Posts Tagged ‘New York City

17
Apr
22

Exhibition: ‘Celebrating the City: Recent Acquisitions from the Joy of Giving Something’ at the Museum of the City of New York

Exhibition dates: 18th February – 31st December 2022

 

William Klein (American, b. 1928) 'Christmas Shoppers' 1954

 

William Klein (American, b. 1928)
Christmas Shoppers
1954
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

Happy Easter to everyone around the world!

I had to have an emergency appendectomy on Wednesday night. Due to complications with low blood pressure and a reaction to the general anaesthetic I nearly didn’t pull through. I turned blue on the operating table, twice, for thirty seconds. Home now but not feeling so well just taking it easy… therefore a short text.

A fabulous exhibition in New York of photographs about New York: working, going, shopping, playing, gathering, loving, gazing, being, reflecting and buildings. Some excellent photographs that I have never seen before which evidence the soul of this imaginative city.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thank to the Museum of the City of New York for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Celebrating the City: Recent Acquisitions from the Joy of Giving Something' at the Museum of the City of New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Celebrating the City: Recent Acquisitions from the Joy of Giving Something' at the Museum of the City of New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Celebrating the City: Recent Acquisitions from the Joy of Giving Something' at the Museum of the City of New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Celebrating the City: Recent Acquisitions from the Joy of Giving Something' at the Museum of the City of New York

At left: Joseph Maida. Ben with fan 2001

At right: Mitch Epstein. Untitled [New York #3] 1995

 

Installation views of the exhibition Celebrating the City: Recent Acquisitions from the Joy of Giving Something at the Museum of the City of New York, showing in the bottom photograph at left, Bruce Cratsley’s Brooklyn Bridge Centennial 1983
Photos: Brad Farwell

 

 

Celebrating the City: Recent Photography Acquisitions from the Joy of Giving Something highlights a gift that has dramatically advanced the Museum’s already exceptional photography collection. Juxtaposing striking recent images with work by some of the 20th century’s most important photographers, including the Museum’s first images by Robert Frank and William Klein, the exhibition is a moving celebration of the power of photography to capture New York and New Yorkers.

Since the invention of photography, the streets of New York City have lured picture-makers from across the world. Each borough, neighbourhood, and corner offers and opportunity to see something new through the lens, yielding images as varied as the street life itself. New York’s diverse built environment provides a backdrop for the true subject of many photographers: the varied lives of New Yorkers.

The photographers in this exhibition have immortalised this ever-changing urban centre. Each has created a distinctive vision of the city, providing a window into a vast and complex metropolis. The have also made use of the changing technology of photography itself to produce images whose meanings range from apparently objective reflections of reality to highly crafted expression of the artists’ responses to the people and the city around them.

 

Introduction

New York City may always be in flux, but shared activities and experiences connect New Yorkers across time and space. For more than a century, many of the world’s best photographers have used their cameras to capture iconic scenes of New Yorkers in action – from mundane daily routines to special events of gathering and ritual. They have sought out the deeply personal moments that occur within this city of millions and have capture both the “New Yorkiness” of its inhabitants and he ways New York experiences are linked to the larger human condition.

The photographs in this gallery are arranged into themes that capture these quintessential New York moments without consideration to chronology. The images allow us to see a range of photographic styles applied to experiences that are common to so many New Yorkers, while also highlighting the ever-changing state of the city over many decades.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

 

Working

 

Michael Spano. 'Untitled (Man in street on phone, Police Plaza near Canal Street)' 1994

 

Michael Spano (American, b. 1949)
Untitled (Man in street on phone, Police Plaza near Canal Street)
1994
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

 

Michael Spano has made New York City the constant subject of his work over a long career, while exploring the possibilities of the medium, from print solarisation to collage. This photograph exemplifies Spano’s keen observational eye and attention to composition, with repeating patterns and visual dichotomy produced through light and shadow. Several other examples of work by this artist are on also on view in this gallery, including photographs from the series “Auto Portraits” and “Splits.”

 

William Gordon Shields (American, 1883-1947) 'Flag Day' 1917

 

William Gordon Shields (American, 1883-1947)
Flag Day
1917
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

Joseph Maida (American) 'Pizza Delivery' 2002

 

Joseph Maida (American)
Pizza Delivery
2002
Chromogenic development print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

Mitch Epstein (American, b. 1952) 'Untitled (New York City #21)' 1997

 

Mitch Epstein (American, b. 1952)
Untitled (New York City #21)
1997
Chromogenic development print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

 

Going

 

Inge Morath (Austrian, 1923-2002) 'A Llama in Times Square' 1957

 

Inge Morath (Austrian, 1923-2002)
A Llama in Times Square
1957
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Estate of Inge Morath

 

 

The noted photojournalist Inge Morath made this photograph of a llama in Times Square, easily her most recognisable photograph, for Life magazine in 1952. Although the image looks spontaneous, it was part of a highly planned assignment. The image was published in a one-page story, in the magazine’s humorous “Animals” section, and was entitled “High-paid llama in big city.” The piece featured a menagerie of television animals – including, in addition to the llama, dogs, cats, birds, a pig, a kangaroo, and a miniature bull – living at home with their trainers in a Manhattan brownstone. Morath’s full caption for the image reads, “Linda, the Lama [sic], rides home via Broadway. She is just coming home from a television show in New York’s ABC studios and now takes a relaxed and long-necked look at the lights of one of the world’s most famous streets.”

 

Michael Spano (American, b. 1949) '5th Ave. & the Park' 2005

 

Michael Spano (American, b. 1949)
5th Ave. & the Park
2005
From the series Auto Portraits
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

Ted Croner (American, 1922-2005) 'Going Slushy Street, Times Square' 1948

 

Ted Croner (American, 1922-2005)
Going Slushy Street, Times Square
1948
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Estate of Ted Croner

 

 

Ted Croner (1922-2005) was an American photographer, described as an influential member of the New York school of photography during the 1940s and 1950s. His images are said to represent the best example of this movement.

Born in Baltimore in 1922 and raised in North Carolina, Croner developed an interest in photography while in high school. He honed his skills while serving as an aerial photographer in World War II before settling in New York City in 1947. At the urging of fashion photographer Fernand Fonssagrives, he enrolled in Alexey Brodovitch’s class at The New School where he studied with Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon and Lisette Model. During this period he produced many of his most memorable images including “Taxi, New York Night, 1947-1948”, which appears on the cover of Bob Dylan’s 2006 album, Modern Times. Another of Croner’s photographs was used on the cover of Luna’s album Penthouse.

Croner also had a successful career as a fashion and commercial photographer – his work was published in Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. He also worked extensively with corporations such as Coca-Cola and Chase Manhattan Bank.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Ted Croner (1922-2005) was born in Baltimore, MD. and grew up in Charlotte, N.C. After joining the army during World War II, Croner worked as an aerial photographer with the United States Army Air Corps stationed in the South Pacific. In1946, Croner went to New York where he and Bill Helburn, another former Air Corps photographer, used their G.I. Bill aid to open a small photography studio on West 57th street in Manhattan. Shortly after that, Croner enrolled in Alexey Brodovitch’s photography class at the New School. Perhaps Croner’s best-known work, Taxi – New York Night, 1947-1948, was taken while he was a student in Brodovitch’s legendary “design laboratory”.

In 1948 Edward Steichen, then the director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, chose to include Croner in two exhibitions at the Museum: “In and Out of Focus” and “Four Photographers” which included three other photographers: Bill Brandt, Harry Callahan and Lisette Model. Other exhibitions of Croner’s work followed. As he continued to accept commercial work at magazines like Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, Croner pursued his own photography, producing vigorously experimental, cinematic images of cafeterias, solitary diners and the city after dark.

Interest in Croner’s work was revived with the publication of The New York School, Photographs by Jane Livingston in 1992 which followed the 1985 exhibition of the same name at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC. For the cover of the book, Livingston chose a picture by Croner, “New York at Night, 1948” which shows a Manhattan skyline reduced to abstract slashes of white light among black tall buildings against a gun-metal grey sky. This was followed by inclusion in the exhibition “By Night” at The Cartier Foundation in Paris in 1996, the Whitney Museum’s 1999 exhibition “American Century Part II” and in 2005, in the exhibition “At The Crossroads of Time: A Times Square Centennial” at the Axa Gallery in New York, and in “Street Seen: The Psychological Gesture in American Photography 1940-1959” at the Milwaukee Art Museum in 2010.

Anonymous text from the Howard Greenberg Gallery website [Online] Cited 11/02/2022

 

Ted Croner (American, 1922-2005) 'Home of the Brave, Times Square' late 1940s

 

Ted Croner (American, 1922-2005)
Home of the Brave, Times Square
late 1940s
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy of the Estate of Ted Croner

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946) 'The Street – Design for a Poster' 1903

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946)
The Street – Design for a Poster
1903
Photogravure
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there was perhaps no more important figure for the advancement of photography’s position in the arts than Alfred Stieglitz. At a time when photography was viewed as a fact-based, scientific craft, Stieglitz had an unerring ambition to prove that the medium was as capable of artistic expression as painting or sculpture. This photograph, taken at Fifth Avenue and 30th Street, with its moody scene and soft-focused, impressionistic aesthetic, exemplifies the painterly qualities Stieglitz espoused (sometimes described as Pictorialism). In later years, the photographer changed course and embraced “straight” sharp-focused photography as the best representation of the artistic qualities of the medium.

 

 

Shopping

 

Walter Rosenblum (American, 1919-2006) 'Chick's Candy Store, Pitt Street, NY' 1938

 

Walter Rosenblum (American, 1919-2006)
Chick’s Candy Store, Pitt Street, NY
1938
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

Walter A. Rosenblum (1919-2006) was an American photographer. He photographed the World War II D-Day landing at Normandy in 1944. He was the first Allied photographer to enter the liberated Dachau concentration camp.

Rosenblum was a member of the New York Photo League where he was mentored by Paul Strand and Lewis Hine. He became president of the League in 1941. He taught photography at Brooklyn College for 40 years.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Stanton and Orchard Streets' 1936

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Stanton and Orchard Streets
1936
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Stanton and Orchard Streets' 1936 (detail)

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Stanton and Orchard Streets (detail)
1936
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

A llama in Times Square… fireworks over the Brooklyn Bridge… polar bears playing in a pool at the zoo… subways, skylines, shadows, and stolen moments… all these things and more tell the varied story of New York City, captured by the lenses of many of the medium’s greatest photographers. Now, these images will be on view as part of “Celebrating the City: Recent Acquisitions from the Joy of Giving Something,” opening February 18th at Museum of the City of New York. The exhibition will feature approximately 100 photographs selected from the more than 1,000 images recently gifted to the Museum by the Joy of Giving Something (JGS), a non-profit organisation dedicated to the photographic arts.

“Photographs of New York are instantly recognisable and help us celebrate and elevate the many stories of our vibrant city that might otherwise go unnoticed,” says Whitney Donhauser, Ronay Menschel Director of Museum of the City of New York. “As we continue to emerge from the challenges of the COVID pandemic, this magnificent gift from the Joy of Giving Something dramatically advances MCNY’s already stellar 400,000+ image photography collection and gives us an even greater ability to share the stories of our beloved city and its inhabitants.”

“JGS is extremely pleased to donate a substantial group of prints from our collection to the Museum of the City of New York. Most of the work in our donation features New York as subject and it is a great match that the photographs stay in New York to be enjoyed by audiences far and wide,” says Jeffrey Hoone, President of Joy of Giving Something (JGS). “New York continues to be a subject for photographic artists from around the world and JGS is proud to help continue that legacy as we support younger artists through our many different programs. We applaud the Museum for their forward-thinking programs and their commitment to preserving and celebrating New York as a vibrant subject for photographers past, present, and future.”

Devoted to the field of photography, and ever on the search for its very best practitioners, JGS founder Howard Stein never limited himself to a single genre or style. Stein began acquiring photographs in the 1980s, eventually forming one of the most comprehensive collections in private hands, spanning the 19th through the 21st centuries. His understanding of the photographic medium and discerning eye for print quality and condition yielded a remarkable collection shared through exhibition loans around the world.

With images ranging from documentary to quirky, architectural to atmospheric, “Celebrating the City” features selections from this transformative donation, which notably includes works by 30+ creators new to the MCNY collection (see list on Page 4). The exhibition presents multiple images from Helen Levitt‘s dynamic and celebrated street photography; Sylvia Plachy‘s playful and eccentric examination of the people, animals, and moments of NYC; and Michael Spano‘s slice-of-life city shots spanning the 1990s and 2000s. Other key figures in 20th century photography are incorporated into the show, including Ilse Bing, Bruce Davidson, Mitch Epstein, Elliott Erwitt, Robert Frank, William Klein, Saul Leiter, Alfred Stieglitz, Rosalind Solomon, and Paul Strand, to name a few – all capturing indelible, sometimes implausible, intimate, and often incredible moments of the city.

MCNY’s “Celebrating the City” is organised into 10 categories, from working, going shopping, playing, and gathering to loving, gazing, being, reflecting and building, all illustrating the universality of the city and offering the opportunity to compare how some of the best-known photographers have returned to the same subjects again and again.

Some exhibition highlights include:

  • Bruce Cratsley’s “Brooklyn Bridge Centennial” (1983)
  • Bruce Davidson’s “Square Riggers, South Street Seaport” (1996)
  • Elliott Erwitt’s “New York City” (1955)
  • Larry Fink’s “Studio 54” (1977)
  • Ken Heyman’s “Dogs’ Last Swim in Central Park Lake, New York” (1985)
  • Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s “Alice (Alice Rose George)” (1987)
  • Inge Morath’s “A Llama in Times Square” (1957)
  • Sylvia Plachy’s “Baseball Plié” (1982)

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“In addition to offering glimpses of life in the city, ‘Celebrating the City’ juxtaposes various picture-making approaches, showing the different ways in which photographs are created as well as illuminating the decision-making process behind photography, collecting, and curation,” says Sean Corcoran, senior curator of prints and photographs, Museum of the City of New York. “We’ve paired the JGS photographs with a handful of recently acquired works – presented in the anteroom – in an effort to tell the story of a diverse and contemporary city from a range of perspectives.”

Press release from the Museum of the City of New York

 

 

Playing

 

Ken Heyman (American, 1930-2019) 'Dogs' Last Swim in Central Park Lake, New York' 1985

 

Ken Heyman (American, 1930-2019)
Dogs’ Last Swim in Central Park Lake, New York
1985
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Estate of Ken Heyman

 

Paul Himmel (American, 1914-2009) 'Dog in Central Park' c. 1955

 

Paul Himmel (American, 1914-2009)
Dog in Central Park
c. 1955
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Estate of Paul Himmel

 

 

Paul Himmel (1914 – February 8, 2009) was a fashion and documentary photographer in the United States.

Himmel was the son of Ukrainian-Jewish immigrants. He took up photography as a teenager and studied graphic journalism under art director Alexey Brodovitch. From 1947 to 1969, he worked as a professional photographer for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, and several of his photographs were included in Edward Steichen’s “Family of Man” exhibition.

In the 1950s, Himmel started his own projects, including series on boxers, the circus and ballet. He experimented with grain structure in his negatives and prints, using a series of silhouetted and elongated forms abbreviated almost to the point of abstraction.

Himmel took his last photograph in 1967, and by 1969, he became disenchanted with photography and retrained as a psychotherapist. An exhibit of his photographs in New York City in 1996 brought him back to public attention. Himmel’s photographs are fresh and unusual. Many are high-contrast, emphasising the design and patterns contained in an image. His subjects ranged from New York City scenes to nudes reduced to grainy vestiges to colour abstractions.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Larry Fink (American, b. 1941) 'Studio 54' 1977

 

Larry Fink (American, b. 1941)
Studio 54
1977
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

 

Larry Fink was born in Brooklyn in 1941. In the 1960s, he studied with noted photographer Lisette Model. This photograph from Studio 54, made in 1977 in the hedonistic heyday of the disco era, is a well know image from Fink’s series “Social Graces,” which explored social class in America by comparing two different worlds: that of urban New Yorkers of “high society” and that of rural, working-class Pennsylvanians through social events like birthday parties. Fink has described his approach to his subject in a straightforward, non-judgmental manner, “The one thing I was trained in being was non-hierarchical. I don’t have an internal class system. Who you are is who is in front of me and who I am in the same, and that’s how we have to relate to each other.”

 

Joseph Maida (American) 'Soccer Game' 2002

 

Joseph Maida (American)
Soccer Game
2002
Chromogenic development print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

Pablo Delano. 'Merengue Musicians, Upper Broadway' 1994-1995

 

Pablo Delano (Puerto Rican, b. 1954)
Merengue Musicians, Upper Broadway
1994-1995
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of the photographer

 

Pablo Delano (Puerto Rican, b. 1954) 'Dancers at Dominican Day, Parade, Midtown' 1994-1995

 

Pablo Delano (Puerto Rican, b. 1954)
Dancers at Dominican Day, Parade, Midtown
1994-1995
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of the photographer

 

 

Gathering

 

Elliott Erwitt (American born France, b. 1928) 'New York City' 1955

 

Elliott Erwitt (American born France, b. 1928)
New York City
1955
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
© Elliott Erwitt/MAGNUM PHOTOS

 

Dona Ann McAdams (American, b. 1954) 'Group of Hassidic Men, Williamsburg, Brooklyn' 1978

 

Dona Ann McAdams (American, b. 1954)
Group of Hassidic Men, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
1978
From the series Williamsburg, Brooklyn Portfolio
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

Ed Grazda (American, b. 1947) 'Abu Bakr Sedig Mosque, Flushing NY' 1995

 

Ed Grazda (American, b. 1947)
Abu Bakr Sedig Mosque, Flushing NY
1995
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

 

Ed Grazda, from Flushing, Queens, had been photographing in Pakistan and Afghanistan for almost 15 years when the underground garage at the World Trade Center became the site of a car bomb attack, on February 26, 1993. The explosion killed six people and injured more than a thousand; in both print and televised media, the grisly scene was often accompanied by the phrase “Muslim terrorist.” As a counter to the spreading media stereotypes, Grazda began a new effort: to document some of the dozens of communities of New Yorkers who practice Islam. He engaged both the immigrant populations and the native New Yorkers, including converts, the longstanding African-American Muslim community, and a growing Latino-Muslim community. This project was eventually published as the book New York Masjid: The Mosques of New York in 2002.

 

Joseph Maida (American) 'Men in Park' 2001

 

Joseph Maida (American)
Men in Park
2001
Chromogenic development print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

 

Loving

 

Ted Croner (American, 1922-2005) 'Top Hats at Horse Show' 1947-1949

 

Ted Croner (American, 1922-2005)
Top Hats at Horse Show
1947-1949
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Estate of Ted Croner

 

Stephen Barker (American, b. 1956) 'Nightswimming, NYC' 1993-1994

 

Stephen Barker (American, b. 1956)
Nightswimming, NYC
1993-1994
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of Daniel Cooney Fine Art, NYC and the Photographer

 

 

After Stephen Barker graduated from The Cooper Union School of Art in 1980, he became an assistant for noted portraitist Hans Namuth and architectural photographer Wolfgang Hoyt. In response to the growing AIDS crisis, Barker became an activist, working with ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and managing the Brooklyn Needle Exchange for two years. He also took his camera into New York City’s sex clubs. Given the necessity for anonymity, many of the figures that appeared in this work, entitled Nightswimming, appear indistinct at first glance. The settings are often darkened cinemas and hallways, yet there are flashes of intelligibility – tenderness, passion, and even introspection.

 

Mitch Epstein (American, b. 1952) 'Untitled (New York #9)' 1996

 

Mitch Epstein (American, b. 1952)
Untitled (New York #9)
1996
Chromogenic development print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

 

Since the 1970s, Mitch Epstein has been an early proponent of colour photography as a fine art, which he often uses to subtly examine American society. This photograph, and several others on view in this gallery, are drawn from a body of work entitled “The City.” The photographer describes the collection as a “series of photographs that reveal the blurred line between New York City’s public and private space and question its increasing surveillance. These pictures describe a chaotic and layered city, where people create an intimate solar system of family, friends, and associates to survive the brute anonymity of public space.”

 

 

Gazing

 

Helen Levitt (American, 1913-2009) 'New York (Woman and taxi)' 1982

 

Helen Levitt (American, 1913-2009)
New York (Woman and taxi)
1982
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

Saul Leiter (American, 1923-2013) 'Dick and Adele, the Village' c. 1947

 

Saul Leiter (American, 1923-2013)
Dick and Adele, the Village
c. 1947
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

George S. Zimbel (American-Canadian, b. 1929) 'Irish Dance Hall, The Bronx' 1954

 

George S. Zimbel (American-Canadian, b. 1929)
Irish Dance Hall, The Bronx
1954
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

George S. Zimbel (born July 15, 1929) is an American-Canadian documentary photographer. He has worked professionally since the late 1940s, mainly as a freelancer. He was part of the Photo League and is one of its last surviving members. Born in Massachusetts, he settled in Canada about 1971. His works have been shown with increasing frequency since 2000, and examples of his work are part of several permanent collections including the Museum of Modern Art and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. He has been described as a humanist. He has published several books of his photographs and in 2016 was the subject of a documentary retrospective film co-directed by his son Matt Zimbel and distributed by the National Film Board of Canada.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Rebecca Norris Webb (American, b. 1956) 'Brooklyn, NY' 2000

 

Rebecca Norris Webb (American, b. 1956)
Brooklyn, NY
2000
From the series The Glass Between Us
Chromogenic development print

 

 

Rebecca Norris Webb has lived in New York City for more than 25 years. Originally a poet, she brings a lyrical sensibility to her photography and often interweaves text into her imagery. This photograph is part of a larger series published as a book entitled The Glass Between Us: Reflections on Urban Creatures (2006), that examines people’s complex relationship with animals in cities, primarily in the context of “conservation parks” such as zoos and aquariums. This image, taken at the New York Aquarium in Coney Island, uses reflections and distortion of the water tanks to blur the boundaries between the young boy and the aquatic life he is observing.

