Posts Tagged ‘Photo League

19
Dec
21

Exhibition: ‘Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978’ at the Phoenix Art Museum

Exhibition dates: 21st July, 2021 – 2nd January, 2022

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Greenwood, Mississippi' 1963

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Greenwood, Mississippi
1963
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

This is the last posting for 2021, the next being 9th January 2022. This year the website had 1,158,000 views and 769,000 visitors. Wow!

 

There is no more time

Time is something that photography has so little of – the snap of the shutter – and yet, paradoxically, so much of. Photographs transcend the time in which they were taken, bringing past time to present and future time. Photographs that were important at the time they were taken and have great “exposure” may loose their relevance over time, only to have their presence reignited in the present future, to have their power and insightfulness understood by a new generation.

This applies to the work of Marion Palfi. I had never heard of this woman artist before and I have been studying photography for over 30 years now. That’s the question that keeps buzzing around my head. Why is this courageous artist and human being not better known – this “social researcher photographer” (her term) that fought the good fight and pictured social injustices in America wherever she saw it.

Born in Germany, Palfi rejected Germany’s radical politics and began to use photography and art to effect social change. In 1934 she opened her own portrait studio in Berlin before fleeing the Nazis and opening a successful portrait studio in Amsterdam in 1936. She then fled Europe for the United States in 1940 after marrying an American soldier.

“Marion Palfi’s work centered around equity, opportunity, and justice for all people. In her photo book There is No More Time: An American Tragedy, Palfi documented racism and segregation in Irwinton, GA, the site of the murder of Caleb Hill, the first reported lynching of 1949.

Palfi’s 1952 book Suffer Little Children focused on the living condition of disadvantaged children across the U.S., including the young inmates of the New York Training School for Girls. Palfi was a contributing photographer to Edward Steichen’s landmark Family of Man exhibition in 1955. During her time traveling across the United States she was bothered by the amount of poverty and racial intolerance she was exposed. She also was confused by Americans lack of acknowledgement of these problems within their communities. Palfi decided to use her camera as a way to document these problems and bring attention to them within the public eye. Using her new perspective on the topic of injustice and racial discrimination she was able to draw attention to these issues by documenting them with her camera.

Palfi’s photography explored the concepts of social injustices in America. She created many photographic studies that focus on racial injustice against African Americans, poverty in cities, and racial discrimination against Native Americans. She originally had trouble getting her photographs displayed or show cased because many Americans refused to address these social justice issues within their own society.”1

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Equality, opportunity and justice for all people. What honourable concepts she was investigating using her camera to affect social change. But for Palfi, it was not enough to simply document. She wanted to know the “why” of a situation, how it affected the people involved – hence the classification of herself as a social researcher photographer.

“Her arrival in New York at a time when America was called “the arsenal of democracy” [1940] unexpectedly confronted her with the fact that the United States was not the ideal society many envisioned. Almost immediately, Palfi became involved in the struggles of minorities for social justice, and soon she was launched upon a career that can only be described as a life-long quest to ameliorate the living conditions of abandoned children, the neglected elderly, black both northern and southern, the abused native American of the Southwest, and finally, the broken lives of prisoners in penitentiaries. To the end of her days, Palfi traveled the country lecturing to whatever groups invited her, whooping hundreds of slides documenting injustices. Her involvement was as impassioned as that of Jacob Riis in the slums of New York, and like the works of Riis, her pictures were used to educate the officials about the need for legislative change.”2

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Imagine if you can being a German arriving in America in 1940, being an alien in a foreign land during the Second World War and then, afterwards, confronting racism head on in her 1949 book There is No More Time: An American Tragedy documenting racism and segregation in Irwinton, GA, the site of the murder of Caleb Hill, the first reported “lynching” of 1949 (the victim was actually shot in the head and body). Don’t forget this is years before Robert Frank, another foreigner, travelled across the country to picture this insular and dysfunctional land in his seminal The Americans (1958). What guts it would have taken!

As noted by Maurice Berger, research professor and the chief curator at the Center for Art Design and Visual Culture at the University of Maryland in his 2015 article “A Meditation on Race, in Shades of White,” on The New York Times website:

“The most significant lesson of “Killers of the Dream,” [by Lillian Smith] one echoed in “There Is No More Time,” was that we must alter our expectations about who was responsible for talking about race. By focusing on the social and cultural mores of white Southerners – and by providing a platform for ordinary people to speak honestly about a difficult and controversial subject – both books exposed the attitudes, fears and rationalisations that underwrote racial prejudice.

They challenged the myth that racism was exceptional, perpetrated only by monstrous or evil people. As Ms. Smith argued, few were spared the “grave illness” of prejudice. “The mother who taught me what I know of tenderness and love and compassion taught me also the bleak rituals of keeping Negroes in their ‘place,'” she observed about the banality and ubiquity of racism.

Similarly and with uncompromising honesty, “There Is No More Time” revealed an enduring secret of American race relations: that ostensibly good people – men and women much like our neighbours, our family and ourselves – could also harbour virulent prejudices. For Ms. Palfi, this revelation was necessary and urgent.”3

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In the photographs from the book in this posting we can see how the banality of evil can fester in a community, for Palfi “was as interested in the discriminator as in the victims of discrimination.” “Obviously, the presence of a photographer in such a community would attract unwanted attention and might have endangered her life. But by a happy stroke of luck, the Vice-President of the Georgia Power Company was interested in her work. Warning her that she must “photograph the South as it really is, not as the North slanders it,” he wanted her to get to meet the “right” people. As it happened, the “right” people turned out to be the very discriminators she wanted to photograph. Left in the protection of the local postmistress, she proceeded to take terms, objective pictures of overseers and white-suited politicians.”4

We only have to look at the countenance of that racist Alexander S. Boone, a certified three-time card carrying member of the Klan with dirty shirt, big fat cigar, painted nails and wig who publishes the local rag, the “official county organ”. Can you imagine him at a lynching? He’d probably be at the front of the queue. Then there is “Baby” Boone, youngest son of “old man” (senior figure, elder statesman) Boone. Behind him on the glass window of his business offering seeds & feeds is a handbill:

Old-fashioned REVIVAL
Mt Pleasant Baptist Church
July 17-22
John L. Mcay

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Old fashioned (one of the meanings of this phrase is: favouring traditional or conservative ideas or customs), and a REVIVAL – Christian revivalism is increased spiritual interest or renewal in the life of a church congregation or society – a church which probably welcomed the Klan card carrying Representative of Wilkinson County in the Georgia Legislature with open arms. And then there is the sheriff of the small community where a young black man had been walked out of a jail cell and shot by two men… when he was innocent of any crime. Nervously fingering his shirt, looking away from the camera. None of this covert racism. A woman explained: “If a white man buys something from a colored man, the colored man may not hand it to the white man.”

Palfi had trouble finding a publisher in America because of the controversial nature of her photographs. No wonder. 1940s American society was not ready to confront the ugly truth staring back at them in the mirror until decades later, and even today, nothing much has changed.

The wife of the victim said, simply, “Caleb was a good man … he believed in his rights and therefore he died.”

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This is a artist and a human being that I would have very much liked to meet. Her photographs are strong, direct, informed, never flinching from the subject matter she was researching and picturing… yet they are also compassionate and caring. As Elizabeth Lindquist-Cock observes, “She fearlessly placed herself in danger again and again, seeing her work as having the possibility of direct influence on a social revolution.”

She placed herself in dangerous situations time and time again – until that particular time (of photographing) has become universal time, until her force majeure, her force of nature and her will for reform, transcends the very time of the photographs creation, bringing us face to face with hidden realities roiling under the surface.

As the protest placard in her photograph Chicago School Boycott (1963-1964, below) says and the title of the exhibition opines, “Freedom Must Be Lived” – YES, but freedom must also be fought for! “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good humans to do nothing.”

The battles that Marion Palfi fought have not been won. We are still fighting the same battles all these decades later. There is no more time… change must happen now.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

  1. “Marion Palfi,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 15/12/2021
  2. Elizabeth Lindquist-Cock. “Marion Palfi: An Appreciation,” in The Archive Research Series Number 19, September 1983, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, p. 5.
  3. Maurice Berger. “A Meditation on Race, in Shades of White,” on The New York Times website Sept. 27, 2015 [Online] Cited 27/10/2021
  4. Elizabeth Lindquist-Cock, Op cit.,

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

 

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Chicago School Boycott' 1963-1964

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Chicago School Boycott
1963-1964
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

“We talk about the poverty of the Indian, their port health, their substandard of living – we cry – ! Who is responsible for this? The murder of the American Indian has stopped as such. No more Indian wars, but all kinds of schemes are constantly working to take still their last piece of land (we found oil, uranium, and other valuable minerals and there is fish, timer, etc.) and above all to wipe the image away – erase – “to change the Indian” – Into what? Into a middle class personality with all the ambitions and drives of our society. Competition and exploitation are the most important assets, we think. Foreign to all Indian thinking! What do we actually do? We destroy the Indian completely, mentally, psychologically, and spiritually. You might ask – so what? What is so good not to assimilate with the predominant society? Let me tell you what. Our society destroys lives – with our “know how” destroy all living. We polite the air, the water, poison the plants and animal life. The Indian knew no money, but the Indian knew security, happiness – the Indian was a supreme conserver of nature – of life. The Indian worked with nature not against it.”

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Marion Palfi. “Some Thoughts,” preface to the unpublished manuscript, “My Children, First I liked the Whites, I Gave Them Fruits,” in the possession of Martin Magner, pp. 1-2 quoted in Elizabeth Lindquist-Cock. “Marion Palfi: An Appreciation,” in The Archive Research Series Number 19, September 1983, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, p. 9.

 

“She fearlessly placed herself in danger again and again, seeing her work as having the possibility of direct influence on a social revolution.”

.
Elizabeth Lindquist-Cock. “Marion Palfi: An Appreciation,” in The Archive Research Series Number 19, September 1983, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, p. 8.

 

 

Marion Palfi portraits

 

Unknown photographers
Portraits of Marion Palfi (at left in 1967)

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view and detail of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978 will survey the career of Marion Palfi (1907-1978), who produced an important visual document of 20th-century American injustice.

To tell you about my work. I am developing a new approach to photography… I am photographing only after extensive research, never before. I do not photograph for purely emotional reasons, but only after I became an integral part of the situation, have gained full understanding and knowledge, then I try to ‘write down’ my findings with the camera. My photographs are never editorialized, nor ‘accidents,’ nor posed, but always the ultimate results of thorough research. They must tell the story, so that the words are only needed as commentary or explanation. It goes without saying, I wish my photographs to be artistic achievements, other wise they would be simply a dry documentation and not move the onlooker.

~ Marion Palfi

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With these words Marion Hermine Serita Palfi compressed her intentions as a photographer: to tell a story through photography with a minimum of words; to tell it well, that is, through aesthetically strong images; to tell it knowledgable and patiently – to earn the telling; and to tell it “truthfully” by focusing on the subject, not the technique, personality, or identity of the person holding the camera. With the discipline of a trained dancer, the eye of an artist, and the will of a solitary activist, Marion Palfi never wavered in her commitment to untold stories. She lived a life-in-praxis, connecting belief to action.

Janet Zandy. Unfinished Stories: The Narrative Photography of Hansel Mieth and Marion Palfi. RIT Press, 2013, pp. 71.

