Posts Tagged ‘Point Lobos

10
Jan
15

Text/Exhibition: ‘Wynn Bullock: Revelations’ at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta

Exhibition dates: 14th June 2014 – 18th January 2015

 

Being and Becoming in the work of Wynn Bullock

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It’s strange how some artists become famous while others wane in relative obscurity. For 50 years after his death, J. S. Bach’s reputation as a composer declined, his work regarded as old-fashioned compared to the new style of the day. Just look at him now.

Wynn Bullock, contemporary of Edward Weston, Minor White, Harry Callahan, Aaron Siskind, Imogen Cunningham, Frederick Sommer and Ansel Adams, is not yet as well known as any of them. He should be. As the press release states, “Despite early acclaim, the true breadth and depth of Bullock’s career has remained largely in the shadows.” This first retrospective of his work in 40 years will hopefully start to change that perception. In my estimation he is up there in the pantheon of photographic stars. There are photographers… and there are master photographers. Bullock is one of the latter, in my top ten classical black and white analogue photographers of all time.

Bullock began pursuing “straight” photography after meeting Edward Weston in 1948. Work from the early 1950s has an essential, humanist flavour as can be seen in photographs such as Child in Forest (1951) and Let There Be Light (1951), both images appearing in Edward Steichen’s seminal exhibition The Family of Man at the Museum of Modern Art in 1955, printed at large scale. By the mid-50s Bullock was really hitting his straps and the work starts to become less didactic and more open to multiple interpretations and possibilities.

As Bullock says, the mysteries lie all around us waiting only to be perceived. But it’s more than that… it’s more than “what if”. Bullock claims the existence of these things while at the same time acknowledging that they are not generally accessible within the Western canon. That he expresses their existence is his gift to the world.

Take, for example, that most complex of images, Point Lobos Tide Pool (1957). Once seen, never forgotten. I remember seeing this image in my first year studying photography at university and it being seared into my brain. How could you get such an image! It encompasses every feeling and emotion about our place in the cosmos that I could ever think of. And then you hear the story (one that I recently confirmed with his daughter Barbara), which I recount here and which appeared in the book Darkroom edited by Eleanor Lewis, published in 1976 by Lustrum Press, and dedicated to Bullock’s memory.

Bullock was only able to make ONE exposure.

“The first photograph I want to discuss is the POINT LOBOS TIDE POOL. This is a contact print from an 8 x 10 negative. The picture was taken at sunset and the light was dim. The sun was striking only the edges of the rocks in the upper-left-hand corner. The tide pool itself was especially dull, and the light was disappearing so fast I had to make a quick exposure. The negative is very soft because in my hurry to capture the picture, I forgot to underexpose the film so that I could expand the contrast by overdeveloping. The tide pool, a critical part of the image, is especially soft.

“For the final print, I used Brovira No. 5 paper, Amidol developer, and developed it for three minutes to keep the dull parts from going flat. As soon as you use high contrast papers, everything gets more critical. A second or two variation in exposure in high contrast areas can mean the difference between seeing what I want to see, and not seeing anything but black or white paper.

“I could think of the negative-making process as one in which I would make a technically perfect negative. But the technically perfect negative doesn’t always give me what I want… By not always reaching for the easily printed negative, I get luminosity I wouldn’t otherwise have.

In the tide pool print, it’s always been a touchy problem to get the brilliance in the pool itself, where the negative is soft. Unless carefully controlled, that part goes muddy. The rest of the photograph is secondary, but requires some burning and dodging to get tonal balance.

“These are problems I’ve been living with. In doing so, I’ve developed printing skills. It’s a way of life with me. In printing, I don’t want to distort the reality of the image, but I don’t want to distort the reality of my feelings for it either. The two go hand in hand. I have no qualms about altering the image by burning and dodging. I’m not a purist in that way. I am a purist in that I don’t want the manipulation to show. As soon as it does, the magic is destroyed.”

As his daughter Barbara notes, “Point Lobos Tide Pool, 1957 is another serendipitous image that took place on the [Point Lobos State] Reserve. The day this photograph was made, Dad was hauling his heavy field camera along the South Shore Trail when he happened upon a tide pool with a galaxy in its midst. He set up his equipment as quickly as he could and made his first exposure. Normally, he liked to bracket his exposures, but before he could make a second one, a gust of wind swept across the pool and the complex pattern of microscopic organisms vanished.

Fortunately, one exposure was good enough. Whenever he told the story, Dad would laugh and say, “I was just damn lucky that day!” What he often left unexpressed was the lasting impression of the experience that exemplified for him the continual being-and-becoming nature of the universe as well as the kinship of its microcosmic and macrocosmic dimensions. The image remained a personal favorite for the rest of his life.” (Barbara Bullock-Wilson. “Point Lobos Tide Pool, 1957” Commentary © 2013/2015 Barbara Bullock-Wilson. All rights reserved.)

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It is as if the universe stood still for the length of time that it took Bullock to expose his plate, as though the universe was giving him permission for his previsualisation … … … before it moved on, in a gust of wind. But that is not the end of it, no! Because of the thin negative Bullock had to print on grade 5 paper, the most contrasty paper that you can get. And because the area of the tide pool was especially thin, the exposure time is absolutely critical for this print, to get the luminosity in the pool that the artist required. In the whole scheme of things there is a tiny window of opportunity with the exposure of this negative to get a glorious print. This is far from a straight print, and what makes the story even more remarkable is that Bullock had to delve into his scientific knowledge, had to experiment with his feelings (his exposure time), with the magic of the analogue print, to make this apparition appear!