 

 

Being

 

Ken Heyman (American, 1930-2019) 'Willie' 1962

 

Ken Heyman (American, 1930-2019)
Willie
1962
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Estate of Ken Heyman

 

 

Ken Heyman met noted anthropologist Margaret Mead while attending Columbia University. The two became friends and worked together on several projects; the experience influenced Heyman to focus his photography on human relationships and interactions. Heymen went on to become a leading photojournalist, working for Life, LOOK, and TIME magazines. In the mid-1950s Haymen photographed “Willie,” a four-year-old boy from Hell’s Kitchen, over the course of several months in an attempt to observe him negotiate his one-block world. The results were published in Heymen’s first book in 1962. He went on to publish 45 additional books, including collaborations with composer Leonard Bernstein, President Lyndon B. Johnson, and artist Andy Warhol.

 

Philip-Lorca DiCorcia (American, b. 1951) 'Alice (Alice Rose George)' 1987

 

Philip-Lorca DiCorcia (American, b. 1951)
Alice (Alice Rose George)
1987
Chromogenic development print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

Philip-Lorca diCorcia, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, currently lives in New York City.He attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston with other notable New York-based photographers David Armstrong and Nan Goldin. Beginning in the 1980s, he created an influential body of work that blurred the lines between fact and fiction, blending a documentary style with staged photography techniques. The resulting photographs, often depicting mundane moments of life, are known for their dramatic cinematic quality. This image of noted writer, curator, and photography editor Alice Rose George exemplifies the taut psychological quality of diCorcia staged tableaux.

 

DiCorcia alternates between informal snapshots and iconic quality staged compositions that often have a baroque theatricality.

Using a carefully planned staging, he takes everyday occurrences beyond the realm of banality, trying to inspire in his picture’s spectators an awareness of the psychology and emotion contained in real-life situations. His work could be described as documentary photography mixed with the fictional world of cinema and advertising, which creates a powerful link between reality, fantasy and desire.

During the late 1970s, during diCorcia’s early career, he used to situate his friends and family within fictional interior tableaus, that would make the viewer think that the pictures were spontaneous shots of someone’s everyday life, when they were in fact carefully staged and pre-planned. His work from this period is associated with the Boston School of photography. He would later start photographing random people in urban spaces all around the world. When in Berlin, Calcutta, Hollywood, New York, Rome and Tokyo, he would often hide lights in the pavement, which would illuminate a random subject, often isolating them from the other people in the street.

His photographs give a sense of heightened drama to accidental poses, unintended movements and insignificant facial expressions of those passing by. Even if sometimes the subject appears to be completely detached from the world around them, diCorcia has often used the city of the subject’s name as the title of the photo, placing the passers-by back into the city’s anonymity. Each of his series, Hustlers, Streetwork, Heads, A Storybook Life, and Lucky Thirteen, can be considered progressive explorations of diCorcia’s formal and conceptual fields of interest. Besides his family, associates and random people he has also photographed personas already theatrically enlarged by their life choices, such as the pole dancers in his latest series.

His pictures have black humour within them, and have been described as “Rorschach-like”, since they can have a different interpretation depending on the viewer. As they are pre-planned, diCorcia often plants in his concepts issues like the marketing of reality, the commodification of identity, art, and morality.

In 1989, financed by a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship of $45,000, DiCorcia began his Hustlers project. Starting in the early 1990s, he made five trips to Los Angeles to photograph male prostitutes in Hollywood. He used a 6×9 Linhof view camera, which he positioned in advance with Polaroid tests. At first, he photographed his subjects only in motel rooms. Later, he moved onto the streets. When the Museum of Modern Art exhibited 25 of the photographs in 1993 under the title Strangers, each was labeled with the name of the man who posed, his hometown, his age, and the amount of money that changed hands.

In 1999, diCorcia set up his camera on a tripod in Times Square, attached strobe lights to scaffolding across the street and took a series of pictures of strangers passing under his lights. This resulted in two published books, Streetwork (1998) which showed wider views including subjects’ entire bodies, and Heads (2001), which featured more closely cropped portraits as the name implies.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

Reflecting

 

Stephen Barker (American, b. 1956) 'Nightswimming' 1993-1994

 

Stephen Barker (American, b. 1956)
Nightswimming
1993-1994
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of Daniel Cooney Fine Art, NYC and the Photographer

 

Louis Faurer (American, 1916-2001) 'Mary and Robert Frank at San Gennaro Festival' 1950

 

Louis Faurer (American, 1916-2001)
Mary and Robert Frank at San Gennaro Festival
1950
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

Louis Faurer was born in Philadelphia, where he worked as a photo technician in portrait studios. After serving in the U.S. Signal Corps of Philadelphia during World War II, he began to commute to New York City for work at magazines and attended classes at Alexey Brodovitch’s Design Laboratory. There, he met fellow photographer Robert Frank. The two became fast friends and Faurer eventually moved into Frank’s large loft and used his darkroom. At the time, Faurer worked for various magazines, including Harper’s Bazaar, Life, Vogue, and the short-lived Flair.

This image, made in those early days in New York, reflects Faurer’s close relationship with Frank and his then-wife Mary. The late 1940s and 1950s were especially important to Faurer’s development as a photographer and were when he created his most memorable images of New York. As in this photograph, Faurer concentrated his image making on people out on the streets, reflections of store windows, and the bright city lights. This psychologically charged work highlights the complexity and energy of city life.

 

Louis Faurer (August 28, 1916 – March 2, 2001) was an American candid or street photographer. He was a quiet artist who never achieved the broad public recognition that his best-known contemporaries did; however, the significance and caliber of his work were lauded by insiders, among them Robert Frank, William Eggleston, and Edward Steichen, who included his work in the Museum of Modern Art exhibitions In and Out of Focus (1948) and The Family of Man (1955).

“Faurer … proves to be an extraordinary artist. His eye is on the pulse [of New York City] – the lonely “Times-Square people” for whom Faurer felt a deep sympathy. Every photograph is witness to the compassion and obsession accompanying his life like a shadow. I am happy that these images survive while the world keeps changing.” ~ Robert Frank

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019) 'Andrea on Third Avenue' 1955

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
Andrea on Third Avenue
1955
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

Swiss-born Robert Frank immigrated to New York in 1947 to work for Alexey Brodovitch at Harper’s Bazaar. Frank continued to create editorial work for magazines such as Life, LOOK, and Vogue until he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1955. The award freed him to travel throughout the country for two years to make the photographs that would result in his seminal book, The Americans. This photograph, of Frank’s daughter Andrea in their apartment near Astor Place on Third Avenue, is emblematic of much of the photographer’s work; it is tender and intimate while remaining slightly enigmatic.

 

Sylvia Plachy (American born Hungary, b. 1943) 'Virgil Thomson' 1986

 

Sylvia Plachy (American born Hungary, b. 1943)
Virgil Thomson
1986
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

Virgil Thomson (November 25, 1896 – September 30, 1989) was an American composer and critic. He was instrumental in the development of the “American Sound” in classical music. He has been described as a modernist, a neo-romantic, a neoclassicist, and a composer of “an Olympian blend of humanity and detachment” whose “expressive voice was always carefully muted” until his late opera Lord Byron which, in contrast to all his previous work, exhibited an emotional content that rises to “moments of real passion”.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Mitch Epstein (American, b. 1952) 'Untitled (New York #11)' 1996

 

Mitch Epstein (American, b. 1952)
Untitled (New York #11)
1996
Chromogenic development print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

Mitch Epstein (American, b. 1952) 'Untitled (New York #3)' 1995

 

Mitch Epstein (American, b. 1952)
Untitled (New York #3)
1995
Chromogenic development print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

 

Buildings

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976) 'From the Viaduct, 125th Street, New York' 1915

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
From the Viaduct, 125th Street, New York
1915
Plate from Camera Work No. 49/50, June 1917
Photogravure
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

Arthur D. Chapman (American, 1882-1956) 'East River, New York' 1914

 

Arthur D. Chapman (American, 1882-1956)
East River, New York
1914
Platinum print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

Arthur D. Chapman (1882-1956) was born in Bakersfield, California. An amateur photographer, he moved to New York and worked as a printer for The Globe and Commercial Advertiser and The New York American; he also listed himself in the New York City directories as a bookbinder (1913) and a photographer (1917). Chapman lived in Greenwich Village from 1911 until 1917 and, in his afternoons off from work, photographed everyday scenes around Manhattan. In his own neighbourhood, he chose to show not the Bohemian image the Village then projected, but rather what the residential Village looked like. With the use of shadow, Chapman was able to give depth and character to his photographs, and those focused down a street usually featured a striking foreground. His subjects include rooftops, buildings, and street scenes with such titles as “9½ Jane Street,” “Clinton Court,” and “Kelly’s Alley.” Most of the photographs are from the 1910s and show a quaint side of the Village that has all but vanished.

During the early 1950s Chapman thought it would be of historical interest to re-shoot some of the areas in Manhattan he had photographed almost a half-century before, in order to document how time had changed those places. Unfortunately, some of the scenes he wanted to photograph were still considered too “sensitive” so soon after the Second World War, and he was unable to obtain permission from the city government.

The New-York Historical Society bought this collection from Chapman between 1950 and 1955 as he, in his retirement, found and printed from old negatives which had lain hidden in his extensive collection. In 1953, Chapman gave two self-portraits to the Society as a gift, one taken in New York in 1913 and the second taken in 1953 in New Jersey. Both show him working with his photographic equipment.

In 1921, following his World War I service in France with the Photographic Section of the Army Signal Corp Chapman moved to New Jersey, where he continued with his “hobby” until his death on June 5, 1956. He was a member of Pictorial Photographers of America, and a member of New York Typographical Union No. 6 for over fifty years.

Anonymous text from the New York Historical Society website Nd [Online] Cited 11/03/2022

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'A Brick-Built Wall, New York' 1961

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
A Brick-Built Wall, New York
1961
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

Bruce Cratsley (American, 1944-1998) 'Brooklyn Bridge Centennial' 1983

 

Bruce Cratsley (American, 1944-1998)
Brooklyn Bridge Centennial
1983
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

John Reid. 'Harlem Bridge, 4th Ave., NYC' c. 1870

 

John Reid
Harlem Bridge, 4th Ave., NYC
c. 1870
Albumen print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

Museum of the City of New York
1220 Fifth Ave at 103rd St.,

Opening hours:
Open Daily 10am – 6pm

Museum of the City of New York website

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22
Jan
21

Photographs: ‘Walker Evans – Subway portraits’ 1938-41

January 2021

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

 

Unguarded moments

“Tell those friends with cameras for eyes”

 

It’s going to be really hot in Melbourne for the next few days so I won’t be able to get into the computer room to work – so a posting today, Friday 22 January, and the next one on Wednesday next week.

These iconic Walker Evans New York subway portraits of anonymous travellers (both physically and mentally) are remarkably unprepossessing. They just are. They exist. Taken with a hidden 35mm camera, they picture human beings in (allegedly) unposed, unguarded moments, unaware that they are being photographed. But un/aware in another sense – un/aware of their surroundings, the person opposite them, or the time, un/aware of their dreams – of past, present and future. Engrossed in reading, staring vacantly into space, deep in thoughtful repose, or possessing a sadness beyond belief, now, they impinge on our consciousness through their very facticity.

You could make up stories about their lives: the boy above in his postal cap(?), gay, nervous, lonely in the big city; the man with the spectacles staring down at his paper, an accountant, or a watchmaker, working all his life to support his family. The black man with his immaculate dress, coat, scarf and Fedora battling for his place in society; and the two woman together, polar opposites, she, clasping her bag, possibly an immigrant arrived through Ellis Island from Eastern Europe, and she, fur edged coat and steepling hat, severe, dour, rich, matronly.

Here they are, this panoply of archetypes, clothed in complete protection for spiritual warfare. Unguarded moments to the photographer they may be, but the mask is definitely not off. In my observation, human beings on public transport are always un/guarded, always protecting themselves from the stranger next to them, the unknown threat, or wandering off in daydreams to another time and place, absenting themselves so that only the shell, the husk, is left. Here and there, present but absent, absent but present, these creatures of the underground still roam the corridors of human consciousness.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
All photographs are used under fair use conditions for the purpose of educational research and informed comment. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

“Although the setting was public, he found that his subjects, unposed and lost in their thoughts, displayed a constantly shifting medley of moods and expressions-by turns curious, bored, amused, despondent, dreamy, and dyspeptic. “The guard is down and the mask is off,” he remarked. “Even more than in lone bedrooms (where there are mirrors), people’s faces are in naked repose down in the subway.””

Anonymous text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website [Online] Cited 22/01/2021

 

 

 

The Unguarded Moment  ~ The Church

 

So hard finding inspiration
I knew you’d find me crying
Tell those girls with rifles for minds
That their jokes don’t make me laugh
They only make me feel like dying
In an unguarded moment
So long, long between mirages
I knew you’d find me drinking
Tell those men with horses for hearts
That their jibes don’t make me bleed
They only make me feel like shrinking
In an unguarded moment
So deep, deep without a meaning
I knew you’d find me leaving
Tell those friends with cameras for eyes
That their hands don’t make me hang
They only make me feel like breathing
In an unguarded moment

 

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) '35mm negative strip of Subway Portraits' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
35mm negative strip of Subway Portraits
1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

 

As photographic technology advanced – cameras became more portable and film more sensitive to light, requiring shorter exposure times – people were no longer required to stay still for pictures. Walker Evans was among the photographers who capitalised on this flexibility. Between 1938 and 1941, he took his camera underground, where he photographed subway riders in New York City. “The guard is down and the mask is off,” he wrote, “even more than when in lone bedrooms (where there are mirrors). People’s faces are in naked repose down in the subway.” (Walker Evans, quoted in Belinda Rathbone. Walker Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1995, 170-71)

In order to discreetly capture these candid Subway Portraits, Evans came up with an undercover method of taking photographs. He concealed his 35-millimeter Contax camera by painting its shiny chrome parts black and hiding it under his topcoat, with only its lens peeking out between two buttons. He rigged its shutter to a cable release, whose chord snaked down his sleeve and into the palm of his hand, which he kept buried in his pocket. For extra assurance, he asked his friend and fellow photographer Helen Levitt to join him on his subway shoots, believing that his activities would be less noticeable if he was accompanied by someone. With these methods, Evans managed to capture people immersed in conversation, reading, or seemingly lost in their own thoughts and moods. His subjects’ faces display a range of emotions. He also succeeded in accomplishing a difficult challenge in making truly unposed portraits.

Anonymous text from the MoMA website [Online] Cited 22/01/2021

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

 

Walker Evans’ book Many Are Called is a three-year photographic study of people on the New York subway. Using a camera hidden in his jacket and a cable release running down his sleeve, Evans snapped unsuspecting passengers while they traveled through the city. Evans said that these photographs were his “idea of what a portrait ought to be,” he wrote, “anonymous and documentary and a straightforward picture of mankind.” As photographic technology advanced – cameras became more portable and film more sensitive to light, requiring shorter exposure times – people were no longer required to pose for pictures. In an effort to capture candid images of people in public places, Walker Evans affixed a right angle viewfinder to his camera to make it look as if he was pointing it off to the side rather than directly at his subjects. For his Subway Portraits, he went even further and concealed his camera by painting its shiny chrome parts black and hiding it under his topcoat, with only its lens peeking out between two buttons. He rigged its shutter to a cable release, whose chord snaked down his sleeve and into the palm of his hand, which he kept buried in his pocket. As a result, these portraits show people in unguarded moments.

Text from ‘Seeing Through Photographs’ online course, Coursera, 2016.

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway Passengers, New York City' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway Passengers, New York City
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway Passengers, New York City' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway Passengers, New York City
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway Passengers, New York City' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway Passengers, New York City
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway Passengers, New York City' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway Passengers, New York City
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway Passengers, New York City' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway Passengers, New York City
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway Passengers, New York City' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway Passengers, New York City
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway Passengers, New York City' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway Passengers, New York City
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'View Down Subway Car with Accordionist Performing in Aisle, New York City' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
View Down Subway Car with Accordionist Performing in Aisle, New York City
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'View Down Subway Car with Accordionist Performing in Aisle, New York City' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
View Down Subway Car with Accordionist Performing in Aisle, New York City
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

 

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20
Dec
20

Exhibition: ‘Bruce Davidson: Brooklyn Gang’ at Cleveland Museum of Art

Exhibition dates: 25th October 2020 – 28th February 2021

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 27.9 x 35.6cm (11 x 14 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

For a few brief moments, rebels with a cause

This is one of my favourite photo essays of all time. The story Davidson tells of this male-orientated Brooklyn gang and its culture through his photographs is one of brotherhood, friendship, rivalry, love, longing, agony, depression and death at a time of utter poverty and rock ‘n roll rebellion. He produced “unflinchingly honest images of these American youths.” Now, all these years later, the photographs possess a powerful nostalgia for the era mixed with the desolation of destroyed lives and lost youth.

Davidson gets under the skin of his subjects, embeds himself firmly in their milieu. The subjects allow him to photograph their most intimate moments, seemingly free from worry or anxiety. There is an insouciance to their attitude, a knowing insouciance. In one photograph inside Helen’s Candy Store, Bob Powers stares directly and disarmingly at the camera while the girl playing with the yo-yo and the youth in the background also stare directly into the lens, forming a strong compositional triangle of the gaze. Powers said he was voted “most likely to die before I was 21 years old.” He lived with his seven siblings and alcoholic parents in a three-bedroom apartment that had a coal-powered cookstove and no hot water or central heating.

There is a dark undertone to the narrative. While there are moments of joy and happiness, you can sense the isolation and despair of these disaffected youths. Cathy O’Neal, seen in front of a cigarette machine at Coney Island, committed suicide by shotgun. Jimmie and his family were wiped out by drugs. Junior Rice became a heroin dealer. Lefty od’d in bed at 19. “He was the first in the group to die from a drug overdose… within a few years, drugs would claim the lives of many in the gang and in the neighbourhood.” In picturing their lives, the photographs gather moments (in time), enunciating how the gang members railed against the conformity and materialism of 1950s America whilst imbibing its rebellious iconography. Only occasionally does the artist pull back to show us the wider picture, the context of the action, with photographs of New York skyscrapers seen in the distance and the Statue of Liberty.

Davidson does not let his spontaneity slip. He is informed, aware, absent (but present) in all of these photographs waiting for that special moment. In the photograph above, a bird-like creature swoops down on something invisible on the ground. In informal yet tightly focused photographs – of sunbathing or walking the boardwalks of Coney Island, gang members fixing their hair, rolling up their sleeves, dead beat(s) in the back of the bus, making out in the back seat of a car, walking in the park or hooning around on the Metro – Davidson is there to capture the off-beat moments of gang existence and the members relationship to each other.

Through a superb eye, a feeling, a sensibility and connection towards the gang members desperation and isolation, universally acknowledged by the photographer himself, Davidson sets them all on the path to immortality. Do not forget, these photographs seem to be saying. For a few brief moments these people did exist, their lives were valuable, these rebels with a cause.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the Cleveland 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.

 

One of Davidson’s best-known series, Brooklyn Gang was inspired by a news story he read about a teenage gang called the Jokers.

Davidson contacted the Jokers, one of Brooklyn’s roughest gangs, through their social worker. In the summer of 1959, Davidson roamed the streets of New York with these teens, loitered in stores that the Jokers called their own, and sunbathed with them on the beach at Coney Island. Eventually they allowed him to photograph even their most intimate, private moments. He responded by producing unflinchingly honest images of these American youths.

Gang membership was exclusively male, but the members’ girlfriends appear frequently in Davidson’s photographs. Some of the pictures depict the teenagers exploring lust and love and the boys struggling to define and prove their masculinity. Looking back at the series in 1998, Davidson said that he felt “the reason that body of work has survived is that it’s about emotion. That kind of mood and tension and sexual vitality, that’s what those pictures were really about.”

 

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 27.9 x 35.6cm (11 x 14 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

The pleasures and agonies of teenage romance are captured in Bruce Davidson’s photographs of the gang’s dance parties, which were held variously in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, at a neighbourhood school, and in members’ homes. The basement wallpaper seen here – with its fairy-tale figures, including horses, queens, knights, marionettes, and jokers – suggests a domestic setting. The event could have been a farewell party for an older gang member going off to join the army, which was a common occurrence.

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x 10 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Image: 16 x 23.9cm (6 5/16 x 9 7/16 in.)
Paper: 20.3 x 25.2cm (8 x 9 15/16 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

This rooftop view in Park Slope, Brooklyn, was taken from a building in the gang’s “turf,” which was a block anchored by the intersection of 17th Street and 8th Avenue. Davidson spent the summer hanging out with the gang and photographing them. Describing his process, the artist said, “I stay a long time. … I am an outsider on the inside.” Park Slope, now one of New York’s most desirable neighbourhoods, was then a poor, mostly Irish area.