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view and detail of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

“Her arrival in New York at a time when America was called “the arsenal of democracy” [1940] unexpectedly confronted her with te fact that the United States was not the ideal society many envisioned. Almost immediately, Palfi became involved in the struggles of minorities for social justice, and soon she was launched upon a career that can only be described as a life-long quest to ameliorate the living conditions of abandoned children, the neglected elderly, black both northern and southern, the abused native American of the Southwest, and finally, the broken lives of prisoners in penitentiaries. To the end of her days, Palfi traveled the country lecturing to whatever groups invited her, whooping hundreds of slides documenting injustices. Her involvement was as impassioned as that of Jacob Riis in the slums of New York, and like the works of Riis, her pictures were used to educate the officials about the need for legislative change.

She was a person, in other words, whose life made a difference in the lives of perfect strangers. Appreciated by humanitarians like John Collier and Eleanor Roosevelt, Sr., recognised and encouraged by artists like Edward Steichen and Langston Hughes, applauded by Karl Menninger, she has nevertheless received less attention than she deserved. As James Enyeart observed, she has remained “invisible in America,” like so many of her pathetic and neglected subjects. It would seem that her extraordinary selflessness and devotion did not help to write her name large in the histories of photography, as the same activities ensured the fame of Jacob Riis, Lewis Hine, Dorothea Lange, or W. Eugene Smith. That inattention should be rectified, especially now, where there seems to be, once again, a general callousness toward the less fortunate members of our society and a devastating neglect of racial and ethnic minorities. The battles that Marion Palfi fought have not been won. They continue today, with the startling increase in the numbers of older women in poverty. the increasing withdrawal of government support to the American Indians, the hungry children, and the black youths without employment. Photography continues to be a potent medium that needs to be revitalized by spirits like Palfi.”

Elizabeth Lindquist-Cock. “Marion Palfi: An Appreciation,” in The Archive Research Series Number 19, September 1983, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, p. 5.

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view detail of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum showing at left, Girl Scouts Troop (30 Girls, 16 Nationalities) 1944; at top right, Sono Osato – Dancing on the Roof 1944; and at bottom right, Dean Dixon as Guest Conductor at the Juilliard School c. 1944
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

Sono Osato (American, 1919-2018)

Sono Osato (大里 ソノ, Osato Sono, August 29, 1919 – December 26, 2018) was an American dancer and actress.

In 1927, when she was eight, Osato’s mother took her and her sister to Europe for two years; while in Monte Carlo, they attended a performance of Cléopâtre by Sergei Diaghilev’s famous Ballets Russes company, which inspired Osato to start ballet classes when she returned to Chicago in late 1929. She studied with prominent dancers Berenice Holmes and Adolph Bolm.

She performed with ballet companies Ballets Russe de Monte-Carlo and the American Ballet Theatre. As an actress, she starred alongside Frank Sinatra in the film The Kissing Bandit.

Osato began her career at the age of fourteen with Wassily de Basil’s Ballets Russe de Monte-Carlo, which at the time was the world’s most well known ballet company; she was the youngest member of the troupe, their first American dancer and their first dancer of Japanese descent. De Basil tried to persuade Osato to change her name to a Russian name, but she refused to do so. She spent six years touring the United States, Europe, Australia and South America with the company, leaving in 1941 as she felt her career was stagnating. She went to study at the School of American Ballet in New York City for six months, then joined the American Ballet Theatre as a dancer. While at the ABT, she danced roles in such ballets as Kenneth MacMillan’s Sleeping Beauty, Antony Tudor’s Pillar of Fire, and Bronislava Nijinska’s The Beloved.

As a musical theatre performer, her Broadway credits included principal dancer in One Touch of Venus (a performance for which she received a Donaldson Award in 1943), Ivy Smith in the original On the Town, and Cocaine Lil in Ballet Ballads.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Dean Dixon (American, 1915-1976)

Charles Dean Dixon (January 10, 1915 – November 3, 1976) was an American conductor.

Dixon was born in the upper-Manhattan neighbourhood of Harlem in New York City to parents who had earlier migrated from the Caribbean. He studied conducting with Albert Stoessel at the Juilliard School and Columbia University. When early pursuits of conducting engagements were stifled because of racial bias (he was African American), he formed his own orchestra and choral society in 1931. In 1941, he guest-conducted the NBC Symphony Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic during its summer season. He later guest-conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra and Boston Symphony Orchestra. In 1948 he won the Ditson Conductor’s Award.

In 1949, he left the United States for the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, which he directed during its 1950 and 1951 seasons. He was principal conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony in Sweden 1953-1960, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in Australia 1964-1967, and the hr-Sinfonieorchester in Frankfurt 1961-1974. During his time in Europe, Dixon guest-conducted with the WDR Sinfonieorchester in Cologne and the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks in Munich. He also made several recordings with the Prague Symphony Orchestra in 1968-1973 for Bärenreiter, including works of Beethoven, Brahms, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Schumann, Wagner, and Weber. For Westminster Records in the 1950s, his recordings included symphonies and incidental music for Rosamunde by Schubert, symphonic poems of Liszt (in London with the Royal Philharmonic), and symphonies of Schumann (in Vienna with the Volksoper Orchester). Dixon also recorded several American works for the American Recording Society in Vienna. Some of his WDR broadcast recordings were issued on Bertelsmann and other labels. Dean Dixon introduced the works of many American composers, such as William Grant Still, to European audiences.

During the 1968 Olympic Games, Dixon conducted the Mexican National Symphony Orchestra.

Dixon returned to the United States for guest-conducting engagements with the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Symphony, Milwaukee Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony, St. Louis Symphony, and San Francisco Symphony in the 1970s. He also served as the conductor of the Brooklyn Philharmonic, where he gained fame for his children’s concerts. He also conducted most of the major symphony orchestras in Africa, Israel, and South America. Dixon’s last appearance in the US was conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra in April 1975.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view detail of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum showing three Untitled 1930s photographs and at bottom right, Dutch Film Director 1937
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Nurse George, Louisville, Georgia' 1946-1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Nurse George, Louisville, Georgia
1946-1949
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'School Patrol, Detroit' 1946-1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
School Patrol, Detroit
1946-1949
Gelatin silver print
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum

 

Installation view of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

In 1945, Ebony was founded by Black businessman John H. Johnson as a sleek monthly illustrated magazine from the African-American market in a time when few major media outlets addressed Black readers and consumers. Intended to emulate the glossy look of Life and Look magazines, it featured photo essays and long-form articles chronicling all aspects of Black American life, including current events in race relations, and the successes of Black artists, athletes, scientists, and celebrities. Marion Palfi contributed photographs to the inaugural issue in November 1945, including the cover image of students at a racially integrated elementary school. Over the next five years she was regular contributor to the magazine, covering subjects ranging from National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and cases in the U.S. Supreme Court, to all aspects of the fight against racial segregation, to famous cultural figures like Langston Hughes and Dean Dixon.

Between 1950 and 1951, Marion Palfi embarked on a cross-country trip for a study on housing integrity. Her photographs charted the distressed living conditions of Black Americans, immigrants, and sharecroppers – the result of redlining [refuse (a loan or insurance) to someone because they live in an area deemed to be a poor financial risk], blockbusting [the practice of persuading owners to sell property cheaply because of the fear of people of another race or class moving into the neighbourhood, and then profiting by reselling at a higher price], urban renewal, white flight [the phenomenon of white people moving out of urban areas, particularly those with significant minority populations, and into suburban areas], and the long legacy of racialised federal, state, and local housing policies. In cities as far apart as Charlottesville, Virginia; Phoenix, Arizona; Waterbury, Connecticut; Chicago, Illinois; and Sledge, Mississippi, Palfi interviewed and photographed people living in unsanitary and crowded conditions in parcelled tenements, boarding houses, and other low-income housing settlements. She trained her camera on the crumbling edifices of buildings and the communities experiencing poverty who lived there. The resulting booklet, In These 10 Cities (1951), co-published by the New York State Committee on Discrimination in Housing and the Public Affairs Committee, featured her photographs and research alongside text by the political activist Alexander L. Crosby, as part of a series of “picture pamphlets” meant to edify New Yorkers on national issues of social concern.

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled, Boston' 1946-1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled, Boston
1946-1949
Gelatin silver print
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Somewhere in the South' 1946-1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Somewhere in the South
1946-1949
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Janet Zandy. 'Unfinished Stories: The Narrative Photography of Hansel Mieth and Marion Palfi'. RIT Press, 2013, pp. 94-95

 

Janet Zandy. Unfinished Stories: The Narrative Photography of Hansel Mieth and Marion Palfi. RIT Press, 2013, pp. 94-95

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view and details of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum showing at top left, Waterbury, Connecticut (from the In These Ten Cities series, 1951) bottom left, In the Shadow of the Capitol, Washington, D.C. 1946-1948; and at bottom right, New York 1946-1949
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Waterbury, Connecticut' 1951

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Waterbury, Connecticut
1951
From the series In These Ten Cities
Gelatin silver print
26.2 x 34.2cm

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Phoenix' 1951

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Phoenix
1951
From the series In These Ten Cities
Gelatin silver print
26.3 x 34.6cm

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Chicago' 1951

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Chicago
1951
From the series In These Ten Cities
Gelatin silver print
31.8 x 26.5cm

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Hudson School for Girls, the Only New York State Training School for Delinquent Girls, Solitary' 1946-49

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Hudson School for Girls, the Only New York State Training School for Delinquent Girls, Solitary
1946-1949
From the Suffer Little Children series, 1946-1949
Gelatin silver print
24.0 x 20.2cm

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'In the Shadow of the Capitol, Washington, D.C.' 1946-1948

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
In the Shadow of the Capitol, Washington, D.C.
1946-1948
From the Suffer Little Children series, 1946-1949
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Los Angeles' 1946-1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Los Angeles
1946-1949
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Three children playing behind houses in Boyle Heights' 1946

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Three children playing behind houses in Boyle Heights
1946
Gelatin silver print
UCLA, Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library

 

 

Marion Palfi (1907-1978), an immigrant photographer and member of the New York Photo League, a pivotal organisation in photography and U.S. history, took photographs of girls at the Training School in Hudson, NY. Though she was one of the most under-recognised of the Photo League photographers, Palfi’s images of girls at the New York State Training School for Girls may be the best-known photographs ever taken at the Hudson prison.

Palfi, who called herself a “social research photographer”, was born in Germany and came to America from Amsterdam in 1940 just ahead of Adolf Hitler’s invasion of Europe. Soon thereafter she launched a ‘study’ on minority artists and met Langston Hughes who became an ardent supporter of her work until his death in 1967. In 1946, Palfi received a Rosenwald Fellowship, the second ever granted by the foundation for photography and the only one ever given for photography on race relations. The grant made possible a nation-wide study of children and youth that resulted in an exhibition, “Children in America” and a book, Suffer Little Children, published in 1952. The exhibition opened in January of 1949 at the New York Public Library and subsequently traveled for three years throughout the United States. The photographs in the exhibition and book showed children and youth suffering from everything from poverty and prejudice to prisons and delinquency.

Though reputedly the first white photojournalist to focus specifically on the linkages between racism and poverty, in Suffer Little Children Palfi focused on the diversity of American society, not isolating one ethnic group and their difficulties. She portrayed poverty as a destructive force affecting African Americans, Asian Americans, whites and Latinos alike. She attacked the suffering of children with a particular fury: “Poverty is like the murdering of little angels”, she wrote.

Many of her images for the project comment on the physical limits of the national vision, exploring the very bars, walls, and gestures that separate outsiders from larger society. Palfi presents photographs of white girls at the Training School in Hudson including a 12-year-old white girl in “solitary confinement”.

Of these images she writes: “At the time (of her visit to the NYS Training School for Girls in 1946), 15 girls were in ‘solitary’ in the ‘discipline’ cottage. The first 10 days the girls received bread and milk for two of their three meals. One girl spent 81 days in solitary confinement, aside from periods when she was let out to scrub the floors in the corridor. One of the girls was talking to herself. The matron was very annoyed and said to her through the door: ‘You know you may not talk now – it is rest period.’ Girls were sent to the discipline cottage for running away, breaking other rules or for being too emotionally disturbed.”

