Posts Tagged ‘photography

12
Nov
18

10th year anniversary of Art Blart

13th November 2008 – 13th November 2018

 

Art Blart 10 year anniversary

 

 

A big effort

Art Blart has a readership of 1,500 a day. It has become a research tool for artists and photographers around the world. It is also an important form of cultural memory, with over 1,300 posts in its archive. The site is itself being archived by Pandora from the National Library of Australia.

What I find most important about the archive is that it gives me the opportunity to promote artists, to promote ideas and thoughts about art and life and, most importantly, to shine a light on different aspects of art, from the under recognised concepts to the disenfranchised and forgotten artists.

Reproduced below is the first ever post on Art Blart with the key tags, life and death. Not a lot has changed in 10 years. My concerns in that first post are still present – what we are doing to the planet and to our culture, how we construct our histories and memories, and how we can embrace diversity and equality the world over. Text and images and powerful tools for promoting such egalitarian ideals.

I must thank all the amazing galleries around the world for suppling text and media images. Your efforts are truly appreciated, for without you the archive would be nothing. Your enthusiasm and willingness to help has been incredible.

And to you, the readers, I must thank you for your for your attention and continued patronage. While the website is a personal form of expression there is also a good dose of altruism amongst its postings. I hope my musings have enlightened your ideas on art and life for the better. I hope you have all enjoyed the ride as much as I have enjoyed making and writing the website.

I will continue to write into history and memory as much as I can in the following years.

Marcus

 

 

First ever post

13th November 2008

 

 

“We are such spendthrifts with our lives,” Newman once told a reporter.

“The trick of living is to slip on and off the planet with the least fuss you can muster.”

.
Paul Newman

 

 

See the original posting

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09
Nov
18

Exhibition: ‘Black Mist Burnt Country’ at the National Museum of Australia, Canberra

Exhibition dates: 24th August – 18th November 2018

Curator: JD Mittmann

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following post may contain images and voices of people who have died.

 

 

Rosemary Laing. 'One Dozen Considerations - Emu Totem I' 2013

 

Rosemary Laing (b. 1959)
One Dozen Considerations – Emu Totem I
2013
C type photograph
49 x 76 cm
© Rosemary Laing

 

 

The empty yet altered landscape takes on different moods with Rosemary Laing’s, One Dozen Considerations Totem 1 – Emu (2013) monument marking the site of an weapon’s test with a British flag flying behind it. Both look like conqueror’s claims to territory, powerful images of the attempts to colonise Indigenous space, to write a colonial history through markers of significance, to write out the Indigenous voice but at the same time to appropriate Indigenous ideas and language. (Larissa Behrendt on the Artlink website)

 

 

Field of thunder ~ big devil spirit ~ colonial fireworks

a/atom

late 15th century: from Old French atome, via Latin from Greek atomos ‘indivisible’, based on a- ‘not’ + temnein ‘to cut’.

 

a/secret

something that is not properly understood; a mystery

 

a/secretion

from French sécrétion or Latin secretio(n- ) ‘separation’, from secret- ‘moved apart’, from the verb secernere

 

a/desecration

late 17th century: from de- (expressing reversal) + a shortened form of consecrate

 

a/segregation

the enforced separation of different racial groups in a country, community, or establishment

 

Lest we forget what was bequeathed the land, Traditional Owners and servicemen by the British and Australian governments. Death, disease, displacement from Country and radioactivity so they can never return. Literally sickening. Shame, shame and more shame.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the National Museum of Australia for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

There was also a lot of tearing down of Aboriginal sites according to what I’ve heard and just sort of this blinkered vision, and I think it’s a horrible education to learn that’s the way Aboriginal in those areas were perceived… and then you look at the ramifications of the health of both the people and the land and how that has been totally compromised…

Whether it came to treatment of Aboriginal people or whether it came to treatment of the environment. Hopefully [the exhibition will] engender something that people will fight, fight for their rights and fight for their land.

.
Waanyi artist Judy Watson

 

 

Jessie Boylan. 'Yami Lester at Walatinna Station, South Australia' 2006

 

Jessie Boylan (b. 1986)
Yami Lester at Walatinna Station, South Australia
2006
Digital inkjet print
85 x 85 cm
© Jessie Boylan

 

 

Yami Lester, Walatinna Station, South Australia, 2006 – In 1953, Yami, a Yankunytjatjara man, was ten years old, living at Wallatinna Station when Totem One went off, it was part of a series of atmospheric atomic bombs that the British and Australian governments were testing during the 50’s and 60’s at Emu Field and Maralinga in South Australia and the Monte Bello Islands off the West Australian coast. He was blinded not long after the fallout. (Jessie Boylan)

 

 

Yami Lester (Boylan)
Yunkunytjatjara man Yami Lester talks about the mysterious poisonous ‘black mist’ that badly affected Aboriginal area after the Totem 1 atomic test in 1952

 

 

At Maralinga, the tests caused adverse effects on both the local people and military personnel, but in many cases it was difficult to determine the extent to which people had been affected. But for Yankunytjatjara Elder Tjamu Yami Lester it was devastating. He was blinded at 10 years old as a result of the ‘black mist’ that descended onto his country.

He died last year at the age of 75.

Much of his life was spent fighting for people affected by nuclear testing, subsequently becoming the public face of a tireless campaign. He led the push for the 1984 Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia, which resulted in a clean-up of the testing ground and compensation for the Anangu people. While reparations can never repair the damage inflicted upon Yami Lester, his people and country, his remarkable legacy lives on.

Extract from Nakari Thorpe. ‘Art beneath the ‘black mist’ of Maralinga’, on the NITV website 27 September 2018

 

Blak Douglas. 'Tjarutja Tragedy' 2016

 

Blak Douglas (b. 1970)
Tjarutja Tragedy
2016
Tragedy
Synthetic polymer on canvas
100 x 200 cm
© Blak Douglas

 

 

The burnt, barren trees in Blak Douglas’s Tjarutja Tragedy are bent, leaning to one side with their branches split in two representing the letter Y.

“That’s because I’m asking why did this happened to us people?”

The Dunghutti artist’s work captures a land destroyed by atomic testing in Australia and speaks to the deep displacement of its Traditional Owners.

“I wanted to create a piece that really encapsulated the return of blackfellas to their country when your country has been blasted. It’s metaphoric for a lot of blackfellas… [And] effectively it’s a metaphor for the continent en masse, and how much of us can’t return to our tribal homelands including myself.”

“Whole peoples were dispossessed from their country and this was done complicity on behalf of the British government and the Australian people really had no say in it.” …

Blak Douglas says his own work was inspired by Mr Lester’s spirited crusade [see above].

“I remember seeing images of him and I googled Maralinga on YouTube a long time ago and I saw Uncle Yami as he was blinded as result of the atomic tests,” he said.

“I’ve dedicated this painting to that mob and I’m proud of that and I’m sure that Uncle Yami, or that mob there when I meet them in due time, will be embracing of it.”

He says Maralinga was one of the “worst atrocities any blackfella has suffered.”

“To blow bombs like that on country and to name them gammin white names or code names that’s just the epitome of colonial fireworks,” he says.

Extract from Nakari Thorpe. ‘Art beneath the ‘black mist’ of Maralinga’, on the NITV website 27 September 2018

 

 

Blak Douglas
Sydney-based artist Blak Douglas talks about his painting ‘Tjarutja Tragedy’ which is part of the exhibition Black Mist Burnt Country

 

Paul Ogier. 'One Tree (former emu field atom test site)' 2010

 

Paul Ogier (b. 1974, New Zealand)
One Tree (former emu field atom test site)
2010
Carbon pigment on rag paper
94 x 117 cm
© Paul Ogier

 

 

An award-winning national touring exhibition of artworks by over 30 Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists, commemorating the British atomic tests in Australia in the 1950s, opens today at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.

Black Mist Burnt Country features artworks from the past seven decades, selected from public and private collections, including works by Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd, Pam Debenham, Toni Robertson, Rosemary Laing, Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown, Judy Watson, Hilda Moodoo and Yvonne Edwards.

Developed by the Burrinja Dandenong Ranges Cultural Centre, Black Mist Burnt Country revisits the history of the British atomic test program at Maralinga, Emu Field and Montebello Islands and examines the impact on people and land, as well as its on-going legacies.

It presents works across the mediums of painting, printmaking, sculpture, photography, new media and music, while exploring the varied perspectives and creative approaches of artists from post-Second World War modernists to contemporary artists.

A variety of interactive elements enable visitors to gain insights into the social, political and environmental dimensions, while placing the Australian atomic tests in the context of the nuclear arms race and its present-day realities.

Margo Neale, Head of the National Museum’s Indigenous Knowledge Centre and Advisor to the Director, said, ‘This potent exhibition by a cast of great artists broaches a number of thresholds in the telling of Australian history through art, and the role of museums in bringing these relatively little-known stories to life. These visual stories penetrate the heart while revealing little-known truths of human consequence about a tragic event in our shared history.’

Burrinja exhibition curator JD Mittmann said, ‘It is surprising how few people are aware that atomic bombs were exploded in Australia, and how little they know about the dislocation of Aboriginal people, the exposure of Australian servicemen and the contamination of the land. This exhibition offers some remarkable insights into a chapter of our history that has long-lasting consequences, while it poses some important questions in relation to contemporary nuclear issues’.

The project has been produced by Burrinja Dandenong Ranges Cultural Centre, Upwey, Victoria and has been on tour nationally since September 2016, when it marked the 60th anniversary of the first British test at Maralinga. The project has been assisted by the Australian Government’s Visions of Australia program and developed through the Exhibition Development Fund of National Exhibition Touring Support (NETS) Victoria. The project has also received financial assistance from the Gordon Darling Foundation.

Black Mist Burnt Country received the 2017 Museums Australia Victoria Archival Survival Award (Small Museums) and a Highly Commended at the Museums Australia National Conference (Touring and Temporary Exhibitions).

Press release from the National Museum of Australia

 

Karen Standke. 'Road to Maralinga II' 2007

 

Karen Standke (b. 1973, Germany)
Road to Maralinga II
2007
Oil on canvas
112 x 85 cm
© Karen Standke

 

Kate Shaw. 'Charcoal, UK: Maralinga' 2012

 

Kate Shaw (b. 1969)
Charcoal, UK: Maralinga
2012
Acrylic and resin on board
120 x 240 cm
© Kate Shaw

 

Adam Norton. 'Prohibited Area' 2010

 

Adam Norton (1964, England)
Prohibited Area
2010
Acrylic paint on board, wooden poles and bolts
240 x 122x 7 cm
© Adam Norton

 

 

Adam Norton
Sydney-based artist Adam Norton talks about his work Prohibited Area, which is part of a series of reproduced signs he encountered in “nuclear badlands”.

 

'Maralinga Prohibited Area sign on Emu/Nawa Road' 1974

 

Maralinga Prohibited Area sign on Emu/Nawa Road
1974
National Archives of Australia NAA: A6457, P042

 

 

British nuclear tests at Maralinga

Historical context

On 3 October 1952, the United Kingdom tested its first nuclear weapon, named “Hurricane”, at the Monte Bello Islands off the coast of Western Australia. A year later the first nuclear test on the Australian mainland was Totem 1 (9.1 kilotonnes of TNT (38 TJ)) at Emu Field in the Great Victoria Desert, South Australia, on 15 October 1953. Totem 2 (7.1 kilotonnes of TNT (30 TJ)) followed two weeks later on 27 October. The Supply Minister, Howard Beale, stated in 1955 that “England has the know how; we have the open spaces, much technical skill and a great willingness to help the Motherland. Between us we should help to build the defences of the free world, and make historic advances in harnessing the forces of nature.”

The British government formally requested a permanent test facility on 30 October 1953. Due to concerns about nuclear fallout from the previous tests at Emu Field and the site’s inadequate infrastructure and water supply, the recently surveyed Maralinga site was selected for this purpose. The new site was announced in May 1955. It was developed as a joint, co-funded facility between the British and Australian governments.

Prior to selection, the Maralinga site was inhabited by the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara Aboriginal people, for whom it had a great spiritual significance. Many were relocated to a new settlement at Yalata, and attempts were made to curtail access to the Maralinga site. These were often unsuccessful. (My emphasis) …

A Department of Veterans’ Affairs study concluded that “Overall, the doses received by Australian participants were small. … Only 2% of participants received more than the current Australian annual dose limit for occupationally exposed persons (20 mSv).” However, such findings are contested. Australian servicemen were ordered to: repeatedly fly through the mushroom clouds from atomic explosions, without protection; and to march into ground zero immediately after bomb detonation. Airborne drifts of radioactive material resulted in “radioactive rain” being dropped on Brisbane and Queensland country areas. A 1999 study for the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association found that 30 per cent of involved veterans had died, mostly in their fifties, from cancers.

Successive Australian governments failed to compensate servicemen who contracted cancers following exposure to radiation at Maralinga. However, after a British decision in 1988 to compensate its own servicemen, the Australian Government negotiated compensation for several Australian servicemen suffering from two specific conditions, leukaemia (except lymphatic leukaemia) and the rare blood disorder multiple myeloma.

One author suggests that the resettlement and denial of aboriginal access to their homelands “contributed significantly to the social disintegration which characterises the community to this day. Petrol sniffing, juvenile crime, alcoholism and chronic friction between residents and the South Australian police have become facts of life.” In 1994, the Australian Government reached a compensation settlement with Maralinga Tjarutja, which resulted in the payment of $13.5 million in settlement of all claims in relation to the nuclear testing. (My emphasis)

 

Media coverage

According to Liz Tynan from James Cook University, the Maralinga tests were a striking example of what can happen when the popular media are unable to report on activities that the government may be trying to hide. Maralinga was an example of extreme secrecy, but by the late 1970s there was a marked change in how the Australian media covered the British nuclear tests. Some resourceful investigative journalists emerged, whistle-blowers such as Avon Hudson [see photograph below] spoke out and political scrutiny became more intense. The investigative journalist Brian Toohey ran a series of stories in the Australian Financial Review in October 1978, based in part on a leaked Cabinet submission.

In June 1993, New Scientist journalist Ian Anderson wrote an article entitled “Britain’s dirty deeds at Maralinga” and several related articles. They are a detailed analysis of the legacy of Vixen B and the Australian government’s prolonged negotiations with the United Kingdom on cleaning up Maralinga and sharing the cost of “safe-sealing” waste plutonium. Previously, much of this highly toxic nuclear waste had simply been lightly bulldozed into the soil rather than buried in deep, secure, purpose-built, concrete bunkers. In 1993, Anderson won two Michael Daley Awards for his Maralinga articles.

Maralinga: Australia’s Nuclear Waste Cover-up is a book by Alan Parkinson about the clean-up following the British nuclear tests at Maralinga, published in 2007. Parkinson, a nuclear engineer, explains that the clean-up of Maralinga in the late 1990s was compromised by cost-cutting and simply involved dumping hazardous radioactive debris in shallow holes in the ground. Parkinson states that “What was done at Maralinga was a cheap and nasty solution that wouldn’t be adopted on white-fellas land.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

Australian Atomic Confessions

Sacrificial Lambs on the High Alter of Science

Australian servicemen and nomadic Aboriginals reveal the devastating effects of atomic weapons testing carried out in Australia by the British during the 1950s. For the first time, members of the Royal Australian Army, Air Force and Navy describe former top secret aspects of those tests. With the use of rare archival film and photographs, as well as eye witness accounts, Australian Atomic Confessions chronicles the hidden history and exposes previously hidden Government cover-ups. The consequences of nuclear testing imposed on the Australian people and land are not just skeletons of the past. Sydneys’ new nuclear reactor continues to pose a threat to the environment and civilians, and the problem of removing and disposing of the old nuclear reactor remains an unanswered question. Prominent Aboriginal Elders also warn that an imminent catastrophe may occur in Central Australia as a result of two uranium mines. Australian Atomic Confessions is a chilling expose of nuclear testing and its damaging legacy, one that continues to this day.

 

Jessie Boylan. 'Portrait of a whistleblower: Avon Hudson was a leading aircraftman for the RAAF during the nuclear tests in Maralinga' 2011-2015

 

Jessie Boylan (b. 1986)
Portrait of a whistleblower: Avon Hudson was a leading aircraftman for the RAAF during the nuclear tests in Maralinga
2011-2015
Image: Burrinja Cultural Centre

 

 

This series chronicles Avon Hudson’s life, from early years growing up in regional South Australia, to service in the Royal Australian Air Force as a Leading Aircraftman, through the experience of British atomic bomb tests, to his “whistle blower” act of revealing Maralinga’s deadly legacy.

What Avon knew, and was prepared to tell publically about Maralinga, contributed to the establishment of the Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia (1984-85). His motivation was to put a halt to government plans to return Maralinga to its traditional owners, pending a full clean-up of land still contaminated by radioactive debris.

The story of nuclear testing is unknown to most Australians. Between 1952 and 1963, after a decision made by Prime Minister Menzies alone, nine atomic bombs were exploded and hundreds of ‘minor’ experiments were conducted at the British-run testing ranges at Emu and Maralinga in South Australia. Three bombs were also exploded at Monte Bello Islands in Western Australia.

The impacts of these experiments continue to play out in the ill health and changed lives of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities, who were exposed to or involved in the tests, over multiple generations. The tests have also left a deep-future legacy of environmental contamination.

It is a portrait of someone with a photographic memory, capable of grasping and articulating every detail of the atomic age as he experienced it.

It depicts a committed citizen and serviceman, husband and father, always an advocate and an activist, who in civilian life became a Wakefield councillor for over 20 years. It shows a practical man – mechanic, wood-turner and furniture maker; and portrays a nature-enthusiast and an educator on environmental and social issues.

It is also a portrait of someone who has invariably lived by his convictions – as that’s what whistleblowers do. Since the 1970s, Avon has campaigned for recognition of nuclear veterans and civilian personnel. As his co-authored book “Beyond Belief” records, “His life has been deeply affected by a sense of injustice and by the callousness of successive Australian and British governments ignoring the plight of those caught up in ‘the grand game’.”

This series is a recognition and celebration of the significant role Avon has played South Australia’s unfolding atomic history. His life as an activist seems to belong to the present, as the future of nuclear science and technology is considered anew.

Text from the Jessie Boylan website (with permission)

 

Boylan is a photomedia artist who explores issues relating to human impacts on the land and communities in relation to environmental and social devastation – nuclear testing, mining and war. Through her work Boylan’s has expressed ideas of history and place in relation to contemporary Australian identity, community and activism. She recently completed her MFA on the topic of photography, the campsite and the anti-nuclear movement in Australia.

Jessie Boylan is a key member of the Atomic Photographers Guild, an international group who aim to render visible all aspects of the nuclear age. She won first place in Images of Justice at Adelaide University 2015 and has been a finalist for the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Photography Award in 2007, 2009 & 2012, the Spirit of Youth Award in 2009, the Head On Alternative Portrait Awards, ACP, Sydney in 2009 & 2010. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

 

Craig McDonald. 'Maralinga Test Dummy' 2010

 

 

Hugh Ramage. 'Taranaki' 2014

 

Hugh Ramage (b. New Zealand 1958, emigrated to Sydney in 1978)
Taranaki
2014
Oil on canvas
42 x 37 cm
© Hugh Ramage

 

Taranaki test site-and cleanup-area

 

Taranaki test site-and cleanup-area
(image source: Google Earth)

 

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown
Pitjantjatjara artist Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown talks about his country and the effects the atomic tests had on it

 

Jonathan Brown was removed from his parents at Ooldea and grew up with foster parents in Melbourne and Sydney. At a later stage of his life he located his parents at Yalata and learnt about the atomic tests, the removal of his people from their traditional lands and the destruction of country. Jonathan first came to recognition as artist when he worked with Lin Onus for the 1990 exhibition Balance at the Queensland Art Gallery. His later paintings were heavily influenced by the experiences of the Pitjantjatjara / Anangu which became the focus of his work. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Maralinga before the Atomic Test' 1994

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Maralinga before the Atomic Test
1994
Ochres, sand and kapok on linen
227 x 205 cm
Yarra Ranges McLeod Gift Collection

 

 

Much of the exhibition centres on the story of artist Jonathan Kumintjara Brown who was removed from his family at Ooldea Mission, located on the transcontinental railway near Watson about 250 kilometres west of Ceduna.

Three of his works feature in the exhibition, and grainy textures bring his pieces to life. One in particular, Black Rain, powerfully illustrates the destruction of country through a black sky punctured by white thick stripes of rain and cloud.

“He did it with such a great sense of power and visual impact,” says Burrinja Executive Director Ross Farnell.

“He would depict the landscape and then basically throw a whole heap of ochre, sand and glue over the top of it and then just obliterate most of the painting and then go that’s Maralinga after the test, ‘that’s what happened to my country’,” Mr Farnell told NITV News.

Extract from Nakari Thorpe. ‘Art beneath the ‘black mist’ of Maralinga’, on the NITV website 27 September 2018

 

Jonathan’s story

One of the central stories of Black Mist Burnt Country is the story of artist Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. Jonathan was removed from his parents at Ooldea mission station at very early age and grew up with in a foster family in Melbourne and Sydney. At a later stage of his life he located his parents at Yalata and went back to be reunited with them.

The return to his people was traumatic. Neither could he speak Pitjantjatjara, nor did he know he had a brother. He learned about the removal of his people from their country and the destruction of country through atomic testing.

Fabian Peel, who worked as a nurse in the community at the time and is now director of Tullawon Health Clinic in Yalata, took Jonathan around the country. He remembers: “It was very painful. Jonathan cried all the way.”

Jonathan went on to make several paintings depicting the impacts of the nuclear testing program on Anangu and the land, some of which will be included in the exhibition.

Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Maralinga' 1992

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Maralinga
1992
Acrylic, sand and lizard skeleton on linen
Ebes Collection
© the artist estate
Photograph: Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Maralinga' (detail) 1992

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Maralinga (detail)
1992
Acrylic, sand and lizard skeleton on linen
Ebes Collection
© the artist estate

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Maralinga Atomic Test Dust Storm and Old Sites Significance' 1996

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Maralinga Atomic Test Dust Storm and Old Sites Significance
1996
Synthetic polymer paint, natural ochres and sand on canvas
122 x 92 cm
© the artist estate

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Frogmen' 1996

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Frogmen
1996
Synthetic polymer paint, natural ochre and sand on canvas
122 x 92 cm
© the artist estate

 

Kate Downhill. 'Operation Hurricane' 2013

 

Kate Downhill (b. 1955 England, emigrated to Australia 2009)
Operation Hurricane
2013
Acrylic on dress fabric laid on canvas
101 x 76 cm
© Kate Downhill

 

 

Kate studied graphic design at Newcastle-upon-Tyne College of Art and worked in London during the 1970s as an illustrator and layout artist in various publishing houses. In the 1980s she studied painting at Exeter College of Art, graduating with a BA in Fine Art and Literature and concentrated on her purely abstract paintings in the tradition of the St. Ives School of painters with whom she trained. In the mid 1990s her working style changed dramatically and abstraction became a background element in new works where a variety of figurative styles and painting techniques were used within the same image. Since then she has worked to combine both painterly and graphic imagery to narrative effect. A life-long interest in textiles, quilting and the language of stitching is also evident in her work.

Since emigrating to Australia Kate has been concentrating on a series of paintings whose theme is the fragmentary and personal nature of memory and the process of memorialisation, as with the paintings she presents in this exhibition. Here she is using the naive imagery of rural community quilting to bring together varied scraps of information and family anecdotes about the British Australian nuclear tests. Kate’s father was a seismologist for the Atomic Weapons Research Institute and he was closely involved in the development and testing of the H Bomb during the 1950s. Her work here is a deeply personal response to historical events. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

 

 

Kate Downhill
Kate Downhill talks about her father’s involvement in the British atomic test program as a seismologist and explains her painting’s reference to quilting.

 

Tjariya Stanley. 'Puyu - Black Mist' 2015

 

Tjariya Stanley
Puyu – Black Mist
2015
Acrylic on canvas
© Margo Birnberg and the artist

 

Hilda Moodoo and Jeffrey Quema. 'Destruction II' 2002

 

Hilda Moodoo (b. 1952) and Jeffrey Quema (1947-2009)
Destruction II
2002
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
101 x 122 cm
Santos Fund for Aboriginal Art 2002, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
Courtesy of the artists

 

 

Hilda Moodoo painting began at Oak Valley in December 2001 when Victorian Yorta Yorta artist Lance Atkinson spent two months in the community teaching the technical skills for painting on canvas. Hilda Moodoo and Kunmanara Queama’s collaborative paintings Destruction I and II were included in the resulting Desert Oaks exhibition at the Adelaide Festival Centre in March 2002 and are now in the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia. The Desert Oaks project was a deliberate expression of identity and an opportunity to pass on knowledge through painting. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

Queama, a Pitjantjatjara man, was born at Ooldea, on the eastern edge of the Nullabor Plain. With the dispersal of residents after the closure of the United Aborigines Mission (UAM) at Ooldea in 1952, he was sent to the Lutheran mission school at Koonibba, near Ceduna. He worked for many years on land conservation and management boards, and lobbied tirelessly for the return of the Maralinga-Tjarutja lands to the traditional owners. In 1984 the lands were been returned, and he and his wife Hilda Moodoo among others founded Oak Valley community, 150 kilometres northwest of Maralinga. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

 

Arthur Boyd. 'Jonah on the Shoalhaven Outside the City' 1976

 

Arthur Boyd (1920-1999)
Jonah on the Shoalhaven Outside the City
1976
Oil on canvas
Bundanon Trust Collection
© Bundanon Trust

 

 

In Arthur Boyd’s Jonah on the Shoalhaven – Outside the City (1976), the iconic cloud sits on the horizon, almost like a puff of dust rising off the white sand. Boyd had been conscripted into the army and became a pacifist. For him, the threat of nuclear destruction sits in the backdrop, no less menacing than Nolan’s apocalyptic response two decades earlier. (Larissa Behrendt on the Artlink website)

 

Sidney Nolan. 'Central Desert Atomic Test' 1952-57

 

Sidney Nolan (1917-1992)
Central Desert Atomic Test
1952-57
Oil on canvas

 

 

Nolan’s landscape sits harsh and red under a blue sky and the mushroom cloud of the bomb. Nolan was living in London at the time but news of the tests started appearing in the media. The cloud and dust were added to one of Nolan’s desert paintings as an act of protest over the events taken place back in Australia and the addition turns a rugged landscape into an image that seethes with anger at the act of destruction. In Nolan’s landscape, the bomb looms large. (Larissa Behrendt on the Artlink website)

 

Toni Robertson. 'The Royal Nuclear Show - 6' 1981

 

Toni Robertson (b. 1953)
The Royal Nuclear Show – 6
1981
Screen print on paper (set of 6 screenprints)
Prints, screenprints, printed in colour inks, each from four hand-cut and three photo-stencils
Flinders University Art Museum Collection
Image courtesy of National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

Toni Robertson studied fine arts at the University of Sydney in the 1970s and was a founding member of the influential Earthworks Poster Collective (1971-80) at the University’s Tin Sheds. Robertson’s work has appeared in many group exhibitions in the 1970s and 1980s, and along with Chips Mackinolty and others she is recognised as a leading figure in Australian political printmaking. Her work is held in many public collections, including the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the National Gallery of Victoria, the Australian War Memorial, Artbank and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney as well as tertiary, state library and union collections. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

 

Toni Robertson and Chips Mackinolty. 'Daddy, what did YOU do in the Nuclear War?' 1977

 

Toni Robertson and Chips Mackinolty
Toni Robertson
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia | born 1953
Chips Mackinolty
Morwell, Victoria, Australia | born 1954
Earthworks Poster Collective
commenced 1971 – 1980 | poster design studio (organisation)
Tin Sheds Art Workshop
commenced 1969 | print workshop (organisation)
Daddy, what did YOU do in the Nuclear War?
1977
Prints, posters, screenprint, printed in colour inks, from multiple stencils
Printed image 73.4 h x 48.2 w cm
Sheet 76.2 h x 50.7 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Given in memory of Mitch Johnson 1988
© Toni Robertson

 

 

The political poster movement in Australia was at its height in the 1970s, supporting anti-war, anti-uranium, pro-land rights and pro-feminist causes. Members of the Earthworks Poster Collective, opposed to the egotism of individual artistic fame, worked from the Tin Sheds (University of Sydney Art Workshop). In Daddy what did you do in the nuclear war? Toni Robertson and Chips Mackinolty appropriated a British recruiting poster from the First World War, adapting the children’s bodies to reflect the genetic consequences of radiation.

Christine Dixon

 

Victorian-born artist Chips Mackinolty was involved in the campaigns against the war in Vietnam by producing protest posters. He was a key figure in the radical poster movement and was introduced to screen printing in Goulburn Street, Sydney. During the 1970s posters became an art form artists using the cheap posters as a political tool. The Earthworks Poster Collective, established in 1971, was the most active and well-known of these groups. Earthworks operated from the Sydney University Art Workshop, commonly known as the Tin Sheds, finally demolished in 2007. Mackinolty used sharp, flat colours and increasingly professional techniques to produce posters such as “For the man who said life wasn’t meant to be easy – make life impossible.” The poster is a multi-imaged send-up of former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser. It was posted up at night around Sydney, helping to politicise a generation. His work is held in major national and international institutions. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

 

Pam Debenham. 'No nukes in the Pacific' 1984

 

Pam Debenham
Launceston, Tasmania, Australia | born 1955
Tin Sheds Posters
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia | commenced 1984 (organisation)
Tin Sheds Art Workshop
commenced 1969 | print workshop (organisation)
No nukes in the Pacific
1984
Prints, posters, screenprint, printed in colour inks, from multiple stencils
Printed image 88.0 h x 62.0 w cm
Sheet 91.0 h x 65.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, purchased 1990

Pam Debenham. 'No Nukes No Tests' 1984

 

Pam Debenham
Launceston, Tasmania, Australia | born 1955
Tin Sheds Posters
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia | commenced 1984 (organisation)
Tin Sheds Art Workshop
commenced 1969 | print workshop (organisation)
No Nukes No Tests
1984
Screenprint on paper
© Pam Debenham
Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Adam Norton. 'Prohibited Area' 2010

 

Adam Norton (b. 1964, England)
Prohibited Area
2010
Acrylic paint on board, wooden poles and bolts,
240 x 122x 7 cm
© Adam Norton

 

 

National Museum of Australia
Lawson Crescent
Acton Peninsula, Canberra

Opening hours:
Daily 9am-5pm

Black Mist Burnt Country website

National Museum of Australia website

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02
Nov
18

Text: Marcus Bunyan. ‘Death and the image’ 2018

November 2018

 

This text was written in 2017 for a special issue of the international magazine Text on the subject ‘Writing Trauma’. While the text was accepted, the peer-reviewers wanted heavy revisions, including reordering the piece and editing out my personal stories. At the time, I was going into hospital for an operation on my hand and such revisions were impossible to undertake.

Now, over a year later, I have reread the text… and I have amended and extended it, but otherwise I am going to leave it as I wrote it in the first place. I like the way I write and I like my personal stories. While it is a long read the writing addresses an important subject with, I hope, some interesting insights along the way.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 8,137

Download Death and the image (4.3Mb pdf)

 

 

Abstract

This text investigates how the act of photography visually writes trauma. Through an analysis of the context of images of death by artists such as Alphonse Bertillon, Robert Capa, Alexander Gardner, and Walker Evans the paper ponders how the camera captures human beings ante-mortem, at the death point, post-mortem and vita ad mortem.

It seeks to understand that line between presence and absence where life was there… and now death is in its place. Death was one step removed, now it is present. How does the act and performance of photography depict the trauma of death, this double death (for the photograph is a memento mori and/or the person in the photograph may already know that they are going to die).

“The text of eternity that the photograph proposes, imparts and imposes a paradoxical state of loss. The secret of telling truth in a photograph is that the more truthful, “the more orgasmic, the more pleasurable, the more suicidal” the pronouncement of the perfect paradox (you are dead but also alive) … then the more we are strangled while uttering it. The language of deferral in the writing of trauma in death and the image becomes the dissolve that seizes the subject in the midst of an eternal bliss. In death and the image we may actually die (be)coming.”

Keywords

Trauma, photography, death, art, memento mori, war, execution, memory, victim, representation, Alphonse Bertillon, Robert Capa, Alexander Gardner, Walker Evans, ante-mortem, point of death, death point, post-mortem, punctum, empathy, vita ad mortem, life after death.

 

 

Death and the image

 

 

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“Photography, because it stops the flow of life, is always flirting with death…”

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John Berger1

 

“On the most fundamental level there are transitions from continuous to discontinuous or from discontinuous to continuous. We are discontinuous beings, individuals who perish in isolation in the midst of an incomprehensible adventure, but we yearn for our lost continuity. We find the state of affairs that binds us to our random and ephemeral individuality hard to bear. Along with our tormenting desire that this evanescent thing should last, there stands our obsession with a primal continuity linking us with everything that is.”

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Georges Bataille2

 

 

German Gen. Anton Dostler is tied to a stake before his execution

 

“German General Anton Dostler is tied to a stake before his execution by a firing squad in the Aversa stockade. The General was convicted and sentenced to death by an American military tribunal. Aversa, Italy.” Blomgren, December 1, 1945. 111-SC-225295. National Archives Identifier: 531326

 

 

Trial and Execution of General Anton Dostler

The still photograph (above) can be seen being taken by the flash from a still camera that occurs at 5.16 secs in the YouTube film. The photographer can then be seen walking off. Later in the film another angle of the execution is shown, again with the flash of the absent camera recorded, starting at 7.10 secs. The displacement of time and space, between one point of view and another, with the absence of the still camera in both instances (in the image and in the film), is uncanny.

 

 

1

One of life’s recurrent themes is mortality. As Bataille notes, we are discontinuous beings: we live, we breathe, and we die. Photography’s recurrent theme is also mortality. In a ghostly evocation, the medium possesses an odour of death that sticks in the throat. So how then does photography visually write the trauma of death – over time, through space, in different contexts, with multiple narratives and different points of view?

As a first point of reference, we need to define trauma. Trauma can be an injury to living tissue; a disordered psychic or behavioural state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury; an emotional upset and an agent, force or mechanism that causes all or any of these conditions.3 Atkinson and Richardson note that the work of theorists such as Nicolas Abraham, Maria Torok, Shoshana Felman, Dori Laub, Dominick LaCapra, and Cathy Caruth in broad terms view trauma,

“… as the delayed manifestation of a psychic wound sustained during an experience that has happened too quickly to allow registration and processing of the event at the time of its occurrence. To study trauma in literary or cultural terms, then, is to be concerned with the tension between what is known and what is not known, and with the impact and dynamics of the woundedness and machinations of trauma – not only its purely physical instantiation, but in all its reverberations. This is what brings the study of trauma to the uncertainty of truth, the impossibility of bearing absolute witness to catastrophe, the multiplicity of historical narratives.”4

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Constitutive of trauma and its affects is the “piercing of the psychic shield” which protects a fragile subjectivity leaving in its wake shattered individuals, communities and even whole nations.5 Further, Michalinos Zembylas citing Kaplan (2005) notes that “an important distinction that needs to be made here is one’s positioning and context of encountering trauma,”6 between being a primary or secondary witness. Personally, I believe that a testimony (a formal written or spoken statement that something is true) in the first instance… becomes a testament (something that serves as a sign or evidence of a specified fact) in the second.

When looking death in the face, we can state that death is a trauma not only for the physical body and the psyche of the person involved (the direct trauma victim), but also for the witness of the event, be they a primary witness – one who actually witnesses the traumatic event – or a secondary witness, a person “who has no personal connection to the victim but may encounter trauma through other sources such as the media and oral or written accounts of a catastrophe.”7

These secondary encounters can never be the actual experience of trauma but, acting through language (be it oral, written or visual), they may embody sensations that stimulate feelings and thoughts in the secondary observer. A social construction of a testament may produce an empathetic engagement in viewers as “secondary witnesses.”8 Through an understanding of spectatorship, experience, aesthetic effects, narrative strategies and temporal shifts in the polyvocal nature of language we can begin to understand how the affect of secondary traumatisation – on memory, history and the body – can break down the subject-object dichotomy, can break down the realist norms of representation to produce “a mode of cognition involving sensuous, somatic and tactile forms of perception.”9 Here language (the photograph in this case, reinforced by the title of the photograph) stands in for that which is absent, but it is not in opposition to an intensity of feeling. The language of the photograph can intensify the affect of the image, especially if the photograph becomes transcendent, embodied, in the vitality and “aliveness” of the viewer.10

This mimetic experience “promotes a critical and self-reflexive empathy” and knowledge in the secondary witness that LaCapra observes is a “virtual, not vicarious, experience … in which emotional response comes with respect for the other and the realization that the experience of the other is not one’s own.”11 Essentially, this is a social concept, a social construction of reality, a matrix-like view of the world that draws on relational and contextual dimensions for understanding trauma. This concept requires careful consideration of issues related to history, culture, race, gender, ideology, beliefs, agency and power.

“From a social constructionist and narrative perspective, people reconstruct their selves through the stories they tell about their past and the meaning they ascribe to the present in anticipation of the future. They shape their stories through active and creative interpretation of their lives and are in turn shaped by these stories. However, the self is not only a product of narratives. People are purposeful and moral beings, having the power and agency to change scripts, discourses and ideologies…”12

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Here we can ask, what are the machinations of the image in the affective dynamics of photographs of trauma and how are they situated in a certain relation to trauma? What do photographs actually do that give rise to a way of thinking and feeling about trauma?

Although no representation can fully describe the first hand experience of trauma because of the partial nature of language – its gaps, elisions and impossibilities of speech13 – it is because of these very gaps that new spaces of interpretation can open up. Rather than just representing the perceived reality of trauma (this happened, at this time, in this location – an ordering of reality), images have the unique ability to transcend their indexical relationship to the real, pointing and touching (as if with the index finger) to the relationality of trauma as it touches human emotion. With its ability to police and regulate it subject, the implicit violence of photography is a predatory means of taking possession of both its victim (the subject) and its viewer.

Anna Gibbs has stated that we live, “in a more or less continuous state of mediatized emergency and traumatic aftermath, desensitized by the onslaught of images … to the affect we ought to feel.”14 I strongly disagree. I would argue that the traumatic numbing15 and supposed “death of experience”16 allegedly present in the world of image circulation, translation, and accumulation only occurs if the witness lets it be so.

Personally, I believe that something in the image is transferred to the witness pre-cognition – intuitively, imaginatively – which can then be interpreted cognitively and relationally with regard to history and memory, art and culture, politics and experience through an orthogonal movement through time and space. As viewers and interpreters, we are not fixed at a particular point in time and space, nor do we observe from one particular point of view. Our existential engagement provides a space to close the gap between affect and enunciation.

“Facts can vibrate; they can give of colors, sounds, smells, images. To talk of these facts with no recognition of this is to lack any awareness of the act of enunciation, of the gaps between language and experience and the unpredictable ways that sparks can break out of language, leap across the gap and ignite the tinderbox of traumatic memory.”17

 

2

Surfing Pinterest (a photo sharing website) recently, I absentmindedly clicked on an abstract image of three hanging black shapes from the pantheon of image tiles that presented itself to me. Up popped this horrific image of three Afro-Americans who had been lynched in the Southern United States in the 1920s. I was shocked and dismayed. I had such a strong emotional reaction to the image. But more than that, my feelings and memories of the bigotry that I had faced as a young gay man growing up in the 1970s swelled in my consciousness. This story is a example of how exposure to an image can bring to the surface unresolved aspects of being ‘Other’, of being different, and being persecuted for that difference. I thought about the lives of these people that had led them to that point, their families, their histories and the terror that they must have experienced on that day. You cannot begin to understand that, but you can have empathy and anger against the systems of racism and bigotry that exist in the world.

Then the cognitive part of my brain linked the image to a report I had only just seen a few days before on lynching, which told of the thousands of Afro-Americans who had been killed between 1882 and 1968.18 Mentally, I then linked this to a Facebook posting which put forward the analogy that the current killing of Afro-Americans by police in the United States was akin to a contemporary and publicly endorsed and enforced form of lynching. Finally, in my head I heard Billie Holiday singing that famous song Strange Fruit, “a dark and profound song about the lynching of African Americans in the Southern United States during the Jim Crow Era, “strange fruit,” as they hang from trees, rotting in the sun, blowing in the wind, and becoming food for crows upon being burned.”19 I watched the video of Billie Holiday singing this song on YouTube.20 Every time I think of this image I have these associations of animate thought intrinsic to the original experience,21 where the micro and macro conditions of production work to “embody and register trauma,”22 a communicable language of sensation and affect, time and time again.

 

 

Billie Holiday – Strange fruit

 

 

These chains of affect, the nexus between affect / feeling / emotion / cognition, are a form of synaesthesia where facts, emotions, feelings, memories, sounds and images vibrate against each other as an active and continuous engagement of the self with the world in which one lives. In a human being who is un/consciously aware, these real and mediated experiences may encourage a sensory intensification that elicits thought and empathic vision in the materiality of embodied experience, something (the punctum?) that takes us out of our selves into a higher register of being.

As part of this system of impressions, of an instantaneous, affective response triggered by an image,23 photographs force us to engage visually and involuntarily. “Impressions that force us to look, encounters which force us to interpret, expressions which force us to think.”24 Encounters which force us to comprehend. The conjunction of affect and critical awareness “constitute the basis of an empathy grounded … on a feeling for another that entails an encounter with something irreducible and different, often inaccessible.”25 This combination of affective and intellectual operations – about forcing oneself to look (and that process of looking/surrendering) but never forgetting your ‘point of view’, your memory, history and identity, is when empathy becomes that process of surrender, “but also the catch that transforms your perception.”26 How is this “catch” enunciated in photographs? I now want to look at a few images that explicate these phenomena.

 

Ante-mortem: present but absent

3

With the invention of photography in the late 1830s, the photograph as memento mori allows the spectator to observe death not at first hand, but through the representation of the image “taken from life.” Photographs provide a verification of reality through their apparent verisimilitude, while being woven into narratives – oral, textual, intertextual, spatial and temporal – that frame the event in multiple ways.

“Photographs … have come to stand in for reality … despite the fact that it is relatively easy to manipulate their meaning. As a result of their ability to project reality, images, and particularly those that depict death and destruction, are seen as potentially powerful pieces of documentary evidence…”27

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Photographs are embedded in “a context of the cultural circumstances at the time, and therefore exist rarely in isolation or without meaning”28 and can be seen as having a denotative level (what they physically represent) and a connotative level (the meanings attached to that representation).29 Photography quickly changed how death was displayed because it introduced a “reality” and immediacy of representation that was democratic, personal and everyday.30

 

Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' 26th April 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Lewis Paine
26th April 1865
Albumen silver print from a Collodion glass plate negative

 

 

An example of the personal, everyday and documentary nature of photography can be seen in the photograph taken by Alexander Gardner in April 1865. This portrait is of Lewis Thornton Powell (aka Lewis Payne or Paine) who was one of the conspirators in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln which occurred the same month. The photograph has a background of dark metal, and was taken on one of the ironclads U.S.S. Montauk or Saugus, where the conspirators were for a time confined. The reality is Paine was executed in July 1865 just eight short weeks after this photograph was taken, so in effect (and in the affect on us of this knowledge), he is (already) a dead man walking. This is a double death – that death buried in the very act of taking any photograph, La petite mort or “the little death,” an idiom and euphemism for the orgasm of the photographic time freeze; and the fact that we know that he was going to die, those short weeks later.

The photograph forms the central panel of a three-panel Renaissance-like altarpiece, the form in which the three photographs are usually displayed. The left and right hand photographs were taken within minutes of each other, with the camera in the same position, whereas in the centre photograph the camera has been lowered to show more of the body, and the image has been cropped at the top. In the central plate the figure of Paine has been raised up in the frame – almost prematurely brought back to life by his placement. The centre image is the only one where Paine stares directly at the camera. He surveys the viewer with a gaze I find enigmatic.

 

Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' 26th April, 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Three photographs of Lewis Paine
26th April, 1865
Albumen silver prints from a Collodion glass plate negative

 

 

This is a very modern face, a very contemporary face. His hair is similar to Justin Beiber’s. Who brushed his hair across for this picture, and would it normally be this long, or has it just been ignored because of his fate? He still has good muscle tone – has he been exercising in his ironclad cell? And finally, his clothing – are they navy issue, as his top appears to have been given to him, perhaps the coarse, navy blue wool of the Northern states. If we were to place this image within the metaphysical school of photography which peaked with Paul Caponigro and Minor White we could say: Hovering above his head, has his spirit already begun to leave his body?

