Posts Tagged ‘power

19
Jun
20

Exhibition: ‘Masculinities: Liberation through Photography’ at the Barbican Art Gallery, London

Exhibition dates: 20th February – 17th May 2020? Coronavirus

Participating artists: Bas Jan Ader, Laurie Anderson, Kenneth Anger, Knut Åsdam, Richard Avedon, Aneta Bartos, Richard Billingham, Cassils, Sam Contis, John Coplans, Jeremy Deller, Rienke Dijkstra, George Dureau, Thomas Dworzak, Hans Eijkelboom, Fouad Elkoury, Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Hal Fischer, Samuel Fosso, Anna Fox, Masahisa Fukase, Sunil Gupta, Peter Hujar, Liz Johnson Artur, Isaac Julien, Kiluanji Kia Henda, Karen Knorr, Deana Lawson, Hilary Lloyd, Robert Mapplethrope, Peter Marlow, Ana Mendieta, Anenette Messager, Duane Michals, Tracey Moffat, Andrew Moisey, Richard Mosse, Adi Nes, Catherine Opie, Elle Pérez, Herb Ritts, Kalen Na’il Roach, Collier Schorr, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Clarie Strand, Michael Subotzky, Larry Sultan, Hank Willis Thomas, Wolfgang Tillmans, Piotr Uklański, Andy Warhol, Karlheinz Weinberger, Marianne Wex, David Wojnarowicz, Akram Zaatari.

 

 

Sunil Gupta (Indian, b. 1953) 'Untitled #22' 1976

 

Sunil Gupta (Indian, b. 1953)
Untitled #22
1976
From the series Christopher Street
Courtesy the artist and Hales Gallery
© Sunil Gupta. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2019

 

 

As a writer Berger recognised that experience – whether it be personal, historical or aesthetic – will never conform to theories and systems. To read him today is to accept his failures and detours as a unique willingness to take risks.

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John MacDonald. “John Berger,” in the Sydney Morning Herald, 6 June, 2020

 

 

D-Construction: deliberate masculinities in a discontinuous world

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Reviewers of this exhibition (see quotations below) have noted the preponderance of images of “traditional masculinity” – defined as “idealised, dominant (and) heterosexual” – and the paucity of images that show men as working, intelligent, sensitive human beings, “that men ever earned a living, cooked a meal or read a book… scarcely anything about the heart or intellect. Men are represented here almost entirely in terms of their bodies, sexuality or supposed type.” I need make no further comment. What I will say is that I believe the title of the exhibition to be a misnomer: a person cannot be “liberated” through photography, for photography is only a tool of a personal liberation. Liberation comes through an internal struggle of acceptance (thence liberation), one that is foremost FELT (for example, the double life one leads before you acknowledge that you are gay; or experiencing discrimination aimed at others and by proxy, yourself) and SEEN (the bashing of a mother as seen by a small child). Photographs picture the outcomes of this struggle for liberation, are a tool of that process not, I would argue, liberation itself.

What I can say is that I believe in masculinities, plural. Fluid, shifting, challenging, loving, working, intimate, spiritual masculinities that challenge normalcy and hegemonic masculinity, which is defined as “a practice that legitimises men’s dominant position in society and justifies the subordination of the common male population and women, and other marginalised ways of being a man.”

What I don’t believe in is masculinities, plural, that seek to fit into this [dis]continuous world (for we are born and then die) through the stability of their outward appearance, conforming to theories and systems – personal, historical or aesthetic – without reference to subversion, small intimacies, the toil of work, love and the passion of sexual bodies. In other words, masculinities that are not afraid to push the boundaries of being and becoming. To take risks, to experience, to feel.

While I was overjoyed at the “YES” vote on gay marriage that took place in December 2017 in Australia because I felt it was a victory for love, and equality… another part of me rejected as anathema the concept of a gay person buying into a historically patriarchal, heterosexual and monogamous institution such as marriage – too honour and obey. This is an untenable concept for a person who wants to be liberated. Coming out as I did in 1975, only 6 short years after the Stonewall Riots, the last thing I EVER wanted to be, was to be the same as a “straight” person. I was different. I fought for my difference and still believe in it.

Of course, in 2020 it’s another world. Today we all mix in together. But there is still something about “masculinities”, which in some varieties, have a sense of privilege and entitlement. Of power and control over others; of violence towards women, trans, other men and anyone who threatens their little ego, who leaves them, or jilts them. Their jealousy, their ego, bruised – they are so insecure, so insular, that they can only see their own world, their own minuscule problems (but massive in their eyes), and enforce their will on others.

My advice to “masculinities’, in fact any human being, is to go out, get yourself informed, experience, accept, and be the person that nobody thinks you can be. Be a human being. Examine your inner self, look at your dark side, your other side, your empathetic side, and try and understand the journey that you are on. Then, and only then, you might begin on that great path of personal enlightenment, that golden path on which there is no turning back.

Below I discuss some of these ideas with my good friend Nicholas Henderson, curator and archivist at the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives.

 

 

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

Masculinities: Liberation through Photography is a major group exhibition that explores how masculinity is experienced, performed, coded and socially constructed as expressed and documented through photography and film from the 1960s to the present day.

Through the medium of film and photography, this major exhibition considers how masculinity has been coded, performed, and socially constructed from the 1960s to the present day. Examining depictions of masculinity from behind the lens, the Barbican brings together the work of over 50 international artists, photographers and filmmakers including Laurie Anderson, Sunil Gupta, Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Isaac Julien and Catherine Opie.

In the wake of #MeToo the image of masculinity has come into sharper focus, with ideas of toxic and fragile masculinity permeating today’s society. This exhibition charts the often complex and sometimes contradictory representations of masculinities, and how they have developed and evolved over time. Touching on themes including power, patriarchy, queer identity, female perceptions of men, hypermasculine stereotypes, tenderness and the family, the exhibition shows how central photography and film have been to the way masculinities are imagined and understood in contemporary culture.

 

 

In fact, while there are a few gender-fluid figures here, they’re vastly outnumbered by manifestations of “traditional masculinity” – defined as “idealised, dominant (and) heterosexual”. Lebanese militiamen (in Fouad Elkoury’s perky full-length portraits from 1980), US marines (in Wolfgang Tillmans’ epic montage Soldiers – The Nineties), Taliban fighters, SS generals, Israel Defence Force grunts, footballers, cowboys and bullfighters fairly spring out of the walls from every direction. And what’s evident from the outset isn’t so much their diversity, as a unifying demeanour: a threatening intentness that comes wherever men are asked to perform their masculinity, but also a childlike vulnerability.  …

Masculinity, the viewer is made to feel, criminalises men (Mikhael Subotzky’s images of South African gangsters on morgue slabs); isolates them (Larry Sultan’s poignant image of his elderly father practising his golf swing in his sitting room); renders them stupid (Richard Billingham’s excruciating, but now classic photo essay on his alcoholic father, ‘Ray’s a Laugh’). To be a man, it seems, is to be condemned to endlessly act out archetypal “masculine” behaviour, whether you’re an elderly drunk in a Birmingham high-rise or the elite American students taking part in the shouting competition staged by Irish photographer Richard Mosse.

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Mark Hudson. “Does the Barbican’s Masculinities exhibition have important things to say about men?” on the Independent website Friday 21 February 2020 [Online] Cited 03/03/2020

 

There is not much here about work – unless you count the wall of Hollywood actors playing Nazis. You would never think, from this show, that men ever earned a living, cooked a meal or read a book (though there is a sententious vitrine of ‘Men Only’ magazines). Beyond the exceptions given, there is scarcely anything about the heart or intellect. Men are represented here almost entirely in terms of their bodies, sexuality or supposed type.

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Laura Cumming. “Masculinities: Liberation Through Photography review – men as types,” on the Guardian website Sun 23 Feb 2020 [Online] Cited 03/03/2020

 

“The body can be taken as a reflection of the self because it can and should be treated as something to be worked upon … in order to produce it as a commodity. Overweight, slovenliness and even unfashionability, for example, are now moral disorders,” notes Don Slater

“The state of the body is seen as a reflection of the state of its owner, who is responsible for it and could refashion it. The body can be taken as a reflection of the self because it can and should be treated as something to be worked upon, and generally worked upon using commodities, for example intensively regulated, self-disciplined, scrutinized through diets, fitness regimes, fashion, self-help books and advice, in order to produce it as a commodity. Overweight, slovenliness, and even unfashionability, for example, are now moral disorders; even acute illnesses such as cancer reflect the inadequacy of the self and indeed of its consumption. One gets ill because one has consumed the wrong (unnatural) things and failed to consume the correct (‘natural’) ones: self, body, goods and environment constitute a system of moral choice.”

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Slater, Don. Consumer Culture and Modernity. London: Polity Press, 1997, p. 92.

 

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing John Coplans’ work Self-portrait, Frieze No 2, Four Panels 1994
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

John Coplans (British, emigrated America 1960, 1920-2003) 'Self-portrait, Frieze No 2, Four Panels' 1994

 

John Coplans (British, emigrated America 1960, 1920-2003)
Self-portrait, Frieze No 2, Four Panels
1994
Tate
Presented by the American Fund for the Tate Gallery 2001
Photograph: © John Coplans Trust

 

 

Masculinities: Liberation through Photography

 

Plan of the 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' exhibition spaces

 

Plan of the Masculinities: Liberation through Photography exhibition spaces

 

 

Introduction

Masculinities: Liberation through Photography explores the diverse ways masculinity has been experienced, performed, coded and socially constructed in photography and film from the 1960s to the present day.

Simone de Beauvoir’s famous declaration that ‘one is not born a woman, but rather becomes one’ provides a helpful springboard for considering what it means to be a male in today’s world, as well as the place of photography and film in shaping masculinity. What we have thought of as ‘masculine’ has changed considerably throughout history and within different cultures. The traditional social dominance of the male has determined a gender hierarchy which continues to underpin societies around the world.

In Europe and North America, the characteristics and power dynamics of the dominant masculine figure – historically defined by physical size and strength, assertiveness and aggression – though still pervasive today, began to be challenged and transformed in the 1960s. Amid a climate of sexual revolution, struggle for civil rights and raised class consciousness, the growth of the gay rights movement, the period’s counterculture and opposition to the Vietnam War, large sections of society argued for a loosening of the straitjacket of narrow gender definitions.

Set against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement, when manhood is under increasing scrutiny and terms such as ‘toxic’ and ‘fragile’ masculinity fill endless column inches, an investigation of this expansive subject is particularly timely, especially given current global politics characterised by male world leaders shaping their image as ‘strong’ men.

Touching on queer identity, race, power and patriarchy, men as seen by women, stereotypes of dominant masculinity as well as the family, the exhibition presents masculinity in all its myriad forms, rife with contradictions and complexities. Embracing the idea of multiple ‘masculinities’ and rejecting the notion of a singular ‘ideal man’, the exhibition argues for an understanding of masculinity liberated from societal expectations and gender norms.

 

Room 1-4

Disrupting the Archetype

Over the last six decades, artists have consistently sought to destabilise the narrow definitions of gender that determine our social structures in order to encourage new ways of thinking about identity, gender and sexuality. ‘Disrupting the Archetype’ explores the representation of conventional and at times clichéd masculine subjects such as soldiers, cowboys, athletes, bullfighters, body builders and wrestlers. By reconfiguring the representation of traditional masculinity – loosely defined as an idealised, dominant heterosexual masculinity – the artists presented here challenge our ideas of these hypermasculine stereotypes.

Across different cultures and spaces, the military has been central to the construction of masculine identities – which has been explored through the work of Wolfgang Tillmans (below) and Adi Nes (below) among others, while Collier Schorr (below) and Sam Contis’s powerful works (below) address the dominant and enduring representation of the lone cowboy. Athleticism, often perceived as a proxy for strength which is associated with masculinity, is called into question by Catherine Opie’s and Rineke Dijkstra’s tender portraits (below). The male body, a cornerstone for artists such as John Coplans (above), Robert Mapplethorpe and Cassils (below), is meanwhile exposed as a fleshy canvas, constantly in flux.

Historically, the non-western male body has undergone a complex process of subjectification through the Western gaze – invariably presented as either warlike or sexually charged. Viewed against this context, the work of Fouad Elkoury and Akram Zaatari, as well as the found photographs of Taliban fighters that Thomas Dworzak discovered in Afghanistan (below), can be read as deconstructing the Orientalist gaze.

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing a detail from Wolfgang Tillmans’ epic montage Soldiers – The Nineties
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing a detail from trans masculine artist Cassils’ series Time Lapse, 2011
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing at left a detail from trans masculine artist Cassils’ series Time Lapse, 2011, and at right the work of Rineke Dijkstra
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Rineke Dijkstra. 'Montemor, Portugal, May 1, 1994' 1994

 

Rineke Dijkstra (Dutch, b. 1959)
Montemor, Portugal, May 1, 1994
1994
Chromogenic print
90 x 72 cm
© Rineke Dijkstra

 

Rineke Dijkstra (Dutch, b. 1959) 'Vila Franca de Xira, Portugal, May 8, 1994' 1994

 

Rineke Dijkstra (Dutch, b. 1959)
Vila Franca de Xira, Portugal, May 8, 1994
1994
Chromogenic print
90 x 72 cm
© Rineke Dijkstra

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation views of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing photographs from Adi Nes’ series Soldiers, 1999
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Adi Nes (Israeli, b. 1966) 'Untitled' 2000

 

Adi Nes (Israeli, b. 1966)
Untitled
2000
From the series Soldiers
Courtesy Adi Nes & Praz-Delavallade Paris, Los Angeles

 

Adi Nes (Israeli, b. 1966) 'Untitled' 1999

 

Adi Nes (Israeli, b. 1966)
Untitled
1999
From the series Soldiers
Courtesy Adi Nes & Praz-Delavallade Paris, Los Angeles

 

 

Adi Nes was born in Kiryat Gat. His parents are Jewish immigrants from Iran. He is openly gay. Nes is notable for series “Soldiers”, in which he mixes masculinity and homoerotic sexuality, depicting Israeli soldiers in a fragile way.

Nes creates cinematic images that reference war, sexuality, life, and death with the kind of stylised polish you might expect from a photographer whose images have appeared in the pages of Vogue Hommes. His partially autobiographical work is deliberate and staged in an attempt to raise questions about sexuality, masculinity and identity in Israeli culture. “The beginning point of my art is who I am,” he says. “Since I’m a man and I’m an Israeli, I deal with issues of identity with ‘Israeli-ness’ and masculinity, but my photographs are multi-layered.”

“The challenge of the photographer is to catch the viewer for more than one second in front of the picture,” says Nes, explaining his provocative images. “If you catch the viewer in front of the picture, it can touch the viewer.”

Anonymous text “Adi Nes on masculinity, sexuality and war,” from the Phaidon website 2012 [Online] Cited 07/03/2020

 

Thomas Dworzak (Germany, b. 1972) 'Taliban portraits' 2002

Thomas Dworzak (Germany, b. 1972) 'Taliban portraits' 2002

 

Thomas Dworzak (Germany, b. 1972)
Taliban portraits
2002
Kandahar, Afghanistan

 

 

While covering the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, Magnum photographer Thomas Dworzak came across a handful of photo studios in Kandahar which despite the Taliban’s ban on photography had been authorised to remain open, for the sole purpose of taking identity photos. Complicating the conventional image of the hypermasculine soldier, the colour portraits Dworzak found in the back rooms of these studios depict Taliban fighters variously posing in front of scenic backdrops, holding hands, using guns or flowers as props or enveloped in a halo of vibrant colours, their eyes heavily made up with black kohl. These stylised photographs directly contradict the public image of the soldier in this overwhelmingly male-dominated patriarchal society.

 

Sam Contis (American, b. 1982) 'Untitled (Neck)' 2015

 

Sam Contis (American, b. 1982)
Untitled (Neck)
2015
© Sam Contis

 

'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' catalogue cover

 

Masculinities: Liberation through Photography catalogue cover

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing photographs from Catherine Opie’s series High School Football, 2007-2009
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961) 'Stephen' 2009

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961)
Stephen
2009
From the series High School Football, 2007-2009
Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles, and Thomas Dane Gallery, London
© Catherine Opie

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961) 'Rusty' 2008

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961)
Rusty
2008
From the series High School Football, 2007-2009
Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Thomas Dane Gallery, London
© Catherine Opie

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961) 'Football Landscape #17 (Waianae vs. Leilehua, Waianae, HI)' 2009

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961)
Football Landscape #17 (Waianae vs. Leilehua, Waianae, HI)
2009
From the series High School Football, 2007-2009
Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles, and Thomas Dane Gallery, London
© Catherine Opie

 

 

Kenneth Anger (American, b. 1927)
Kustom Kar Kommandos
1965
3 mins 22 secs

 

Collier Schorr (American, b. 1963) 'Americans #3' 2012

 

Collier Schorr (American, b. 1963)
Americans #3
2012
© Collier Schorr, courtesy 303 Gallery, New York

 

 

Room 5-6

Male Order: Power, Patriarchy and Space

‘Male Order’ invites the viewer to reflect on the construction of male power, gender and class. The artists gathered here have all variously attempted to expose and subvert how certain types of masculine behaviour have created inequalities both between and within gender identities. Two ambitious, multi-part works, Richard Avedon’s The Family, 1976, and Karen Knorr’s Gentlemen, 1981-83, focus on typically besuited white men who occupy the corridors of power, while foregrounding the historic exclusion not only of women but also of other marginalised masculinities.