Anonymous text. “Suffer Little Children,” on the Prison Public Memory website, October 28, 2014 [Online] Cited 26/10/2021

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled
1949
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

About the exhibition

This retrospective exhibition will survey the career of Marion Palfi (1907-1978), who produced an important visual document of 20th-century American injustice. Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978 features more than 100 photographic prints and numerous archival materials, including photobooks, magazine spreads, research journals, and grant applications, drawn exclusively from the Center for Creative Photography’s vast Marion Palfi Archive. Many of these prints and materials have never before been exhibited or published and will offer an unprecedented opportunity to draw new insights into the work.

Palfi’s philosophy of using photography to influence social change shaped her vision and distinguished her career. A German immigrant to the United States during World War II, Palfi arrived in Los Angeles to find a reality far from the myth of the American Dream. Outraged at the economic, racial, and social inequalities she encountered, she spent more than three decades traveling throughout the United States documenting various communities to expose the links between racism and poverty. As a self-described “social research photographer,” Palfi aspired for her photographs to live in the world and effect social change. Her work was featured in numerous American periodicals, including Ebony and The New York Times. Sponsors for her work included the Council Against Intolerance in America, the NAACP, and the New York State Committee on Discrimination in Housing.

Each of the photographer’s four major projects are represented in the exhibition, including her piercing nationwide study of children living in poverty; her decades-long civil rights activism documenting the effects of systemic racism against African Americans; her research on the abject conditions of ageing in New York; and her revelatory pictures, funded by a 1967 Guggenheim Fellowship, of the forced relocation of Indigenous off of reservations in the Southwest. Weaving together more than three decades of work, the exhibition elucidates Palfi’s sustained focus on themes of inequity, solitude, and racial victimisation. Taken as a whole, it elucidates the photographer’s crusade for human rights and presents a cumulative photographic record that resonates with many of the social concerns still plaguing the United States today.

Text from the Phoenix Art Museum website

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Los Angeles, Anti Klan Meeting Where Klan Did Strike' 1946-1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Los Angeles, Anti Klan Meeting Where Klan Did Strike
1946-1949
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum

 

Installation view of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view detail of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum showing at top, Florida 1946-1949; and at bottom, Detroit, Paradise Valley 1946-1949
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

This summer, Phoenix Art Museum will present Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, the first major solo exhibition of the photographer’s incisive work since her death in 1978. A self-described “social-research photographer,” Marion Palfi observed and documented victims of discrimination over three decades, exposing the links between racism and poverty in the United States. Organised by Phoenix Art Museum and the Center for Creative Photography (CCP), University of Arizona, and drawing exclusively from CCP’s vast Marion Palfi Archive, Freedom Must Be Lived features more than 80 prints and extensive archival materials, many of which have never before been exhibited or published. Shedding light on Palfi’s career-long focus on themes of inequity, solitude, and racial victimisation, the exhibition provides unprecedented insight into the work of a photographer who created one of the most powerful visual documentations of 20th-century American injustice. Freedom Must Be Lived will be on view July 21, 2021 through January 2, 2022.

“We are delighted to present this timely exhibition of Marion Palfi’s socially conscious photography with Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America,” said Gilbert Vicario, Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs and the Selig Family Chief Curator of Phoenix Art Museum. “This powerful and poignant retrospective highlights an extraordinary photographer whose work has been under-recognised for more than four decades, furthering the Museum’s commitment to showcasing works by diverse artists whose legacies have not yet been fully acknowledged in the canon of art history.”

A German immigrant to the United States who fled during World War II, Palfi arrived in New York to a reality that stood in stark contrast with the myth of the American Dream. Outraged at the economic, racial, and social inequalities she encountered, Palfi spent the next three and a half decades traveling the nation to document various subjects, including the elderly, families of hate-crime victims, abandoned children, residents of the Jim Crow South, Los Angeles-prison inmates, Puerto Rican immigrants in New York, white supremacist groups, and Navajo families who were the victims of government-enforced relocation and “acculturation.” Her work was featured in numerous U.S. periodicals throughout her career, including Ebony and The New York Times, and she received sponsorships from the Council Against Intolerance in America, the NAACP, and the New York State Committee on Discrimination in Housing. Palfi also passed on her political and aesthetic philosophies through her role as an educator, teaching classes on the “social uses of photography” at the Photo League School (1948), The New School for Social Research (1959-1962), UCLA (1965-1966), and other institutions.

“Palfi’s vision and commitment to social justice allowed her to build a visual archive of otherwise ‘invisible’ Americans, reminding us of photography’s ability to influence social change,” said Audrey Sands, PhD, the Norton Family Assistant Curator of Photography at Phoenix Art Museum, a joint appointment with the Center for Creative Photography. “Her trenchant, poetic, and piercing work reflects her compassion behind the lens. She actively confronted the political, racial, and economic injustices that overshadowed her lifetime, so many of which still plague our country today. Given the continued resonance of these topics, now is the perfect moment to rediscover Palfi’s important work.”

Organised to showcase the four major projects of her career, the exhibition presents photographs from Palfi’s piercing nationwide study of disadvantaged children living in poverty, her documentation of systemic racism against Black Americans, her research into the abject living conditions of New York’s ageing population, as well as her revelatory photographs, funded by a 1967 Guggenheim Fellowship, of the forced relocation of Hopi, Navajo, and Papago peoples in the Southwest. The exhibition’s numerous archival materials, including photobooks, magazine spreads, project proposals, and field research notes, provide audiences with additional context about the scope of Palfi’s photographic practice.

Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America is the most recent collaboration between Phoenix Art Museum and the Center for Creative Photography. Over the past 13 years, the two institutions have organised nearly 40 exhibitions that bring outstanding works spanning the history of photography to wider audiences in Arizona and beyond.

Press release from the Phoenix Art Museum

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (Woman in a patterned summer suit)' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (Woman in a patterned summer suit)
1949
From the book There Is No More Time: An American Tragedy
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (Black woman with a white child)' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (Black woman with a white child)
1949
From the book There Is No More Time: An American Tragedy
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

 

“As a photographer, she was as interested in the discriminator as in the victims of discrimination. Long before what we tend to think of as the crux of the civil rights struggle in the 1960s, Palfi went to Georgia at a particularly dangerous time. In 1949, she was drawn to do an in-depth portrait of Irwinton, a small community where a young black man had been torn out of jail and shot by a lynch mob. The tremendous public outcry over this barbaric incident included front-page coverage and editorials by the New York Times. Obviously, the presence of a photographer in such a community would attract unwanted attention and might have endangered her life. But by a happy stroke of luck, the Vice-President of the Georgia Power Company was interested in her work. Warning her that she must “photograph the South as it really is, not as the North slanders it,” he wanted her to get to meet the “right” people. As it happened, the “right” people turned out to be the very discriminators she wanted to photograph. Left in the protection of the local postmistress, she proceeded to take terms, objective pictures of overseers and white-suited politicians.

Even if the press had not indicted Irwinton for its racism, the extreme conservatism and tension were evident in the faces of its citizens. She found a white supremacist group, “The Columbians,” whose insignia was a thunderbolt, the symbol of Hitler’s elite guard. “Mein Kampf was their bible,” she believed. Meanwhile, the wife of the lunch victim said, simply, “Caleb was a good man … he believed in his rights and therefore he died.”

Elizabeth Lindquist-Cock. “Marion Palfi: An Appreciation,” in The Archive Research Series Number 19, September 1983, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, pp. 7-8.

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (Alexander S. Boone)' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (Alexander S. Boone)
1949
From the book There Is No More Time: An American Tragedy
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (Mr. Ralph Culpepper)' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (Mr. Ralph Culpepper)
1949
From the book There Is No More Time: An American Tragedy
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (Baby Boone, youngest son of Old Man Boone)' 1949z

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (Baby Boone, youngest son of Old Man Boone)
1949
From the book There Is No More Time: An American Tragedy
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (I asked, "Are you one of the commissioners?")' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (I asked, “Are you one of the commissioners?”)
1949
From the book There Is No More Time: An American Tragedy
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (Portrait of Mrs. Caleb Hill, widow of a lynching victim)' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (Portrait of Mrs. Caleb Hill, widow of a lynching victim)
1949
From the book There Is No More Time: An American Tragedy
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

 

THE SOUTH: Death of Picky Pie

Monday, June 13, 1949
Time Magazine

 

The crackers sat in the sun, their backs to the decaying summer house and watched the strangers. Irwinton seemed full of strangers, their cars raising clouds of red Georgia dust. Said one resentfully: “We had a white man lay over in a swamp near Big Sandy Creek till the buzzards ate him up, and they found his bones. We didn’t have a single newspaperman look at the bones. But seein’ as Picky Pie is a nigger he makes headlines.” Irwinton was reacting to 1949’s first lynching.

It all started Sunday night, when Sheriff George C. Hatcher was waked by a Negro. He was bleeding across the chest. “Picky Pie Hill done did me over at the New Harlem Club in Mclntyre,” he said. The sheriff jumped into his car and headed for the tin-roofed Negro juke joint four miles away.

Bare bulbs glared through the smoky, crowded room. Caleb (“Picky Pie”) Hill, a husky, 28-year-old Negro, was drunk, but the sheriff got handcuffs on him, and began to question witnesses. Suddenly, the sheriff felt his pistol pulled from the holster, turned to find Picky Pie aiming at his head. Hatcher ducked and the bullet went into the ceiling. In the scuffle, the sheriff’s pistol got lost. The sheriff took his prisoner back to town and put him in a cell with another Negro in the jail on the second floor of the sheriff’s house. Then he went back to get his pistol. It took him 2½ hours.

The Door Was Open. The sheriff explained later: “The trouble was a report had got around that the Negro had killed me. The men were pretty riled up and when they didn’t find me at home, they thought maybe I was dead.”

While he was gone, two men walked into the sheriff’s house. They had no trouble. The keys to the jail were on a cabinet in the living room, where the sheriff had left them, and the front door was open – “if I lock it the lock sticks,” explained the sheriff. The men calmly picked up the keys and went upstairs to the cell. “Come on, Picky Pie, let’s go,” one said. Without a protest, Picky Pie walked out with them. Mrs. Hatcher, asleep downstairs, heard no commotion.

Next morning two young farmers found Hill’s body, face downward in the sandy Georgia roadside, near Big Sandy Creek. He had been shot through the head and body. Roused, Sheriff Hatcher was amazed: “I thought, could it be they’d come and got my prisoner? I ran upstairs and sure enough, Hill was gone.”

No Memory. At the inquest, Tom Carswell, the Negro who had shared Hill’s cell, shook perceptibly as he was questioned. “They were white and there were two of them,” he said. Did he recognise them? “I know just about everybody around here, but I never saw those two before.” Wispy-haired Coroner C. C. Thompson, who is also Mclntyre’s town butcher, asked: “You probably couldn’t identify the men if you saw them again, could you?” “No, suh,” said Carswell eagerly.

Around the square, the loafers settled back and talked it over: “He was a bad nigger, all bad.” Picky Pie had worked in the chalk mines, but mostly he bootlegged liquor. He had been arrested several times before, once for shooting at a white boy just to make him jump. They snorted at the reports that he supported his crippled father and three sisters besides his wife and three children.

But the reporters and all made the coroner nervous. Leaning on his meat counter, he declared: “I am still making a desperate effort to apprehend the guilty party.” Sheriff Hatcher called in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and dug the bullets out of Picky Pie. At week’s end, the G.B.I, arrested two white men on suspicion. They figured there were more, and were still looking for them.

