Posts Tagged ‘Richard Benson

09
Jan
22

Exhibition: ‘Richard Benson: The World Is Smarter Than You Are’ at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Exhibition dates: 3rd October, 2021 – 23rd January, 2022

Curator: Peter Barberie, Brodsky Curator of Photographs, Alfred Stieglitz Center

Field Galleries and Honickman Galleries 154-157

 

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Barbara Benson' 1968

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Barbara Benson
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image and sheet: 7 1/2 × 9 1/2 inches
Mount: 9 1/8 × 11 inches
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

 

Welcome to the first posting on Art Blart for 2022 and a Happy New Year to you all.

We start with an exhibition by highly regarded photographic printer (including prints for Paul Strand and Walker Evans and books for Lee Friedlander and about Eugène Atget) and teacher Richard Benson. A master of the craft of photography, “Benson became devoted to the technical aspects of printing and reproducing photographs” … “thoroughly imbued with the tradition, science and artistry of photography.” Benson was also an artist and the exhibition includes prints from the late 1960s until shortly before Benson’s death in 2017, the exhibition tracing his quest for the perfect print.

And therein lies the rub. It feels to me as though Benson’s work is more about the aesthetic of the print than about a good photograph and here I am going to call it as I see it. It might be a little controversial or even sacrilegious to one held in so high esteem for his printing, but I don’t particularly like his photographic work. Why?

Benson’s subject matter (“ageing farm machinery, austerely utilitarian boats, derelict factories, and the frequent intersections of history, nature, and our built environments”) can be found throughout the history of American photography. In that sense he offers few new insights on the environment in which he operates. Further, his “unsentimental specificity” – “or what his friend and fellow photographer Garry Winogrand referred to as the mystery of “a fact clearly described” – leaves me feeling … well, nothing really. To me his photographs are emotionally dead photographic experiments become artefacts. What is the story that he is telling, what was his vision?

Benson went to extraordinary lengths to make the print look how the world looked, because he wanted things to look in a print the way things looked when he saw them. But, as Paul Turounet comments, “Craft and technical execution function to support the photographers’ vision and curiosity with visual engagement, and clarity of intention and purpose. It becomes a tremendous opportunity for the photographer to experience how all of photography’s materials and processes, analog, digital or an alternative / hybrid system, can be used to reveal a personal photographic vision and what pictures are going to be about.”1

A personal photographic vision! What was that for Benson, for he has no signature style, his photographs being a mishmash of influences. As Arthur Lubow has observed, “In some of Benson’s black-and-white photographs of building interiors, like “65 Kenyon Street, Hartford, Connecticut” (1974), I thought of Walker Evans. Edward Weston floated into my consciousness as I looked at the organic semi-abstraction of “Agave” (c. 1975-85). And it was hard to avoid recalling Eggleston in viewing the colour jolts of the vintage red truck in “Wyoming” (2008), or the lime-green rowboat in “Newfoundland” (2006-8).”2 Quite so.

So we are left with what exactly. Beautiful but emotionally stilted representations of the world that offer small insight into the condition of its becoming.

Benson’s two statements, “Go out into the world with the camera and photograph and find out that the world is smarter than you are” and “When I make the picture, I’m seeing how I could make the print” are instructive here. Firstly, the world is not smarter than you are, it’s just more confusing. Nothing is ever as neat and tidy, as perfect as Benson would have us believe in his perfect prints. This is when the mystery of the fact clearly described is just that – a description and not a feeling. Secondly, when he’s taking a photograph he thinking about the print! He’s not thinking about resonances, vibrations of energy, time and space in the place itself but only what he sees as its perfect outcome. But Richard, there are many ways to make a print! You can print a mid-grey Zone V and as near black Zone 2, or use digital manipulation to intensive the feeling of an image. There is no single way to print a photographic image that is “correct” for there are many interpretations of a constructed reality. In my humble opinion Benson has his equation arse about tit. As Minor White in one of his Three Canons (1955) would say,

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

.
Minor White elaborates further,

“To get from the tangible to the intangible (which mature artists in any medium claim as part of their task) a paradox of some kind has frequently been helpful. For the photographer to free himself of the tyranny of the visual facts upon which he is utterly dependent, a paradox is the only possible tool. And the talisman paradox for unique photography is to work “the mirror with a memory” as if it were a mirage, and the camera as a metamorphosing machine, and the photograph as if it were a metaphor… Once freed of the tyranny of surfaces and textures, substance and form [the photographer] can use the same to pursue poetic truth.”3

.
The critical observation is that craft and technical execution function to support the photographers’ vision and curiosity with visual engagement.

My friend and mentor IL keeps saying to me, “the really good stuff is there, I KNOW its there” – but you have to dig really deep to find it. Perhaps p. 25 in the preview of Benson’s book North South East West gets as close as I have felt (a sense of mystery and subtle spirit) … but I remain a skeptic with regard not to Benson’s craft but to his artistic vision, for he seems to have never freed himself of the tyranny of visual facts bound to their reproduction in the perfect print.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

  1. Paul Turounet. “Well-Executed, Poorly Conceived Photographs,” on A Photo Teacher website Nd [Online] Cited 18/12/2021
  2. Arthur Lubow. “When a Master Printer Picks Up the Camera,” on The New York Times website December 30, 2021 [Online] Cited 02/01/2022
  3. Minor White quoted in Beaumont Newhall (ed.,). The History of Photography. Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1982, p. 281

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

 

 

The fundamental problem any artist faces in regard to craft is that it must be largely ignored. This seems to be an extreme statement, but it is surely true. Today we are experiencing a revival of sorts of non-silver, or alternative, systems for photographic printing, and the field is littered with well-executed, poorly conceived photographs. It seems to me that this has happened because all these photographers, or printers, are more interested in how they print their pictures than in what these pictures might be about.

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Excerpt from the essay “Print Making” by Richard Benson in the book Paul Strand: Essays on His Life and Work. Aperture, 1991

 

“Isn’t that what we do as artists… don’t we try to create a surrogate that gives to the viewer something that was given to us when we saw the thing.

We get an inkling that there is something extraordinary there, we’ve stumbled on something extraordinary and the picture is our mechanism for understanding it.

When I make the picture, I’m seeing how I could make the print.”