Male-only organisations, such as the military, private members’ clubs and college fraternities, have often served as an arena for the performance of ‘toxic’ masculinity, as chronicled in Andrew Moisey’s The American Fraternity: An Illustrated Ritual Manual, 2018. This startling book charts the misdemeanours of fraternity members alongside an indexical image bank of US Presidents, alongside leaders of government and industry who have belonged at one time or another to these fraternities. Richard Mosse’s film, Fraternity, 2007, takes a different tack by painting a portrait of male rage that is both playful and alarming.

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing photographs from Richard Avedon’s series The Family (1976)
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

 

Early  in 1976, with both the post-Watergate political atmosphere and the approaching bicentennial celebration in mind, Rolling Stone asked Richard Avedon to cover the presidential primaries and the campaign trail. Avedon counter-proposed a grander idea – he had always wanted to photograph the men and women he believed to have constituted political, media and corporate elite of the United States.

For the next several months, Avedon traversed the country from migrant grape fields of California to NFL headquarters in Park Avenue and returned with an amazing portfolio of soldiers, spooks, potentates, and ambassadors that was too late for the bicentennial but published in Rolling Stone’s Oct. 21, 1976, just in time for the November elections.

Sixty-nine black-and-white portraits … were in Avedon’s signature style – formal, intimate, bold, and minimalistic. Appearing in them are President Ford and his three immediate successors – Carter, Reagan, and Bush. Other familiars of the American polity such as Kennedys and Rockefellers are here, and as are giants who held up the nation’s Fourth Pillar during that challenging decade: A. M. Rosenthal of the New York Times who decided to publish the Pentagon Papers, and Katharine Graham who led Woodward and Bernstein at Washington Post.

Alex Selwyn-Holmes. “The Family, 1976; Richard Avedon” on the Iconphotos website May 18, 2012 [Online] Cited 03/03/2020

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation views of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing photographs from Karen Knorr’s series Gentlemen, 1981-83
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Karen Knorr (American, born Germany 1954) 'Newspapers are no longer ironed, Coins no longer boiled So far have Standards fallen' 1981-83

 

Karen Knorr (American, born Germany 1954)
Newspapers are no longer ironed, Coins no longer boiled So far have Standards fallen
1981-83
From the series Gentlemen
Tate: Gift Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2013
© Karen Knorr

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing Piotr Uklanski’s Untitled (The Nazis), 1998, a collage of actors dressed as Nazis, courtesy of Massimo De Carlo
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

 

Room 7-8

Too Close to Home: Family and Fatherhood

Since its invention photography has been a powerful vehicle for the construction and documentation of family narratives. In contrast to the conventions of the traditional family portrait, the artists gathered here deliberately set out to record the ‘messiness’ of life, reflecting on misogyny, violence, sexuality, mortality, intimacy and unfolding family dramas, presenting a more complex and not always comfortable vision of fatherhood and masculinity.

Loss and the ageing male figure are central to the work of both Masahisa Fukase and Larry Sultan (both below). Their respective projects marked a new departure in the way men photographed each other, serving as a commentary on how old age engenders a loss of masculinity. An examination of everyday life, Richard Billingham’s tender yet bleak portraits of his father, as chronicled in Ray’s a Laugh, cast a brutally honest eye on his alcoholic father Ray against a backdrop of social decline (below).

Anna Fox’s disturbing autobiographical work undermines expectations of the traditional family album while revealing the mechanics of paternalistic power. Meanwhile, the father-daughter relationship is brought into sharp focus in Aneta Bartos’s sexually charged series Family Portrait which unsettles traditional family boundaries (below).

 

Masahisa Fukase (Japan, 1934-2012) 'Masahisa and Sukezo' 1972

 

Masahisa Fukase (Japan, 1934-2012)
Masahisa and Sukezo
1972
From the series Family, 1971-90
© Masahisa Fukase Archives

 

Masahisa Fukase (Japan, 1934-2012) 'Upper row, from left to right: A, a model; Toshiteru, Sukezo, Masahisa. Middle row, from left to right: Akiko, Mitsue, Hisashi Daikoji. Bottom row, from left to right: Gaku, Kyoko, Kanako, and a memorial portrait of Miyako' 1985

 

Masahisa Fukase (Japan, 1934-2012)
Upper row, from left to right: A, a model; Toshiteru, Sukezo, Masahisa. Middle row, from left to right: Akiko, Mitsue, Hisashi Daikoji. Bottom row, from left to right: Gaku, Kyoko, Kanako, and a memorial portrait of Miyako
1985
From the series Family, 1971-90
© Masahisa Fukase Archives

 

Masahisa Fukase (Japan, 1934-2012) 'Masahisa and Sukezo' 1985

 

Masahisa Fukase (Japan, 1934-2012)
Masahisa and Sukezo
1985
From the series Family, 1971-90
© Masahisa Fukase Archives

 

‘A magnificent memorial to paternal love’.

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing the photographs of Larry Sultan from the series Pictures from Home
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Larry Sultan (American, 1946-2009) 'Dad on Bed' 1984

 

Larry Sultan (American, 1946-2009)
Dad on Bed
1984
From the series Pictures from Home
Chromogenic print
Courtesy the Estate of Larry Sultan, Yancey Richardson, Casemore Kirkeby, and Galerie Thomas Zander
© Estate of Larry Sultan

 

Larry Sultan (American, 1946-2009) 'Practicing Golf Swing' 1986

 

Larry Sultan (American, 1946-2009)
Practicing Golf Swing
1986
From the series Pictures from Home
Chromogenic print
Courtesy the Estate of Larry Sultan, Yancey Richardson, Casemore Kirkeby, and Galerie Thomas Zander
© Estate of Larry Sultan

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing Richard Billingham’s photographs from the series Ray’s a Laugh
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing the photographs of Aneta Bartos’s sexually charged series Family Portrait
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Aneta Bartos (Born Poland, lives New York) 'Mirror' 2015

 

Aneta Bartos (Born Poland, lives New York)
Mirror
2015
From the series Family Portrait
Archival inkjet print
30 x 30.65 inches

 

Aneta Bartos (Born Poland, lives New York) 'Apple' 2015

 

Aneta Bartos (Born Poland, lives New York)
Apple
2015
From the series Family Portrait
Archival inkjet print
30 x 30.65 inches

 

 

Since 2013 New York based artist Aneta Bartos has been traveling back to her hometown Tomaszów Mazowiecki, where she was raised by her father as a single parent from the age of eight until fourteen. Then 68 years old, and having spent a lifetime as a competitive body builder, Bartos’ father asked her to take a few shots documenting his physique before it degenerated and inevitably ran its course. The original request of her father inspired Bartos to transform his idea into a long-term project called Dad. A few summers later Dad developed into a new series of portraits, titled Family Portrait, exploring the complex dynamics between father and daughter.

Text from the Antwerp Art website [Online] Cited 01/03/2020

 

“The pastoral setting is a romanticised portal to Bartos’s past. Her father’s poses are often heroic; at times the pictures are playful and flirty, almost seductive. Seen together, they display the sadness of a man who knows he is ageing, with the subtext of his waning sexuality. They are bittersweet, images of time passing and memories being preserved.”

Elisabeth Biondi quoted on the Postmasters website 2017 [Online] Cited 01/03/2020

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation views of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing photographs from Peter Hujar’s series Orgasmic Man 1969 (see below)
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

 

Room 9-12

Queer Masculinity

In defiance of the prejudice and legal constraints against homosexuality in Europe, the United States and beyond over the last century, the works presented in ‘Queering Masculinity’ highlight how artists from the 1960s onwards have forged a new politically charged queer aesthetic.

In the 1970s, artists such as Peter Hujar (below), David Wojnarowicz, Sunil Gupta (below) and Hal Fischer (below) photographed gay lifestyles in New York and San Francisco in a bid to claim public visibility and therefore legitimacy at a time when homosexuality was still a criminal offence. Reflecting on their own queer experience and creating sensual bodies of work, artists such as Rotimi Fani-Kayode (below) and Isaac Julien (below) portrayed black gay desire while Catherine Opie’s seminal work Being and Having, 1991 (below), documented members of the dyke, butch and BDSM communities in San Francisco playing with the physical attributes associated with hypermasculinity in order to overturn traditional binary understandings of gender.

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation views of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing photographs by Karlheinz Weinberger
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Karlheinz Weinberger (Swiss, 1921-2006) 'Horseshoe buckle' 1962

 

Karlheinz Weinberger (Swiss, 1921-2006)
Horseshoe buckle
1962
Courtesy Galerie Esther Woerdehoff
© Karlheinz Weinberger

 

Karlheinz Weinberger (Swiss, 1921-2006) 'Sitting boy with elvis necklace in KHW studio, Zurich' 1961

 

Karlheinz Weinberger (Swiss, 1921-2006)
Sitting Boy with Elvis Necklace in KHW studio, Zurich
1961
Courtesy Galerie Esther Woerdehoff
© Karlheinz Weinberger

 

Peter Hujar. 'Orgasmic Man' 1969

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Orgasmic Man
1969
Gelatin silver print

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Orgasmic Man (I)' 1969

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Orgasmic Man (I)
1969
Gelatin silver print

 

Peter Hujar. 'Orgasmic Man (II)' 1969

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Orgasmic Man (II)
1969
Gelatin silver print

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'David Brintzenhofe Applying Makeup (II)' 1982

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
David Brintzenhofe Applying Makeup (II)
1982
Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© 1987 The Peter Hujar Archive LLC

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing photographs from Sunil Gupta’s series Christopher Street 1976
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Sunil Gupta (Indian, b. 1953) 'Untitled #21' 1976

 

Sunil Gupta (Indian, b. 1953)
Untitled #21
1976
From the series Christopher Street
Courtesy the artist and Hales Gallery
© Sunil Gupta. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2019

 

 

Gupta went on to study under Lisette Model at the New School and take his place among the most accomplished photographers, editors, and curators of his generation, exploring the way identities flower under various sexual, geographical, and historical conditions. But Christopher Street is where it all began. His subjects are engaged in an unprecedented moment in which it seemed possible to build a world of their own. He shows inner lives, barely concealed within the downturned face of a mustachioed man with his hands in his pockets, and outer ones as well, as other men cruise the lens right back, or laugh with each other, unbothered by the stranger with the camera. They were often just engaged in the everyday and extraordinary act of simply existing as gay. In each photograph, Gupta somehow projects a protective and versatile desire: to remember and be remembered at once.

Extract from Jesse Dorris. “Christopher Street Revisited,” on the Aperture website May 30th, 2019 [Online] Cited 29/02/2020

 

Sunil Gupta (Indian, b. 1953) 'Untitled #56' 1976

 

Sunil Gupta (Indian, b. 1953)
Untitled #56
1976
From the series Christopher Street
Courtesy the artist and Hales Gallery
© Sunil Gupta. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2019

 

 

The 1976 Christopher Street series marks the first set of photographs Gupta made as a practicing artist, using the camera as a tool for open expression. His decision to use black and white film was partly aesthetic, yet also practical, as he was developing the prints in his bathroom. Although he uses a documentarian style, Gupta was by no means an impartial observer behind the camera, he was a participant, enthralled by his subjects.

The series … captures a specific moment in history – a cross section of a thriving community in one of New York’s most dynamic areas – Manhattan’s Christopher Street. Dressed in the latest fashions, moving confidently and relaxing on street corners, their visible presence is a signifier of a specific period of public consciousness. Un-staged and spontaneous, most of the artist’s subjects are unaware of the camera and are simply going about their day. Now, with hindsight, Gupta is struck by the routineness of the images, stating:

‘There is a poignancy they never had at the time… A few years later, the AIDS crisis took hold. The public nature of gay life was forced back into the shadows. Thousands of men died. New York shut down its bathhouses, gay parties became private, and this whole world became hidden again.’

Fusing the public with the personal, the Christopher Street series reflects the openness of the gay liberation movement, as well as Gupta’s own “coming out” as an artist. More than a nostalgic time capsule, the photographs reveal a community that shaped Gupta as a person and cemented his lifelong dedication to portraying people who have been denied a space to be themselves.

Extract from Anonymous. “Sunil Gupta: Christopher Street,” on the Monovisions website 24 May 2019 [Online] Cited 29/02/2020

 

Hal Fischer (American, b. 1950) 'Handkerchiefs' 1977

 

Hal Fischer (American, b. 1950)
Handkerchiefs
1977
From the series Gay Semiotics
Gelatin silver print

 

Hal Fischer (American, b. 1950) 'Street Fashion Jock' 1977

 

Hal Fischer (American, b. 1950)
Street Fashion Jock
1977
From the series Gay Semiotics
Gelatin silver print

 

Rotimi Fani-Kayode (Nigerian, 1955-1989) 'Untitled' c. 1985

 

Rotimi Fani-Kayode (Nigerian, 1955-1989)
Untitled
c. 1985
Courtesy of Autograph, London
© Rotimi Fani-Kayode

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing at left, photographs from Isaac Julien’s series After Mazatlàn, 1999/2000
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Isaac Julien (British, b. 1960) From 'After Mazatlàn III - VI' 1999/2000

 

Isaac Julien (British, b. 1960)
From After Mazatlàn III – VI
1999/2000
Colour photogravures
33 x 43.2 cm; 13 x 17 in
Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London/Venice
© Isaac Julien

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing Catherine Opie’s series Being and Having 1991
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961) 'Bo from "Being and Having"' 1991

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961)
Bo from “Being and Having”
1991
Collection of Gregory R. Miller and Michael Wiener
© Catherine Opie, Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles; Thomas Dane Gallery, London; and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

 

 

The exhibition brings together over 300 works by over 50 pioneering international artists, photographers and filmmakers such as Richard Avedon, Peter Hujar, Isaac Julien, Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Robert Mapplethorpe, Annette Messager and Catherine Opie to show how photography and film have been central to the way masculinities are imagined and understood in contemporary culture. The show also highlights lesser-known and younger artists – some of whom have never exhibited in the UK – including Cassils, Sam Contis, George Dureau, Elle Pérez, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Hank Willis Thomas, Karlheinz Weinberger and Marianne Wex amongst many others. Masculinities: Liberation through Photography is part of the Barbican’s 2020 season, Inside Out, which explores the relationship between our inner lives and creativity.

Jane Alison, Head of Visual Arts, Barbican, said: ‘Masculinities: Liberation through Photography continues our commitment to presenting leading twentieth century figures in the field of photography while also supporting younger contemporary artists working in the medium today. In the wake of the #MeToo movement and the resurgence of feminist and men’s rights activism, traditional notions of masculinity has become a subject of fierce debate. This exhibition could not be more relevant and will certainly spark conversations surrounding our understanding of masculinity.’

With ideas around masculinity undergoing a global crisis and terms such as ‘toxic’ and ‘fragile’ masculinity filling endless column inches, the exhibition surveys the representation of masculinity in all its myriad forms, rife with contradiction and complexity. Presented across six sections by over 50 international artists to explore the expansive nature of the subject, the exhibition touches on themes of queer identity, the black body, power and patriarchy, female perceptions of men, heteronormative hypermasculine stereotypes, fatherhood and family. The works in the show present masculinity as an unfixed performative identity shaped by cultural and social forces.

Seeking to disrupt and destabilise the myths surrounding modern masculinity, highlights include the work of artists who have consistently challenged stereotypical representations of hegemonic masculinity, including Collier Schorr, Adi Nes, Akram Zaatari and Sam Contis, whose series Deep Springs, 2018 draws on the mythology of the American West and the rugged cowboy. Contis spent four years immersed in an all-male liberal arts college north of Death Valley meditating on the intimacy and violence that coexists in male-only spaces. Complicating the conventional image of the fighter, Thomas Dworzak‘s acclaimed series Taliban consists of portraits found in photographic studios in Kandahar following the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, these vibrant portraits depict Taliban fighters posing hand in hand in front of painted backdrops, using guns and flowers as props with kohl carefully applied to their eyes. Trans masculine artist Cassils‘ series Time Lapse, 2011, documents the radical transformation of their body through the use of steroids and a rigorous training programme reflecting on ideas of masculinity without men. Elsewhere, artists Jeremy Deller, Robert Mapplethorpe and Rineke Dijkstra dismantle preconceptions of subjects such as the wrestler, the bodybuilder and the athlete and offer an alternative view of these hyper-masculinised stereotypes.

The exhibition examines patriarchy and the unequal power relations between gender, class and race. Karen Knorr‘s series Gentlemen, 1981-83, comprised of 26 black and white photographs taken inside men-only private members’ clubs in central London and accompanied by texts drawn from snatched conversations, parliamentary records and contemporary news reports, invites viewers to reflect on notions of class, race and the exclusion of women from spaces of power during Margaret Thatcher’s premiership. Toxic masculinity is further explored in Andrew Moisey‘s 2018 photobook The American Fraternity: An Illustrated Ritual Manual which weaves together archival photographs of former US Presidents and Supreme Court Justices who all belonged to the fraternity system, alongside images depicting the initiation ceremonies and parties that characterise these male-only organisations.

With the rise of the Gay Liberation Movement through the 1960s followed by the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s, the exhibition showcases artists such as Peter Hujar and David Wojnarowiz, who increasingly began to disrupt traditional representations of gender and sexuality. Hal Fischer‘s critical photo-text series Gay Semiotics, 1977, classified styles and types of gay men in San Francisco and Sunil Gupta’s street photographs captured the performance of gay public life as played out on New York’s Christopher Street, the site of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising. Other artists exploring the performative aspects of queer identity include Catherine Opie‘s seminal series Being and Having, 1991, showing her close friends in the West Coast’s LGBTQ+ community sporting false moustaches, tattoos and other stereotypical masculine accessories. Elle Pérez‘s luminous and tender photographs explore the representation of gender non-conformity and vulnerability, whilst Paul Mpagi Sepuya‘s fragmented portraits explore the studio as a site of homoerotic desire.