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Image: 21.9 x 14.6cm (8 5/8 x 5 3/4 in.)
Paper: 25.1 x 20.2cm (9 7/8 x 7 15/16 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

Davidson contacted the Jokers, one of Brooklyn’s roughest gangs, through their social worker. In the summer of 1959, Davidson roamed the streets of New York with these teens, loitered in stores that the Jokers called their own, and sunbathed with them on the beach at Coney Island. Eventually they allowed him to photograph even their most intimate, private moments. He responded by producing unflinchingly honest images of these American youths.

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 27.9 x 35.6cm (11 x 14 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

The pleasures and agonies of teenage romance are captured in Bruce Davidson’s photographs of the gang’s dance parties, which were held variously in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, at a neighbourhood school, and in members’ homes.

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Image: 16.1 x 24.1cm (6 5/16 x 9 1/2 in.)
Paper: 20.2 x 25.3cm (7 15/16 x 9 15/16 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

Childhood pastimes like playing yo-yo were a thing of the distant past for 15-year-old Bob Powers, a Joker seen here leaning against a fixture in Helen’s Candy Store. He had already been in and out of the court system numerous times by 1959. Powers stabbed someone when he was 12 and had been incarcerated for bringing zip guns (homemade firearms) and chains to school, where, Powers said, he was voted “most likely to die before I was 21 years old.”

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 27.9 x 35.6cm (11 x 14 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

The gang members, most of whom were 15 or 16 years old, thought tattoos made them look older and might help them get served at bars. Tattoos were also a demonstration of masculinity and a rite of passage. Bob Powers, seen here at age 15 displaying his first tattoo, recalled years later that “the first time you get a tattoo it’s scary. I was sitting back with a cigarette like it’s nothing. Meanwhile, it was killing me. … I got ‘Bobby’ with stars around it. … They said, ‘Get your name.’ … I hated it forever.”

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 61 x 50.8cm (24 x 20 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

One of the gang members – Bob Powers – suggested that Davidson follow him to a rooftop on the gang’s block. “I remember thinking,” said Davidson, “‘This kid’s going to throw me off the roof and then rob me,’ but he’s pointing down at the stickball game (an informal form of baseball played in the street) and saying, ‘Get that,’ and saying: ‘Oh, there’s the Statue of Liberty. You can see it through all these television antennas.'”

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

The gang members were very concerned with their appearance, although they did not have much money to spend on grooming or clothes. “If you see a picture of me,” said former gang member Bob Powers, “the broken tooth, my teeth were green because I didn’t go to the dentist. We never had any money even though my father worked. … We used Vaseline petroleum jelly to make our hair stick like iron in a pompadour. We combed our hair constantly, wore sunglasses, and all thought we were Marlon Brandos.”

The Jokers’ slicked-back pompadours … and their clothing echoed the greaser style, a rebellious youth subculture that was promoted by cinematic antiheroes of the era. Role models included Marlon Brando’s portrayal of a motorcycle gang member in The Wild One (1953) and James Dean as a troubled teen in Rebel without a Cause (1955). The “bad boy” image flouted the aspirational role model of the time, the upwardly mobile white-collar worker in a business suit and short haircut.

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 27.9 x 35.6cm (11 x 14 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

Petey, a Jokers member who looks out the second-story window here, was injured in that fight. Petey’s best friend, fellow Jokers member Bob Powers, walks by the house. Housing in the gang’s neighbourhood, the then-impoverished Park Slope, Brooklyn, was overcrowded and rundown. Powers lived with his seven siblings and alcoholic parents in a three-bedroom apartment that had a coal-powered cookstove and no hot water or central heating.

 

 

One of the most highly respected and influential American documentary photographers of the past half century, Bruce Davidson spent several months photographing the daily lives of a teenage street gang for his 1959 series Brooklyn Gang. A new exhibition in the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Mark Schwartz and Bettina Katz Photography Gallery, Bruce Davidson: Brooklyn Gang features 50 black-and-white photographs from that series, which are part of a recent anonymous gift to the museum of extensive selections from the artist’s archives. The exhibition is on view now through February 28, 2021.

Brooklyn Gang was Davidson’s first major project after joining the distinguished photo agency Magnum and was the fruit of several months spent immersing himself in the daily lives of the Jokers, one of the many teenage street gangs worrying New York City officials at the time. He recorded the teenagers’ pleasures and frustrations as they attempted to define masculinity and mimic adult behaviour. The photographs reflect the group’s camaraderie but also their alienation from societal norms. While many officials and commentators at the time saw the gangs as evidence of social deterioration resulting from poverty, others regarded them as the most visible manifestations of a socially disengaged generation of males – rebels without a cause.

“Bruce Davidson: Brooklyn Gang presents an intimate portrayal of the teens’ lives,” said William Griswold, director of the Cleveland Museum of Art. “Davidson was an outsider, but one who spent so much time with the gang that he became, as he liked to say, ‘an outsider on the inside.’ Davidson offered an independent look at the lives of these disadvantaged youths; this view of society was quite different from the age of visual and social homogenisation of the 1950s presented in mainstream magazines such as Life and Look and predicts the social turmoil of the 1960s.”

The images reflect the time Davidson spent with the teens hanging out on street corners and in the local candy store and accompanying them to the beach at Coney Island with their girlfriends. Included are several sets of variant images, affording a rare glimpse into Davidson’s working process.

“Despite a more than ten-year age difference, Davidson describes recognising his own repression in his subjects and feeling a connection to their desperation,” said Barbara Tannenbaum, the CMA’s chair of prints, drawings, and photographs and curator of photography.

Press release from the Cleveland Museum of Art

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 40.6 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

The museum owns several groups of images from the series taken during the same shoot at Coney Island. They provide a rare glimpse of the artist’s selection process (see 2018.688, 2018.696, 2018.697, 2018.701, 2018.706, and 2018.735). The size of these prints, and the fact that the artist printed them long after they were shot, suggest he considered all four images worthwhile. In an exhibition print, the white marks on the woman’s cheek here, made by dust on the negative, would have been covered up with ink or dye, a process known as spotting. This may be a work print, made to aid in decisions on exactly how to print this picture. It has become one of the better-known images from Brooklyn Gang.

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x 10 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 27.9 x 35.6cm (11 x 14 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

In this photograph, gang member Bob Powers talks with friends in one of the many Coney Island bathhouses where people could change, shower, or swim in pools. “We’d come down on a Friday and sometimes we’d stay the whole weekend till Monday, down on the beach, me, Lefty, Junior,” Powers recalled. “The girls would stay too… We would light fires and bury all the cans of beer. I remember stealing cars and driving down there. We’d drive the car under the boardwalk and bring it right onto the bay and leave it there.”

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 50.8 x 61cm (20 x 24 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

Shown here on the Coney Island boardwalk, from left to right, are gang members Junior Rice, Bob Powers, and Lefty, who “was a pretty tough guy in the gang and then he went to jail for about a year,” according to Powers. “He came out and he just lost it. He wasn’t the same guy. Something happened and nobody knew what. … We protected him a bit, but he caught a couple of bad beatings and lost his reputation. He ate a lot of pills one night and never woke up. His mother found him dead. OD’d in bed at 19. He was the first in the group to die from a drug overdose.”

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Image: 16.1 x 24.1 cm (6 5/16 x 9 1/2 in.)
Paper: 20.2 x 25.3 cm (7 15/16 x 9 15/16 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

This print is vintage – made soon after the picture was shot – and its 8 x 10-inch size was typical of the period and preferred for making reproductions for magazines and books. As photography began gaining acceptance into the gallery and museum world in the 1980s, larger prints became the norm. The museum also owns an unusually large print of the same image, made in the 1990s or 2000s, which was created to be exhibited in galleries and museums. The two may look the same on the computer screen, but do not feel the same when viewed in real life.

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.8 x 24.1 cm (6 1/4 x 9 1/2 in.)
Paper: 20.1 x 25.4 cm (7 15/16 x 10 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

After a day at the beach at Coney Island, the teens “would take the long bus ride back to their neighbourhood,” remembered Bruce Davidson. “As they sat in the rear of the bus, the sunlight burned through the windows, giving them an angelic glow. They would drift into their dreams and awake alert to the mean streets awaiting them.”

 

 

Bruce Davidson

Barbara Tannenbaum

Curator of Photography

A hot topic in the 1950s, gangs were avidly analysed by sociologists, the press, and artists. Gordon Parks’s photographs of a young black Harlem gang leader were published in Life magazine in 1948. The musical West Side Story, which pitted a Polish gang against a Puerto Rican one, debuted on Broadway in 1957. The following year, a seven-part series in the New York Times analysed the social, economic, and psychological causes of this juvenile delinquency.

In the summer of 1959, Bruce Davidson went to Brooklyn to meet and photograph a teenage street gang called the Jokers. Davidson’s series Brooklyn Gang provided an in-depth view into the daily activities of an Irish and Polish gang whose turf was a block in the impoverished Park Slope neighbourhood. The Jokers were teenagers who were mostly students at the neighbourhood Catholic school or dropouts. They shoplifted and fought with members of rival gangs in rumbles that involved bricks, bats, knives, and occasionally zip (homemade) guns.

At age 25, Davidson was an outsider to them. He had been raised in a Jewish family in suburban Chicago and held an MFA in photography from Yale University. His images were being published in major magazines, and he had just joined Magnum, a distinguished, artist-run photographic agency. The Jokers’ role models were the greasers, a rebellious youth subculture promoted by cinematic antiheroes such as Marlon Brando’s motorcycle gang member in The Wild One (1953) and James Dean’s troubled teen in Rebel without a Cause (1955). The gang members’ “bad boy” image, replete with Vaseline-slicked pompadours and blue-collar clothing, flouted the era’s aspirational role model of an upwardly mobile white-collar worker in a business suit and short haircut.

Davidson did not sport a pompadour, but making a living as a freelance photojournalist was itself a rebellion against the nine-to-five office world. He spent the summer with the Jokers, hanging out on street corners, in the local candy store, and on the beach at Coney Island. His images reflect their alienation and anxieties but also their camaraderie. The boys explore male bonding rituals and act out their visions of maleness and adulthood. They may roughhouse, but gang ethics dictated that they were not to hurt each other. Real violence was reserved for rival gangs and, like their criminal acts, was not shown by Davidson.

He did capture the teens’ early experiences with lust and love. The Lothario in the back seat of a car is Lefty, of whom Bob Powers, a gang member who wrote a memoir 40 years later, remarked, “We never thought he was good-looking, but all the girls loved him.” This well-known image of Lefty is joined in the exhibition by three others from that same make-out session. Together they form an almost cinematic progression. Several other groups of related images of events are also included in the exhibition. These rare glimpses into the artist’s shooting and editing processes are all drawn from the recent anonymous gift to the museum of 367 works from Davidson’s archive, selections that span his 70-year career.

Davidson was careful not to pass judgment in his Brooklyn Gang photographs. The youngsters’ hairstyles, tattoos, and underage drinking, smoking, and sex were considered ruinous behaviour at the time. The memoirs of Bob Powers and the reminiscences of other members give the Jokers’ story a dark tone. The best-known image in the series, taken in front of a cigarette machine at Coney Island, shows Artie Giammarino, who later became a transit police detective, and Cathy O’Neal, whom the boys considered “beautiful like Brigitte Bardot.” Cathy is seen here at age 13 or 14, around the time she began dating the “coolest” of the gang, Junior Rice. At 14 she got pregnant. Though they were both under the legal age, they married. They later divorced, and Junior became a heroin dealer and user; within a few years, drugs would claim the lives of many in the gang and in the neighbourhood. Years after their divorce, Cathy committed suicide by shotgun.

Davidson would always remain an outsider to the gang, but his working process allowed for intimacy and trust to grow between the gang members and the photographer. By the end of the summer, Davidson realised that he and the Jokers were all considered outsiders in the conformist, materialistic 1950s. “I could see my own repression in them, and I began to feel a connection to their desperation,” he remembered. “I began to feel their isolation and even my own.”

Cleveland Art, Fall 2020

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 61 x 50.8cm (24 x 20 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

Although most of the gang members’ time was spent in their neighbourhood of Park Slope, Brooklyn, the Jokers sometimes took excursions. Few had access to cars, so most travel was by bus and subway. The subway fare of 15 cents – the equivalent of $1.33 today – would take them anywhere in New York City. Here a gang member and his girlfriend wait for a train on the neighbourhood subway platform. The beach at Coney Island was a favourite summer destination for the gang.

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 27.9 x 35.6cm (11 x 14 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x 10 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

“We used to hang out in [Brooklyn’s] Prospect Park all the time,” recalled Jokers member Bob Powers. “We did a lot of drinking and sleeping overnight in the park. … The cops with their bats would push us along, tell us to move. We were very defiant. If we moved, we moved ten feet. Then they had to tell us to move another ten feet. We’d kind of like move around in a circle and come back to where we originally started. The cops were mean at that time, but then we weren’t the best of kids either.”

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 13.9 x 17.6cm (5 1/2 x 6 15/16 in.)
Image: 11.4 x 16.9cm (4 1/2 x 6 5/8 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

The Jokers roughhoused and fought among themselves but were not allowed to hurt each other. Real violence was reserved for those in other gangs or occasionally for civilians. “Did we fight with chains and pipes and knives? Yeah,” gang member Bob Powers reminisced years later. “Did people get stabbed? Yeah, people got stabbed. And people got their heads cracked open with bats.”

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x 10 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 27.9 x 35.6cm (11 x 14 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

The gang member making out in the back seat of a car on the way home from Coney Island is Lefty, identifiable by his tattoo. “We always wondered why the girls liked him,” recalled Jokers member Bob Powers. “We never thought he was good-looking, but all the girls loved him. It was amazing.”

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 61 x 50.8 cm (24 x 20 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

Jimmie, an older member of the gang, watched over the younger members with his brother Johnny. In 1998, Jokers member Bob Powers recalled, “Later, the whole family, all six of them … died, wiped out, mostly from drugs. It’s amazing because at this particular time, if you see Jimmie, he’s like the ‘Fonz,’ like James Dean – handsome. He was good-looking, he had the women, and he was always working on cars.”

 

 

Cleveland Museum of Art
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09
Oct
20

Exhibition: ‘Robert Frank – Memories’ at the Fotostiftung Schweiz, Winterthur, Zürich

Exhibition dates: 12th September 2020 – 10th January 2021

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019) 'White Tower, New York' 1948

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
White Tower, New York
1948
Gelatin silver print
© Andrea Frank Foundation; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

 

An interesting selection of media images, including some early Swiss and American photographs, which are rarely seen.

Frank’s perceptiveness of human beings and their context of being and becoming is incredible. Look at the faces in Landsgemeinde, Hundwil (1949, below), Paris (1952, below) and the attitude of the bodies, surmounted by the sun (top left), in London (1951, below).

“It is important to see what is invisible to others.”

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

The recently deceased Robert Frank is widely regarded as one of the most important photographers of our time. His book The Americans, first published in Paris in 1958 and then in New York the following year, is quite possibly the most influential photo book of the 20th century. As a kind of photographic road movie, it sketches a gloomy social portrait that served as a wake-up call to all of America at the time. And his personal style, alternating between documentary and subjective expression, radically changed post-war photography. But The Americans wasn’t merely a spontaneous stroke of genius. Frank’s early works already feature back stories and side plots that are closely connected to the themes and images of his legendary book. The Fotostiftung Schweiz holds a collection of lesser-known works – many of which were donated by the artist – which illustrate the consolidation of Frank’s subjective style. In addition to essays from Switzerland and Europe, it also includes works from early 1950s America that are on par with the well-known classics, but remained unpublished for editorial reasons. At the heart of the exhibition Robert Frank – Memories is the narrative force of Frank’s visual language, which developed in opposition to all conventions and only received international recognition when Frank had already abandoned photography and turned to the medium of film.

The exhibition is accompanied by a presentation of the books that publisher Gerhard Steidl produced with Robert Frank over a period of more than 15 years.

 

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019) 'New York City' 1948

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
New York City
1948
Gelatin silver print
© Andrea Frank Foundation; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019) 'Landsgemeinde, Hundwil' 1949

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
Landsgemeinde, Hundwil
1949
Gelatin silver print
© Andrea Frank Foundation; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019) 'Landsgemeinde, Hundwil' 1949

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
Landsgemeinde, Hundwil
1949
Gelatin silver print
© Andrea Frank Foundation; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019) 'Landsgemeinde, Hundwil' 1949 (detail)

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
Landsgemeinde, Hundwil (detail)
1949
Gelatin silver print
© Andrea Frank Foundation; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019) 'Landsgemeinde, Hundwil' 1949 (detail)

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
Landsgemeinde, Hundwil (detail)
1949
Gelatin silver print
© Andrea Frank Foundation; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019) 'London' 1951

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
London
1951
Gelatin silver print
© Andrea Frank Foundation; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019) 'Paris' 1952

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
Paris
1952
Gelatin silver print
© Andrea Frank Foundation; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019) 'New York City' early 1950s

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
New York City
early 1950s
Gelatin silver print
© Andrea Frank Foundation; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

 

Robert Frank, who was born in Zurich in 1924 and died last year in Canada, is widely regarded as one of the most important photographers of our time. Over the course of decades, he has expanded the boundaries of photography and explored its narrative potential like no other. Robert Frank travelled thousands of miles between the American East and West Coasts in the mid-1950s, going through nearly 700 films in the process. A selection of 83 black-and-white images from this blend of diary, sombre social portrait and photographic road movie would leave its mark on generations of photographers to come. The photobook The Americans was first published in Paris, followed by the US in 1959 – with an introduction by Beat writer Jack Kerouac, no less. Off-kilter compositions, cut-off figures and blurred motion marked a new photographic style teetering between documentation and narration that would have a profound impact on postwar photography.

It is quite possibly the single most influential book in the history of photography; however, rather than being a spontaneous stroke of genius, Frank had worked on his subjective visual language for years. Many of his photographs from Switzerland, Europe and South America, as well as his rarely shown works from the USA in the early 1950s, are on a par with the famous classics from The Americans. The photographer’s early work, which remained unpublished for editorial reasons and is therefore little known to this day, reveals connections to those iconic pictures that still define our image of America, even today.

At the heart of the exhibition Robert Frank – Memories is the narrative force of Robert Frank’s visual language, which developed in opposition to all conventions and only received international recognition after Frank had already abandoned photography and turned to the medium of film. The exhibition mainly features vintage silver gelatin prints from the collection of the Fotostiftung Schweiz, which either come from the former collection of Robert Frank’s long-time friend Werner Zryd (now owned by the Swiss Confederation) or were donated to the Fotostiftung Schweiz by the artist himself. They are complemented by a number of loans from the Fotomuseum Winterthur. A presentation of the books and films that publisher Gerhard Steidl released with Robert Frank over a period of more than 15 years accompanies the exhibition (in the corridor leading to the library and in the seminar room).

 

Early Work

In March 1947, Robert Frank arrived in New York following an adventurous journey on a cargo ship. The young, ambitious photographer had found Switzerland too stifling and he hoped to gain new freedom in America liberated from social and family obligations. The photographer carried a 6×6 Rolleiflex and a small spiral-bound book of 40 photographs taken during his apprentice years from 1941 to 1946. This portfolio included landscapes, portraits, personal photojournalistic works, and meticulously executed still lifes, all of which reveal that the 22-year old was a highly skilled photographer. It is therefore unsurprising that influential Harper’s Bazaar art director Alexey Brodovitch swiftly hired Frank as an assistant photographer after seeing his portfolio and first test photos.

In the magazine’s in-house photo studio, Frank photographed fashion industry products from clinical shots of women’s shoes and every imaginable accessory to laboriously staged fashion shoots and occasionally even photojournalistic assignments offering a little more freedom. Frank was successful and rose through the ranks, but quickly realised that this industry cared only about money, an attitude to which he couldn’t reconcile himself. Only a few months later, he quit his job in order to be able to work wholly free of constraints. He traveled to Peru and Bolivia the following year and often used his 35 mm Leica. Later he recalled: “I was making a kind of diary. I was very free with the camera. I didn’t think of what would be the correct thing to do; I did what I felt good doing. I was like an action painter.”

Frank returned to Europe in spring 1949. He photographed the yearly cantonal assembly in the Swiss canton of Appenzell Ausserrhoden, during which citizens (exclusively men back then) voted by a show of hands. However, he was unsuccessful in placing this story with a major periodical, even though he circulated the images via the acclaimed agency Magnum. Evidently, Frank had focused too little on the actual events. He was more interested in the bystanders’ stances than in the pomp of government officials wearing tailcoats and top hats. His photographs of this assembly prefigure the penetrating and critical gaze he would later level on America’s societal and political landscape. Here as there, his was an outsider’s subjective and inward looking perspective.

 

Black White and Things

In late 1949, the international magazine Camera published a first selection of Robert Frank’s work. The accompanying text described him as a photographer who loved “truth and unvarnished reality”, as someone “whose thirst for experience compelled him to get out and capture life with his camera”. Indeed, Frank worked chiefly in Paris, London, and Spain between 1949 and 1953, frequently traveling between Europe and the US. He reported on a bullfighter in Spain and observed life in London’s financial district. In Paris he took pictures of objects – mostly chairs and flowers – photographs he assembled in an album dedicated to his future wife. In subsequent years, he shook off any sentimental tendencies.