One reading of his gaze is that he is interested in what the photographer is doing – almost the gaze of an apprentice wanting to apply these skills in the future. Given his fate is he insane because of his interest? Another reading could be that he is looking out to the future in the hope of finding that he will be judged in another way. And another is the immediacy of his gaze – it is a gaze that is happening now!

The other thing that I find mysterious is the distance of the photographer from the subject. Was it fear or the presence of the guards that stopped Gardner getting any closer, or are there deck fittings we cannot see that prevented his approach. Imagine being Paine, having a photographer point a damn great view camera at you, documenting your countenance for prosperity. What was going on in Paine’s mind – what is his perspective on this performance by the photographer? And what brought Paine to this place?

Michel Foucault calls the methods and techniques by which human beings constitute themselves, “technologies of the self.” Foucault argued that we as subjects are perpetually engaged in processes whereby we define and produce our own ethical self-understanding. According to Foucault, technologies of the self are the forms of knowledge and strategies that “permit individuals to effect by their own means or with the help of others a certain number of operations on their own bodies and souls, thoughts, conduct, and way of being, so as to transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of immortality.”31 As we look into his eyes he knows that we know he is going to die, has already died but the intensity of that knowledge is brought into present time. In this instant, what Paine emanates is a form of i-mortality.

Roland Barthes in his seminal work Camera Lucida observes in Section 39:

“He is dead and he is going to die… The photograph is handsome, as is the boy: that is the studium. But the punctum is: he is going to die. I read at the same time: this will be and this has been; I observe with horror an anterior future of which death is the stake. By giving me the absolute past of the pose, the photograph tells me death in the future. What pricks me is the discovery of this equivalence.”32

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This is Barthes anterior future, a moment where truth is interpreted in the mind of the photographer, not out there but in here (your head and your heart), where past, present and future coalesce into a single point in time: his death and our death connected through his gaze, and the knowledge of our joint discontinuity. In this moment in time, what we are doing is making a list about the human condition when we talk about something that is remarkable. Language can never fully describe the human condition, much as it may try… and this is why this photograph is remarkable, because it is ineffable, unknowable. The photograph inhabits you; it haunts you like few others, because it is a memoriam to a young man and his present death. Here he is present but absent at one and the same time.

As such, this is an image as triple death – the death of the photograph (past time / memento mori / remembrance of death), the death of the person in the photograph and also a third death, the knowledge that Paine is going to die. Death, like life, can be cyclical. This is the catch that transforms your perception, in Barthes terms the punctum of the image, in which the wounding, personally touching detail (past pose, future death) establishes a direct relationship with the object or person within it.

“The punctum (a Latin word derived from the Greek word for trauma [my emphasis]) … inspires an intensely private meaning, one that is suddenly, unexpectedly recognized and consequently remembered (it “shoots out of [the photograph] like an arrow and pierces me”); it ‘escapes’ language (like Lacan’s real); it is not easily communicable through/with language. The punctum is ‘historical’ as an experience of the irrefutable indexicality of the photograph (its contingency upon a referent). The punctum is a detail or “partial object” that attracts and holds the viewer’s (the Spectator’s) gaze; it pricks or wounds the observer.”33

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This trauma, prick or wound that lifts the viewer out of themselves, out of their everyday existence, “points to those features of a photograph that seem to produce or convey a meaning without invoking any recognizable symbolic system. This kind of meaning is unique to the response of the individual viewer of the image.”34 This punctum also accounts for the importance of emotion and subjectivity in interacting with photographs; memory of that photograph displaces it from its moment of origin.35 Photography enacts the trauma of death even while being enacted upon.

Now we can read Eduardo Cadava’s comments on Walter Benjamin’s analysis of the photograph:

“As Benjamin suggests … the photograph, like the souvenir, is the corpse of an experience. A photograph therefore speaks as death, as the trace of what passes into history. I, the photograph, the spaced out limit between life and death, I, the photograph, am death. Yet, speaking as death, the photograph can be neither death nor itself. At once dead and alive, it opens the possibility of our being in time.”36

 

4

Photography then, can be seen as death taken away from itself.

Through the oscillation between studium (historical, social or cultural meanings extracted via semiotic analysis) and punctum (those features of a photograph that seem to produce or convey a meaning without invoking any recognisable symbolic system) the traumatic photograph of death, death’s afterimage, transcends the initial shock inducing signifier leading to a more extended form of engagement that addresses the duration of trauma in memory – through the images elisions, slippages, and conceptual, political and historical complexities. Our negotiation with imaging and imagining, therefore, takes place within ever-expanding contexts of meaning – some relating to the past and some to the present – which impact future interpretations.

I believe that these negotiations are, firstly, linked to what Deleuze calls the encountered sign, a “sign that is felt, rather than recognized, or perceived through cognition.”37 A feeling that is a catalyst for critical enquiry or deep thought. “For Deleuze, affect or emotion is a more effective trigger for profound thought because of the way in which it grasps us, forcing us to engage involuntarily…”38 Secondly, I believe that these negotiations are linked to what Barthes calls the images “third meaning.”

“In Barthes’ view, the image’s third meaning compels viewers after they encounter and deplete both its literal/informational side and its symbolic dimensions. Barthes argued that the third meaning is difficult to locate, because it is not situated structurally or in a certain place of the image. It is similarly difficult to describe, because it involves what he called the image’s obtuseness, its accent or anaphoric side.”39

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Again, we have this idea of the catch, accent, or punctum that grasps us and takes us out of ourselves, that modulates the images “voice” (which is how the image takes on an already provided meaning upon its initial appearance), a voice which then also “helps us to understand both the image’s third meaning and the role of contingency in visual memory.”40

 

Death point

5

 

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“Ah, wretched as I am … to dwell not among the living, not among the dead.”

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Sophocles, ‘Antigone’41

 

 

Commentators such as Barbie Zelizer observe that images, especially about-to-die images, easily “reduce complex issues and circumstances to memorable but simplistic visual frames.”42 The image,

“… depicts for its onlookers a moment in an event’s unfolding to which they attend while knowing where that unfolding leads. This means that visual work often involves catching the sequencing of events or issues midstream, strategically freezing it at its potentially strongest moment of meaningful representation.”43

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Other writers such as Susan Sontag note that these images have the potential to stir public emotions, simply because they freeze a moment in time and can be looked at again and again… but at the same time the repeated viewing of images of atrocity can have a numbing effect.44 The pain and fear evidenced in the photograph as seen in the victim’s eyes (for example in the photograph of the shooting of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy), expands the literal / informational side and its symbolic dimensions (chivalry, love, devotion, hope – Camelot!) into a Barthes’ third space. While Kennedy is a victim twice over (the victim of the assassin and the camera) in a guttural interpretation of the image he is to remain a victim for eternity in the contingency of the future, as long as we continue to look at this photograph.

For me, this is sad and painful photograph. I remember the day it happened. I was ten years old at the time. It’s one of those events that you will remember for the rest of your life – where you were, who you were with – like the moon landings or 9/11. I was in a car outside a small newsagent when the news came on the radio. Robert F. Kennedy had been shot: first aural, then visual on the black and white TV that night, then textual in the newspapers and then visual again with this photograph, then associative. The pain of the loss of those heady days of hope lessens not.

 

Boris Yaro (American, born 1938) 'LOS ANGELES. KENNEDY MOMENTS AFTER SHOOTING' June 5, 1968

 

Boris Yaro (American, born 1938)
LOS ANGELES. KENNEDY MOMENTS AFTER SHOOTING. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy Lies Gravely Wounded on the floor at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles shortly after midnight today, moments after he was shot during a celebration of his victory in yesterday’s California primary election
June 5, 1968
Gelatin silver print
17.2 x 21.1 cm (6 3/4 x 8 5/16 in.)
Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2010

 

While photographs of the actual moment of death are rare I have been able to find around ten images that capture this vital moment, a freezing of reality at the point of death, the death point: that line between presence and absence where life was there… and now death is in its place. Death was one step removed, now it is present.

However, I would argue that in the contextual language of the photograph, there is no singular death point. I would propose the idea of an extended period of time and space embedded in the spatio-temporal matrix of the image, so that there is no single point, no singular resolution to the traumatic moment of death – either for the person involved, nor the witness or viewer.

Setting aside the concept that the image could have been staged, in Robert Capa’s famous photograph Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936 (below), there is something about this image where space or some basic element is being democratised at the moment of death – or maybe in the choice to struggle with death. In an ontological sense of becoming, perhaps it is this that becomes the pure representation of time. In contrapunto, there is an anonymous image of a German soldier at the point of death on the steppes of Russia that is totally unknown. Why has one become famous and the other not?

Has it to do with the fame of the photographer, the pose of the person, or the agency of photography itself, where one photograph regarding the pain of others is too damning a legacy and of too plain a purpose to bare contemplating, while the other – with its masked face, outflung arm and falling, quasi-religious nature – has become possibly the most famous of war photographs through its proliferation in newspapers and magazines.

Whatever the merits of each image, these death point photographs are noteworthy for what is not said: the violence that is being perpetrated on the victim every time a person looks, and looks again, at the photograph. The writing of trauma by photography never ends, is always and forever infinite.

 

Robert Capa (1913-1954) 'Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936' 1936

 

Robert Capa (1913-1954)
Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936
1936
Gelatin silver print
Photograph by Robert Capa © Cornell Capa / Magnum

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Falling German Soldier, Eastern Front' c. 1942

 

Anonymous photographer
Falling German Soldier, Eastern Front
c. 1942
akg-images / Interfoto AKG138118

Caption: A German soldier pays the ultimate price of war. German casualties were less than those of the Red Army, but the steady attrition suffered by the Wehrmacht began to undermine its effectiveness.46

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942' 1942

Anonymous photographer. 'Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942' 1942

 

Anonymous photographer
Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942
1942
Rare Historical Photos website 2013

Caption: A Soviet spy laughs at his executioner in a picture taken in Rukajärvi, in East Karelia, in November 1942. It has been thought within the Finnish Defence Forces that the decision to withhold pictures of the fate of Russian POWs and spies may also have been prompted by concerns that pro-Soviet elements in Finnish society could have used the images for propaganda purposes. This picture was declassified by the Ministry of Defense of Finland in 2006, with the description: Unknown Soviet intelligence officer before being shot, Finland, 1942.

It’s a pretty amazing picture. To capture the last few moments of life. He knows he will die in a few seconds, in a forest in the snow. And there he will bleed out and be forgotten. His life, his experience, has come to an end. What else could he do but smile? That smile was his final defiance. Death smiles at us all, all a man can do is smile back.47

 

 

6

Here we might ask, is it possible, through the use of encountered signs, “voice”, punctum, catch or accent, to extend the unreal time of death?

Personally, I believe it is and I would argue for a sense of a Buddhist “no-time”. A transcendent time embedded into the fabric of the image. In Walker Evans’ terms an “unconscious phenomenon” that culminates in amazing accidents of composition, where things constantly rub up against each other “in the desire to create a type of friction that tests the boundaries of representation.”48 An example of this spatio-temporal dimensionality, third meaning or Thirdspace, can be seen in the interplay between the still image and film footage of the execution of German General Anton Dostler by a firing squad in the Aversa stockade December 1, 1945. By examining the film we see a flash of light at 5.16 secs, which is the still photograph at the top of this text being taken by the flash of a camera. The photographer can then be seen walking off. Later in the film another angle of the execution is shown, again with the flash of the absent camera recorded, starting at 7.10 secs. The displacement of time and space, between one point of view and another, with the absence of the still camera in both instances (in the image and in the film), is uncanny.

The fluidity of Barthes’ third meaning, where the image’s obtuseness compels viewers, has obvious links to Edward Soja’s conceptualisation of “Thirdspace”, which emerged from the spatial trialectics established by Henri Lefebvre in The Production of Space and Michel Foucault’s concept of heterotopia. Soja defines Thirdspace as, “an-Other way of understanding and acting to change the spatiality of human life, a distinct mode of critical spatial awareness that is appropriate to the new scope and significance being brought about in the rebalanced trialectics of spatiality-historicality-sociality.”49 In this amorphous space, “everything comes together… subjectivity and objectivity, the abstract and the concrete, the real and the imagined, the knowable and the unimaginable, the repetitive and the differential, structure and agency, mind and body, consciousness and the unconscious, the disciplined and the transdisciplinary, everyday life and unending history.”50

A further example of the presence of a third meaning in a still photograph can be seen in the image by an unknown photographer Photo taken at the instant bullets from a French firing squad hit a Frenchman who collaborated with the Germans (1944, below). Caught like a rabbit in headlights, the flash illuminates the collaborator kneeling, bound, and masked but it is not quick enough to freeze the explosion of wood, the dynamic breaking of the rope or the slight movement of the hands. The body seems to float on a bed of leaves. The cheap, dirty shoes and striped trousers leading up to the material that covers the victim’s face. Is that his hair, or a hat or another hood over his head? Although we know the what, why, and where of the photograph – an encounter with both its literal/informational side and its symbolic dimensions – the placing of the image, its accent and obtuseness is much more difficult to understand. The photograph and its protagonist seem to exist beyond time and space, the anonymous man surrounded by a death bed of leaves, bursting the bonds that wrapped him and held him tight. Like the mystery of Man Ray’s L’Enigme d’Isidore Ducasse (1920), the photograph has disturbed the trialectics of spatiality-historicality-sociality, destroying the imploring label, “Do not disturb.”

 

Unknown photographer. 'Photo taken at the instant bullets from a French firing squad hit a Frenchman who collaborated with the Germans. This execution took place in Rennes, France. 21 November 1944'

 

Unknown photographer
Photo taken at the instant bullets from a French firing squad hit a Frenchman who collaborated with the Germans. This execution took place in Rennes, France. 21 November 1944
1944
Silver gelatin photograph
U.S. Army Signal Corps
National Archives Identifier (NAID)

 

 

Post-mortem: absent but present

7

 

Letherolfsvile Oct 29 AD 1859

This is the likeness of Catherine Christ

When I am dead and in my grave

And when my bones are rotten

Remember me

When this you see

Or I shall be forgotten

The grass is green The rose is red

here is my name when I am dead 51

 

 

This short poem written on a piece of paper hidden underneath an image in a daguerreotype case implores us to remember the person – a plea to the future to remember them – through a composite narrative of portrait and text. Through the creative addition of text, the language of photographs can be supplemented which adds to the functionality of the photograph as an effective memory object.52 But what if the scene of the text (the photograph) contains an absence, no depiction of the person who has died? What happens to the writing of trauma in images of the dead then?

If we acknowledge that a photograph of a person always prefigures its subjects passing then what we are doing “in reality” is deferring the death of an/other onto the foreseen death of ourselves. In this process, we must remember that every photograph is a construct, a performative act by the photographer. What the photographer chooses to record is an act of will, whether ethical or not. Photographers have the presence of mind to attend to a certain manufacture of history. When viewing this instant narrative the viewer must acknowledge a loss of a sense of time:

“This lost sense could manifest as reliving a traumatic episode as if it is taking place in the present … In the context of trauma… a loss of sense of time deprives one of the ability of remembering and telling one’s narrative in a chronological order.”53

 

Emmet Gowin (b. 1941) 'Avebury Stone and Rennie Booher, England and Danville, Virginia' 1972

 

Emmet Gowin (b. 1941)
Avebury Stone and Rennie Booher, England and Danville, Virginia
1972
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Emmet and Edith Gowin
© Edith and Emmet Gowin and courtesy of Pace MacGill Gallery, New York

 

 

One way that artist’s upset this chronological order is by playing with the fragmentary nature of time, space and memory – of present absence/absent presence. In Emmet Gowin’s accidentally double-exposed negative, Avebury Stone and Rennie Booher, England and Danville, Virginia, 1972 (above), the photograph combines “a funerary image of his wife’s grandmother, Rennie Booher, with the surface of a Neolithic monumental stone he had photographed in England a few days earlier.” Floating through eternity, encased in ancient rock that nourishes her spirit, Gowin’s photograph acts as a kind of testament of absent but present, neither here not there. This loss of sense of space and time can be deeply disturbing (like trauma) as it questions one’s physical presence in the world, but it can also have a transcendental dimension as both time and space are inextricably bound to the very specific conditions of the material world. Photographs like the one of Booher have the potential to draw together what would otherwise seem to be incompatible. To form what Jacob Bronowsi calls a “hidden likeness”, one that transcends time and space, one that is reactivated with every looking.

“The poem or the discovery exists in two moments of vision: the moment of appreciation as much as that of creation; for the appreciator must see the movement, wake to the echo which was started in the creation of the work. In the moment of appreciation we live again the moment when the creator saw and held the hidden likeness. When a simile takes us aback and persuades us together, when we find a juxtaposition in a picture both odd and intriguing, when a theory is at once fresh and convincing, we do not merely nod over someone else’s work. We re-enact the creative act, and we ourselves make the discovery again…”54

.
An important fact about the nature of trauma is the compulsion of the human psyche to repeat traumatic events over and over again. The reproducibility of photographs and the ability to look at them again and again – their machine-like repeatability, their citationality or iterability to use Derrida’s signature term – feeds into this repetitive “death instinct” (Thanatos). However, Bronowsi’s “hidden likeness” (also the name of one of Emmet Gowin’s exhibitions and a form of punctum) is perhaps a liminal moment, one that may upset the death instinct. These liminal moments may occupy a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold. By disrupting the threshold – between life and death, between past, present and future time – they are requisite of the ghost (the soul) in the machine (the camera).

As Derrida observes, building on the work of Barthes,

“It belongs to it without belonging to it and is unlocatable in it; it never inscribes itself in the homogenous objectivity of the framed space but instead inhabits, or rather haunts it: “it is the addition [supplement]: it is what I add to the photograph and what is none the less already there.” … Neither life nor death, it is the haunting of the one by the other … Ghosts: the concept of the other in the same, the punctum in the studium, the dead other alive in me.”57

 

8

In this scenario, perhaps the act of writing trauma through death in the image becomes the true act of learning, and the interpretation of that act becomes an act of creation rather than one of rote memorialisation. These are images that require contemplation, time, analysis, and sensation, where the subject of the photograph is transformed “from somebody merely seen to someone really felt,” which is, as Batchen says, “an emotional exchange transacted in the heart.”58

This emotional exchange can take many forms. It can be triggered when the dead body is only metaphorically represented in the image, when the physicality of death has been transmuted. For example, photographs such as Walker Evan’s Child’s grave, Hale County, Alabama (1936, below), or the documentary image Place where the corpse was found (1901-8, below) by the French photographer Alphonse Bertillon, propose a re-imaging and re-imagining of the life of the person. They do so through an un/ambiguous photographic context, that is, through the marking of place in the photograph. In the latter case, this marking of a life is represented by two pieces of wood lying on the ground and two pieces of wood propped at 45 degrees against the wall. As though this is all that is left of the existence of Mademoiselle Mercier in a street (Rue de l’Yvette) that still exists in Paris to this day. A photograph of pieces of wood and an empty space.

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Child's grave, Hale County, Alabama' 1936

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Child’s grave, Hale County, Alabama
1936
Silver gelatin print
7 3/8 x 9 7/16″ (18.7 x 23.9 cm)
© 2016 Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Attributed to Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853-1914) 'Place where the corpse was found' 1st November 1902

 

Attributed to Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853-1914)
Place where the corpse was found
1st November 1902
From Album of Paris Crime Scenes
Gelatin silver print
Overall: 24.3 x 31 cm (9 9/16 x 12 3/16 in.)
Page: 23 x 29 cm (9 1/16 x 11 7/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Howard Gilman Foundation Gift, 2001

 

 

Other photographs picture the place of death nearly a century later in order to commemorate the traumatic death of “deserters” at the hands of a firing squad during the First World War. These are some of the most traumatic photographs of death I have seen, for they require me to imagine the mise en scène that was enacted at dawn almost 100 years ago, in the very place where these photographs were later “shot” at dawn.

The artist, Chloe Dewe Mathews, realised that “I was placing my tripod around the same spot where the firing squad had stood and looking directly at the place where the victim was placed.” It was, she says, “a solitary and sombre undertaking,” an undertaking (with that name’s etymological link to the word undertaker) which the viewer is invited to partake of, a re-imaging of those traumatic events that requires an active imagining, and thinking, in the neo-spectator. It is this duration of trauma in cultural memory which calls for an active negotiation in ways of seeing, a re-negotiation which can produce an empathic vision that “changes the terms of our engagement” with the image.

 

Chloe Dewe Mathews. 'Former Abattoir, Mazingarbe, Nord-Pas-de-Calais' 2013

 

Chloe Dewe Mathews (b. 1982)
Former Abattoir, Mazingarbe, Nord-Pas-de-Calais
2013
Eleven British soldiers were executed here between 1915-18
From the series Shot at Dawn
© Chloe Dewe Mathews

 

 

Vita ad mortem: life after death

9

 

.
“… the life of spirit is not the life that shrinks from death and keeps itself untouched by devastation, but rather the life that endures it and maintains itself in it. It wins its truth only when, in utter dismemberment, it finds itself.”

.
George Wilhelm Frederich Hegel61

 

 

The absence/presence contained within all photographs speaks to the ultimate affect: that of la petite mort – the “little death” – the sensation of orgasm as likened to death, a short period of melancholy or transcendence as a result of the expenditure of the “life force.” While Barthes metaphorically used the concept to describe the feeling one should get when experiencing any great literature, it can also be used when some undesired thing has happened to a person and has affected them so much that “a part of them dies inside.”

A photograph can also contain this melancholy transcendence, a catastrophe that has already occurred.

“Whether or not the subject is already dead, every photograph is this catastrophe… This punctum, more or less blurred beneath the abundance and the disparity of contemporary photographs, is vividly legible in historical photographs: there is always a defeat of Time in them: that is dead and that is going to die… At the limit, there is no need to represent a body [in photographs] in order for me to experience this vertigo of time defeated.”63

.
Barthes’ concept of an extended punctum may be useful here, when he states, “I now know that there exists another punctum (another ‘stigmatum’) than the ‘detail’. This new punctum, which is no longer of form but of intensity, is Time, the lacerating emphasis of the noeme (‘that-has-been’), its pure representation.”64

Here Barthes is proposing a punctum of intensity; a punctum as lacerating “detail”; and/or “the vertigo of time defeated.” This “temporal hallucination” embedded and embodied in the photograph – the temporality of the “will-have-been”, they are dead (today), they are already dead (yesterday), Barthes’ anterior future – represents a symbolically mediated subject bound up in three extases of time (past, present, and future).65

The subject becomes lost in the language of the photograph, the intersection of Lacan’s the Imaginary (in which the human subject creates fantasy images of both himself and his ideal object of desire), the Symbolic (the social world of linguistic communication and inter-subjective relations), and the Real (defined as what escapes the Symbolic, the Real can be neither spoken nor written, it is impossible, but is ceaselessly writing itself). These concepts serve to situate subjectivity within a system of perception and a dialogue with the external world.