The whole story is quite thrilling really. As my mentor observes, “Point Lobos is several km of coast if you measured into every bay – but there aren’t that many spots where you can photograph the actual tide zone – probably 7 or 8 inlets – some smaller than a basketball court. The spot that Minor White talks about as Weston cove is about basketball court size from memory. You can walk around above it a few metres in the air and see it all. Only someone with a specific aim would scramble down to be amongst what could already be clearly seen. There are just as many spots where you can’t get down like Weston’s sparkle on the sea shot. Weston cove feels amazing; full of ghosts. Bullock would have been very familiar with what would be likely to come around again and what would not.”

Close your eyes and just imagine dragging an 8 x 10 camera down there and finding that image.

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Readers, you know that I am a passionate person, that I am passionate about photography. As I relatively young man what these great artists seemed to me to be doing were noble artistic things; I still feel that. You cannot talk about photography like other mediums that define themselves – not in a modernist sense of materials – Rothko can only be talked about by referring to Rothko, Beethoven, Mozart, etc… Much as Bullock says that light “permits the same freedom of expression as paint for the painter, words for the writer, numbers for the mathematician, or sound for the composer,” photography is of a different order. You are comparing a system of making using the hand with a system using a photo-mechanical eye. Making great images is of necessity much more difficult within this process (as can be see in the millions of meaningless images that flood the world today).

I believe that inherent to any photograph is the ability to transcend the medium – whether that is in vernacular photography (by chance) or through astute observation and meditation (MW and WB). Whether the person then recognises these images as such is another matter, but it only happens on limited occasions. But when you get something, the magic just works. In his Point Lobos Tide Pool (1957), Navigation without Numbers (1957), Under Monterey Wharf (1969) and Erosion (1959), Bullock is like a mystical time traveller – of both the body and the landscape. You only have to look at the timbre of the prints and the layering of tones. These images can’t be judged on any terms other than the terms the image itself lays down. They are beyond serious: and it shows how difficult photography really is – and how rare the good photograph is – that most photographers don’t really have a count that gets into double figures for a decade’s work. It doesn’t add up to much of a crop for a lifetimes work but does Bullock care… hell no!

As he says, “You really have to give of yourself to make good pictures… The fact that good pictures are rare, however, has never slowed me down. Just going out and looking at things and using a camera is therapeutic. I deeply love the whole process.”

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A deep love of the whole process, a deep love of being and becoming.

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The ability of the photographer is that they can massage the medium – through imagination, surrealism, reality, space/time etc… that ENACTS a difference that painters, musicians can only dream of – through a manipulation of reality, through a form of hyper-reality. In Bullock’s case it is the recognition of the mysteries that lie all around us in which the images take on a symbiotic relationship with an observation of the human mind THROUGH photography.

Openly talking in a clear language from a lifetime of meditation.

A clear language where words don’t quite equal the meanings normally attached to them.

From another dimension.

 

“In streams of light I clearly saw
The dust you seldom see,
Out of which the Nameless makes
A Name for one like me.

I’ll try to say a little more:
Love went on and on
Until it reached an open door –
Then Love Itself
Love Itself was gone.

All busy in the sunlight
The flecks did float and dance,
And I was tumbled up with them
In formless circumstance.

I’ll try to say a little more:
Love went on and on
Until it reached an open door –
Then Love Itself
Love Itself was gone.”

(from “Love Itself” lyrics by Leonard Cohen)

 

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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

 

 

“Mysteries lie all around us, even in the most familiar of things, waiting only to be perceived.”

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“Light to me is perhaps the most profound truth in the universe… [It] permits the same freedom of expression as paint for the painter, words for the writer, numbers for the mathematician, or sound for the composer.”

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“You really have to give of yourself to make good pictures. Well, that giving takes a lot out of you, and you simply can’t operate at that intense level all the time. Neither can you predetermine what happens outside you.

The fact that good pictures are rare, however, has never slowed me down. Just going out and looking at things and using a camera is therapeutic. I deeply love the whole process.”

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Wynn Bullock

 

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Point Lobos Tide Pool' 1957

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Point Lobos Tide Pool
1957
Gelatin silver print
7 9/16 x 9 ½ in.
Collection Center for Creative Photography
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Point Lobos Tide Pool appears simultaneously to resemble both a galaxy and a bacterial growth across a petri dish, when in fact it is neither so large nor so small a subject, but rather a pool arrayed with microorganisms along the Carmel coast, transformed into a picture of astounding beauty.

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975) 'Erosion' 1959

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Erosion
1959
Gelatin silver print
Collection Center for Creative Photography
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Bullock found this scene along a California roadway and was drawn to the insight it provides into what goes on in spaces that normally lie beyond our perception. The eroded embankment reveals the slow evolution of the world across centuries, with organic and inorganic elements coexisting together at different stages of growth and decay. Stripped of its skin and flayed by the corrosive power of water, the hill in Bullock’s picture reveals a powerfully foreign world as real and as beautiful as anything on the surface of the earth. Bullock’s efforts were decidedly pointed toward making the ordinary profound and in revealing a complexity beyond the surface of things.

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Under Monterey Wharf' 1969

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Under Monterey Wharf
1969
Gelatin silver print
Collection Center for Creative Photography
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975) 'Navigation without Numbers' 1957

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Navigation without Numbers
1957
Gelatin silver print
6 13/16 x 8 15/16 in.,
Collection Center for Creative Photography
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Del Monte Forest' 1969

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Del Monte Forest
1969
Gelatin silver print
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, promised gift of Barbara and Gene Bullock-Wilson
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Nude by Sandy's Window' 1956

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Nude by Sandy’s Window
1956
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

In this picture, a brightly lit window occupies the bulk of Bullock’s composition, hovering over a woman who appears to be asleep; light shines in through the glass with a blinding intensity that obscures a clear view of the exterior while alluding to the existence of a world of indefinite proportions beyond.