Frank continued his attempts to publish both smaller and more substantial stories and photo essays in glossy magazines such as Life, but with limited success. His reportage on Welsh coal miner Ben James, which appeared in U.S. Camera 1955 annual, was a rare exception. But Frank found himself less and less able to reconcile himself with the conventional view of photography as a universal language accessible to all. Instead, he increasingly distanced himself from print media’s expectations and developed a strong aversion to what he once termed stereotypical “Life stories”, “those goddamned stories with a beginning and an end”.

In autumn 1952, Frank created Black White and Things with his Zurich-based friend Werner Zryd. This handmade book comprising 34 photographs was an attempt to counter these expectations with something new: an intuitively ordered series of photos with neither text nor linear narrative structure, introduced simply by Saint-Exupéry’s famed lines from The Little Prince: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” Accordingly, Black White and Things is a kind of three-part visual poem: “Black” evokes death, materialism, loneliness, and anonymity; “White” evokes home, love, religion, and camaraderie; and “Things” engages with diametrical oppositions such as friendship and cruelty, and affection and solitude. The order and pairing of the images sparks thoughts, associations, and feelings. Yet Frank’s evocative arrangement is intentionally ambiguous and open: “Something must be left for the onlooker, he must have something to see. It is not all said for him.”

 

America, America

After a further trip to New York – which he assured his mother would be his last – Robert Frank applied for a Guggenheim fellowship in October 1954. His project proposal was for an “observation and record of what one naturalised American finds to see in the United States that signifies the kind of civilisation born here and spreading elsewhere”. The result was to be a book, for which he had already won support from Arnold Kübler, the long-standing editor of the Zurich-based culture magazine Du, and Robert Delpire, a young publisher in Paris. Thanks to help from Alexey Brodovitch, Walker Evans, Edward Steichen and others, Frank was the first European photographer to be awarded this generous fellowship. The award made it possible for him to set off on his now-legendary road trips across the US in spring 1955.

Over almost two years, Frank took more than 20,000 photographs on his travels. He made roughly 1,000 work prints in the autumn and winter of 1956-57, which he pinned to the walls and laid on the floor of his apartment. At the time his home was East Village, New York, where artists including Alfred Leslie and Willem de Kooning also lived. Over many months Frank made countless passes through his photographs, eliminating those images he was unsure of and focusing on specific themes. He constantly rearranged the selection that was gradually coming together until he had a first mocked-up book with just under 90 images and the provisional title America, America. Frank took this book with him when he traveled to Europe in summer 1957, showing it to Delpire and his Swiss photographer friend Gotthard Schuh.

Over the years, the America photographs not included in his final selection disappeared into archives and collections or even got lost altogether. Only recently has it been possible to ascertain that many of the rejected and unpublished photographs were of the same caliber as the 83 book images Frank and Delpire agreed on. Frank’s contact sheets show that these photos were often taken directly before or after the images that have become icons of photographic history. Rather than putting forth a single message, Frank’s dark take on 1950s America contains impressive variations, facets, and excursuses that made a powerful impression on many, including his early supporter, Schuh. Schuh wrote to his young friend: “I don’t know America, but your photographs frighten me because in them you show, with visionary alertness, things that affect us all.”

 

The Americans

Following the first French edition of Les Américains, Robert Frank’s book was published as The Americans in New York in 1959. The English edition dropped the cover illustration and the selection of texts on America (which Delpire had insisted on over Frank’s protests), and added an introduction by Jack Kerouac. Frank had much in common with the Beat poets, though he only met them after his Guggenheim-funded travels. Like Kerouac’s main character in On the Road, Frank crisscrossed the country with apparent aimlessness, working spontaneously. Moreover, his work shares a stylistic consonance with Beat literature: Frank had abandoned all technical conventions and photographed intuitively instead. Many of his photographs are underexposed and grainy; they frame a scene and omit key details; their horizons are slanting and the lighting is often murky. Frank’s focus was the everyday, the fleeting, and the marginal. People are shown turning away from the camera, and his landscapes are desolate and bleak, “really more like Russia”, as Frank once remarked to Kerouac. He flouted the rules he had learned during his early training as a photographer in Switzerland in order to be as true as possible to his subjective experience and to capture unvarnished reality.

Kerouac’s introduction begins with the words: “That crazy feeling in America when the sun is hot on the streets and music comes out of the jukeboxes or from a nearby funeral, that’s what Robert Frank has captured in tremendous photographs taken as he traveled on the road around practically forty-eight states in an old used car (on Guggenheim Fellowship) and with the agility, mystery, genius, sadness and strange secrecy of a shadow photographed scenes that have never been seen before on film …” The Americans is a long, poetic image arc with cross-references, digressions, and associations, but also mental leaps and ambiguities, which provoked many critics. Although most acknowledged that Frank’s photographs were highly powerful, they read his take on Americans as a malicious attack on the country. Frank, a Jewish foreigner, was resented for picking up on the racism, hollow patriotism, commodified cheer, and political corruption lurking behind the façade of American society. Even before his groundbreaking book was published, Robert Frank wrote: “Above all, I know that life for a photographer cannot be a matter of indifference. Opinion often consists of a kind of criticism. But criticism can come out of love. It is important to see what is invisible to others.”

Martin Gasser, Curator

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019) "Los Angeles" 1955

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
“Los Angeles”
1955
Gelatin silver print
© Andrea Frank Foundation; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019) 'City fathers – Hoboken, New Jersey' 1955

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
City fathers – Hoboken, New Jersey
1955
Gelatin silver print
© Andrea Frank Foundation; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019) 'Bus-Stop, Detroit' 1955

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
Bus-Stop, Detroit
1955
Gelatin silver print
© Andrea Frank Foundation; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019) 'Bar – Gallup, New Mexico' 1955

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
Bar – Gallup, New Mexico
1955
Gelatin silver print
© Andrea Frank Foundation; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019) 'Charity Ball – New York' 1954

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
Charity Ball – New York
1954
© Andrea Frank Foundation; courtesy Pace / MacGill Gallery, New York
Collection of the Swiss Photo Foundation

 

Müller + Hess, Wendelin Hess and Jesse Wyss, Basel / Zurich

 

Müller + Hess, Wendelin Hess and Jesse Wyss, Basel / Zurich

 

 

Fotostiftung Schweiz
Grüzenstrasse 45
CH-8400 Winterthur (Zürich)
Phone: +41 52 234 10 30

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 11am – 6pm
Wednesday 11am – 8pm
Closed on Mondays

Fotostiftung Schweiz website

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03
Jan
20

European photographic research tour exhibition: ‘Robert Frank. Unseen’ at C/O Berlin

Exhibition dates: 13th September – 30th November 2019

Visited September 2019 posted January 2020

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Robert Frank. Unseen' at C/O Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Robert Frank. Unseen at C/O Berlin

 

 

Utopian dreaming / dystopian dreams

Synchronicity… when I visited this exhibition on the 16th September 2019, the grand man had only died the previous week on the 9th September 2019.

This was a fabulous exhibition of mainly VINTAGE prints (see labels) at C/O Berlin, with the added bonus of seeing many Robert Frank photographs I had never seen before.

 

Thoughts

  1. The vintage prints were much larger than I had thought they would be
  2. The English photographs were very impressive. A similar tonal range to Josef Sudek’s prints in these works i.e. no hard blacks or whites zones 2.5-8
  3. The Americans – to actually see a large vintage print of the Trolley Car was incredible. The Black American man’s face was only his mouth, nose and eyes, the rest was completely dark
  4. The vintage prints seemed more whimsical than the later prints: not so much contrast. Sometimes edges bleed off, grain was large, depth of field low, skylines askew. Frank loved his silhouettes and chiaroscuro

.
It was a great pleasure to see these iconic photographs together in one place. Several times I had to catch my breath as one famous image followed another. But then there were images I had never seen before. Mostly vintage prints as well… as close to Frank’s original vision as you can get. More poetic, more spontaneous, than the later prints. The United States photographs form a road trip of impressions, a reflective and elegiac poem to the American dream.

It’s not often that you can say that an artist changed how we see and interpret the world but that is the case. Through his seminal work The Americans, Frank’s importance to the history of photography and visual culture cannot be denied. Americans didn’t like the mirror that was held up to their society by an outsider, a European Jew. Frank certainly wasn’t afraid to picture the underbelly of America – a phlegmatic portrait of a disaffected and divided country that still has great relevance today.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
All installation photographs by Marcus Bunyan. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Robert Frank. Unseen' at C/O Berlin

Installation view of the exhibition 'Robert Frank. Unseen' at C/O Berlin

 

Installation views of the exhibition Robert Frank. Unseen at C/O Berlin showing photographs titled Landsgemeinde / Cantonal Assembly Hundwil, Schweiz (1949). Later silver gelatin prints. No individual titles. Donation of the artist.
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

InstallatioRobert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019) 'Landsgemeinde / Cantonal Assembly Hundwil, Schweiz' 1949 (installation view) n view of the exhibition 'Robert Frank. Unseen' at C/O Berlin

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019) 'Landsgemeinde / Cantonal Assembly Hundwil, Schweiz' 1949 (installation view)

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019) 'Landsgemeinde / Cantonal Assembly Hundwil, Schweiz' 1949 (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019)
Landsgemeinde / Cantonal Assembly Hundwil, Schweiz (installation views)
1949
Gelatin silver photograph, later print
Donation of the artist
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Robert Frank. Unseen' at C/O Berlin

Installation view of the exhibition 'Robert Frank. Unseen' at C/O Berlin

 

Installation views of the exhibition Robert Frank. Unseen at C/O Berlin
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019) 'Peru' 1948 (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019)
Peru (installation view)
1948
Gelatin silver photograph, later print
Collection Fotomuseum Winterthur
Permanent loan of the Volkart Stiftung
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

'Robert Frank. Unseen' wall text

 

Robert Frank. Unseen wall text
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019) 'Geneva' 1945 (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019)
Geneva (installation view)
1945
Gelatin silver photograph, later print
Donation of the artist
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019) 'Geneva' 1945 (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019)
Geneva (installation view)
1945
Gelatin silver photograph, later print
Donation of the artist
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019) 'Geneva' 1944-45 (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019)
Geneva (installation view)
1944-1945
Vintage gelatin silver print
Donation of the artist
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019) 'New York' c. 1949

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019)
New York
c. 1949
Vintage silver gelatin print
Donation of the artist

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019) 'Times Square, New York' 1949 (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019)
Times Square, New York (installation view)
1949
Gelatin silver photograph, later print
Donation of the artist
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

'Robert Frank. Unseen' wall text

 

Robert Frank. Unseen wall text
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Robert Frank. Unseen' at C/O Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Robert Frank. Unseen at C/O Berlin
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019) 'Portfolio. 40 Photos' 1941-46 (installation view)

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019) 'Portfolio. 40 Photos' 1941-46 (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019)
Portfolio. 40 Photos (installation views)
1941-1946
First Edition Steidl, Göttingen, 2000
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Robert Frank. Unseen' at C/O Berlin

Installation view of the exhibition 'Robert Frank. Unseen' at C/O Berlin

 

Installation views of the exhibition Robert Frank. Unseen at C/O Berlin
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019) 'Mississippi, St Louis' 1948 (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019)
Mississippi, St Louis (installation view)
1948
Vintage gelatin silver print
Property of the Confédération Suisse, Federal Office of Culture, Bern
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019) 'Paris' (installation view) 1949

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019)
Paris (installation view)
1949
Gelatin silver photograph, later print
Donation of the artist
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019) 'Paris' 1949 (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019)
Paris (installation view)
1949
Vintage gelatin silver print
Donation of the artist
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Robert Frank. Unseen' at C/O Berlin

Installation view of the exhibition 'Robert Frank. Unseen' at C/O Berlin

 

Installation views of the exhibition Robert Frank. Unseen at C/O Berlin
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019) 'Mary and Pablo, New York' 1951 (installation view)

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019) 'Mary and Pablo, New York' 1951 (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019)
Mary and Pablo, New York (installation views)
1951
Vintage gelatin silver print
Property of the Confédération Suisse, Federal Office of Culture, Bern
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Robert Frank (b. 1924 in Zurich, d. 2019 in Nova Scotia, Canada) traveled thousands of kilometres between America’s East and West coasts, taking almost 30,000 photographs. Just 83 black-and-white pictures from this mixture of diary, social portrait, and photographic road movie have influenced generations of photographers after him. Frank’s book The Americans was first published in Paris before it was released in the United States in 1959 with an introduction by the Beat novelist Jack Kerouac. Oblique angles, cropped figures, and blurred movement became the hallmarks of a new photographic style that would change the course of postwar photography. In 1985, Franks photographs have been displayed in Germany for the first time – in the Amerika Haus in Berlin. Now, C/O Berlin presents contact sheets, first editions, and vintage material from the photographer’s early work at the same place. His time in Switzerland, travels through Europe and South America, and unpublished pictures from the United States in the 1950s will be shown together with famous classic photos from The Americans.

Robert Frank. Unseen reveals the narrative power of a visual language that Frank developed long before it earned him international recognition.

The exhibition was organised in cooperation with the Fotostiftung Schweiz, Winterthur.

Robert Frank was born in Zurich in 1924. A trained photographer, he traveled to New York for the first time in 1947, where he found a position at the Harper’s Bazaar photo studio. He worked between Europe and the US for several years and in 1950, Edward Steichen invited him to participate in the 51 American Photographers exhibition at Museum of Modern Art, New York. Frank freelanced for Life, McCall’s, Look, Vogue and other magazines. In 1955, he was the first European to receive a prestigious Guggenheim fellowship that funded a comprehensive photo series for which he traveled across America. The result was the seminal photobook The Americans (1959). Following the volume’s unexpected success, the photographer turned to film. His later work juxtaposed Polaroids and autobiographical text fragments. This year Frank published his most recent book, Good Days Quiet, at the age of 95. Frank’s photographs have been exhibited internationally, most recently at Les Rencontres d’Arles (2018); Albertina, Vienna (2018); Art Institute of Chicago (2017); Museum Folkwang, Essen (2014); and at Tate Modern, London (2004). His films were shown at C/O Berlin in 2009. Robert Frank lived in New York and in Nova Scotia, Canada, where he died on September 9, 2019.

Text from the C/O Berlin [Online] Cited 28/12/2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Robert Frank. Unseen' at C/O Berlin

Installation view of the exhibition 'Robert Frank. Unseen' at C/O Berlin

Installation view of the exhibition 'Robert Frank. Unseen' at C/O Berlin

Installation view of the exhibition 'Robert Frank. Unseen' at C/O Berlin

 

Installation views of the exhibition Robert Frank. Unseen at C/O Berlin showing at bottom, photographs of London
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019) 'London' 1951 (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019)
London (installation view)
1951
Vintage gelatin silver print
Property of the Confédération Suisse, Federal Office of Culture, Bern
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019) 'Paris' 1949 (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019)
Paris (installation view)
1949
Vintage gelatin silver print
Property of the Confédération Suisse, Federal Office of Culture, Bern
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Robert Frank. Unseen' at C/O Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Robert Frank. Unseen at C/O Berlin showing at bottom, photographs of London
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019) 'London' 1951 (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019)
London (installation view)
1951
Vintage gelatin silver print
Arnold Kübler Archive
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019) 'London' 1951

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019)
London
1951
Vintage gelatin silver print
Arnold Kübler Archive

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019) 'London' 1951 (installation view)

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019) 'London' 1951 (installation view)

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019) 'London' 1951 (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019)
London (installation views)
1951
Gelatin silver photographs, later prints
Permanent loan of the Friends of the Fotostiftung Schweiz
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019) 'London' 1951

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019)
London
1951
Gelatin silver photograph, later print
Permanent loan of the Friends of the Fotostiftung Schweiz

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019) 'Paris' 1952

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019)
Paris
1952
Gelatin silver photograph, later print
Donation of the artist

 

America

'Robert Frank. Unseen' wall text

 

Robert Frank. Unseen wall text
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Robert Frank. Unseen' at C/O Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Robert Frank. Unseen at C/O Berlin showing at left, Nevada (1956); at second left, Los Angeles (1956); and at right, On the road to Carolina (1955)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019) 'Nevada' 1956 (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019)
Nevada (installation view)
1956
Vintage gelatin silver print
Donation of the artist
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019) 'Los Angeles' 1956 (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019)
Los Angeles (installation view)
1956
Vintage gelatin silver print
Donation of the artist
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019) 'On the road to Carolina' 1955 (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019)
On the road to Carolina (installation view)
1955
Vintage gelatin silver print
Donation of the artist
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019) 'Route US 91, leaving Blackfoot, Idaho' 1956 (installation view)

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019) 'Route US 91, leaving Blackfoot, Idaho' 1956 (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019)
Route US 91, leaving Blackfoot, Idaho (installation views)
1956
Gelatin silver photograph, later print
Donation of the artist
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Fank. 'U.S. 91, leaving Blackfoot, Idaho' 1956

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019)
Route US 91, leaving Blackfoot, Idaho
1956
Gelatin silver photograph, later print
Donation of the artist

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Robert Frank. Unseen' at C/O Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Robert Frank. Unseen at C/O Berlin showing at left, Florida (1956); at third left, New York City (early 1950s); and at right, Ranch Market, Hollywood (1955-56)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019) 'New York City' early 1950s (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019)
New York City (installation view)
early 1950s
Vintage gelatin silver photograph
Donation of the artist
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019) 'Florida' 1956 (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019)
Florida (installation view)
1956
Gelatin silver print
Swiss Foundation for Photography Collection, Winterthur
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019) 'Florida' 1956

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019)
Florida
1956
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Frank
Courtesy Swiss Foundation for Photography Collection, Winterthur

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019) 'New York City' early 1950s (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019)
New York City (installation view)
early 1950s
Vintage gelatin silver photograph
Donation of the artist
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Robert Frank. Unseen' at C/O Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Robert Frank. Unseen at C/O Berlin showing at left, Bar – Gallup, New Mexico (1955) and at right, Rodeo – New York City (1954)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019) 'Rodeo - New York City' 1954 (installation view)

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019) 'Rodeo - New York City' 1954 (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019)
Rodeo – New York City (installation views)
1954
Vintage gelatin silver print
Property of the Confédération Suisse, Federal Office of Culture, Bern
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Robert Frank. Unseen' at C/O Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Robert Frank. Unseen at C/O Berlin showing at right, Charity Ball, New York 1954
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019) 'Charity Ball, New York' 1954 (installation view)

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019) 'Charity Ball, New York' 1954 (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019)
Charity Ball, New York (installation views)
1954
Vintage gelatin silver print
Property of the Confédération Suisse, Federal Office of Culture, Bern
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition Robert Frank. Unseen at C/O Berlin

Installation view of the exhibition Robert Frank. Unseen at C/O Berlin

 

Installation views of the exhibition Robert Frank. Unseen at C/O Berlin showing at left in the bottom photograph, Bar – New York (1955) followed by, Yom Kippur – East River, New York City (1954)
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019) 'Los Angeles' 1956 (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019)
Los Angeles (installation view)
1956
Vintage gelatin silver photograph
Donation of the artist
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019) 'Wanamaker Fire, 10th Street East, New York' 1956 (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019)
Wanamaker Fire, 10th Street East, New York (installation view)
1956
Vintage gelatin silver print
Donation of the artist
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019) 'Bar - New York' 1955 (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019)
Bar – New York (installation view)
1955
Gelatin silver photograph, later print
Donation of the artist
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank. 'Bar, New York City' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019)
Bar – New York
1955
Gelatin silver photograph, later print
Donation of the artist

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019) 'Yom Kippur - East River, New York City' 1954 (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019)
Yom Kippur – East River, New York City (installation view)
1954
Vintage gelatin silver print
Property of the Confédération Suisse, Federal Office of Culture, Bern
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019) 'USA' 1950s (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019)
USA (installation view)
1950s
Vintage gelatin silver print
Donation of the artist
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019) 'Contact Sheet 62 / Factory, Detroit' 1955 (installation view)

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019) 'Contact Sheet 62 / Factory, Detroit' 1955 (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019)
Contact Sheet 62 / Factory, Detroit (installation views)
1955
From The Americans. 81 Contact Sheets.
Yugensha, Tokyo/Motomura Kazuhiko, 2009
Private Collection
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019) 'Contact Sheet 31 / U.S. 91, Leaving Blackfoot, Idaho' 1956 (installation view)

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019) 'Contact Sheet 31 / U.S. 91, Leaving Blackfoot, Idaho' 1956 (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019)
Contact Sheet 31 / U.S. 91, Leaving Blackfoot, Idaho (installation views)
1956
From The Americans. 81 Contact Sheets.
Yugensha, Tokyo/Motomura Kazuhiko, 2009
Private Collection
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019) 'Contact Sheet 18 / Trolley, New Orleans' 1955 (installation view)

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019) 'Contact Sheet 18 / Trolley, New Orleans' 1955 (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019)
Contact Sheet 18 / Trolley, New Orleans (installation views)
1955
From The Americans. 81 Contact Sheets.
Yugensha, Tokyo/Motomura Kazuhiko, 2009
Private Collection
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition Robert Frank. Unseen at C/O Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Robert Frank. Unseen at C/O Berlin showing wall text
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019) 'Bryant Park, New York' around 1955 (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019)
Bryant Park, New York (installation view)
around 1955
Vintage gelatin silver print
Donation of the artist
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019) '42nd Street, New York' early 1950s (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019)
42nd Street, New York (installation view)
early 1950s
Vintage gelatin silver print
Donation of the artist
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019) '41st Street and 7th Avenue' 1953 (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019)
41st Street and 7th Avenue (installation view)
1953
Vintage gelatin silver print
Donation of the artist
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank. 'Les Américans' book cover (installation view)