According to Lori Wike, the experience of punctum and the structure of iterability can be aligned to Lacan’s concept of the death drive (or death instinct) present in the Symbolic order, in which the signifier “materializes the agency of death.”66 This may account for the role of the photographic punctum as trauma, in which the punctum opens up “a kind of subtle beyond” where “a blind field is created (is divined)…”67 As Barthes notes, “Photography is a kind of primitive theater, a kind of Tableau Vivant, a figuration of the motionless and made-up face beneath which we see the dead.”68 Further, we can say that, “unlike the symbolic, which is constituted in terms of oppositions such as “presence” and “absence”, there is no absence in the real,” for the real is undifferentiated, “it is without fissure.”

“The symbolic introduces “a cut in the real,” in the process of signification: “it is the world of words that creates the world of things.” Thus the real emerges as that which is outside language: “it is that which resists symbolization absolutely.” The real is impossible because it is impossible to imagine, impossible to integrate into the symbolic order. This character of impossibility and resistance to symbolization lends the real its traumatic quality.”69

.
The “mark” of photography is eviscerated in the intensity of the real, a traumatic loss of time that confronts us with our own mortality and the knowledge that we will not be remembered. This is where images of death can take us once the initial affective connection is established – to a noumenal space where in the play of representation, the point of origin becomes ungraspable (Lacan’s différance).70

“In French, différance simultaneously contains within its neo-graphism the activities of differing and deferring, a distancing acted out temporally as well as spatially.”71 Where the moment (the time freeze of the shutter) turns in, on and around its own fulcrum, where there is always difference at the point of origin. For all of its instantaneous nature, in photography there is always a perverse moment of displacement and deferral. In its history, “a perverse complicity of continuity and resemblance with its supposed opposite, discontinuity and difference”72 … the latter only existing in a reciprocal relationship to the former.

The circle is closing and we return to where we started.

 

10

Human beings in their longing for lost continuity are mirrored by their photographs which transition from continuous to discontinuous and back again. While we yearn for our lost continuity, we must acknowledge that death is an unedited event, one that we cannot look back on. There is no following event to blank out that moment… and the dead are always dying. But what images of death in photography do is this: they allow us to approach the noumenal, that state of being of which we can have knowledge of, but can never know. We can approach, touch, feel, analyse, and have empathy for traumatic events in the representation of an unknowable reality. The photograph has the ability to go beyond the symbolic, to approach the impossible, the real.

The photograph may proffer a ‘releasement toward things’,73 a coexistence between a conscious and unconscious way of perceiving which sustains the mystery of the object confusing the distinction between real time and sensual time, between inside and outside, input and output becoming neither here nor there. As Martin Jolly notes, citing John Thompson, “… images of death can be seen a form of “mediated, non-reciprocal intimacy, stretched across time and space” in which we are increasingly unconstrained by our location or our time.”74 Further, John Thompson observes, “While lived experience remains fundamental, it is increasingly supplemented by, and in some respects displaced by, mediated experience, which assumes a greater and greater role in the project of self-formation.”75

In the sense that the photograph becomes la petite mort, the little death, it embodies our desire for the soul to become eternal in the form of this mediated experience… the displacement of the soul via the ghost in the machine, the soul remembered throughout time in the traumatic trace of the photograph. Death in the language of photography is always postponed and deferred: into the physicality of the photograph; into cultural memory; into the gaze (of the photographer, the camera and the viewer); and into the body of the observer. Here, a relationship exists between an impossible reality (an encounter with an “outside” which is unknowable) and a floating referent in an image that is both formative and transformative. And in that relationship, as Donna Haraway observes, “Relationship is multiform, at stake, unfinished, consequential.”76

The text of eternity that the photograph proposes, imparts and imposes a paradoxical state of loss. The secret of telling truth in a photograph is that the more truthful, “the more orgasmic, the more pleasurable, the more suicidal”77 the pronouncement of the perfect paradox78 (you are dead but also alive) … then the more we are strangled while uttering it. The language of deferral in the writing of trauma in death and the image becomes the dissolve that seizes the subject in the midst of an eternal bliss. In death and the image we may actually die (be)coming.

© Dr Marcus Bunyan 2018

Word count: 8,137

 

 

Addendum

“Empirically acknowledged as tragic, the photographic print was really just that when, at the turn of the century, it became the instrument of the three great authorities over life and death (the law, the army, medicine). This is when it demonstrated its power to reveal the unfolding of a destiny from the word go. As deus ex machina [god from the machine or, providential intervention], it was to become just as ruthless for the criminal, the soldier or the invalid, the conjunction between the immediate and the fatal only becoming more solid, inevitably, with the progress of representation.”

Virilio, Paul. The Vision Machine (trans. Julie Rose). Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994, p. 43.

 

“Written with her trademark flair and force, Sontag’s book [On Photography] inaugurated a wave of criticism, much of it influenced by Foucaultian theory, that underscored the instrumentality and implicit violence of photography, its ability to police and regulate it subjects, especially those lacking social and political power: the poor, presumed “deviants” or “criminals,” and workers. As Sontag herself acknowledged, however, photography is not only a predatory means of taking possession, but also a mode of conferring value; it can potentially be put to counter-hegemonic uses, used to see and frame in ways that affirm and legitimate, rather than strictly contain and control, the presence of culturally disenfranchised persons.”

Entin, Joseph. “Milton Rogovin’s Approach: Photography, Class, and the Aesthetics of Making Space (2008),” on the ASX website July 12, 2010 [Online] Cited 27/10/2018

 

Adrien Constant de Rebecque (Swiss, Lausanne 1806-1876 Lausanne) '[Man in Chainmail Tunic Posing as a Dying Soldier]' c. 1863

 

Adrien Constant de Rebecque (Swiss, Lausanne 1806-1876 Lausanne)
[Man in Chainmail Tunic Posing as a Dying Soldier]
c. 1863
Albumen print from collodion glass negative
17.9 x 24.2 cm (7 1/16 x 9 1/2 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Howard Gilman Foundation Gift, 2012
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo. 'Ouvrier en grève, assassiné (Striking worker, assassinated)' 1934

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
Ouvrier en grève, assassiné (Striking worker, assassinated)
1934
Silver gelatin print

 

Manuel Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002) 'La Buena Fama Durmiendo (The Good Reputation Sleeping)' 1939, printed c. 1970s

 

Manuel Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
La Buena Fama Durmiendo (The Good Reputation Sleeping)
1939, printed c. 1970s
Silver gelatin print

 

 

One of my early heroes in photography was Manuel Alvarez Bravo. Many Mexican photographs tell such stories based on the mythology of the country: there are elements of the absurd, surrealism, macabre, revolution, political and socio-economic issues, also of death, violence, beauty, youth, sexuality and religion to name but a few – a search for national identity that is balanced in the photographs of Bravo by a sense of inner peace and redemption. This potent mix of issues and emotions is what makes Mexican photography so powerful and substantive. In the “presence” (or present, the awareness of the here and now) of Mexican photography there is a definite calligraphy of the body in space in most of the work. This handwriting is idiosyncratic and emotive; it draws the viewer into an intimate narrative embrace. Two famous photographs by Bravo illustrate some of these themes (Apollonian/Dionysian; utopian/dystopian). When placed together they seem to have a strange attraction one to the other.

 

Anne Frank, photograph inscribed with her wish to go to Hollywood, October 10, 1942

 

Anne Frank, photograph inscribed with her wish to go to Hollywood, October 10, 1942

 

 

References

Atkinson, Meera and Michael Richardson 2013 ‘Introduction: At the Nexus’, in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 1-21

Atkinson, Meera and Michael Richardson (eds) 2013 Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Barthes, Roland 1981 Camera Lucida – Reflections on Photography New York: Hill and Wang

Bataille, Georges 1962 Death and Sensuality: A Study of Eroticism and the Taboo New York: Walker and Company

Batchen, Geoffrey 2004 Forget Me Not: Photography & Remembrance New York: Princeton Architectural Press

Batchen, Geoffrey 1997 Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography paperback 1999 Massachusetts: MIT Press

Bennett, Jill 2005 Empathic Vision: Affect, Trauma, and Contemporary Art Palo Alto: Stanford University Press

Berger, John 1985 The Sense of Sight New York: Vintage International

Brett, Donna West 2016 ‘Damaged: Ruin and Decay in Walker Evans’ Photographs’ Walker Evans Symposium Melbourne: Centre for Contemporary Photography

Bronowski, Jacob 1958 Science and Human Values New York: Harper and Row

Brown, Andrew (ed. and trans,) 1987 Sophocles: Antigone Wiltshire: Aris and Phillips Ltd.

Cadava, Eduardo 1992 ‘Words of Light: Theses on the Photography of History’ Diacritics 22 no. 3-4 (Fall-Winter), 84-114

Chaouat, Bruno 2005 ‘Image malgré tout’ (review) L’Esprit Créateur vol. 45 no. 1, 110-111

Deleuze, Gilles 1964 Proust and Signs New York: George Braziller, 1972 in English

Edwards, Janis L. 2012 ‘Visual Literacy and Visual Politics: Photojournalism and the 2004 Presidential Debates’ Communication Quarterly vol. 60 issue 5, 681-197

Foucault, Michel 1988 ‘Technologies of the self’ in L H Martin and H Gutman and P H Hutton (eds) Technologies of the self: A seminar with Michel Foucault Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 16-49

Gibbs, Anna 2013 ‘Apparently Unrelated: Affective Resonance, Concatenation and Traumatic Circuitry in the Terrain of the Everyday’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 129-147

Gibbs, Anna 2007 ‘Horrified: Embodied Vision, Media Affect and the Images from Abu Ghraib’ in D Staines (ed) Interrogating the War on Terror Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 125-142

Hanusch, Folker 2010 Representing death in the news: Journalism, Media and Mortality London: Palgrave Macmillan

Haraway, Donna and Cary Wolfe 2016 Manifestly Haraway Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

Hegel, George Wilhelm Frederich 1807 Phenomenology of Spirit Preface (trans. A. V. Miller 1977) Oxford: Oxford University Press

Heidegger, Martin 1966 Discourse on Thinking New York: Harper & Row

Houlihan, Kasia 2004 ‘Annotation on Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida – Reflections on Photography’ New York: Hill and Wang 1981 in Theories of Media, Winter

Jolly, Martyn 2015 ‘An Australian Spiritualist’s Personal Cartes-de-Visite Album’, in A Maxwell and J Croci (eds) Shifting Focus: Colonial Australian Photography 1850-1920 North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 71-87

Kopelson, Kevin 1990 ‘Wilde, Barthes, and the Orgasmics of Truth’ in GENDERS no. 7 Spring, 22-31

Lacan, Jacques and Jeffrey Mehlman 1972 ‘The Seminar on the ‘Purloined Letter” in Yale French Studies no. 48 French Freud: Structural Studies in Psychoanalysis Yale University Press, 39-72

Martin, Luther H and H Gutman and P H Hutton (eds) 1988 Technologies of the self: A seminar with Michel Foucault Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press

Maxwell, Anne and Josephine Croci (eds) 2015 Shifting Focus: Colonial Australian Photography 1850-1920 North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing

O’Hagan, Sean 2014 ‘Chloe Dewe Mathews’s Shot at Dawn: a moving photographic memorial’ The Guardian website

Papastergiadis, Nikos and Mary Zournazi 2002 ‘Faith without certitudes’ in M Zournazi Hope: New Philosophies for Change Annandale NSW: Pluto Press Australia, 78-97

Randell, Karen and Sean Redmond (eds) 2008 The war body on screen, New York: Continuum

Rastas, David and Maria Schlachter 2016 Art as a Sanctuary for the Mad: Six characteristics of mystical experience and their visual accompaniment in contemporary art

Rogobete, Ileana Carmen 2011 Reconstructing Trauma and Recovery: Life Narratives of Survivors of Political Violence during Apartheid PhD thesis Cape Town: University of Cape Town

Rutherford, Anne 2013 ‘Film, Trauma and the Enunciative Present’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 80-103

Sontag, Susan 1977 On Photography New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Staines, Deborah (ed) 2007 Interrogating the War on Terror Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Strawberry 2013 ‘Roland Barthes: studium and punctum’ Museum of Education website

Thompson, John 1995 The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of Media Cambridge: Polity Press

Virilio, Paul 1994 The Vision Machine (trans. Julie Rose). Bloomington: Indiana University Press

Walsh, Stephen 2000 Stalingrad: The Infernal Cauldron, 1942-43 London: Simon and Schuster

Wike, Lori 2000 ‘Photographs and Signatures: Absence, Presence, and Temporality in Barthes and Derrida’ In[]Visible Culture: An Electronic Journal for Visual Studies issue 3, 1-28

Zelizer, Barbie 2002 The Voice of the Visual in Memory Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania

Zembylas, Michalinos 2008 The Politics of Trauma in Education New York: Palgrave Macmillan

 

 

Endnotes

[1] Berger, John 1985 The Sense of Sight New York: Vintage International, 122

[2] Bataille, Georges 1962 Death and Sensuality: A Study of Eroticism and the Taboo New York: Walker and Company, 15

[3] Anonymous 2016 Definition of Trauma by Mirriam-Webster, at http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/trauma (accessed 8 November 2016)

[4] Atkinson, Meera and Michael Richardson 2013 ‘Introduction: At the Nexus’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 5

[5] Rutherford, Anne 2013 ‘Film, Trauma and the Enunciative Present’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 82

[6] Michalinos Zembylas 2008 The Politics of Trauma in Education, New York: Palgrave Macmillan 4

[7] Ibid., 4

[8] Rutherford Op. cit., 87

[9] Rutherford Op. cit., Footnote 49, 93

[10] Rutherford Op. cit., 94

[11] Bennett, Jill 2005 Empathic Vision: Affect, Trauma, and Contemporary Art Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 9

[12] Rogobete, Ileana Carmen 2011 Reconstructing Trauma and Recovery: Life Narratives of Survivors of Political Violence during Apartheid PhD thesis Cape Town: University of Cape Town, at https://open.uct.ac.za/handle/11427/10884 (accessed 8 November 2016)

[13] Rutherford Op. cit., 85

[14] Gibbs, Anna 2013 ‘Apparently Unrelated: Affective Resonance, Concatenation and Traumatic Circuitry in the Terrain of the Everyday’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 130

[15] “Perhaps rather than numbness, what we actually feel is our own helplessness or impotence, and the shame of helplessness, which robs us of agency. Helplessness is what Tomkins calls an affect complex, and within it distress is the dominant affect, although there may be admixtures in it of fear, anger and shame… Helplessness immobilises, and this is what induces the shame which, as a reduction of interest, makes us lower our gaze and look away.”

Gibbs, Anna 2007 ‘Horrified: Embodied Vision, Media Affect and the Images from Abu Ghraib’ in D Staines (ed) Interrogating the War on Terror Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 139-140

[16] “To suffer is one thing; another thing is living with the photographed images of suffering, which does not necessarily strengthen conscience and the ability to be compassionate. It can also corrupt them. Once one has seen such images, one has started down the road of seeing more – and more. Images transfix. Images anaesthetize…”

Sontag, Susan 1977 On Photography New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux 20

“Are we making too much of images? Are we lured by our own voyeurism and iconophilia, numbed as we are by the democracy of the spectacle? Or, on the contrary, do images open the eyes of our conscience? In other words do images merely entertain and anaesthetize us or do they shame us and awake our conscience?”

Chaouat, Bruno 2005 ‘Image malgré tout’ (review) in L’Esprit Créateur vol. 45 no. 1, at https://muse.jhu.edu/article/265181/pdf (accessed 8 November 2016)

[17] Rutherford Op. cit., 89

[18] Anonymous 2016 ‘Lynching in the United States’, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynching_in_the_United_States (accessed 11 November 2016)

[19] Anonymous 2016 ‘Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday’, at http://genius.com/Billie-holiday-strange-fruit-lyrics (accessed 11 November 2016)

[20] ‘Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit’, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dnlTHvJBeP0 (accessed 11 November 2016)

[21] Rutherford Op. cit., Footnote 55, 95

[22] Bennett, Jill 2005 Empathic Vision: Affect, Trauma, and Contemporary Art Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 4 quoted in Rutherford, 95

[23] Ibid., 11

[24] Deleuze, Gilles 1964 Proust and Signs New York: George Braziller (1972 in English) 7, in Bennett 161

[25] Bennett Op. cit., 10

[26] Papastergiadis, Nikos and Mary Zournazi 2002 ‘Faith without certitudes’ in M Zournazi Hope: New Philosophies for Change 94-95, in Bennett, 10

[27] Hanusch, Folker 2010 Representing death in the news: Journalism, Media and Mortality London: Palgrave Macmillan, 55

[28] Ibid., 56

[29] Ibid., 56

[30] Randell, Karen and Redmond, Sean (eds) 2008 The war body on screen New York: Continuum, cited in Hanusch, 30

[31] Foucault, Michel 1988 ‘Technologies of the self’, in L H Martin and H Gutman and P H Hutton (eds) Technologies of the self: A seminar with Michel Foucault Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 18

[32] Barthes, Roland 1980 La Chambre Claire (Camera Lucida) (1981 in English) New York: Hill and Wang Section 39, 94

[33] Houlihan, Kasia 2004 ‘Annotation on Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida – Reflections on Photography’ New York: Hill and Wang 1981 in Theories of Media, Winter at http://csmt.uchicago.edu/annotations/barthescamera.htm (accessed 12 November 2016)

[34] Strawberry 2013 ‘Roland Barthes: studium and punctum’ Museum of Education website 12 March, at https://educationmuseum.wordpress.com/2013/03/12/roland-barthes-studium-and-punctum/ (accessed 11 November 2016)

[35] “For memory is always in a state of ruin; to remember something is already to have ruined it, to have displaced it from its moment of origin. Memory is caught in a conundrum – the passing of time that makes memory possible and necessary is also what makes memory fade and die.”

Batchen, Geoffrey 2004 Forget Me Not: Photography & Remembrance New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 78

[36] Cadava, Eduardo 1992 ‘Words of Light: Theses on the Photography of History’ Diacritics 22 no. 3-4 (Fall-Winter), 110 in Batchen 172

[37] Bennett Op. cit., 7

[38] Ibid., 7

[39] Zelizer, Barbie 2002 The Voice of the Visual in Memory, at http://www.sas.upenn.edu/folklore/center/ConferenceArchive/voiceover/voice_of_the_visual.html (accessed 13 November 2016)

[40] Ibid.,

[41] Brown, Andrew (ed. and trans,) 1987 Sophocles: Antigone, lines 850-52 Wiltshire: Aris and Phillips Ltd., 91

[42] Edwards, Janis L 2012 ‘Visual Literacy and Visual Politics: Photojournalism and the 2004 Presidential Debates’ Taylor Francis Online at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01463373.2012.725000 (accessed 13 November 2016)

[43] Zelizer Op. cit.,

[44] Sontag Op. cit., 18 cited in F Hanusch 2010 Representing death in the news: Journalism, Media and Mortality London: Palgrave Macmillan, 105

[45] See ‘Robert Capa: The Falling Soldier’, The Met website, at http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/283315 (accessed 13 November 2016)

[46] Walsh, Stephen 2000 Stalingrad: The Infernal Cauldron, 1942-43 London: Simon and Schuster, 23

[47] Anonymous photographer 2013 ‘Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942’, Rare Historical Photos website 29 December, at http://rarehistoricalphotos.com/russian-spy-laughing-execution-finland-1942/ (accessed 13 November 2016)

[48] Brett, Donna West 2016 ‘Damaged: Ruin and Decay in Walker Evans’ Photographs’ Walker Evans Symposium Melbourne: Centre for Contemporary Photography October 7, 5 at https://www.academia.edu/29201498/Damaged_Ruin_and_Decay_in_Walker_Evans_Photographs (accessed 13 November 2016)

[49] Soja, Edward W. 1996 Thirdspace Malden (Mass.): Blackwell, 57

[50] Ibid., 57

[51] Batchen Op. cit., 47

[52] Ibid., 48

[53] Rastas, David 2016 Art as a Sanctuary for the Mad: Six characteristics of mystical experience and their visual accompaniment in contemporary art, at http://www.davidrastas.com/kunstglaube/madness&mysticism/essays.html (accessed 19 November 2016)

[54] Bronowski, Jacob 1958, Science and Human Values New York: Harper and Row, 31

[55] Anonymous 2015. ‘Hidden Likeness: Photographer Emmet Gowin at the Morgan’, The Morgan Library & Museum website May 22 through September 20, 2015 https://www.themorgan.org/exhibitions/emmet-gowin (accessed 08 May 2018)

[56] See Turner, Victor 1966 The Ritual Process: Structure and Antistructure Chicago: Aldine. For a definition of liminality see Anonymous ‘Liminality’, Wikipedia website https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liminality (accessed 08 May 2018)

[57] Batchen, Geoffrey 1997 Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography (paperback 1999) Massachusetts: MIT Press, 194

[58] Batchen Forget Me Not, 94

[59] O’Hagan, Sean 2014 ‘Chloe Dewe Mathews’s Shot at Dawn: a moving photographic memorial’ The Guardian website 29 June, at https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/jun/29/chloe-dewe-mathews-shot-at-dawn-moving-photographic-memorial-first-world-war (accessed 25 November 2016)

[60] Bennett 2005 Empathic Vision 69

[61] Hegel, George Wilhelm Frederich 1807 Phenomenology of Spirit Preface (trans. A. V. Miller 1977) Oxford: Oxford University Press, 10

[62] Anonymous 2016 ‘La petite mort’ Wikipedia website at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_petite_mort (accessed 25 November 2016)

[63] Barthes Op. cit., 96

[64] Barthes Op. cit., 96

[65] See Wike, Lori 2000 ‘Photographs and Signatures: Absence, Presence, and Temporality in Barthes and Derrida’ in In[]Visible Culture: An Electronic Journal for Visual Studies issue 3, at http://www.rochester.edu/in_visible_culture/issue3/wike.htm#BackFromNote10 (accessed 25 November 2016)

[66] Lacan, Jacques and Jeffrey Mehlman 1972 ‘The Seminar on the ‘Purloined Letter’’ in Yale French Studies, no. 48, 53 quoted in Wike 2000

[67] Barthes Camera Lucida, 57-58 quoted in Wike 2000

[68] Barthes Camera Lucida, 31-32 quoted in Wike 2000

[69] Anonymous 2016, ‘The Real’, Wikipedia website at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Real (accessed 25 November 2016)

[70] “Derrida sees differences as elemental oppositions working in all languages, systems of distinct signs, and codes, where terms don’t have absolute meanings but instead draw meaning from reciprocal determination with other terms… Différance is the systematic play of differences, of the traces of differences, of the spacing by means of which elements are related to each other… the a of différance also recalls that spacing is temporization, the detour and postponement by means of which intuition, perception, consummation – in a word, the relationship to the present, the reference to a present reality, to a being – are always deferred.”