.
Excerpts from a conversation with Richard Benson and Jay Maisel by George Jardine for Adobe Lightroom

 

“In black-and-white and color, in film and digital, in platinum prints, offset lithographs and inkjet prints, Benson mastered the procedures and, when he found them inadequate, invented his own. Like those sonically stunning LPs that were recorded to demonstrate the range of the first generation of stereos, Benson’s photographs often seem designed to mark the outer limits of what photography can practically achieve. …

Walking through the show, I saw the work of someone thoroughly imbued with the tradition, science and artistry of photography. But I was also reminded of a remark by Henry James, in a letter from 1888, about John Singer Sargent, who, similarly, could achieve with a brush anything he asked of it. “Yes, I have always thought Sargent a great painter,” James remarked. “He would be greater still if he had one or two little things he hasn’t – but he will do.””

.
Arthur Lubow. “When a Master Printer Picks Up the Camera,” on The New York Times website December 30, 2021 [Online] Cited 02/01/2022

 

 

 

 

Curators’ Talk on Richard Benson

Curator Peter Barberie and Sarah Meister of Aperture discuss the life and work of photographer Richard Benson.

Speakers

Peter Barberie is Brodsky Curator of Photographs, Alfred Stieglitz Center, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Sarah Meister is Executive Director of Aperture, a not-for-profit foundation, multi-platform publisher, and center for the photo community.

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Barbara Benson (Young, Skinny, and Pissed Off)' 1970 (negative); 2005-2014 (print)

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Barbara Benson (Young, Skinny, and Pissed Off)
1970 (negative); 2005-2014 (print)
Inkjet print
Image: 17 3/16 × 13 3/8 inches (43.6 × 33.9cm)
Sheet: 19 1/16 × 15 5/16 inches (48.4 × 38.9cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Sarah Benson' 1974

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Sarah Benson
1974
Palladium print
Image: 6 1/2 × 4 5/8 inches
Sheet: 6 3/4 × 4 3/4 inches
Mount: 7 7/8 × 6 inches
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Christopher Benson' 1981-1982 (negative); 1985-1995 (print)

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Christopher Benson
1981-1982 (negative); 1985-1995 (print)
Offset lithograph
Image: 16 1/4 × 12 7/8 inches (41.2 × 32.7cm)
Sheet: 24 15/16 × 19 inches (63.4 × 48.2cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Barbara and Daniel Benson' 1978-79

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Barbara and Daniel Benson
1978-79 (negative), 1985–95 (print)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

 

It’s worth mentioning that this was the late 1980s, when everywhere you looked it appeared as if “art photography” needed big ideas more than it needed great photographs. Benson would shoot down our art-speak while sympathising with our ambitions and the obstacles we faced in wanting to break new ground. He reminded us that “an artist is a person who tends to be really good at one thing but spends most of their time trying to do something else.” For him, the revelations and the ideas in photographs were in the details, in the unsentimental specificity, or what his friend and fellow photographer Garry Winogrand referred to as the mystery of “a fact clearly described.”

Many of the subjects Benson photographed across decades will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s ever crossed the US by car or run a few errands via bicycle in coastal New England: ageing farm machinery, austerely utilitarian boats, derelict factories, and the frequent intersections of history, nature, and our built environments. Benson’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the Industrial Revolution only partly accounts for the complete absence of nostalgia in photographs that regularly describe remnants and artefacts sharing present-tense place and time within a single frame.

At certain moments in his work, Benson chose black-and-white film and inkjet printers. In others he found it necessary – and appropriate – to hack a twenty-first-century desktop printer with nineteenth-century brass registration pins. Or, frustrated with pre-Photoshop colour gamut limitations, he needed to invent a technique combining multiple halftone separations and layers upon layers of hand-applied house paint. It was the only way to produce colour prints from his large-format colour negatives that finally met his exacting standards.

If asked why he had gone to such lengths while others remained content with the latest readymade printer options from Kodak or Epson, Richard would simply offer: “Because that’s the way the world looks … and I want things to look in a print the way things looked when I saw them.”

As fascinating and impressive as many of Benson’s technical innovations may have been, none were intended to be more interesting than the photographs they made possible.

The building blocks of the medium (optics, resolution, inherent qualities of various printing methods) often served as dowsing rods to suggest where, what, or whom to photograph. For example, many of Benson’s photographs of his family are produced with and informed by the unique properties of the 8 x 10-inch view camera and black-and-white negative film. Photographing this way requires a mixture of emphatic care and authoritarian control. But in the course of Benson’s work, photographs of family and other closest-to-home subjects are entirely natural extensions of a larger inquiry into our designs, arrangements, purpose-driven work, civic progress, and looming fragilities written across a landscape without end.

Although Richard Benson’s working life ranged across disciplines (hand-tooled mechanical clockworks, steam and combustion-engine design and restoration, hand-ground lenses, and custom-built telescopes), the exhibition at the museum limits its scope to Benson’s photographs. For Benson, neither capital-A “Art” nor rigorous craft were virtues unto themselves. Yet the world described in these photographs, with their “just-the-facts” titles – places and dates without backstory or anecdote – tell us all we need to know about Benson’s omnivorous curiosity and his belief in the nature and purpose of photographic seeing.

Extract from John Pilson. “Richard Benson’s All-Seeing Eye,” on the Philadelphia Museum of Art website November 15, 2021 [Online] Cited 18/12/2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Luquillo Woman, Puerto Rico' c. 1980

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Luquillo Woman, Puerto Rico
c. 1980
Inkjet print
Image: 13 5/8 × 17 1/8 inches
Sheet: 15 1/2 × 18 7/8 inches
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'John Bull's Great Stone, Common Burying Ground, Newport, Rhode Island' 1973-1978

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
John Bull’s Great Stone, Common Burying Ground, Newport, Rhode Island
1973-1978
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

 

One of his early pictures, “John Bull’s Great Stone, Common Burying Ground, Newport, Rhode Island” (1973-78), was made with a large-format view camera and composed of two contact prints mounted side by side. It depicts a series of six headstones for babies in one family, each marker incised with the face of an angel. Benson descended from a family of Newport stone carvers that dated to Colonial times. This composition, framed with perfect symmetry and sharp as a scalpel, is almost palpable, an appreciative flourish across the centuries from one consummate craftsman to another.

