on moral judgment and sometimes even religious beliefs. Breaking the taboo is usually considered objectionable or abhorrent by society… Some taboo activities or customs are prohibited under law and transgressions may lead to severe penalties… Although critics and/or dissenters may oppose taboos, they are put into place to avoid disrespect to any given authority, be it legal, moral and/or religious.53

Topography as the study of place, distinguished… by focusing not on the physical shape of the surface, but on all details that distinguish a place. It includes both textual and graphic descriptions… New Topography, [is] a movement in photographic art in which the landscape is depicted complete with the alterations of humans54 … New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape was an exhibition that epitomised a key moment in American landscape photography at the International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House in January 1975.55

Morality is a sense of behavioural conduct that differentiates intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are good (or right) and bad (or wrong)… Morality has two principal meanings:

  • In its “descriptive” sense, morality refers to personal or cultural values, codes of conduct or social mores that distinguish between right and wrong in the human society. Describing morality in this way is not making a claim about what is objectively right or wrong, but only referring to what is considered right or wrong by people
  • In its “normative” sense, morality refers directly to what is right and wrong, regardless of what specific individuals think… It is often challenged by a moral skepticism, in which the unchanging existence of a rigid, universal, objective moral “truth” is rejected…”56

Other: A person’s definition of the ‘Other’ is part of what defines or even constitutes the self and other phenomena and cultural units. It has been used in social science to understand the processes by which societies and groups exclude ‘Others’ whom they want to subordinate or who do not fit into their society… Othering is imperative to national identities, where practices of admittance and segregation can form and sustain boundaries and national character. Othering helps distinguish between home and away, the uncertain or certain. It often involves the demonisation and dehumanisation of groups, which further justifies attempts to civilise and exploit these ‘inferior’ others.
De Beauvoir calls the Other the minority, the least favoured one and often a woman, when compared to a man… Edward Said applied the feminist notion of the Other to colonised peoples.57

 

 

Endnotes

1. Anon. “Escapism has its price, The artist has his income,” on Non Fides website. [Online] Cited 28/09/2012 www.non-fides.fr/?Escapism-has-its-priceThe-artist
2. Editors note in Lombroso, Cesare, Gibson, Mary and Rafter, Nicole Hahn. “Photographs of Born Criminals,” chapter in Criminal man. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006, p. 203
3. See Maxwell, Anne. Picture Imperfect: Photography and Eugenics, 1870-1940. Sussex Academic Press, 2010
“The book looks at eugenics from the standpoint of its most significant cultural data – racial-type photography, investigating the techniques, media forms, and styles of photography used by eugenicists, and relating these to their racial theories and their social policies and goals. It demonstrates how the visual archive was crucially constitutive of eugenic racial science because it helped make many of its concepts appear both intuitive as well as scientifically legitimate.”
4. See Mifflin, Jeffrey. “Visual Archives in Perspective: Enlarging on Historical Medical Photographs,” in The American Archivist Vol. 70, No. 1 Spring/Summer 2007, pp. 32-69 [Online] 17/09/2012.
5. See Anon. “Andre Adolphe Eugene Disderi: Dead Communards,” on History of Art: History of Photography website [Online] Cited 17/09/2012. www.all-art.org/history658_photography13-8.html
6. Anon. “Taxonomy,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 17/09/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxonomy
7. Mifflin, Jeffrey p. 35
8. Wallis, Brian. “Black Bodies, White Science,” in American Art 9 (Summer 1995), p. 40 quoted in Mifflin, Jeffrey p. 35. He goes on to explain that photographs that once circulated out of family albums, desk drawers, etc., have often been “displaced” to the “unifying context of the art museum.”
9. Long, Brian. Notes on marking of short transgressive essay. 31/10/2010
10. Schwartz, Joan M. “Negotiating the Visual Turn: New Perspectives on Images and Archives,” in American Archivist 67 (Spring/Summer 2004), p. 110 quoted in Mifflin, Jeffrey p. 35
11. Bunyan, Marcus. “Science, Body and Photography,” in Bench Press chapter of Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male. Melbourne: RMIT University, 2001 [Online] Cited 17/09/2013 www.marcusbunyan.com/ptf/historical.html.
See also Tagg, John. The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1988, p. 85
12. Bunyan, Marcus. “Baron von Gloeden,” in Historical Pressings chapter of Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male. Melbourne: RMIT University, 2001 [Online] Cited 02/09/2012. www.marcusbunyan.com/ptf/histmain_b.html
13. Smalls, James. The homoerotic photography of Carl Van Vechten: public face, private thoughts. Philadeplhia: Temple University Press, 2006, p.32
14. Rittelmann, Leesa. “Facing Off: Photography, Physiognomy, and National Identity in the Modern German Photobook,” in Radical History Review Issue 106 (Winter 2010), p. 148
15. Ibid., p. 155
16. Long, Rose-Carol Washton. “August Sander’s Portraits of Persecuted Jews,” on the Tate website, 4 April 2013 [Online] Cited 26/10/2013. www.tate.org.uk/research/publications/tate-papers/august-sanders-portraits-persecuted-jews
17. Smail, David. Illusion and Reality: The Meaning of Anxiety. London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1984, pp. 152-153
18. Manchester, Colin. “Obscenity, Pornography and Art,” on Media & Arts Law Review website [Online] Cited 21/09/2012.
19. Hall, Alan. “Famous Hitler photograph declared a fake,” on The Age newspaper website. October 20th, 2010 [Online] Cited 21/09/2012. www.theage.com.au/world/famous-hitler-photograph-declared-a-fake-20101019-16sfv.html
“A historian claims the Nazi Party doctored a photo to drum up support. Allan Hall reports from Berlin.
It is one of the most iconic photographs of all time, the image that showed a monster-in-waiting clamouring with his countrymen for glory in the war meant to end all wars.
Adolf Hitler waving his straw boater with the masses in Munich the day before Germany declared war on France in August 1914 is world famous… and now declared to be a fake.

A prominent historian in Germany says the Nazi Party doctored the image shortly before a pivotal election to show the Führer was a patriot. Gerd Krumeich, recognised as Germany’s greatest authority on World War I, says he has spent years studying the photo and has come to the conclusion that the man who took it – Heinrich Hoffmann – was also the man who doctored it. The photograph first appeared on the pages of the German Illustrated Observer on March 12, 1932 – the day before the crucial election of the German president.