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Lynne, Point Lobos' 1956

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Lynne, Point Lobos
1956
Gelatin silver print
7 1/2 x 9 7/16 in.
Collection Center for Creative Photography
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

 

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.

He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”

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Albert Einstein, quoted by Wynn Bullock

 

“In June 2014, the High Museum of Art will become the first major museum in nearly 40 years to mount a retrospective of work by Wynn Bullock (1902-1975) with the exhibition Wynn Bullock: Revelations, organized by the High in collaboration with the Center for Creative Photography.

One of the most significant photographers of the mid-20th century, Bullock worked in the American modernist tradition alongside Edward Weston, Harry Callahan and Ansel Adams. More than 100 black-and-white and color works by Bullock will come together for the exhibition, which will coincide with a major gift to the High from the Bullock Estate of a large collection of vintage photographs, making the Museum one of the most significant repositories of Bullock’s work in the U.S.

The High is home to the most robust photography program in the American Southeast with particularly distinct holdings in the classic modernist tradition. Wynn Bullock: Revelations offers an unprecedentedly holistic look at Bullock’s innovative career, beginning with his early light abstractions and moving through his landscapes, figure studies, color work, negative images and late abstractions. The exhibition will be on view June 14, 2014 through Jan. 18, 2015.

A close friend of influential West Coast artists Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, and a contemporary of Minor White, Harry Callahan, Aaron Siskind, Imogen Cunningham and Frederick Sommer, Bullock created a body of work marked by a distinct interest in experimentation, abstraction and philosophical exploration. His images Let There Be Light and Child in Forest (both of which will be included in the High’s exhibition) became icons in the history of photography following their prominent inclusion in Edward Steichen’s landmark 1955 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, The Family of Man.

Bullock’s photography received early recognition in 1941, when the Los Angeles County Museum of Art staged his first solo exhibition. His mature work appeared in one-man shows at the Bibliotèque Nationale, Paris; the Royal Photographic Society, London; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and the Art Institute of Chicago; among other prestigious venues. His archive was a foundational collection for the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Ariz., which is recognized as one of the most important photographic resources in the world.

Despite early acclaim, the true breadth and depth of Bullock’s career has remained largely in the shadows. Wynn Bullock: Revelations offers the most comprehensive assessment of the photographer’s extraordinary career in nearly 40 years. This retrospective traces Bullock’s evolution from his early experimental work of the 1940s, through the mysterious black-and-white imagery of the 1950s and color light abstractions of the 1960s, to his late metaphysical photographs of the 1970s.

“Bullock’s arresting work was integral to codifying what we now think of as quintessential mid-century style, which in turn paved the way for every stage of photography that has followed,” said Brett Abbott, curator of photography and head of collections at the High. “Presenting this exhibition and acquiring this generous body of work from Bullock’s estate will allow us to play a role in bringing him back into the popular consciousness. Our photography department has expanded greatly over the last few years, in terms of the work we own and the exhibitions we mount, giving us the ability to position this pivotal body of work as part of the nearly two-century-long story of the development of photography.”

Wynn Bullock: Revelations will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue to be produced by the High in collaboration with the University of Texas Press. The book presents 110 images, including some from the Bullock Estate that have never been published before. An essay by Abbott explores the nuances of Bullock’s approach to photography and its fascinating relationship to the history of science and philosophy. The volume also includes an illustrated chronology, bibliography, selected collections, exhibitions history, plate list and notes.

 

About Wynn Bullock

Wynn Bullock was born on April 18, 1902, in Chicago, Ill. After graduating from high school, Bullock worked as a professional singer in New York City and across Europe. In 1938 he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a law degree but soon dropped out of school to become a photography student at Art Center School, where he became deeply involved in exploring alternative processes such as solarization and bas relief and began building a career in commercial photography. Bullock went on to serve in the military and then to build a successful private photography business, where he developed a way to control the line effect of solarization, a discovery for which he was awarded patents. Bullock began pursuing “straight” photography after meeting Edward Weston in 1948. Throughout the 1950s he explored the natural world from his own unique perspective in photography and came into the public spotlight through exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. In the 1960s he created an innovative body of abstract color images. He later returned to experimental black and white, on which he continued to focus until his death in 1975. Bullock’s work is part of the collections of more than 90 major institutions throughout the world.”

Press release from the High Museum of Art website

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Color Light Abstraction 1076' 1963

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Color Light Abstraction 1076
1963
Inkjet print
14 x 21 in.
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, promised gift of Barbara and Gene Bullock-Wilson
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Color Light Abstraction 1075' 1963

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Color Light Abstraction 1075
1963
Inkjet print
14 x 21 in.
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, promised gift of Barbara and Gene Bullock-Wilson
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Entrance Mural with glimpses of Galleries 1 and 3

Gallery 1

Gallery 2

Gallery 3

 

Wynn Bullock: Revelations installation at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta
Entrance mural with glimpses of Galleries 1 and 3 (top), Galleries 1, 2 and 3 (bottom)

 

 

“Love Itself”

The light came through the window,
Straight from the sun above,
And so inside my little room
There plunged the rays of Love.

In streams of light I clearly saw
The dust you seldom see,
Out of which the Nameless makes
A Name for one like me.