Arthur Lubow. “When a Master Printer Picks Up the Camera,” on The New York Times website December 30, 2021 [Online] Cited 02/01/2022

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'John Bull's Great Stone, Common Burying Ground, Newport, Rhode Island' 1973-1978 (detail)

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
John Bull’s Great Stone, Common Burying Ground, Newport, Rhode Island (detail)
1973-1978
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) '53 Tilden Avenue Porch' Date unknown

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
53 Tilden Avenue Porch
Date unknown
Offset lithograph
Image: 16 3/16 × 12 13/16 inches (41.1 × 32.5cm)
Sheet: 24 15/16 × 19 inches (63.3 × 48.2cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Harford, Connecticut' c. 1974 (negative); c. 2005-2011 (print)

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Harford, Connecticut
c. 1974 (negative); c. 2005-2011 (print)
Inkjet print
Image: 13 9/16 × 17 3/16 inches (34.5 × 43.6cm)
Sheet: 15 7/8 × 19 3/16 inches (40.4 × 48.8cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) '65 Kenyon Street, Hartford, Connecticut' 1974

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
65 Kenyon Street, Hartford, Connecticut
1974
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Billy Goode's, Newport, Rhode Island' 1976-1978

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Billy Goode’s, Newport, Rhode Island
1976-1978
Platinum/palladium print
Image: 7 7/16 × 9 7/16 inches (18.9 × 24cm)
Sheet: 8 7/16 × 10 7/8 inches (21.4 × 27.6cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'The Dark House (49 Tilden Avenue, Newport, Rhode Island)' c. 1975-1980

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
The Dark House (49 Tilden Avenue, Newport, Rhode Island)
c. 1975-1980
Platinum/palladium print
Image: 9 7/16 × 7 7/16 inches (24 × 18.9cm)
Sheet: 9 13/16 × 7 13/16 inches (24.9 × 19.8cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Puerto Rico' 1977-1985

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Puerto Rico
1977-1985
Platinum/palladium print
Image: 7 3/8 × 9 3/8 inches (18.7 × 23.8cm)
Sheet: 8 × 9 15/16 inches (20.3 × 25.2cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Sugar Mill at Aguirre, Puerto Rico' c. 1978-1985 (negative); 1985-1995 (print)

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Sugar Mill at Aguirre, Puerto Rico
c. 1978-1985 (negative); 1985-1995 (print)
Offset lithograph
Image: 12 3/16 × 15 5/16 inches (31 × 38.9cm)
Sheet: 19 1/8 × 25 inches (48.5 × 63.5cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

 

“Go out into the world with the camera and photograph and find out that the world is smarter than you are.”

With this exhortation, Richard Benson encouraged his students to explore one of photography’s core functions: recording things and events in the world. He wanted them to step out of their own mindsets and grapple with the many challenges – material, physical, and conceptual – encountered when making anything. It is precisely how Benson approached his own art. This exhibition surveys nearly fifty years of his photography, a wide-ranging body of work that reflects his humility and boundless curiosity about the world.

Renowned in photography circles for his acumen and inventiveness at printing and his far-ranging impact as a teacher and dean at the Yale University School of Art, Benson is best known today for the remarkable photography books he helped produce and the prints he made of other artists’ work. This exhibition puts his photography at the centre of these other achievements. It follows his continuous investigation of photographic processes and technologies and explores the dialogue between his pictures and other projects.

 

Benson’s subjects

Benson viewed human knowledge – particularly technology – as a cumulative, almost organic process, more a matter of continual adaptation and adjustment than of individual genius. This outlook is reflected in his photographic subjects. He recorded products of human ingenuity from stone carvings to steam engines and complex constructions of every sort. He also made straightforward and sensitive portraits of people and things he loved. And his subjects include the diverse spaces people create for themselves, which Benson viewed as “living rooms” that help us recover from the continuous disruptions of our technological age.

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Fort Adams, Newport, Rhode Island' 1975 (negative); 1975 (print)

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Fort Adams, Newport, Rhode Island
1975 (negative); 1975 (print)
Platinum/palladium print
Image: 7 7/8 × 9 5/8 inches (20 × 24.4cm)
Sheet: 8 1/16 × 10 1/8 inches (20.5 × 25.7cm)
Mount: 8 7/8 × 11 inches (22.5 × 27.9cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Fall River Boiler' 1978 (negative); 1985-1995 (print)

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Fall River Boiler
1978 (negative); 1985-1995 (print)
Offset lithograph
Image: 16 3/8 × 13 1/16 inches (41.6 × 33.1cm)
Sheet: 24 15/16 × 18 15/16 inches (63.3 × 48.1cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

 

For reproducing photographs in a 1985 book devoted to the extraordinary Gilman Paper Company Collection (later acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art), he amplified the duotone process, where ink is passed through a fine mesh screen to impart subtle shades of black, gray and even, for older photographs, purple and sepia. The technique also allowed him to enlarge a negative without sacrificing detail. “Fall River Boiler,” a black-and-white image that he photographed in 1978 and printed a decade or so later, is a nocturne of texture and tone: feathery asbestos, gloppy encrustations, circular black holes.

Arthur Lubow. “When a Master Printer Picks Up the Camera,” on The New York Times website December 30, 2021 [Online] Cited 02/01/2022

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Hector Morales's Horse, Don Pedro, San Juan, Puerto Rico' 1977-1982

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Hector Morales’s Horse, Don Pedro, San Juan, Puerto Rico
1977-1982
Platinum/palladium print
Image: 7 5/8 × 9 1/2 inches (19.4 × 24.1cm)
Sheet: 8 × 10 1/8 inches (20.3 × 25.7cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Poplar Street Driftway, Newport, Rhode Island' 1975-1985

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Poplar Street Driftway, Newport, Rhode Island
1975-1985
Gelatin silver print
Image and sheet: 7 1/2 × 9 1/2 inches (19.1 × 24.1cm)
Mount: 18 × 14 inches (45.7 × 35.6cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Agave plant' 1975-1985

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Agave plant
1975-1985
Collection of Barbara Benson

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'New Orleans Tugboat' Mid-1980s (negative); 1985-1995 (print)

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
New Orleans Tugboat
Mid-1980s (negative); 1985-1995 (print)
Offset lithograph
Image: 12 15/16 × 16 1/4 inches (32.9 × 41.3cm)
Sheet: 19 1/16 × 25 inches (48.4 × 63.5cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Puerto Rico Landscape' c. 1980

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Puerto Rico Landscape
c. 1980
Gelatin silver print
Image and sheet: 7 1/2 × 9 1/2 inches
Mount: 18 × 14 inches
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Memphis, TN' 1987

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Memphis, TN
1987
Offset lithograph
Image: 12 7/8 × 16 3/4 inches
Sheet: 16 × 19 3/8 inches
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Scottish Engine, Puerto Rico' c. 1980

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Scottish Engine, Puerto Rico
c. 1980
Gelatin silver print
Image and sheet: 7 1/2 × 9 1/2 inches
Mount: 18 × 14 inches
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Scottish Engine, Puerto Rico' c. 1980

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Scottish Engine, Puerto Rico
c. 1980; 2005-2014 (print)
Gelatin silver print
Image: 13 9/16 × 17 3/16 inches
Sheet: 15 7/16 × 18 7/8 inches
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

 

Steam engines were among Richard Benson’s many enthusiasms. He was particularly excited to come across this one in a field in Puerto Rico, recognising it as a version of the engine invented by Scottish engineer James Watt in 1776. Watt’s engine was one of the key developments of the Industrial Revolution. Benson surmised this example was a relic from one of the sugar plantations that existed on the island in the 1800s.