During the 1970s women artists from the second wave feminist movement objectified male sexuality in a bid to subvert and expose the invasive and uncomfortable nature of the male gaze. In the exhibition, Laurie Anderson‘s seminal work Fully Automated Nikon (Object/Objection/Objectivity), 1973, documents the men who cat-called her as she walked through New York’s Lower East Side while Annette Messager‘s series The Approaches, 1972, covertly captures men’s trousered crotches with a long-lens camera. German artist Marianne Wex‘s encyclopaedic project Let’s Take Back Our Space: ‘Female’ and ‘Male’ Body Language as a Result of Patriarchal Structures, 1977, presents a detailed analysis of male and female body language and Australian indigenous artist Tracey Moffatt‘s awkwardly humorous film Heaven, 1997, portrays male surfers changing in and out of their wet suits.

Further highlights include New York based artist Hank Willis Thomas, whose photographic practice examines the complexities of the black male experience; celebrated Japanese photographer Masahisa Fukase‘s The Family, 1971-1989, chronicles the life and death of his family with a particular emphasis on his father; and Kenneth Anger‘s technicolour experimental underground film Kustom Kar Kommandos, 1965, explores the fetishist role of hot rod cars amongst young American men.

Press release from the Barbican Art Gallery

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing Hank Willis Thomas’ series Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America 1968-2008 2005-08 (below)
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

 

Room 13-14

Reclaiming the Black Body

Giving visual form to the complexity of the black male experience, this section foregrounds artists who over the last five decades have consciously subverted expectations of race, gender and the white gaze by reclaiming the power to fashion their own identities.

From Samuel Fosso’s playfully staged self-portraits, taken in his studio, in which he performs to the camera sporting flares and platforms boots or flirtatiously revealing his youthful male physique (below) to Kiluanji Kia Henda’s fictional scenarios in which he adopts the troubled personas of African men of power, the works presented here reflect on how black masculinity challenges the status quo (below).

The representation of black masculinity in the US is born out of a violent history of slavery and prejudice. Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America 1968-2008 by Hank Willis Thomas (below) draws attention to the ways in which corporate America has commodified the African American male experience while simultaneously perpetuating and reinforcing cultural stereotypes. Similarly, Deana Lawson’s powerful work Sons of Cush, 2016, highlights how the black male figure is often ‘idealised (in their physical beauty) and pathologised by the culture (as symbols of violence or fear)’.

 

Hank Willis Thomas (American, b. 1976) 'The Johnson Family' 1981/2006

 

Hank Willis Thomas (American, b. 1976)
The Johnson Family
1981/2006
From the series Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America 1968-2008
2005-08

 

 

Concerned with the literal and figural objectifications of the African American male body, in his complex series Unbranded Hank Willis Thomas redeploys magazine adverts featuring African Americans made between 1968 – a pivotal moment in the struggle for civil rights – and 2008, which witnessed the accession of Barack Obama to the US presidency. By digitally stripping the ads of all text, branding and logos, Thomas draws attention to the ways in which corporate America has commodified the African American experience while simultaneously perpetuating and reinforcing cultural stereotypes.

 

Hank Willis Thomas (American, b. 1976) 'It's the Real Thing!' 1978/2008

 

Hank Willis Thomas (American, b. 1976)
It’s the Real Thing!
1978/2008
From the series Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America 1968-2008
2005-08

 

Samuel Fosso (Cameroonian, b. 1962) 'Self-portrait' 1975-7

 

Samuel Fosso (Cameroonian, b. 1962)
Self-portrait
1975-7
From the series 70s lifestyle
Courtesy Jean Marc Patras, Paris
© Samuel Fosso

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing a photograph from Kiluanji Kia Henda’s series The Last Journey of the Dictator Mussunda Nzombo Before the Great Extinction Act I
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Hilary Lloyd (British, b. 1964) 'Colin #2' 1999

 

Hilary Lloyd (British, b. 1964)
Colin #2
1999
Courtesy Galerie Neu, Berlin; Sadie Coles HQ, London; Greene Naftali, New York
© Hilary Lloyd

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing part of Marianne Wex’s encyclopaedic project Let’s Take Back Our Space: ‘Female’ and ‘Male’ Body Language as a Result of Patriarchal Structures, 1977
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

 

Room 15-16

Women on Men: Reversing the Male Gaze

As the second-wave feminist movement gained momentum through the 1960s and ’70s, female activists sought to expose and critique entrenched ideas about masculinity and to articulate alternative perspectives on gender and representation. Against this background, or motivated by its legacy, the artists gathered here have made men their subject with the radical intention of subverting their power, calling into question the notion that men are active and women passive.

In the early 1970s pioneers of feminist art such as Laurie Anderson (below) and Annette Messager consciously objectified the male body in a bid to expose the uncomfortable nature of the dominant male gaze. In contrast, filmmakers such as Tracey Moffatt (below) and Hilary Lloyd (above) turn the tables on male representations of desire to foreground the power of the female gaze.

In his humorous series The Ideal Man, 1978 (below), Hans Eijkelboom invited ten women to fashion him into their image of the ‘ideal’ man. Through this act Eijkelboom reverses the male to female power dynamic and inverts the traditional gender hierarchy.

 

Laurie Anderson (American, b. 1947) 'Man with a Cigarette' 1973

 

Laurie Anderson (American, b. 1947)
Man with a Cigarette
1973
From the series Fully Automated Nikon (Object/Objection/Objectivity)

 

Laurie Anderson (American, b. 1947) 'Two men in a car' 1973

 

Laurie Anderson (American, b. 1947)
Two men in a car
1973
From the series Fully Automated Nikon (Object/Objection/Objectivity)

 

 

Anderson photographed men who called to her or whistled her on the street.  In her artist statement she writes about one experience,

“As I walked along Houston Street with my fully automated Nikon. I felt armed, ready. I passed a man who muttered ‘Wanna fuck?’ This was standard technique: the female passes and the male strikes at the last possible moment forcing the woman to backtrack if she should dare to object. I wheeled around, furious. ‘Did you say that?’ He looked around surprised, then defiant ‘Yeah, so what the fuck if I did?’ I raised my Nikon, took aim began to focus. His eyes darted back and forth, an undercover cop? CLICK.

As it turned out, most of the men I shot that day had the opposite reaction. When i confronted them, the acted innocent, then offended, like some nasty invisible ventriloquist had ticked them into saying dirty words against their will. By the time I took their pictures they were posing, like taking their picture was the least I could do.”

“I decided to shoot pictures of men who made comments to me on the street. I had always hated this invasion of my privacy and now I had the means of my revenge. As I walked along Houston Street with my fully automated Nikon, I felt armed, ready. I passed a man who muttered ‘Wanna fuck?’ This was standard technique: the female passes and the male strikes at the last possible moment forcing the woman to backtrack if she should dare to object. I wheeled around, furious. ‘Did you say that?’ He looked around surprised, then defiant. ‘Yeah, so what the fuck if I did?’ I raised my Nikon, took aim, began to focus. His eyes darted back and forth, an undercover cop? CLICK.”

Anderson takes the power from her male pursuers, allowing them nothing more than the momentary fear that their depravity has just been captured in a picture.

 

Tracey Moffatt (Australian, b. 1960) 'Heaven' (still) 1997

 

Tracey Moffatt (Australian, b. 1960)
Heaven (still)
1997
Video tape (28 minutes)
© Tracey Moffatt / DACS Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney, Australia

 

 

“A playful video that glories in the female gaze and objectification of men. It zeros in on the Australian national sport, surfing, and in particular on several dozen good-looking muscular men changing into or out of their swimming trunks. This ritual is usually conducted in parking lots or on sidewalks, always near cars and sometimes inside them; it usually but not always involves a beach towel wound carefully around the torso. Ms Moffatt begins by shooting her subject unseen from inside a house and gradually moves closer and closer, engaging some in conversations that are never heard. The soundtrack alternates between the ocean surf and the sounds of drumming and chanting, male rituals of another, more authentic Australian culture. By the tape’s end, the artist’s voyeurism has shifted to participation; the camera shows her free hand, the one not holding the camera, darting into view, trying to undo the towel of the last surfer.”

New York Times

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing part of Hans Eijkelboom’s series The Ideal Man, 1978

 

 

Glossary of Terms by CN Lester

Homosociality: Typically non-romantic and/or non-sexual same-sex relationships and social groupings – may sometimes include elements of homoeroticism, as they are frequently interdependent phenomena.

Normativity: The process by which some groups of people, forms of expression and types of behaviour are classified according to a perceived standard of what is ‘normal’, ‘natural’, desirable and permissible in society. Inevitably, this process designates people, expressions and behaviours that do not fit these norms as abnormal, unnatural, undesirable and impermissible.

Hegemonic Masculinity: ‘Hegemonic’ means ‘ruling’ or ‘commanding’ – hegemonic masculinity, therefore, indicates male dominance and the forms of masculinity occupying and perpetuating this dominant position. The term was coined in the 1980s by the scholar R. W. Connell, drawing on the Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci’s notion of cultural hegemony.

Hierarchy: Across many cultures throughout history, and continuing into the present moment throughout large parts of the world, gender functions as a hierarchy: some gender categories and gender expressions are granted higher value and more power than others. Men are often higher up the gender hierarchy than women, but the gender hierarchy is affected by racism, disablism, ageism, transphobia and other factors; in the West, men in their thirties are likely to be considered higher up the gender hierarchy than men in their eighties, for example.

Gender roles: Specific cultural roles defined by the weight of gendered ideas, restrictions and traditions. Men and women are often expected, sometimes forced, to occupy oppositional gender roles: aggressor versus victim, protector versus nurturer and so on. Many gender roles are specific to intersections of race, class, sexuality, religion and disabled status – examples of these types of gender roles can be seen in the stereotypes of the Jezebel or the Dragon Lady.

Patriarchy: Literally ‘the rule of the father’, a patriarchy is a society or structure centred around male dominance and in which women (and those of other genders) are not treated as or considered equal.

Queer: A slur, a term of reclamation and a specific and radical site of community and activism in solidarity with many kinds of difference, and specifically opposed to heteronormativity and cisnormativity. Queer studies and queer theory are important emerging fields of study.

Gender identity: Identity refers to what, who, and how someone or something is, both in the way this is understood as selfhood by an individual, and also the self as it is shaped and positioned by the world. Gender identity can be a surprisingly difficult term to pin down and is perhaps best understood as the stated truth of a person’s gender (or lack of gender), which is in itself the sum of many different factors.

Fetishisation: To turn the subject into a fetish, sexually or otherwise. Fetishisation in terms of gender and desire frequently occurs in conjunction with objectification and power. Men and women of colour are frequently fetishised by white people, in society and in artistic practice, through different stereotypes and limitations. Trans and disabled people are also subject to fetishisation, particularly in bodily terms. Kobena Mercer’s critical essay on Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Reading Radical Fetishism’,1 and David Henry Hwang’s play and afterword to M. Butterfly (1988) both explore the notion of fetishisation.

1. Kobena Mercer, ‘Reading Racial Fetishism: The Photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe’, in Emily Apter and William Pietz, eds, Fetishism as Cultural Discourse (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993), pp. 307-29.

Critical race theory: A branch of scholarship emerging from the application of critical theory to the study of law in the 1980s, critical race theory (CRT) is now taken as an approach and theoretical foundation across both academic and popular discourse. CRT names, examines and challenges the social constructions and functions of race and racism. Rejecting the idea of race as a ‘natural’ category, CRT looks instead to the cultural, structural and legal creation and maintenance of difference and oppression. Scholars working in this field include Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva and Patricia Williams.

Me Too movement: ‘#MeToo is a movement that was founded in 2006 to support survivors of sexual violence, in particular black and brown girls, who were in the program that we were running. It has grown since then to include supporting grown people, women, and men, and other survivors, as well as helping people to understand what community action looks like in the fight to end sexual violence’ – Tarana Burke, founder of the Me Too movement.

Male gaze: A term coined by film critic Laura Mulvey, the notion of the male gaze develops Jean-Paul Sartre’s concept of le regard (the gaze) to take into account the power differentials and gender stereotyping inherent in ways of looking within patriarchal, sexist culture. The male gaze refers to how the world – and women in particular – are looked at and presented from a cisgender, straight, frequently white male perspective. In visual art the male gaze can be understood in multiple ways, from the male creator of the work, to men within the work viewing women or the world around them, to the (assumed) male viewer of the work itself. Many women artists have countered the male gaze through deconstruction and through the creation and promotion of works that centre the ‘female gaze’.

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation views of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

 

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14
Dec
13

Exhibition: ‘Masculine / Masculine: The Nude Man in Art from 1800 to the present day’ at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Exhibition dates: 24th September 2013 – 2nd January 2014

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The von Gloeden is stunning and some of the paintings are glorious: the muscularity / blood red colour in Falguière by Lutteurs d’Alexandre (1875, below); the beauty of Ángel Zárraga’s Votive Offering (Saint Sebastian) (1912, below); the sheer nakedness and earthiness of the Freud; and the colour, form and (homo)eroticism of The Bath by Paul Cadmus (1951, below), with their pert buttocks and hands washing suggestively.

But there is nothing too outrageous here. Heaven forbid!

After all, this is the male nude as curatorial commodity.

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Many thankx to the Musée d’Orsay for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

*PLEASE NOTE THIS POSTING CONTAINS ART PHOTOGRAPHS OF MALE NUDITY – IF YOU DO NOT LIKE PLEASE DO NOT LOOK, FAIR WARNING HAS BEEN GIVEN*

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“The high brow peep show is divided thematically into depictions of religion, mythology, athleticism, homosexuality, and shifting notions of manliness. Wandering the Musee’s grand halls you will see rippling Greco-Roman Apollonian gods, Egon Schiele’s finely rendered, debauched self portraits and David LaChapelle’s 90s macho-kitsch celebs. Edward Munch’s hazy, pastel bathers mingle with Lucian Freud’s grossly erotic fleshy animals and reverent depictions of Christ and Saint Sebastian, showing the many ways to interpret a body sans outerwear.”

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Priscilla Frank. “‘Masculine/Masculine’ Explores Male Nude Throughout Art History And We Couldn’t Be Happier (NSFW),” on the Huffpost Arts and Culture website, 26/09/2013

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Jean Delville (1867-1953) 'École de Platon' (School of Plato) 1898

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Jean Delville (1867-1953)
École de Platon (School of Plato)
1898
Oil on canvas
H. 260; W. 605 cm
© RMN (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

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In the late 19th century, Belgium was one of the great centres of European symbolism. Jean Delville’s paintings and writings expressed the most esoteric side of the movement. In the mid-1880s, Delville’s discovery of the symbolist milieu in Paris and the friendships he made there led him to break with the naturalism inherited from his academic training. Thus his friendship with the Sâr Péladan and his regular attendance at the Salon of the Rose+Croix, testified to his belief in an intellectual art which focused on evocation more than description.

School of Plato, a decoration intended for the Sorbonne but never installed there, is a striking work in many respects. Its monumental size and its ambitious message – an interpretation of classical philosophy seen through the prism of the symbolist ideal – set it apart. The manifesto makes no secret of its references, from Raphael to Puvis de Chavannes, but envelops them in the strange charm of a deliberately unreal colour range. The ambiguity emanating from this fin de siècle Mannerism knowingly blurs the borderline between purity and sensuality.

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Jules Elie Delaunay. 'Ixion Thrown Into the Flames' 1876

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Jules Elie Delaunay
Ixion Thrown Into the Flames
1876
© RMN-Grand Palais / Gérard Blot

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Camille Félix Bellanger. 'Abel' 1874-75

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Camille Félix Bellanger
Abel
1874-75
© Musée d’Orsay

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Eadweard Muybridge. 'Animal Locomotion' 1887

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Eadweard Muybridge
Animal Locomotion
1887
© Musée d’Orsay, dist. RMN / Alexis Brandt

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Kehinde Wiley. 'Death of Abel Study' 2008

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Kehinde Wiley
Death of Abel Study
2008
© Kehinde Wiley, Courtesy Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA & Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris

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Paul Cézanne. 'Baigneurs' (Bathers) 1890

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Paul Cézanne
Baigneurs (Bathers)
1890
© RMN (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

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“While it has been quite natural for the female nude to be regularly exhibited, the male nude has not been accorded the same treatment. It is highly significant that until the show at the Leopold Museum in Vienna in the autumn of 2012, no exhibition had opted to take a fresh approach, over a long historical perspective, to the representation of the male nude. However, male nudity was for a long time, from the 17th to 19th centuries, the basis of traditional Academic art training and a key element in Western creative art. Therefore when presenting the exhibition Masculine / Masculine, the Musée d’Orsay, drawing on the wealth of its own collections (with several hitherto unknown sculptures) and on other French public collections, aims to take an interpretive, playful, sociological and philosophical approach to exploring all aspects and meanings of the male nude in art. Given that the 19th century took its inspiration from 18th century classical art, and that this influence still resonates today, the Musée d’Orsay is extending its traditional historical range in order to draw a continuous arc of creation through two centuries down to the present day. The exhibition will include the whole range of techniques: painting, sculpture, graphic arts and, of course, photography, which will have an equal place in the exhibition.

To convey the specifically masculine nature of the body, the exhibition, in preference to a dull chronological presentation, takes the visitor on a journey through a succession of thematic focuses, including the aesthetic canons inherited from Antiquity, their reinterpretation in the Neo-Classical, Symbolist and contemporary eras where the hero is increasingly glorified, the Realist fascination for truthful representation of the body, nudity as the body’s natural state, the suffering of the body and the expression of pain, and finally its eroticisation. The aim is to establish a genuine dialogue between different eras in order to reveal how certain artists have been prompted to reinterpret earlier works. In the mid 18th century, Winckelmann examined the legacy of the divine proporzioni of the body inherited from Antiquity, which, in spite of radical challenges, still apply today having mysteriously come down through the history of art as the accepted definition of beauty. From Jacques-Louis David to George Platt-Lynes, LaChapelle and Pierre et Gilles, and including Gustave Moreau, a whole series of connections is revealed, based around issues of power, censorship, modesty, the boundaries of public expectation and changes in social mores.