I’ll try to say a little more:
Love went on and on
Until it reached an open door –
Then Love Itself
Love Itself was gone.

All busy in the sunlight
The flecks did float and dance,
And I was tumbled up with them
In formless circumstance.

I’ll try to say a little more:
Love went on and on
Until it reached an open door –
Then Love Itself
Love Itself was gone.

Then I came back from where I’d been.
My room, it looked the same –
But there was nothing left between
The Nameless and the Name.

All busy in the sunlight
The flecks did float and dance,
And I was tumbled up with them
In formless circumstance.

I’ll try to say a little more:
Love went on and on
Until it reached an open door –
Then Love itself,
Love Itself was gone.
Love Itself was gone.

 

Lyrics by Leonard Cohen

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Child in Forest' 1951

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Child in Forest
1951
Gelatin silver print
7 7/16 x 9 3/8 in.
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchase, 1978.62
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Stark Tree' 1956

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Stark Tree
1956
Gelatin silver print
7 5/8 x 9 1/16 in.
Collection Center for Creative Photography
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Let There Be Light' 1954

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Let There Be Light
1954
Gelatin silver print
7 3/8 x 9 7/16 in.
Collection Center for Creative Photography
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Old Typewriter' 1951

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Old Typewriter
1951
Gelatin silver print
7 1/16 × 9 7/16 in.
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Gift of Lucinda W. Bunnen for the Bunnen Collection, 2012.594
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'The Shore' 1966

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
The Shore
1966
Gelatin silver print
9 1/4 x 13 5/8 in.
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, promised gift of Barbara and Gene Bullock-Wilson
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Sea Palms' 1968

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Sea Palms
1968
Gelatin silver print
7 1/2 x 9 ¼ in.
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, promised gift of Barbara and Gene Bullock-Wilson
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Driftwood' 1951

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Driftwood
1951
Gelatin silver print
7 1/2 x 9 ½ in.
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, promised gift of Barbara and Gene Bullock-Wilson
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Point Lobos Tide Pools' 1972

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Point Lobos Tide Pools
1972
Gelatin silver print
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975), 'Early Solarization' 1940

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Early Solarization
1940
Gelatin silver print
6 1/4 x 8 in.
Collection of Barbara and Gene Bullock-Wilson
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Edna' 1956

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Edna
1956
Gelatin silver print
7 1/2 x 7 ½ in.
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, promised gift of Barbara and Gene Bullock-Wilson
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Portrait of Edna, Cannery Row' 1955

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Portrait of Edna, Cannery Row
1955
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 x 7 ½ in.
Collection of Barbara and Gene Bullock-Wilson
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Barbara through Window' 1956

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Barbara through Window
1956
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 x 7 ½ in.
Collection Center for Creative Photography
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Nude Torso in Forest' 1958

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Nude Torso in Forest
1958
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 x 6 1/4in.
Collection of Barbara and Gene Bullock-Wilson
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock. 'Child on Forest Road' 1958

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Child on Forest Road
1958
Gelatin silver print
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Fallen Tree Trunk' 1972

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Fallen Tree Trunk
1972
Gelatin silver print
8 5/8 x 7 ½ in.
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, promised gift of Barbara and Gene Bullock-Wilson
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Tree Trunk' 1971

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Tree Trunk
1971
Gelatin silver print
Promised Gift of Lynne Harrington-Bullock
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

To create this image, Bullock reversed the positive and negative values of his rendering of a tree trunk, and then turned the composition upside down. In so doing, he disrupts a habitual reading of the natural world, creates an experience of disorientation, and allows the forms pictured to engage the eye in freshly invigorating ways.

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Photogram' 1970

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Photogram
1970
Gelatin silver print
9 1/8 x 7 3/8 in.
Collection of Barbara and Gene Bullock-Wilson
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Rock' 1973

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Rock
1973
Gelatin silver print
8 5/8 x 6 ¾ in.
Collection of Barbara and Gene Bullock-Wilson
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

 

High Museum of Art
1280 Peachtree Street,
N.E. Atlanta, GA 30309

Opening hours:
Monday Closed
Tuesday 10 am to 5 pm
Wednesday  10 am to 5 pm
Thursday 10 am to 5 pm
Friday  10 am to 9 pm† (Half-Price after 4 pm!)
Saturday 10 am to 5 pm
Sunday 12 noon to 5 pm

High Museum of Art website

Wynn Bullock Photography website
Wynn Bullock Photography web page dedicated to the exhibition

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17
Jun
13

Review: ‘Johsel Namkung: A Retrospective’ published by Cosgrove Editions, 2013

Published by Cosgrove Editions, Johsel Namkung • A Retrospective is a collection of one hundred exquisite images selected from a remarkable career in photography spanning six decades.

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“I like to give my viewers questions, not answers. Let them find beauty in the most mundane things, like roadside wildflowers and tumbled weeds.”

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Johsel Namkung

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“When we can find the abstract in nature we find the deepest art.”

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Mark Tobey

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“Photographs give us information; it seems that they give us information that is very packaged and they give us the information that we are already prepared to recognize obviously. It’s as if the words don’t have the weight they should have, so that one of the statements being made by any photograph is: “This really exists.” The photograph is a kind of job for the imagination to do something that we should have been able to do if we were not so disturbed by so many different kinds of information that are not really absorbed. Photographs have this authority of being testimony, but almost as if you have some direct contact with the thing, or as if the photograph is a piece of the thing; even though it’s an image, it really is the thing.”