“Adolf Hitler, the German patriot is seen in the middle of the crowd. He stands with blazing eyes – Adolf Hitler,” was the breathless caption. Professor Krumeich found different versions of Hitler as he appeared in the Odeonsplatz photo in the Hoffmann archive held by the Bavarian state. He told a German newspaper:

“The lock of hair over his forehead in some looked different. Furthermore, I searched in archives of the same rally and looked at numerous different photos from different angles at the spot where Hitler was supposed to have been. And I cannot find Hitler in any of them. It is my judgement that the photo is a falsification.”

Professor Krumeich’s doubt caused curators at the groundbreaking new exhibition in Berlin about the cult of Hitler to insert a notice by the photo saying they could not verify its authenticity.”
20. Anon. “Cultural Hegemony,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 22/09/2012.
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_hegemony. See the work of Antonio Gramsci and his theory of cultural hegemony.
21. Anon. “Patriarchy,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 22/09/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patriarchy
22. Anon. “Individualism,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 22/09/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Individualism
23. Anon. “Family values,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 22/09/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_values
“Family values are political and social beliefs that hold the nuclear family to be the essential ethical and moral unit of society.”
24. Anon. “Norm (sociology),” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 22/09/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norm_(sociology)
“Social norms are the behaviours and cues within a society or group. This sociological term has been defined as “the rules that a group uses for appropriate and inappropriate values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviours. These rules may be explicit or implicit. Failure to follow the rules can result in severe punishments, including exclusion from the group.””
25. See Anon. “Morality,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 22/09/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morality
26. See Anon. “Ethics,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 22/09/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethics
27. Anon. “Part Four: More Legal Issues in Creative Projects,” in How2Where2. Australia Council for the Arts website [Online] Cited 17/09/2012.
28. See Anon. “Shock art,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 22/09/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shock_art
29. Anon. “More harm in sport than nudes: Henson,” on 9 News website. Posted 02/08/2010. [Online] Cited 22/10/2010. No longer available.
See also AAP. “Stars back controversial photographer Bill Henson,” on News.com.au website. Posted 27/05/2008. [Online] Cited 22/09/2012. www.news.com.au/figures-back-child-photos/story-e6frfkp9-1111116458646
A good summary of the events can be found at the Slackbastard blog with attendant links to newspaper articles. Anon. “Bill Henson: Art or pornography?” on Slackbastard blog. Posted 25/08/2010. [Online] Cited 22/09/2012. slackbastard.anarchobase.com/?p=1174
More recently see Hunt, Nigel. “Bill Henson pulls controversial exhibition at Art Gallery after call from detective to Jay Weatherill,” on The Advertiser website September 18, 2013 [Online] Cited 22/10/2013.
www.adelaidenow.com.au/entertainment/arts/bill-henson-pulls-controversial-exhibition-at-art-gallery-after-call-from-detective-to-jay-weatherill/news-story/e34f5e45bdd4b8d3aac9bc7cc0edf0b6
30. Australia Council for the Arts. “Protocols for working with children in art,” on the Australia Council for the Arts website. [Online] Cited 22/09/2012.
31. See Anon. “Social Conservatism,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 22/09/2012.
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_conservatism
“Social conservatism is a political or moral ideology that believes government and/or society have a role in encouraging or enforcing what they consider traditional values or behaviours… Social conservatives in many countries generally: favor the pro-life position in the abortion controversy; oppose all forms of and wish to ban embryonic stem cell research; oppose both Eugenics (inheritable genetic modification) and human enhancement (Transhumanism) while supporting Bioconservatism; support a traditional definition of marriage as being one man and one woman; view the nuclear family model as society’s foundational unit; oppose expansion of civil marriage and child adoption rights to couples in same-sex relationships; promote public morality and traditional family values; oppose secularism and privatisation of religious belief; support the prohibition of drugs, prostitution, premarital sex, non-marital sex and euthanasia; and support the censorship of pornography and what they consider to be obscenity or indecency.”
32. Bunyan, Marcus. “Research notes on George Platt Lynes Photographs from the Collection at the Kinsey Institute, Bloomington, Indiana,” in Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male. Melbourne: RMIT University, 2001 [Online] Cited 02/09/2012. www.marcusbunyan.com/ptf/thesismain_l.html
33. “It seems hard to believe now, in 2009, that many of these images were once considered vulgar and obscene, and a violation of common decency. Even more difficult to wrap our heads around is the fact that people went to jail for merely possessing them, rather than producing them. One thinks of the noted critic Newton Arvin, a professor at Smith College, and lover of Truman Capote’s, who was disgraced when a collection of relatively innocent physique photography was found in his apartment. Today he’d be on Charlie Rose talking about the joys of the art form. We’ve come a long way. But perhaps not far enough. I’m not able to post some of the more explicit images from this book here on my blog without risking its being banished to the adult section of Google’s blog services.”
Peters, Brook. “Renaissance Men,” on An Open Book blog, June 19th 2009. [Online] Cited 05/11/2010. No longer available online
34. International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies (IFACCA). “Statistical Indicators for Arts Policy,” on the IFACCA website, Sydney, 2005, p. 7 [Online] Cited 05/11/2010. No longer available
35. Gaut, Berys. Art, emotion and ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Chapter 1 The Long Debate, 2007, p. 7
36. Ibid., p. 11
37. Anon. “Is it art or is it porn?” in The Australian. February 23rd 2008 [Online] Cited 07/09/2012.
38. Duelund, Peter. “The rationalities of cultural policy: Approach to a critical model of analysing cultural policy,” in Nordic Cultural Institute Papers 2005 [Online] Cited 05/09/2012.
39. Johnson, Denise. “Politics,” on Slide Projector website [Online] Cited 05/11/2010. No longer available
40. Gilchrist, Kate. “God does not live in Victoria,” on ‘Does Blasphemy Exist?’ web page of the Arts Law Centre of Australia Online website [Online] Cited 06/10/2010. No longer available
41. Long, Brian. Notes on marking of short transgressive essay. 31/10/2010
42. Long, Brian. Notes on marking of short transgressive essay. 31/10/2010
43. Tagg, John. The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1988, p. 87
44. Hayles, Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999, pp. 30-33
45. Anon. “Transgressive Art,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 11/09/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transgressive_art
46. Anon. “Subversion,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 11/09/2012. /en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subversion
47. Anon. “Blasphemy,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 11/09/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blasphemy
48. Anon. “Blasphemy law in Australia,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 11/09/2012.
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blasphemy_law_in_Australia
49. Anon. “Defamation,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 11/09/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defamation
50. Anon. “Obscenity,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 11/09/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obscenity
51. Anon. “Freedom of Speech,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 11/09/2012.
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_speech
52. Anon. “Censorship,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 11/09/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship
53. Anon. “Taboo,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 11/09/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taboo
54. Anon. “Topography (disambiguation),” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 11/09/2012.
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Topography_(disambiguation)
55. Anon. “New Topographics,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 11/09/2012.
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Topography
56. Anon. “Morality,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 11/09/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morality
57. Anon. “Other,” on Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 11/09/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Other