Anonymous text. “THE SOUTH: Death of Picky Pie,” in Time Magazine, Monday, June 13, 1949 on the Time website [Online] Cited 27/10/2021.

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Josie Hill, Wife of a Lynch Victim, Irwinton, Georgia' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Josie Hill, Wife of a Lynch Victim, Irwinton, Georgia
1949
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (And the traveling preacher asked them to pray for: "Salvation...")' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (And the traveling preacher asked them to pray for: “Salvation…”)
1949
From the book There Is No More Time: An American Tragedy
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (A woman explained: "If a white man buys something...")' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (A woman explained: “If a white man buys something…”)
1949
From the book There Is No More Time: An American Tragedy
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (Woman in church holding a fan over her face)' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (Woman in church holding a fan over her face)
1949
Gelatin silver print
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

 

Ms. Palfi set out to document racism and segregation in Irwinton, Ga., the small town where Caleb Hill, in the first reported lynching of 1949, was murdered.

Later that year, Ms. Palfi spent two weeks in Irwinton documenting its residents, both black and white.

Juxtaposing portraits, Ms. Palfi’s written observations and interview excerpts, “There Is No More Time” chronicles the many faces and viewpoints of white supremacy in Irwinton: the obedience to God and family; the religious and pseudoscientific justifications for believing that black people were inherently inferior; the resentment of outside intervention in the South’s racial affairs; and the determination to protect the legal authority of white people.

The book also demonstrates that white racial attitudes were neither uniform nor without ambivalence. Some qualified their prejudices by also voicing disdain for poor whites. Others unconsciously revealed the insecurity and self-doubt that fuelled their bitterness and, by extension, bigotry. Some discreetly criticised the biases of their neighbours, while others attacked them as traitors for doing so.

The town’s African-American residents appear in the book less frequently but to great dramatic effect. Their images make clear the tragic consequences of racial prejudice, their lives compromised and shattered in innumerable ways. This was no more evident than in the haunting portrait of Mr. Hill’s widow (image below) or in the text of an anonymous letter from black prisoners, unceasingly abused and dehumanised by their white jailers. …

The back story of “There Is No More Time” reveals much about Ms. Palfi’s sophisticated and prescient understanding of American race relations. The manuscript met with considerable resistance from publishers. Contending that the subject matter “in these sticky times would not be very well received,” one rejection letter subtly accused her of overstating the problem of segregation.

In order to make her book more appealing, the photographer offered to collaborate with a well-known author. Although her choice, Lillian Smith, ultimately declined, and Ms. Palfi wrote the text herself, the selection was telling. Five years earlier, Ms. Smith rose to prominence with the publication of her best-selling novel “Strange Fruit,” on the then controversial subject of interracial romance. But it was “Killers of the Dream,” her more recently published analysis of the origins and persistence of racism in the Jim Crow South, that undoubtedly caught Ms. Palfi’s attention.

In contrast to other race books of the period, “Killers of the Dream” examined prejudice not just from the perspective of its victims, but also through the candid autobiographical observations of its Southern white author.

The most significant lesson of “Killers of the Dream,” one echoed in “There Is No More Time,” was that we must alter our expectations about who was responsible for talking about race. By focusing on the social and cultural mores of white Southerners – and by providing a platform for ordinary people to speak honestly about a difficult and controversial subject – both books exposed the attitudes, fears and rationalisations that underwrote racial prejudice.

They challenged the myth that racism was exceptional, perpetrated only by monstrous or evil people. As Ms. Smith argued, few were spared the “grave illness” of prejudice. “The mother who taught me what I know of tenderness and love and compassion taught me also the bleak rituals of keeping Negroes in their ‘place,'” she observed about the banality and ubiquity of racism.

Similarly and with uncompromising honesty, “There Is No More Time” revealed an enduring secret of American race relations: that ostensibly good people – men and women much like our neighbours, our family and ourselves – could also harbour virulent prejudices. For Ms. Palfi, this revelation was necessary and urgent.

“There is no more time, we must act now – the whole world is looking on,” she wrote in the book’s foreword. Sixty-five years later, the problem remains dire and far from resolved as we cling to the belief that it is always, inevitably, the others who hate and discriminate.

Maurice Berger. “A Meditation on Race, in Shades of White,” on The New York Times website Sept. 27, 2015 [Online] Cited 27/10/2021

Maurice Berger is a research professor and the chief curator at the Center for Art Design and Visual Culture at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and a consulting curator at the Jewish Museum in New York.

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Saturday, Louisville, Georgia' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Saturday, Louisville, Georgia
1949
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum

 

Installation view and details of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Case History' 1955-1957

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Case History
1955-1957
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Manhattan State Hospital' c. 1955

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Manhattan State Hospital
c. 1955
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Manhattan State Hospital' c. 1955 (detail)

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Manhattan State Hospital (detail)
c. 1955
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

Born into an aristocratic family in Berlin in 1907, Ms. Palfi began her career as an actress and model. Distressed by Germany’s increasingly reactionary politics, she turned to photography as a form of personal expression and activism. In 1935, she opened a photo studio in Amsterdam. Five years later, having married an American serviceman, she immigrated to New York.

A member of the activist Photo League, Ms. Palfi believed that photographs, beyond merely representing problems, could influence social change.

“A Palfi photograph brings us face to face with hidden realities that its surface only causes us to begin to explore,” wrote the American poet Langston Hughes, a friend and admirer of her work.

Ms. Palfi produced photo essays on a range of pressing social issues, including child abuse and delinquency, the neglect of seniors, Native American displacement, prison inmate rights, and the ways poverty, segregation and racism imperilled democracy. She died in 1978.

Maurice Berger. “A Meditation on Race, in Shades of White,” on The New York Times website Sept. 27, 2015 [Online] Cited 27/10/2021

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Men's Shelter, New York – Your Fortune Must Be Less Thank $2 To Be Acceptable' 1956-58

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Men’s Shelter, New York – Your Fortune Must Be Less Thank $2 To Be Acceptable
1956-58
from the series You Have Never Been Old
Gelatin silver print
23.9 x 34.3cm

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Case History' 1956-58

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Case History
1956-1958
from the series You Have Never Been Old
Gelatin silver print
26.3 x 34.3cm

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum

 

Installation view of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum showing at top left, At the Lincoln Memorial, March on Washington 1963; at top right, Chicago School Boycott 1963-1964; at bottom left, Untitled c. 1963; and at bottom right, Cleveland, Ohio 1963-1964
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view of At the Lincoln Memorial, March on Washington 1963 from the exhibition Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021 Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi. 'At the Lincoln Memorial, March on Washington' 1963

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
At the Lincoln Memorial, March on Washington
1963
Gelatin silver print
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view of Chicago School Boycott 1963-1964 from the exhibition Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021 Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view of Untitled c. 1963 from the exhibition Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021 Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view of Cleveland, Ohio 1963-1964 from the exhibition Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021 Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Cleveland, Ohio' 1963-1964

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Cleveland, Ohio
1963-1964
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view and detail of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view and detail of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum showing at top left, Untitled c. 1967; at top right, Untitled c. 1967; at bottom left, A Medicine Man and his Family Live in “Low Cost Housing” 1967-1969; and at bottom right, A Meeting in the Traditional Village of Hotelvilla 1964
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'At Madera, California, the Bureau of Indian Affairs Has a School. "To Change the Indian Is Our Job!" New Arrival' 1967-1969

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
At Madera, California, the Bureau of Indian Affairs Has a School. “To Change the Indian Is Our Job!” New Arrival
1967-1969
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Navajo, Relocation; Leaving Home' 1967-1969

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Navajo, Relocation; Leaving Home
1967-1969
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Navajo Family Life, the Blue Lake Family on the Black Mesa' 1967-69

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Navajo Family Life, the Blue Lake Family on the Black Mesa
1967-1969
From the series First I Liked the Whites, l Gave Them Fruits
Gelatin silver print
23.9 x 34.2cm

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled' 1967-69 From the series 'First I Liked the Whites, l Gave Them Fruits'

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled
1967-1969
From the series First I Liked the Whites, l Gave Them Fruits
Gelatin silver print
29.7 x 41.9cm

 

 

Biography

Social documentary photographer Marion Palfi (1907-1978) sought equity, opportunity, and justice for all people, using her camera as a tool for that end. Farm Security Administration projects and the Photo League inspired her initial efforts toward reform, but for Palfi, the desire for social change was a lifelong pursuit.

Marion Palfi was born in Berlin in 1907 to a Hungarian father and a Polish mother. Her father, Victor Palfi, came from an aristocratic family and became an important producer-director in the German theatre. Her parents provided her with an upper middle class life that included private schooling in both Berlin and Hamburg, where she learned English. She began studying dance at thirteen and eventually followed her father into a career on the stage. A lucrative modelling career and debut performances in film ensued.

After a short time in the limelight, however, she renounced her status as a privileged member of German society, and left the theater. She acquired a small folding camera and began a two-year apprenticeship at a Berlin portrait studio. By 1932, she opened a commercial portraiture and photojournalism studio. Palfi married a journalist and they traveled across Europe, but by the end of 1935 Palfi had opened a studio in Amsterdam alone. In 1940, just before Hitler’s army entered the Low Countries, she married an American serviceman and emigrated to New York.

Palfi gained employment in 1944, developing and retouching governmental war photographs at Pavelle Laboratories, and devoted evenings and weekends to her own photography. A crucial first project, “Great American Artists of Minority Groups and Democracy at Work,” was sponsored by the Council Against Intolerance in America. Through this assignment, she met Langston Hughes, the American poet, who became an ardent supporter. He would say of her work, “A Palfi photograph brings us face to face with hidden realities that its surface only causes us to begin to explore.” Her close ties with Hughes allowed her to establish a circle of friends that included John Collier, Sr., Eleanor Roosevelt, Edward Steichen, and Lisette Model.

Between 1945 and 1955 Palfi was included in group exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, New York’s Photo League, and in a solo exhibition at the New York Public Library. She received four major awards in her lifetime: a Julius Rosenwald Fellowship (1946), a Taconic Foundation grant (1963), a Guggenheim Fellowship (1967), and a National Endowment for the Arts grant ( 1974). In addition to such sources, she supported her photographic investigations at her own expense; the liberal press and African-American picture magazines also championed her views and images.

Throughout her mature career Palfi produced photographic essays on subjects of social concern, always with the intent of building public awareness that would ultimately lead to better living and working conditions. Unfortunately, the social documentary approach came to be associated with liberal political ideas and the New Deal, and therefore in direct opposition to the conservative policies of Harry Truman’s government of the late 1940s. Some of the issues she addressed include racism, Native American living conditions and relocation, juvenile delinquency, elder housing, the infringement of prison inmate rights, the effects of child neglect and abuse, the rise of gangs, and the persistence of poverty and slums. Throughout her years in America, Palfi eschewed a more lucrative career, producing photojournalistic work that conformed to popular expectations, and chose instead to pursue imagery that challenged notions of the American Dream.

Additional biographical information on Marion Palfi can be found in two Center publications – The Archive number 19 (1983) and Guide Series number 10 (1985). The Center is the largest repository of Palfi material, with over 1,100 fine prints. The archive contains materials from major photographic projects from 1945 to 1978, correspondence between Palfi and friends, photographers, scholars, writers, publishers, and governmental and private institutions on subjects including her philosophy of using photography to influence social change, her sales of photographs, and her mostly unsuccessful efforts to publish her work. Of particular research value are her scrapbooks, research notes, draft manuscripts, and book maquettes.