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Susan Sontag. Excerpt from a speech, Wellesley College photographic symposium, April 21, 1975

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This is a superlative book by Cosgrove Editions that celebrates the sixty-year life in photography of the now 94-year-old Johsel Namkung. Rather than a retrospective I see this book as testimony to Johsel Namkung’s vision as an artist and the photographs, as Susan Sontag observes above, as testaments that allow the viewer to have some direct contact with the things that Johsel photographed, to see and feel with him the places that he visited and the things that he saw.

Some of the photographs in this book take your breath away. Taken with a large format camera Johsel’s compositions are heavily influenced by music and are almost fugue-like in their structure. They vibrate and sing like few other landscape photographs that I have ever seen. There is the absence of a horizon, so that his photographs seem to agree with the picture-plane rather than with the world at large.1 Rather, Johsel lets his images flow and in that flow he creates patterning that distinctly creates layers of landscape. The juxtaposing of lines on the landscape is reinforced in the sequencing of the book, where binary opposites are paired on facing pages: feminine / masculine, yang / ying, macro / micro. For example Rainy Pass, Washington July, 1989 is printed opposite Picture Lake, Mount Baker, Washington July 1979 (feminine / masculine); Steptoe Butte, Washington January, 1989 is printed opposite Oak Creek, Washington March, 1991 (yang / ying); and the vast Denali National Park, Alaska September, 1987 is printed opposite the almost Japanese-like delicacy of Arrigetch, Alaska September, 1980 (macro / micro). Although there are links to Abstract Expressionist painters such as Jackson Pollock and Mark Toby and photographers Ansel Adams, Minor White and Eliot Porter this work is wholly Johsel’s in its compositional structure – the position that the photographer puts himself in, both physically and mentally, to obtain these most beautiful of images.

Johsel has a love of small triangular shapes within the pictorial frame. They act like small punctum or pizzicato in musical terms and these given details are intended as such by the photographer. The little punctum in Johsel’s individual works become an accumulation of small punctum that resonate throughout the whole testimony of his work – through the placement of rocks and twigs, the use of triangles and layers whose presence Johsel so loves within the photograph. In this sense (that the photograph is written by the photographer), these are photographs of the mind as much as they are of the landscape. Working in the manner of Minor White (photographing in meditation, creating a pathway from the self to the object, from the object through the camera and back to the self, forming a circle), harmonising all elements (visual, physical, elemental, spiritual), Johsel exposes himself as much as the landscape he is photographing. This is his spirit in relation to the land, to the cosmos, even. Like Monet’s paintings of water lilies these photographs are a “small dreaming” of his spirit with a section of the land not necessarily, as in Aboriginal art, a dreaming and connection to the whole land.

As Minor White observes of the “recognition” of such dreaming when working with the view camera,

“First, there is a store of images, experience, ego problems, ideals, fears, which the man brings to his seeing at the start. Second, during the activity of seeing they are matched against the images in the visual world, like matching colors. This is done with some conscious effort and a great deal of unconscious participation. At the moment of matching or “recognition” there is a feeling of important at least, and sometimes a merciless impact. This in turn is secured by exposure – like a sudden gust of wind drops a ripe apple. So we can say “recognition” is the trigger of exposure. In view camera work the lapse between recognition and exposure may be relatively long. There is time for analysis and criticism of image and idea, and exposure sums up the entire experience.”2

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Like the sudden gust of wind drops the ripe apple.

Oh the joy Johsel must have found when he recognised such invocations, by being aware of his surroundings and his relationship to the earth. I know from my own experience that when you find such a place and recognise it for what it is, it is then an entirely different matter to capture it on film for the camera imparts its own perspective. It is almost as if Johsel and the camera are one, and that the camera itself has disappeared into the landscape (I like the way that you can nearly see his camera but it is actually hidden in the photograph at the bottom of the posting). I get the feeling that Johsel is quite consciously working within an adopted aesthetic – sort of like a tea ceremony – and just making things purposefully and having faith that it is some sort “of way” of doing things. At no point is there any sense of difficulty here – it has all been removed. Yet there was so much physical effort: climbing, walking, waiting, patience, no trace of it. What a heroic act this is!

Johsel approaches a metaphysics of the Real, creating authentic visualisations of the world – an idealised, abstracted Real tending towards a (mental) s(t)imulation. In other words, he photographs the world not to reveal a specific place but a particular state of mind. Is the link to indexicality broken? No, but there is no ultimate truth or origin here, for his is an art of transformation (theatricality) through structure (modernism) which is the essence of aesthetic arts.

“This strategy rejects the search for an origin or ultimate Truth and instead interprets reality as composed, contingent and intersubjective; reality is, therefore, theatrical… Theatricality is made of this endless play and of these continuous displacements of the position of desire, in other words, of the position of the subject in process with an imaginary constructive space.”3

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In Johsel’s photographs desire is displaced, ego is removed and his photographs become images of the mind as much as they are of the landscape. This is Johsel at play recognising, becoming these imaginary, constructive spaces. He is in the zone, he becomes the zone, even. Finally we can say: his photographs and his life are transformational; his imagination is the representation of possibility; his work is testimony to that representation.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to Johsel Namkung, Dick Busher and Cosgrove Editions for allowing me to publish the text and photographs in the posting. Dick Busher allowed me to pick the photographs that I wanted to illustrate this posting and for that I am most grateful. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

The book has recently taken top honors in two different award competitions among independent publishers for photography books: The Independent Book Publishers Association’s Benny Awards, and the Independent Publishers IPPY Awards.