Anonymous 2016 ‘Différance’ at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Différance (accessed 25 November 2016

[71] Batchen Burning with Desire 179. Information on photography and differance 178-179.

[72] Batchen Burning with Desire 186

[73] “We stand at once within the realm of that which hides itself from us, and hides itself just in approaching us. That which shows itself and at the same time withdraws is the essential trait of what we call the mystery… Releasement towards things and openness to the mystery belong together. They grant us the possibility of dwelling in the world in a totally different way…”

Heidegger, Martin 1966 Discourse on Thinking New York: Harper & Row, 55-56

[74] Thompson, John 1995 The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of Media Cambridge: Polity Press, 208 quoted in M Jolly 2015 ‘An Australian Spiritualist’s Personal Cartes-de-Visite Album’ in A Maxwell and J Croci (eds) Shifting Focus: Colonial Australian Photography 1850-1920 North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 84

[75] Thompson 233 quoted in Jolly 2015

[76] Haraway, Donna and Cary Wolfe 2016 Manifestly Haraway Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 122, at https://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed 26 November 2016)

[77] Kopelson, Kevin 1990 ‘Wilde, Barthes, and the Orgasmics of Truth’ GENDERS no 7 Spring, 26

[78] You are dead but also alive, the dissolution of the distinction between objective and subjective realities, “the image is an interface connecting inner and outer, past and future, affect and cognition.”

Gibbs, Anna 2007 ‘Horrified: Embodied Vision, Media Affect And The Images From Abu Ghraib’ in D Staines (ed) Interrogating the War on Terror Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 130

 

 

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10
Oct
18

Exhibition: ‘Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art’ at Tate Modern, London

Exhibition dates: 2nd May – 14th October 2018

Curators: Simon Baker, Senior Curator, International Art (Photography) and Shoair Mavlian, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern, with Emmanuelle de l’Ecotais, Curator for Photographs

 

 

Pierre Dubreuil. 'Interpretation of Picasso, The Railway' 1911

 

Pierre Dubreuil (1872-1944)
Interpretation Picasso, The Railway
1911
Gelatin silver print on paper
238 x 194 mm
Centre Pompidou, Paris
Musée National d’Art Moderne / Centre de Création Industrielle
Purchased, 1987

 

 

An interesting premise –

“a premise is an assumption that something is true. In logic, an argument requires a set of (at least) two declarative sentences (or “propositions”) known as the premises or premisses along with another declarative sentence (or “proposition”) known as the conclusion” (Wikipedia)

– that the stories (the declarative sentences) of abstract art and abstract photography are intertwined (the conclusion). The two premises and one conclusion forms the basic argumentative structure of the exhibition.

Unfortunately in this exhibition, the abstract art and abstract photographs (declarations), seem to add up to less than the sum of its parts (conclusion).

Why is this so?

.
The reason these two bedfellows sit so uncomfortably together is that they are of a completely different order, one to the other.

Take painting for example. There is that ultimate linkage between brain, eye and hand as the artist “reaches out” into the unknown, and conjures an abstract representation from his imagination. This has a quality beyond my recognition. The closest that photography gets to this intuition is the cameraless Photogram, as the artist paints with light, from his imagination, onto the paper surface, the physical presence of the print.

Conversely, we grapple with the dual nature of photography, its relation to reality, to the real, and its interpretation of that reality through a physical, mechanical process – light entering a camera (metal, glass, digital chips, plastic film) to be developed in chemicals or on the computer, stored as a physical piece of paper or in binary code – but then we LOOK and FEEL what else a photograph can be. What it is, and what else it can be.

Initially, to take a photograph is to recognise something physical in the world which can then be abstracted. Here is a tree, a Platonic ideal, now here is the bark of the tree, or cracks in dried mud, or Aaron Siskind’s Pleasures and Terrors of Levitation in which, in our imagination, the body is no longer human. This archaeology of photography is a learnt behaviour (from the world, from abstract paintings) where ones learns to turn over the truth to something else, a recognition of something else. Where one digs a clod of earth, inspects it, and then turns it over to see what else it can be.

We can look at something in the world just for what it is and take a photograph of it, but then we can look at the same object for what else it can be (for example, Man Ray’s image Dust Breeding (1920), which is actually dust motes on the top of Duchamp’s Large Glass). Photographers love these possibilities within the physicality of the medium, its processes and outcomes. Photographers love changing scale, perspective, distortion using their intuition to perhaps uncover spiritual truths. Here I are not talking about making doodles – whoopee look what I can make as a photographer! it’s important because I can do it and show it and I said it’s important because I am an artist! the problem with lots of contemporary photography – it is something entirely different. It is the integrity of the emotional and intellectual process.

Not a reaching out through the arm and hand, but an unearthing (a reaching in?) of the possibilities of what else photography can be (other than a recording process). As Stieglitz understood in his Equivalents, and so Minor White espoused through his art and in one of his three canons:

When the image mirrors the man
And the man mirrors the subject
Something might take over

.
And that revelation is something completely different from the revelation of abstract art.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

For the first time, Tate Modern tells the intertwined stories of photography and abstract art. The birth of abstract art and the invention of photography were both defining moments in modern visual culture, but these two stories are often told separately.

Shape of Light is the first major exhibition to explore the relationship between the two, spanning the century from the 1910s to the present day. It brings to life the innovation and originality of photographers over this period, and shows how they responded and contributed to the development of abstraction.

Key photographs are brought together from pioneers including Man Ray and Alfred Stieglitz, major contemporary artists such as Barbara Kasten and Thomas Ruff, right up to exciting new work by Antony Cairns, Maya Rochat and Daisuke Yokota, made especially for the exhibition.

 

 

“Despite its roll call of stellar names, the show’s adrenaline soon slumps. A rhythm sets in, as each gallery offers perhaps a single non photographic work and dozens of medium format black and white abstracts arranged on an allied theme: extreme close ups, engineered structures, worms’ and birds’ eye views, moving light, the human body, urban fabric.

Individually each photograph is quite wonderful, but they echo each other so closely in their authors’ attraction to diagonal arrangements, rich surface textures, dramatic shadows, odd perspectives and close cropping, that the same ‘point’ is being made a dozen times with little to distinguish between the variants. …

By the present day, abstract photography has given in to its already Ouroboros-like tendencies, and swallowed itself whole, offering abstract photographs about the process of photography, and the action of light on its materials. This is a gesture I relished in Wolfgang Tillmans’s show in the same space this time last year, when it was broken up by a plethora of other ideas and perspectives on photography. Here it feels like another level of earnest self-absorption with a century-long backstory.”

.
Hettie Judah. ‘By halfway round I actually felt faint’ on the iNews website May 5th 2018 [Online] Cited 14/07/2018

 

 

 

Tate Curator, Simon Baker, meets Caroline von Courten from leading photography Magazine, Foam. Together they explore the exhibition Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art at Tate Modern.

 

 

 

 

Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957) 'Workshop' c. 1914-5

 

Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957)
Workshop
c. 1914-5
Tate
Purchased 1974
© Wyndham Lewis and the estate of Mrs G A Wyndham Lewis by kind permission of the Wyndham Lewis Memorial Trust (a registered charity)

 

Paul Strand. 'Abstraction Bowls, Twin Lakes, Connecticut' 1916

 

Paul Strand (1890-1976)
Abstraction Bowls, Twin Lakes, Connecticut
1916
Silver gelatin print

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (1882-1966) 'Vortograph' 1917

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (1882-1966)
Vortograph
1917
Gelatin silver print on paper
283 x 214 mm
Courtesy of the George Eastman Museum NY
© The Universal Order

 

Shape of Light, Exhibition Press Image, Tate Modern, 2018

 

Installation view of the exhibition Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art at Tate Modern, London showing László Moholy-Nagy’s K VII at centre. Photo: © Tate / Andrew Dunkley.

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) 'K VII' 1922

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
K VII
1922
Oil paint and graphite on canvas
Frame: 1308 x 1512 x 80 mm
Tate
Purchased 1961

 

 

The ‘K’ in the title of K VII stands for the German word Konstruktion (‘construction’), and the painting’s ordered, geometrical forms are typical of Moholy-Nagy’s technocratic Utopianism. The year after it was painted, he was appointed to teach the one year-preliminary course at the recently founded Bauhaus in Weimar. Moholy-Nagy’s appointment signalled a major shift in the school’s philosophy away from its earlier crafts ethos towards a closer alignment with the demands of modern industry, and a programme of simple design and unadorned functionalism.

Gallery label, April 2012

 

Man Ray. 'Rayograph' 1922

 

Man Ray (1890-1976)
Rayograph
1922
Gelatin silver print on paper
Private Collection
© Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2018

 

El Lissitzky (1890-1941) 'Proun in Material (Proun 83)' 1924

 

El Lissitzky (1890-1941)
Proun in Material (Proun 83)
1924
Gelatin silver print on paper
140 x 102 mm
© Imogen Cunningham Trust. All rights reserved

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) 'Photogram' c. 1925

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
Photogram
c. 1925
Gelatin silver print on paper
Photo: Jack Kirkland Collection, Nottingham

 

Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) 'Swinging' 1925

 

Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)
Swinging
1925
Oil paint on board
705 x 502 mm
Tate

 

Edward Steichen. 'Bird in Space' [L'Oiseau dans l'espace] 1926

 

Edward Steichen (1879-1973)
Bird in Space [L’Oiseau dans l’espace]
1926
Gelatin silver print on paper
253 x 202 mm
Bequest of Constantin Brancusi, 1957
Centre Pompidou, Paris
Musée National d’Art Moderne / Centre de Création Industrielle

 

Shape of Light, exhibition Press Image, Tate Modern, 2018

 

Installation view of the exhibition Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art at Tate Modern, London showing at centre, Constantin Brancusi’s bronze and stone sculpture Maiastra (1911). Photo: © Tate / Andrew Dunkley.

 

Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976) 'Triangles' 1928

 

Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976)
Triangles
1928, printed 1947-60
Gelatin silver print on paper
119 x 93 mm
Pierre Brahm
© Imogen Cunningham Trust. All rights reserved

 

Joan Miró (1893-1983) 'Painting' 1927

 

Joan Miró (1893-1983)
Painting
1927
Tempera and oil paint on canvas
972 x 1302 mm
Tate
© Succession Miro/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2018

 

Man Ray (1890-1976) 'Anatomies' 1930

 

Man Ray (1890-1976)
Anatomies
1930
Photo: © Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (1891-1956) 'Radio Station Power' 1929

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (1891-1956)
Radio Station Power
1929
Gelatin silver print on paper
Lent by Jack Kirkland Collection, Nottingham
© A. Rodchenko and V. Stepanova Archive. DACS, RAO 2018

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) 'Xanti Schawinsky on the balcony of the Bauhaus' 1929

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
Xanti Schawinsky on the balcony of the Bauhaus
1929
Gelatin silver print on paper

 

Luo Bonian (1911-2002) 'Untitled' 1930s

 

Luo Bonian (1911-2002)
Untitled
1930s
Gelatin silver print on paper
Courtesy The Three Shadows Photography Art Centre, Beijing
© Luo Bonian

 

Marta Hoepffner (1912–2000) 'Homage to de Falla' 1937

 

Marta Hoepffner (1912–2000)
Homage to de Falla
1937
Gelatin silver print on paper
387 x 278 mm
Stadtmuseum Hofheim am Taunus
© Estate Marta Hoepffner

 

Nathan Lerner (1913-1997) 'Light Tapestry' 1939

 

Nathan Lerner (1913-1997)
Light Tapestry
1939
Gelatin silver print on paper
401 x 504 mm
Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
Gift of Mrs Kiyoko Lerner, 2014
Photo: Nathan Lerner/© ARS, NY and DACS, London

 

Luigi Veronesi (1908-1998) 'Construction' 1938

 

Luigi Veronesi (1908-1998)
Construction
1938
Gelatin silver print on paper
286 x 388 mm
Tate
Accepted under the Cultural Gifts Scheme by HM Government from Massimo Prelz Oltramonti and allocated to Tate 2015

 

Luigi Veronesi (1908-1998) 'Photo n.145' 1940, printed 1970s

 

Luigi Veronesi (1908-1998)
Photo n.145
1940, printed 1970s
Gelatin silver print on paper
310 x 280 mm
Tate
Accepted under the Cultural Gifts Scheme by HM Government from Massimo Prelz Oltramonti and allocated to Tate 2015

 

Luigi Veronesi (1908-1998) 'Photo n.152' 1940, printed 1970s

 

Luigi Veronesi (1908-1998)
Photo n.152
1940, printed 1970s
Gelatin silver print on paper
320 x 298 mm
Tate
Accepted under the Cultural Gifts Scheme by HM Government from Massimo Prelz Oltramonti and allocated to Tate 2015

 

 

A major new exhibition at Tate Modern will reveal the intertwined stories of photography and abstract art. Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art will be the first show of this scale to explore photography in relation to the development of abstraction, from the early experiments of the 1910s to the digital innovations of the 21st century. Featuring over 300 works by more than 100 artists, the exhibition will explore the history of abstract photography side-by-side with iconic paintings and sculptures.

Shape of Light will place moments of radical innovation in photography within the wider context of abstract art, such as Alvin Langdon Coburn’s pioneering ‘vortographs’ from 1917. This relationship between media will be explored through the juxtaposition of works by painters and photographers, such as cubist works by George Braque and Pierre Dubreuil or the abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock and Otto Steinert’s ‘luminograms’. Abstractions from the human body associated with surrealism will include André Kertesz’s Distorsions, Imogen Cunningham’s Triangles and Bill Brandt’s Baie des Anges, Frances 1958, exhibited together with a major painting by Joan Miró. Elsewhere the focus will be on artists whose practice spans diverse media, such as László Moholy-Nagy and Man Ray.

The exhibition will also acknowledge the impact of MoMA’s landmark photography exhibition of 1960, The Sense of Abstraction. Installation photographs of this pioneering show will be displayed with some of the works originally featured in the exhibition, including important works by Edward Weston, Aaron Siskind and a series by Man Ray that has not been exhibited since the MoMA show, 58 years ago.

The connections between breakthroughs in photography and new techniques in painting will be examined, with rooms devoted to Op Art and Kinetic Art from the 1960s, featuring striking paintings by Bridget Riley and installations of key photographic works from the era by artists including Floris Neussis and Gottfried Jaeger. Rooms will also be dedicated to the minimal and conceptual practices of the 1970s and 80s. The exhibition will culminate in a series of new works by contemporary artists, Tony Cairns, Maya Rochat and Daisuke Yokota, exploring photography and abstraction today.

Shape of Light is curated by Simon Baker, Senior Curator, International Art (Photography) and Shoair Mavlian, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern, with Emmanuelle de l’Ecotais, Curator for Photographs, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue from Tate Publishing and a programme of talks and events in the gallery.

Press release from Tate Modern

 

Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) 'Number 23' 1948

 

Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)
Number 23
1948
Enamel on gesso on paper
575 x 784 mm
Tate: Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery (purchased out of funds provided by Mr and Mrs H.J. Heinz II and H.J. Heinz Co. Ltd) 1960
© ARS, NY and DACS, London 2018

 

Otto Steinert (1915-1978) 'Composition of Forms' 1949

 

Otto Steinert (1915-1978)
Composition of Forms
1949
Gelatin silver print on paper
290 x 227 mm
Jack Kirkland Collection, Nottingham

 

Guy Bourdin (1928-1991) 'Untitled' 1952

 

Guy Bourdin (1928-1991)
Untitled
1952
Gelatin silver print on paper
277 x 164 mm
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Acquisitions Committee 2015
© The Guy Bourdin Estate

 

Guy Bourdin (1928-1991) 'Untitled' 1952

 

Guy Bourdin (1928-1991)
Untitled
1952
Gelatin silver print on paper
232 x 169 mm
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Acquisitions Committee 2015
© The Guy Bourdin Estate

 

Guy Bourdin (1928-1991) 'Untitled' c. 1950s

 

Guy Bourdin (1928-1991)
Untitled
c. 1950s
Gelatin silver print on paper
239 x 179 mm
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Acquisitions Committee 2015
© The Guy Bourdin Estate

 

 

Untitled c.1950s is a black and white photograph by the French photographer Guy Bourdin. The entirety of the frame is taken up by a close-up of peeling paint. The paint sections fragment the image into uneven geometric shapes, which are interrupted by a strip of the dark surface beneath that winds from the top to the bottom of the frame. There is little sense of scale or contextual detail, resulting in a near-abstract composition.

Bourdin is best known for his experimental colour fashion photography produced while working for French Vogue between 1955 and 1977. This photograph belongs to an earlier period of experimentation, before he began to use colour and work in fashion. Taken outside the studio, it shows Bourdin’s sensitivity to the natural world and his attempt to transform the everyday into abstract compositions, bridging the gap between surrealism and subjective photography. Bourdin’s early work was heavily influenced by surrealism, as well as by pioneers of photography as a fine art such as Edward Weston, Paul Strand and Bill Brandt. His surrealist aesthetic can be attributed to his close relationship with Man Ray, who wrote the foreword to the catalogue for Bourdin’s first solo exhibition of black and white photographs at Galerie 29, Paris, in 1952.

This and other early works in Tate’s collection (such as Untitled (Sotteville, Normandy) c. 1950s, Tate P81205, and Solange 1957, Tate P81216) are typical of Subjektive Fotografie (‘subjective photography’), a tendency in the medium in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Led by the German photographer and teacher Otto Steinert, who organised three exhibitions under the title Subjektive Fotografie in 1951, 1954 and 1958, the movement advocated artistic self-expression – in the form of the artist’s creative approach to composition, processing and developing – above factual representation. Subjektive Fotografie’s emphasis on, and encouragement of, individual perspectives invited both the photographer and the viewer to interpret and reflect on the world through images. Bourdin’s interest in this can be seen in his early use of texture and abstraction, evident in close-up studies of cracked paint peeling off an external wall or a piece of torn fabric. These still lives were often dark in subject matter and tone, highlighting Bourdin’s interest in surrealist compositions and the intersection between death and sexuality. The works made use of the photographer’s urban environment, with deep black and high contrast printing techniques employed to create a sombre mood.

This approach was also important for Bourdin’s early portraiture, which anticipated his subsequent work in fashion. The subject of his portraits – often Solange Gèze, to whom the artist was married from 1961 until her death in 1971 – is usually framed subtly, rarely appearing in the centre or as the main focus of the image. In these works the figure is secondary, showing how Bourdin let the natural or urban environment frame the subject and integrate the body into its immediate surroundings. Bourdin was meticulous about the creative process from start to finish, sketching out images on paper and then recreating them in the landscape, using the natural environment as a stage set for his work.

Shoair Mavlian
August 2014

 

Shape of Light, Exhibition Press Image, Tate Modern, 2018

 

Installation view of the exhibition Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art at Tate Modern, London showing Jackson Pollock’s Number 23 at left. Photo: © Tate / Sepharina Neville.

 

Shape of Light, Exhibition Press Image, Tate Modern, 2018

 

Installation view of the exhibition Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art at Tate Modern, London showing Nathan Lerner’s Light Tapestry top left, and Otto Steinert’s Luminogram II centre right. Photo: © Tate / Sepharina Neville.

 

Otto Steinert (1915-1978) 'Luminogram II' 1952

 

Otto Steinert (1915-1978)
Luminogram II
1952
Gelatin silver print on paper
302 x 401 mm
Jack Kirkland Collection Nottingham
© Estate Otto Steinert, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Brett Weston. 'Mud Cracks' 1955

 

Brett Weston (1911-1993)
Mud Cracks
1955
Silver gelatin print
203 x 254 mm
Lent by the Tate Americas Foundation, courtesy of Christian Keesee Collection 2013
© The Brett Weston Archive/CORBIS

 

Peter Keetman (1916-2005) 'Steel Pipes, Maximilian Smelter' 1958

 

Peter Keetman (1916-2005)
Steel Pipes, Maximilian Smelter
1958
Gelatin silver print on paper
508 x 427 mm
F.C. Gundlach Foundation

 

Man Ray (1890-1976) 'Unconcerned Photograph' 1959

 

Man Ray (1890-1976)
Unconcerned Photograph
1959
Museum of Modern Art, New York
© Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2018

 

Jacques Mahé de la Villeglé (b. 1926) 'Jazzmen' 1961

 

Jacques Mahé de la Villeglé (b. 1926)
Jazzmen
1961
Printed papers on canvas
2170 x 1770 mm
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 2000
© Jacques Mahé de la Villeglé

 

 

The Jazzmen is a section of what Jacques Villeglé termed affiches lacérées, posters torn down from the walls of Paris. These particular ones were taken on 10 December 1961. Following his established practice, Villeglé removed the section from a billboard and, having mounted it on canvas, presented it as a work of art. In ‘Des Réalités collectives’ of 1958 (‘Collective Realities’, reprinted in 1960: Les Nouveaux Réalistes, pp. 259-60) he acknowledged that he occasionally tore the surface of the posters himself, although he subsequently restricted interventions to repairs during the mounting process. The large blue and green advertisements for Radinola (at the top right and lower left) provide the main visible surface for The Jazzmen. These establish a compositional unity for the accumulated layers. Overlaid are fragmentary music posters and fly-posters, some dated to September 1961, including the images of the red guitarists that lend the work its title. The artist’s records give the source as rue de Tolbiac, a thoroughfare in the 13th arrondissement in south-east Paris. Villeglé usually uses the street as his title, but has suggested (interview with the author, February 2000) that the title The Jazzmen may have been invented for the work’s inclusion in the exhibition L’Art du jazz (Musée Galliera, Paris 1967).