Winckelmann’s glorification of Greek beauty reveals an implicit carnal desire, relating to men as well as women, which certainly comes down through two centuries from the “Barbus” group and from David’s studio, to David Hockney and the film director James Bidgood. This sensibility also permeates the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries as it questions its own identity, as we see in the extraordinary painting École de Platon [School of Plato], inexplicably purchased by the French state in 1912 from the Belgian artist Delville. Similarly, the exhibition will reveal other visual and intellectual relationships through the works of artists as renowned as Georges de La Tour, Pierre Puget, Abilgaard, Paul Flandrin, Bouguereau, Hodler, Schiele, Munch, Picasso, Bacon, Mapplethorpe, Freud and Mueck, while lining up some surprises like the Mexican Angel Zarraga’s Saint Sébastien (Saint Sebastian), De Chirico’s Les Bains mystérieux (Mysterious Baths) and the erotica of Americans Charles Demuth and Paul Cadmus.

This autumn therefore, the Musée d’Orsay will invite the visitor to an exhibition that challenges the continuity of a theme that has always interested artists, through unexpected yet productive confrontations between the various revivals of the nude man in art.”

Press release from the Musée d’Orsay website

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Jacques Louis David (1748-1825) 'Academy Drawing of a Man, said to be Patroclu' 1778

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Jacques Louis David (1748-1825)
Academy Drawing of a Man, said to be Patroclu
1778
Oil on canvas
H. 122; W. 170 cm
Cherbourg, musée Thomas-Henry
© Cherbourg, musée Thomas-Henry

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Masculine / Masculine

Why had there never been an exhibition dedicated to the male nude until Nackte Männer at the Leopold Museum in Vienna last year? In order to answer this question, the exhibition sets out to compare works of different eras and techniques, around great themes that have shaped the image of the male body for over two centuries.

We must distinguish above all between nudity and the nude: a body simply without clothes, that causes embarrassment with its lack of modesty, is different from the radiant vision of a body restructured and idealised by the artist. Although this distinction can be qualified, it highlights the positive, uninhibited approach to the nude in western art since the Classical Period.

Today, the nude essentially brings to mind a female body, the legacy of a 19th century that established it as an absolute and as the accepted object of male desire. Prior to this, however, the female body was regarded less favourably than its more structured, more muscular male counterpart. Since the Renaissance, the male nude had been accorded more importance: the man as a universal being became a synonym for Mankind, and his body was established as the ideal human form, as was already the case in Greco-Roman art. Examples of this interpretation abound in the Judeo-Christian cultural heritage: Adam existed before Eve, who was no more than his copy and the origin of sin. Most artists being male, they found an “ideal me” in the male nude, a magnified, narcissistic reflection of themselves. And yet, until the middle of the 20th century, the sexual organ was the source of a certain embarrassment, whether shrunken or well hidden beneath strategically placed drapery, thong or scabbard.

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Jean-Baptiste Frédéric Desmarais (1756-1813) 'Le Berger Pâris' (The Shepherd, Paris) 1787

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Jean-Baptiste Frédéric Desmarais (1756-1813)
Le Berger Pâris (The Shepherd, Paris)
1787
Oil on canvas
H. 177 ; L. 118 cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa
© Photo: MBAC

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The Classic Ideal

From the 17th century, training of the highest standard was organised for the most privileged artists. In sculpture and in history painting, the ultimate aim of this teaching was to master the representation of the male nude: this was central to the creative process, as the preparatory studies had to capture the articulation of the body as closely as possible, whether clothed or not, in the finished composition.

In France, pupils studied at the Académie Royale then at the Académie des Beaux-Arts, working from drawings, engravings, sculptures “in the round” and life models. Right up until the late 20th century, these models were exclusively male, for reasons of social morality, but also because the man was considered to have the archetypal human form. In order to be noble and worthy of artistic representation, and to appeal to all, this could not be the body of an ordinary man: the distinctive features of the model had to be tempered in order to elevate the subject.

Above all, the artists of Antiquity and of the Renaissance were considered to have established an ideal synthesis of the human body without being distracted by individual characteristics. For Winckelmann, the German 18th century aesthete, the ideal beauty of Greek statues could only be embodied by the male nude. But although it inspired numerous artists, the “noble simplicity and quiet grandeur” of Winckelmann’s gods was undermined by other interpretations of Classical art: the torment of Laocoon, a work from late Antiquity, can be seen in the work of the Danish painter Abildgaard, while David advocated a much more Roman masculinity. Even when challenged, reinterpreted and renewed by the 20th century avant-garde, the Classical male nude and its rich legacy remains an object of fascination right up to the inter-war years and up to the present day.

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George Hoyningen-Huene (1900-1968) 'Horst P. Horst, Photographie' 1932

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George Hoyningen-Huene (1900-1968)
Horst P. Horst, Photographie
1932
Tirage argentique
H. 19 ; L. 22,7 cm
Hambourg, FC Gundlach
© Droits réservés

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The Heroic Nude

The concept and the word “hero” itself come from ancient Greece: whether a demigod or simply a mortal transcending his human condition to become an exemplum virtutis, he embodies an ideal. The admiration for Classical art and culture explains the ubiquity of the hero in Academic painting, particularly in subjects given to candidates of the Prix de Rome: great history painting thrived on the exploits of supermen in the most perfect bodies.

This connection between anatomy and heroic virtue, conveying noble and universal values, goes back to the Neo-Platonic concept linking beauty and goodness. The hero’s nudity has been so self-evident that the “heroic nude” has become the subject of a recurrent debate about the representation of great men, past or present, no matter how incongruous the result may appear.

Heroism is not a state, rather a means by which the strength of character of an exceptional being man is revealed: although Hercules’ strength is inseparable from his exploits, it was David’s cunning that overcame the powerful Goliath. In both cases they are endowed with a warrior’s strength, which was particularly valued by a 19th century thirsting for virility and patriotic assertion: more than ever, this was the ideal to be attained. We had to wait for the 20th century crisis of masculinity before we could see the renewal of the status of the increasingly contemporary hero, and the diversification of his physical characteristics. However, whether a star or a designer like Yves Saint-Laurent, or even the young men on the streets of Harlem painted by the American Kehinde Wiley, the evocative power of nudity remains.

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Pierre et Gilles (born respectively in 1950 and 1953) 'Vive la France' 2006

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Pierre et Gilles (born respectively in 1950 and 1953)
Vive la France
2006
(models: Serge, Moussa and Robert)
Painted photograph, unique piece
H. 125; W. 101 cm
© Pierre et Gilles

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The Gods of the Stadium

The 20th century witnessed the start of a new way of looking at the human body where the focus was on medical aspects and hygiene, and this had a considerable impact on the concept of the artistic nude. Numerous physical education movements and gymnasia appeared. People were captivated by the figure of the “sportsman” and, as in the work of the painter Eugene Jansson, came to admire and covet the virile power of his body in action. This concept is realised in culturalism, the narcissistic admiration of a body that has become an object to be fashioned like an artwork in its own right. Modern man with his athletic morphology has become a new potential ideal: he embodies a beauty that invites comparison with Greco-Roman art.

Linked with the affirmation of national identity, the athlete has come to personify the brute force of the nation and an ability to defend the country in times of war. During the 1930s in the United States, the image of the athlete evolved in a distinctive way, highlighting the ordinary man as a mixture of physical strength and bravery. Totalitarian regimes, however, perverted the cult of the athlete in order to promote their own ideology: Germany linked it in a demiurgic way with the made-up concept of the “Aryan” race, while Mussolini’s government erected marble idols on the Stadio dei Marmi.

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Jean-Bernard Duseigneur (1808-1866) 'Orlando Furioso' 1867

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Jean-Bernard Duseigneur (1808-1866)
Orlando Furioso
1867
Cast in bronze
H. 130; W. 146; D. 90 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
© Musée du Louvre, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Thierry Ollivier

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It’s tough being a Hero

As he moves outside the established order, the mythological hero risks the anger of the gods and the jealousy of men. Although his passions, his moral shortcomings and occasionally his frailties stem from his human condition, he is happy to possess the perfect form of the gods: thus the artist and the spectator find expression of a perfect self. The great dramatic destinies thus give character to the compositions, and enable them to interpret a whole range of emotions from determination to despair, from hostility to eternal rest.

Although it is a platitude to say that feelings are expressed most accurately in the face – from the theorised and institutional drawings of Charles Le Brun to the “tête d’expression” competition at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts – one must not underestimate the key role of the body and the anatomy as vehicles for expressing emotion: certain formal choices even led to generally accepted conventions.

Mythology and the Homeric epic abound with stories of the ill-fated destinies and destructive passions of heroes, whose nudity is justified by its origins in ancient Greece: Joseph-Désiré Court displays the broken body of the ill-fated Hippolytus, a premonition of the transposition in the ancient world of Mort pour la patrie [Dying for The Fatherland] of Lecomte du Nouÿ.

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Nude Veritas

The Realist aesthetic, which came to the fore in western art during the 19th century, had a dramatic effect on the representation of male nudity. The human body, represented as nature intended, was no longer seen from the decorous distance that characterised the idealised image of the nude, a goal to be achieved through Academic drawing exercises. In this context, where revealing the body was an affront to modesty – in the male-dominated society of the 19th century, the unclothed male appeared even more obscene and shocking than the unclothed female – the male nude gradually became less common as female figures proliferated.

This reversal did not mean, however, that naked men disappeared altogether: scientific study of the male nude, aided by new techniques such as the decomposition of movement through a series of photographs taken in rapid succession – chronophotography – brought advances in the study of anatomy and transformed the teaching of art students. From then on, it was less a case, for the most avant-garde artists, of striving to reproduce a canon of beauty inherited from the past, than of representing a body that retained the harmony of the model’s true characteristics.

The evocative power of the nude inspired artists like the Austrian Schiele to produce nude self portraits that revealed the existential torments of the artist. Invested at times with a Christ-like dimension, these depictions, moving beyond realism into introspection, continued to be produced right up to the 21st century, especially in photography.

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William Bouguereau (1825-1905) 'Equality before Death' 1848

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William Bouguereau (1825-1905)
Equality before Death
1848
Oil on Canvas
H. 141; W. 269 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
© Musée d’Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt

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Without compromise

The fascination for reality established in artistic circles in the mid 19th century prompted a thorough renewal of religious painting. Although resorting to the classical idealisation of the body seemed to be consistent with religious dogma, artists like Bonnat breathed fresh life into the genre by depicting the harsh truth of the physical condition of biblical figures.

This principle was already at work in Egalité devant la mort [Equality before Death], by Bouguereau, who, in his early work, in the final days of Romanticism, exploited the power of the image of an ordinary corpse. Rodin, far from enhancing the appearance of the novelist that he was invited to celebrate, sought to render Balzac’s corpulent physique with implacable accuracy, without diminishing his grandeur in any way.

The question is thus raised of art’s relationship to reality, a question Ron Mueck tackles in his work. And the strange effect brought about by a change of scale gives an intensity to the dead body of his father that echoes the dead figure in Bouguereau’s painting.

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Frédéric Bazille (1841-1870) 'Fisherman with a Net' 1868

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Frédéric Bazille (1841-1870)
Fisherman with a Net
1868
Oil on canvas
H. 134; W. 83 cm
Zurich, Rau Foundation for the Third World
© Lylho / Leemage

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Hippolyte Flandrin (1809-1864) 'Nude Youth Sitting by the Sea, Study' 1836

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Hippolyte Flandrin (1809-1864)
Nude Youth Sitting by the Sea, Study
1836
Oil on canvas
H. 98; W. 124 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
© Musée du Louvre, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Angèle Dequier

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Gloeden,_Wilhem_von_(1856-1931)-Cain-WEB

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Wilhelm von Gloeden (1856-1931)
Cain, Taormine, Sicile
1911
© Westlicht, Musée de la Photographie, Vienna

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In Nature

Including the naked body in a landscape was not a new challenge for 19th century artists. In many aspects, this was recurrent in large-scale history painting, and a demanding artistic exercise by which a painter’s technical mastery was judged. It was about making the relationship between the naked body and its setting as accurate as possible in terms of proportion, depth and light. Although Bazille’s Pêcheur à l’épervier [Fisherman with a Net] is one of the most successful attempts – in a contemporary context – at depicting a naked man in an atmospheric light that the Impressionists later took for their own, he nevertheless observed the principles of academic construction.

Masculine nudity in nature took another meaning as society was transformed through technical advances and urbanisation. Man was now seeking a communion with nature, that could reconcile him with the excesses and the sense of dislocation created by the modern world, while still conforming to the theories of good health advocating physical exercise and fresh air.

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In pain

In allowing themselves to deviate from the classical norms, artists opened up new possibilities for a more expressive representation of a body in the throes of torment or pain. The decline of the Academic nude and of classical restraint explains this predilection for ordeals: Ixion’s for example, condemned by Zeus to be bound to an eternally spinning wheel of fire.

The writhing body can also express torment of a more psychological nature. The pain experienced by the male body naturally relates to the issues of power between men and women in contemporary society: the naked body can be demeaning and, in certain circumstances, likely to call into question virility and male domination. In this respect, Louise Bourgeois’ choice of a male figure for her Arch of Hysteria was not a random one.

The martyr can, nevertheless, inspire compositions other than the tortured body: the death of Abel, killed by his brother Cain in the Book of Genesis, seems, on the contrary, to have inspired the pose of a totally relaxed body at the point of death. This abandon, however, conveyed a certain ambivalence that artists were determined to exploit: the body, often magnified and in state of morbid ecstasy, was in fact there for the spectator to relish. In these cases, suffering was merely a device to justify fetishising the body once again. In contrast with this seductive treatment, photographers engaged in experiments to divide the body into individual parts, in an aesthetic or even playful approach.

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François-Xavier Fabre (1766-1837) 'The Dying Saint Sebastian' 1789

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François-Xavier Fabre (1766-1837)
The Dying Saint Sebastian
1789
Oil on canvas
H. 196; W. 147 cm
Montpellier, Musée Fabre de Montpellier Agglomération
© Musée Fabre de Montpellier Agglomération – cliché Frédéric Jaulmes

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Ángel_Zárraga-Votive_Offering_(Saint_Sebastian)-1912-WEB

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Ángel Zárraga
Votive Offering (Saint Sebastian)
1912
Oil on canvas
© Museo Nacional de Arte, Mexico

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The Glorious body

Judeo-Christian culture has undeniably influenced the representation of the naked man since the beginning of modern art. However, the Catholic concept of the body has been at variance with nudity since Paleochristian times: the body is merely the corporeal envelope from which the soul is freed on death. Influenced by theologians advocating the union of the sensory and the spiritual, nudity gradually became accepted for important figures such as Christ and Saint Sebastian. Their martyred bodies, transcended by suffering endured through faith, paradoxically allowed the human soul to come close to God.

For the Catholic church, the vulnerability of Christ’s body, subjected to suffering and bearing the stigmata, is evidence of his humanity, while his divinity is revealed in his inspired expression and his idealised body, a legacy of the underlying classical models. The figure of Saint Sebastian is especially complex: this popular saint, the epitome of the martyr who survives his first ordeal, embodies the victory of life over death. This life force is no doubt related to his youthful beauty and his naked body, both of which made their appearance in the 17th century. This being the case, his representation gradually moves away from Catholic dogma, and acquires an unprecedented freedom and life of its own: his sensuality is more and more obvious, whereas his suffering is at times impossible to detect. In this quest for sensual pleasure, and until the 20th century, the only taboo was to reveal the penis.

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Paul Cadmus (1904-1999) 'The Bath' 1951

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Paul Cadmus (1904-1999)
The Bath
1951
Tempera on card
H. 36.4; W. 41.4 cm
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art
Anonymous gift
© Whitney Museum of American Art, NY – Art
© Jon F. Anderson, Estate of Paul Cadmus / ADAGP, Paris 2013

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Alexendre Alexandrovitch Deineka (Russian, 1899-1969) 'La douche. Après la bataille' (Shower, After the Battle) 1937-42

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Alexendre Alexandrovitch Deineka (Russian, 1899-1969)
La douche. Après la bataille (Shower, After the Battle)
1937-42
Oil on canvas

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“This male homoeroticism maintains close ties with the revolutionary project to destroy the family and traditional marriage and the construction of new types of social relations based on collective values ​​above all, with the idea that the bonds of friendship and camaraderie between men (homosociality, “male bonding”) are equally or more important than heterosexual bonding. It is mainly in the period from the Revolution to the 1930s the values ​​of friendship and camaraderie seem particularly highlighted the detriment of the bonds of love, very devalued as “petty-bourgeois”, but even more later, with the Stalinist project of “restoration” of the family, it can be assumed that the emotional and romantic in the heterosexual couple have never been a pervasive and rewarding cultural representation of magnitude of that which may be known in the West. [11] The researcher Lilya Kaganovsky, analyzing the Soviet visual culture (especially cult films of the 1930s and 1940s), speaks of “heterosexual panic” in response to the concept of “homosexual panic” coined by Eve K. Segdwick: according Kaganovsky, Soviet cultural works largely reflects the idea that the relations of friendship, especially homosocial, particularly between men, is a moral value than heterosexual relationships. [12] In such a cosmology, heterosexual relationships could be perceived from within oneself and risk jeopardizing the homosocial relationships of camaraderie and friendship, and the same social and national cohesion, thought to be based on collective values that conflicts with the value of exclusivity in the couple, “cozy comforts of home” [13].”