Text from the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona website [Online] Cited 26/10/2021

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled' 1975 From the series 'Ask Me lf l Got Justice'

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled
1975
From the series Ask Me lf l Got Justice
Gelatin silver print
18.7 x 24.2cm

 

 

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09
Jun
13

Exhibition: ‘The Radical Camera: New York’s Photo League, 1936-1951’ at The Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida

Exhibition dates: 14th March – 16th June 2013

 

Alexander Alland. 'Untitled (Brooklyn Bridge)' 1938

 

Alexander Alland (Ukranian-American, 1902-1989, born Sevastopol, Ukraine)
Untitled (Brooklyn Bridge)
1938
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: William and Jane Schloss Family Foundation Fund

 

 

Conscience of the brave

Bradley Manning.
A slight, bespectacled, intelligent gay man.
A man who has the courage of his convictions.
He revealed truth at the heart of the world’s largest “democracy.”

There is something insidious about the American nation. Not its citizens, not its place, but its government. This government has perpetrated evil in the name of its people. Think of Iraq and Afghanistan, invasions in the name of freedom, the support of puppet governments, the assassinations, the military advisors on the ground, the profits made.

The torture. The deaths.

Bradley Manning revealed all of this because he has a mighty moral compass. He knows right from wrong. He was not afraid to expose the hypocrisy that for many years has beaten, unfettered, in the breast of a nation. The home of the brave and the free is sadly under attack from within. In the name of its people.

And why is this text relevant to this posting?
So often in the history of America, dissension is shut down because of some imagined menace, from within or without. Here another group of people (photographers documenting American social conditions) were persecuted for standing up for social causes, for the freedom to expose injustice where it lives. The paranoia of patriotism.

As Harold Pinter has so pithily observed,

“The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.”

Except the hypnotist is a deranged psychopath, a divided split personality arraigning god, greed and guns. Out of one, many sins.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to The Norton 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.

 

 

“When the persecution of an individual who has exposed an evil is pursued so ruthlessly and yet the evil itself is studiedly ignored, all of us know that there is something very wrong with the way that our society is conducting itself. And if we do not protest in the strongest terms about what is being done in our name, then we become complicit.”

.
Alan Moore

 

“The US has shown remarkable energy in its pursuit of alleged whistleblowers. Has it investigated the deaths of those innocent civilians with the same vigour? With any vigour whatsoever? And which would you consider a crime? To conceal the deaths of innocent civilians, or to reveal them? I know what my answer would be.”

.
Les Barker

 

“To suggest that lives were put in danger by the release of the WikiLeaks documents is the most cynical of statements. Lives were put in danger the night we invaded the sovereign nation of Iraq, an act that had nothing to do with what the Bradley Mannings of this country signed up for: to defend our people from attack. It was a war based on a complete lie and lives were not only put in danger, hundreds of thousands of them were exterminated. For those who organised this massacre to point a finger at Bradley Manning is the ultimate example of Orwellian hypocrisy.”

.
Michael Moore

 

“Private Manning is the world’s pre-eminent prisoner of conscience, having remained true to the Nuremberg principle that every soldier has the right to ‘a moral choice.’ His suffering mocks the notion of the land of the free.”

.
John Pilger

 

 

Louis Stettner. 'Coming to America' c. 1951

 

Louis Stettner (American, b. 1922)
Coming  to America
c. 1951
Gelatin silver print The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Photography Acquisitions Committee Fund

 

 

Louis Stettner (November 7, 1922 – October 13, 2016) was an American photographer of the 20th century whose work included streetscapes, portraits and architectural images of New York and Paris. His work has been highly regarded because of its humanity and capturing the life and reality of the people and streets. Starting in 1947, Stettner photographed the changes in the people, culture, and architecture of both cities. He continued to photograph New York and Paris up until his death. …

Back from the war Stettner joined the Photo League in New York. Stettner visited Paris in 1946 and in 1947 moved there. From 1947 to 1949 he studied at the “Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques” in Paris and received a Bachelor of Arts in Photography & Cinema. He went back and forth between New York and Paris for almost two decades and finally settled permanently in Saint-Ouen, near Paris, in 1990. Stettner still frequently returned to New York.

Stettner’s professional work in Paris began with capturing life in the post-war recovery. He captured the everyday lives of his subjects. In the tradition of the Photo League, he wanted to investigate the bonds that connect people to one another. In 1947 he was asked by the same Photo League to organise an exhibition of French photographers in New York. He gathered the works of some of the greatest photographers of the era, including Doisneau, Brassaï, Boubat, Izis, and Ronis. The show was a big success and was largely reviewed in the annual issue of U.S. Camera. Stettner had begun a series of regular meetings with Brassaï who was a great mentor and had significant influence on his work. In 1949, Stettner had his first exhibition at the “Salon des Indépendants” at the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.

In 1951 his work was included in the famous Subjektive Fotografie exhibition in Germany. During the 1950s he free-lanced for Time, Life, Fortune, and Du (Germany). While in Paris he reconnected with Paul Strand, who had also left New York because of the political intolerance of the McCarthy era – Strand had been a founder of the Photo League that would be blacklisted and then banned during those years.

In the 1970s Stettner spent more time in New York City, where he taught at Brooklyn College, Queens College, and Cooper Union.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Erika Stone (born 1924, Frankfurt, Germany) 'Lower Eastside Facade' 1947

 

Erika Stone (German, b. 1924)
Lower Eastside Facade
1947
Gelatin silver print
Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio, Photo League Collection
Museum purchase with funds provided by Elizabeth M. Ross, the Derby Fund,
John S. and Catherine Chapin Kobacker, and the Friends of the Photo League

 

 

Stone’s adroit cropping of this image emphasises the coy upward gaze of the woman in the advertisement, away from the laundry line (emblem of poverty), and suggests the social mobility of the postwar era.

 

Marvin E. Newman. 'Halloween, South Side' 1951

 

Marvin E. Newman (American, b. 1927)
Halloween, South Side
1951
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Photography Acquisitions Committee Fund

 

 

Marvin Newman

Born in New York; Newman attended Brooklyn College, where he studied sculpture with Burgoyne Diller and photography with Walter Rosenblum. Following Rosenblum’s suggestion, he joined the Photo League in 1948, taking classes with John Ebstel. The Photo League, founded in 1936, blazed a trail for serious photographers for 15 years, providing a forum for ideas, cheap darkroom space, and the vision of using the art of picture taking to change the world. Newman then attended the Institute of Design, Chicago (1949-52), where, after studying with Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind, he received one of the first MS degrees in photography (1952).

During this time, Newman won national contests, including one sponsored by American Photography (1950) and another by Time, Inc. (1951). His work appeared in the Always a Young Stranger exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and in a one-man show at Roy De Carava’s A Photographer’s Gallery (1956). Well-known as a photojournalist, Newman has been a major contributor to Sports Illustrated since its inception (1953), as well as to Life, Look, Newsweek, and Smithsonian magazines. In addition, he has been the national president of the American Society of Magazine Photographers, authored or coauthored eight books on photography, and received the Art Director’s Gold Medal for Editorial Photography.

 

Ida Wyman (born 1926, Malden, Massachusetts) 'Spaghetti 25 Cents, New York' 1945

 

Ida Wyman (American, 1926-2019)
Spaghetti 25 Cents, New York
1945
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Photography Acquisitions Committee Fund

 

 

This Italian restaurant was near the offices of Acme Newspictures, where Wyman became the company’s first female photo printer in 1943. After the war she lost her job at the agency. The “Ladies Invited” sign on the window is a reminder of a time when unescorted women were not always welcome in public dining establishments.

 

Ida Wyman

When I began working in the 1940s, few women were doing magazine photography in a field that was almost exclusively male. As I progressed from box camera to Speed Graphic (my first professional camera), and then to a Rolleiflex, I stopped thinking about the mechanics of film speed, f-stops, shutter speed, and began focusing on subject matter that interested me. What interested me so much were ordinary people and their everyday activities. Early on, I had documented children’s games and unusual architectural details in my Bronx neighbourhood. I decided to expand, to go elsewhere, taking the subway to Harlem, Chinatown, and lower Manhattan, exploring those neighbourhoods and looking for photos.

I became a member of the Photo League in 1946. I considered myself a documentary photographer and the League’s philosophy of honest photography appealed to me. I also began to understand the power of photos to help improve the social order by showing the conditions under which many people lived and worked. Even after leaving the League the following year, I continued to emphasise visual and social realities in my straightforward photographs.

Beginning with my earliest photos seeing New York City with my feet, and in whatever part of the country I was in, I continued my own walkabout, learning the area, engaging my subject, listening, and respecting their dignity. This continued to be my approach when taking photos. My photographs depicted daily life in America’s modern metropolitan centres, including Chicago and Los Angeles as well as New York.

 

Aaron Siskind. 'The Wishing Tree' 1937

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991)
The Wishing Tree
1937, printed later
from Harlem Document, 1936-40
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Lillian Gordon Bequest

 

 

Harlem’s legendary Wishing Tree, bringer of good fortune, was once a tall elm that stood outside a theatre at 132nd Street and Seventh Avenue. When it was cut down in 1934 Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, the celebrated tap dancer, moved the stump to a nearby block and planted a new Tree of Hope beside it to assume wish granting duties. A piece of the original trunk is preserved in the Apollo Theatre on 125th Street, where performers still touch it for luck before going onstage.

 

Sonia Handelman Meyer. 'Hebrew Immigration Aid Society' c. 1946

 

Sonia Handelman Meyer (American, b. 1920, Lakewood, New Jersey)
Hebrew Immigration Aid Society
c. 1946
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Mimi and Barry J. Alperin in memory of Max Alperin

 

 

The efforts of the New York­ based Hebrew Immigration Aid Society (HIAS) to rescue European Jews during the war were severely hampered by US immigration laws. After the war it aided in the resettlement of some 150,000 displaced persons, including, presumably, these three, whom Handelman Meyer has chosen to photograph in close-­up. She conveys both their common suffering and their individuality, emphasising differences in body language and dress.

 

Sonia Handelman Meyer

I first heard of the Photo League from Lou Stoumen in Puerto Rico in 1942. I was working for the U.S. Army Signal Corps and Lou was preparing to join Yank Magazine. When I returned to New York City, I walked up the rickety stairs to League Headquarters and took a beginners class with Johnny Ebstel. I bought a used Rolleicord for a precious $100, and dared to go out on the city streets to photograph the life around me. Soon the guys began to come back from the war and the heady life of Photo League workshops, exhibits, lectures, photo hunts, and committee assignments intensified. I took eye-heart-soul opening workshops with Sid Grossman, worked as the paid (!) secretary for a year or so, and worked on the Lewis Hine Committee under Marynn Ausubel.

I photographed in Spanish Harlem, Greenwich Village, midtown Manhattan, at the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society, at an anti-lynching rally in Madison Square Park, at a Jehovah’s Witness convention in Yankee Stadium, and on Coney Island. Mostly, I photographed children and reflections of my city – rough-edged, tender, and very beautiful in its diversity. Some of this work was shown in the major 1949 exhibition, This is the Photo League.

The heartbreaking end of the League coincided with a huge change in my personal life. I got married and my husband began to go to college and we were out of NY for a while. And then the biggest change: our own family arrived and the joys of our son, and later our daughter, absorbed my time. Prints and negatives were stashed away in boxes and I lost track of all the old friends at the League. After so many years of being in the shadows, you can imagine my pleasure, at 90+ years of age, to have my photographs out of their boxes and onto walls where they can be seen, thought about, and enjoyed – and perhaps again take their place in the history of the Photo League.