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'The Beaubourg, Paris, France' 1976

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
The Beaubourg, Paris, France
1976
Platinum/palladium print
Image: 7 1/2 × 9 1/2 inches (19.1 × 24.1cm)
Sheet: 8 1/2 × 11 inches (21.6 × 27.9cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Wildwood, New Jersey' Date unknown

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Wildwood, New Jersey
Date unknown
Offset lithograph
Image: 16 3/8 × 13 1/16 inches
Sheet: 24 15/16 × 19 1/16 inches
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

 

In October, the Philadelphia Museum of Art will present an exhibition dedicated to the late Richard Benson, who is most often celebrated as a virtuoso printer and gifted teacher and is perhaps best known for helping produce some of the most significant photography books of the past fifty years. The World Is Smarter Than You Are is the first in-depth survey of Benson’s own photography. This exhibition includes around 100 works that convey his pathfinding exploration of photographic processes, his embrace of technologies old and new, and his deep empathy for his human subjects and the objects and environments they have built. It celebrates an important promised gift of Benson’s art, assembled by the artist and offered to the museum by his close friends, collectors William H. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane. It is accompanied by a major publication of the same title.

Including prints from the late 1960s until shortly before Benson’s death in 2017, the exhibition traces his quest for the perfect print. This reflects both his abiding interest in improving traditional photo-making methods as well as his gradual embrace of digital photography and experiments in printing that yielded new directions for his artistic craft. It also explores his philosophical musings and writings, teaching materials and work as a printer, underscoring the deep connections between his intellectual, technical, and creative pursuits.

Benson’s interest in photography began with utilising this medium to document examples of fine craftsmanship and technological innovation, ranging from stone carving and antique buildings to machines such as steam engines or contemporary feats of engineering in steel and other modern materials. This breadth of interests can be seen in work from visits he made to France in the 1970s, when he recorded such sites as the Château de Maintenon and the recently completed Centre Pompidou. In another project of the 1970s, Benson photographed grave markers in the Common Burying Ground in his hometown of Newport, Rhode Island. He was the son and brother of celebrated stone carvers, and these pictures reflect his desire to document not only this antique art form, but also his developing ideas about the continual evolution of human technology which, in his thinking, comprised everything from language to microchips.

During this same decade Benson also made sensitive portraits of friends and family members – most notably his wife, Barbara Benson – and views of interiors and townscapes that often stand as indirect portraits of anonymous subjects. Numerous family portraits are presented throughout the exhibition and a concentrated grouping appears in the first galleries.

In the late ’70s and early ’80s, Benson made several trips to Puerto Rico. Included in the exhibition are his records of an antique steam engine he discovered on an old sugar plantation, Scottish Engine, Puerto Rico, c. 1980, and a variety of portraits and landscapes that represent the unique characteristics of the island. Luquillo Woman, Puerto Rico (c. 1980), is representative of the candid pictures he captured during these visits.

Benson embarked on his most ambitious book project in 1981, dedicated to the Gilman Paper Company Collection. It was considered to be one of the most important private photography collections ever assembled and included rare nineteenth-century prints in diverse processes as well as works by noted twentieth-century photographers such as Diane Arbus, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Alfred Stieglitz, among others. Benson’s efforts to make the reproductions in this book by using offset lithography, printing each sheet up to six times in order to achieve specific print tonalities, remain unmatched. Spreads from the book, Photographs from the Collection of the Gilman Paper Company, will be on view in the exhibition. Displayed in cases are other notable books on which he worked including Lay This Laurel (Benson and Lincoln Kirstein); The American Monument (Lee Friedlander); The Face of Lincoln (James Mellon); O, Write My Name (a portfolio of Benson photogravures from Carl Van Vechten photographs); Paul Strand prints of Wall Street and Wild Iris, Maine; and three later Benson books, A Maritime Album, The Printed Picture, and North South East West.

As his reputation as an innovator in printing processes grew, so too did his influence. In 1986, following the success of the Gilman Paper Company Collection project, Benson was awarded both his second Guggenheim Fellowship and a MacArthur Fellowship. Seven years earlier, in 1979, Benson had begun teaching at Yale University, where he would become a professor and later Dean of the Art School. His idiosyncratic teaching style is described by the noted artist An-My Lê, who reflects in her essay: “His lectures were dazzling with information, but we were chided for taking notes. This was in line with this wanting us to think for ourselves and not passively absorb information that was thrown at us. As I have progressed in my work over the years, I have come to realise that one of Richard’s most important lessons was about humility.”

Another section of the exhibition will be devoted to his work in colour photography. Benson had avoided colour photography through much of his career, in part because of the unreliability of colour processes. But with the emergence of digital photography in the 1990s, he embraced working in colour, leading to the creation of an extraordinary body of pictures. Three works known as “photographs in paint” will be shown with two chromogenic prints from the 1990s to demonstrate his shift from offset lithography to inkjet printing. Moving into the early 2000s, Benson would fully deploy colour into his photographic practice. This shift can be seen in the examples of his pictures taken on the road in Georgia (2007), Texas (2008), Ohio (2009), and even Apples for John (2007).

The exhibition is organised by Peter Barberie, the Brodsky Curator of Photographs, Alfred Stieglitz Center, Philadelphia Museum of Art, who also edited the book that accompanies the exhibition. Barberie said: “In the photography world, Benson is highly regarded as a printer and teacher, but never before has there been an in-depth survey to explore his own photographs, which are challenging, difficult, and beautiful representations of everyday life. His free-thinking blend of traditional craftsmanship, cutting-edge technology, and human empathy resulted in a unique and powerful body of work, and I am gratified to bring his important contributions to photography to audiences in Philadelphia and beyond.”