Mona. “Représenter le corps socialiste : l’exemple du peintre A. Deïneka (1899-1969),” on the Genre, politique et sexualités website, 16th April 2012 (translation by Google translate)

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Douche.-1932.-(Boris-Ignatovitch)-WEB

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Boris Ignatovitch
Douche (Shower)
1932
Silver gelatin photograph

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The Temptation of the male

An acknowledged desire for the male body, and the liberalisation of social conventions gave rise to some daring works from the mid 20th century onwards. In the United States, in spite of its puritan outlook since the Second World War, Paul Cadmus did not balk at depicting a pick up scene between men in a most unlikely Finistère. While the physical attraction of the body remained confined for a long time to the secrecy of private interiors, it was increasingly evident in public, in exclusively masculine social situations like communal showers or in the guise of a reconstructed Platonic Antiquity.

Eroticism is even presented quite crudely by Cocteau, whose influence on the young Warhol is undeniable. Beauty and seduction part company when the ideal transmitted by references to the past takes root in idiosyncratic practices and contemporary culture, as Hockney has expressed so accurately in his painting.

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Anne-Louis Girodet (1767-1824) 'The Sleep of Endymion' 1791

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Anne-Louis Girodet (1767-1824)
The Sleep of Endymion
1791
Oil on canvas
H. 90; W. 117.5 cm
Montargis, Musée Girodet
© Cliché J. Faujour/musée Girodet, Montargis

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Pierre et Gilles (born respectively in 1950 and 1953) 'Mercury' 2001

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Pierre et Gilles (born respectively in 1950 and 1953)
Mercury
2001
© Pierre et Gilles

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The Object of desire

For many years, the male body in art had been the subject of “objectification”. The unrestrained admiration for the perfection of the Greco-Roman nudes, a purely intellectual reconstruction of a body that had become the canon of beauty, meant that no interpretation of the nude was considered improper, even Winckelmann’s, with its powerful erotic charge.

Although Academic circles naturally encouraged the nude in great history paintings, certain subjects retained elements of sensuality and ambiguity. At the turn of the 19th century, discussion of the characteristics of the two sexes and their respective boundaries aroused interest in the bisexual amours of Jupiter and Apollo, while the formula of the young hero dying in the arms of his male lover was met with particular interest.

Girodet’s Endymion is depicted as an ephebe, his body caressed sensuously by the rays of the moon goddess, inspiring numerous homoerotic interpretations. With the Symbolists, as with Gustave Moreau, the difference between the sexes results in the downfall of a vulnerable man overcome by an inexorable and destructive force that is seen as feminine. However, at the other extreme, and in a less dramatic way, Hodler depicts the awakening of adolescent love between a self-obsessed young man and a girl who is captivated by his charm.

The sensuality and acknowledged eroticisation considered to be appropriate to the female body during the 19th century struck a serious blow against the traditional virility of the male nude: this blow was not fatal however, as the male nude was still very visible in the 20th century. Sexual liberation expressed, loud and clear, a feeling of voluptuousness and, often with few reservations, endowed the male body with a sexual charge. The model was usually identified, an assertive sign as a statement of the individuality: with Pierre and Gilles, where mythology and the contemporary portrait become one.

Text from the Musée d’Orsay website

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Antonin Mercié. 'David' 1872

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Antonin Mercié
David
1872
Bronze
© Musée d’Orsay, Paris

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David LaChapelle. 'Eminem - About to Blow' 1999

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David LaChapelle
Eminem – About to Blow
1999
Chromogenic Print

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Giorgio de Chirico (1883-1966) 'Les bains mystérieux' (Mysterious Baths) c. 1934-36

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Giorgio de Chirico (1883-1966)
Les bains mystérieux (Mysterious Baths)
c. 1934-36
Tempera on card
39 x 31 cm
© Musei Civici Fiorentini – Raccolta Alberto Della Ragione

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Egon Schiele. 'Self-Portrait, Kneeling' 1910

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Egon Schiele
Self-Portrait, Kneeling
1910
© Leopold Museum / Manfred Thumberger

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Henri-Camille-Danger.-Fléau!,-1901. Paris, musée d'Orsay-WEB

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Henri-Camille-Danger
Fléau! (Scourge!)
1901
© Musée d’Orsay, Paris

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Koloman Moser. 'Le Printemps' (Spring) c. 1900

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Koloman Moser
Le Printemps (Spring)
c. 1900

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Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929) 'Grand Guerrier avec Jambe' 1893-1902

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Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929)
Grand Guerrier avec Jambe
1893-1902
Bronze

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George Platt Lynes. 'Le Somnambule (The Sleepwalker)' 1935

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George Platt Lynes
Le Somnambule (The Sleepwalker)
1935
© Christoph Irrgang, Hamburg

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Lutteurs d'Alexandre. 'Falguière' 1875

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Lutteurs d’Alexandre
Falguière
1875
© Musée d’Orsay, Paris

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Lucian Freud. 'Naked Man on Bed' 1989

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Lucian Freud
Naked Man on Bed
1989
Oil on canvas

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Lucian Freud. 'David and Eli' 2004

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Lucian Freud
David and Eli
2004
Oil on canvas

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Masculin / Masculin – La video on YouTube

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Musée d’Orsay
62, rue de Lille
75343 Paris Cedex 07
France

Opening hours:
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29
Aug
13

Exhibition: ‘Christian Lutz, Trilogy’ at The Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

Exhibition dates: 5th June – 1st September 2013

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Power: it will corrupt you, but if you don’t want it, it will be used against you.

PS. Some, if not all, of these people seem like marionettes!

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Many thankx to The Musée de l’Elysée 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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Christian Lutz. From the series 'Protokoll' 2007

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Christian Lutz
From the series Protokoll
2007
© Christian Lutz

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Christian Lutz. From the series 'Protokoll' 2007

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Christian Lutz
From the series Protokoll
2007
© Christian Lutz

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Christian Lutz. From the series 'Protokoll' 2007

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Christian Lutz
From the series Protokoll
2007
© Christian Lutz

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“New York, 2003: spectacular security frenzy around the President of the Swiss Confederation Pascal Couchepin – a striking image to the eye of the photographer who was present at the scene. Christian Lutz thus invited himself in the suitcases of the ministerial delegation and documented its various official activities during three years. The first volume of what will become a trilogy on the issue of power is published in 2007: Protokoll. Tropical Gift, dealing with the oil and gas trading in Nigeria, is released in 2010. After portraying the rigorously codified and staged political sphere, the photographer’s cutting eye unveils the malodorous traps of a deadly economic power, with troubling visual poetry. In his viewfinder, reality unnoticeably shifts into a heady thriller. The first two parts of his trilogy have been exhibited worldwide, establishing Christian Lutz as an eminent photographer.

The fate of his yet unreleased third series, In Jesus’ Name, is quite different. Christian Lutz spent a year within a Zurich-based evangelical community. Celebrations and rock concerts, summer camps and blood donation rallies, he photographed all the events he was invited to attend. However, a Zurich Court of Justice banned the book immediately upon its release in November 2012 as 21 people appearing in the volume filed complaints to protect their image; complaints that were carefully orchestrated by the Church’s managers. With these provisional measures, the Court nonetheless ruled against the freedoms of expression and information.

The exhibition Trilogy is a three-fold investigation. Tropical Gift will be shown as a projection accompanied by the original score by Franz Treichler of the Young Gods. As for the latest series, In Jesus’ Name, it carries the marks of a new power, with which it is now inseparable: the judiciary. Troubling and destabilizing, this fourth power questions democracy and artistic freedom. But as it pushes art into a corner, it seems to compel it to reconnect itself with its political dimension, to test established systems, by triggering debate.

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Censorship of the book In Jesus’ Name

The photography book In Jesus’ Name, Christian Lutz’s third part of the series on the issue of power, was launched during Paris Photo on 17 November 2012, before disappearing from the bookstore shelves a couple of days later. The legal proceedings that followed this project raise issues about the artistic freedom as well as the freedom of expression.

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The photographical project In Jesus’ Name

The Zurich-based evangelical community ICF (International Christian Fellowship) is one of the most important free churches in Switzerland. Its success and rapid expansion are a matter of public interest. Created according to the American model of mega-churches, it was initiated in Zurich at the end of the 90s, and has now spread throughout Roman Switzerland thanks to a solid establishment in Lausanne and Geneva. It manages a considerable budget and is characterized by the use of sophisticated and performing marketing and communication methods.

Christian Lutz met the pastor and founder of the Evangelical movement ICF, Leo Bigger, in May 2011. He then introduced him to the other church managers to whom the photographer also presented his project, his former books, his approach and the stakes involved in his Trilogy. He was subsequently granted express consent from the managers who welcomed him in the community.

The photographer nonetheless systematically kept on requesting specific authorizations to the organizers for each ICF’s activity which he wished to photograph. He joined several trips and summer camps organized by the church, and took part in all sorts of events: celebrations, baptisms, ladies lounge, blood donation, theater show, workshop on the addiction to pornography, etc. He met members of the church, exchanged constantly with them, and freely discussed his reportage.

As for each of his series, Christian Lutz entirely immerged himself, photographing faces and individuals up close while fully respecting a rigorous deontology. He was given an ICF photo-reporter badge, and affiliates or organizers of activities regularly ordered images from him. He photographed openly, each one being aware of the project and accepting to be part of it.”

Press release from he Musée de l’Elysée website

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Christian Lutz. From the series 'Tropical Gift' 2010

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Christian Lutz
From the series Tropical Gift
2010
© Christian Lutz

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Christian Lutz. From the series 'Tropical Gift' 2010

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Christian Lutz
From the series Tropical Gift
2010
© Christian Lutz

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Christian Lutz. From the series 'Tropical Gift' 2010

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Christian Lutz
From the series Tropical Gift
2010
© Christian Lutz

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Interview of Christian Lutz by Sam Stourdzé, Director of the Musée de l’Elysée

SYS: Protokoll, the first series in the project, started in 2003 when you started photographing the apparatus of federal politics. Ten years later, how would you assess your itinerary?

CL: Actually, I am the kind of person who prefers to look forward rather than backward. And I’ve come to realize that my work on the issue of power is not quite yet finished. It was initiated in 2003 by coincidence, without any real initial intention; I didn’t tell myself “well, how about working on the notion of power”! It is only with time, as my work asserted itself, that I realized why I was doing it and why I wanted to carry on. Power operates everywhere, in the private sphere, in human relations, between nations, among peoples; it is at the heart of countless processes in society. This is an issue that obsesses me and which is in fact an excuse to talk about our world and the interactions between individuals and systems. I thought I would come to terms with it through this trilogy, but I still have some way to go, as the issue of power opens up new fields of exploration.

SYS: All three components of the Trilogy – political, economic, and religious powers, are exhibited for the first time at the Musée de l’Elysée. What tensions or reflections do you intend to create by juxtaposing the series?

CL: My assumption is that power is always staged, as if power needed some form of theatricality to exist: protocol, representational codes, uniforms and role play, decorum, the forms of power that I have observed in the three series presented today all express themselves through external signs. But they are so obvious that they allow for breaches and give a glimpse of details, urging you to take a closer look, to reach beyond appearances. In all three series, there is this permanent tension between what is being observed and the grey areas, the hidden, the unspoken.

SYS: Several images in the series In Jesus’ Name have been censored. How do you intend to show the void of censorship?

CL: From my point of view, censorship did not create a void, it created a surplus. In other words, I consistently refuse to explain my images or to caption them, in order to avoid imposing a unique interpretation and a manipulation of the imagination. Captions freeze the poetical and suggestive space carried within a photograph; which does not mean that photographs can be made to say anything and everything, especially when we’re talking about a series or a book, as in this case. But an image must breathe, and leave some space to the beholder.

Yet, in order to achieve the ban on the book, the lawyer of the plaintiffs wrote out his own interpretation of my images. In doing so, he kills them in a way. So I had two options: either to let go and admit the defeat, or give a new impetus to the series In Jesus’ Name by foiling the situation, exploiting the new power that is being imposed on me, that is, the power of the judiciary.

SYS: You discovered the judiciary power though your appearance in court. Could this constitute a fourth component to your project?

CL: Yes, but I would not say that it would be a fourth component. It would rather be an outlet project, stemming from a situation I didn’t chose. This sequel will link together the three previous series and will probably shed a different light on them. It is likely to be a narrative rather than a photographic project. To tell the truth, I still don’t really precisely know; the legal proceedings are pending and I still have some difficulties figuring out what I could do with this. But what is certain is that as an artist, I cannot let things happen without finding an artistic outcome to this restriction on the freedom of speech.

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Christian Lutz. From the series 'In Jesus’ Name' 2010

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Christian Lutz
From the series In Jesus’ Name
2010
© Christian Lutz

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Christian Lutz. From the series 'In Jesus’ Name' 2010

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Christian Lutz
From the series In Jesus’ Name
2010
© Christian Lutz

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Christian Lutz. From the series 'In Jesus’ Name' 2010

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Christian Lutz
From the series In Jesus’ Name
2010
© Christian Lutz

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Christian Lutz. From the series 'In Jesus’ Name' 2010

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Christian Lutz
From the series In Jesus’ Name
2010
© Christian Lutz

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Christian Lutz. From the series 'In Jesus’ Name' 2010

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Christian Lutz
From the series In Jesus’ Name
2010
© Christian Lutz

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Portrait of Christian Lutz © Frédéric Choffat

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Portrait of Christian Lutz
© Frédéric Choffat

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The Musée de l’Elysée
18, avenue de l’Elysée
CH - 1014 Lausanne
T: + 41 21 316 99 11

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday, 11am – 6pm
Closed Monday, except for bank holidays

The Musée de l’Elysée website

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17
Aug
13

Catalogue essay by Dr Marcus Bunyan / Exhibition: ‘Sudarios (Shrouds)’ by Erika Diettes at the Ballarat International Foto Biennale

Exhibition dates: 17th August – 15th September 2013

Entry free, open daily 10 am – 5pm

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This exhibition is one of the core programs for this year’s Ballarat International Foto Biennale and I had the privilege of writing the catalogue essay for the Colombian artist Erika Diettes. I met the delightful Erika and her husband today at the opening of BiFB on their first trip to Australia and I must say the art hangs very well in the Mining Exchange building.

This was one of the most difficult but rewarding pieces that I have ever had to write.
In reading, I hope you gather the full import of the text.

Text © Marcus Bunyan. All images © Marcus Bunyan, Erika Diettes and Ballarat International Foto Biennale.

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Intimations of Mor(t)ality: Sudarios (Shrouds) by Erika Diettes

by Dr Marcus Bunyan

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“There is now a vast repository of images that make it harder to maintain [a] kind of moral defectiveness. Let the atrocious images haunt us. Even if they are only tokens, and cannot possibly encompass most of the reality to which they refer, they still perform a vital function. The images say: This is what human beings are capable of doing – may volunteer to do, enthusiastically, self-righteously. Don’t forget.”

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Susan Sontag Regarding the Pain of Others 2003 1

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When I was asked to write the catalogue essay on Colombian artist Erika Diettes’ work Sudarios (Shrouds) by editor Esther Gyorki for the Ballarat International Foto Biennale the work gave me pause. What could I say about it that was relevant, insightful and spoke from the heart? I wrote back to Esther saying I needed to do some background research: “This is difficult subject matter and I want to make sure I can do it justice before I commit to writing about it.”2 In a synchronous way that often happens in the world, that is ultimately what this text is about – justice.

The basics are easily told. Artist and anthropologist Erika Diettes travelled to different cities in the department of Antioquia to interview women who had been present at the torture and murder of their loved ones.3 Diettes photographed the women, closely cropped in black and white, at a moment of great vulnerability – all but one with their eyes closed. The resultant twenty photographs were printed on seven feet tall silk panels and form the work Sudarios (shrouds are a burial cloak, a cloth that shrouds the body of the deceased). The artist always intended for these images to be printed on silk and had the installation in mind before she took the photographs: in other words previsualisation was strong. The work is usually displayed in sacred spaces such as churches and convents with a sound track of a barely audible, sighing female voice; here in Ballarat the work is hung in the former Mining Exchange building, a seat of colonial power and wealth which can be read as appropriate for the presentation of this work, for torture is always about the power of one person over another. The viewer can walk through these floating realities and be enfolded in the aggrieved women’s sorrow as if part of a ceremonial procession, perhaps a funeral cortege.

In her creation of an allegorical space for mourning, Diettes work acts as a funeral rite for both living and dead, acts of mourning placed in a context of splendour. The images evoke the representation of the death of Saint Sebastian, the faces recalling “the exquisite suffering of the Catholic saints and martyrs, but also of refugees and victims of contemporary traumas,”4 while the atrocities perpetrated on the body are hidden by the close cropping of the images. As Diettes observes, “You can’t help being a little pierced by their exhalations,”5 an indirect reference by Diettes to the arrows that pierce Saint Sebastian’s body. Diettes opens a space before the camera for the human ‘being’ in context, a terrain (of) or becoming, where the terrors are written on the countenance of the women, their mouths silently singing their song of mourning. Look at their mouths, each one contorted in agony, each one giving voice to the memory of terror.

These are confronting images about trauma and grief, documenting the ongoing effects of atrocity on the mind of the observer for they are portrayals of the effect of intim(id)ation, where intimations of mortality are evidenced by the removal of an identity, the beloved id, which reveals the intimate – expressed in the adoration/adornment of the women with jewellery which signifies the women’s dignity, comfort, and continuing engagement with the world as an extension of personal self/belief.