 

 

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26
Sep
13

Exhibition: ‘Un/Natural Color’ at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CA

Exhibition dates: 7th July – 29th September 2013

 

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

 

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Un/Natural Color' at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Un/Natural Color' at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Un/Natural Color' at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition Un/Natural Color at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art

 

 

This exhibition looks at the powerful relationship between colour and memory by considering photographs and the ways in which their unique colour palettes evoke specific moments of the historical past. From the pastel hues of 19th-century hand-painted portraits, to the vibrant colours of late-1930s Kodachrome transparencies, and the faded, shifted tones of snapshots from the 1970s, different kinds of colour reproduction are closely associated with the time periods that they most frequently represent. Each experiment in colour photography was originally meant to convey a sense of the natural hues of the world, but as our expectations for realistic representation have evolved, these earlier technologies for representing colour have also taken on new meaning. Today, the distinctive colours found in many vintage photographs speak as loudly to contemporary viewers about the period in which they were made as the content that they render visible. The exhibition suggests that the aesthetics of colour are closely related to the evolution of photographic technology over the past 100 years, and encourages visitors to rethink the significance of colour in contemporary photography through the lens of its multi-coloured past. This exhibition was organised by Kim Beil, an art historian who teaches at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Text from the Santa Barbara Museum of Art website

 

Jack Delano. 'Barker at the Grounds of the Vermont State Fair, Rutland' 1941, printed 1983

 

Jack Delano (American, 1914-1997)
Barker at the Grounds of the Vermont State Fair, Rutland
1941, printed 1983
Dye transfer print
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Gift of the Bruce Berman and Nancy Goliger Berman Collection

 

Jack Delano. 'At the Vermont State Fair, Rutland' 1941, printed 1985

 

Jack Delano (American, 1914-1997)
At the Vermont State Fair, Rutland
1941, printed 1985
Dye transfer print
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Gift of the Bruce Berman and Nancy Goliger Berman Collection

 

William Eggleston. 'Farm truck, Memphis, Tennessee' 1972

 

William Eggleston (American, b. 1939)
Farm truck, Memphis, Tennessee
1972
Dye-transfer print

 

Leroy Grannis (American, 1917-2011) 'Greg Noll Surf Team at Duke Kahanamoku Invitational, Sunset Beach' 1966, printed 2005

 

Leroy Grannis (American, 1917-2011)
Greg Noll Surf Team at Duke Kahanamoku Invitational, Sunset Beach
1966, printed 2005
C-print, ed. 1/9
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Museum purchase with funds provided by Janet and Michael G. Wilson

 

 

Un/Natural Color, an exhibition of colour photography from the Santa Barbara Museum of Art’s (SBMA) permanent collection, illustrates the history of colour photography since the 19th century and examines how the shifted or faded colours of old photographs can evoke moments in the historical past. Responding to the widespread use of nostalgic filters in popular photography and social media apps, such as Instagram and Twitter, this presentation enables visitors to see first-hand the historical processes that inspired the aesthetics of these digital manipulations. Despite their reputation for preserving memories and stopping time, photographs themselves are susceptible to material changes over time. These changes are often most visible in the radical colour shifts seen in old photographs, from the characteristic pink hue of snapshots from the 1950s to the yellowed borders and cool cast of prints from the 1970s. These changes also serve to complicate any simple belief in the ability of photography to faithfully represent the natural colours of the world.

While the exhibition includes a number of experimental early processes, including the chromolithographically-derived Photochrom process as well as an early Autochrome, the bulk of the imagery is drawn from the decades following the pivotal invention of Kodachrome, the first colour slide film, which was made commercially available in 1936. Because this film, as well as Kodacolor negative film (1942), was sent back to Eastman-Kodak for processing, photographers’ control over their imagery was greatly reduced, leading many art photographers to resist the transition to colour until decades later.

Un/Natural Color includes rarely-seen colour work by two notable documentary photographers of the Depression era, Jack Delano and Marion Post Wolcott. Both worked for the Farm Security Administration (a government program associated with the New Deal) and made limited use of colour film while on assignment documenting the effects of the Great Depression on rural American. Very few (if any) of these images were reproduced in the popular press, however, owing to the difficulty and cost of reproducing colour photographs, and to colour photography’s overwhelming association with commercial advertising at this time (as in Elmar Ludwig and Edmund Nägele’s image of the popular resort chain, Butlin’s).

The art establishment at large expressed little interest in colour photography until the mid-1970s, following the inclusion of colour work in two groundbreaking exhibitions: Stephen Shore’s vernacular landscapes in New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape at the George Eastman House in Rochester, NY (1975) and the solo exhibition of William Eggleston’s colour photography at the Museum of Modern Art, NY (1976). Both of these important photographers are represented in Un/Natural Color, as well as work by photographers exploring similar uses of colour to record everyday American scenes, including Jeff Brouws, Jim Dow, and Joel Meyerowitz.

Prior to the 1970s, some tentative forays into colour photography were made by art photographers primarily known for their work in black-and-white (notably Harry Callahan), but colour was more often derided for its populist associations and was typically allied with either snapshot photography or advertising and Hollywood. The negative connotation that colour photography had acquired over the years in the art world was critical to its adoption by photographers like Shore and Eggleston, who used it to challenge conventional expectations for photographic art and to force viewers to look with new eyes at the familiar world around them.

An image such as Greg Noll Surf Team at Duke Kahanamoku Invitational, Sunset Beach by Leroy Grannis highlights the powerful ability of colour photography to summon a unique historical moment. It is not just the classic haircut and short surf trunks sported by the surf legend, Greg Noll, that situates this photograph in the 1960s. Colour photography at this time typically recorded colour in a highly saturated, though fairly uniform manner, leaving some aspects of this photograph looking flat, rather than mimicking the subtle modulation of tone that is more commonly associated with the perception of depth by human vision.