 

Arthur Leipzig. 'Chalk Games, Prospect Place, Brooklyn' 1950

 

Arthur Leipzig (American, 1918-2014)
Chalk Games, Prospect Place, Brooklyn
1950
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Rictavia Schiff Bequest

 

Arnold Eagle. 'Chatham Square Platform, New York City' c. 1939

 

Arnold Eagle (Hungarian-American, 1909-1992)
Chatham Square Platform, New York City
c. 1939
Silver gelatin print

 

Joe Schwartz. 'Slums Must Go! May Day Parade, New York' c. 1936

 

Joe Schwartz (American, 1913-2013)
Slums Must Go! May Day Parade, New York
c. 1936
Gelatin silver print
Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio, Photo League Collection
Museum Purchase with funds provided by Elizabeth M. Ross, the Derby Fund, John S. and Catherine Chapin
Kobacker, and the Friends of the Photo League

 

Morris Huberland. 'Union Square, New York' c. 1942

 

Morris Huberland (Polish-American, 1909-2003 born Warsaw, Poland)
Union Square, New York
c. 1942
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Mimi and Barry J. Alperin Fund

 

 

The Norton Museum of Art’s newest special exhibition, The Radical Camera: New York’s Photo League, 1936 – 1951, is a formidable survey of the League’s history, and its artistic, cultural, social, and political significance. Opening March 14 and on view through June 16, 2013, this striking exhibition includes nearly 150 vintage photographs from Photo League collections at the Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio, and The Jewish Museum in New York City.

The exhibition is organised by Mason Klein, Curator of Fine Arts at The Jewish Museum and Catherine Evans, the William and Sarah Ross Soter Curator of Photography of the Columbus Museum of Art. It premiered in at The Jewish Museum in 2011 to rave reviews. The New York Times called The Radical Camera a “stirring show,” and the New York Photo Review hailed it as “nothing short of splendid.” The New Yorker named the exhibition one of the top 10 photography exhibitions of 2011. The Norton is the final venue on the exhibition’s tour.

The exhibition explores the fascinating blend of aesthetics and social activism at the heart of the Photo League. League members were known for capturing sharply revealing, compelling moments from everyday life. The League focused on New York City and its vibrant streets – a shoeshine boy, a brass band on a bustling corner, a crowded beach at Coney Island. Many of the images are beautiful, yet harbour strong social commentary on issues of class, race, and opportunity. The organisation’s members included some of the most noted photographers of the mid-20th century – W. Eugene Smith, Weegee (Arthur Fellig), Lisette Model, Berenice Abbott and Aaron Siskind, to name a few.

In 1936, a group of young, idealistic photographers, most of them Jewish, first-generation Americans, formed an organisation in Manhattan called the Photo League. Their solidarity centred on a belief in the expressive power of the documentary photograph, and on a progressive alliance in the 1930s of socialist ideas and art. (The Photo League also helped validate photography as a fine art, presenting student work and guest exhibitions by established photographers.) The Radical Camera presents the development of the documentary photograph during a tumultuous period that spanned the New Deal reforms of the Depression, World War II, and the Cold War. Offering classes, mounting exhibitions, and fostering community, members of the Photo League focused on social reform and the power of the photograph to motivate change. At the height of their influence, their membership included the most important photographers of their day including Berenice Abbot, Aaron Siskind, Barbara Morgan, Sid Grossman, Weegee (Arthur Fellig), and Lisette Model. Featuring more than 175 works by these artists as well as many more Photo League members, The Radical Camera traces the organisation’s interests, attitudes toward photography, and impact during its 15-year lifespan.

The innovative contributions of the Photo League during its 15-year existence (1936-1951) were significant. As it grew, the League mirrored monumental shifts in the world starting with the Depression, through World War II, and ending with the Red Scare. Born of the worker’s movement, the Photo League was an organisation of young, idealistic, first-generation American photographers, most of them Jewish, who believed in documentary photography as an expressive medium and powerful tool for exposing social problems. It was also a school with teachers such as Sid Grossman, who encouraged students to take their cameras to the streets and discover the meaning of their work as well as their relationship to it. The League had a darkroom for printing, published an acclaimed newsletter called Photo Notes, offered exhibition space, and was a place to socialise.

The Photo League helped validate photography as a fine art, presenting student work and guest exhibitions by established photographers such as Eugène Atget, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Edward Weston, among others. These affecting black and white photographs show life as it was lived mostly on the streets, sidewalks and subways of New York. Joy and playfulness as well as poverty and hardship are in evidence. In addition to their urban focus, “Leaguers” photographed rural America, and during World War II, took their cameras to Latin America and Europe. The exhibition also addresses the active participation of women who found rare access and recognition at the League. The Radical Camera presents the League within a critical, historical context. Developments in photojournalism were catalysing a new information era in which photo essays were appearing for the first time in magazines such as Life and Look. As time went on, its social documentary roots evolved toward a more experimental approach, laying the foundation for the next generation of street photographers.

In 1947, the League came under the pall of McCarthyism and was blacklisted for its alleged involvement with the Communist Party. Ironically, the Photo League had just begun a national campaign to broaden its base as a “Center for American Photography.” Despite the support of Ansel Adams, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall, Paul Strand, and many other national figures, this vision of a national photography centre could not overcome the Red Scare. As paranoia and fear spread, the Photo League was forced to disband in 1951. The Radical Camera: New York’s Photo League, 1936-1951 has been organised by The Jewish Museum, New York, and the Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio. Major support was provided by the Phillip and Edith Leonian Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Limited Brands Foundation.”

Press release from The Norton Museum of Art website

 

Sy Kattelson. 'Untitled (Subway Car)' 1949

 

Sy Kattelson (American, 1923-2018)
Untitled (Subway Car)
1949
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: The Paul Strand Trust for the benefit of Virginia Stevens Gift

 

Jerome Liebling. 'Butterfly Boy, New York' 1949

 

Jerome Liebling (American, 1924-2011)
Butterfly Boy, New York
1949
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York, Purchase: Mimi and Barry J. Alperin Fund
© Estate of Jerome Liebling

 

Lee Sievan. 'Salvation Army Lassie in Front of a Woolworth Store' c. 1940

 

Lee Sievan (American, 1907-1990)
Salvation Army Lassie in Front of a Woolworth Store
c. 1940
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Fund

 

 

This is a classic photograph. Look at the triangle that forms the central part of the image, from the girl at left looking with disdain at the matriarch singing then down to the look on the organ players face. Notice the girl at right covering her ears so she cannot hear the racket. Imagine the legs of the organ player going up and down, pumping air into the organ; and finally observe the shadow of a man’s face captured by reflection in the shop window as he walks past the scene. Magic.

 

Rosalie Gwathmey. 'Shout Freedom, Charlotte, North Carolina' c. 1948

 

Rosalie Gwathmey (American, 1908-2001)
Shout Freedom, Charlotte, North Carolina
c. 1948
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Gay Block and Malka Drucker Fund of the Houston Jewish Community Foundation

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig). 'Max Is Rushing in the Bagels to a Restaurant on Second Avenue for the Morning Trade' c. 1940

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, born Ukraine, 1899-1968)
Max Is Rushing in the Bagels to a Restaurant on Second Avenue for the Morning Trade
c. 1940
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Joan B. and Richard L. Barovick Family Foundation and Bunny and Jim Weinberg Gifts

 

Bernard Cole. 'Shoemaker’s Lunch' 1944

 

Bernard Cole (1911-1992, born London, England)
Shoemaker’s Lunch
1944
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York,
Purchase: The Paul Strand Trust for the benefit of Virginia Stevens Gift

 

Rebecca Lepkoff. 'Broken Window on South Street, New York' 1948

 

Rebecca Lepkoff (American, 1916-2014)
Broken Window on South Street, New York
1948
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Esther Leah Ritz Bequest

 

Arthur Leipzig. 'Ideal Laundry' 1946

 

Arthur Leipzig (American, 1918-2014)
Ideal Laundry
1946
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Esther Leah Ritz Bequest

 

Consuelo Kanaga. 'Untitled (Tenements, New York)' c. 1937

 

Consuelo Kanaga (American, 1894-1978)
Untitled (Tenements, New York)
c. 1937
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: The Paul Strand Trust for the benefit of Virginia Stevens Gift

 

 

Leftist political activism was a strong element in Kanaga’s work, beginning with her photographs of a labor strike in San Francisco in 1934. She provided photographs for progressive publications such as New Masses, Labor Defender, and Sunday Worker. Underlying this formal study of tenement laundry lines (a common motif in League imagery) is Kanaga’s empathy for the living conditions of the working class.

 

Ruth Orkin, 'Boy Jumping into Hudson River' 1948

 

Ruth Orkin (American, 1921-1985)
Boy Jumping into Hudson River
1948
Gelatin silver print The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Fund

 

Sol Prom (Solomon Fabricant). 'Untitled (Dancing School)' 1938

 

Sol Prom (Solomon Fabricant) (American, 1906-1989)
Untitled (Dancing School)
1938
from Harlem Document, 1936-40
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Fund

 

 

Mary Bruce opened a dancing school in Harlem in 1937. For fifty years she taught ballet and tap, giving free lessons to those who could not afford them. Her illustrious pupils included Katherine Dunham, Nat King Cole, Ruby Dee, and Marlon Brando.

 

 

The Norton Museum of Art
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Phone: (561) 832-5196

Opening hours:

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29
Aug
12

Exhibition: ‘Weegee: Murder Is My Business’ at the International Center of Photography, New York

Exhibition dates: 20th January – 2nd September 2012

 

Weegee. 'Untitled [Anthony Esposito, booked on suspicion of killing a policeman, New York]' January 16, 1941

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, 1899-1968)
Untitled [Anthony Esposito, booked on suspicion of killing a policeman, New York]
January 16, 1941
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

 

Weegee. 'The dead man's wife arrived...and then she collapsed' c. 1940

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, 1899-1968)
The dead man’s wife arrived… and then she collapsed
c. 1940
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

 

Weegee. 'Girl jumped out of car, and was killed, on Park Ave.,' c. 1938

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, 1899-1968)
Girl jumped out of car, and was killed, on Park Ave.,
c. 1938
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

 

 

“People are so wonderful that a photographer has only to wait for that breathless moment to capture what he wants on film… and when that split second of time is gone, it’s dead and can never be brought back.”

“For the pictures… I was on the scene; sometimes drawn there by some power I can’t explain, and I caught the New Yorkers with their masks off… not afraid to Laugh, Cry, or Make Love. What I felt I photographed, laughing and crying with them.”

.
Arthur Fellig (aka Weegee, 1899-1968)

 

“Weegee’s work is connected by an umbilical cord to darkness; his images emerged from Gotham City’s nocturnal penumbra, spectrally streaked by streetlights, lit brightly only where there was a human focus, a tabloid John Alton at work.

Weegee called it his “Rembrandt light” as he caught the human protagonists in the white glare of his photo flash, the scene otherwise enveloped in darkness. Weegee’s news pictures were never haphazard snapshots, albeit they were taken by a man who had happenstance and chance as his helpmates; he and his camera, with its flash, seem to have a fateful meeting with his human subjects; pictures seem perfectly arranged, and what we focus on is their human content. Weegee is the quintessential noir photographer.”

.
Mark Svetov. Life and Death (Mostly Death) in the Streets (2010) on American Suburb X website

 

 

If you want a good read about the life and times of Weegee then Mark Svetov’s Life and Death (Mostly Death) in the Streets (2010) on American Suburb X website is the way to go. I can’t really add much to this excellent piece of writing in terms of the history of the man and the social milieu in which he surrounded himself. What I can comment on are my personal feelings about his photographs.