The signs of erasure of these murders are rearticulated through Diettes work. The bodies are held in suspended animation, in endless agony, through an act of re-terror-itorialization. Through the evacuation of loved ones, their discontinuity and deterritorialization, and the reterritorialization / re-terroring of that space through memory – portrayed on the faces of the women – the images recast and represent issues of power, domination and abuse. Through suspended sorrow, suspended mourning, the disappearance of some bodies and the speaking of others, the images become a representation of a doubled absence, a doubled momenti mori – for the photographs picture the women (making them dead) as they themselves remember the violence perpetrated before them from behind closed eyes (as the dead have their eyes closed), remembering in their mind’s eye the death of the beloved. The image of the victim has become a ghost, a trace etched upon the face of the relative, a trace of that which “persists and gives testimony of a vanished state” in art, for if art is linked to memory and to what survives, it is from the perspective of its own corpse-oreality, its own ghostly and fragile materiality that these images emerge: the hanged man, the hung woman. Remaking but always recording the past through interaction with the present, the shrouds are a palimpsest in which “personal memories are always interwoven with historical consciousness”6 and are constantly being rewritten.

Of course the photographs elicit our empathy but more than that they make us feel their terrible vulnerability while drawing us into uncomfortable complicity as subsidiary witnesses to the event.7 Normally when looking at a photograph the viewer is a secondary witness but here the viewer becomes a tertiary witness – the actual event, the memory of that event etched on the face of the women captured by the camera and now observed by the viewer. There is an osmotic effect taking place as one as one image is super imposed on another. Even after an event is over, “there’s an after image or an echo that exists… a spirit or a residue, a trace.”8 These visions are like images of the Holocaust. As soon as we see them we are implicated in a narrative – and we are helpless in this process – which is an essential part of history.

Diettes work reframes the subject because there is no traditional frame of reference for the viewer, only a memory of that reference in the form of a ghost-like shroud. The normal definition of a shroud no longer pertains to these images for the cloth is no longer around a dead body but represents / holds a trace of what was once dead.

As spirit photographs in the Victorian era solidified a fractured, unknown reality, so these apparitions of the departed are brought forth and solidified, just for a moment, in the faces of the suffering women. The viewer of these images does not see the (dead) carrier of messages, but only their shadows carried by the grief of their loved ones, shrouded as they are in remembrances of the past. We feel that the women are not looking at us but that the aura of their invisible seeing is directed toward us from outside of its normative context – from behind their eyes. It is this imprint on the Shrouds; the imprint of their memories that travels great distances towards us, that enfolds us in sorrow and shadow.

“It is the special feeling of the ‘presence’ of a work produced not by its remaining where it is but by its moving across boundaries where it reaches us from a distance, looking at us even when it appears not to. It is where the work seems peculiarly meant for us even in its indifference to or difference from us.”9

If photographs really are “experience captured” then Diettes explores this arm of consciousness in its acquisitive mood,10 probing the limitation of the medium, shaping the space within the available conditions. Her images become images of sentience that enable the viewer to live in the world with open eyes (while the victims eyes are closed) – to be made aware of the injustices of this world and not remain silent. Diettes work is not about remembering, it’s about an answerable “not forgetting” for hers… is to remind us of the responsibility to make art in response to mor(t)ality.

As human beings, we must fight for the right to be heard and use art as a visual language to textualise our experience and thereby make it available for interpretation and closure. Powerful, simple questions (and I believe) undeniable questions have to be asked; and in response to those questions (power: it will corrupt you, but if you don’t want it, it will be used against you), intelligence, justice and integrity must be used in the service of art. While human truth may be ephemeral qualities like justice are not; the struggle is to define justice and to live it. And for artists to display it.

You place innocence at the heart of human depravity – and hope it survives.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Melbourne 2013

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Endnotes

1. Sontag, Susan. Regarding the Pain of Others. London: Hamish Hamilton, 2003, p.102.

2. Email to Esther Gyorki. Tue, March 26, 2013

3. The capital of the department of Antioquia is Medellin. The city is a 35-minute flight from the Colombian capital Bogota and has one of the highest rates of violence concerning drugs in Colombia. Most of the crimes were committed between 2001 and 2008.

4. Anon. “Berlinde De Bruyckere Into One-Another To P.P.P.” on the Hauser and Wirth website [Online] Cited May 5, 2013.
www.hauserwirth.com/exhibitions/899/berlinde-de-bruyckere-into-one-another-to-p-p-p/view/

5. Diettes, Erika quoted in Tobón, Paola Cardona. “The exhalation of sorrow,” in  El Colombiano, November 4, 2012 [Online] Cited Cited May 5, 2013.
erikadiettes.com/links/prensa/houston/02_ExhalationOfSorrow_ElColombiano_v2.pdf

6. Garb, Tamar. “A Land of Signs,” in Journal of Contemporary African Art 26, Spring 2010, p.11.

7. Op. cit. “Berlinde De Bruyckere Into One-Another To P.P.P.”

8. Rakes, Rachael and Goldsmith, Leo. “Pasolini’s Body: Cathy Lee Crane with Leo Goldsmith and Rachael Rakes,” on The Brooklyn Rail website. January 13, 2013 [Online] Cited May 5, 2013.
www.brooklynrail.org/2013/02/film/pasolinis-body-cathy-lee-crane-with-leo-goldsmith-rachael-rakes

9. Butler, Rex. “”Lines”, Leading Out of Sight?: Is Aboriginal Art Losing its Aura?” in Australian Art Collector No. 13, July-September 2000, p.87.

10. Campany, David. “Photography and Photographs,” on the Still Searching blog. April 14, 2013 [Online] Cited May 11, 2013.
blog.fotomuseum.ch/2013/04/1-photography-and-photographs/#more-1282

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of Sudarios (Shrouds) by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat
Photographs by Marcus Bunyan
© Marcus Bunyan, Erika Diettes and Ballarat International Foto Biennale

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Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Ballarat International Foto Biennale
Mining Exchange building
8 Lydiard St N
Ballarat VIC 3350
T: (03) 5333 4242

Ballarat International Foto Biennale website

Erika Diettes website

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02
Apr
13

Exhibition: ‘Light from the Middle East: New Photography’ at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Exhibition dates: 13th November 2012 – 7th April 2013

From the Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

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A massive posting on a fascinating subject. I know little about this area of (sometimes postcolonial) photography. The images are really strong, powerful and laden with symbology – the signifier (photograph) and signified (meaning of the photograph) evidencing signs that interrogate “the creative responses to the social challenges and political upheavals that have shaped the Middle East over the past 20 years.” The three concepts Recording, Reframing and Resisting are critical to understanding the practices of these artists as they investigate the historicity, sacrifice, repression and persecution of their peoples.

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Many thankx to the Victoria and Albert Museum 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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Newsha Tavakolian. From the series 'Mothers of Martyrs' 2006

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Newsha Tavakolian
Born Tehran, Iran, 1981. Lives Tehran
From the series Mothers of Martyrs
2006
Digital C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

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Nermine_Hammam_From_the_series_Upekkha_2011_WEB

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Nermine Hammam
Born Cairo, Egypt, 1967. Lives Cairo
The Break
2011
from the series Upekkha
Archival inkjet print
The Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

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Light from the Middle East: New Photography is the first major museum exhibition of contemporary photography from and about the Middle East. It features more than 90 works by some of the most exciting artists from the region, spanning North Africa to Central Asia. The exhibition is part of a collaboration between the British Museum and the V&A, which has over the last three years seen the development of a major collection of Middle Eastern photography thanks to substantial funding from the Art Fund. The collection of 95 works has been built in response to a surge of interest in the visual arts in the region and is beginning to remedy the under-representation of Middle Eastern photography in UK collections. Light from the Middle East includes 87 of the works from this shared collection.

The photographs on display show the creative responses to the social challenges and political upheavals that have shaped the Middle East over the past 20 years and include work made following the recent revolution in Egypt. The photographs present multiple viewpoints of a region where collisions between personal, social, religious and political life can be emotive and complex. The exhibition showcases the work of 30 artists from 13 different countries including internationally established practitioners such as Abbas (Iran), Youssef Nabil (Egypt) and Walid Raad (Lebanon) as well as emerging talents such as Taysir Batniji (Palestine), Shadi Ghadirian (Iran) and Abdulnasser Gharem (Saudi Arabia). The work covers a wide range of techniques and subject matter, from photojournalism to staged and digitally manipulated imagery.

Marta Weiss, curator of the exhibition said: “In the past few years contemporary photographic practice from and about the Middle East has been some of the most exciting, innovative and varied art anywhere in the world. The exhibition celebrates the creative and sophisticated ways that contemporary artists use photography to respond to the complexities of the Middle East.”

The exhibition is structured around three key themes; Recording, Reframing and Resisting. Each explores a range of strategies Middle Eastern artists have used to engage with the medium of photography.

The opening section shows how photography can be used as a powerful tool for recording people, places and events. From Newsha Tavakolian’s series Mothers of Martyrs (2006) featuring elderly mothers holding framed pictures of their sons who were killed in the Iran-Iraq war during the 1980s, to Jananne Al-Ani’s disorienting aerial views of the desert in her video Shadow Sites II (2011), this section demonstrates various ways in which the camera has been used to document and record. The work in the second section explores an interest in reframing and reworking preexisting photographs. Shadi Ghadirian’s series Qajar (1998) recreates 19th-century Iranian studio portraits, updating them with contemporary props such as sunglasses and Pepsi cans, while Taysir Batniji applies the modernist style of the German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher to his series of photographs of Israeli watchtowers in the West Bank.

The final section looks at practitioners who resist the authority of the photograph, questioning the medium’s ability to record factual information. Whether manipulating or digitally altering images, or physically attacking the print surface by scratching and burning, these artists demonstrate a desire to undermine the legibility and reliability of the photograph. In the intimate and poetic series Le Retour Imaginaire (2002), Afghan artist Atiq Rahimi rejects new technology, opting instead to photograph war-ravished Kabul with a primitive box camera. The recent series Uphekka by Nermine Hammam reworks photographs of Egyptian soldiers taken during the protests in Tahrir Square, Cairo in 2011 and transports them to multicoloured fantasy settings that are far removed from the struggles of the Arab Spring.”

Press release from the V&A website

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Recording

Photography is a seemingly accurate means of recording people, places and events. A photograph can serve a commemorative purpose or document a historic moment. It can reveal something not otherwise visible, such as a place or event the viewer would not have access to, or a particular vantage point available only to the photographer. It can also create a lasting image of a fleeting performance, or of a scene staged only for the camera.

But how reliable is a photograph? Despite the apparent authority of photographic images, they can trick or disorient. They can be ambiguous and difficult to decipher. Their meaning can shift according to context, cropping or captioning. What are the limitations of photography?

The photographers in this section use a range of approaches to exploit and explore the camera’s capacity to record.

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Abbas. 'France Rioters burn a portrait of the Shah as a sign of protest against his regime. Tehran, December 1978' 1978-9

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Abbas
Born Kash, Iran, 1944. Lives Paris, France
Rioters burn a portrait of the Shah as a sign of protest against his regime. Tehran, December 1978
1978-9
From the series Iran Diary
Gelatin silver print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum
Abbas@Magnum Photos, courtesy Magnum Gallery

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Issa Touma. From the series 'Sufis: The day of al-Ziyara' 1995-2005

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Issa Touma
Born Safita, Syria, 1962. Lives Aleppo, Syria
From the series Sufis: The day of al-Ziyara
1995-2005
Gelatin silver print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Issa Touma is a prominent figure in the Syrian art scene. Self-taught, he began his career as a photographer in the early 1990s. In 1996 he founded Le Pont Organisation and Gallery, an independent art organisation to promote freedom of expression and stimulate the local art scene through international events.

His series on the day of al-Ziyara documents an annual procession of Sufi pilgrims in northern Syria. Sufism is a mystical path within Islam. Touma photographed the event over the course of ten years, gradually gaining the trust of his subjects. The resulting images convey his sense of immersion in the festival and capture the fervour of the worshippers.

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Waheeda Malullah. From the series 'Light' 2006

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Waheeda Malullah
Born Bahrain, 1978. Lives Bahrain
From the series Light
2006
Inkjet print on rag paper
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Waheeda Malullah uses playfulness and humour to explore social rules, and in particular the roles women play in Islamic society. In the series Light she records a performance staged expressly for the camera. By lying down next to tombs in Bahrain she exaggerates the Shi’i Muslim custom of seeking blessing by touching the tombs of revered people. These stylised compositions are also studies of form, light and shadow.

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Ahmed Mater. 'Magnetism II' 2012

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Ahmed Mater
Born Tabuk, Saudi Arabia, 1979. Lives Abha, Saudi Arabia
Magnetism II
2012
Photogravure
Acquired thanks to Mr Abdulaziz al-Turki

Ahmed Mater is a Saudi artist and qualified GP. Working in photography, calligraphy, painting, installation and video, Mater reflects his experiences as a doctor and the ways this has challenged his traditional background and beliefs, and explores wider issues about Islamic culture in an era of globalisation. In the series Magnetism, what at first appear to be pilgrims circling the Ka’ba, the sacred building at the heart of the sanctuary at Mecca, are in fact iron filings spiralling around a cube-shaped magnet. Mater refers to the spiritual force that Muslim believers feel during Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. By creating photographs that recall well-known images on a dramatically different scale, Mater also questions the reliability of photography.

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Newsha Tavakolian. From the series 'Mothers of Martyrs' 2006

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Newsha Tavakolian
Born Tehran, Iran, 1981. Lives Tehran
From the series Mothers of Martyrs
2006
Digital C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Newsha Tavakolian started her career at the age of 16, as a junior photographer for the Iranian women’s daily Zan-e Rooz. She also worked with other reformist newspapers and by the early 1990s had established herself as one of Tehran’s few female photojournalists, working internationally and particularly focussing on women’s issues. She is a founder member of the EVE international collective of women photojournalists, established in 2006 and of Rawiya, a collective of women photographers from the Middle East, founded in 2011. Her series Mothers of Martyrs shows elderly Iranian women holding framed photographs of their sons who died decades earlier in the Iran-Iraq war (1980-8). The double portraits attest to photography’s emotive power.

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Abbas Kowsari. 'Halabche' 2003

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Abbas Kowsari
Born Tehran, Iran, 1970. Lives Tehran
Halabche
2003
Digital C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Abbas Kowsari began his career as a photojournalist for the Tehran Times in 1994 and is currently Senior Picture Editor for Shargh, a popular reformist title. This photograph made in nothern Iraq presents a portrait within a portrait. The figure of a peshmerga (a Kurdish combatant) is tightly framed to exclude his face. Instead, the face of rock musician Bryan Adams, on the soldier’s T-shirt, fills a central portion of the composition. The faded black-and-white image is surrounded by saturated colours and brightly gleaming metal. The contrast reinforces the incongruity between warfare in Iraq and western pop culture.

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Abdulnasser Gharem. 'The Path (Siraat)' 2009

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Abdulnasser Gharem
Born Khamis Mushait, Saudi Arabia, 1973. Lives Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
The Path (Siraat)
2009
Inkjet print on aluminium
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Abdulnasser Gharem works across a variety of media to explore local Saudi issues. Amongst his best-known works are ‘stamp paintings’, made from industrial paint on rubber stamps, a technique devised to negotiate and comment on censorship. He combines service in the Saudi armed forces (he is currently Lieutenant Colonel) with his activities as an artist.

The subject of this photograph is a bridge in southern Saudi Arabia that was severely damaged in the early 1980s when villagers attempted to take shelter on it during a flash flood. Instead of providing a safe high ground above the floodwaters the bridge collapsed, resulting in the loss of many lives. Gharem spray-painted the word siraat repeatedly on the bridge. The word means path, and in the Qur’an it refers to ‘the path to God’.

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Tal Shochat. 'Pomegranate (Rimon)' 2010

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Tal Shochat
Born Netanya, Israel, 1974. Lives Tel Aviv, Israel
Pomegranate (Rimon)
2010
C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

In her photographs Shochat stages both figures and objects to create symbolically-laden images that often question the boundary between nature and artifice. Here she applies the conventions of studio portraiture to photographing trees. The first stage in her meticulous process is to identify the perfect specimen of a particular type of tree. When the fruit is at the height of maturity, she cleans the dust off the branches, leaves and fruit. Finally, Shochat photographs the tree, artificially lit and isolated against a black cloth background. The photographs present a view of nature that would never actually exist in a natural environment. The work highlights the tensions in photography between reality and artifice.

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Yto Barrada. 'Bricks (Briques)' 2003/2011

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Yto Barrada
Born Paris, France, 1971. Lives Tangier, Morocco
Bricks (Briques)
2003/2011
C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Yto Barrada grew up in Paris and Tangier and studied in Paris and New York. Since 2006 she has directed the Cinématèque de Tanger, a cultural centre home to an archive of Maghrebi and Arabic film and video. Barrada’s hometown of Tangier is the subject of much of her work. In this view, recently constructed buildings in various states of completion are scattered across the hillsides. The pile of bricks in the foreground seems to parallel the haphazard nature of the surrounding building projects. The untidy man-made heap echoes the form of the natural hills in the background.

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Mehraneh Atashi. 'Bodiless I' 2004

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Mehraneh Atashi
Born Tehran, Iran, 1980. Lives Tehran
Bodiless I
2004
From the series Zourkhaneh Project (House of Strength)
Digital C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Mehraneh Atashi explores the relationship between photography and power in her ongoing investigation into the possibilities of self-portraiture. Her photographic series reveal lesser-known aspects of Iranian life.

This photograph shows the inside of a zurkhana, a traditional Iranian wrestling gym, in Tehran. The artist has explained that ‘tradition forbids the breath of women’ in the zurkhana. Atashi includes herself in the scene through a reflection in a mirror. This picture within a picture emphasises her incongruous presence in a place from which women are normally excluded.