Robert Frank. 'Les Américans' pages (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019)
Les Américans book cover and pages (installation views)
1958
Delpire. Paris

 

Robert Frank. 'Gli Americani' book cover (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019)
Gli Americani book cover (installation view)
1959

 

Robert Frank. 'The Americans' book cover (installation view)

Robert Frank. 'The Americans' pages (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019)
The Americans book cover and pages (installation views)
1959
Grove Press, New York

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019) 'Trolley - New Orleans' 1955 (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019)
Trolley – New Orleans (installation view)
1955
Vintage gelatin silver print
Property of the Confédération Suisse, Federal Office of Culture, Bern
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank. 'Trolley - New Orleans' 1955 (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019)
Trolley – New Orleans (installation view)
1955
Vintage gelatin silver print
Property of the Confédération Suisse, Federal Office of Culture, Bern
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition Robert Frank. Unseen at C/O Berlin

 

Installation views of the exhibition Robert Frank. Unseen at C/O Berlin showing at left, Parade – Hoboken, New Jersey (1955) and at right, City Fathers – Hoboken, New Jersey (1955)
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019) 'Parade - Hoboken, New Jersey' 1955 (installation view)

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019)
Parade – Hoboken, New Jersey (installation view)
1955
Vintage gelatin silver print
Property of the Confédération Suisse, Federal Office of Culture, Bern
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019) 'City Fathers - Hoboken, New Jersey' 1955 (installation view)

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019) 'City Fathers - Hoboken, New Jersey' 1955 (installation view)

 

(American, 1924-2019)
City Fathers – Hoboken, New Jersey (installation views)
1955
Vintage gelatin silver print
Property of the Confédération Suisse, Federal Office of Culture, Bern
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition Robert Frank. Unseen at C/O Berlin

Installation view of the exhibition Robert Frank. Unseen at C/O Berlin

 

Installation views of the exhibition Robert Frank. Unseen at C/O Berlin
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition Robert Frank. Unseen at C/O Berlin

Installation view of the exhibition Robert Frank. Unseen at C/O Berlin

 

Installation views of the exhibition Robert Frank. Unseen at C/O Berlin
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

C/O Berlin Foundation, Amerika Haus,
Hardenbergstraße 22–24, 10623 Berlin
Phone: +49 30 2844416 62

Opening hours:
Daily 11am – 8pm

C/O Berlin website

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14
May
19

Exhibition: ‘The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day’ at ONE Gallery, West Hollywood, California

Exhibition dates: 1st March – 17th May 2019

Curator: David J. Getsy

 

 

Greg Day. 'Stephen Varble in the Suit of Armor' October 1975, printed 2018

 

Greg Day (American, b. 1944)
Stephen Varble in the Suit of Armor
October 1975, printed 2018
Digital print
© Greg Day 2019

 

 

“Varble’s total irreverence is no more evident than in his willingness to “cross party lines,” as he did when he wore his Suit of Armor, constructed with gold VO labels from Seagram’s boxes, to both the 1975 Easter Parade and to West Village leather bars! He was an equal opportunity offender, rubbing up against conformity in all forms.”

Bob Nickas. “Stephen Varble: Now More Than Ever,” on the Affidavit website [Online] Cited 10/04/2019

 

 

Confusing queen reigns, on parade

I love doing these posts on artists that certainly I, and I suspect a lot of the readers of this website, would have never have heard of. Artists full of spunk, full of daring-do, artists who rise to challenge the patrons of patriarchy, and the colluders of capitalism (Varble became ever-more critical of commodification and capitalism). Artists who declaim the value of the individual, who shine a light on the plight of the downtrodden and those discriminated against. Can you not once bring yourself to utter the word “AIDS” you bigoted president?

In an era of reactionary religious and right wing hypocrisy – Christian sleaze and paedophilia anyone, anti-Muslim and anti-gay Facebook posts in the Australian election, murderous right wing rampage in New Zealand – now more than ever, we need artists like Stephen Varble (American, 1946-1984). Human beings that speak up and speak out against bigotry, discrimination, and awful men in high places.

“Varble made the recombination of signs for gender a central theme in his increasingly outrageous costumes and performances… [He] sought to make a place for himself outside of art’s institutions and mainstream cultures all the while critiquing them both.” Australian artists such as Leigh Bowery and Brenton Heath-Kerr have a lot to thank Varble for.

He might have risen from the gutter, but his intentions were full of stars.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

Varble’s work wasn’t drag in the conventional cross-dressing sense, or “gay art,” which was often defined from a predominantly masculine perspective in the immediate post-Stonewall years. His intention was to stretch and break down the very idea of binary identities, confuse the concept of gender, leave it optional. And this goal puts him well in the framework of queer and transgender thinking now. …

For a series of mid-1970s performances he called “Gutter Art,” he would arrive, elaborately dressed, by limousine (paid for by a Japanese patron, Miyazaki Morihiro) in front of luxury stores on the Upper East Side. Once parked, he unloaded old kitchen utensils from the trunk and started washing them with black ink, as if referring to the domestic life of sweatshop labor. He soon gained notoriety as a kind of cultural terrorist. (Tiffany’s hired guards to keep him out.) He turned up, uninvited, at red carpet events – film premieres, the Met’s Costume Institute gala – to dazzle and deride the guests.

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Holland Cotter. “Stephen Varble: The Street Was His Stage, the Dress Was His Weapon,” on The New York Times website January 10, 2019 [Online] Cited 10/04/2019

 

 

Greg Day. 'Stephen Varble in the Demonstration Costume with Only One Shoe (for the Chemical Bank Protest)' 22 March 1976, printed 2018

 

Greg Day (American, b. 1944)
Stephen Varble in the Demonstration Costume with Only One Shoe (for the Chemical Bank Protest)
22 March 1976, printed 2018
Digital print
© Greg Day 2019

 

 

“A chauffeured Rolls Royce glides glacially to the curb in front of the Chemical Bank at New York’s Sheridan Square. The uniformed driver, out in an instant, holds open the passenger door. Rather than a well-heeled person to which such a car would belong, a more hallucinatory sight will emerge, equally glamorous and ridiculous. Two legs appear, only one of which has a shoe. The full length of the body gradually appears, improbably covered in netting and not much else, the entwined nets adorned with crumpled bills. What seem to be bare breasts droop from the chest of a figure of otherwise unidentifiable gender, further confused by a toy fighter jet, poised for takeoff, at crotch level. While no words are spoken, a cartoon speech bubble overhead proclaims, cheerily but with a disgruntled undertow: Even Though You May Be Forged, Chemical Still Banks Best!”

Bob Nickas. “Stephen Varble: Now More Than Ever,” on the Affidavit website [Online] Cited 10/04/2019

 

The Chemical Bank Protest was Varble’s most notorious and widely reported disruption, and it encapsulated his disdain for commerce, capitalism, and propriety. To contest a forgery against him, Varble went to the Sheridan Square bank to demand his money returned. He created his Demonstration Costume with Only One Shoe from Christmas tree packaging, gold leaf wrappers, and fake money. His costumes often combined different signs of gender, and here he wore tow condoms filled with cow’s blood for breasts and a toy jet fighter as a codpiece. The toy referenced the plane ticket the forger purchase with the money, and one shoe was missing to “symbolise his economic loss.” Hovering over his head, a speech bubble touted, “Even Though You May Be Forged, Chemical Still Banks Best!”

Varble’s performances often affected an ironic enthusiasms for his targets (be it a bank, a boutique, a gallery, or a presidential candidate), and his insincere flattery was meant to provide cover for his disruption of business as usual.

Arriving in a borrowed limousine, Varble boldly entered to make his demands as the line of customers at the teller window gawked. On being told by the manager that he could not be helped, Varble punctured the blood-filled condoms and dipped a pen in the spilled blood to write checks (for “none-million dollars”) in his dramatic, mime-like movements before sweeping out to the sound of applause from the customers.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

“Varble began to truly set himself apart from other gender-focused 1970s performance artists with his outré 1976 performance at Chemical Bank in Sheridan Square. After hearing that someone had forged his signature and emptied out his bank account, Varble walked into the bank dressed in fake money, with breasts made out of condoms and filled with cow’s blood. He demanded his money back. When the bank teller could not comply, Varble punctured his condom-breasts, spilling blood all over the floor, and wrote checks in blood for “none-million dollars,” which he addressed to his companion at the bank, Peter Hujar. The exhibition includes a photograph Hujar took that day, evoking a time when the lax security in banks allowed artists to perform and express themselves, however outrageously (although Varble was then escorted out of the cow’s blood-filled bank by security).”

Extract from Michael Valinsky. “A Forgotten Precursor of Genderqueer Performance Art,” in Hyperallergic website [Online] Cited 14/05/219

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day' at ONE Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day' at ONE Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day at ONE Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day' at ONE Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day at ONE Gallery showing, at left top, Greg Day’s Stephen Varble with the Enormous Pink Satin and baby Doll (1975); left below Stephen Varble Performing in a Garbage Can at his Loft on Franklin Street (1975); and at centre, Closing Party with Varble’s Enormous Pink Satin Skirt (1975)

 

 

Franklin Street Exhibition and Party Performance

in 1976, Varble organised an exhibition of his own work in the loft her share with Jim McWilliams on Franklin Street. He painted the interiors pink, built large decorations, and displayed all his costumes on cut-out mannequins mounted on the walls. The largest piece in the exhibition was a new work the Enormous Pink Satin Skirt, some fifteen feet in length. The object played a central role in the “Gala Ending” party that closed the exhibition, as can be seen in the photograph (main above). For this major event Varble enlisted the help of established gender non-conforming performers such as Mario Montez, Jackie Curtis, and Taylor Mead to act as living mannequins for his most iconic costumes. Modelling Varble’s art they paraded with his satin silhouette dolls through the crowd and did impromptu performances – such as when Agusta Machado enacted a campy drama of claustrophobia in Varble’s refrigerator. Day was there to capture the wild party, managing to take individual portraits of some of the major performers in attendance…

In the midst of the playful chaos, Varble gathered these Warhol stars and others (such as Paul Ambrose and New York drag personality Ruth Truth) inside the Enormous Pink Satin Skirt, and at a designated time they al burst forth dancing. As the exhibition gave attendees a retrospective view of his output the performance provided a testament to Varble’s place in the queer performance culture of New York. As the art critic Gregory Battock remarked, “It was the kind of event only Stephen Varble could have planned: chaotic, meandering, spurious and very New York […] Even though invitations were hard to come by, everybody was there.”

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day' at ONE Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day at ONE Gallery with, from left, Greg Day’s Stephen Varble Destroying his Blue and Green Corrugated Paper Dress from the Camera (October 1975); Stephen Varble in the Elizabethan Farthingale; and Stephen Varble in the Suit of Armor

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day' at ONE Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day at ONE Gallery

 

'Stephen Varble, Gutter Art flyer' [recto] 1975

 

Stephen Varble, Gutter Art flyer [recto]
1975
Xerographic print on paper
Courtesy Greg Day and the Leslie-Lohman Museum
Photo: Courtesy Greg Day and the Leslie-Lohman Museum

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day' at ONE Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day at ONE Gallery

 

Greg Day. 'Stephen Varble in the Elizabethan Farthingale' October 1975, printed 2018

 

Greg Day (American, b. 1944)
Stephen Varble in the Elizabethan Farthingale
October 1975, printed 2018
Digital print
© Greg Day, 2019

 

 

In costumes made from street trash, food waste, and stolen objects, Stephen Varble (1946-1984) took to the streets of 1970s New York City to perform his “Gutter Art.” With disruption as his aim, he led uninvited costumed tours through the galleries of SoHo, occupied Fifth Avenue gutters, and burst into banks and boutiques in his gender-confounding ensembles. Varble made the recombination of signs for gender a central theme in his increasingly outrageous costumes and performances. While maintaining he/him as his pronouns, Varble performed gender as an open question in both his life and his work, sometimes identifying as a female persona, Marie Debris, and sometimes playing up his appearance as a gay man. Only later would the term “genderqueer” emerge to describe the kind of self-made, non-binary gender options that Varble adopted throughout his life and in his disruptions of the 1970s art world.

At the pinnacle moment of Varble’s public performances, the photographer Greg Day (b. 1944) captured the inventiveness and energy of his genderqueer costume confrontations. Trained as an artist and anthropologist and with a keen eye for documenting ephemeral culture as it flourished, Day took hundreds of photographs of Varble’s trash couture, public performances, and events in 1975 and 1976. Varble understood the importance of photographers, and Day was his most important photographic collaborator. This exhibition brings together a selection of Day’s photographs of Varble performing his costume works and also includes Day’s photographs of Varble’s friends and collaborators such as Peter Hujar, Jimmy DeSana, Shibata Atsuko, Agosto Machado, and Warhol stars Jackie Curtis, Taylor Mead, and Mario Montez.

Varble sought to make a place for himself outside of art’s institutions and mainstream cultures all the while critiquing them both. The story of Varble told through Day’s photographs is both about their synergistic artistic friendship and about the queer networks and communities that made such an anti-institutional and genderqueer practice imaginable. Together, Varble and Day worked to preserve the radical potential of Gutter Art for the future.

The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble builds upon the 2018 retrospective exhibition of Stephen Varble’s work at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York, titled Rubbish and Dreams: The Genderqueer Performance Art of Stephen Varble, as featured in the New York Times on January 11, 2019. The new ONE Gallery exhibition, with its focus on the collaboration of Varble with the photographer Greg Day, will explore the ways in which Varble’s disruptive guerrilla performance art has lived on primarily through vibrant photographs that captured his inventive costumes, transformed trash, and public confrontations.

The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s photographs by Greg Day is curated by David J. Getsy, Goldabelle McComb Finn Distinguished Professor of Art History at the  School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble is organised by the ONE Archives Foundation, Inc. Generous support is provided by the City of West Hollywood.

About the ONE Archives Foundation, Inc.

The ONE Archives Foundation, Inc. is an independent 501(c)(3) dedicated to telling the accurate and authentic stories of LGBTQ people, history and culture through public exhibitions, educational projects and trainings, and community outreach programs. Our exhibitions, school programs, and community outreach programs are free. We depend entirely on members of the public and private foundations for support.

Press release from the ONE Gallery [Online] Cited 10/04/2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day' at ONE Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day at ONE Gallery showing, at left, a still from Stephen Varble’s video Journey to the Sun (1978-1983); and at right Greg Day’s Stephen Varble in the Piggy Bank Dress (1975)

 

Stephen Varble (American, 1946-1984)
Journey to the Sun
1978-1983
U-matic video transferred to digital, 2018
Courtesy David J. Getsy

 

 

Varble receded from the art world and from street performance around 1977, becoming ever-more critical of commodification and capitalism. As he told an interviewer that year, “This is the age of pornography and contempt. The dollar is good. […] The end of capitalism is coming.” Varble instead began to develop private performances and videos about his private mythologies and messianic dreams. His last five years were consumed with working on an epic, operatic work of video art: Journey to the Sun. It started in 1978 as a performance about the mythology of Greta Garbo, and Varble invited friends to his Riverside Drive apartment to view his monologues accompanied by project slides. His ambitions soon outgrew this format, and he turned to video for its ability to combine text, image and performance. He considered these videos to be revivals of illuminated Medieval manuscripts with their rich visual play between words and pictures, and he called his group of collaborators in the video the “Happy Arts School of Manuscript Illumination.” The aim of the “school” was to promote Varble’s vision of societal transformation through the making of modern fables in the form of videos, books, and prints. His “video books,” as he called the tapes, offered an “antidote to nature’s ruin on this heavenly globe.”

Journey to the Sun tells the story of a musician, the Grey Crowned Warbler, who undergoes tribulation and metamorphosis on a journey to transcendence. The tale is a loosely autobiographical fable of an artist who encounters a stern mystical teacher, Sage Purple Pythagoras (played by his partner, Daniel Cahill) who tests the Warbler. Many of Varble’s iconic costumes feature in the video, and he combined elements of his own history with references to literature, religion, and popular culture (notably, Garbo). Combining heavily scripted monologues with improvised performances. Journey to the Sun does not offer a tidy or easily understood narrative. Rather, it sketches a fantastic and surreal visual world in which dreams are realised through the transformations of everyday objects, popular imagery, and rubbish.

To make this “rodeo-paced” video, Varble filled his apartment with drawings and writings on the walls, blacked out the windows, and began filming scenes both scripted and improvised with collaborators. Journey to the Sun is remarkable for its time due to the complexity and density of the video editing – all of which was done by Varble in his apartment. He only completed about thirty percent of his planned work before his death from AIDS-related complications in January 1984. This screening copy presents a continuous segment of around 80 minutes that has been selected from the three surviving U-matic master tapes, but no changes have been made other than the choice of where to begin and end this combined excerpt. This is but a fragment of the much longer video epic Varble hoped would be his major contribution.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day' at ONE Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day at ONE Gallery showing Stephen Varble’s Blue Boy

 

 

“One afternoon, Stephen invited me to accompany him to a performance in midtown Manhattan. He bought Blue Boy with him. We took the F train uptown from Washington Square. Sitting on the subway car bench and wearing his Chemical Bank Protest attire. Stephen hugged, kissed, fondled and poked Blue Boy. He spoke to him in an affectionate and sometimes argumentative language of moans, “ohs” and clicks. I sat across from him and watched as people entered the car. They stared, laughed, gasped, and made disparaging remarks about his sanity before moving to another part of the subway car. Even riding the train was an opportunity for Stephen to shock.”

Greg Day
Wall text from the exhibition

 

 

Gutter Art: Stephen Varble and Genderqueer Performance on the Streets of 1970s New York with David J. Getsy from Leslie-Lohman Museum on Vimeo.

 

Greg Day. 'Stephen Varble at the 12th Annual Avant-Garde Festival' 1975

 

Greg Day (American, b. 1944)
Stephen Varble at the 12th Annual Avant-Garde Festival
1975
Digital print
© Greg Day 2019

 

 

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626 N. Robertson Boulevard
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23
Nov
18

Photographs: Edward J. Kelty

November 2018

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey (Combined) Circus' c. 1925

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers
Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey (Combined) Circus [clowns behind Madison Square Garden]
c. 1925
Cyanotype
7 3/8 × 9 1/4 inches (23.8 × 23.5cm)

 

 

There’s a quality of legend about freaks… I mean, if you’ve ever spoken to someone with two heads, you know they know something you don’t. Most people go through life dreading they’ll have a traumatic experience – freaks were born with their trauma. They’ve already passed their test in life. They’re aristocrats.

.
Diane Arbus

 

 

The aristocrats

During my research for this posting, someone, somewhere, said that Kelty was “not a very adventurous photographer.” What a load of rubbish.

If they meant “adventurous” by being avant-garde to that you can only answer: imagine the passion and dedication, and the skill of the photographer to compose these panoramic images for 15 years, from the mid-1920s to 1940, using a specially made “banquet” camera that produced 12-by-20-inch images.

Just imagine loading up your car with such a monster camera and travelling the roads to the site of these circus encampments, sometimes two or three different circuses a day, to record a veritable feast of difference and diversity. To give equal weight to each and every person. And to then develop the negatives in the back of your car. If this is not adventurous I don’t know what is.

And Kelty had to pay for the privilege. “Kelty was under contract to that circus, meaning he had to pay Ringling Brothers a commission for every circus picture he took. But he was not a circus employee, which had several of its own photographers who specialized in behind-the-scenes candids.”1 The photographs, these grand assemblages of multiculturalism, were not staged for free.

Kelty’s stylised images of sideshow freaks, clowns and other circus exotics are highly idiosyncratic in the world of art photography because, of course, he would not have thought of himself as an artist. Much as Eugène Atget never thought of himself as an artist, hanging a sign on his studio door saying, “Documents pour artistes” (Documents for artists), the sign declaring, “… his modest ambition of providing other artists with images to use as source material in their own work” (MoMA), so Kelty would have only thought he was recording these mise-en-scène for his own benefit, his passion, and to possibly sell a few photographs on the side.

Kelty’s day job was that of professional banquet photographer photographing weddings and the corporate world. The freedom he must have felt going to the circus and engaging with all these wonderful people would have been incredible. And he didn’t discriminate: his egalitarian photographs document the archetypes of the travelling circus, from “group portraits of clowns, sideshow attractions, bands, elephants, menageries, aerialists, equestrians, tractor and train crews, candy butchers (seen with their backs turned to show the “Baby Ruth Candy” logo on their smocks), and even everybody in the Ringling-Barnum cookhouse tent on July 4, 1935.” (Amazon)

Ellen Warren in her article “The mysterious Mr. Kelty”2 observes that Kelty’s photographs are “hopelessly politically incorrect by today’s standards”. In one sense this is true, with the camera documenting and objectifying the “Other”, with the literal naming of difference – “congress of freaks”, “colored review” – but is this objectification little different to the later, more intimate photographs of Diane Arbus documenting a dwarf in his bedroom, a Jewish giant at home with his parents, or an Albino sword swallower at a carnival? Only the archetypal scale is different. In another and perhaps a more generous sense of spirit, Kelty’s images of circus life document a “family” that lived, breathed, ate and travelled together, who looked after each other during fires and vicissitudes, who had a job and food on the table during The Great Depression … people who Kelty imaged as equal and important as each other by placing them in row after row.