PS. I think that photographer is very aware of: “Let the subject generate its own composition” (MW) – coming from Weston’s “Composition is the strongest way of seeing.”

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 Johsel Namkung. 'Big Meadow, Washington Pass, Washington September, 2000' 2000

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Johsel Namkung
Big Meadow, Washington Pass, Washington September, 2000
2000

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 Johsel Namkung. 'Cougar Lake, Oregon June 1991' 1991

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Johsel Namkung
Cougar Lake, Oregon June 1991
1991

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Johsel Namkung. 'Rainy Pass, Washington July, 1989' 1989

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Johsel Namkung
Rainy Pass, Washington July, 1989
1989

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Johsel Namkung. 'Picture Lake, Mount Baker, Washington July 1979' 1979

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Johsel Namkung
Picture Lake, Mount Baker, Washington July 1979
1979

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“In his photography Johsel brings attention and importance to elements of nature that most people pass by on their way to the grand vistas. One of my favorite locations in Washington is the Palouse as seen from Steptoe Butte; Johsel’s interpretations of the undulating wheat fields just greening with new growth are sensuous and impressionistic. One feels the slope of the earth, the texture of the tilled fields rather than seeing it. The sophisticated simplicity of his vision is highlighted in a simple composition of a dark pond surface, afloat with delicate grasses; the fine lines flowing this way and that give a sense of constant movement, yet it is a still photograph. In a twig reaching out of the snow, the subtle reflection on a pond in late afternoon light, delicate frozen ripples of ice clinging to river rock, the geometric chaos of tree branches covered in snow, the rich patina of weather-beaten stone, Johsel celebrates the minute in a grand way; it becomes the symbol for the greater whole. Textures, rhythm of line and movement become the foremost elements in his work. Some of Johsel’s images are quiet and abstract, singing a single note, while others are full-out symphonies in a celebration of the rhythms. In particular I find his Korean landscapes extraordinary. In winter the alpine hillsides bare their architecture; ridge after ridge, speckled with leafless birch and pyramidal conifers, they overlap in a crescendo of natural beauty.”

Art Wolfe, Introduction to Johsel Namkung • A Retrospective

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Johsel Namkung. 'Steptoe Butte, Washington January, 1989' 1989

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Johsel Namkung
Steptoe Butte, Washington January, 1989
1989

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Johsel Namkung. 'Oak Creek, Washington March, 1991' 1991

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Johsel Namkung
Oak Creek, Washington March, 1991
1991

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Johsel Namkung. 'Steptoe Butte, Washington October, 1977' 1977

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Johsel Namkung
Steptoe Butte, Washington October, 1977
1977

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Johsel Namkung. 'Steptoe Butte, Washington October, 1983' 1983

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Johsel Namkung
Steptoe Butte, Washington October, 1983
1983

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Johsel Namkung. 'Denali National Park, Alaska  September, 1987' 1987

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Johsel Namkung
Denali National Park, Alaska September, 1987
1987

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Johsel Namkung. 'Arrigetch, Alaska September, 1980' 1980

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Johsel Namkung
Arrigetch, Alaska September, 1980
1980

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“Photography as a medium is still relatively young. Introduced publicly in 1839, its definition has remained complicated in discourse and practice, oscillating between practical application – whether scientific illustration, family record, or aid to commerce – and aesthetic or expressive concerns. Debates that arose shortly after its invention, contesting whether photography could be an artistic medium, remained heated a century later and beyond, resolving only after Photoshop and other types of photographic manipulation became commonplace. Questions about the role of the photographer, the relative merits of color versus black-and-white, truth to the original shot versus darkroom manipulation, investigations about canon, hierarchy, and genre have continued to multiply, as have the social organizations – art schools, technical assistance and supplies, professional and amateur societies, regular shows and publications – that foster photographic work. Becoming a photographer in the middle of the twentieth century, Johsel Namkung emerged at the intersection of all these social and conceptual shifts. Taking advantage of this opening, he made several unconventional choices: deciding to work in color although it was black and white that signified art photography until the 1970s or later; working abstractly, but hewing to the dictates of straight photography: available light, no darkroom manipulation, print the full negative.

From the acquisition of his first camera, Namkung developed high standards for his photographic practice, recalling to interviewer Alan Lau, “I always had a confidence in myself… I had a sort of a vision toward my photographic future. I knew I was going to be something.”1 Trained first as a musician, from the beginning Namkung defined photography in abstract terms, approaching his motifs in terms of rhythms, tonal relationships, pattern, and texture. Individual works reveal specific affinities. The calligraphic grasses in Lizzard Lake, Stampede Pass, WA, August 1976 suggests Harry Callahan’s images of reeds, which are associated with Abstract Expressionist photography. The lichen-covered stone in Blue Mountain, Olympic National Park, WA, September 1976 resembles Jackson Pollock or the famed White Paintings of Namkung’s friend Mark Tobey. The screen of regular tree trunks in Sherman Pass, WA, August 1993, recalls the hatched lines representing driving rain in modern Japanese printmaking. Like limpid watercolor strokes, the rolling hills of the Palouse – distinct in each version of Steptoe Butte, of 1976, 1977, and 1983 – allude to Morris Louis’s color field paintings.