The characteristic manner by which different colour processes represent the colours of the world, as well as the changes that such colour photographs suffer over time, are powerful indicators of the photograph’s history. When we look at colour photographs, all of these markers are brought to bear on our interpretation of their subjects, leading us to question: what is natural colour anyway?

Press release from the Santa Barbara Museum of Art website

 

Roman Freulich. 'Gloria Swanson' Nd

 

Roman Freulich (American, born Poland 1898-1974)
Gloria Swanson
Nd
Dye transfer print
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Gift of Judith Caditz, Allan M. Caditz, Ellen Joan Abramson and Norman Abramson

 

William Edwin Gledhill (Canadian, 1888-1976) 'Amanda Duff' 1935

 

William Edwin Gledhill (Canadian, 1888-1976)
Amanda Duff
1935
Dye transfer print
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Gift of Keith Gledhill

 

Elmar Ludwig and Edmond Nagele. 'The Indoor-Heated Pool, Butlin’s Mosney' Nd

 

Elmar Ludwig (German, b. 1935) and Edmund Nägele (German, b. 1942)
The Indoor-Heated Pool, Butlin’s Mosney
Nd

 

William Henry Jackson. 'Colorado Railway Mountain View' 1898

 

William Henry Jackson (American, 1843-1942)
Colorado Railway Mountain View
1898
Photochrom
Santa Barbra Museum of Art, Museum purchase

 

2010.6.3-Jackson-WEB

 

William Henry Jackson (American, 1843-1942)
Colorado Grand Canyon of the Arkansas
1898
Photochrom
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Museum purchase

 

Saul Leiter. 'Snow' 1960

 

Saul Leiter (American, 1923-2013)
Snow
1960

 

 

Santa Barbara Museum of Art
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21
Apr
13

Exhibition: ‘The Shaping of New Visions: Photography, Film, Photobook’ at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 18th April 2012 – 29th April 2013

 

Josef Albers. 'Marli Heimann, Alle während 1 Stunde (Marli Heimann, All During an Hour)' 1931

 

Josef Albers
Marli Heimann, Alle während 1 Stunde (Marli Heimann, All During an Hour)
1931
Twelve gelatin silver prints
Overall 11 11/16 x 16 7/16″ (29.7 x 41.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of The Josef Albers Foundation, Inc.
© 2012 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Another fascinating exhibition and a bumper posting to boot (pardon the pun!)

A panoply of famous photographers along with a few I had never heard of before (such as Georges Hugnet) are represented in this posting. As the press blurb states, through “key photographic projects, experimental films, and photobooks, The Shaping of New Visions offers a critical reassessment of photography’s role in the avant-garde and neo-avant-garde movements, and in the development of contemporary artistic practices.”

The large exhibition seems to have a finger in every pie, wandering from the birth of the 20th-century modern metropolis, through “New Vision” photography in the 1920s, experimental film, Surrealism, Constructivism and New Objectivity, Dada, Rayographs, photographic avant-gardism, photocollages, photomontages, street photography of the  1960s, colour slide projection performance, through New Topographics, self-published books, and conceptual photography, featuring works that reevaluate the material and contextual definitions of photography. “The final gallery showcases major installations by a younger generation of artists whose works address photography’s role in the construction of contemporary history.”

Without actually going to New York to see the exhibition (I wish!!) – from a distance it does seem a lot of ground to cover within 5 galleries even if there are 250 works. You could say this is a “meta” exhibition, drawing together themes and experiments from different areas of photography with rather a long bow. Have a look at the The Shaping of New Visions exhibition checklist to see the full listing of what’s on show and you be the judge. There are some rare and beautiful images that’s for sure. From the photographs in this posting I would have to say the distorted “eyes” have it…

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
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.

 

 

 

László Moholy-Nagy (Hungarian, 1895-1946)
Ein Lichtspiel: schwarz weiss grau (A Lightplay: Black White Gray) (excerpt)
1930

 

 

This short film made by László Moholy-Nagy is based on the shadow patterns created by his Light-Space Modulator, an early kinetic sculpture consisting of a variety of curved objects in a carefully choreographed cycle of movements. Created in 1930, the film was originally planned as the sixth and final part of a much longer work depicting the new space-time.

 

 

Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler
Manhatta
1921
Film
Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York
© Aperture Foundation Inc., Paul Strand Archive

 

 

In 1920 Paul Strand and artist Charles Sheeler collaborated on Manhatta, a short silent film that presents a day in the life of lower Manhattan. Inspired by Walt Whitman’s book Leaves of Grass, the film includes multiple segments that express the character of New York. The sequences display a similar approach to the still photography of both artists. Attracted by the cityscape and its visual design, Strand and Sheeler favored extreme camera angles to capture New York’s dynamic qualities. Although influenced by Romanticism in its view of the urban environment, Manhatta is considered the first American avant-garde film.

 

 

Dziga Vertov (Russian, 1896-1954)
Chelovek s kinoapparatom (Man with a Movie Camera)
1929
Film
1 hr 6 mins 49 secs

 

 

Excerpt from a camera operators diary
ATTENTION VIEWERS:
This film is an experiment in cinematic communication of real events
Without the help of Intertitles
Without the help of a story
Without the help of theatre
This experimental work aims at creating a truly international language of cinema based on its absolute separation from the language of theatre and literature

 

Eleanor Antin. '100 Boots' 1971-1973

Eleanor Antin. '100 Boots' 1971-1973

Eleanor Antin. '100 Boots' 1971-1973

 

Eleanor Antin (American, b. 1935)
100 Boots
1971-1973
Photographed by Philip Steinmetz
Halftone reproductions on 51 cards
4 ½ x 7 in. each
Courtesy Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York
© Eleanor Antin

 

August Sander. 'Das rechte Auge meiner Tochter Sigrid (The Right Eye of My Daughter Sigrid)' 1928

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Das rechte Auge meiner Tochter Sigrid (The Right Eye of My Daughter Sigrid)
1928
Gelatin silver print
7 1/16 x 9″ (17.9 x 22.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the photographer
© 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

Dziga Vertov. 'Chelovek s kinoapparatom (Man with a Movie Camera)' (still) 1929

 

Dziga Vertov (Russian, 1896-1954)
Chelovek s kinoapparatom (Man with a Movie Camera) (still)
1929
35mm film
65 min ( black and white, silent)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Department of Film

 

Man Ray. 'Rayograph' 1922

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Rayograph
1922
Gelatin silver print (photogram)
9 3/8 x 11 3/4″ (23.9 x 29.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of James Thrall Soby
© 2012 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

William Klein (American, born 1928) 'Gun, Gun, Gun, New York' 1955

 

William Klein (American, b. 1928)
Gun, Gun, Gun, New York 
1955
Gelatin silver print
10 1/4 x 13 5/8″ (26 x 34.6 cm)
Gift of Arthur and Marilyn Penn

 

Georges Hugnet (French, 1906-1974) 'Untitled [Surrealist beach collage]' c. 1935

 

Georges Hugnet (French, 1906-1974)
Untitled [Surrealist beach collage]
c. 1935
Collage of photogravure, lithograph, chromolithograph and gelatin silver prints on gelatin silver print
11 7/8 x 9 7/16″ (30.2 x 24cm)
Gift of Timothy Baum in memory of Harry H. Lunn, Jr.