In photographs such as Christy Brothers Circus Side Show, H. Emgard – Manager (1927, below), “Living Curiosities” mix it with “Minstrels”, musicians, dancers and comedians and a Scottish family band dressed up in Tartan. All given equal weight in a splendid display, a panopoly of presentation from around the world. And it would seem that the crowds at the circus were equally fascinated by these assemblages, and the process of Kelty taking the photograph, if the glimpses of the audience at left in Congress of the World’s Rough Riders – Celebrating Ringling Golden Jubilee, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus (1933, below) and at right in Col. Tim McCoy and his Congress of Rough Riders of the World Featured on the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus (1935, below) are anything to go by.

Other things to note about the photographs are: the shutter time which can be seen by the moving figures at left in George Denman and His Staff, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows (1931, below); the impeccable use of even light; the use of flash in photographs such as Col. W.T. Johnson’s World Champion Cowgirls – Madison Square Garden – New York City – 1935 (1935, below) and Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Concert Band, Merle Evans – Bandmaster (1927, below); and Kelty’s innate ability to conduct and compose the scene. This is where Kelty excels himself as an artist and photographer, where he rises above the everyday to become extra-ordinary.

Two photographs are instructive in this regard, the earlier Congress of Freaks with Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus (1931, below) and the later “Doll Family of Midgets”, Celebrating “Ringling Golden Jubilee”, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus Side Show (1933, below) in which Kelty returns two years later to document more or less the same group of people in the same setting. In the first image, one of the most famous of Kelty’s photographs, two lines of people rise from the outside and then fall (using the height of the subjects) towards the woman seated centrally in the bottom row who grounds the giant, Christ-like figure in the row above, his outstretched arms offering the display to the viewer. In the elegance and placement of figures this is a masterful construction of the image plane. In the later photograph Kelty doubles down, bookending both rows with symmetrical characters (giant women with headdresses, men in black tie) instead of just the one row in the first photograph – the rows again rising and falling towards the central characters, the giants framing the composition with outstretched arms. It might seem simple but it is not.

This is not some hack at work, not some unadventurous photographer with limited imagination, but a man composing a fugue like J.S.Bach, a veritable banquet for the eyes. To suggest otherwise is to not understand the history of photography, the history of representation, and the passion needed to represent life in all its forms.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Ellen Warren. “The mysterious Mr. Kelty,” on the Chicago Tribune website February 7, 2003 [Online] Cited 23/11/2018
  2. Ibid.,

.
All of the photographs in this posting are published under “fair use” conditions for the purpose of educational research and academic comment. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

 

 

Going by the evidence of the photographs, Kelty seems to have had three studio addresses close to each other in Midtown New York during his 15 years photographing the circus: first 144 West 46th (1925-1930), 74 W 47th (1931-1934) and finally 110 W 46th (1935-1940). As can be seen from the map above (with one exception of a photograph in St. Louis MO), Kelty usually travelled close to home to document the circus wherever they set up camp.

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Concert Band, Merle Evans - Bandmaster' 1927

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 144 W 46 N.Y.C.
Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Concert Band, Merle Evans – Bandmaster
1927
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Merle Slease Evans (December 26, 1891 – December 31, 1987) was a cornet player and circus band conductor who conducted the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for fifty years. He was known as the “Toscanini of the Big Top.” Evans was inducted into the American Bandmasters Association in 1947 and the International Circus Hall of Fame in 1975. …

Evans was hired as the band director for the newly merged Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1919. Evans held this job for fifty years, until his retirement in 1969. He only missed performances due to a musicians union strike in 1942 and the death of his first wife. He wrote eight circus marches, including Symphonia and Fredella.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus' Jersey City, N.J. - May 27th 1929

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 144 W 46 N.Y.C.
Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus
Jersey City, N.J. – May 27th 1929
Gelatin silver print

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'George Denman and His Staff, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows' Irvington, N.J. June 9th, 1931

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 74 W 47 N.Y.C.
George Denman and His Staff, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows
Irvington, N.J. – June 9th, 1931
Gelatin silver print
11 1/4 × 19 5/8 inches (28.6 × 49.9cm)

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus - Greatest Show on Earth -' 1931

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 74 W 47 N.Y.C.
Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus – Greatest Show on Earth –
1931
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, also known as the Ringling Bros. CircusRingling Bros. or simply Ringling was an American traveling circus company billed as The Greatest Show on Earth. It and its predecessor shows ran from 1871 to 2017. Known as Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows, the circus started in 1919 when the Barnum & Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth, a circus created by P. T. Barnum and James Anthony Bailey, was merged with the Ringling Bros. World’s Greatest Shows. The Ringling brothers had purchased Barnum & Bailey Ltd. following Bailey’s death in 1906, but ran the circuses separately until they were merged in 1919. …

In 1871, Dan Castello and William Cameron Coup persuaded Barnum to come out of retirement as to lend his name, know-how and financial backing to the circus they had already created in Delavan, Wisconsin. The combined show was named “P.T. Barnum’s Great Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Hippodrome”. As described by Barnum, Castello and Coup “had a show that was truly immense, and combined all the elements of museum, menagerie, variety performance, concert hall, and circus”, and considered it to potentially be “the Greatest Show on Earth”, which subsequently became part of the circus’s name.

Independently of Castello and Coup, James Anthony Bailey had teamed up with James E. Cooper to create the Cooper and Bailey Circus in the 1860s. The Cooper and Bailey Circus became the chief competitor to Barnum’s circus. As Bailey’s circus was outperforming his, Barnum sought to merge the circuses. The two groups agreed to combine their shows on March 28, 1881. Initially named “P.T. Barnum’s Greatest Show On Earth, And The Great London Circus, Sanger’s Royal British Menagerie and The Grand International Allied Shows United”, it was eventually shortened to “Barnum and Bailey’s Circus”. Bailey was instrumental in acquiring Jumbo, advertised as the world’s largest elephant, for the show. Barnum died in 1891 and Bailey then purchased the circus from his widow. Bailey continued touring the eastern United States until he took his circus to Europe. That tour started on December 27, 1897, and lasted until 1902.

Separately, in 1884, five of the seven Ringling brothers had started a small circus in Baraboo, Wisconsin. This was about the same time that Barnum & Bailey were at the peak of their popularity. Similar to dozens of small circuses that toured the Midwest and the Northeast at the time, the brothers moved their circus from town to town in small animal-drawn caravans. Their circus rapidly grew and they were soon able to move their circus by train, which allowed them to have the largest traveling amusement enterprise of that time. Bailey’s European tour gave the Ringling brothers an opportunity to move their show from the Midwest to the eastern seaboard. Faced with the new competition, Bailey took his show west of the Rocky Mountains for the first time in 1905. He died the next year, and the circus was sold to the Ringling Brothers.

 

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus

The Ringlings purchased the Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth in 1907 and ran the circuses separately until 1919. By that time, Charles Edward Ringling and John Nicholas Ringling were the only remaining brothers of the five who founded the circus. They decided that it was too difficult to run the two circuses independently, and on March 29, 1919, “Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows” debuted in New York City. The posters declared, “The Ringling Bros. World’s Greatest Shows and the Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth are now combined into one record-breaking giant of all exhibitions.” Charles E. Ringling died in 1926, but the circus flourished through the Roaring Twenties.

John Ringling had the circus move its headquarters to Sarasota, Florida in 1927. In 1929, the American Circus Corporation signed a contract to perform in New York City. John Ringling purchased American Circus, owner of five circuses, for $1.7 million…

The circus suffered during the 1930s due to the Great Depression, but managed to stay in business. After John Nicholas Ringling’s death, his nephew, John Ringling North, managed the indebted circus twice, the first from 1937 to 1943. Special dispensation was given to the circus by President Roosevelt to use the rails to operate in 1942, in spite of travel restrictions imposed as a result of World War II. Many of the most famous images from the circus that were published in magazine and posters were captured by American photographer Maxwell Frederic Coplan, who traveled the world with the circus, capturing its beauty as well as its harsh realities.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Congress of the World's Rough Riders - Celebrating Ringling Golden Jubilee, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus' Brooklyn, N.Y. May 19th 1933

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 74 W 47 N.Y.C.
Congress of the World’s Rough Riders – Celebrating Ringling Golden Jubilee, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus
Brooklyn, N.Y. May 19th 1933
Gelatin silver print

 

 

“In the late nineteenth century, America displayed a new imperialistic mood and a heightened desire to impress her independence upon Europe when she embarked upon a number of military adventures in the Caribbean and Pacific. During the same period, there appeared a new popular hero – the “Rough Rider” – who derived from the Western frontier but expanded the field of heroic action well beyond the shores of America. The creation of this hero and the scene in which he was set demonstrates how popular culture of the period not only embodied but facilitated crucial developments in the nation’s growth.”

Christine Bold. “The Rough Riders at Home and Abroad: Cody, Roosevelt, Remington and the Imperialist hero,” in Canadian Review of American Studies Volume 18 Issue 3, September 1987, pp. 321-350

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967)

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 74 W 47 N.Y.C.
Celebrating “Ringling Golden Jubilee”, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus
Brooklyn, N.Y. May 19th 1933
Gelatin silver print
11 1/4 × 19 5/8 inches (28.6 × 49.9cm)

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967)

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 74 W 47 N.Y.C.
Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Menagerie
Brooklyn, N.Y. May 19th 1933
Gelatin silver print

 

 

In mid-20th century America, a typical circus traveled from town to town by train, performing under a huge canvas tent commonly called a “big top”. The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus was no exception: what made it stand out was that it was the largest circus in the country. Its big top could seat 9,000 spectators around its three rings; the tent’s canvas had been coated with 1,800 pounds (820 kg) of paraffin wax dissolved in 6,000 US gallons (23,000 l) of gasoline, a common waterproofing method of the time.

A menagerie is a collection of captive animals, frequently exotic, kept for display; or the place where such a collection is kept, a precursor to the modern zoological garden. The term was first used in seventeenth century France in reference to the management of household or domestic stock. Later, it came to be used primarily in reference to aristocratic or royal animal collections. The French-language Methodical Encyclopaedia of 1782 defines a menagerie as an “establishment of luxury and curiosity.” Later on, the term referred also to travelling animal collections that exhibited wild animals at fairs across Europe and the Americas.

Texts from the Wikipedia website

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Ringling Golden Jubilee - Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus' Newark, N.Y. June ? 1933

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 74 W 47 N.Y.C.
Ringling Golden Jubilee – Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus
Newark, N.Y. June ? 1933
Gelatin silver print

 

Edward J. Kelty (1888-1967) 'Congress of Freaks with Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus' 1931

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 74 W 47 N.Y.C.
Congress of Freaks with Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus
1931
Gelatin silver print

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) '"Doll Family of Midgets", Celebrating "Ringling Golden Jubilee", Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus Side Show' 1933

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 74 W 47 N.Y.C.
“Doll Family of Midgets”, Celebrating “Ringling Golden Jubilee”, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus Side Show
1933
Gelatin silver print
11 1/8 × 19 1/2 inches (28.3 × 49.5cm)

 

Edward J. Kelty (1888-1967) 'Col. Tim McCoy and his Congress of Rough Riders of the World Featured on the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus' Newark N.J. June 11th 1935

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 110 W 46 NYC
Col. Tim McCoy and his Congress of Rough Riders of the World Featured on the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus
Newark. N.J. June 11th 1935
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Timothy John Fitzgerald McCoy (April 10, 1891 – January 29, 1978) was an American actor, military officer, and expert on American Indian life and customs. He was also known Colonel T.J. McCoy.

McCoy worked steadily in movies until 1936, when he left Hollywood, first to tour with the Ringling Brothers Circus and then with his own “wild west” show. The show was not a success and is reported to have lost $300,000, of which $100,000 was McCoy’s own money. It folded in Washington, D.C. and the cowboy performers were each given $5 and McCoy’s thanks. The Indians on the show were returned to their respective reservations by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. …

For his contribution to the film industry, Col. Tim McCoy was honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 1973, McCoy was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. McCoy was inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame in 1974.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus' Jersey City, N.J. June 12, 1935

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 110 W 46 NYC
Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus
Jersey City, N.J. June 12, 1935
Gelatin silver print

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Congress of Clowns, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus' Patterson, N. J. June 13, 1935

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 110 W 46 NYC
Congress of Clowns, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus
Patterson, N. J. June 13, 1935
Gelatin silver print
11 1/8 × 19 5/8inches (28.3 × 49.9cm)

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'World Renowned Acrobats, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus' Patterson, N. J. June 13, 1935

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 110 W 46 NYC
World Renowned Acrobats, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus
Patterson, N. J. June 13, 1935
Gelatin silver print

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967)

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 110 W 46 NYC
“Queens of the Air”, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus
Patterson, N. J. June 13, 1935
Gelatin silver print
11 1/4 × 19 5/8 inches (28.6 × 49.9cm)

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Tommy Atkins Military Riding Maids featured with Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus' Poughkeepsie, N.Y. - June 15th 1935

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 110 W 46 NYC
Tommy Atkins Military Riding Maids featured with Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus
Poughkeepsie, N.Y. – June 15th 1935
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Dorothy Herbert (1910-1994) joined Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey in 1930 when she was only 20 years old. Over the next decade she truly became a headliner – appearing on a variety of posters, including several seen here. Like Lillian Leitzel, May Wirth and Tim McCoy, and later Lou Jacobs and Gunther Gebel-Williams – her star status led to the creation of a number of posters featuring her image.

Herbert was only 24 years old when a portrait lithograph was added to the Ringling-Barnum billposter hod during the 1934 season. Starting that spring, and for several seasons following, an image of Miss Herbert and her horse Satan appeared in hundreds of store windows as both a one-sheet and a window card, and in a much larger format on the sides of walls and barns. The same portrait was also featured on the cover of the 1934 program book, the first time an individual circus star was featured on the Ringling-Barnum “Program and Daily Review”. …

[Herbert] features in a display that she starred in titled “Miss Tommy Atkins and Her Military Maids” The depiction is of a group of girls on horses, dressed in British red-coat dress uniforms. The act consisted of military equestrian manoeuvres and the reason it carried the name “Miss Tommy Atkins” is that a British soldier of the era was often referred to as a “Tommy Atkins” much in the way that American soldiers have been known as “G.I. Joe”.

Extract from Chris Berry. “Dorothy Herbert (Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey),” on the Collectors Weekly website 2012 [Online] Cited 20/10/2018

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus Executive Staff' New Brunswick, N.J. - June 17th 1931

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 74 W 47 N.Y.C.
Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus Executive Staff
New Brunswick, N.J. – June 17th 1931
Gelatin silver print

 

 

The Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus was a circus that traveled across America in the early part of the 20th century. At its peak, it was the second-largest circus in America next to Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. It was based in Peru, Indiana.

The circus began as the “Carl Hagenbeck Circus” by Carl Hagenbeck (1844-1913). Hagenbeck was an animal trainer who pioneered the use of rewards-based animal training as opposed to fear-based training.

Meanwhile, Benjamin Wallace, a livery stable owner from Peru, Indiana, and his business partner, James Anderson, bought a circus in 1884 and created “The Great Wallace Show”. The show gained some prominence when their copyright for advertising posters was upheld by the Supreme Court in Bleistein v. Donaldson Lithographing Company. Wallace bought out his partner in 1890 and formed the “B. E. Wallace Circus”.

In 1907, Wallace purchased the Carl Hagenbeck Circus and merged it with his circus. The circus became known as the Hagenbeck-Wallace circus at that time, even though Carl Hagenbeck protested. He sued to prohibit the use of his name but lost in court. …

The circus spent its winters just outside Baldwin Park, California. There, on 35 acres of land, the circus stayed with its huge parade wagons parked alongside a railroad spur. The elephants spent time hauling refuse wagons, shunting railroad cars and piling baled hay. A tent at the eastern edge of the grounds was used by aerialists to practice trapeze and high-wire acts. The circus usually remained there from late November to early spring.

The Great Depression and Ringling’s ill health caused the Ringling empire to falter. In 1935, the circus split from Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey and became the Hagenbeck-Wallace and Forepaugh-Sells Bros. Circus. It finally ceased operations in 1938.

The complex near Peru that formerly housed the winter home of Hagenbeck-Wallace now serves as the home of the Circus Hall of Fame.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus' 1931

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 74 W 47 N.Y.C.
Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus
1931
Gelatin silver print
11 1/4 × 19 5/8 inches (28.6 × 49.9 cm.)

 

 

Edward J. Kelty (1888-1967) moved to New York City following his service in the Navy during World War I, and opened up his first studio, Flashlight Photographers. Kelty was drawn to the circus and visited Coney Island often. In the summer of 1922, he transformed his truck into a mini studio, darkroom and living quarters, and traveled across America. His panoramic views captured the performers – human and animal – associated with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, Hagenbeck-Wallace, Sells-Floto, Clyde Beatty, Cole Bros. and other train, wagon and truck shows.

A typical day for Kelty would have him waking at dawn to set up cameras and tripods, gathering bearded ladies and sword swallowers, snake charmers and giants and shooting all morning. At times he had as many as 1,000 people in a picture. Afternoons were spent processing film and making proofs, taking orders and printing well into the night. The following day, he distributed prints, most often to circus staff and performers, before returning to his New York studio to work on his wedding and banquet photography business.

Kelty was hit hard by the Depression, and by 1942 had cashed in his glass plate negatives to settle a hefty bar tab. He moved to Chicago and, as legend has it, never took another photograph. His extant negatives eventually made their way into a Tennessee collection of circus memorabilia. Since Kelty used Nitrate-based film, which is unstable when improperly housed, the negatives self-destructed and were disposed of.

After Kelty died in 1967, his estranged family found no photographs, cameras or negatives among his belongings – just one old lens and a union concession employee ID card identifying him as a vendor at Chicago’s Wrigley Field. There was no evidence of the man who, along with his custom mammoth-size banquet camera and portable studio, documented America’s greatest traveling circuses.

Text from the Swann Galleries website

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, Jess Adkins, Manager - Rex De Rosselli, Producer of Spectacle - Harry McFarlan, Equestrienne Director'. Brooklyn, N.J. June 11th 1932

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 74 W 47 N.Y.C.
Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, Jess Adkins, Manager – Rex De Rosselli, Producer of Spectacle – Harry McFarlan, Equestrienne Director
Brooklyn, N.J. June 11th 1932
Gelatin silver print

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, Jess Adkins, Manager - Rex De Rosselli, Producer of Spectacle - Harry McFarlan, Equestrienne Director.' St. Louis, MO. - May 11th 1934

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 74 W 47 N.Y.C.
Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, Jess Adkins, Manager – Rex De Rosselli, Producer of Spectacle – Harry McFarlan, Equestrienne Director
St. Louis, MO. – May 11th 1934
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Banquet photography

Banquet photography is the photography of large groups of people, typically in a banquet setting such as a hotel or club banquet room, with the objective of commemorating an event. Clubs, associations, unions, circuses and debutante balls have all been captured by banquet photographers.

A banquet photograph is usually taken in black and white with a large format camera, with a wide angle lens, from a high angle to ensure that each person is in focus while seated at their table. Large cameras such as a 12 × 20 view camera or a panoramic camera were used. The defining characteristic of a banquet photograph is the depth of focus and detail and clarity of the image.

Banquet photography was most popular in the 1890s, and had mostly waned by the 1970s. In part its decline is owed to the difficult technical aspects of producing quality banquet photos, the difficulty of printing such large negatives, and the expense and size of the equipment needed. Today, though hard to find, there are a handful of photographers still shooting banquet photos with flashbulbs and large format film cameras. View cameras use large format sheet film – one sheet per photograph.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Christy Brothers Circus Side Show, H. Emgard - Manager' 1927

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 144 W 46 N.Y.C.
Christy Brothers Circus Side Show, H. Emgard – Manager
1927
Gelatin silver print

 

 

George Washington Christy was born February 22 1889 in Pottstown, Pennsylvania to parents John and Ida Christy.

The circus opened in 1919 under the title of “Christy Hippodrome Shows” (later changed to Christy Bros. Circus). The show opened as a two car show, Christy purchased many of his parade wagons from the Ringling Bros. after they discontinued their downtown parades. The circus wintered first in Galveston, Texas and then in South Houston, where Christy had built a home.

On May 25, the show’s trained wrecked just outside of Cardston Alberta, Canada.. G.W. Christy, being the showman that he was set up in a cornfield near the wreck and gave a performance while the rails were being cleared. In 1925 and 1926, Christy operated a second unit named “Lee Bros.”, but closed it after the the 1926 season.

The “Great Depression” beginning in 1929, was a difficult time for all shows on the road. The Christy Bros. Circus was no exception, not only was the economy in bad shape but weather was also a major factor. Christy and his loyal employees struggled to keep the circus on the road. On July 7, 1930 the Christy Brothers Circus gave it’s last performance in Greeley, Colorado.

After the close of the show, most of the equipment was sold in 1935 to Jess Adkins and Zack Terrell, who were framing their Cole Bros. Circus, some of the parade wagons went to the “Ken Mayner Circus”. Christy kept his elephants and horses, the elephants were used to help build Spencer Highway in South Houston, Texas.

After leaving the circus world George Christy became mayor of the City of South Houston serving from 1949 to 1951 and again from 1960 to 1964. George Washington Christy died August 07, 1975 in Houston Texas.