Namkung’s preface here recounts how successive unusual jobs supplied him with professional training as a photographer. Seattle in the postwar boom years also provided a rich and supportive context for his art. Skilled artists from the ranks of first- and second-generation immigrants, from Japan, China, Korea, and the Philippines, gathered in the International District but worked and showed farther afield. Art photography had a popular following and many innovative practitioners; Pictorialism – promoted by annual exhibitions like those organized by the Seattle Camera Club – encouraged aesthetic and technical exploration with cameras. The so-called Northwest Mystics represented only one of several artistic communities exploring abstraction, some emphasizing its expressive potential, others seeking formal invention. Creativity was equally celebrated beyond fine art. Rarefied technical challenges were tackled and mastered at The Boeing Company as well as the scientific laboratories of the University of Washington. The richness of this cultural ecology fostered the unique development of Namkung’s career. In return, his thoughtful production has nourished local and international audiences for over four decades.”

Elizabeth Brown, Former Chief Curator, Henry Art Gallery, Introduction to Johsel Namkung • A Retrospective

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1 Alan Chong Lau interview of Johsel Namkung conducted in Seattle, Washington, on October 5, 1989, for the Archives of American Art Northwest Asian American Project.

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Johsel Namkung. 'Shi Shi Beach Buoy, Olympic National Park, Washington August, 1981' 1981

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Johsel Namkung
Shi Shi Beach Buoy, Olympic National Park, Washington August, 1981
1981

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Johsel Namkung. 'Bissell, Washington December, 1981' 1981

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Johsel Namkung
Bissell, Washington December, 1981
1981

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Johsel Namkung. 'Alaska Lichens, Date Unknown' Nd

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Johsel Namkung
Alaska Lichens, Date Unknown
Nd

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Johsel Namkung. 'Blue Mountain, Olympic National Park, Washington September, 1976' 1976

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Johsel Namkung
Blue Mountain, Olympic National Park, Washington September, 1976
1976

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Johsel Namkung. 'Weston Beach, Point Lobos, California May, 1988' 1988

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Johsel Namkung
Weston Beach, Point Lobos, California May, 1988
1988

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Johsel Namkung. 'Frenchman Coulee, Washington May, 2002' 2002

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Johsel Namkung
Frenchman Coulee, Washington May, 2002
2002

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Johsel Namkung. 'Kalaloch Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington October, 1984' 1984

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Johsel Namkung
Kalaloch Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington October, 1984
1984

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joshel-camera

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Joshel Namkung on Hurricane Ridge, photographed by his friend Ken Levine

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1. Adapted from Robert Nelson commenting on the painting of Monet. “Impressionist’s ode to beauty trips into light fantastic,” The Age newspaper, Wednesday May 22nd 2013, p.42.

2. White, Minor. “Exploratory Camera,” 1949 in Bunnell, Peter C. (ed.,). Aperture Magazine Anthology – The Minor White Years 1952-1976. Aperture, 2013, p.64.

3. Féral, Josette. “Performance and Theatricality: The Subject Demystified,” in Modern Drama 25 (March) 1982, p.177.

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Johsel Namkung • A Retrospective website

Cosgrove Editions website

Cosgrove Editions is an independent publisher of books on photography. We also provide production and printing assistance for artists who self publish their work. Many of our projects have won some of the highest international awards for printing quality.

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02
Oct
12

Exhibition: ‘In Focus: Picturing the Landscape’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 22nd May – 7th October 2012

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“Hence the photographer’s most important and likewise most difficult task is not learning to manage his camera, or to develop, or to print. It is learning to see photographically.”

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Edward Weston. The Complete Photographer. January 20, 1943

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Many thankx to the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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John Beasly Greene
 (American)
Thebes, Village of Ghezireh
1853-1854
Salted paper print from a waxed paper negative
9 1/8 x 12 inches
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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John Greene was an archaeologist, the well-to-do son of a banker from Boston who lived in Paris, and a photographer. By 1853 the twenty-one-year-old Greene had learned to use Le Gray’s waxed-paper process, the technique of choice for traveling Frenchmen. That same year he made the first of two expeditions to Egypt and Nubia, bringing back more than two hundred negatives of monuments and landscapes, some ninety-four of which, printed by Blanquart-Evrard in 1854, comprise the album “Le Nil, monuments, paysages, explorations photographiques par J. B. Greene.” So rare are these albums that we assume that Greene published them at his own expense. On his second trip, in 1854-55, he not only photographed but also excavated, especially at Medinet-Habou. During an archaeological and photographic expedition to Algeria the following winter, this exceptionally talented young man died of an undisclosed illness.

Greene’s Egyptian landscapes are startlingly barren. Coalescing from large, softly nuanced tonal planes, the views seem to shimmer above the page almost to the point of evaporating, like distant desert mirages. Generally, Greene placed the geological or archeological structure of these pictures at a distance, surrounded by sand and sky. This, the most minimal of his visions, sums up the Egyptian landscape. Stretching between the great river and the endless expanse of sky, and between the great river and the desert, is a thin band of fertile earth – the ligament of life that gave rise to a great civilization. That the picture functions like a diagram may owe to Greene’s knowledge of hieroglyphics; the Egyptian pictograph for “country” is a flat, floating disk, hardly more than a horizontal line.

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

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Francis Frith (English, 1822 – 1898)
The Pyramids of Dahshoor, From the East
1857
Albumen silver print
11.6 x 16.2 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902 – 1984)
Sugar Pine Cones
Negative 1925 – 1930; print 1931 – 1932
Gelatin silver print
11.6 x 16.2 cm
© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

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Edward Weston
Kelp on Tide Pool, Point Lobos
1939
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Rather than depicting a traditionally picturesque vista or capturing accurate perspective, photographers of the 20th century began to explore the various but particularly photographic ways that the natural world could be seen through the camera lens. Often this led to spatial experimentation. Taken at Point Lobos in California, this image by Edward Weston plays with the perception, and misperception, of space. The photographer cropped his photograph of a tide pool to show kelp puncturing the water’s surface in the foreground, while in the upper register an underwater landscape appears simultaneously near and far.