 

Related publication

The first major survey of Benson’s photography, this volume features works from the gift complemented by important prints from other collections and comparative illustrations from several of the photography books Benson helped produce in his career. It includes a critical and historical essay about Benson’s photography by Peter Barberie. Artist An-My Lê has written an essay about her memories of her teacher and friend. Publication date: September 2021 (160 pages; $45.00).

 

About Richard Benson (1943-2017)

Richard Benson spent much of his life in Newport, Rhode Island, where he grew up. His father, John Howard Benson (1901-1956), was a noted stone carver and calligrapher who in 1927 acquired the John Stevens Shop, which had been in operation since 1705. It became under the elder Benson’s direction a nationally celebrated firm for monumental lettering. Known by his nickname “Chip,” Richard occupied a workshop at the back of their house, where he pursued his craft and tinkered with a variety of creative pursuits including antique vehicles.

In 1961 he enrolled at Brown University but left after one semester before serving for three years in the Navy, studying at its Optical Repair School. He also took courses at the Art Students League in New York City. In 1966, after marrying Barbara Murray, he obtained a job at Meriden Gravure, a printing company in Connecticut that would expose him to the highest levels of craft in printing and set the course for his career in books and photography.

Benson became devoted to the technical aspects of printing and reproducing photographs. He made fine prints for other artists, including Paul Strand and Walker Evans and helped produce many of the finest photography books of his generation, including Lee Friedlander’s American Monument (1976); The Work of Atget (4 vols., 1981-84); and Photographs from the Collection of the Gilman Paper Company (1985). During these years, he quietly pursued his own photography, working with a large camera and producing black-and-white prints in various processes.

In 1979 Benson began teaching at Yale University School of Art, where he eventually served as dean from 1996 to 2006. He mentored younger colleagues and a generation of art students, many of whom recall his teaching as a formative experience. The unique quality of his teaching is reflected in his book The Printed Picture (2008), a survey of the entire history of printing as seen in the teaching materials he assembled over forty years. …

In the 1990s Benson embraced digital photography and dove into colour. He experimented with inkjet printing and traveled broadly to make photographs, many of which were published in North South East West (2011), a collection of his pictures from the previous six years.

Benson’s work is represented in the collections of the Eakins Press Foundation, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, and Yale University Art Gallery.

 

About the Promised Gift

In 2015, William H. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane, collectors and close friends of Richard Benson, pledged a promised gift of 180 of Benson’s works to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which fulfilled a commitment they had made to the artist to keep a significant body of his work intact as a single collection. The exhibition and the publication have been six years in the making.

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Manhattan Waterfront Project' c. 1992

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Manhattan Waterfront Project
c. 1992
Chromogenic print
Image: 8 3/8 × 12 5/8 inches (21.3 × 32.1cm)
Sheet: 10 7/8 × 14 inches (27.6 × 35.6cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Manhattan Waterfront Project' c. 1992

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Manhattan Waterfront Project
c. 1992
Chromogenic print
Image: 8 3/8 × 12 5/8 inches (21.2 × 32cm)
Sheet: 10 15/16 × 13 15/16 inches (27.8 × 35.4cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'New Mexico' 2006

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
New Mexico
2006
Pigment print
Image: 13 3/8 × 20 1/16 inches (34 × 51cm)
Sheet: 16 × 21 15/16 inches (40.7 × 55.8cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Newfoundland (Green Boat)' c. 2006

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Newfoundland (Green Boat)
c. 2006
Multiple impression pigment print
Image: 11 9/16 × 17 3/8 inches
Sheet: 12 15/16 × 19 inches
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Collection of Barbara Benson
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Georgia' 2007

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Georgia
2007
Pigment print
Image: 20 × 13 3/8 inches (50.8 × 34cm)
Sheet: 22 × 16 inches (55.9 × 40.6cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

 

“Georgia” (2007), which portrays a vertical array of four signs – two red octagonal stop signs, two circular railroad crossings, in yellow and orange – makes a visual counterpoint to three storage silos in the background that are painted red, blue and yellow-embellished silver. But the most virtuosic turn is the rendition of the sky, which is bleached out to a pale blue-gray at the horizon and gradually darkens to a full-throated cerulean at the top. If, as Willem de Kooning once remarked, flesh was the reason oil paint was created, Benson in his many crepuscular photographs makes the case that twilight skies were the reason color film was invented.

Arthur Lubow. “When a Master Printer Picks Up the Camera,” on The New York Times website December 30, 2021 [Online] Cited 02/01/2022

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Apples for John' 2007

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Apples for John
2007
Pigment print
Image: 13 3/8 × 20 inches
Sheet: 15 7/8 × 22 inches
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Selma, Alabama' 2007

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Selma, Alabama
2007
Pigment print
Image: 11 5/8 × 17 3/8 inches (29.5 × 44.1cm)
Sheet: 13 × 19 inches (33 × 48.3cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Kentucky' 2007

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Kentucky
2007
Pigment print
Image: 11 5/8 × 17 3/8 inches (29.5 × 44.2cm)
Sheet: 12 15/16 × 19 inches (32.8 × 48.2cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Okeechobee, Florida' 2007

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Okeechobee, Florida
2007
Pigment print
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Wyoming (Reinke Sprinkler)' 2008

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Wyoming (Reinke Sprinkler)
2008
Multiple impression pigment print
Image: 13 3/8 × 20 1/8 inches
Sheet: 16 1/8 × 22 inches
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Collection of Barbara Benson
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Untitled (Cotton Farm)' 2008

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Untitled (Cotton Farm)
2008
Pigment print
Image: 13 3/8 × 20 inches (34 × 50.8cm)
Sheet: 14 15/16 × 21 15/16 inches (38 × 55.8cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Louisiana' 2008

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Louisiana
2008
Pigment print
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Texas' 2008

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Texas
2008
Pigment print
Image: 13 3/8 × 20 inches
Sheet: 15 9/16 × 22 inches
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Arizona' 2008

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Arizona
2008
Pigment print
Image: 13 3/8 × 20 inches (34 × 50.8cm)
Sheet: 14 15/16 × 21 15/16 inches (38 × 55.8cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Ohio' 2009

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Ohio
2009
Pigment print
Image: 13 3/8 × 20 inches (34 × 50.8cm)
Sheet: 16 × 22 inches (40.6 × 55.9cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Untitled (Celeryville field)' 2009 (negative); 2009 (print)

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Untitled (Celeryville field)
2009 (negative); 2009 (print)
Pigment print
Image: 13 3/8 × 20 inches (34 × 50.8cm)
Sheet: 14 15/16 × 21 15/16 inches (38 × 55.8cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

 

Publication

A wide-ranging retrospective that reveals a master printer’s own photographs to be technically brilliant work of remarkable breadth and complexity.