 

Martha Rosler. 'Red Stripe Kitchen' 1967-1972

 

Martha Rosler (American, b. 1943)
Red Stripe Kitchen
1967-1972
From the series Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful 
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2011
23 3/4 x 18 1/8″ (60.3 x 46cm)
Purchase and The Modern Women’s Fund

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art draws from its collection to present the exhibition The Shaping of New Visions: Photography, Film, Photobook on view from April 18, 2012, to April 29, 2013. Filling the third-floor Edward Steichen Photography Galleries, this installation presents more than 250 works by approximately 90 artists, with a focus on new acquisitions and groundbreaking projects by Man Ray, László Moholy-Nagy, Aleksandr Rodchenko, Germaine Krull, Dziga Vertov, Gerhard Rühm, Helen Levitt, Robert Frank, Daido Moriyama, Robert Heinecken, Edward Ruscha, Martha Rosler, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Paul Graham, and The Atlas Group / Walid Raad. The exhibition is organised by Roxana Marcoci, Curator, Department of Photography, The Museum of Modern Art.

Punctuated by key photographic projects, experimental films, and photobooks, The Shaping of New Visions offers a critical reassessment of photography’s role in the avant-garde and neo-avant-garde movements, and in the development of contemporary artistic practices. The shaping of what came to be known as “new vision” photography in the 1920s bore the obvious influence of “lens-based” and “time-based” works. The first gallery begins with photographs capturing the birth of the 20th-century modern metropolis by Berenice Abbott, Edward Steichen, and Alfred Stieglitz, presented next to the avant-garde film Manhatta (1921), a collaboration between Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler.

The 1920s were a period of landmark constructions and scientific discoveries all related to light – from Thomas Edison’s development of incandescent light to Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity and light speed. Man Ray began experimenting with photograms (pictures made by exposing objects placed on photosensitive paper to light) – which he renamed “rayographs” after himself – in which light was both the subject and medium of his work. This exhibition presents Man Ray’s most exquisite rayographs, alongside his first short experimental film, Le Retour à la raison (Return to Reason, 1923), in which he extended the technique to moving images.

In 1925, two years after he joined the faculty of the Bauhaus school in Weimar Germany, László Moholy-Nagy published his influential book Malerei, Fotografie, Film (Painting, Photography, Film) – part of a series that he coedited with Bauhaus director Walter Gropius – in which he asserted that photography and cinema are heralding a “culture of light” that has overtaken the most innovative aspects of painting. Moholy-Nagy extolled photography and, by extension, film as the quintessential medium of the future. Moholy-Nagy’s interest in the movement of objects and light through space led him to construct Light-Space Modulator, the subject of his only abstract film, Ein Lichtspiel: schwarz weiss grau (A Lightplay: Black White Gray, 1930), which is presented in the exhibition next to his own photographs and those of Florence Henri.

The rise of photographic avant-gardism from the 1920s to the 1940s is traced in the second gallery primarily through the work of European artists. A section on Constructivism and New Objectivity features works by Paul Citroën, Raoul Hausmann, Florence Henri, Germaine Krull, El Lissitzky, Albert Renger-Patzsch, and August Sander. A special focus on Aleksandr Rodchenko underscores his engagement with the illustrated press through collaborations with Vladimir Mayakovsky and Sergei Tretyakov on the covers and layouts of Novyi LEF, the Soviet avant-garde journal of the “Left Front of the Arts,” which popularised the idea of “factography,” or the manufacture of innovative aesthetic facts through photomechanical processes. Alongside Rodchenko, film director Dziga Vertov redefined the medium of still and motion-picture photography with the concept of kino-glaz (cine-eye), according to which the perfectible lens of the camera led to the creation of a novel perception of the world. The exhibition features the final clip of Vertov’s 1929 experimental film Chelovek s kinoapparatom (Man with a Movie Camera), in which the eye is superimposed on the camera lens to form an indivisible apparatus fit to view, process, and convey reality, all at once. This gallery also features a selection of Dada and Surrealist works, including rarely seen photographs, photocollages, and photomontages by Hans Bellmer, Claude Cahun, George Hugnet, André Kertész, Jan Lukas, and Grete Stern, alongside such avant-garde publications as Documents and Littérature.

The third gallery features artists exploring the social world of the postwar period. On view for the first time is a group of erotic and political typo-collages by Gerhard Rühm, a founder of the Wiener Gruppe (1959-60), an informal group of Vienna-based writers and artists who engaged in radical visual dialogues between pictures and texts. The rebels of street photography – Robert Frank, William Klein, Daido Moriyama, and Garry Winogrand – are represented with a selection of works that refute the then prevailing rules of photography, offering instead elliptical, off-kilter styles that are as personal and controversial as are their unsparing views of postwar society. A highlight of this section is the pioneering slide show Projects: Helen Levitt in Color (1971-74). Capturing the lively beat, humour, and drama of New York’s street theatre, Levitt’s slide projection is shown for the first time at MoMA since its original presentation at the Museum in 1974.