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“In Focus: Picturing Landscape, at the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Center, May 22 – October 7, 2012, offers a rich trove of landscape photography from some of the most innovative photographers in the genre. Drawn exclusively from the Getty Museum’s permanent collection, the exhibition brings together the work of twenty photographers, spanning the medium from the mid-1800s to the current decade, including Ansel Adams, Robert Adams, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Imogen Cunningham, William Garnett, John Beasly Greene, Eliot Porter, Clifford Ross, Toshio Shibata and Edward Weston.

“The range of photographs chosen for this exhibition were selected from hundreds of extraordinary landscape works in the Getty Museum’s photography collection with an eye towards the various ways that photographers have responded to the daunting challenge of depicting the natural landscape photographically,” says Karen Hellman, assistant curator, Department of Photographs, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and curator of the exhibition.

Since the invention of the medium, photographers have turned to the landscape as a source of inspiration. Changing artistic movements and continual technical advancements have provided opportunities for camera artists to approach the subject in diverse and imaginative ways. The Getty originally presented In Focus: The Landscape in June 2008, curated by Brett Abbott. Expanding on the first presentation of photographs, this second exhibition on landscape in the Getty Museum’s In Focus series examines how photographers have sought to capture the breadth and perspective of the landscape through a camera lens. The exhibition is organized around three main themes: nineteenth-century technical developments by photographers such as Francis Frith who captured intriguing views of the Egyptian Pyramids in the 1850s; works that show purely photographic approaches such as those by Edward Weston and Harry Callahan; and more recent ways in which photographers have framed the landscape to make environmental and conceptual statements.

One of the earliest works in the exhibition is actually not a photograph but a drawing made by Sir John Frederick Herschel in 1821 with the aid of a camera lucida, an optical device sometimes used as a drawing aid by artists of the period. The exhibition also includes a very early full-plate daguerreotype of a landscape made by Boston dentist Samuel Bemis in 1840. During the first decades of the 20th century, artistic experimentation flourished and tested the boundaries of the genre. Photographers such as Edward Weston and Harry Callahan sought to explore the landscape as abstraction and pure form. In the second half of the 20th century, photographers began to explore the landscape in more socially conscious ways. Eliot Porter devoted himself to publishing work in concert with conservation efforts. Virginia Beahan has delved into the landscape as a site of human history, rather than simply a subject of aesthetic contemplation.

Contemporary artists continue to be inspired by the rich tradition of landscape photography. Also included in the exhibition is a large-scale photograph by Clifford Ross from his 2006 Mountain series, produced from extremely high-resolution digital files in order to make prints that came as close as possible to replicating reality. Several works will be on view for the first time, including a photograph taken in the forest of Fontainebleau, outside of Paris, by Charles Marville in the 1850s, and a photograph from Point Lobos, California, by Wynn Bullock, as well as a work by the Japanese photographer Toshio Shibata acquired with funds from the Getty Museum Photographs Council.

In Focus: Picturing Landscape is the eleventh installation of the ongoing In Focus series of thematic presentations of photographs from the Getty’s permanent collection, and includes twenty-two works by twenty photographers.”

Press release from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

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Virginia Beahan (American, born 1946) and Laura McPhee (American, born 1958)
Mount Rainier, Washington
2000
Chromogenic dye coupler print
75.5 x 96.5 cm
© Virginia Beahan and Laura McPhee
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Nancy Goliger and Bruce Berman

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William A. Garnett (American, 1916 – 2006)
Sandbars, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
1966
Cibachrome print
34.4 x 51 cm
© Estate of William A. Garnett
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Nature and photography have been linked since the inception of the medium. Whether driven by the challenge of capturing the expanse and perspective of a vista or by the myriad possibilities of creating a unique artistic experience, the act of depicting the natural landscape has inspired photographers from the 1800s to the present.

To create this image, photographer William Garnett piloted his plane over sand bars in Cape Cod. In addition to the natural beauty of the ocean, the photographer invites us to explore space and perception in a unique way. The undulating forms of the sandbars play with the boundaries between foreground and background. Changing tones of blue challenge us to know if we look at water, sky, or even a view from outer space.

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Clifford Ross
Mountain IV
2004
Chromogenic color print
63 x 118 in
© Clifford Ross Studio
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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A persistent aspect of picturing a landscape has been the concept of the ideal. Recent photographers have framed nature not only to emphasize its beauty but also to highlight its unattainability in a modern context.

Photographer Clifford Ross was inspired to create this image of Mount Sopris while on a family holiday. In order to, as the photographer put it, “grab as much of the mountain as [he] possibly could in one shot,” Ross invented a camera, the R1, which exposes 9 x 18 inch aerial film. When processed by hand and scanned, the negatives produce files with a hundred times higher resolution than those made with the average professional digital camera. Yet even though he pursues a near replica of reality, Ross also manipulates the digital file to re-create the landscape as he remembers experiencing it. Viewers have the ability to examine the scene in greater detail than they might even in person.

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Eliot Porter (American, 1901 – 1990)
Aspens and Grass, Elk Mountain Road, New Mexico, October 3, 1972
1972
Dye transfer print
26.2 x 20.6 cm
© 1990 Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Bequest of the artist
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser

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The J. Paul Getty Museum
1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles, California 90049

Opening hours:
Tues – Friday 10 – 5.30pm
Saturday 10 – 9pm
Sunday 10 – 9pm
Monday closed

The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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