Weegee’s photographs are no masterpiece of fine art printing, they are rough and direct, and I love them all the more for this quality. Their roughness – all sellotaped over, edges cut at odd angles, drawn and written on – only adds to their power and immediacy. If you can call photographs of dead bodies in the street vibrant and alive, then these photographs are just that. Svetov sees Weegee as the quintessential noir photographer; I see him not so much as that but as a sensitive, formalist photographer, a wonderful collagist and an artist who is a precursor to the pop art of the mid-late 1950s (think Warhol’s screen prints of the electric chair, or his mangled car crash series).

In the installation photographs of the exhibition Weegee: Murder Is My Business at the Photo League, New York (1941, see below) you get a sense of this master of assemblage, the animator and promoter (another pop trait!) at work. The large prints are casually pinned to the back board, surrounded by drawings of guns with smoke emanating from their barrels, cause of death certificates, photographs of Weegee himself “On the Spot”, Weegee’s press pass, newspaper clippings about the man and his work (including a photograph of his tiny bedroom) where Weegee “introduces” himself to his audience. The photographs flow around the room, from Faces, to Murder and Society. People are drawn into the aura of these photographs, you can see them leaning forward to take in every detail. They peer intently at the them trying to decipher every nuance of the narrative being told (the frequent hats lying about, the discarded pistols, the hand emerging from underneath the draped sheet).

As Svetov notes, Weegee’s news pictures were never haphazard snapshots, for they always seem perfectly arranged. Underneath the spontaneity and the humanism imparted by the artist is that fact that Weegee is a master of formalism. He knows exactly how to structure the picture plane as a classical pianist knows how to bring alive the themes of a Mozart sonata. Usually arriving before any other photographer because he lived opposite the police station and had a police radio in his car, Weegee “cased the joint” as I would put it, prowling quickly around the scene to get the best angle, the best shot before other photographers arrived or the scene was closed off by police. This instinctive framing only comes through having a good eye and training that eye so that what to shoot and how to crop the scene “in camera” becomes second nature.

Evidence of the formal structure implicit in Weegee’s photographs can be seen in my analysis of two photographs Line-Up for Night Court (ca. 1941, below) and Police officer and assistant removing body of Reception Hospital ambulance driver Morris Linker from East River, New York (August 24, 1943, below). In the first image the epicentre (or the enigma if you like) of the photograph is the dance of hands at the lower centre of the image, formed by two triangles and emphasised by two radial diagonals. The top points of the upper triangle are anchored by the men and women at both windows (see detail photographs), the patriarchal men in suit and tie at one window – a detective, a chief of police? – separated from the woman at another. Weegee’s splits this triangle with his frieze of faces showing the depths of human despair, despondency and ambivalence.

The second image has a much more complicated structure. In the first analysis we observe the different horizontal, vertical and diagonal planes as they march up the photograph. The “heart” of this image, where the yellow lines cross, is actually a point of absence. Look at the real photograph: it is the heart shaped empty space between the man’s outstretched hands that form the emotional centre of the image. In the second analysis we can simplify this down into a zigzagging line that passes directly through this point. To see this, to assess this and visualise the flowing movement in a split second is in any visual language outstanding. Weegee wasn’t averse to manipulating his images to achieve the desired result. The photograph Hold up man killed (November 24, 1941, below) shows his notations over the top of the image, the crop he envisaged and the words “Take out hat” and “Make sock black” so that he achieved the desired dynamic within the photograph.

Weegee was a master of flash and the use of foreshortening – to create atmosphere in the first instance and used as a visual entre into the photographs in the second. Sometimes he combines both. The policeman at left in Line-Up for Night Court is both out of focus and the highlights (his face) are blown out by the flash. Does this matter: not one iota, for the policeman “grounds” the whole left hand side of the image. Again, in Murder (c. 1940, below) the backside of the policeman is blown out by the flash but this only leads the eye of the viewer to the foreshortened body of the murder victim nestled in the crook of his knee and then onto the starkly lit pram, beyond. Finally, in Hold up man killed (November 24, 1941, below) the feet of the hold up man actually lead the viewer into the space between the two policeman’s shoes were the Surgeon from Gouverneur Hospital crouches over the body. Weegee also loved to weave detail into his images, so that even though the story is about human content, as Svetov observes, it is just as much about human materiality as well: notice the reflection of people in the car bonnet in At an East Side Murder (1943, below) at lower left and then the procession of worn shoes and the bagginess of the trousers – I didn’t realised they wore their trousers so baggy in the 1940s!

Svetlov sees Weegee’s photgraphs as containing an almost sacred squalor, a brash but anguished cry in an endless nightscape with nothing judgemental or distanced about them. I concur with the last part for Weegee was a man of the people whom he photographed. On the other points I am less sure: to me they are about light not darkness. They are about the aftermath of atrocity, of living, human beings dealing with death and its consequences. I see nothing sacred about this squalor. The photographs are about shining a light into darkness, the darkness that every human being must confront: the fact that we all have to die, somewhere, sometime, in the end.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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

 

 

Weegee. 'Untitled [Installation view of "Weegee: Murder Is My Business" at the Photo League, New York]' 1941

Weegee. 'Untitled [Installation view of "Weegee: Murder Is My Business" at the Photo League, New York]' 1941

Weegee. 'Untitled [Installation view of "Weegee: Murder Is My Business" at the Photo League, New York]' 1941

Weegee. 'Untitled [Installation view of "Weegee: Murder Is My Business" at the Photo League, New York]' 1941

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, 1899-1968)
Untitled [Installation view of “Weegee: Murder Is My Business” at the Photo League, New York]
1941
Silver gelatin photographs
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

 

Text and captions from the original Murder Is My Business exhibition:

  • “Introducing Weegee”
  • “Due to an increase in MURDERS The Photo League presents 2nd Edition of “MURDER IS MY BUSNESS” by Weegee”
  • “Weegee Lives For His Work And Thinks Before Shooting” (newspaper headline on the “Weegee” board at left)
  • “This space reserved for the latest muders”
  • “MURDER Manhattan bloodbath”
  • “Arthur Fellig Photographer / Do not disturbe / Except in case of Fire, Murder or Snow Storm” (caption underneath photograph)
  • “Why did you kill your Sweetie”?  (caption underneath photograph)
  • “HUMAN BODY MINUS HEAD FOUND ON STREET” (caption underneath photograph)
  • “Cop & human head in package” (caption underneath photograph)
  • “Killed her husband after drinking brawl” (caption underneath photograph)
  • “Just a cheap murder” (caption underneath photograph)
  • “My man” (caption underneath photograph)
  • “Who done that” (caption underneath photograph)

 

 

“Weegee’s captions provided a visceral vernacular for the almost-sacred squalor of his imagery (see “Weegee’s Words” for a sampling). Taken together, they packed more than a mere punch; they were a brash but anguished cry in an endless nightscape. More than mere documents of a violent era, they also exuded a humanity that could only come from the photographer himself. There was nothing judgmental or distanced in Weegee’s work; he was the antithesis of the “slickers” who worked for glossy magazines. He remained a man essentially from the same New York working-class as the people he chose to photograph.”

.
Mark Svetov. Life and Death (Mostly Death) in the Streets (2010) on American Suburb X website

 

 

Weegee. 'Untitled ["Ruth Snyder Murder" wax display, Eden Musée, Coney Island, New York]' ca. 1941

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, 1899-1968)
Untitled [“Ruth Snyder Murder” wax display, Eden Musée, Coney Island, New York]
c. 1941
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

 

Unidentified Photographer. 'On the Spot' December 9, 1939

 

Unidentified Photographer
On the Spot
December 9, 1939
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

 

Weegee. 'Line-Up for Night Court' c. 1941

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, 1899-1968)
Line-Up for Night Court
c. 1941
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

 

Construction of the pictorial plane in 'Line-Up for Night Court'

 

Construction of the pictorial plane in Line-Up for Night Court

 

Weegee. 'Line-Up for Night Court' c. 1941 (detail)

Weegee. 'Line-Up for Night Court' c. 1941 (detail)

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, 1899-1968)
Line-Up for Night Court (details)
c. 1941
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

 

Weegee. 'At an East Side Murder' 1943

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, 1899-1968)
At an East Side Murder
1943
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

 

Weegee. 'At an East Side Murder' 1943 (detail).

Weegee. 'At an East Side Murder' 1943 (detail)

Weegee. 'At an East Side Murder' 1943 (detail)

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, 1899-1968)
At an East Side Murder (details)
1943
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

 

Weegee. 'Untitled [Hats in a pool room, Mulberry Street, New York]' c. 1943

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, 1899-1968)
Untitled [Hats in a pool room, Mulberry Street, New York]
c. 1943
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

 

 

Gangland murders, gruesome car crashes, and perilous tenement fires were for the photographer Weegee (1899-1968) the staples of his flashlit black-and-white work as a freelance photojournalist in the mid­-1930s. Such graphically dramatic and sometimes sensationalistic photographs of New York crimes and news events set the standard for what has since become known as tabloid journalism. In fact, for one intense decade, between 1935 and 1946, Weegee was perhaps the most relentlessly inventive figure in American photography. A surprising new exhibition at the International Center of Photography (1133 Avenue of the Americas at 43rd Street), titled Weegee: Murder Is My Business and organised by ICP Chief Curator Brian Wallis, will present some rare examples of Weegee’s most famous and iconic images, and will consider his early work in the context of its original presentation in historical newspapers and exhibitions, as well as Weegee’s own books and films.

Taking its title from Weegee’s self-curated exhibition at the Photo League in 1941, Murder Is My Business looks at the urban violence and mayhem that was the focus of his early work. As a freelance photographer at a time when New York City had at least eight daily newspapers and when wire services were just beginning to handle photos, Weegee was challenged to capture unique images of newsworthy events and distribute them quickly. He worked almost exclusively at night, setting out from his small apartment across from police headquarters when news of a new crime came chattering across his police-band radio receiver. Often arriving before the police themselves, Weegee carefully cased each scene to discover the best angle. Murders, he claimed, were the easiest to photograph because the subjects never moved or got temperamental.

Weegee’s rising career as a news photographer in the 1930s coincided with the heyday of Murder Inc., the Jewish gang from Brownsville who served as paid hitmen for The Syndicate, a confederation of mostly Italian crime bosses in New York. As a wave of governmental and legal crackdowns swept the city between 1935 and 1941, the rate of organised murders of small-time wiseguys and potential stool pigeons increased dramatically. Weegee often worked closely with the police but also befriended high-profile criminals like Bugsy Siegel, Lucky Luciano, and Legs Diamond. Weegee called himself the “official photographer for Murder Inc.” and claimed to have covered 5,000 murders, a count that is perhaps only slightly exaggerated. In asserting the true nature of his business, Weegee proudly displayed his check stub from LIFE magazine that paid him $35 for two murders, slightly more, he said, for the one that used more bullets.

Selling his photographs to a variety of New York newspapers in the 1930s, and later working as a stringer for the short-lived daily newspaper PM (1940-48), Weegee established a highly subjective approach to both photographs and texts that was distinctly different from that promoted in most dailies and picture magazines. Utilising other distribution venues, Weegee also wrote extensively (including his autobiographical Naked City, published in 1945) and organised his own exhibitions at the Photo League, the influential photographic organisation that promoted politically committed pictures, particularly of the working classes. In 1941, Weegee installed two back-to-back exhibitions in the League’s headquarters. This visibility helped promote Weegee’s growing reputation as a news photographer, and he began stamping his prints “Weegee the Famous.” The general acceptance of his punchy photographic style, which did not shy away from lower-class subjects and humanistic narratives, led to the acquisition of his work by the Museum of Modern Art and inclusion in two group shows there, in 1943 and 1945.