Photography’s tradition in the postwar period continues in the fourth gallery, which is divided into two sections. One section features “new topographic” works by Robert Adams, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Stephen Shore, and Joel Sternfeld, along with a selection of Edward Ruscha’s self-published books, in which the use of photography as mapmaking signals a conceptual thrust. This section introduces notable works from the 1970s by artists who embraced photography not just as a way of describing experience, but as a conceptual tool. Examples include Eleanor Antin’s 100 Boots (1971-73), Mel Bochner’s Misunderstandings (A theory of photography) (1970), VALIE EXPORT’s Einkreisung (Encirclement) (1976), On Kawara’s I Got Up… (1977), and Gordon Matta-Clark’s Splitting (1974), all works that reevaluate the material and contextual definitions of photography. The other section features two major and highly experimental recent acquisitions: Martha Rosler’s political magnum opus Bringing the War Home (1967-72), developed in the context of her anti-war and feminist activism, for which the artist spliced together images of domestic bliss clipped from the pages of House Beautiful with grim pictures of the war in Vietnam taken from Life magazine; and Sigmar Polke’s early 1970s experiments with multiple exposures, reversed tonal values, and under-and-over exposures, which underscore the artist’s idea that “a negative is never finished.” The unmistakably cinematic turn that photography takes in the 1980s and early 1990s is represented with a selection of innovative works ranging from Robert Heinecken’s Recto/Verso (1988) to Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s breakthrough Hustler series (1990-92).

The final gallery showcases major installations by a younger generation of artists whose works address photography’s role in the construction of contemporary history. Tapping into forms of archival reconstitution, The Atlas Group / Walid Raad is represented with My Neck Is Thinner Than a Hair: Engines (1996-2004), an installation of 100 pictures of car-bomb blasts in Beirut during the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990) that provokes questions about the factual nature of existing records, the traces of war, and the symptoms of trauma. A selection from Harrell Fletcher’s The American War (2005) brings together bootlegged photojournalistic pictures of the U.S. military involvement in Southeast Asia, throwing into sharp focus photography’s role as a documentary and propagandistic medium in the shaping of historical memory. Jules Spinatsch’s Panorama: World Economic Forum, Davos (2003), made of thousands of still images and three surveillance video works, chronicles the preparations for the 2003 World Economic Forum, when the entire Davos valley was temporarily transformed into a high security zone. A selection of Paul Graham’s photographs from his major photobook project a shimmer of possibility (2007), consisting of filmic haikus about everyday life in today’s America, concludes the exhibition.

Press release from the MOMA website

 

On Kawara. 'I Got Up At...' 1974-75

 

On Kawara (Japanese, 1932-2014)
I Got Up At…
1974-75
(Ninety postcards with printed rubber stamps)

 

 

The semi autobiographical I Got Up At… by On Kawara is a series of postcards sent to John Baldessari. Each card was sent from his location that morning detailing the time he got up. The time marked on each card varies drastically from day to day, the time stamped on each card is the time he left his bed as opposed to actually waking up. Kawara’s work often acts to document his existence in time, giving a material form to which is formally immaterial. The series has been repeated frequently sending the cards to a variety of friends and colleagues.

 

Philip-Lorca diCorcia. 'Marilyn; 28 Years Old; Las Vegas, Nevada; $30' 1990-92

 

Philip-Lorca diCorcia (American, b. 1951)
Marilyn; 28 Years Old; Las Vegas, Nevada; $30
1990-92
Chromogenic colour print
24 x 35 15/16″ (61 x 91.4cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. E.T. Harmax Foundation Fund
© 2012 Philip-Lorca diCorcia, courtesy David Zwirner, New York

 

Helen Levitt. 'Projects: Helen Levitt in Color' 1971-74 (detail)

Helen Levitt. 'Projects: Helen Levitt in Color' 1971-74 (detail)

 

Helen Levitt (American, 1913-2009)
Projects: Helen Levitt in Color (detail)
1971-74
40 colour slides shown in continuous projection
Originally presented at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, September 26-October 20, 1974

 

Atlas Group, Walid Raad. 'My Neck is Thinner Than a Hair: Engines' 1996-2004 (detail)

 

Atlas Group, Walid Raad
My Neck is Thinner Than a Hair: Engines (detail)
1996-2004
100 pigmented inkjet prints
9 7/16 x 13 3/8″ (24 x 34cm) each
Fund for the Twenty-First Century

 

Daido Moriyama. 'Entertainer on Stage, Shimizu' 1967

 

Daido Moriyama (Japanese, b. 1938)
Entertainer on Stage, Shimizu
1967
Gelatin silver print
18 7/8 x 28″ (48.0 x 71.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the photographer
© 2012 Daido Moriyama

 

VALIE EXPORT. 'Einkreisung (Encirclement)' 1976

 

VALIE EXPORT (Austrian, b. 1940)
Einkreisung (Encirclement)
1976
From the series Körperkonfigurationen (Body Configurations)
Gelatin silver print with red ink
14 x 23 7/16″ (35.5 x 59.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Carl Jacobs Fund
© 2012 VALIE EXPORT / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VBK, Austria

 

Grete Stern. No. 1 from the series Sueños (Dreams) 1949

 

Grete Stern (German-Argentinian, 1904-1999)
No. 1 from the series Sueños (Dreams)
1949
Gelatin silver print
10 1/2 x 9″ (26.6 x 22.9cm)
Latin American and Caribbean Fund through gift of Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis in honor of Adriana Cisneros de Griffin
© 2012 Horacio Coppola

 

Sigmar Polke. 'Untitled (Mariette Althaus)' c. 1975

 

Sigmar Polke (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled (Mariette Althaus)
c. 1975
Gelatin silver print (red toned)
9 1/4 x 11 13/16″ (23.5 x 30cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquired through the generosity of Edgar Wachenheim III and Ronald S. Lauder
© 2012 Estate of Sigmar Polke / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, Germany

 

Martha Rosler. 'Hands Up / Makeup' 1967-1972

 

Martha Rosler (American, b. 1943)
Hands Up / Makeup
1967-1972
From the series Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2011
23 3/4 x 13 15/16″ (60.4 x 35.4cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase and The Modern Women’s Fund
© 2012 Martha Rosler

 

Robert Heinecken. 'Recto/Verso #2' 1988

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006)
Recto/Verso #2
1988
Silver dye bleach print
8 5/8 x 7 7/8″ (21.9 x 20cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Mr. and Mrs. Clark Winter Fund
© 2012 The Robert Heinecken Trust

 

Berenice Abbott. 'Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman' Negative c. 1930/Distortion c. 1950

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman
Negative c. 1930/Distortion c. 1950
Gelatin silver print, 12 3/4 x 10 1/8″ (32.6 x 25.7cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Frances Keech Fund in honor of Monroe Wheeler
© 2012 Berenice Abbott/Commerce Graphics

 

Raoul Hausmann. 'Untitled' February 1931

 