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Reframing

The artists in this section appropriate or imitate images from the past in order to make statements about the present. Their sources range from studio portraiture to fashion photography, from Old Master paintings to Modernist photographs. Using a variety of techniques, they update and interrogate, knowingly combining past and present, East and West, fact and fiction. Whether emulating or critiquing, these artists reframe existing images to new ends.

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Raeda Saadeh. 'Who will make me real?' 2003

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Raeda Saadeh
Palestinian. Born Umm al Fahem, 1977. Lives Jerusalem
Who will make me real?
2003
Digital C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

In her photographs, videos and performances, Raeda Saadeh assumes various roles to explore issues of displacement, gender and identity, with particular reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Here the artist lies in a pose that recalls 19th-century European paintings of reclining nudes. These often featured non-European women and ‘Orientalist’ costumes and scenery. Saadeh is encased in Palestinian newspapers, which conceal her body from neck to ankle while revealing its contours. The covering is both flimsy and apparently immobilising, resembling a papier-mâché body cast. Any sensuality implied by her pose is disrupted by the harsh realities reported in the newspaper.

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Bahman Jalali. 'Image of Imagination' 2003

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Bahman Jalali
Born Tehran, Iran, 1945. Died Tehran, 2010
Image of Imagination
2003
C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum
© Rana Javadi

Jalali was a photographer and teacher who played a leading role in collecting and preserving historical photographs in Iran. He was an influential teacher, mentored many of the younger generation of Iranian photographers, and was instrumental in setting up Tehran’s first Museum of Photography (also known as Akskhaneh Shahr).

In this montage he layered Qajar-period (1786-1925) portraits and an enlarged detail of an old photographic studio sign that had been crossed out with red paint. Jalali speculated that this defacement occurred during the Islamic revolution (1978-9), perhaps as an attack on a studio where unveiled women had been photographed.

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Shadi Ghadirian. From the series 'Qajar' 1998

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Shadi Ghadirian
Born Tehran, Iran, 1974. Lives Tehran
From the series Qajar
1998
Gelatin silver print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Shadi Ghadirian was among the first students to graduate in photography from the Azad University, Tehran. Her work addresses concerns of Iranian women of her generation, exploring ideas such as censorship, religion and modernity, often with a wry humour.

The series Qajar is based on a style of photograph made during Iran’s Qajar period (1786-1925). In those portraits, sitters posed with props representing their aspirations. Here, the sitters wear costumes that approximate Qajar fashion, but the objects they pose with are jarringly modern and western – a mountain bike, a stereo or a can of Pepsi. The contrast makes a comment on the tensions between tradition and modernity that women in Iran face today.

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Youssef_Nabil_Detail_from_the_series_The_Yemeni_Sailors_of_South_Shields_2006_WEB

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Youssef Nabil
Born Cairo, Egypt, 1972. Lives New York, USA
The Yemeni Sailors of South Shields (detail)
2006
Hand-coloured gelatin silver print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Youssef Nabil’s photographs and films evoke the glamour and melodrama of the golden age of Egyptian cinema in the 1940s and 50s, known as Hollywood on the Nile. This is one of a dozen portraits made as part of a project to document the last surviving Yemeni men to settle as ship-workers in South Shields, in the north of England. The area is home to one of the oldest Muslim communities in the UK. Nabil hand-coloured the black-and-white photographs in the manner of mid 20th-century Egyptian studio portraiture.

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Hassan Hajjaj. 'Saida in Green' 2000

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Hassan Hajjaj
Born Larache, Morocco, 1961. Lives London, UK, and Marrakesh, Morocco
Saida in Green
2000
Digital C-print and tyre frame
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Hajjaj is inspired by fashion photography, while also mocking its methods. He creates playful juxtapositions between global brand names and local motifs such as veils and babouches (traditional Moroccan slippers). The result is an exuberant collision of the stereotypical symbols of western consumerism and Middle Eastern tradition. The frames, which Hajjaj constructs from recycled materials, transform the photographs into three-dimensional, sculptural objects.

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Resisting

The artists in this section question the idea that a photograph can tell the truth. Some digitally alter images. Some scratch negatives and prints, or even burn them. Other artists reject clarity and detail in favour of processes that rely on chance. The results are murky, atmospheric images that require effort to interpret. These manipulations demonstrate the fragility of the photograph, whether at the hands of artists or censors. They also lay bare the power of photographic imagery to influence and control through propaganda or surveillance. These works resist photography’s claim to accuracy and authority.

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Atiq Rahimi. 'On the threshold of time (Au seuil du temps)' 2002

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Atiq Rahimi
Born Kabul, Afghanistan, 1962. Lives Paris, France
On the threshold of time (Au seuil du temps)
2002
From the series The Imaginary Return (Le retour imaginaire)
Gelatin silver print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Atiq Rahimi is a writer, film director and photographer who fled Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion in 1984, seeking political refuge in France, where he is now based. He returned to Afghanistan in 2002, after the fall of the Taliban. Confronted by the ruins of Kabul, he decided not to photograph the city with his digital camera. Instead he chose a primitive box camera normally used to take identity portraits in the streets of Kabul. The unpredictable process resulted in dreamlike photographs. They convey the nostalgia and brutal feelings of loss that Rahimi experienced when revisiting the war-wounded city.

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Jowhara AlSaud. 'Airmail' 2008

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Jowhara AlSaud
Born Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 1978. Lives Jeddah and New York, USA
Airmail
2008
From the series Out of Line
C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Jowhara AlSaud’s photographs explore the language of censorship and the malleability of photography. AlSaud scratches the outlines of figures from her personal photographs into photographic negatives, which she then prints. By reducing the figures to line drawings she renders them anonymous. The embracing figures hint at farewells and longing. The envelopes suggest thwarted attempts at communication. AlSaud’s hybrid technique of drawing and photography critiques the censorship of visual communication in Saudi Arabia.

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Şükran Moral. 'Despair' 2003

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Şükran Moral
Born Terme, Turkey, 1962. Lives Rome, Italy, and Istanbul, Turkey
Despair
2003
Digital C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Şükran Moral works in photography, sculpture, video and performance, creating bold and often controversial works that critique society and its institutions. Violence against women is a major theme. She has also made work about other groups who lack societal power, including the mentally ill, children, immigrants and prostitutes.

In this image, brightly-coloured birds, what Moral calls ‘digital nightingales’, perch on a group of migrant workers huddled in a boat. According to the artist, in Turkish literature nightingales are a symbol of hope, love and separation. The men and boys are shown in black-and-white, at the mercy of their situation. The birds, however, are free to fly away.

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Nermine Hammam. 'Armed Innocence II' 2011

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Nermine Hammam
Born Cairo, Egypt, 1967. Lives Cairo
Armed Innocence II
2011
From the series Upekkha
Archival inkjet print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Influenced by a background in film and graphic design, Nermine Hammam works in series, making prints that combine elements of painting and photography, often digitally manipulating and layering images to represent subjects in states of abandonment or altered consciousness. When the army was called in to respond to the protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in January 2011, Hammam was struck by the vulnerability of the soldiers. They seemed to want to be anywhere but there. In the Uppekkha series she transports these soldiers into vibrant fantasy settings. Reminiscent of postcards, the series likens the events of Tahrir Square to a tourist attraction that drew the world’s attention, but was not fully understood.

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Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige. 'Wonder Beirut #13, Modern Beirut, International Centre of Water-skiing' 1997-2006

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Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige
Both born Beirut, Lebanon, 1969. Live Beirut and Paris, France
Wonder Beirut #13, Modern Beirut, International Centre of Water-skiing
1997-2006
From the series Wonder Beirut: The Story of a Pyromaniac Photographer
C-print mounted on aluminium with face mounting
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum
Courtesy of the artists and CRG Gallery, New York and In Situ / Fabienne Leclerc, Paris

Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige collaborate as filmmakers and artists, producing cinematic and visual art work that intertwine. In the series Wonder Beirut they use photography to blur fact and fiction. The artists noticed that tourist postcards of pre-civil war Beirut were still for sale after the war ended in 1990. They invented a fictional photographer named Abdallah Farrah who, in 1968, was commissioned by the tourist board to make postcard views of Beirut’s attractions. When the civil war broke out in 1975, he began to burn his negatives to reflect the surrounding destruction. The artists present these works as prints from the fictional photographer’s damaged negatives.

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John Jurayj. 'Untitled (Large Embassy with Red Mirror #1)' 2007

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John Jurayj
Born Evanston, Illinois, USA, 1968. Lives New York, USA
Untitled (Large Embassy with Red Mirror #1)
2007
Inkjet print on watercolour paper, with burn holes and mirrored Plexiglas
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Using a variety of media, including painting, print-making, sculpture and video, John Jurayj explores the impact of the Lebanese civil war (1975-90), as both a world conflict and an identity trauma. He often re-works photographs of Lebanon from family albums, press archives and online databases. Here he translates the brutality of war into an attack on the photograph itself. He enlarges to near abstraction a news photograph of the bombed US embassy in Beirut in 1984. The image is further disrupted by the holes burnt into the paper. The holes are then filled in with red, mirrored Plexiglas.

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22
Jan
11

Exhibition: ‘Portraits and Power: People, Politics and Structures’ at Centro di Cultura Contemporanea Strozzina – Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, Florence

Exhibition dates: 1st October 2010 – 23rd January 2011

 

Many thankx to the Centro di Cultura Contemporanea Strozzina for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. All text comes from the Centro di Cultura Contemporanea Strozzina website. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Portraits and Power: People, Politics and Structures' at Centro di Cultura Contemporanea Strozzina - Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, Florence

Installation view of the exhibition 'Portraits and Power: People, Politics and Structures' at Centro di Cultura Contemporanea Strozzina - Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, Florence

 

Installation view of the exhibition Portraits and Power: People, Politics and Structures at Centro di Cultura Contemporanea Strozzina – Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, Florence with the work of Rineke Dijkstra at right

 

 

Portraits and Power explores portraiture and the representation of political, economical and social power in the contemporary world through the works of contemporary artists. Portraits of famous political figures, investigations into the lifestyle of the social elite, as well as inquiries into the power structures of international institutions.

The exhibition explores its theme from three main standpoints: it analyses power as an expression of the charisma of those individuals who have become icons or symbols of their age; it probes the power of institutions and social models that either represent themselves or are represented in a critical light; and it investigates the hidden mechanisms of powerful authorities.

Portraits and Power is a project of the CCC Strozzina, with the consultancy of Peter Funnell (National Portrait Gallery, London), Walter Guadagnini (“UniCredit & Art” project) and Roberta Valtorta (Museum of Contemporary Photography, Cinisello Balsamo) coordinated by Franziska Nori (CCCS, Firenze).

Text from the Centro di Cultura Contemporanea Strozzina website [Online] Cited 02/02/2020

 

Tina Barney. 'The Ancestor' 2001

 

Tina Barney (American, b. 1945)
The Ancestor
2001
C-print
Courtesy the artist and Janet Borden Inc., New York

 

Tina Barney. 'The Brocade Walls' 2004

 

Tina Barney (American, b. 1945)
The Brocade Walls
2004
C-print
Courtesy the artist and Janet Borden Inc., New York

 

Tina Barney installation view

 

Installation view of the exhibition Portraits and Power: People, Politics and Structures at Centro di Cultura Contemporanea Strozzina – Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, Florence showing the work of Tina Barney

 

 

The characters Tina Barney portrays are the representatives of a social class that normally exercises careful control over the circulation of pictures of its members, whether in the form of family photographs or official portraits, which are often published on the pages of glossy magazines. She is one of the first photographers to have made artistic use of this kind of representation. Hers is not merely the gaze of an onlooker, but that of a trusted person, who has personal relationships with her subjects. What she is interested in is not so much the idea of displaying the wealth of these families, but that of analysing social and family dynamics – such as the ambivalent relationship between children and parents. Her work is conceived as a means to improve self-understanding.

The people portrayed all come from families educated in the awareness of their own social role: discipline, self-control and rigour are features to be observed in all the subjects photographed, and they share the same high level of composure. For the series entitled The Europeans, which was produced over a period of about eight years, the author was introduced by one circle of friends to another, and thus given the opportunity to portray Italian nobles, Austrian bankers and landowners, proud representatives of the wealthy Spanish bourgeoisie, and English gentlemen in their sophisticated dwellings. Neither the formal way of dressing nor the furnishings can be traced back to any particular fashion: Tina Barney seeks to produce timeless pictures that at first sight will appear closer to traditional painting than to contemporary photography. Tina Barney creates her portraits through a careful observation of people in their everyday lives; to capture transient moments she asks her subjects to repeat something in front of the camera in such a way as to fix them. Her work tool is a fixed, large-size camera; an extended time exposure and high resolution enable her to render the details of each setting in detail. The figures portrayed have a rigid and formal countenance, which makes them appear markedly detached from one another, even though it is often brothers and sisters or parents and children who are photographed together: “this is the best that we can do. This inability to show physical affection is in our heritage”.

Tina Barney’s photographs give a sense of the fleetingness of their relationships behind the mask of self-controlled bearing. The artist thus unveils the game of social roles and attitudes conducted by her subjects, a veritable Theater of Manners (to quote the title of one of her most famous series) which demands enough sensitivity on the viewers’ part for them to focus on those details in the pictures that render hidden and non-immediately obvious features visible.

Since the mid-1970s, Tina Barney has been focusing her work on the portrayal of the privileged exponents of New York and New England high society, seen either in their own homes or on certain special occasions. The style of the pictures ranges from that of tableaux vivant to that of genre paintings, drawing expressive force from the interaction between wealthy settings and the people who move about in them.

 

Tina Barney. 'The Granddaughter' 2004

 

Tina Barney (American, b. 1945)
The Granddaughter
2004
C-print
Courtesy the artist and Janet Borden Inc., New York

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Portraits and Power: People, Politics and Structures' at Centro di Cultura Contemporanea Strozzina - Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, Florence

 

Installation view of the exhibition Portraits and Power: People, Politics and Structures at Centro di Cultura Contemporanea Strozzina – Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, Florence showing the work of Jim Dow

 

Jim Dow. 'Library Metropolitan Club, New York' 1999 / 2010

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Library Metropolitan Club, New York
1999 / 2010
Chromogenic colour print
Courtesy the artist, Janet Borden, Inc., New York

 

Jim Dow. 'Dining Room, Morgan Library, New York' 1999 / 2010

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Dining Room, Morgan Library, New York
1999 / 2010
Chromogenic colour print
Courtesy the artist, Janet Borden, Inc., New York

 

 

By taking shots that are as objective as possible and completely devoid of any human presence, Dow gives a concentrated and authentic view of the architecture, furnishings and frameworks of these backdrops of life. “My interest in photography centres on its capacity for exact description. I use photography to try to record the manifestations of human ingenuity and spirit still remaining in our country’s everyday landscape.” For one of his most recent series, Dow has been able to make his way into some of the most exclusive private circles of New York City. He selected circles that are still active and have a long and significant history behind, such as the renowned Metropolitan Club, which was founded in 1891 by John Pierpont Morgan, and once listed James Roosevelt and William K. Vanderbilt among its most illustrious members. Most of these circles require strict adherence to rules consolidated by tradition. Only those introduced to the club by one of its members can join it, a practice that contributes to keep it a kind of network; a specific commission will then consider whether the candidate is fit for acceptance. Though there are over twenty circles of this kind in New York, outsiders will rarely notice their presence. While they no longer exercise the kind of political influence they used to as seats of power and decision making bodies, these clubs are now undergoing a new renaissance. An increasing number of politicians and businessmen are choosing to meet in their secluded rooms, which public opinion often perceives as places of intrigue and the setting for secret appointments of various kinds. With his descriptive and comparative photographs, Dow is giving a face to these exclusive meeting places, inviting viewers to join him in admiring the timeless opulence of their rooms. Architecture is the “primary and most powerful form of mass-communication”; at the same time, it is a mirror for power and its strategies, for the consolidation of authority and its effects on those who exercise it. “Architecture is power. The powerful build precisely because they are powerful. Yet architecture is also an expression of the capability and resoluteness – as well as resolve – of the powerful. Politicians intentionally exploit architecture to seduce, impress, and intimidate.” (Deyan Sudjic, The Edifice Complex: How the Rich and Powerful Shape the World, 2006).

American photographer Jim Dow approaches places as meeting points bearing visible traces of people’s mutual interactions. In different photographic series, the artist has portrayed American barbecue joints, pie and mash shops in London, tango halls in Buenos Aires, the workplaces of farmers, tinsmiths and iron-smiths, and baseball stadiums from one coast of the US to the other.

 

CLEGG & GUTTMANN (Michael Clegg and Martin Guttmann) 'Grand Master' 1985

 

Clegg & Guttmann (Michael Clegg and Martin Guttmann)
Grand Master
1985
Cibachrome
Courtesy Galerie Christian Nagel, Cologne, Berlin, Antwerp

 

 

For Grand Master, part of a photographic series produced in the 1980s, Clegg & Guttmann asked an actor to display certain poses characteristic of power, presenting him as the representative of a non-specified institution. The background of the image consists in a fictional architectural scenario – one simply simulated by using photographed space – the artificial nature of which is revealed by certain incongruities in the lighting effects. What is central here, once more, is the reflection offered on the controlled and never spontaneous construction of an image of power.

The tension conveyed by Clegg & Guttmann’s works springs from the subtle gap characterising the artists’ relationship with tradition. Their classical and apparently affirmative representations of people with power should be interpreted, within the context of their career spanning several decades, as different ways of visualising an analytical and deconstructive practice engaging with the mechanisms of authority.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Portraits and Power: People, Politics and Structures' at Centro di Cultura Contemporanea Strozzina - Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, Florence

 

Installation view of the exhibition Portraits and Power: People, Politics and Structures at Centro di Cultura Contemporanea Strozzina – Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, Florence showing the work of Clegg & Guttmann

 

 

The CCCS – Centro di Cultura Contemporanea Strozzina – Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, will be staging an exhibition entitled Portraits and Power: People, Politics and Structures, from 1 October 2010 to 23 January 2011, which will run concurrently with the retrospective devoted to Bronzino, the undisputed master of the Mannerist portrait, on Palazzo Strozzi’s piano nobile.