This book presents the first in-depth survey of photographs by Richard Benson (1943-2017), who approached photography as a thrilling set of technical challenges and used the medium to craft profound depictions of people, the spaces of their lives and work, and the products of their labor. An essay by curator Peter Barberie interweaves examination of Benson’s photographic practices with the story of his ideas, writing, and reproductive printing, while photographer An-My Lê, Benson’s former student, offers her perspective on his teaching, family life, and art. The book begins with his stunning darkroom prints in silver and platinum and follows his trajectory toward extraordinary digital photography, culminating in later colour prints that are at once elegant and garish, representing the contemporary world in vivid detail. Benson’s democratic eye also extended to human subjects: he photographed loved ones and strangers with extraordinary attention, and directed the same gaze to the buildings and landscapes entwined with individual lives.

  • Author: Peter Barberie
  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Philadelphia Museum of Art, October 2021
  • 152 pages, 11 3/4 x 9 3/4
  • 134 color illustrations
  • ISBN: 9780876332016

 

Richard Benson: The World Is Smarter Than You Are

Richard Benson: The World Is Smarter Than You Are

Richard Benson: The World Is Smarter Than You Are

Richard Benson: The World Is Smarter Than You Are

Richard Benson: The World Is Smarter Than You Are

Richard Benson: The World Is Smarter Than You Are

Richard Benson: The World Is Smarter Than You Are

Richard Benson: The World Is Smarter Than You Are

 

Richard Benson: The World Is Smarter Than You Are publication

 

 

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17
Jan
14

Exhibition: ‘Tell It with Pride: The 54th Massachusetts Regiment and Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Shaw Memorial’ at the National Gallery of Art, Washington

Exhibition dates: 15th September 2013 – 20th January 2014

 

William Earle Williams. 'Folly Beach, South Carolina, 1999' 1999

 

William Earle Williams (American, b. 1950)
Folly Beach, South Carolina, 1999
1999
Gelatin silver print
Image: 19.05 x 19.05 cm (7 1/2 x 7 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Mary and Dan Solomon Fund

 

 

This photograph is part of William Earle Williams’ series Unsung Heroes: African American Soldiers in the Civil War, depicting locations where black troops served, fought, and died.

 

 

“A man’s face as a rule says more, and more interesting things, than his mouth, for it is a compendium of everything his mouth will ever say, in that it is the monogram of all this man’s thoughts and aspirations.”

.
Arthur Schopenhauer

 

 

Now this is portrait photography, and all done with relatively long exposures. By god did they know how to take a photograph that has some presence, some frame of mind that evidences a distinct point of view. I had the best fun assembling this posting, even though it took me many hours to do so. The details are exquisite – the hands clasped on the lap, the hands holding the pipe and, best of all, the arched hand with the fingers gently touching the patterned fabric – such as you don’t observe today. The research to find out as much as I could about these people was both fascinating and tragic: “Abraham Brown accidentally killed himself while cleaning his gun on July 11, 1863.”

It is interesting to see the images without an over-mat so that you can observe the backdrop and props in the photographers studio, captured on the whole plate. The narrative external to the matted image, outside the frame. But this view of the image gives a spurious reading of the structure and tension points of the photograph. Any photographer worth his salt previsualises the image and these photographers would have been no different. They would have known their studio, their backdrops and props, and would have known which over-mat they were going to place the finished image in (chosen by themselves or the client). Look at any of the images I have over-matted in white and see how the images come alive in terms of their tension points and structure. How the body takes on a more central feature of the image. How props such as the American flag in Private Abraham F. Brown (1863, below) form a balancing triangle to the figure using the flag, the chair and the trunk as anchor points. This is how these images were intended to be seen and it is this form that gives them the most presence and power.

While it is intriguing to see what lies beyond the over-mat this continuum should not be the centre of our attention for it is the histories, subjectivities and struggles of these brave men that should be front and centre, just as they appear within this cartouche of their life.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

PS. I have just noticed that the Ambrotype by an unknown photographer Unidentified Private, Company I, 54th Massachusetts Regiment (1863, below) and the Albumen print by an unknown photographer Private James Matthew Townsend (1863, below) are taken in the same studio – notice the table and fabric and the curtain at right hand side. They were probably taken at the same sitting when both men were present. One obviously chose an Ambrotype and the other an Albumen print, probably because of cost?

.
Many thankx to the National Gallery of Art, Washington for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. For an in depth look at the Battle of Fort Wagner see the National Park Service Civil War Series On the March to Fort Wagner web page.

 

 

 

IVES – Three Places in New England from Jon Frank.

Work commissioned by Aurora Orchestra, combining video projection with live orchestra performance of Charles Ives Three Places in New England. Concert premiered in London, July 7th, 2013. The first movement was written about the Shaw memorial and features in the film.

Many thankx to Jon Frank who shot the moving pictures to be projected behind the orchestras live performance for emailing me about the video.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Unidentified Private, Company I, 54th Massachusetts Regiment' (detail) 1863

 

Unknown photographer. 'Unidentified Private, Company I, 54th Massachusetts Regiment' (detail) 1863

 

Unknown photographer
Unidentified Private, Company I, 54th Massachusetts Regiment (details)
1863
Ambrotype
Overall: 11.2 x 8.6cm (4 7/16 x 3 3/8 in.)
Image: 8.7 x 6.4cm (3 7/16 x 2 1/2 in.)
The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

 

Unknown photographer. 'Private Abraham F. Brown' 1863

 

Unknown photographer
Private Abraham F. Brown
1863
Tintype
Mat: 17.8 x 12.7cm (7 x 5 in.)
Image: 8 x 7cm (3 1/8 x 2 3/4 in.)
Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society

 

 

This photograph depicts Private Abraham F. Brown, a member of Company E, part of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, the first black regiment raised in the North during the Civil War.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Private Abraham F. Brown' (with overmat) 1863

 

Unknown photographer
Private Abraham F. Brown (with over-mat)
1863
Tintype

 

Unknown photographer. 'Private Abraham F. Brown' (inverted with overmat to show background extraneous to portrait) 1863

 

Unknown photographer
Private Abraham F. Brown (inverted with over-mat to show background extraneous to portrait)
1863
Tintype

 