Villeglé worked together with Raymond Hains (b. 1926) in presenting torn posters as works of art. They collaborated on such works as Ach Alma Manetro, 1949 (Musée nationale d’art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris), in which typography dominates the composition. They first showed their affiches lacérées in May 1957 at the Galerie Colette Allendy, Paris, in a joint exhibition named Loi du 29 juillet 1881 ou le lyrisme à la sauvette (The Law of 29 July 1881 or Lyricism through Salvage) in reference to the law forbidding fly-posting. Villeglé sees a social complexity in the developments in the style, typography and subject of the source posters. He also considers the processes of the overlaying and the pealing of the posters by passers-by to be a manifestation of a liberated art of the street. Both aspects are implicitly political. As Villeglé points out, anonymity differentiates the torn posters from the collages of the Cubists or of the German artist Kurt Schwitters. In ‘Des Réalités collectives’ Villeglé wrote: ‘To collages, which originate in the interplay of many possible attitudes, the affiches lacérées, as a spontaneous manifestation, oppose their immediate vivacity’. He saw the results as extending the conceptual basis of Marcel Duchamp’s readymades, whereby an object selected by an artist is declared as art. However, this reduction of the artist’s traditional role brought an end to Villeglé’s collaboration with Hains, who held more orthodox views of creative invention.

In 1960 Villeglé, Hains and François Dufrêne (1930-82), who also used torn posters, joined the Nouveaux Réalistes group gathered by the critic Pierre Restany (b.1930). Distinguished by the use of very disparate materials and techniques, the Nouveaux Réalistes – who also included Arman (b.1928), Yves Klein (1928-62) and Jean Tinguely (1925-91) – were united by what Villeglé has called their ‘distance from the act of painting’ as characterised by the dominant abstraction of the period (interview February 2000). In this way, Klein’s monochrome paintings (see Tate T01513) and Villeglé’s affiches lacérées conform to the group’s joint declaration of 27 October 1960: ‘The Nouveaux Réalistes have become aware of their collective singularity. Nouveau Réalisme = new perceptual approaches to reality.’ The Jazzmen, of the following year, embodies Villeglé’s understanding of his ‘singularity’ as a conduit for anonymous public expression.

Matthew Gale
June 2000

 

Edward Ruscha (b.1937) 'Gilmore Drive-In Theater - 6201 W. Third St.' 1967, printed 2013

 

Edward Ruscha (b.1937)
Gilmore Drive-In Theater – 6201 W. Third St.
1967, printed 2013
Gelatin silver prints on paper
356 x 279 mm
Courtesy Ed Ruscha and Gagosian Gallery
© Ed Ruscha

 

Shape of Light, Exhibition Press Image, Tate Modern, 2018

 

Installation view of the exhibition Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art at Tate Modern, London. Photo: © Tate / Andrew Dunkley.

 

Shape of Light, Exhibition Press Image, Tate Modern, 2018

 

Installation view of the exhibition Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art at Tate Modern, London showing Gregorio Vardanega’s Circular Chromatic Spaces 1967. Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris. Photo: © Tate / Andrew Dunkley.

 

John Divola. '74V11' 1974

 

John Divola (b. 1949)
74V11
1974
Silver gelatin print
Jack Kirkland Collection, Nottingham
© John Divola

 

Barbara Kasten (b.1936) 'Photogenic Painting, Untitled 74/13' (ID187) 1974

 

Barbara Kasten (b.1936)
Photogenic Painting, Untitled 74/13 (ID187)
1974
Salted paper print
558 x 762 mm
Courtesy the artist, Thomas Dane Gallery and Bortolami Gallery, New York
© Barbara Kasten

 

James Welling (b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1986

 

James Welling (b. 1951)
Untitled
1986
C-print on paper
254 x 203 mm
Jack Kirkland Collection, Nottingham
© James Welling. Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York/London/Hong Kong and Maureen Paley, London

 

Shape of Light, Exhibition Press Image, Tate Modern, 2018

 

Installation view of the exhibition Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art at Tate Modern, London showing Sigmar Polke’s Untitled (Uranium Green) 1992. Hans Georg Näder © The Estate of Sigmar Polke / VG Bild-Kunst Bonn and DACS London, 2018. Photo: © Tate / Seraphina Neville.

 

Sigmar Polke. 'Untitled (Uranium Green)' 1992

 

Sigmar Polke (1941-1910)
Untitled (Uranium Green) (detail)
1992
10 Photographs, C-print on paper
Image, each: 610 x 508 mm
The Estate of Sigmar Polke / VG Bild-Kunst Bonn 2017
Photo: Adam Reich/The Estate of Sigmar Polke / VG Bild-Kunst Bonn and DACS London, 2018

 

Daisuke Yokota (b. 1983) 'Untitled' 2014

 

Daisuke Yokota (b. 1983)
Untitled
2014
from Abstracts series
© Daisuke Yokota
Courtesy of the artist and Jean-Kenta Gauthier Gallery

 

 

Process is at the core of Yokota’s photographs. For his black-and-white work, such as the series Linger or Site/Cloud, Yokota sifts through an archive of more than 10 years of photographs in his Tokyo apartment. When he finds something that speaks to him – a nude figure, a chair, a building, a grove of trees – he makes a digital image of it, develops it, and rephotographs the image up to 15 times, until it becomes increasingly degraded. He develops the film in ways that are intentionally “incorrect,” allowing light to leak in, or singeing the negatives, using boiling water, or acetic acid. The purported subject fades, and shadows, textures, spots and other sorts of visual noise emerge. For his recent colour work, trippy, sensual abstractions, the process is similar, except that it is cameraless; he doesn’t start with a preexisting image. “I wanted to focus on the emulsion, on the different textures, more than on a subject being photographed,” says Yokota.

IN THE STUDIO
Daisuke Yokota
By Jean Dykstra

 

Antony Cairns (b. 1980) 'LDN5_051' 2017

 

Antony Cairns (b. 1980)
LDN5_051
2017
Courtesy of the artist
© Antony Cairns

 

Shape of Light, Exhibition Press Image, Tate Modern, 2018

 

Installation view of the exhibition Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art at Tate Modern, London showing the installation A Rock Is A River, 2018 by the aritst Maya Rochat. Courtesy Lily Robert and VITRINE, London | Basel © Maya Rochat. Photo: © Tate / Sepharina Neville.

 

Maya Rochat (b.1985) 'A Rock is a River (META CARROTS)' 2017

 

Maya Rochat (b.1985)
A Rock is a River (META CARROTS)
2017
Courtesy Lily Robert
© Maya Rochat

 

Maya Rochat (b.1985) 'A Rock is a River (META RIVER)' 2017

 

Maya Rochat (b.1985)
A Rock is a River (META RIVER)
2017
Courtesy Lily Robert
© Maya Rochat

 

 

Tate Modern
Bankside
London SE1 9TG
United Kingdom

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10
Aug
18

Exhibitions: ‘Now, the new form of the past’ and ‘Senses’ at Kunstwerk! Liemers Museum, Netherlands

Exhibition dates: 16th June – 9th September 2018

Artists: Drager Meurtant (assemblages, NL) and Petra Senn (photography, D); Jeanine Keuchenius (paintings, NL)

Kelly Elmendorp, Stijn Geutjes, Robert van der Kroft, Drager Meurtant, Winny de Meij, Petra Senn.

*PLEASE NOTE I WILL BE TAKING A SHORT BREAK FROM REGULAR POSTINGS ON ART BLART FOR THE NEXT THREE WEEKS AS I CELEBRATE MY 60TH BIRTHDAY. THANK YOU*

 

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951) 'Green bird day' 2017

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951)
Green bird day
2017

When the green bird / came to live / we agreed to call / it a day

 

 

 

Accumulating, life

 

I first had contact with Gerard Rutteman (artist alias Drager Meurtant) when he emailed me about a posting I had done on Art Blart about the Japanese photographer Shomei Tomatsu in 2015. Since then we have become firm friends. In 2017 on a trip to Europe, I caught a high speed train from Paris to the French city of Reims to meet him and his vivacious wife Jeanine. We spent a glorious day wandering the city, taking photographs, talking art, and eating a hearty lunch at a local brasserie. This pair of self-taught artists, creative human beings, are so talented.

While I greatly admire Jeanine’s paintings with their powerful and poetic muscularity (in my mind, I note the influence of artists such as Pierre Soulages, Cy Twombly and Anselm Kiefer) and their use of colour which can be seen in other paintings on her website – and observe the photographs of Petra Senn (I would need to see more to make constructive comment) – it is the work of Drager Meurtant to which I am going to focus my attention in this text.

The path of Drager Meurtant reminds me of that of Australian artist Rosalie Gascoigne.

“Gascoigne worked as a teacher before moving to Australia in 1943 following her marriage to astronomer Ben Gascoigne. She discovered a natural talent for creating assemblages through the ensuing seventeen years spent in relative isolation on the stony terrain of Mount Stromlo, home to Stromlo Observatory, and the wheat belt of Monaro near Canberra, a landscape she designated as the crucible from which her art emerged… Gascoigne’s lifelong passion for collecting and arranging developed initially from the Sogetsu school of ikebana, with its emphasis on form and line rather than colour. Its general principles of valuing immediate response, the experience of materials, process and experiment with variations can be seen as underpinning all of her later work. The collection of discarded materials, such as farm machinery parts, for use as suitable vessels for her arrangements, led her to also make sculptural assemblages… Gascoigne had no formal art training, often asserting that her fifty-year apprenticeship was in looking. She began exhibiting in 1974 at the age of 57.” (Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website)

Gascoigne went on to become one of Australia’s most loved and respected artists.

Drager Meurtant spent most of his life as a veterinarian-biomedical researcher. He is an autodidact and, like Gascoigne, his apprenticeship as an artist was one of looking and writing poetry. Only in the last five years has he really been able to fully concentrate on his art practice. To my mind, he has the potential to become a much beloved artist of his country, and an international artist of high repute. I am palpably excited by his art and its development. There is a frisson of expectation every time I see new work; that frisson enhanced by the amplitude of the music he creates and the temperature of the environment that surrounds his work.

In this latest exhibition, there is a wonderful, tensional balance between elements and energy in his constructions. Much of the basic elements are from demolition- / remnant materials (“recycling art”), sometimes called objets trouvés: things coil around, are contained, wire, wood, recycled materials, energy, intimacy. His un/civilised forms of expression create an interplay between the conscious and the unconscious minds.

Drager is true to the integrity of his materials, the inherent qualities of natural and man made materials, and his vision. He incorporates primitive, mythical, spiritual and folkloric elements into his art. And his pleasure is in the layering and painting, in the materials, forms and, finally, in the art itself. Here is humour (The snake kept its mouth shut, 2018 below; the moustache of The Orator, 2016 below), ecology and spirit. A sense of mystery and purpose at one and the same time.

Riffing on Guy Debord’s concept of dérive (“drift” in English) which Debord defines as “a mode of experimental behaviour linked to the conditions of urban society: a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances”1, I can relate Drager’s art to an unplanned journey through the urban landscape in which he drops his everyday relations and lets himself be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters he finds there. Drager’s attractions are the refuse of the human race. His encounters lead to the construction of contexts and situations, an artistic practice of “the happening”, which is a structured but unencumbered, expressive approach that encourages us to question our finite place in the world. Who else would paint a mountain on a radiator!

While I believe that some of the most important qualities in this world have their meanings proscribed by their opposite, some of these qualities have to be understood by reference only to themselves – which is very difficult – but must be attempted. A lot of things have been made too simple (taught in art schools?) by constructing fraught dichotomies. In other words, as an artist and as a human being, do not rely on binaries but just “on the thing itself”. Let it reveal itself to you – whether that is through Dada, an enigmatic self, of movement and form – or through some other mechanism. Drager has enough intellect and talent not to fall into the too simple, too easy, trap.

In this small regional gallery in the Netherlands, this visionary of the romantic, otherworldy (definition: devoted to intellectual or imaginative pursuits), utopian / dystopian unification of art and life constructs his paradoxes. I love the poetry that accompanies and informs his work; I love the brown butchers paper that covered “the happenings” before the unveiling; and I love the energy, the concern for the environment, and the construction and conceptualisation of his assemblages. I am challenged, in a good way, by his art.

The next step on the path for my friend is to keep the faith, is to keep making the art for himself and no one else. To keep them free and not contained by unwanted concerns. For, as he said to me, “in the end the path followed will be more interesting than the stakes raised in passing.” But curators please take note… here is a star of the future!

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the artists and Kunstwerk! Liemers Museum for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

  1. Guy Debord (1958) Definitions. Internationale Situationniste #1 (Paris, June 1958). Translated by Ken Knabb.

 

 

“The creation of art, to me, is not work. The end-result is not seen as a piece, but as a whole. Since it brings me comfort and relieves stress, I call my assemblages ‘art-peaces’.”

“The essence of working with found objects (or scrap material) is that their different natures will enrich the composition as they are expressed in its different layers. This effect is based upon the divergent origins, structures and functions of these elements: wood, metal, glass, stone, cloth, plastic, etc. As a consequence, each bears a different weight and ease for ‘penetrance’ (transparency), that will influence the final form of the composition.”

.
Drager Meurtant

 

“Nearly every work of assemblage, in its relational structure, approaches abstract art” [but] “the practice of assemblage raises materials from the level of formal relations to that of associational poetry.”

.
Seitz, W. C. The Art of Assemblage. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1961, p. 25, 84.

 

“It’s not where you take things from, it’s where you take them to.”

.
Jean-Luc Godard

 

 

Before the exhibition opening

Before the opening of the exhibition 'Now, the new form of the past' at Kunstwerk! Liemers Museum, Netherlands

Before the opening of the exhibition 'Now, the new form of the past' at Kunstwerk! Liemers Museum, Netherlands

Before the opening of the exhibition 'Now, the new form of the past' at Kunstwerk! Liemers Museum, Netherlands

Before the opening of the exhibition 'Now, the new form of the past' at Kunstwerk! Liemers Museum, Netherlands

 

Before the opening of the exhibition Now, the new form of the past at Kunstwerk! Liemers Museum, Netherlands

 

 

Now, the new form of the past is an exhibition based on international collaboration between Drager Meurtant (assemblages, NL) and Petra Senn (photography, D) with the theme Recycling Art . Both artists place most of the energy in their art and demand attention for its creativity, in the reuse of materials and objects.

Drager uses demolition material and remnants from construction, plus objets trouvés, to make assemblages; while Petra uses weathered matter and the perishableness (transitoriness) of materials in her photographs. Every artwork thus carries echoes from the past within itself. Senses is a parallel exhibition of abstract paintings by Jeanine Keuchenius.

Text from the Kunstwerk! Liemers Museum website

 

The artists Drager Meurtant and Petra Senn first met on ‘pictify’, a social medium for artists (at present no longer accepting new art submissions.) After an exchange of some ‘faves’ and views, the retrospective The Trauma of Painting by Alberto Burro in the museum K21 in Düsseldorf, Germany, became the place where at the end of June 2016 the three, Petra Senn, Drager Meurtant and his artist-partner Jeanine Keuchenius, met in person. With the overwhelming artistic environment, the basis of a human and artistic interest became established. Thus, when Stijn Geutjes, the curator of Kunstwerk! Liemers Museum asked Drager about willingness to exhibit his art in the museum, the answer came with the suggestion of the theme “Now, the new form of the past”, and introduction of colleague Petra Senn as associate, and Jeanine to come with an addition of the theme “Senses”. After some discussion, and rising interest of Stijn Geutjes in the abstract photographies of Petra Senn, the decision came to exhibit in a collaborative effort, that included partaking in the selection process of works of the curator and the three artists.

Text by Drager Meurtant

 

Objets trouvés

An objets trouvé is a found object; a natural or discarded object found by chance and held to have aesthetic value; an ordinary object, as a piece of driftwood, a shell, or a manufactured article, that is treated as an object of art by one who finds it aesthetically pleasing.

The term relates directly to Marcel Duchamp’s readymades, Dada and Fluxus art. Art critics have coined the terms arte povera (Italian) and junk art (Anglo-American) to signify art which incorporates said objects.

Arte Povera is basically the legitimate justification for creating art of junk and found objects. Arte Povera was a term coined by the Italian art critic Germano Celant. He used the word to sum up a type of art which combined elements of conceptual art, minimal art and performance art. He conceived the idea of the art movement in reaction to the ever increasing commercialism within the art world. The artists embrace the ideas of using valueless materials such as earth, gravel, rocks or litter in order to create works of art.

Junk art is the flattering name is given to 20th and 21st-century art in which the artist uses refuse, scrap metal, urban waste or just anything viewed as useless or cast of from modern society. Junk art is very much synonymous with American artist Robert Rauschenberg. It is also very much part of the 1960s Italian movement Arte Povera. The movement was the product of Antoni Tàpies, Alberto Burri, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Piero Manzoni, and Lucio Fontana.

Text from the Xamou website

 

Found object

Found object originates from the French objet trouvé, describing art created from undisguised, but often modified, objects or products that are not normally considered materials from which art is made, often because they already have a non-art function. …

Found objects derive their identity as art from the designation placed upon them by the artist and from the social history that comes with the object. This may be indicated by either its anonymous wear and tear (as in collages of Kurt Schwitters) or by its recognisability as a consumer icon (as in the sculptures of Haim Steinbach). The context into which it is placed is also a highly relevant factor. The idea of dignifying commonplace objects in this way was originally a shocking challenge to the accepted distinction between what was considered art as opposed to not art. …

As an art form, found objects tend to include the artist’s output – at the very least an idea about it, i.e. the artist’s designation of the object as art – which is nearly always reinforced with a title. There is usually some degree of modification of the found object, although not always to the extent that it cannot be recognised, as is the case with ready-mades. Recent critical theory, however, would argue that the mere designation and relocation of any object, ready-mades included, constitutes a modification of the object because it changes our perception of its utility, its lifespan, or its status.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Installation views of the exhibition Now, the new form of the past

Installation view of the exhibition 'Now, the new form of the past' at Kunstwerk! Liemers Museum, Netherlands

Installation view of the exhibition 'Now, the new form of the past' at Kunstwerk! Liemers Museum, Netherlands

Installation view of the exhibition 'Now, the new form of the past' at Kunstwerk! Liemers Museum, Netherlands

Installation view of the exhibition 'Now, the new form of the past' at Kunstwerk! Liemers Museum, Netherlands

Installation view of the exhibition 'Now, the new form of the past' at Kunstwerk! Liemers Museum, Netherlands

Installation view of the exhibition 'Now, the new form of the past' at Kunstwerk! Liemers Museum, Netherlands

 

Installation views of the exhibition Now, the new form of the past at Kunstwerk! Liemers Museum, Netherlands showing the work of Drager Meurtant and Petra Senn

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Now, the new form of the past' at Kunstwerk! Liemers Museum, Netherlands

 

Installation view of the exhibition Now, the new form of the past at Kunstwerk! Liemers Museum, Netherlands showing Drager Meurtant’s work connection not wireless (2014) top left, and Petra Senn’s Persuasiveness (2012) top right

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Now, the new form of the past' at Kunstwerk! Liemers Museum, Netherlands

 

Installation view of the exhibition Now, the new form of the past at Kunstwerk! Liemers Museum, Netherlands showing Drager Meurtant’s Under way Nd

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Now, the new form of the past' at Kunstwerk! Liemers Museum, Netherlands

 

Installation view of the exhibition Now, the new form of the past at Kunstwerk! Liemers Museum, Netherlands showing Drager Meurtant’s work Swan in essence (2014) at centre, with Petra Senn’s Insubordination (2017) top left and someone from the past I (nd) top right

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Now, the new form of the past' at Kunstwerk! Liemers Museum, Netherlands

 

Installation view of the exhibition Now, the new form of the past at Kunstwerk! Liemers Museum, Netherlands showing the work of Drager Meurtant and Petra Senn with DM’s The promised land (2016) at right

 

 

About Drager Meurtant

In almost four decades since his training as as veterinarian-biomedical researcher, Drager Meurtant (artist alias of Gerard Rutteman) has channeled much creativity towards scientific publications and – in his free time – poetry. In more recent years, through a rapid learning curve, his creations have taken form as sculptures (in particular assemblages), collages, paintings and graphical works.

As autodidact and experienced carpenter, the circle saw, jig-saw, chisel, gouge, hammer are used to handle natural materials (wood, stone) in addition to manufactured (paper, cloth) and construction material (metal, glass, etcetera). Much of the basic elements are from demolition- / remnant materials (“recycling art”), sometimes objets trouvés. The assembly of contrasting elements creates tension, sometimes suspension.

The sculptures made by David Smith and (box) assemblages by Joseph Cornell, but also installations by Dieter Roth inspire Drager, as does the art by Joan Miró and members of CoBrA. The making of photographs is considered complementary to the assemblages, in an attempt to capture the fleeting world in which we live.

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951) 'Movement from within' 2016

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951)
Movement from within
2016
Three-dimensional sculpture, mixed media
Assemblage (relief), wood, paper, paint, sand, image
40 x 50 x 7 cm

“When the pieces were seen fit / and fixed in their proper position / the movement was undeniable / as it arose from within”

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951) 'Crawling, again' 2018

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951)
Crawling, again
2018
Three-dimensional sculpture, mixed media
47 x 34 x 20 cm

“How to make connections / of elements and the outside world? The answer to my question / came crawling, again”

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951) 'Crawling, again' 2018 (installation view)

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951)
Crawling, again (installation view)
2018
Three-dimensional sculpture, mixed media
47 x 34 x 20 cm

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951) 'Number 53' 2016 (installation view)

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951)
Number 53 (installation view)
2016
Mixed media sculpture
Assemblage, wood, paper, metal, plaster, paint
31 x 36 x 9 cm

“In former times / you could buy / petroleum, paraffin and coal / at number 53”

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951) 'The Orator' 2016

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951)
The Orator (installation view)
2016
Sculpture, wood, paint

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951) 'Tegut' 2018

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951)
Tegut
2018
Collage, paper
11 x 15 cm

“The next generation / has more generations / to lean upon”

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951) 'Three of a kind' 2018 (installation view)

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951)
Three of a kind (installation view)
2018
Mixed media
24 x 32 x 1 cm

“When presented three figures / of different size / and writing / and colour”

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951) 'Three of a kind' 2018

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951)
Three of a kind
2018
Mixed media
24 x 32 x 1 cm

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951) 'Mon Combat' 2018

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951)
Mon Combat
2018
Installation of book, metal
60 x 30 x 5 cm

Mon Combat by A. Tempspassé: there is always someone who sees argument to start a battle

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Now, the new form of the past' at Kunstwerk! Liemers Museum, Netherlands

 

Installation view of the exhibition Now, the new form of the past at Kunstwerk! Liemers Museum, Netherlands showing Drager Meurtant’s works the listener (needs protection) (2018) at left, and The Mechanic (2018) at right

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951) 'The Mechanic' 2018

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951)
The Mechanic
2018
Mixed media (wood, iron, paint)
105 x 65 x 65 cm

“With good tools / you get everything moving”

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951) 'The snake kept its mouth shut' 2018

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951)
The snake kept its mouth shut
2018
Mixed media, trash
35 x 25 x 500 cm

“Curling, the snake kept its mouth shut”

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951) 'Destiny' 2018 (installation view)

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951)
Destiny (installation view)
2018
Painting on discarded radiator with support
60 x 130 cm

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951) 'All humans are equal' 2018 (installation view)

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951)
All humans are equal (installation view)
2018
Mixed media
100 x 50 x 200 cm

All humans are equal. // To test this assumption / take two / and tilt the angle / and position towards, one another.