Raoul Hausmann (Austrian, 1886-1971)
Untitled
February 1931
Gelatin silver print
5 3/8 x 4 7/16″ (13.6 x 11.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2012 Raoul Hausmann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

Claude Cahun. 'Untitled' c. 1928

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Untitled
c. 1928
Gelatin silver print
4 9/16 x 3 1/2″ (10 x 7.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase and anonymous promised gift
© 2012 Estate of Claude Cahun

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko. 'Sovetskoe foto (Soviet Photo)' No. 10 October 1927

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Sovetskoe foto (Soviet Photo) No. 10
October 1927
Letterpress
10 3/8 x 7 1/4″ (26.3 x 18.4 cm)
Publisher: Ogonek, Moscow
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the Judith Rothschild Foundation

 

 

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20
Jan
13

Review: ‘Ingeborg Tyssen: photographs’ at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 23rd November 2012 – 3rd February 2013

 

Ingeborg Tyssen. 'Untitled' from the series 'People' 1977

 

Ingeborg Tyssen (Netherlands, Australia 1945-2002)
Untitled
1977
From the People series
Gelatin silver print
Image size 20.1 x 25.2cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated by Janice Hinderaker through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2003

 

 

“Tysenn clearly felt a deep sense of dislocation from her country of birth, its national identity and cultural conventions. It was apparent in her ongoing explorations of the Australian landscape that on her arrival she had met with more than just an initial linguistic barrier, and there were also barriers to understanding the Australian landscape which was so far and different to European forests and Dutch tales and legends about them that she grew up with.”

.
Essay “Remembering Ingeborg” by Sandra Byron

 

“Tyssen’s people are not known to her, rather are studies of anonymous people: in action, in the city, at a fairground. The People series – City Light 1977 images reveal a sense of isolation in a crowd. People emerging from the dark shadows of the same station/ mall and march into the sunlight. They are expressionless, uncommunicative, isolated, yet display a keen sense of self and appearance. Mostly minding their own business, doing their own thing, they seem undisturbed by the female photographer standing nearby. She must not have been intrusive or demanding, just there with her camera at the ready.”

.
Fiona McIntosh on the art out there blog 2012

 

 

Ingeborg Tyssen. 'Untitled' from the series 'People' 1977

 

Ingeborg Tyssen (Netherlands, Australia 1945-2002)
Untitled
1977
From the People series
Gelatin silver print
Image size 20.1 x 25.2cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated by Janice Hinderaker through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2003

 

Ingeborg Tyssen. 'Untitled' from the series 'People' 1977

 

Ingeborg Tyssen (Netherlands, Australia 1945-2002)
Untitled
1977
From the People series
Gelatin silver print
Image size 20.1 x 25.2cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated by Janice Hinderaker through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2003

 

Ingeborg Tyssen. 'Untitled' from the series 'People' 1977

 

Ingeborg Tyssen (Netherlands, Australia 1945-2002)
Untitled
1977
From the People series
Gelatin silver print
Image size 20.1 x 25.2cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated by Janice Hinderaker through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2003

 

Ingeborg Tyssen. 'Untitled' from the series 'People' 1977

 

Ingeborg Tyssen (Netherlands, Australia 1945-2002)
Untitled
1977
From the People series
Gelatin silver print
Image size 20.1 x 25.2cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated by Janice Hinderaker through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2003

 

Ingeborg Tyssen. 'Untitled' from the series 'People' 1977

 

Ingeborg Tyssen
Untitled
1977
From the People series
Gelatin silver print
Image size 20.1 x 25.2cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated by Janice Hinderaker through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2003

 

Garry Winogrand. 'Untitled' from Women are Beautiful' Nd/1981

 

Garry Winogrand (American, 1928-1984)
Untitled
Nd (1960s) / published 1981
From the portfolio Women are Beautiful
Silver gelatin print

 

Harry Callahan. 'Chicago' 1961

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999)
Chicago
1961
Gelatin silver print
Overall (image): 40.6 x 27.1cm (16 x 10 11/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of the Callahan Family
© Estate of Harry Callahan, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

 

“Ingeborg Tyssen was one of the great Australian photographers of her generation.” (Press release)

“Ingeborg Tysenn was one of Australia’s most important post war artists.”
(Essay “Remembering Ingeborg” by Sandra Byron)

 

 

This is a very disappointing exhibition of the work of Australian photographer Ingeborg Tyssen at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne encumbered as it is by the above two statements. On the evidence of the work presented neither statement is true. Whoever is pushing this barrow (and it is a large barrow to push) should really stop and have a damn good look at the work to see whether it is worthy of such claims and what they hope to achieve by promoting such statements. If they really looked objectively they would see that the art just is, and nothing more.

Being a cultural commentator means that you have to form an opinion on the work presented. For me this involves the eye (what the work looks like), the head (undertaking research into the artist) and the heart (how I feel about the work). Then and only then can you make an informed decision on the merits of the work. With Tyssen’s work there were four standout photographs in the exhibition (people in a swimming pool taken in the Modernist style, part of the 1981 Ryde Pool, Sydney series, none of which I can show you in this posting) and the rest of the photographs were serviceable but derivative of other artists.

Tyssen was born in The Netherlands and arrived here when she was 12 years old. Her photographs show a European and Australian sensibility, a dislocation from but also an attraction toward both her native country and her adopted country Australia. Her photographs can be divided into various styles: early documentary street photography (the People series, 1977), Modernist photography (Ryde Pool, Sydney series, 1981 and From the heart of the forest to the edge of the road series, 1982-84), New Topographics photography (Billboards and Trees series, 1981-82) and Romantic photography (The voice of silence series 1991-92). Unfortunately, Tyssen never seems to have developed a voice of her own, a signature style that you could say was unique to her own art practice. So many of these photographs are derivative of other photographers who have already invented and mastered that style that nothing seems to belong to Tyssen herself. She seems to have been enamoured of style after style.