Unknown photographer. 'Private Abraham F. Brown' (inverted with overmat to show background extraneous to portrait - detail of writing on wheel) 1863

 

Unknown photographer
Private Abraham F. Brown (inverted with overmat to show background extraneous to portrait – detail of writing on wheel)
1863
Tintype

 

Unknown photographer. 'Private Abraham F. Brown' 1863

 

Unknown photographer
Private Abraham F. Brown
1863
Tintype
Mat: 17.8 x 12.7cm (7 x 5 in.)
Image: 8 x 6.5cm (3 1/8 x 2 9/16 in.)
Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society

 

 

Private Abraham F. Brown probably had his portrait made shortly after the 54th arrived in SC in June 1863. A sailor born in Toronto, Canada, Abraham Brown accidentally killed himself while cleaning his gun on July 11, 1863, on James Island, northwest of Fort Wagner.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Private Abraham F. Brown' (with overmat) 1863

 

Unknown photographer
Private Abraham F. Brown (with over-mat)
1863
Tintype

 

Unknown photographer. 'Private Richard Gomar' c. 1880

 

Unknown photographer
Private Richard Gomar
c. 1880
Tintype
Mat: 17.8 x 12.7cm (7 x 5 in.)
Image: 8.5 x 6cm (3 3/8 x 2 3/8 in.)
Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society

 

 

Richard Gomar enlisted in Company H on 17 April 1863 at the age of seventeen and was mustered in on 13 May. He was a labourer from Battle Creek, Michigan. He was mustered out after the regiment’s return to Boston on 20 August 1865. He received a state bounty of $50, and his last known address was Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Portrayed here in a half-length study, Gomar is in civilian clothes and on his waistcoat is wearing a membership badge of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union veterans’ organisation. This version of the badge was adopted in 1880. According to regulation, Gomar wears the badge on the left breast of his waistcoat, but the tintype process has reversed the image.

 

H. C. Foster (?) 'Private John Gooseberry, musician' 1864

 

H. C. Foster (?)
Private John Gooseberry, musician
1864
Tintype
Mat: 17.8 x 12.7cm (7 x 5 in.)
Image: 10 x 6.8cm (3 15/16 x 2 2/3 in.)
Plate: 10.7 x 8.1cm (4 3/16 x 3 3/16 in.)
Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society

 

 

One of the twenty-one Black recruits from Canada, twenty-five-pear-old Goosberry, a sailor of St. Catharines, Ontario, was mustered into Company E on July 16, 1863, just two days before the fateful assault on Fort Wagner. He was mustered out of service on August 20, 1865, at the disbanding of the regiment. Born in New Orleans, he survived the war but died destitute at about age 38.

Goosberry appears in this full-length photograph wearing his uniform as a company musician, holding a fife and standing before a plain backdrop. The buttons and buckle of the uniform have been hand coloured, and there is an impression remaining on the tintype from an earlier oval frame.

 

H. C. Foster (?) 'Private John Gooseberry, musician' (detail) 1864

 

H. C. Foster (?)
Private John Gooseberry, musician (detail)
1864
Tintype

 

H. C. Foster (?) 'Private Alexander H. Johnson, musician' 1864

 

H. C. Foster (?)
Private Alexander H. Johnson, musician
1864
Tintype
Mat: 17.8 x 12.7cm (7 x 5 in.)
Image: 8 x 6.5cm (3 1/8 x 2 9/16 in.)
Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society

 

 

Johnson served as a musician in  Co. C. of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Colonel Shaw referred to Private Alexander Johnson, a 16-year-old recruit from New Bedford, Massachusetts, as the “original drummer boy.” He was with Shaw when the colonel died at Fort Wagner and carried important messages to other officers during the battle.

Alexander H. Johnson enlisted at the age of 16 as a drummer boy in the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. He was the first black musician to enlist during the Civil War, and is depicted as the drummer leading the column of troops on the memorial honouring Colonel Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts in front of the Massachusetts state house in Boston. Alex was adopted by William Henry Johnson, the second black lawyer in the United States and close associate of Frederick Douglass. Johnson’s original surname was Howard and his mother was a Perry. His grandfather was Peter Perry, a native Hawaiian whaler who married an Indian woman.

After the war, Alex Johnson was a member of both the Grand Army of the Republic General George H. Ward Post #10 and of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War in Worcester, Massachusetts. He is frequently mentioned in the book We All Got History by Nick Salvatore. Alexander Johnson died 19 March 1930, at the age of 82, just a few weeks after the 67th anniversary of his enlistment in the 54th.

Text from the Battle of Olustee website [Online] Cited 23/01/2021

 

H. C. Foster (?) 'Private Alexander H. Johnson, musician' (detail) 1864

 

H. C. Foster (?)
Private Alexander H. Johnson, musician (detail)
1864
Tintype

 

Unknown photographer. 'Private William J. Netson, musician' c. 1863-1864

 

Unknown photographer
Private William J. Netson, musician
c. 1863-1864
Tintype
Mat: 17.8 x 12.7cm (7 x 5 in.)
Image: 8.5 x 6.5cm (3 3/8 x 2 9/16 in.)
Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society

 

 

Netson served as a Musician, in  Co. E, of the 54th Massachuetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Private William J. Netson, musician' (with overmat) c. 1863-1864

 

Unknown photographer
Private William J. Netson, musician (with over-mat)
c. 1863-1864
Tintype

 

Unknown photographer. 'Private Charles A. Smith' c. 1880

 

Unknown photographer
Private Charles A. Smith
c. 1880
Tintype
Overall: 8.7 x 6.2cm (3 7/16 x 2 7/16 in.)
Image: 8.7 x 6cm (3 7/16 x 2 3/8 in.)
Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society

 

 

Smith served as a  Private in Co. C. of the 54th Massachuetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Sergeant Henry F. Steward' 1863

 

Unknown photographer
Sergeant Henry F. Steward
1863
Ambrotype
Mat: 17.8 x 12.7cm (7 x 5 in.)
Image: 10.5 x 8cm (4 1/8 x 3 1/8 in.)
Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society

 

 

A twenty-three year old farmer from Adrian, Michigan, Henry Steward enlisted on 4 April 1863 and was mustered in on April 23. As a non-commissioned officer, as were all Black officers, Steward was actively engaged in the recruiting of soldiers for the regiment. He died of disease at the regimental hospital on Morris Island, South Carolina, on 27 September 1863, and his estate was paid a $50 state bounty. Standing at attention with his sword drawn in this full-length study, Steward is posed in front of a plain backdrop, but a portable column has been wheeled in to add detail on the left. Hand-coloured trousers and buttons highlight the uniform in this Ambrotype of Sergeant Steward.