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951) 'Rudimentary' 2016 (installation view)

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951)
Rudimentary (installation view)
2016
Mixed media
23 x 13 x 16 cm

“Mental metal / rudimentary face / mind you!”

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951) 'The promised land' 2016

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951)
The promised land
2016
Box assemblage
Mixed media, wood, board, metal, paint
34 x 44 x 10 cm

“The promised land / cannot be for outsiders. // They may look / how it is, yonder.”

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951) 'Steep-2' 2014 (installation view)

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951)
Steep-2 (installation view)
2014
Mixed media, wood partly rotten, metal, paint and glass
35 x 23 x 10 cm

Steep-2: The Monte Rotondo / is left behind / it weighs too much / for me. // The climbing rock of Feyr / I leave / to the climbers. // But / this wooden rock / serves as model / of a viewpoint on imagination.

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951) 'The avail of propaganda' 2016

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951)
The avail of propaganda
2016
Mixed media
Assemblage, wood, cloth, metal, paper, paint
43 x 21 x 8 cm

“The avail of propaganda / is that you and I / do what / we detest.”

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951) 'Twosome' Nd (installation view)

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951)
Twosome (installation view)
Nd
Mixed media

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951) 'fact-ohry' 2013 (installation view)

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951)
fact-ohry (installation view)
2013
Mixed media
24 x 32 x 42 cm

I said / now I will build a fact-ohry / and that / became factual. // With grabbing and placing / elements that together / took progressively the shape / of a fact-ohry / I became part of it. // Could shape the further design / and steer it at minor extent / but the end-result / was determined / by the starting point. // Voila.

(Note: This Fact-ohry is the only one with guarantee that risks during drilling for shale gas are secured.)

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951) 'Progress (halted)' 2016 (installation view)

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951)
Progress (halted) (installation view)
2016
Bronze
26 x 18 x 21 cm

“When going forth / from wood to bronze / and grasping the result / I realised progress had halted. // A result stands in the way / of the learning process.”

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951) 'Progress (halted)' 2016

 

Drager Meurtant (b. 1951)
Progress (halted)
2016
Bronze
26 x 18 x 21 cm

 

 

About Petra Senn

Petra’s work has mostly to do with memories and emotions. Her photos directly respond to the surrounding environment and use everyday experiences from the artist as a starting point. These experiences are often framed instances that would go unnoticed in their original context.

By contesting the division between the realm of memory and the realm of experience, she wants to amplify the astonishment of the spectator by creating compositions or settings that generate tranquil poetic images that leave traces and balances on the edge of recognition and alienation.

Her works appear as dreamlike images in which fiction and reality meet, well-known tropes merge, meanings shift, past and present fuse. Time and memory always play a key role. By applying abstraction, she absorbs the tradition of remembrance art into daily practice. She has a deep inner desire to protect the past from vanishing, both physically and, inevitably, mentally.

In her work Petra takes great care neither to simply reflect reality nor to just make visual statements. There is always left space for the spectators own emotions and opinions. She considers her work as visual stimulus, an invitation to enter ones inner world, knowing well that this process only works if she perceives deeper emotions while taking the pictures herself. Her search is for poetry in almost every item and condition.

Artist statement

 

Petra Senn. 'Her Lips' 2015

 

Petra Senn
Her Lips
2015

 

Petra Senn. 'Insubordination' 2017

 

Petra Senn
Insubordination
2017

 

Petra Senn. 'Persuasiveness' 2012

 

Petra Senn
Persuasiveness
2012

 

 

About Jeanine Keuchenius

Jeanine Keuchenius (1953, Indonesia) is a creative artist, dancer, and performer. Her background is as an art therapist (independent and within psychiatry) and social worker / pastoral worker. In the visual art she is an autodidact (a self-taught person), acquiring some skills at high school (teacher in visual art), she then followed several courses / workshops given by professional artists.

Jeanine’s painting uses paper, linen or panel, with palette filled with gouache, acrylic, oil, ink, with at times addition of tar, sand, and glue. Artists that inspire her are Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Edvard Munch, Antoni Tapies and Emil Schumacher, but also the medium of modern dance moves her in her work, which is mostly abstract, but at times features more figurative elements. Sometimes echoes from mountain landscapes and abandoned hamlets (e.g. on the island of Corsica) are visualised. Her motto is: “In duet with myself.”

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Senses' at Kunstwerk! Liemers Museum, Netherlands

Installation view of the exhibition 'Senses' at Kunstwerk! Liemers Museum, Netherlands

 

Installation views of the exhibition Senses at Kunstwerk! Liemers Museum, Netherlands

 

Jeanine Keuchenius (b. 1953, Indonesia) 'Amulet' 2011

 

Jeanine Keuchenius (b. 1953, Indonesia)
Amulet (installation view)
2011
Gouache on paper
50 x 65 cm

 

Jeanine Keuchenius (b. 1953, Indonesia) 'Amulet' 2011

 

Jeanine Keuchenius (b. 1953, Indonesia)
Amulet
2011
Gouache on paper
50 x 65 cm

 

Jeanine Keuchenius (b. 1953, Indonesia) 'Pink and grey' 2012

 

Jeanine Keuchenius (b. 1953, Indonesia)
Pink and grey (installation view)
2012
Gouache on paper
50 x 65 cm

Each painting is the reflection of memory or dream.

 

Jeanine Keuchenius (b. 1953, Indonesia) 'Pink and grey' 2012

 

Jeanine Keuchenius (b. 1953, Indonesia)
Pink and grey
2012
Gouache on paper
50 x 65 cm

 

Jeanine Keuchenius (b. 1953, Indonesia) 'Lying figure 2' 2017

 

Jeanine Keuchenius (b. 1953, Indonesia)
Lying figure 2 (installation view)
2017
Two-dimensional plaster cut, printed on newspaper
22 x 26 cm

 

Jeanine Keuchenius (b. 1953, Indonesia) 'Beautiful stay' 2014

 

Jeanine Keuchenius (b. 1953, Indonesia)
Beautiful stay (installation view)
2014
Gouache on paper

 

Jeanine Keuchenius (b. 1953, Indonesia) 'Unchained' 2016

 

Jeanine Keuchenius (b. 1953, Indonesia)
Unchained (installation view)
2016
Mixed media on panel (bitumen, acrylic, sand on panel)
45 x 57 cm

 

Jeanine Keuchenius (b. 1953, Indonesia) 'Memory 1' 2018

 

Jeanine Keuchenius (b. 1953, Indonesia)
Memory 1 (installation view)
2018
Mixed media on panel (acrylic, sand, plaster, oil on panel)
60 x 70 cm

 

Jeanine Keuchenius (b. 1953, Indonesia) 'Gribusella' 2014

 

Jeanine Keuchenius (b. 1953, Indonesia)
Gribusella
2014
Acrylic on paper
50 x 65 cm

Form and colour accompany depth and emotion

 

Jeanine Keuchenius (b. 1953, Indonesia) 'Senses' 2012

 

Jeanine Keuchenius (b. 1953, Indonesia)
Senses
2012
Acrylic on paper
50 x 65 cm

 

Jeanine Keuchenius (b. 1953, Indonesia) 'Bwual ènzo' 2014

 

Jeanine Keuchenius (b. 1953, Indonesia)
Bwual ènzo
2014
Gouache on paper
50 x 65 cm

Both when handling and avoiding themes, you sometimes walk in a circle.

 

Poster for the exhibitions 'Now, the new form of the past' and 'Senses'

 

Poster for the exhibitions Now, the new form of the past and Senses

 

 

Kunstwerk! Liemers Museum
Kerkstraat 16, 6901
AB Zevenaar, Nederland
Phone: +31 85 040 9971

Opening hours :
Tuesday to Sunday from 2 pm – 5 pm.

Jeanine Keuchenius website

Drager Meurtant website

Petra Senn website

Kunstwerk! Liemers Museum website

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08
Jul
18

Review: ‘Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861’ at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne Part 2, featuring photographs from exhibition

Exhibition dates: 15th March – 15th July 2018

Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Colony: Frontier Wars (15 March – 2 September 2018) which presents a powerful response to colonisation through a range of historical and contemporary works by Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists dating from pre-contact times to present day.

Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers should be aware that this posting contains images and names of people who may have since passed away.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861 at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne showing how some of the photographs were displayed in the case at rear.

Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

” …what the generality of the white population of the Colony consist of, which is of the most debased and vilest dregs of Great Britain and Ireland… they never look on the Blacks in the light of human beings, but, would just as soon shoot them as they would a crow, or hunt them as they would a kangaroo. Indeed in some districts the dogs used to be thought good for nothing unless they could kill a Black as well as a kangaroo, and they used to teach them to do so, by giving them some of the poor Black’s blood.”

.
James Graham. ‘Overland Letter’ part of the Graham Bros collection at The University of Melbourne archives

 

The bad deeds of some leading frontier politicians, administrators and military men have been almost overlooked; many history books – even more modern online popular resources such as the Australian Dictionary of Biography – diminish, attempt to justify or overlook completely their proven excesses against this continent’s Indigenes. …

“On any occasion of seeing or falling in with the Natives, either in Bodies or Singly, they are to be called upon, by your friendly Native Guides, to surrender themselves to you as Prisoners of War. If they refuse to do so, make the least show of resistance, or attempt to run away from you, you will fire upon and compel them to surrender, breaking and destroying the Spears, Clubs and Waddies of all those you take Prisoners. Such natives as happen to be killed on such occasions, if grown up men, are to be hanged up on Trees in Conspicuous Situations, to Strike the Survivors with the greater terror.”

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Lachlan Macquarie, fifth governor of New South Wales quoted in Paul Daley, “Heroes, Monuments and History,” in ‘Meanjin’, Autumn 2018

 

 

Terror incognita

Firstly, let me state that I am no expert in Australian colonial history, culture or photography. These are very specialised fields. But what I can do is use my eyes, my knowledge and my feelings to provide comment on this exhibition.

This magnificent exhibition at NGV Australia at Federation Square is a fascinating interrogation of the early history of the Australian nation, yet at the same time I found it very disturbing and sad. The exhibition more resembles a natural history exhibition than an art exhibition, a cabinet of curiosities, a Wunderkammer, were encyclopaedic collections of objects whose categorical boundaries are yet to be defined are mixed with the first European art made on this continent. The exhibition is a microcosm or theatre of the world, and a memory theatre, for all that has passed since before invasion of this land up until the year 1861. The installation mixes together colonial and Indigenous artefacts from within the allotted time period. There is so much to see that I have visited three times and not got to the bottom of this exhibition it is so dense. Paintings, drawings, sculpture, colonial furniture, clothing, pottery, jewellery, photography, maps, artefacts, etc… are displayed in a melange of techniques, offering a huge range of artists and media. Please see Part 1 of the posting for the installation images of the exhibition.

Some observations can be made. Generally, the paintings and drawings are of a very classical form, very tightly controlled and painted. They set out to document the landscape, firstly the Australian landscape as seen in the European tradition, and then in a more realistic yet romanticised form in later paintings. Early colour aquatints of Aboriginal people depict them climbing trees in an almost reptilian manner while later representations picture “a romantic vision of a vast, silent and forbidding land. Two generic Aboriginal people figures are included in the foreground in the guise of the noble savage.” Of a vanishing race. Other collages (a fictionalised representational technique), such as James Wallis’ View of Awabakal Aboriginal people, with beach and river inlet, and distant Aboriginal group in background (c. 1818), propose “a harmonious relationship between the Awabakal, colonisers and the military. Such a suggestion is at odds with earlier events of April 1816 when Wallis, under the direction of Governor Macquarie, led an armed regiment against Dharawal and Gandangara people south of Sydney, in what is now acknowledged as the first officially sanctioned massacre of Indigenous people in Australia.” (Exhibition text) Further, the romanticised vistas of colonial interloper John Glover (1767-1849) evoke, “an idyll where the natives were at one with nature, even as the slaughter was upon them…” (Damian Smith, 2018). This connection to nature can be seen in Glover’s painting The River Nile, Van Diemen’s Land, from Mr Glover’s farm (1837). But, as the exhibition text notes, “Glover had not experienced the conflict or witnessed the violence between Tasmanian Aboriginal resistance fighters and white settlers during the 1820s. By the time of his arrival in 1831, the Tasmanian Aboriginal survivors had been forced to leave Country and relocate to Flinders Island.” These representations of Aboriginal life are pure fiction constructed in the imagination of the artists and colonisers.

By way of contrast, the portraits of landed gentry, such as Thomas Bock’s four paintings of Captain William Robertson and his family (1830s-50s), are elegant and flattering. They are portraits executed in the grand Georgian manner fashionable in England and were greatly prized by colonists. Here is a family who has made it, and they want everyone to know about it. The roots of their representation are in the old country, their allegiance there also, to the mother country. Australia is a colony, part of the British Empire, an outpost of all that is right and proper in the world. Imagine just for a second that you are back in the 1850s. No electricity, only candle power. Now imagine arriving at a home with these portraits, or the landscapes of John Glover, lit by candle light. The skin would be luminescent, the golden frames glowing in the light; the trees in the Glover paintings would have writhed, seeming almost alive in the flickering light. A forbidding landscape indeed.

In portraiture, the same disposition can be seen in the early daguerreotype and ambrotype photographs of Aboriginals and colonists.

“Within a decade of the arrival of European colonists in the Port Phillip District a number of professional photographers had established studios in Melbourne, and prominent among these was Douglas Kilburn. Around 1847, Kilburn made a series of portraits [see below] of people thought to be from the Kulin nation. The images testify to the power of photographs to record kin and define identity. They also show Aboriginal people who had experienced a decade of dispossession following the arrival of settlers. It is believed Kilburn’s subjects were among the numbers of First Nations people who had few choices other than to return to Melbourne because they had been driven out of their Country.” (Exhibition text)

If we look at these small, personal, one-off photographs housed in leather cases that can be closed off from the world, when opened to reveal the Aboriginal sitters … we notice how frontal they are, how they face straight on to the camera, how grouped they are, how they fill the picture plane with little negative space around them, how the camera seems to press in on them, as though to capture every last detail of their countenance and clothing. Their visage. The aspect of their being. These are ethnographic documents as much as they are portraits, for they map the condition of the captives. If, as Michael Graham-Stewart states in his book Bitter fruit: Australian photographs to 1963, “photography operates not only as an instrument of oppression, but also as a means of connecting with people of the past,” what do contemporary Indigenous Australians make of these images. Do they find evidence of wrongdoing and suffering but also of resistance, adaptation, and continuity? Are they also angry and sad at what they have lost, as in a thriving and incredibly diverse culture? I would be.

Again, by way of contrast we look at how the colonists viewed themselves in these personal treasures. Here, we must remember that these early photographs would have been relatively expensive for a family to have commissioned them, almost as expensive say, in contemporary terms, as buying a plasma television when they first came out. Only the well-to-do would have been able to afford to have their portrait taken. Two examples of this providence and bounty can be seen in this posting. The portrait of The Lashmar family by William Millington Nixon (1857-58, see below) shows a family who were pioneering pastoralists on Kangaroo Island in the 1850s. “Despite the relative remoteness of their home, and the harshness of the environment, the family evidently prospered. Thomas Young Lashmar not only had the means to travel to Adelaide with his wife and family, but was also able to commission photographic portraits at a time when it was still a relatively expensive exercise.” (Exhibition text) While Aboriginals while forced from their land and massacred, pastoralists were making money and prospering from the confiscated lands.

Nothing better shows the sense of entitlement that the early pastoralists had (and still do today, with their illegal land clearing) towards their possession of the land and their identity that arose from that possession, than the commissioned set of five portraits by daguerreotype portraitist George Goodman of the daughters of prominent local land holder William Lawson II in the town of Bathurst, north-west of Sydney. Dressed in their finest, the young daughters, arms covered, clutch flowers and either look away from the camera or directly at it. The camera is placed directly at eye level, or slightly below it, and the space around the sitter is open and amorphous, a plain background which isolates the figure in space. Unlike the claustrophobic portraits by Douglas Kilburn of the Aboriginals from the Kulin nation, here the sitters seem to possess the space of the photograph, they inhabit and can breathe in the pictorial plane. In particular, the portrait of Susannah Caroline Lawson (1845, below) pictures a young woman with an incredibly determined stare and haughty demeanour. She seems to radiate a perfect sense of entitlement within the physical presence of the photograph.

Other photographs reinforce this vision of the world that the colonists enacted. Thomas Bock’s Portrait of two boys (1848-50, below) “shows that he was a skilled photographer by 1848… Any parent would have been thrilled by such a vivid image of their sons, especially as, like many colonial sons, they might be getting ready to be sent ‘home’ to the United Kingdom for schooling. The image of the boys was a memento for their parents as well as proof for relatives in Britain that colonial society could produce the same well-dressed and well-bred young boys as the old country.” (Gael Newton)

There is the rub. For migrants who were a long way from home, photography was proof that they were alive, successful, flourishing… and could live up to the expectations of their family back home and the standards of the old country. “Photography served several interrelated roles associated with the experience of migration and colonisation. For those European migrants transplanted halfway across the world, often without family or friends, the most immediate and heartfelt use for the camera was portraiture. Some of Australia’s earliest surviving photographs are small, sturdily cased portraits which provided ‘likenesses as if by magic’ of those depicted and were sent back ‘home’, thus providing an emotional connection to family members.” (Exhibition text) An emotional connection for people living in a far off land to those back “home”, and an emotional connection to family in a forbidding land, to remind themselves of their strength and unity in the face of the unknown.

What this exhibition does not show, because they are later photographs, is evidence of the overt oppression of Indigenous peoples that photography documented. While terra nullius is a Latin expression meaning “nobody’s land” usually associated with colonising Australia, the British Government using this term to justify the dispossession of Indigenous people, there is also another term, terra incognita, a term used in cartography for regions that have not been mapped or documented. In many ways the terror that Indigenous people experienced during invasion is still being mapped and explored. Much of it is still not known or is unaccepted, as a terror incognita. Dr Katherine Ellinghaus in her article “Criss-Cross History Hidden in a Letter,” notes that, “Reconciliation Australia’s own biennial survey [2016] has found that more than one in three Australians don’t accept that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were subject to mass killings, incarceration, and forced removal from their lands.”

This is the terror that still exists in the Australian psyche. The terror of cutting ties to the motherland, the terror of an incognita, an “unknown land”, and the hidden terror prescribed and enacted on the cultural body of the Aboriginal, unacknowledged by some even today.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

Word count: 1,853

.
Many thankx to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All installation photographs © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Robert Lyall with the New Norfolk Cup' 1851 Ambrotype

 

Unknown photographer
Robert Lyall with the New Norfolk Cup
1851
Ambrotype
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 2004
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

Robert Lyall was a successful Tasmanian publican and businessman whose interests extended to horse racing. In 1851 his prized horse Patience won the New Norfolk Cup and Lyall was the recipient of a handsome silver presentation cup. Not only evidence of his success and standing, the cup was apparently also of great personal significance to Lyall as he included it as a decorative element when this large-scale ambrotype was commissioned. Unlike more intimately scaled cased images, this photograph was framed so that it could be prominently displayed on the wall. (Exhibition text)

 

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) 'No title (Group of Koori men)' c. 1847 Daguerreotype

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) 'No title (Group of Koori men)' c. 1847 Daguerreotype

 

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) (England 1811 – Australia 1871, Australia from 1846)
No title (Group of Koori men)
c. 1847
Daguerreotype; leather, wood, velvet, brass
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased from Admission Funds, 1983

Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

Within a decade of the arrival of European colonists in the Port Phillip District a number of professional photographers had established studios in Melbourne, and prominent among these was Douglas Kilburn. Around 1847, Kilburn made a series of portraits of people thought to be from the Kulin nation. The images testify to the power of photographs to record kin and define identity. They also show Aboriginal people who had experienced a decade of dispossession following the arrival of settlers. It is believed Kilburn’s subjects were among the numbers of First Nations people who had few choices other than to return to Melbourne because they had been driven out of their Country. (Exhibition text)

 

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) (England 1811 – Australia 1871, Australia from 1846) 'No title (Group of Koori men)' c. 1847

 

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) (England 1811 – Australia 1871, Australia from 1846)
No title (Group of Koori men)
c. 1847
Daguerreotype; leather, wood, velvet, brass
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased from Admission Funds, 1983

 

 

Kulin

The Kulin nation is an alliance of five Indigenous Australian tribes in south central Victoria, Australia. Their collective territory extended around Port Phillip and Western Port, up into the Great Dividing Range and the Loddon and Goulburn River valleys. Before British colonisation, the tribes spoke five related languages. These languages were spoken in two groups: the Eastern Kulin group of Woiwurrung, Boonwurrung, Taungurong and Ngurai-illam-wurrung; and the western language group of just Wathaurung.

The central Victoria area has been inhabited for an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 years before European settlement. At the time of British settlement in the 1830s, the collective populations of the Woiwurrung, Boonwurrung and Wathaurong tribes of the Kulin nation was estimated to be under 20,000. The Kulin lived by fishing, hunting and gathering, and made a sustainable living from the rich food sources of Port Phillip and the surrounding grasslands.