In the high contrast, small scale People series (1977, above) the animals are particularly unapproachable. While exhibiting a sense of Australian light and an intimation of Australia’s white only policy – there is a specific Australian-ness in the people she has chosen and the atmosphere of Whitlam / post Whitlam remaking of the Australian identity; even the lady with the European aura knows she is in Australia, perhaps she even knows she is in the Australian light – these are hard images to engage with emotionally, unlike the psychological works of Harry Callahan and Garry Winogrand. Problematically, the Billboards and Trees series (both 1981-82, below) are so redolent of American photography (both in physical dis/location and surface remarks) that I felt I had seen it all before and done better. In these series Australia morphs into America and not in a good way; I did not find the artist’s purported wit and humour any help either. In the panoramic series From the heart of the forest to the edge of the road (1982-84, below) Tyssen comes closest to capturing the intensity of the Australian landscape only to be let down by a) the quality of the prints and b) the fact that the title is a coat hanger, allowing the artist to hang disparate images together that really have no relationship to each other – an overall lumping together concept. The prints themselves do nothing to support the work, being sometimes too pale and insignificant to hold the image, too flat. Playing with the print and its tonal range and surface qualities does little to help an overall vision of the work or help the viewer engage with the content.

In my notes I wrote in capital letters: THEY DON’T ENGAGE ME!
In other words, there was nothing that held my attention image after image, time after time.

Tyssen seems to have known her limitations as well. She just wanted to be a photographer and kept persevering at her art. At their best Tyssen’s photographs lie somewhere between Kertesz and Cartier-Bresson without the decisive moment (look at the photograph Taronga Zoo, Sydney, 1974 below and you will understand what I mean). The weakness of her images was really brought home to me when, in a small gallery off to the side of the main space, there in all its glory was one of the iconic images of a generation – Vale Street (1975) by Carol Jerrems. This one image, one image, had more power over me, more feeling, more beauty than all of Tyssen’s images put together. People really do need to stop making grandiose statements about the work of artists and let the viewer just look clearly at the art. That way there is little expectation, the work will be taken on its merits, and everyone may be quietly surprised at the outcome.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to the Monash Gallery of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. Download the essay by Sandra Byron, “Remembering Ingeborg: A personal appreciation of the life and work of Ingeborg Tyssen” (2.24Mb pdf)

 

Ingeborg Tyssen. 'Perisher Valley, NSW' from the series 'From the heart of the forest to the edge of the road' series 1984

 

Ingeborg Tyssen (Netherlands, Australia 1945-2002)
Perisher Valley, NSW
1984
From the series From the heart of the forest to the edge of the road 1982-84
Silver gelatin print

 

Ingeborg Tyssen. 'Perisher Valley No 6, NSW' 1984

 

Ingeborg Tyssen
Perisher Valley No 6, NSW
1984
From the series From the heart of the forest to the edge of the road 1982-84
Gelatin silver print
14.5 x 35.7cm
Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund 1989
© Ingeborg Tyssen, 1984. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney
Collection of the Estate of Ingeborg Tyssen
Courtesy John Williams & Sandra Byron Gallery

 

Ingeborg TYSSEN. '
Royal Easter Show, Sydney' 1982

 

Ingeborg Tyssen (Netherlands, Australia 1945-2002)

Royal Easter Show, Sydney
1982
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the Estate of Ingeborg Tyssen

 

Ingeborg Tyssen. 'Untitled' from 'The voice of silence' series 1991-1992

 

Ingeborg Tyssen (Netherlands, Australia 1945-2002)
Untitled
1991-1992
From The voice of silence series 1991-92
Gelatin silver print

 

Ingeborg TYSSEN. 'Taronga Zoo, Sydney' 1974

 

Ingeborg Tyssen (Netherlands, Australia 1945-2002)
Taronga Zoo, Sydney
1974
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the Estate of Ingeborg Tyssen

 

Ingeborg Tyssen. 'Royal Easter Show, Sydney' 1979

 

Ingeborg Tyssen (Netherlands, Australia 1945-2002)
Royal Easter Show, Sydney
1979
Silver gelatin print
Collection of the Estate of Ingeborg Tyssen

 

 

Ingeborg Tyssen (1945-2002) was one of the great Australian photographers of her generation. Although generally overlooked by critics during her lifetime in favour of many of her male counterparts, Tyssen left us a remarkable body of work. Ingeborg Tyssen: photographs is the first museum retrospective of her work in Victoria, and the first major exhibition since her memorial show was held at the Art Gallery of NSW in 2002.

This exhibition provides a great opportunity for audiences to view the work of this major figure. Spanning 20 years of creative output from 1974-94, Ingeborg Tyssen: photographs shows Tyssen as a highly original observer of modern life. Her candid photographs of pedestrians in city streets, young kids playing in suburban swimming pools, and images of the Australian and American landscape reveal an artist whose concerns were at the forefront of Australian photographic practice.

MGA Gallery Director Shaune Lakin states, “Tyssen’s story is one of the great stories of Australian photography. Her arrival in Australia at the age of 12 as an immigrant from her native Holland and her struggle with displacement and new language and landscape is one that many Australians are familiar with. Being one of Australia’s first street photographers, she made a significant contribution to the history of Australian photography. Her experience of migration gave Tyssen a rare ability to observe people in their environment. Her earliest photographs, taken in the city streets, fun parks, and suburbs of 1970s were acute depictions of the urban isolation she felt in her new homeland. Her experience and pictures certainly remain relevant to contemporary Australia.”

In 1995 the Art Gallery of New South Wales presented a mid-career survey of her work and she continued to exhibit in commercial galleries and museums in Australia and abroad until she died as a result of a motor accident in 2002. In her obituary, critic Robert McFarlane wrote: “With Tyssen’s death, Australia has lost one of the most talented photographers from the postwar generation…The originality and lack of ego in these images will ensure their enduring place in the history of the medium.”

Tyssen studied photography under John Williams, who became her husband. She was a co-founder of the Photographers Gallery in South Yarra in 1975.

Press release from the Monash Gallery of Art website

 

Ingeborg Tyssen. 'Ryde Pool, Sydney' 1981

 

Ingeborg Tyssen (Netherlands, Australia 1945-2002)

Untitled
1981
From the series Ryde Pool, Sydney
Ink-jet print
Collection of the Estate of Ingeborg Tyssen

 

Ingeborg Tyssen. 'Pyrmont, Sydney' 1982

 

Ingeborg Tyssen (Netherlands, Australia 1945-2002)
Pyrmont, Sydney
1982
From the series Billboards 1981-82
Silver gelatin print

 

Ingeborg Tyssen. 'Annandale, Sydney' 1981

 

Ingeborg Tyssen (Netherlands, Australia 1945-2002)
Annandale, Sydney
1981
From the series Trees 1981-82
Silver gelatin print

 

 

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Victoria 3150 Australia
Phone: + 61 3 8544 0500

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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

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