The exhibition, based on an original project by the CCCS in consultation with Peter Funnell (curator and director of research programmes at the National Portrait Gallery in London), Walter Guadagnini (chairman of the “UniCredit & Art” project’s scientific committee) and Roberta Valtorta (director of the Cinisello Balsamo Museum of Contemporary Photography) and coordinated by Franziska Nori (director of the CCCS), will show the work of international artists and collectives such as Tina Barney, Christoph Brech, Bureau d’études, Fabio Cifariello Ciardi, Clegg & Guttmann, Nick Danziger, Rineke Dijkstra, Jim Dow, Francesco Jodice, Annie Leibovitz, Helmut Newton, Trevor Paglen, Martin Parr, Wang Qingsong, Daniela Rossell, Jules Spinatsch, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and The Yes Men – who have all proved capable of developing a critical analysis of the portrayal and depiction of political, economic and social power in the media.

The exhibition explores its theme from two main standpoints: it analyses power as an expression of the charisma of those individuals who have become icons or symbols of their age; and it probes the power of institutions and social models that either represent themselves or are represented in a critical light.

The role played by images has grown to such an extent that it has led to the predominant emergence of their value not only in terms of portrayal but also of the successful establishment of power. The works of art on display bear witness not only to the self-referential strategies of power, but also to the different approaches artists adopt in deconstructing or chipping away at the images that represent social, economic and political power in a way that can not only bolster a leadership but that can also undermine its authority.

The National Portrait Gallery in London will be contributing works by three famous international photographers that explore the image of political authority. The series devoted to Queen Elizabeth II by Annie Leibovitz evinces a celebrated contemporary artist’s dialogue with the great tradition of official portraiture, and the cycle entitled Blair at War by Nick Danziger gives an extraordinary vision of Tony Blair’s daily life in the days immediately preceding the outbreak of the war in Iraq. The portrait of Margaret Thatcher by Helmut Newton keeps alive the iconic role of one of the most influential politicians of recent decades despite the fact that her authority had waned.

Clegg & Guttmann show the photographs of three managing directors of the Deutsche Bank. These images, while based on the official portraiture genre, provide the opportunity for a conceptual reflection on the theme of the public presentation of individuals who are at the same time both subject and patron of the work. Christoph Brech portrays a modern patron of the arts in a video that dwells on a detail of the hull of his yacht, Sea Force One, a floating museum filmed from a distance in Venetian waters.

The role of the image not only as representation but also as a tool for the construction or exploration of power is analysed by artists such as Hiroshi Sugimoto, whose Portraits bring to life wax effigies of historical or contemporary political figures through the evocative power of photography, and Rineke Dijkstra whose series of images of a soldier with the French Foreign Legion prompts a reflection on what remains of the individual when he becomes the representative of a military authority. Francesco Jodice, in his video entitled Dubai Citytellers, analyses the development and the social impact of one of the new centres of global economic power.

In the photo triptych Past, Present and Future, Wang Qingsong portrays himself as a bystander, bearing witness to fighters in poses mimicking celebrative and monumental Socialist sculptures, reflecting upon the contradictory nature of the actual power of masses in contemporary China.

Tina Barney records the life and domestic environment of the beau monde, combining the spontaneous feel of a private snapshot with a sophisticated aesthetic approach strongly echoing the world of art and traditional photography. The provocative photo series Ricas y Famosas by Daniela Rossell portrays the taste and excesses of the new super wealthy social oligarchy in Mexico, while Martin Parr’s series entitled Luxury, which is devoted to fashion shows, horse-racing and art fairs in the world’s major capitals, probes the lifestyle of the upper class in a globalised Western world. The pictures of Jim Dow portray the luxurious rooms of the great private social clubs of New York City’s elite, fashionable places that are inaccessible to the general public.

A different critical approach to the theme of power is offered by the French collective Bureau d’études with its project involving mapping the links between political and economic power. The CIA’s secret missions and operations, on the other hand, provide the focus for the work of Trevor Paglen who reconstructs top secret movements and connections. Jules Spinatsch presents a new work taken from his Temporary Discomfort video-photographic series, denouncing the controversial transformation of a place such as the island of La Maddalena in Sardinia into the venue for the G8 summit that never took place. Also on view is the antagonistic activism of The Yes Men, a collective who will be presenting their spectacular media initiative that rocked the image and power of the multinational corporation responsible for the Bhopal environmental catastrophe in India.

Finally, the composer Fabio Cifariello Ciardi uses famous politicians’ public speeches as his raw material for the creation of electroacoustic music that will underline their rhetorical techniques of persuasion.

The exhibition catalogue, published in Italian and English, contains a series of essays by authors from different countries, backgrounds and disciplines, offering the visitor a chance to explore in greater depth the themes addressed by the exhibition.

Press release from the Strozzina website [Online] Cited 02/02/2020

 

Rineke Dijkstra. 'Olivier' Quartier Vienot, Marseille, France, July 21, 2000

 

Rineke Dijkstra (Dutch, b. 1959)
Olivier
Quartier Vienot, Marseille, France, July 21, 2000
On loan from The Bank of America Merrill Lynch Collection

 

Rineke Dijkstra. 'Olivier' Quartier Monclar, Djibouti, July 13, 2003

 

Rineke Dijkstra (Dutch, b. 1959)
Olivier
Quartier Monclar, Djibouti, July 13, 2003
On loan from The Bank of America Merrill Lynch Collection

 

 

A crucial feature of Dijkstra’s photography is her desire to show the true personality of her subjects, as opposed to any simulated one. Up against the contemporary mystifying quality of the Internet and digital manipulation, her images illustrate in a very convincing way how photography is still capable of transcending the surface of subjects to grasp their deeper and constantly evolving identities. Her series feature, for instance, young bullfighters immediately after a bullfight, young mothers with babies born only a few minutes before, and portraits of boys and girls from various parts of the world at the beach. Her work method, whereby subjects are given very few directions and are usually portrayed frontally, leads to the creation of bare and detached pictures in which people display an inevitably fragile and vulnerable air. The Olivier Silva project, which the artist has developed over the course of more than three years, centres on the figure of a young man who in July 2000 voluntarily enrolled in the French Foreign Legion. Dijkstra portrays crucial moments of his intense training in France and Africa – from the day of his enrolment, in Aubagne, near Marseille, to the missions he was sent to fulfil in various parts of the world (Gabon, Ivory Coast and Gibuti) in 2003. The photographs clearly illustrate the metamorphoses the young man underwent over the course of the years: the innocent looking boy becomes an energetic and professional elite soldier enlisted in one of the world’s toughest and most controversial army corps. The centrepiece of the work is the artist’s interest in Olivier as an individual whose personality evolves in the course of his training, as is clearly revealed by his attitude and the look in his eyes, as well as by the very way in which his facial features change. The training imparted in military units of this kind is aimed at annulling the recruit’s personality in order to then recreate it according to new parameters: the youngster draws closer and closer to the prototype of the soldier as we progress from one photograph to the next. Just as all new recruits of the Foreign Legion are assigned a new name and identity, after three years Olivier no longer looks (even physically) like the same person as before. Like an accelerated film sequence, this series shows the dissolution of the original identity of a man subjected to the conditions dictated by an apparatus of power. Every soldier is at the service of the country he fights for and becomes one of its official public representations, embodying its military power. The same power he now wields is that which in a few years has conditioned him – or even produced him, one may say. Through her aesthetically minimalist photographs, Rineke Dijkstra illustrates the paradox of opposition between individual values and those of the community, between identity and conformity.

Rineke Dijkstra has carried out profound research in the field of photographic portraiture. Her subjects are adolescents who are still searching for themselves and who are incapable of acting in front of a camera, as well as adults caught in decisive moments in their personal development. By portraying these subjects, the artist explores the theme of identity and its representation.

 

Martin Parr. 'France. Paris. Haute Couture' 2007

 

Martin Parr (British, b. 1952)
France. Paris. Haute Couture
2007
from the series Luxury
Pigment print
© Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

 

Martin Parr. 'England. Epsom. The Derby' 2004

 

Martin Parr (British, b. 1952)
England. Epsom. The Derby
2004
from the series Luxury
Pigment print
© Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

 

Martin Parr. 'Russia. Moscow. Fashion Week' 2004

 

Martin Parr (British, b. 1952)
Russia. Moscow. Fashion Week
2004
From the series Luxury
Pigment print
© Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

 

 

Unlike most of his colleagues, Parr has little interest in the great themes of photographic reporting, such as the documenting of war and poverty. Working around the world, he finds his motifs in everyday life. At the beginning of his career, he focused in particular on the observation of people from lower middle class backgrounds engaged in different activities, in the context of themes such as consumption, communication and leisure. He has left it ambiguous as to whether these pictures of his are charged with critical overtones or intended to serve as a mere means of social documentation. Through this approach to his work, Parr has developed a highly distinctive and almost unmistakable style marked by dazzling colours obtained by the use of flash on top of natural light. Parr takes his camera near people and their social milieus, creating images that appear grotesque or exaggerated at first. Their motifs, which often coincide with moments of everyday life, are shot from unusual perspectives.

The feeling these pictures convey is that of being spontaneous photos, similar to snapshots. Only under closer scrutiny you understand they have been skilfully construed and arranged. While always highly charged and taking widespread social stereotypes as their starting point, Parr’s images are never banal. The perspective they convey stands out for the way in which it takes viewers by surprise and for the ironic detachment with which the photographer turns to his subjects.

According to Parr, his photographs never fail to elicit extreme emotions because they always show some truths: “We are so used to digesting pictures that are pure propaganda, that people are surprised when someone like me shows them images that are closely tied to reality. I, at least, don’t lie”. The photographer’s gaze takes the viewer into his confidence, leading him through the pictures to discover the absurdity of what we deem normal. Gathered in large series regularly published in volumes, these shots transcend the irony of individual images to concentrate on the analysis of a given social milieu.

The Luxury series portrays personages from the international jet set, photographed in different settings around the world – from the Miami Art Fair to horse races in Durban, from polo tournaments in Dubai to the Beijing Auto Show. With these images, Parr has intentionally moved away from his previous subjects to focus on the life of the upper classes: for, as he himself has noted, the main problem the world is facing is not poverty but wealth – excessive development and prosperity. These photographs offer the perspective of an external, noninvolved observer, whose gaze is drawn towards minor details that usually find no place in the common representations of these events.

The centrepieces of these photos are the superficial clichés that the people participating in the events adopt as tokens of their upper-class identity. The pictures fix moments in which this enactment reveals itself to be so fragile or so exaggerated that the people involved become extras in a comedy – one that the photographer’s eye has fallen upon, finding interest not in individuals as such, but in their belonging to a given social system with all its rules and values.

Martin Parr describes himself as a “chronicler of our times”. In his photographic series he records the behaviour of people of different social classes in different contexts, searching not so much for mutual differences as for what brings human beings together when they find themselves in certain roles.

 

Nick Danziger. 'Helicopter Flight from RAF Lyneham to Battersea, 3 April 2003'

 

Nick Danziger (British, b. 1958)
Helicopter Flight from RAF Lyneham to Battersea, 3 April 2003

Bromide print
Courtesy National Portrait Gallery, London
© Nick Danziger

 

 

This opportunity had arisen thanks to The Saturday Times Magazine, which had launched a project to produce a special report on the occasion of Blair’s fiftieth birthday, one based not on official photographs but on a way of perceiving and depicting power from the point of view of everyday life – the interior of private and usually inaccessible places, removed from the conventional and more distinctly representational ones. These were the very days in which Blair was facing one of the most challenging decisions of his mandate: that concerning Great Britain’s intervention in the Second Gulf War on the side of the United States.

Danziger was able to document moments and scenes that could otherwise never have been made visible, capturing apparently insignificant moments that actually express all the underlying tensions and dynamics of those crucial days in 2003. On his first day of work, 14 March, Danziger was in Blair’s so called “den” – the Prime Minister’s private workroom in Downing Street. While engaged in a telephone call with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Blair is shown in a non-conventional and informal, rather than simply official, pose. A mirror here gives us a glimpse of Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister’s ever-present spin doctor, and the person responsible for his public image. This reflection becomes a sort of picture within the picture, a reminder of the assemblage of Danziger’s photographic documents, which are never created by chance or artlessly, but always follow from a conscious decision on the photographer’s part.

Danziger seems to be providing an almost intimate depiction of power, one that catches its subjects unawares. Yet it is worth recalling that the Blair government had developed a very careful and well-thought strategy for controlling its own public identity. New Labour’s promotion of an image of its Prime Minister as a young man from next door and of its own political class as one close to ordinary people has been a central feature of its political platform – a way of making a break after the long years of Conservatism under Margaret Thatcher and John Major.

The power of Danziger’s photographs lies in their ability to suggest the moments preceding and following the one portrayed, as illustrated for instance by the pictures of the Prime Minister’s transfer by plane, or the conversation held by a group of politicians outside Blair’s cabinet as they wait for the imminent war decisions to be made. In these pictures the outside world is always cut off; still, as critic John Berger has noted, the importance of photographs lies precisely in their ability to show things they do not directly portray.

Danziger himself bears witness to this when he writes that “in some of the pictures, from where the Prime Minister is sitting, he could hear people shouting ‘stop the war’ outside”. Power censors what might damage or shed doubt upon the reassuring appearance of a politician, and always seeks to portray itself in a manner useful for its own preservation.

The work of photojournalist Nick Danziger features videos and photographs in a documentary style, which often accompany the diaries he writes during his many trips around the world – from Bosnia to Afghanistan, Great Britain to Brazil, and so on. Between March and April 2003, Danziger and journalist Peter Stothard spent thirty days in close contact with the then Prime Minister Tony Blair and his entourage.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Portraits and Power: People, Politics and Structures' at Centro di Cultura Contemporanea Strozzina - Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, Florence

 

Installation view of the exhibition Portraits and Power: People, Politics and Structures at Centro di Cultura Contemporanea Strozzina – Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, Florence showing the work of Hiroshi Sugimoto

 

 

The Portraits series was first developed in 1999, starting from a portrait of King Henry VIII of England inspired by the work of Dutch painter Hans Holbein. Sugimoto’s self-professed aim was to become “the first sixteenth-century photographer.” The series then continued with different subjects, including famous contemporary figures who have entered the collective imagination, such as the Cuban lider máximo Fidel Castro and Pope John Paul II.

Sugimoto’s works are not portraits of the original subjects, but of wax sculptures reproducing them in the most hyper-realist way possible. The figures are illumined by a source of direct light and strongly stand out against a black background in an extremely theatrical way, imitating poses typical of the characters they represent, while removing them from all context and thus emphasising their nature as icons rather than human beings.
For these works Sugimoto has not made use of the 50 x 60 cm format that is typical of him. Yet, they stand in continuity with the artist’s unique reflection upon the nature of photography and its relation to history and time. Here he embarks upon a reflection on portraiture and the process whereby an image is translated using different media, emphasising the problematic “realistic effect” of photographic reproduction.

An attentive gaze will notice small disproportions in the various parts of the subjects’ bodies or strange lighting effects due to the way in which light reflects on wax as opposed to real skin. Still, these pictures invite us to look at them as we would other photographs. Thinking, that is, about the genuine subjects they portray, something that paradoxically makes them “more real” than the wax statues that constitute their actual subjects. Different levels of reproduction are at play here: from the original subject to an initial photograph that served as a model for the wax statue that Sugimoto then portrayed in his photographic work. Our gaze will strongly be drawn towards the extraordinary elegance and aesthetic refinement of these works, which reveal the uncommon technical abilities of Sugimoto, marked as they are by the endless range of white, grey and black shades typical of him. Despite all this, his works remain emotionally cold: they consist in conceptual reflections upon the very notion of portrait and its political and cultural value as an icon of the characters it represents, and explicitly forgo any realist view of the individuals they take as their subjects. The artist seems to be causing all sense of natural time to collapse – in such a way as to stress that of absolute time. He attains a balance between life and death that is characteristic of photography but also of portraiture, whereby what counts is not the reality or the life of a subject, but the latter’s value as an image in itself, beyond time and everyday life.

Hiroshi Sugimoto’s photographs convey a conceptual attitude aimed at stripping images down to their bare essence, thus emphasising the primacy of the idea over the object portrayed. His famous marine landscapes and dioramas express a view of photography as a sort of time machine – a way of preserving or constructing memories and emotions.

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japan, b. 1948) Pope John Paul II 1999 (installation view)

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japan, b. 1948)
Pope John Paul II (installation view)
1999
Black and white photograph
Courtesy Rosa e Gilberto Sandretto
© Hiroshi Sugimoto

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japan, b. 1948) 'Pope John Paul II' 1999

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japan, b. 1948)
Pope John Paul II
1999
Black and white photograph
Courtesy Rosa e Gilberto Sandretto
© Hiroshi Sugimoto

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japan, b. 1948) 'Fidel Castro' 1999 (installation view)

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japan, b. 1948)
Fidel Castro (installation view)
1999
Black and white photograph
Courtesy Sonnabend Gallery, New York
© Hiroshi Sugimoto

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japan, b. 1948) 'Fidel Castro' 1999

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japan, b. 1948)
Fidel Castro
1999
Black and white photograph
Courtesy Sonnabend Gallery, New York
© Hiroshi Sugimoto

 

 

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Palazzo Strozzi, Piazza Strozzi, Firenze

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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: ‘Dogs, chickens, cattle’ 1994-95

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