“Weegee has often been dismissed as an aberration or as a naive photographer, but he was in fact one of the most original and enterprising photojournalists of the 1930s and ’40s. His best photographs combine wit, daring, and surprisingly original points of view, particularly when considered in light of contemporaneous press photos and documentary photography. He favoured unabashedly low-culture or tabloid subjects and approaches, but his Depression-era New York photographs need to be considered seriously alongside other key documentarians of the thirties, such as Dorothea Lange, Robert Capa, Walker Evans, and Berenice Abbott,” said Wallis.

The exhibition will feature over 100 original photographs, drawn primarily from the comprehensive Weegee Archive of over 20,000 prints at ICP, as well as period newspapers, magazines, and films. It will also include partial reconstructions of Weegee’s studio and his Photo League exhibition. The four galleries will each feature a touch-screen monitor allowing visitors to explore further details regarding the images and artefacts in that room.

Press release from the ICP

 

Weegee. 'Untitled [Body of Dominick Didato, Elizabeth Street, New York]' August 7, 1936

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, 1899-1968)
Untitled [Body of Dominick Didato, Elizabeth Street, New York]
August 7, 1936
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

 

Weegee. 'Murder' c. 1940

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, 1899-1968)
Murder
c. 1940
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

 

Weegee. 'Untitled [Police officer and lodge member looking at blanket-covered body of woman trampled to death in excursion-ship stampede, New York]' August 18, 1941

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, 1899-1968)
Untitled [Police officer and lodge member looking at blanket-covered body of woman trampled to death in excursion-ship stampede, New York]
August 18, 1941
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

 

Weegee. 'Hold up man killed' November 24, 1941

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, 1899-1968)
Hold up man killed
November 24, 1941
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

 

Weegee. 'Untitled [Police officer and assistant removing body of Reception Hospital ambulance driver Morris Linker from East River, New York]' August 24, 1943

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, 1899-1968)
Untitled [Police officer and assistant removing body of Reception Hospital ambulance driver Morris Linker from East River, New York]
August 24, 1943
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

 

Pictorial construction of Police officer and assistant removing body of Reception Hospital ambulance driver Morris

Pictorial construction of Police officer and assistant removing body of Reception Hospital ambulance driver Morris

 

Pictorial construction of Police officer and assistant removing body of Reception Hospital ambulance driver Morris

 

 

International Center of Photography
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New York NY 10036
Phone: 212 857 0045

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20
Mar
12

Exhibition: ‘Made in America 1900-1950. Photographs from the National Gallery of Canada’, Ottawa, Ontario

Exhibition dates: 9th December 2011 – 1st April 2012

 

Edward Steichen.
 'Nocturne - Orangery Staircase, Versailles' 1908


 

Edward Steichen
 (American, 1879-1973)
Nocturne – Orangery Staircase, Versailles
1908
Purchased 1976
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

 

 

Stunning photographs in this posting: Steichen’s
 Nocturne – Orangery Staircase, Versailles (1908) is just sublime; Sheeler’s Side of a White Barn (1917) is early Modernist perfection, rivalling Paul Strand’s The White Fence, Port Kent (1916); Barbara Morgan’s photograph of dancer Martha Graham (1940) portraying, radiantly, her divine dissatisfaction; and the most beautiful portrait by Imogen Cunningham of Frida Kahlo (1931). Every time I see this portrait I nearly burst into tears – the light falling from the right and from the left onto the boards behind her, the texture of her cloak, the languorous nature of her hands, her absolute poise and beauty – looking straight into the camera, looking straight into your soul. What a beautiful women, such strength and vulnerability. A stunning photograph of an amazing women. The photograph just takes your breath away…

Marcus

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

 

Arthur Leipzig
 (American, 1918-2014) 'Opening Night at the Opera, New York' 1945

 

Arthur Leipzig
 (American, 1918-2014)
Opening Night at the Opera, New York
1945
Gelatin silver print
27 x 34.1 cm
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
© Arthur Leipzig/Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'Side of a White Barn, Pennsylvania' 1917

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
Side of a White Barn, Pennsylvania
1917
Gelatin silver print
7 5/8 x 9 5/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum

 

 

“Lines and texture define this view of the side of a white barn. In the photographic rendering, the white barn is a soft gray, punctuated by knots in the wood and shadows cast by the uneven boards. In the lower right corner of the image, a small window, a fence, and a chicken standing atop a pile of hay add visual weight yet surrender to the repetitive, vertical domination of the structure. Like every other line, the horizontal line dividing the areas of wood and plaster is drawn without a straight edge.” Text from the Getty Museum website

 

Alfred Stiegitz (American, 1864-1946) 'The Steerage' 1907

 

Alfred Steiglitz (American, 1864-1946)
The Steerage
1907
Gelatin silver print

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)  'Corner of State and Randolph Streets, Chicago' c. 1946-1947

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Corner of State and Randolph Streets, Chicago
c. 1946-1947
Gelatin silver print
Image: 26.1 x 25 cm
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
Gift of Benjamin Greenberg, Ottawa, 1981
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Barbara Morgan.
 'Martha Graham, Letter to the World, "Kick"' 1940, printed c. 1945


 

Barbara Morgan
 (American, 1900-1992)
Martha Graham, Letter to the World, “Kick”
1940, printed c. 1945
Gelatin silver print
38.6 x 48.2 cm
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

 

 

“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable it is, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate YOU. Keep the channel open… No artist is pleased… There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction; a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

.
Martha Graham to Agnes DeMille

 

 

In the first five decades of the 20th century photography came into its own – both as an art form and as a tool to document social and political change. American photographers were exploring both the poetic and transformative expressiveness of the medium, as well as recording the growth and change of the country in its various phases of industrial development. On view until April 1, 2012, Made in America 1900-1950: Photographs from the National Gallery of Canada looks at both approaches, and the divisions between the two, as they are necessarily porous and somewhat arbitrary.

“The Gallery’s collection is so rich in 20th century American photographs that it needs an exhibition in two parts and a catalogue in two volumes. This first presentation focuses on the period between 1900 and 1950,” noted NGC director Marc Mayer. “This comprehensive collection has been amassed in large part through the generosity of brilliant collectors.”

“Each of [the decades] is characterised by tremendous growth, change, and creative thought about the medium and its reception in the United States,” noted curator Ann Thomas in the catalogue, American Photographs 1900-1950.

It was a period of great technical and technological change: such as the introduction of the personal 35mm camera in the early 1920s, following the German model developed by Leica, and Ansel Adams’ and Fred Archer’s creation of the zone system to determine optimal film exposure and development.

Composed of over 130 photographs, two issues of Camera Work, one issue of Manuscripts, and several period cameras, the exhibition Made in America celebrates the exceptional contribution that American photographers made to the history of art in the 20th century. Made been 1900-1950, these photographs represent an extraordinarily fertile period in the evolution of photography. They include stunning works by Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, Clarence White, Paul Strand, Walker Evans, Margaret Bourke-White, Dorothea Lange, Berenice Abbott, Ansel Adams, Lisette Model, Weegee, and members of New York’s Photo League.

Made in America is the fourth in a series of exhibitions and catalogues presenting the Gallery’s outstanding collection of international photographs. It follows Modernist Photographs (2007), 19th Century French Photographs (2010), and 19th Century British Photographs (2011).

Made in America 1900-1950: Photographs from the National Gallery of Canada explores a dynamic period in the history of photography when the medium was emerging as both an art form and a tool for documenting social change. Presenting 134 works from the National Gallery’s extraordinary collection of American photographs, this exhibition chronicles the evolution of the medium, beginning with Pictorialism and moving through modernism, straight photography and documentary work. On the walls are some truly magnificent, iconic works by the most influential photographers, among them Alfred Stieglitz’s The Steerage, Edward Steichen’s Nocturne – Orangerie Staircase, Versailles, Ansel Adams’ Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico and Barbara Morgan’s Martha Graham, Letter to the World (Kick).

At the turn of the 20th century, American photographers were fully engaged in the Pictorialist aesthetic, creating pastoral landscapes, foggy street scenes and idealised portraits of women and children. With their soft focus and gentle lighting, the images convey a romantic moodiness. Pictorialist photographers often manipulated their negatives and prints to achieve painterly effects. Gertrude Käsebier’s Serbonne, for instance, is reminiscent of an Impressionist painting.

Around the mid-teens, artists such as Stieglitz, Paul Strand and Walker Evans came to reject the notion of photography imitating painting, and instead sought to take advantage of the medium’s inherent, unique characteristics, especially its ability to achieve sharp definition, even lighting and smooth surfaces. The result was ground-breaking modernist work such as Stieglitz’s Equivalent series, Alvin Langdon Coburn’s Vortograph and Charles Sheeler’s Side of White Barn.

Out on the west coast in the early 1930s, Group f.64 was committed to the ideal of pure, un-manipulated, or “straight” photography. Edward Weston’s nudes and juniper trees, and Imogen Cunningham’s portrait of Frida Kahlo demonstrate the hallmarks of f.64: crisp detail, sharp focus, and often a sensual minimalism.

The first decades of the 20th century also provided rich subject matter for documentary photographers, as social and economic changes dramatically transformed daily life. Lewis Hine’s photographs of immigrants and child labourers tell fascinating stories, as do images of the Depression by Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans. The Photo League sent its members out into New York’s streets to capture ordinary people on film. Helen Levitt, Jerome Liebling and Sol Libsohn chronicled small dramas unfolding on sidewalks.

Visitors familiar with Ansel Adams’ grand, sublime landscapes might be surprised by his more contemplative series of foaming Pacific waves, titled Surf Sequence. Sharing the gallery space is Minor White’s poetic series Song Without Words, made along the same coast. Both demonstrate an almost cinematic approach to photograph-making and plunge the viewer into seaside reverie.

Press release from the National Gallery of Canada website

 

Alvin Coburn (American, 1882-1966) 'Vortograph' 1917

 

Alvin Coburn (American, 1882-1966)
Vortograph
1917
Gelatin silver print
11 1/8 × 8 3/8″ (28.2 × 21.2 cm)
Courtesy of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film

 

 

The intricate patterns of light and line in this photograph, and the cascading tiers of crystalline shapes, were generated through the use of a kaleidoscopic contraption invented by the American / British photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn, a member of London’s Vorticist group. To refute the idea that photography, in its helplessly accurate capture of scenes in the real world, was antithetical to abstraction, Coburn devised for his camera lens an attachment made up of three mirrors, clamped together in a triangle, through which he photographed a variety of surfaces to produce the results in these images. The poet and Vorticist Ezra Pound coined the term “vortographs” to describe Coburn’s experiments. Although Pound went on to criticise these images as lesser expressions than Vorticist paintings, Coburn’s work would remain influential.

Gallery label from Inventing Abstraction, 1910-1925, December 23, 2012 – April 15, 2013.

 

Gertrude Kasebier (American, 1852-1934) 'Serbonne' 1902, printed 1903

 

Gertrude Kasebier (American, 1852-1934)
Serbonne
1902, printed 1903
from Camera Work, January 1903
Gum bichromate, halftone
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

 

Imogen Cunningham. 'Frida Kahlo' 1931

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Frida Kahlo
1931
Gelatin silver print
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

 

Ralph Steiner.
 'Model T' 1929

 

Ralph Steiner
 (American, 1899-1986)
Model T
1929, printed later
Gelatin silver print
Image: 24.2 x 19.7 cm
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

 

Walker Evans.
 'Citizen in Downtown Havana' 1933

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Citizen in Downtown Havana
1933
Gelatin silver print
25.1 x 20.1 cm
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
Gift of Phyllis Lambert, Montreal, 1982
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

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P.O. Box 427, Station A
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Canada 
K1N 9N4

Opening hours:
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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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