Anonymous text. “Christy Bros Circus,” on the Circuses and Sideshows website Nd [Online] Cited 13/03/2022

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Walter L. Main Circus' 1927

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 144 W 46 N.Y.C.
Walter L. Main Circus
1927
Gelatin silver print

 

 

The Walter L. Main Circus was founded by Walter L. Main in 1886. Walter’s father “William” was a horse farmer, trainer and trader in Trumbull, Ohio. William began supplying horses to circuses, which led to him joining the “Hilliard & Skinner’s Variety and Indian show”. William toured with several shows and in the 1870s began his own, very small circus. …

1904 was the last year that the “Walter L. Main Circus” operated under Walters ownership, the circus was sold that year to William P. Hall. In 1918 Walter leased the Main title to Andrew Downie who made a small fortune operating his circus under the Main name until he sold the show to the Miller Bros. of the 101 Ranch Wild West Show in 1924. In 1925 until 1928 the Main title was used by Floyd King and his brother Howard. The Main title was used by various operators 1930-1937.

Anonymous text. “Walter L. Main Circus,” on the Circuses and Sideshows website Nd [Online] Cited 13/03/2022

 

Edward J. Kelty. 'Harlem Black Birds, Coney Island' 1930

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 74 W 47 N.Y.C.
Harlem Black Birds, Coney Island
1930
12 x 20 in. (30.5 x 50.8 cm)
Collection of Ken Harck
© Edward J. Kelty

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Sells-Floto Big Double Side Show, Jersey City, N.J. - June 19th 1931, Lew. C. Edelmore - Manager' 1931

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 74 W 47 N.Y.C.
Sells-Floto Big Double Side Show, Jersey City, N.J. – June 19th 1931, Lew. C. Edelmore – Manager
1931
Gelatin silver print

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Sam B. Dill's Circus' Mineola, L.I. N.Y. - June 19th 1933

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 74 W 47 N.Y.C.
Sam B. Dill’s Circus
Mineola, L.I., N.Y. – June 19th 1933
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Early Wednesday morning, July 19, 1933, a long train arrived in York and stopped near the fairgrounds. The Sam B. Dill Circus had arrived.

“Young America, having caught the infectious circus spirit is likely to be in ahead of both morning orb and circus and be on the lot along with enthusiastic adults to greet the show train on its arrival there,” The York Dispatch reported the day before the train’s arrival.

The unloading and setting up of the circus tents and shows worked smoothly. All of the performers knew their jobs. They had been doing it multiple times each week since the circus had opened its season in Dallas on April 9.

Wagons containing the menagerie were rolled down ramps. Trunks were carried off to other areas. Elephants and roustabouts worked to raise the big top as the sun rose. Within a relatively short time, the big top tent was erected, and the performers went to work preparing their equipment inside while the roustabouts set up the bleacher seating.

By the time everything was finished around 9 a.m., the cooks in the circus kitchen had breakfast ready.

The Sam B. Dill Circus was scheduled to play two performances, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., for York residents.

“Sam B. Dill’s Circus isn’t the biggest circus in the world, but what it lacks in size it makes up in quality,” the Amarillo Sunday News and Globe wrote about the circus.

Dill had managed the famous John Robinson Circus, but when it was sold to the American Circus Corp., Dill had struck out on his own. Though not a large circus, Dill’s circus was popular and tended to sell out its performances.

After breakfast, everyone had a short rest, and then they began to scurry around getting the menagerie wagons harnessed to horses and in a line. Performers dressed in their bright and flamboyant costumes. At noon, “a long column of red, gold and glitter, with bands playing and banners flying will move sinuously out of the Richland Avenue gate,” The York Dispatch reported.

From Richland Avenue, the parade moved east on Princess Street, then north on George Street to Continental Square. From the square, the circus moved west on Market Street and then back to Richland Avenue. Thousands of spectators lined the route to watch the performers, hear the music and marvel at the wild animals.

The first wagon was the band wagon where Shirley Pitts, the country’s only female calliope player, conducted the band. Then came the wagons pulling tigers, monkeys, seals and more. Other flat wagons featured clowns goofing off and Wild West displays.

When the parade arrived back at the fairgrounds, many of the spectators followed. Although the big top wouldn’t open until 1 p.m., spectators wandered the midway, playing games, getting an up-close look at the menagerie or viewed some of the shows in the smaller tents.

The three-ring show under the big top had dozens of animals such as Oscar the Lion, Buddy the performing sea lion, camels, zebras, horses, elephants, dogs, monkeys and ponies.

Christian Belmont swung on the trapeze, along with aerialist Rene Larue. Mary Miller performed a head-balancing act. The four Bell Brothers showed off their acrobatic skills, and Betha Owen owned the high wire. Among the clowns, young Jimmy Thomas was noted as the “youngest clown in the circus world.” He traveled with his mother, Lorette Jordan, who was also an aerialist with the show.

The circus also liked to feature a western movie star with its Wild West acts. In 1933, that performer was Buck Steel. The following year, Tom Mix joined the circus. He had been a major western movie star who had seen his popularity decline in the 1920s. In 1935, he bought the circus from Dill and renamed it the Tom Mix Circus.

Following the 8 p.m. show, the performers broke down the circus and loaded it back on the train to head out by midnight for the next city.

​James Rada Jr. “LOOKING BACK 1933: The circus comes to town,” from the York Dispatch website August 3, 2016 [Online] Cited 13/03/2022

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Hunt's Three Ring Circus' Northport, L.I., N.Y. - June 26th 1931

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 74 W 47 N.Y.C.
Hunt’s Three Ring Circus
Northport, L.I., N.Y. – June 26th 1931
Gelatin silver print

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'James Whalen and His Big Top Department - Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus' Reading, P.A. - June 1st 1934

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 74 W 47 N.Y.C.
James Whalen and His Big Top Department – Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus
Reading, P.A. – June 1st 1934
Gelatin silver print

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Cole Brothers - Clyde Beatty Circus' Cumberland, MD July 27th 1935

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 110 W 46 NYC
Cole Brothers – Clyde Beatty Circus
Cumberland, MD July 27th 1935
Gelatin silver print
11 1/4 × 19 5/8 inches (28.6 × 49.9 cm)

 

 

Clyde Beatty Circus

Clyde Beatty (June 10, 1903 – July 19, 1965) began his circus career working as a cage boy for Louis Roth, he learned his trade quickly and soon had his own animal act. Beatty’s “fighting act” style and his showmanship propelled him to stardom.

Not only was Clyde a star of the center ring but he also starred in numerous movies, radio shows and his adventures were fictionalised in novels. The name “Clyde Beatty” became a very value asset to circus. The name was used on posters and painted on show equipment alongside the circus’ name on whatever show he was working.

In 1935 Clyde Beatty was on Jess Adkins and Zack Terrell’s “Cole Bros. Circus”, Then in 1943 he worked for Art Concello on the “Clyde Beatty-Russell Bros. Circus”. Beatty continued to be active with the show until his death in 1965.

Anonymous text. “Clyde Beatty Circus,” on the Circuses and Sideshows website Nd [Online] Cited 13/03/2022

 

Cole Bros. Circus

The Cole Title dates back to 1870 when William Washington Cole (1847-1915), started the W. W. Cole Circus. Cole was very successful in in the circus business and when he died in 1915, left an estate of five million dollars. He is considered to be the first circus millionaire.

in 1906 the title was purchased by Canadian showman Martin Downs and his son James and the title was changed to Cole Bros.. The circus was moved from St. Louis, Mo. to it’s new winter quarters in Birmingham, Al..

In the late 1920s the Cole Bros. titled was used by Floyd King and his brother Howard. This version of the Cole Bros. Circus operated mostly in the west, playing mining camps and boomtowns, truly a frontier circus. The new Cole Bros. Circus, 35 railroad car show first took to the road in 1935 with Jess Adkins and Zack Terrell as the circus organisers and owners.

Terrell who had managed the Sells-Floto Circus for the American Circus Corp. from 1921-1932 and in 1934 he managed a circus at the Chicago World’s Fair operated by the Standard Oil Company.

Adkins had managed the Gentry Bros. Circus for Floyd King, the 25 car John Robinson Circus and in 1931 the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus. Jess Adkins and Zack Terrell were very capable managers however neither had ever owned a circus, however in 1934 each were quietly making plans to take out their own circuses.

Adkins and Terrell went to Lancaster, Mo. and purchased equipment left from the now defunct Robbins Bros. Circus. The purchased included 15 wagons, 6 elephants, 5 camels, school horses, and zebras. The equipment was moved to Rochester, IN where they had bought property to serve as a winter quarters.

Adkins and Terrell hired Floyd King as general agent and Arnold Maley as office manager who both assisted in the organisation of the show.

This was the beginning of the Cole Bros. Circus

Anonymous text. “Cole Bros. Circus,” on the Circuses and Sideshows website Nd [Online] Cited 13/03/2022

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Col. W.T. Johnson's World Champion Cowgirls - Madison Square Garden - New York City - 1935'

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 110 W 46 NYC
Col. W.T. Johnson’s World Champion Cowgirls – Madison Square Garden – New York City – 1935
1935
Gelatin silver print
11 1/4 × 19 5/8 inches (28.6 × 49.9cm)

 

 

The Great Depression of the 1930s was one of the most traumatic periods in American history. The human suffering caused by the Stock Market crash, and the business failures that followed took a toll which has never been fully calculated. Yet through all of the hardships, some business did thrive… One sport which prospered during the Depression was rodeo, Its big-time circuit grew enormously during the 1930s, and incomes of contestants and producers increased as well.

Much of the credit for this must go to Col. William Taylor Johnson of San Antonio, Texas. Johnson became a rodeo producer in 1928, and by the mid-thirties had taken over the prestigious Madison Square Garden Rodeo and created a viable eastern circuit which ushered in a new era of rodeo history. The eastern contests paid excellent prizes and extended the season, so that many cowboys and cowgirls did exceptionally well for those troubled times. During the Depression, average incomes for rodeo professionals on the big-time circuit averaged from one to three thousand dollars annually, while top champions earned from ten to twelve thousand dollars a year… By 1934, every rodeo which Johnson produced had set attendance records, and the eastern circuit was an integral part of rodeo. (“The Story of The Billboard, and Col. W. T. Johnson’s Rodeos,” The Billboard, 29 October 1934, p. 75). In spite of his many contributions, Johnson is honoured by no rodeo Hall of Fame, and has never been nominated. How could such a major figure be ignored?

Extract from the abstract from Mary Lou LeCompte. “Colonel William Thomas Johnson, Premier Rodeo Producer of the 1930s.” The University of Texas at Austin

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'U.S.W.P.A. Federal Theatre Circus Unit' New York City, Sept. 26th 1936

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 110 W 46
U.S.W.P.A. Federal Theatre Circus Unit
New York City, Sept. 26th 1936
Gelatin silver print

 

 

United States Works Progress Administration (U.S.W.P.A.)

The Works Progress Administration (WPA; renamed in 1939 as the Work Projects Administration) was the largest and most ambitious American New Deal agency, employing millions of people (mostly unskilled men) to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads. In a much smaller project, Federal Project Number One, the WPA employed musicians, artists, writers, actors and directors in large arts, drama, media, and literacy projects.

The Federal Theatre Project (FTP; 1935-1939) was a New Deal program to fund theatre and other live artistic performances and entertainment programs in the United States during the Great Depression. It was one of five Federal Project Number One projects sponsored by the Works Progress Administration. It was created not as a cultural activity but as a relief measure to employ artists, writers, directors and theatre workers. It was shaped by national director Hallie Flanagan into a federation of regional theatres that created relevant art, encouraged experimentation in new forms and techniques, and made it possible for millions of Americans to see live theatre for the first time. The Federal Theatre Project ended when its funding was canceled after strong Congressional objections to the left-wing political tone of a small percentage of its productions.

Texts from the Wikipedia website

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Marcellus Golden Models' 1933

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 74 W 47 N.Y.C.
Marcellus Golden Models
1933
Gelatin silver print
11 1/4 × 8 7/8 inches (28.6 × 22.5cm)

 

 

“Fortunately, we aren’t entirely bereft of a visual record of these arcane marvels. A Manhattan banquet photographer name Edward Kelty, whose usual venue was hotel ballrooms and Christmas parties, went out intermittently in the summer from the early 1920s to the mid-1940s, taking panoramic tripod pictures of circus personnel, in what could only have constituted a labor of love. He was expert, anyway, from his bread-and-butter job, at joshing smiles and camaraderie out of disparate collection of people, coaxing them to drape their arms around each other and trust the box’s eye. He had begun close to home, at Coney Island freak shows, when the subway was extended out there, and Times Square flea-circus “museums” and variety halls, and the Harlem Amusement Palace. Later, building upon contact and friendships from those places, he outfitted a truck for darkroom purposes (presumably to sleep in too) and sallied farther to photograph the tented circuses that played on vacant lots in New Jersey, Connecticut, or on Long Island, and gradually beyond. He would pose an ensemble of horse wranglers, canvasmen, ticket takers, candy butchers, teeterboard tumblers, “web-sitters” (the guys who hold the ropes for the ballet girls who climb up them and twirl), and limelight daredevils, or the bosses and moneymen. He took everybody, roustabouts as conscientiously as impresarios, and although he was not artistically very ambitious – and did hawk his prints both to the public and to the troupers, at “six for $5” – in his consuming hobby he surely aspired to document this vivid, disreputable demimonde [a group of people on the fringes of respectable society] obsessively, thoroughly: which is his gift to us.

More of these guys may have been camera-shy than publicity hounds, but Kelty’s rubber-chicken award ceremonies and industrial photo shoots must have taught him how to relax jumpy people for the few minutes required. With his Broadway pinstripes and a news-man’s bent fedora, as proprietor of Century Flashlight Photographers in the West Forties, he must have become a trusted presence in the “Backyard” and “Clown Alley.” He knew show-business and street touts, bookies and scalpers – but also how to flirt with a marquee star. Because his personal life seems to have been a bit of a train wreck, I think of him more as a hatcheck girl’s swain, yet he knew hot to let the sangfroid sing from some of these faces… These zany tribes of showboaters must have amused him, after the wintertime’s chore of recording for posterity some forty-year drudge receiving a gold watch… The ushers, the prop men and riggers, the cookhouse crew, the elephant men and cat men, the show-girls arrayed in white bathing suits in a tightly chaperoned, winsome line, the hoboes who had put the tent up and, in the wee hours, would tear it down, and the bosses whose body language, with arms akimbo and swaggering legs, tells us something of who hey were: these collective images telegraph the complexity of the circus hierarchy, with the starts at the top, winos at the bottom. …

While arranging corporate personnel in the phoney bonhomie of an office get-together, Kelty must have longed for summer, when he would be snapping “Congresses” of mugging clowns, fugue-ing freaks, rodeo sharpshooters, plus the train crews known as “razor-backs” (Raise your backs!), who loaded and unloaded the wagons from railroad flatcars at midnight and dawn… Circuses flouted convention as part of their pitch – flaunted and cashed in on the romance of outlawry, like Old World gypsies. If there hadn’t been a crime wave when the show was in town, everybody sure expected one. And the exotic physiognomies, strangely cut clothes, and oddly focused, disciplined bodies were almost as disturbing – “Near Eastern,” whatever Near Eastern meant (it somehow sounded weirder than “Middle Eastern” or “Far Eastern”), bedouin Arabs, Turks and Persians, or Pygmies, Zulus, people cicatrized, “platter-lipped,” or nose-split. That was the point. They came from all over the known world to parade on gaudy ten-hitch wagons or caparisoned [decked out in rich decorative coverings] elephants down Main Street, and then, like the animals in the cages, you wanted them to leave town.

Edward Hoagland. Sex and the River Styx. Chelsea Green Publishing, 2011, pp. 81-84

 

 

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02
Feb
18

Exhibition: ‘Walker Evans’ at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)

Exhibition dates: 30th September 2017 – 4th February 2018

Curator: Clément Chéroux

 

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Self-Portrait' 1927

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Self-Portrait
1927
Gelatin silver print
Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

 

I have posted on this exhibition before, when it was at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, but this iteration at SFMOMA is the exclusive United States venue for the Walker Evans retrospective exhibition – and the new posting contains fresh media images not available previously.

I can never get enough of Walker Evans. This perspicacious artist had a ready understanding of the contexts and conditions of the subject matter he was photographing. His photographs seem easy, unpretentious, and allow his sometimes “generally unaware” subjects (subway riders, labor workers) to speak for themselves. Does it matter that he was an outsider, rearranging furniture in workers homes while they were out in the fields: not at all. Photography has always falsified truth since the beginning of the medium and, in any case, there is never a singular truth but many truths told from many perspectives, many different points of view. For example, who is to say that the story of America proposed by Robert Frank in The Americans, from the point of view of an outsider, is any less valuable than that of Helen Levitt’s view of the streets of New York? For different reasons, both are as valuable as each other.

Evans’ photographs for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) documenting the effects of the Great Depression on American life are iconic because they are cracking good photographs, not because he was an insider or outsider. He was paid to document, to enquire, and that is what he did, by getting the best shot he could. It is fascinating to compare Floyd and Lucille Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama (1936, below) with Alabama Tenant Farmer Floyd Bourroughs (1936, below). In the first photograph the strong diagonal element of the composition is reinforced by the parallel placement of the three feet, the ‘Z’ shape of Lucille Burroughs leg then leading into her upright body, which is complemented by the two vertical door jams, Floyd’s head silhouetted by the darkness beyond. There is something pensive about the clasping of his hands, and something wistful and sad, an energy emanating from the eyes. If you look at the close up of his face, you can see that it is “soft” and out of focus, either because he moved and/or the low depth of field. Notice that the left door jam is also out of focus, that it is just the hands of both Floyd and Lucille and her face that are in focus. Does this low depth of field and lack of focus bother Evans? Not one bit, for he knows when he has captured something magical.

A few second later, he moves closer to Floyd Burroughs. You can almost hear him saying to Floyd, “Stop, don’t move a thing, I’m just going to move the camera closer.” And in the second photograph you notice the same wood grain to the right of Floyd as in the first photograph, but this time the head is tilted slightly more, the pensive look replaced by a steely gaze directed straight into the camera, the reflection of the photographer and the world beyond captured on the surface of the eye. Walker Evans is the master of recognising the extra/ordinary. “The street was an inexhaustible source of poetic finds,” describes Chéroux. In his creation of visual portfolios of everyday life, his “notions of realism, of the spectator’s role, and of the poetic resonance of ordinary subjects,” help Evans created a mythology of American life: a clear vision of the present as the past, walking into the future.

With the contemporary decline of small towns and blue collar communities across the globe Evans’ concerns, for the place of ordinary people and objects in the world, are all the more relevant today. As the text from the Metropolitan Museum observes, it is the individuals and social institutions that are the sites and relics that constitute the tangible expressions of American desires, despairs, and traditions. And not just of American people, of all people… for it is community that binds us together.

Marcus

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

 

Walker Evans is one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century. His elegant, crystal-clear photographs and articulate publications have inspired several generations of artists, from Helen Levitt and Robert Frank to Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, and Bernd and Hilla Becher. The progenitor of the documentary tradition in American photography, Evans had the extraordinary ability to see the present as if it were already the past, and to translate that knowledge and historically inflected vision into an enduring art. His principal subject was the vernacular – the indigenous expressions of a people found in roadside stands, cheap cafés, advertisements, simple bedrooms, and small-town main streets. For fifty years, from the late 1920s to the early 1970s, Evans recorded the American scene with the nuance of a poet and the precision of a surgeon, creating an encyclopaedic visual catalogue of modern America in the making. …

Most of Evans’ early photographs reveal the influence of European modernism, specifically its formalism and emphasis on dynamic graphic structures. But he gradually moved away from this highly aestheticised style to develop his own evocative but more reticent notions of realism, of the spectator’s role, and of the poetic resonance of ordinary subjects. …

In September 1938, the Museum of Modern Art opened American Photographs, a retrospective of Evans’ first decade of photography. The museum simultaneously published American Photographs – still for many artists the benchmark against which all photographic monographs are judged. The book begins with a portrait of American society through its individuals – cotton farmers, Appalachian miners, war veterans – and social institutions – fast food, barber shops, car culture. It closes with a survey of factory towns, hand-painted signs, country churches, and simple houses – the sites and relics that constitute the tangible expressions of American desires, despairs, and traditions.

Between 1938 and 1941, Evans produced a remarkable series of portraits in the New York City subway. They remained unpublished for twenty-five years, until 1966, when Houghton Mifflin released Many Are Called, a book of eighty-nine photographs, with an introduction by James Agee written in 1940. With a 35mm Contax camera strapped to his chest, its lens peeking out between two buttons of his winter coat, Evans was able to photograph his fellow passengers surreptitiously, and at close range. Although the setting was public, he found that his subjects, unposed and lost in their own thoughts, displayed a constantly shifting medley of moods and expressions – by turns curious, bored, amused, despondent, dreamy, and dyspeptic. “The guard is down and the mask is off,” he remarked. “Even more than in lone bedrooms (where there are mirrors), people’s faces are in naked repose down in the subway.”