Due to the upheaval and disturbances from British settlement from the 1830s on, there is limited physical evidence of the Kulin peoples’ collective past. However, there is a small number of registered sites of cultural and spiritual significance in the Melbourne area.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) 'No title (South-east Australian Aboriginal man and two younger companions)' 1847 (left) and 'No title (Two Koori women)' c. 1847 (right) Daguerreotypes

 

Left

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) (England 1811 – Australia 1871, Australia from 1846)
No title (South-east Australian Aboriginal man and two younger companions)
1847
Daguerreotype
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 2007

Right

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) (England 1811 – Australia 1871, Australia from 1846)
No title (Two Koori women)
c. 1847
Daguerreotype, brass, glass, gold, velvet
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 2004

Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) 'No title (Two Koori women)' c. 1847 Daguerreotype

 

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) (England 1811 – Australia 1871, Australia from 1846)
No title (Two Koori women)
c. 1847
Daguerreotype, brass, glass, gold, velvet
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 2004
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

As a way of attracting attention to his newly opened business Douglas Kilburn took at least eight daguerreotypes of Aboriginal people in the lands of the Kulin nation. As a result of the nineteenth-century belief that the Aboriginal people were doomed to annihilation, Kilburn intended the images as ethnographic studies rather than individual portraits; nevertheless, his unnamed sitters project a proud and dignified presence. His photographs were popular with local artists such as Eugene von Guérard and John Skinner Prout, who copied them, and they also reached an international audience when they were used as the basis for wood engravings in William Westgarth’s Australia Felix in 1848, Nordisk Penning-Magazin in 1849 and the Illustrated London News in 1850. (Exhibition text)

 

George Goodman Lawson children

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51)

Left

Maria Emily Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented 1993

Middle

Susannah Caroline Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype; leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented by Sir Kenneth Street, 1960

Right

Eliza Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype, leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented by Sir Kenneth Street, 1960

Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

George Goodman Lawson mother and children

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51)

Left

Caroline and Thomas James Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype, leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented 1991

Middle

Sophia Rebecca Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype, leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented by Sir Kenneth Street, 1960

Right

Sarah Ann Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype, leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented by Sir Kenneth Street, 1960

Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

George Goodman arrived in Sydney in 1842 and established the first professional photography studio in Australia. Although he is known to have made photographs of Tasmanian street scenes, his stock-in-trade was portraiture. Goodman travelled to regional towns where he advertised his services as a daguerreotype portraitist. In 1845 he visited the town of Bathurst, north-west of Sydney, and was commissioned to photograph the family of prominent local land holder William Lawson II. The resulting series includes five individual portraits of Lawson’s young daughters and a charming, and surprisingly informal, image showing his wife Caroline Lawson and their young son. (Exhibition text)

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51) 'Susannah Caroline Lawson' 1845

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51)
Susannah Caroline Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype; leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented by Sir Kenneth Street, 1960

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51) 'Eliza Lawson' 1845

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51)
Eliza Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype, leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented by Sir Kenneth Street, 1960

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51) 'Caroline and Thomas James Lawson' 1845

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51)
Caroline and Thomas James Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype, leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented 1991

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51) 'Sophia Rebecca Lawson' 1845

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51)
Sophia Rebecca Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype, leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented by Sir Kenneth Street, 1960

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51) 'Sarah Ann Lawson' 1845

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51)
Sarah Ann Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype, leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented by Sir Kenneth Street, 1960

 

Unknown photographer (working 1850s) 'Pair of portraits: George Taylor, his wife Ann (nee Collis Pratt)' c. 1856 Ambrotypes

 

Unknown photographer (working 1850s)
Pair of portraits: George Taylor, his wife Ann (nee Collis Pratt)
c. 1856, Adelaide
Two ambrotypes, colour dyes, gold paint
9.4 x 6.8 cm (each image, oval)
J.C. Earl Bequest Fund 2010
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Freeman Brothers Studio. ‘No title (Mother and children)’ 1855-56

 

Freeman Brothers Studio, Sydney (1854-1900)
James Freeman (England 1814 – Australia 1890, Australia from early 1850s)
William Freeman (England 1809 – Australia 1895, Australia from early 1850s)
No title (Mother and children)
1855-56
Daguerreotype, oil paint; leather, gold, paint, glass, velvet, metal, wood (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gerstl Bequest, 2001
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Freeman Brothers Studio. ‘No title (Mother and children)’ 1855-56

 

Freeman Brothers Studio, Sydney (1854-1900)
James Freeman (England 1814 – Australia 1890, Australia from early 1850s)
William Freeman (England 1809 – Australia 1895, Australia from early 1850s)
No title (Mother and children)
1855-56
Daguerreotype, oil paint; leather, gold, paint, glass, velvet, metal, wood (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gerstl Bequest, 2001

 

 

One of the largest and most celebrated Sydney photographic studios was run by the Freeman Brothers, whose skilful portraits were much admired. This pair of entrepreneurial photographers used the latest processes, building a large, well-appointed studio and actively promoting their work through display in international exhibitions. James Freeman was also extremely well versed in the potential uses of the medium, delivering a comprehensive lecture on the topic to a Sydney society in 1858. (Exhibition text)

 

Thomas Glaister (England 1824 - United States 1904, Australia 1850s) 'No title (Seated woman)' c. 1858

 

Thomas Glaister (England 1824 – United States 1904, Australia 1850s)
No title (Seated woman)
c. 1858
Ambrotype, coloured dyes
13.6 h x 10.7 w cm (case)
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1983
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Professor Robert Hall. ‘Portrait of a gentleman with check pants’ 1855-65 and Thomas Glaister. ‘George Coppin’ c. 1855

 

Left

Professor Robert Hall (active in Australia mid 19th century)
No title (Portrait of a gentleman with check pants)
1855-65
Stereo ambrotype, colour dyes
8.8 x 17.1 cm (overall)
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
R. J. Noye Collection
Gift of Douglas and Barbara Mullins, 2004

Right

Thomas Glaister (England 1824 – United States 1904, Australia 1850s)
George Coppin
c. 1855
Daguerreotype, hand tinted, gilt-matted and glazed
5.2 x 12.7 cm
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney

Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

George Selth Coppin (8 April 1819 – 14 March 1906) was a comic actor, entrepreneur and politician, active in Australia. For more information see the Australian Dictionary of Biography entry.

 

Thomas Glaister. ‘No title (Gentleman)’ c. 1854

 

Meade Brothers Studio, Melbourne (studio active in Australia 1850s)
Thomas Glaister (attributed to) (photographer England 1825 – United States 1904)
No title (Gentleman)
c. 1854
Daguerreotype, colour pigments; gold, leather, velvet, brass, glass (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through the NGV Foundation with the assistance of T. H. Lustig and Moar Families, Governor, 2001
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Thomas Glaister. ‘No title (Gentleman)’ c. 1854

 

Meade Brothers Studio, Melbourne (studio active in Australia 1850s)
Thomas Glaister (attributed to) (photographer England 1825 – United States 1904)
No title (Gentleman)
c. 1854
Daguerreotype, colour pigments; gold, leather, velvet, brass, glass (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through the NGV Foundation with the assistance of T. H. Lustig and Moar Families, Governor, 2001

 

Thomas Bock. ‘William Robertson Jnr.’ c. 1852 and ‘Margaret Robertson’ c. 1852

 

Left

Thomas Bock (attributed to) (England 1790 – Australia 1855, Australia from 1824)
William Robertson Jnr.
c. 1852
Daguerreotype, hand coloured
case: 9.2 x 8.0 cm, image: 7.0 x 5.5 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Fiona Turner (nee Robertson) and John Robertson, 2001
Donated through the Australia Government’s Cultural Gifts Program

Right

Thomas Bock (attributed to) (England 1790 – Australia 1855, Australia from 1824)
Margaret Robertson
c. 1852
Ambrotype, hand coloured
case: 9.3 x 8.0 cm, image: 7.0 x 6.0 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Fiona Turner (nee Robertson) and John Robertson, 2001
Donated through the Australia Government’s Cultural Gifts Program

Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

News of scientific discoveries reached Australia via the flotillas of ships plying the southern trade routes. The first demonstrations of photography occurred in England and France in 1839. News of this reached Australia that same year and was described in an account in the Tasmanian newspaper The Cornwall Chronicle on 19 October 1839. Former convict Thomas Bock was one of the earliest Tasmanian photographers, first advertising his studio in September 1843. His daguerreotype portraits resemble his paintings and drawings in their composition and use of hand-colouring. (Exhibition text)

 

Thomas Bock

1790 – 1855

Thomas Bock, artist, printmaker and photographer, is believed to have been born at Sutton Coldfield, near Birmingham, in 1790. He completed an apprenticeship as an engraver with Thomas Brandard in Birmingham and in 1814 established his own business there, advertising himself as an ‘Engraver and Miniature Painter’. In April 1823, Bock and a woman named Mary Day Underhill appeared at the Warwickshire Assizes charged with ‘administering concoctions of certain herbs to Ann Yates, with the intent to cause a miscarriage.’ Both were found guilty and sentenced to transportation for fourteen years. At the time of his conviction, Bock was thirty-two, married and father to five children. Bock arrived in Hobart aboard the Asia in January 1824. His convict record stated he had ‘served an apprenticeship to the Engraving Business’ and described him as ‘well connected and very orderly.’ The colonial authorities found immediate use for Bock, some of his earliest Tasmanian works being bank notes engraved for the Bank of Van Diemen’s Land and a drawing of executed cannibal, Alexander Pearce, made in July 1824 at the request of the Colonial Surgeon. Bock worked as a printmaker during the 1820s, engraving stationery along with illustrations for publications such as the Hobart Town Almanack while also producing portraits. He received a conditional pardon in 1832 and free pardon a year later, thereafter establishing a highly successful practice as Hobart’s most sought-after portrait artist. Bock was particularly known for his portrait drawings utilising watercolour, pencil, chalk and pastel (or ‘French crayon’), but his practice was diverse, incorporating printmaking and oil painting as well as photography. On his death in Hobart in March 1855 he was described as ‘an artist of a very high order’ whose works ‘adorned the homes of a number of our old colonists and citizens.’

Text from the National Portrait Gallery website

 

Thomas Bock (attributed to) (England 1790 - Australia 1855, Australia from 1824) 'William Robertson Jnr.' c. 1852

 

Thomas Bock (attributed to) (England 1790 – Australia 1855, Australia from 1824)
William Robertson Jnr.
c. 1852
Daguerreotype, hand coloured
case: 9.2 x 8.0 cm, image: 7.0 x 5.5 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Fiona Turner (nee Robertson) and John Robertson, 2001
Donated through the Australia Government’s Cultural Gifts Program

 

 

William Robertson (1839-1892), barrister and politician, was the third of the seven children of pastoralist William Robertson (1798-1874) and his wife Margaret (née Whyte, 1811-1866). Robertson was born and educated in Hobart and then at Wadham College, Oxford. He is believed to be the first Australian to row in an Oxford eight, his team victorious against Cambridge in the Boat Race of 1861. Robertson graduated with a BA in 1862 and was married and called to the bar the following year. On his return to Australia, Robertson practised law in Hobart before heading to Victoria in 1864. He worked as a barrister in Melbourne and then assisted in the management of the family property, Corangamarah, which he and his three brothers jointly inherited on the death of their father in 1874. Robertson served as a member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly between 1871 and 1874 and again from 1881 to 1886; he was also President of the Colac Shire council in 1880-81. After the dissolution of the partnership with his brothers in 1885, Robertson became sole owner of Corangamarah, later called The Hill, and in retirement enjoyed the lifestyle of an ‘hospitable and sports-loving country gentleman.’

Text from the National Portrait Gallery website

 

Thomas Bock (attributed to) (England 1790 - Australia 1855, Australia from 1824) 'Margaret Robertson' c. 1852

 

Thomas Bock (attributed to) (England 1790 – Australia 1855, Australia from 1824)
Margaret Robertson
c. 1852
Ambrotype, hand coloured
case: 9.3 x 8.0 cm, image: 7.0 x 6.0 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Fiona Turner (nee Robertson) and John Robertson, 2001
Donated through the Australia Government’s Cultural Gifts Program

 

 

Margaret Robertson (née Whyte, 1811-1866) was the daughter of settlers George and Jessie Whyte, who emigrated to Van Diemen’s Land from Scotland in 1832. In September 1834, Margaret married Scottish-born entrepreneur and landowner William Robertson (1798-1874), who had arrived in the colony in 1822 and who, in the decade leading up to his marriage, had acquired land nearby to a property owned by Margaret’s family. The first of Margaret and William’s seven children – four sons and three daughters – was born in 1835. The family resided in Hobart until the early 1860s, when Roberston relocated to his Victorian estate, where Margaret died in February 1866.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery website

 

Thomas Bock (England 1790 - Australia 1855, Australia from 1824) 'No title (Portrait of two boys)' 1848-50

 

Thomas Bock (England 1790 – Australia 1855, Australia from 1824)
No title (Portrait of two boys)
1848-50, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Daguerreotype
case closed 7.0 h x 6.0 w cm case open 7.5 h x 13.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 2009
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

The daguerreotype was first demonstrated in Australia in Sydney in May 1841. Late the following year, London’s George Goodman set up the first commercial studio in Sydney, claiming to have an exclusive license to use the daguerreotype in the colonies. Goodman was working in Hobart in August 1843, where he came in direct competition with British convict artist Thomas Bock.

Although an engraver by trade, Bock had a keen interest in photography and, in the Hobart Town Advertiser of 29 September 1843, he advertised that ‘in a short time he would be enabled to take photographic likenesses in the first style of the art’. Infuriated, Goodman threatened legal action and Bock promptly withdrew until five years later when he opened a portrait photography studio in Hobart.

Bock’s stepson Alfred assisted him in the photography-side of the studio business. They had seen daguerreotype portraits brought from London by Reverend Francis Russell Nixon in Hobart in June 1843 – before Goodman’s arrival in Tasmania – and had purchased a camera from a Frenchman in Hobart so that they could learn the new art form using photographic formulas published in English magazines. Their lack of proper training, however, shows in Hobart dignitary GTYB Boyes’s records of August 1849, in which he comments, ‘Bock understands the nature of his apparatus but very imperfectly!’ Despite this and other unfavourable remarks between 1849 and 1853, Boyes continued to visit Bock’s studios for daguerreotype portraits.

Bock’s portrait of two freckle-faced boys dressed in matching outfits shows that he was a skilled photographer by 1848 – a year before Boyes’s initial disparaging remark. Any parent would have been thrilled by such a vivid image of their sons, especially as, like many colonial sons, they might be getting ready to be sent ‘home’ to the United Kingdom for schooling. The image of the boys was a memento for their parents as well as proof for relatives in Britain that colonial society could produce the same well-dressed and well-bred young boys as the old country. The sitters are as yet unidentified but the daguerreotype has been dated by comparison with several identified examples of double portraits of children that have survived out of the hundreds of images made by the Bock studio.

Gael Newton
Senior Curator, Photography
in artonview, issue 61, autumn 2010

 

William Millington Nixon (England 1814 - Australia 1893, Australia from 1855) 'The Lashmar family' 1857-58

 

William Millington Nixon (England 1814 – Australia 1893, Australia from 1855)
The Lashmar family
1857-58
Daguerreotype, coloured inks; gold, leather, brass, metal, velvet and glass (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 2004
Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

Shortly after his arrival in Adelaide in 1855, William Millington Nixon began making daguerreotypes, and quickly become a skilled daguerreotypist. By 1858 he had built a reputation as a portraitist and established a studio in King William Street, Adelaide.

The Lashmar family were pioneering pastoralists on Kangaroo Island in the 1850s. Despite the relative remoteness of their home, and the harshness of the environment, the family evidently prospered. Thomas Young Lashmar not only had the means to travel to Adelaide with his wife and family, but was also able to commission photographic portraits at a time when it was still a relatively expensive exercise. (Exhibition text)

 

Unknown photographer. 'No title (Portrait of a nun)' c. 1860

 

Unknown photographer
No title (Portrait of a nun)
c. 1860
Ambrotype with hand tinting
4.0 x 16.5 x 12.5 cm (box)
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
R.J. Noye Collection
Gift of Douglas and Barbara Mullins, 2004
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Thomas Glaister (England 1824 - United States 1904, Australia 1850s) 'Reverend Jabez Bunting Waterhouse' 1861

 

Thomas Glaister (England 1824 – United States 1904, Australia 1850s)
Reverend Jabez Bunting Waterhouse
1861
Ambrotype, coloured-dyes
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

WATERHOUSE BROTHERS: Jabez Bunting (1821-1891), Joseph (1828-1881), and Samuel (1830-1918), Wesleyan ministers, were the fifth, ninth and tenth children of Rev. John Waterhouse (d. 1842) and his wife Jane Beadnell, née Skipsey. In 1838 their father, a prominent Yorkshire Methodist, was appointed general superintendent of the Wesleyan Methodist Mission in Australia and Polynesia with a roving commission. With his wife, seven sons and three daughters, he reached Hobart Town in the James on 1 February 1839.

Jabez was born in London on 19 April 1821, educated at Kingswood School in 1832-35 and apprenticed to a printer. In Hobart, A. Bent’s printing premises were purchased and worked by Jabez. In 1840 he became a local preacher extending his ministry to convict road menders. Received as a probationer in 1842, he returned to England to enter Richmond (Theological) College and in 1845 was appointed to Windsor circuit. After his ordination at the Methodist chapel, Spitalfields, he was sent to Van Diemen’s Land in 1847, and ministered successively in the Hobart, Westbury, Campbell Town and Longford circuits. In 1855 the first conference of the Wesleyan Church in Australia appointed him to South Australia; he served at Kapunda, Willunga and Adelaide, his ministry marked by his business acumen and his role as secretary of the Australasian Conference at Adelaide in 1862.

In 1864 Waterhouse was transferred to New South Wales and was appointed successively to Maitland, Goulburn, Orange, Waverley, Parramatta, Newcastle and Glebe. In 1874-75 he was secretary of the New South Wales and Queensland Annual Conference and president in 1876; he was elected secretary of the first three general conferences of the Australasian Wesleyan Methodist Church: in Melbourne 1875, Sydney 1878 and Adelaide 1881. In 1882 he retired as a supernumerary, but remained on committees such as those of the Sustentation and Extension Society and the Missionary Society, frequently looking after missionary interests during the absence of George Brown. He supported the Wesleyan Church in Tonga in the dispute with S. W. Baker and published The Secession and the Persecution in Tonga … (Sydney, 1886). Regarded as a gifted preacher by his denomination and as the architect of most of the conference legislation, he died of heart disease and dropsy at Randwick on 18 January 1891 and was buried in the Wesleyan section of Rookwood cemetery. He was survived by his wife Maria Augusta, née Bode, whom he had married at Windsor, England, on 13 August 1847, and by seven sons; his second son John was headmaster of Sydney High School.

Niel Gunson. Australian Dictionary of Biography

 

Freeman Brothers Studio. ‘Walter Davis’ and ‘Jemima Jane Davis’ c. 1860

 

Left

Freeman Brothers Studio (Sydney 1854-1900)
James Freeman (England 1814 – Australia 1890, Australia from early 1850s)
William Freeman (England 1809 – Australia 1895, Australia from early 1850s)
Jemima Jane Davis
c. 1860
Ambrotype, coloured dyes; wood, leather, velvet, glass and gilt metal (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Warwick Reeder, 1991

Right

Freeman Brothers Studio (Sydney 1854-1900)
James Freeman (England 1814 – Australia 1890, Australia from early 1850s)
William Freeman (England 1809 – Australia 1895, Australia from early 1850s)
Walter Davis
c. 1860
Ambrotype, coloured dyes; wood, leather, velvet, glass and gilt metal (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Warwick Reeder, 1991

Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Freeman Brothers Studio. ‘Walter Davis’ c. 1860

 

Freeman Brothers Studio (Sydney 1854-1900)
James Freeman (England 1814 – Australia 1890, Australia from early 1850s)
William Freeman (England 1809 – Australia 1895, Australia from early 1850s)
Walter Davis
c. 1860
Ambrotype, coloured dyes; wood, leather, velvet, glass and gilt metal (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Warwick Reeder, 1991
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Freeman Brothers Studio. ‘Jemima Jane Davis’ c. 1860

 

Freeman Brothers Studio (Sydney 1854-1900)
James Freeman (England 1814 – Australia 1890, Australia from early 1850s)
William Freeman (England 1809 – Australia 1895, Australia from early 1850s)
Jemima Jane Davis
c. 1860
Ambrotype, coloured dyes; wood, leather, velvet, glass and gilt metal (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Warwick Reeder, 1991

 

Freeman Brothers Studio. ‘Walter Davis’ c. 1860

 

Freeman Brothers Studio (Sydney 1854-1900)
James Freeman (England 1814 – Australia 1890, Australia from early 1850s)
William Freeman (England 1809 – Australia 1895, Australia from early 1850s)
Walter Davis
c. 1860
Ambrotype, coloured dyes; wood, leather, velvet, glass and gilt metal (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Warwick Reeder, 1991

 

Unknown photographer. 'No title (Portrait of a man, woman and child)' c. 1860

 

Unknown photographer
No title (Portrait of a man, woman and child)
c. 1860
Ambrotype, coloured dyes; wood, leather, brass, glass, silk (velvet) (case)
Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Unknown photographer. 'No title (Portrait of mother and child)' c. 1855

 

Unknown photographer
No title (Portrait of mother and child)
c. 1855
Ambrotype, coloured dyes; wood, leather, brass, glass, silk (velvet) (case)
Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney
Gift of Tooth & Company Ltd under the Australian Government’s Tax Incentives for the Arts Scheme, 1986
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Unknown photographer. ‘Jemima, wife of Jacky with William T. Mortlock’ and ‘Jacky, known as Master Mortlock’ c. 1860

 

Left

Unknown photographer
Jemima, wife of Jacky with William T. Mortlock
c. 1860
Daguerreotype
Ayers House Museum, National Trust of South Australia, Adelaide

Right

Unknown photographer
Jacky, known as Master Mortlock
c. 1860-65
Daguerreotype
Ayers House Museum, National Trust of South Australia, Adelaide

Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

The Mortlock family were wealthy pastoralists in South Australia. Along with the daguerreotypes of family members they commissioned around 1860 are two portraits of their domestic servants known as Jemima and Jacky. Each member of the Mortlock family has been named in these images, but the identity of the two Aboriginal sitters has been lost – initially with the assignment of European first names and then the addition of the surname ‘master Mortlock’, which identified them as servants of the pastoralists who employed them. (Exhibition text)