Extract from Department of Photographs. “Walker Evans (1903-1975),” in Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000 on the Metropolitan Museum of Art website October 2004 [Online] Cited 08/02/2022

 

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Truck and Sign' 1928-1930

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Truck and Sign
1928-1930
Gelatin silver print
Private collection, San Francisco
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Floyd and Lucille Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama' 1936

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Floyd and Lucille Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama
1936
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Floyd and Lucille Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama' 1936 (detail)

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Floyd and Lucille Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama (detail)
1936
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Alabama Tenant Farmer Floyd Bourroughs' 1936

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Alabama Tenant Farmer Floyd Bourroughs
1936
Gelatin silver print
22.9 x 18.4cm
Collection particulière, San Francisco
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo: © Fernando Maquieira, Cromotex

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Allie Mae Burroughs, Wife of a Cotton Sharecropper, Hale Country, Alabama' 1936

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Allie Mae Burroughs, Wife of a Cotton Sharecropper, Hale County, Alabama
1936
Gelatin silver print; private collection
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

 

“These are not photographs like those of Walker Evans who in James Agee’s account in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men took his pictures of the bare floors and iron bedsteads of the American mid-western sharecroppers while they were out tending their failing crops, and who even, as the evidence of his negatives proves, rearranged the furniture for a ‘better shot’. The best shot that Heilig could take was one that showed things as they were and as they should not be. …

To call these ‘socially-conscious documentary’ photographs is to acknowledge the class from which the photographer [Heilig] comes, not to see them as the result of a benign visit by a more privileged individual [Evans], however well-intentioned.”

Extract from James McCardle. “Weapon,” on the On This Day In Photography website [Online] Cited 29/01/2018

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Sidewalk and Shopfront, New Orleans' 1935

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Sidewalk and Shopfront, New Orleans
1935
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, gift of Willard Van Dyke
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Fish Market near Birmingham, Alabama' 1936

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Roadside Stand Near Birmingham/Roadside Store Between Tuscaloosa and Greensboro, Alabama
1936
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Penny Picture Display, Savannah' 1936

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Penny Picture Display, Savannah
1936
Gelatin silver print
Pilara Foundation Collection
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Subway Portrait' January 1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway Portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans. 'Subway Passengers, New York' 1938

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway Portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans. 'Subway Passengers, New York' 1938

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway Portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans (American, St. Louis, Missouri 1903–1975 New Haven, Connecticut) '[Subway Passengers, New York City]' 1938

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway Portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Subway Portraits' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway Portraits
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

 

Exhibition Displays Over 400 Photographs, Paintings, Graphic Ephemera and Objects from the Artist’s Personal Collection

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) will be the exclusive United States venue for the retrospective exhibition Walker Evans, on view September 30, 2017, through February 4, 2018. As one of the preeminent photographers of the 20th century, Walker Evans’ 50-year body of work documents and distills the essence of life in America, leaving a legacy that continues to influence generations of contemporary photographers and artists. The exhibition will encompass all galleries in the museum’s Pritzker Center for Photography, the largest space dedicated to the exhibition, study and interpretation of photography at any art museum in the United States.

“Conceived as a complete retrospective of Evans’ work, this exhibition highlights the photographer’s fascination with American popular culture, or vernacular,” explains Clément Chéroux, senior curator of photography at SFMOMA. “Evans was intrigued by the vernacular as both a subject and a method. By elevating it to the rank of art, he created a unique body of work celebrating the beauty of everyday life.”

Using examples from Evans’ most notable photographs – including iconic images from his work for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) documenting the effects of the Great Depression on American life; early visits to Cuba; street photography and portraits made on the New York City subway; layouts and portfolios from his more than 20-year collaboration with Fortune magazine and 1970s Polaroids – Walker Evans explores Evans’ passionate search for the fundamental characteristics of American vernacular culture: the familiar, quotidian street language and symbols through which a society tells its own story. Decidedly popular and more linked to the masses than the cultural elite, vernacular culture is perceived as the antithesis of fine art.

While many previous exhibitions of Evans’ work have drawn from single collections, Walker Evans will feature over 300 vintage prints from the 1920s to the 1970s on loan from the important collections at major museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Getty Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., the National Gallery of Canada, the Musée du Quai Branly and SFMOMA’s own collection, as well as prints from private collections from around the world. More than 100 additional objects and documents, including examples of the artist’s paintings; items providing visual inspiration sourced from Evans’ personal collections of postcards, graphic arts, enamelled plates, cut images and signage; as well as his personal scrapbooks and ephemera will be on display. The exhibition is curated by the museum’s new senior curator of photography, Clément Chéroux, who joined SFMOMA in 2017 from the Musée National d’Art Moderne of the Centre Pompidou, Paris, organiser of the exhibition.

While most exhibitions devoted to Walker Evans are presented chronologically, Walker Evans‘ presentation is thematic. The show begins with an introductory gallery displaying Evans’ early modernist work whose style he quickly rejected in favour of focusing on the visual portfolio of everyday life. The exhibition then examines Evans’ captivation with the vernacular in two thematic contexts. The first half of the exhibition will focus on many of the subjects that preoccupied Evans throughout his career, including text-based images such as signage, shop windows, roadside stands, billboards and other examples of typography. Iconic images of the Great Depression, workers and stevedores, street photography made surreptitiously on New York City’s subways and avenues and classic documentary images of life in America complete this section. By presenting this work thematically, the exhibition links work separated by time and place and highlights Evans’ preoccupation with certain subjects and recurrent themes. The objects that moved him were ordinary, mass-produced and intended for everyday use. The same applied to the people he photographed – the ordinary human faces of office workers, labourers and people on the street.

“The street was an inexhaustible source of poetic finds,” describes Chéroux.

The second half of the exhibition explores Evans’ fascination with the methodology of vernacular photography, or styles of applied photography that are considered useful, domestic and popular. Examples include architecture, catalog and postcard photography as well as studio portraiture, and the exhibition juxtaposes this work with key source materials from the artist’s personal collections of 10,000 postcards, hand-painted signage and graphic ephemera (tickets, flyers, logos and brochures). Here Evans elevates vernacular photography to art, despite his disinclination to create fine art photographs. Rounding out this section are three of Evans’ paintings using vernacular architecture as inspiration. The exhibition concludes with Evans’ look at photography itself, with a gallery of photographs that unite Evans’ use of the vernacular as both a subject and a method.

 

About Walker Evans

Born in St. Louis, Walker Evans (1903-1975) was educated at East Coast boarding schools, Williams College, the Sorbonne and College de France before landing in New York in the late 1920s. Surrounded by an influential circle of artists, poets and writers, it was there that he gradually redirected his passion for writing into a career as a photographer, publishing his first photograph in the short-lived avant-garde magazine Alhambra. The first significant exhibition of his work was in 1938, when the Museum of Modern Art, New York presented Walker Evans: American Photographs, the first major solo exhibition at the museum devoted to a photographer.

In the 50 years that followed, Evans produced some of the most iconic images of his time, contributing immensely to the visibility of American culture in the 20th century and the documentary tradition in American photography. Evans’ best known photographs arose from his work for the Farm Security Administration (FSA), in which he documented the hardships and poverty of Depression-era America using a large-format, 8 x 10-inch camera. These photographs, along with his photojournalism projects from the 1940s and 1950s, his iconic visual cataloguing of the common American and his definition of the “documentary style,” have served as a monumental influence to generations of photographers and artists.

Press release from SFMOMA

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Resort Photographer at Work' 1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Resort Photographer at Work
1941, printed later
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Untitled [Street scene]' 1950s

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Untitled [Street scene]
1950s
Gouache on paper
Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Street Debris, New York City' 1968

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Street Debris, New York City
1968
Gelatin silver print
Private collection, San Francisco
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) '"Labor Anonymous,” Fortune 34, no. 5, November 1946' 1946

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
“Labor Anonymous,” Fortune 34, no. 5, November 1946
1946
Offset lithography
Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, Paris, Bibliothèque Kandinsky, Collection of David Campany
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) '"The Pitch Direct. The Sidewalk Is the Last Stand of Unsophisticated Display," Fortune 58, no. 4, October 1958' 1958

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
“The Pitch Direct. The Sidewalk Is the Last Stand of Unsophisticated Display,” Fortune 58, no. 4, October 1958
1958
Offset lithography
Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, Paris, Bibliothèque Kandinsky, Collection of David Campany
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Collage with Thirty-Six Ticket Stubs' 1975

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Collage with Thirty-Six Ticket Stubs
1975
Cut and pasted photomechanical prints on paper
Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Walker Evans Archive
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Unidentified Sign Painter. 'Coca-Cola Thermometer' 1930-70

 

Unidentified Sign Painter
Coca-Cola Thermometer
1930-1970
Enamel on ferrous metal
Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Walker Evans Archive
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Chain-Nose Pliers' 1955

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Chain-Nose Pliers
1955
Gelatin silver print
The Bluff Collection
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

John T. Hill. 'Interior of Walker Evans's House, Fireplace with Painting of Car' 1975, printed 2017

 

John T. Hill (American, b. 1934)
Interior of Walker Evans’s House, Fireplace with Painting of Car
1975, printed 2017
Inkjet print
Private collection
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Lenoir Book Co., 'Main Street, Showing Confederate Monument, Lenoir, North Carolina' 1900-40

 

Lenoir Book Co.,
Main Street, Showing Confederate Monument, Lenoir, North Carolina
1900-1940
Offset lithography
Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Walker Evans Archive
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

 

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
151 Third Street
San Francisco, CA 94103

Opening hours:
Mon 10am – 5pm
Tue + Wed Closed
Thu 1pm – 8pm
Fri – Sun 10am – 5pm

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art website

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17
Nov
17

Exhibition: ‘Wayne Sorce: Urban Color’ at Joseph Bellows Gallery, La Jolla, California

Exhibition dates: 21st October – 30th November 2017

 

Wayne Sorce. 'Vinegar Hill, New York' 1985

 

Wayne Sorce (American, b. 1946)
Vinegar Hill, New York
1985
Digital chromogenic print
20 x 24 inches

 

 

These remind me very strongly of the 1970s urban Americana colour work of Stephen Shore. Most of them are successful, well seen, well photographed colour images that evince a certain period in the American cultural landscape.

When they work – as in the formal Vinegar Hill, New York (1985, above) or the more abstract Vinegar Hill, New York (1985, below); the colourful, planar Varick Street, New York (1984); the duo-chromatic L.B. Oil, New York (1984); the magnificently shadowed, geometric Halsted Street, Chicago (1978); and my particular favourite (because of the light), Under the EL, Chicago (1978) – they work superbly. When they don’t work – as in Blankets, New York (1986) or Barbers, New York (1985) – they feel a bit flat.

It’s so hard to put a body of photographs together where each image is strong (but not necessarily the same) as the next and they form a holistic group. Most photographers can put together four images well enough, but the skill is to be able to narrativise a larger body of work, and then do that over a longer period of time. I believe that over the lifetime of a photographic artist, you can count on the fingers of two hands the truly memorable images they will make, if they are lucky. Other images are valuable in their own right… while others should be quietly singed.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
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.

 

Wayne Sorce. 'Vinegar Hil, New York' 1985

 

Wayne Sorce (American, b. 1946)
Vinegar Hill, New York
1985
Digital chromogenic print
20 x 24 inches

 

Wayne Sorce. 'Varick Street, New York' 1984

 

Wayne Sorce (American, b. 1946)
Varick Street, New York
1984
Digital chromogenic print
20 x 24 inches

 

Wayne Sorce. 'Halsted Street, Chicago' 1978

 

Wayne Sorce (American, b. 1946)
Halsted Street, Chicago
1978
Digital chromogenic print
20 x 24 inches

 

Wayne Sorce. 'L.B. Oil, New York' 1984

 

Wayne Sorce (American, b. 1946)
L.B. Oil, New York
1984
Digital chromogenic print
20 x 24 inches

 

Wayne Sorce. 'Spiral Fire Escape, Chicago' 1975

 

Wayne Sorce (American, b. 1946)
Spiral Fire Escape, Chicago
1975
Digital chromogenic print
20 x 24 inches

 

Wayne Sorce. 'No Left, Vinegar Hill' 1988

 

Wayne Sorce (American, b. 1946)
No Left, Vinegar Hill
1988
Digital chromogenic print
20 x 24 inches

 

Wayne Sorce. 'Dave's Restaurant, New York' 1984

 

Wayne Sorce (American, b. 1946)
Dave’s Restaurant, New York
1984
Digital chromogenic print
20 x 24 inches

 

Wayne Sorce. 'El Platform, Chicago' 1978

 

Wayne Sorce (American, b. 1946)
EL Platform, Chicago
1978
Digital chromogenic print
20 x 24 inches

 

Wayne Sorce. 'Bee Gee's, New York' 1984

 

Wayne Sorce (American, b. 1946)
Bee Gee’s, New York
1984
Digital chromogenic print
20 x 24 inches

 

Wayne Sorce. 'Fort Dearborn Coffee, Chicago' 1977

 

Wayne Sorce (American, b. 1946)
Fort Dearborn Coffee, Chicago
1977
Digital chromogenic print
20 x 24 inches

 

Wayne Sorce. 'East Chicago' 1977

 

Wayne Sorce (American, b. 1946)
East Chicago
1977
Digital chromogenic print
20 x 24 inches

 

Wayne Sorce. 'Chock Full of Nuts, New York' 1984

 

Wayne Sorce (American, b. 1946)
Chock Full of Nuts, New York
1984
Digital chromogenic print
20 x 24 inches

 

 

Joseph Bellows Gallery is pleased to announce its upcoming solo exhibition,Wayne Sorce: Urban Color. The exhibition will open on October 21st and continue through November 30th, 2017. In conjunction with Sorce’s exhibition will be a group show relating to the city as subject.

Urban Color will present a remarkable selection Sorce’s large-scale colour photographs of urban environments taken in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s in both Chicago and New York City. His urban landscapes describe with a formal exactitude, the light, structures, and palette of these cities within a certain era. For Sorce, the urban landscape is both still and transitory; people appear in the photographs as both inhabitants of the city, as well as sculptural forms relating to a larger composed scene.

Sorce’s photographs are held within the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the George Eastman Museum, the Armand Hammer Museum of Art, National Museum of American Art, at the Smithsonian Institution, and the Museum of Modern Art. Complementing Sorce’s exhibition will be a collection of photographs by his contemporaries that describe the city as subject. Work by Bob Thall, George Tice, Bevan Davies, Grant Mudford, and others will be included.

Press release from the Joseph Bellows Gallery

 

Wayne Sorce. 'Under the EL, Chicago' 1978

 

Wayne Sorce (American, b. 1946)
Under the EL, Chicago
1978
Digital chromogenic print
24 x 20 inches

 

Wayne Sorce. 'Blankets, New York' 1986

 

Wayne Sorce (American, b. 1946)
Blankets, New York
1986
Digital chromogenic print
24 x 20 inches

 

Wayne Sorce. 'Barbers, New York' 1985

 

Wayne Sorce (American, b. 1946)
Barbers, New York
1985
Digital chromogenic print
24 x 20 inches

 

Wayne Sorce. 'Greyhound Station' c. 1970's

 

Wayne Sorce (American, b. 1946)
Greyhound Station
c. 1970’s
Digital chromogenic print
24 x 20 inches

 

 

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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22
Oct
17

Exhibition: ‘Charles Sheeler from Doylestown to Detroit’ at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Exhibition dates: 22nd July – 5th November 2017

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'Side of White Barn, Bucks County, Pennsylvania' 1915

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
Side of White Barn, Bucks County, Pennsylvania
1915
Gelatin silver print
© The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 - 1976) 'White Fence, Port Kent, New York' 1916 (negative); 1945 (print)

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
White Fence, Port Kent, New York
1916 (negative); 1945 (print)
© Paul Strand Archive, Aperture Foundation

 

 

Charles Sheeler is a cracking good photographer who’s work has not got the recognition that it deserves – in comparison to, say, Stieglitz, Strand, Steichen or Weston. When you think of those top echelon artists from the early twentieth century, his name is never mentioned. And it should be.

Sheeler’s Side of White Barn, Bucks County, Pennsylvania (1915, above) predates one of the most famous early modernist photographs, Strand’s White Fence, Port Kent, New York (1916, above) by a year, yet is hardly known. While Strand’s image possesses low depth of field, strong lighting and a focus on the fence as physical, geometric, sculptural object within the picture frame, Sheeler’s photograph is much more subtle but no less effective in its modernist vocation. The pictorial space is flattened into geometric shapes, the bottom of the photograph grounded by a cracked wall, hay, chickens and a fence, the top of the image foreclosed by the tiled roof of the barn and its attendant shadow (showing that the sun was high in the sky when this image was taken). Within the boundaries of the rectangle are subtle graduations of tone, colour and form, almost like an modernist etching with light, so beautifully does the artist both understand what he is seeing and how to render it through the physicality of the print. Unlike Strand’s “knock you over the head with the white picket fence”, Sheeler’s subtle paean to the modern world requires contemplation on the nature of light, photography and the fine art print. This is a masterpiece in the history of photographic art.

I am similarly convinced by Sheeler’s Ford Plant – CrissCrossed Conveyors (1927, below), in my opinion one of the top ten photographs of all time.

I cannot fault this image. The light falling on the subject is incredible (notice the shadow from the beam mid-upper left, telling us the time of day the photograph was taken), the tonality superb, the framing of the subject admirable – all elements tensioned perfectly within the pictorial plane. The bottom of the photograph is grounded by stacked tyres and the structure ascends to the heavens from there… not just in one element, but in five! The main criss-cross of the conveyors is placed off centre supported by an iron tower, which allows the eye to roam freely across the image. The placement also allows for another elevator to ascend behind the main two, while a set of steps climbs higher and higher eventually exiting the picture stage left. Behind the criss-crossed conveyors the depth of space that must exist in reality is proposed by two tanks, further reinforced by 8 chimney stacks, and yet this photograph evidences no such depth of field. While everything is reduced to flattened shapes in this machine age, modernist, objectified world – and while no human being is presented for scale – the human hand is all over this image: in the construction of such technology, in the presence of the human scale stairs, in the ascension to the sky of the organ pipes of the industrial cathedral, in the comprehending eye of the photographer, and in the presence, the aura, of this magnificent print. While this image may seem the antithesis of humanist photography in one sense, conversely it reaffirms the very act of humanity in another. Or perhaps I’m just an old romantic.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'Doylestown House - The Stove' about 1917

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
Doylestown House – The Stove
about 1917
Gelatin silver print
© The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'Doylestown House - Stairs from Below' Negative date: about 1916-1917

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
Doylestown House – Stairs from Below
Negative date: about 1916-1917
Gelatin silver print
© The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'Doylestown House - Stairwell' Negative date: about 1916-1917

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
Doylestown House – Stairwell
Negative date: about 1916-1917
Gelatin silver print
© The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'Buggy, Doylestown, Pennsylvania' Negative date: 1917

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
Buggy, Doylestown, Pennsylvania
Negative date: 1917
Gelatin silver print
© The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'Manhatta - Ferry Docking' Negative date: 1920

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
Manhatta – Ferry Docking
Negative date: 1920
Gelatin silver print
© The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

This exhibition celebrates the MFA’s unparalleled holdings of works by Charles Sheeler (1883-1965), presenting 40 photographs from three significant series created during the heyday of his career as a founder of American modernism.

After enjoying success as a painter, Sheeler initially took up photography as a way to make a living. His experiments with the medium included the 1916-1917 series of photographs capturing various elements of an 18th-century house he rented in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. The sequence of stark, geometric compositions was among the most abstract and avant-garde work being made in the US at the time – created in response to the Cubist art of Picasso and Braque that Sheeler had previously encountered in Europe.

In 1920, Sheeler collaborated with fellow photographer Paul Strand on the short film Manhatta, presenting dramatic views of lower Manhattan. Abstract stills from the 35mm film, which was shot from steep angles, are presented alongside larger prints of Sheeler’s cinematic images of New York City, produced shortly after Manhatta – which he used as source material for his paintings. The film Manhatta is on view in the gallery.

Charles Sheeler from Doylestown to Detroit culminates with the 1927 photographs of the Ford Motor Company plant in River Rouge, Michigan, commissioned to celebrate the introduction of Ford’s Model A. The cathedral-like scenes convey an optimism for American industry, and are now considered icons of Machine Age photography. All of the photographs in the exhibition are drawn from the Museum’s Lane Collection – one of the finest private holdings of 20th-century American art in the world, including Sheeler’s entire photographic estate – given to the MFA in 2012.

Text from the MFA website

 

 

Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler
Manhatta
1921
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 favoured 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.

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'Manhatta - Rooftops' Negative date: 1920

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
Manhatta – Rooftops
Negative date: 1920
Gelatin silver print
© The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'Manhatta - Through a Balustrade' Negative date: 1920

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
Manhatta – Through a Balustrade
Negative date: 1920
Gelatin silver print
© The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'New York, Buildings in Shadows and Smoke' Negative date: 1920

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
New York, Buildings in Shadows and Smoke
Negative date: 1920
Gelatin silver print
© The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'Ford Plant - Criss-Crossed Conveyors' 1927

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
Ford Plant – CrissCrossed Conveyors
1927
Gelatin silver print
© The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'Ford Plant - Ladle Hooks, Open Hearth Building' Negative date: 1927

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
Ford Plant – Ladle Hooks, Open Hearth Building
Negative date: 1927
Gelatin silver print
© The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'Ford Plant - Stamping Press' Negative date: 1927

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
Ford Plant – Stamping Press
Negative date: 1927
Gelatin silver print
© The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Avenue of the Arts
465 Huntington Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts

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

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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