Beginning in March 1863, African American recruits streamed into Camp Meigs on the outskirts of Boston, eager to enlist in the 54th. By May, the regiment numbered more than 1,000 soldiers. Most were freemen working as farmers or labourers; some were runaway slaves. Many of the new enlistees, proud of their professions and uniforms, had photographs of themselves taken. Their pictures recall Frederick Douglass’ 1863 speech before an audience of potential recruits: “Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters, U.S.; let him get an eagle on his button and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, and there is no power on the earth or under the earth which can deny that he has earned the right of citizenship in the United States.”

Henry F. Steward, shown here, actively recruited for the 54th in Michigan. He had been promoted to sergeant soon after he arrived at Camp Meigs and probably had this portrait made shortly after he received his rifle and uniform. Proud of his new career, Stewart paid an extra fee to have the photographer tint his cap, sword, breastplate, and pants with paint to highlight their importance. Steward survived the Battle of Fort Wagner but died just over two months later, most likely of dysentery.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Sergeant Henry F. Steward' (with overmat) 1863

 

Unknown photographer
Sergeant Henry F. Steward (with over-mat)
1863
Ambrotype

 

 

Continuing its year-long celebration of African American history, art, music, and culture, the National Gallery of Art announces a major exhibition honouring one of the first regiments of African Americans formed during the Civil War. Tell It with Pride: The 54th Massachusetts Regiment and Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Shaw Memorial will be on view in the American galleries on the West Building’s Main Floor from September 15, 2013, through January 20, 2014. The 54th Massachusetts fought in the Battle of Fort Wagner, South Carolina, on July 18, 1863, an event that has been documented and retold in many forms, including the popular movie Glory, released in 1989.

“Then, as today, the soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment captured the imagination: they were common men propelled by deep moral principles, willing to sacrifice everything for a nation that had taken much from them but now promised liberty,” said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. “This exhibition celebrates the brave members of the 54th, Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Shaw Memorial commemorating their heroism, and the works of art they and the monument continue to inspire.”

The magisterial Shaw Memorial (1900) by Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907), on long-term loan to the Gallery from the U.S. Department of the Interior, the National Park Service, and the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, is considered by many to be one of the finest examples of 19th-century American sculpture. This monument commemorates the July 18, 1863, storming of Fort Wagner by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts, a troop of African American soldiers led by white officers that was formed immediately after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Although one-third of the regiment was killed or wounded in the assault, including Shaw himself, the fierce battle was considered by many to be a turning point in the war: it proved that African Americans could be exemplary soldiers, with a bravery and dedication to country that equaled the nation’s most celebrated heroes.

Part of the exhibition’s title, “Tell It with Pride,” is taken from an anonymous letter written to the Shaw family announcing the death of Robert Gould Shaw. The letter is included in the exhibition and the catalogue accompanying the show.

When Saint-Gaudens created the figures in the memorial, he based his depiction of Shaw on photographs of the colonel, but he hired African American models, not members of the 54th Massachusetts, to pose for the other soldiers. This exhibition seeks to make real the anonymous African American soldiers of the 54th, giving them names and faces where possible. The first section of the exhibition shows vintage photographic portraits of the soldiers, the people who recruited them – including the noted abolitionists Frederick Douglass, Wendell Phillips, Charles Lenox Remond, and Sojourner Truth – and the women who nursed, taught, and guided them, such as Clara Barton, Charlotte Forten, and Harriet Tubman. In addition, the exhibition presents a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, a recruiting poster, a letter written by a soldier, Corporal James Henry Gooding, to President Lincoln arguing for equal pay, and the Medal of Honor awarded to the first African American to earn this distinction, Sergeant William H. Carney, as well as other documents related to both the 54th Massachusetts and the Battle of Fort Wagner. Together, these works of art and documents detail critical events in American history and highlight both the sacrifices and the valour of the individual soldiers.

The second half of the exhibition looks at the continuing legacy of the 54th Massachusetts, the Battle of Fort Wagner, and the Shaw Memorial. By presenting some of the plaster heads Saint-Gaudens made in preparation for his work on the Shaw Memorial, the exhibition discusses its development from 1883, when Saint Gaudens’ concept began to take shape, through the installation of the bronze monument on Boston Common in 1897, to the artist’s final re-working in the late 1890s of the original plaster now on view at the National Gallery of Art.  The exhibition concludes by showing how the Shaw Memorial remains a deeply compelling work that continues to inspire artists as diverse as Lewis Hine, Richard Benson, Carrie Mae Weems, and William Earle Williams, who have reflected on these people, the event, and the monument itself in their own art.”

For over a century, the 54th Massachusetts, its famous battle at Fort Wagner, and the Shaw Memorial have remained compelling subjects for artists. Poets such as Paul Laurence Dunbar and Robert Lowell praised the bravery of these soldiers, as did composer Charles Ives. Artists as diverse as Lewis Hine, Richard Benson, Carrie Mae Weems, and William Earle Williams have highlighted the importance of the 54th as a symbol of racial pride, personal sacrifice, and national resilience. These artists’ works illuminate the enduring legacy of the 54th Massachusetts in the American imagination and serve as a reminder, as Ralph Ellison wrote in an introduction to Invisible Man, “that war could, with art, be transformed into something deeper and more meaningful than its surface violence.

Press release from the National Gallery of Art website

 

Unknown photographer. 'Private Charles H. Arnum' 1864

 

Unknown photographer
Private Charles H. Arnum
1864
Tintype
Mat: 17.8 x 12.7cm (7 x 5 in.)
Image: 10 x 6.5cm (3 15/16 x 2 9/16 in.)
Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society

 

 

Listed as a teamster and a resident of Springfield, Massachusetts, the twenty-one year old Arnum enlisted at Littleton and was mustered in as a private into Company E on November 4, 1863. He served with the regiment until it was disbanded on August 20, 1865. He received $325 as a state bounty, and his last known address was North Adams, Massachusetts. This full-length study of Arnum shows him in uniform with his hand resting upon the American flag, which is draped over a table in the foreground. Behind him is a painted backdrop representing a seashore military camp.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Second Lieutenant Ezekiel G. Tomlinson, Captain Luis F. Emilio, and Second Lieutenant Daniel Spear' October 12, 1863

 

Unknown photographer
Second Lieutenant Ezekiel G. Tomlinson, Captain Luis F. Emilio, and Second Lieutenant Daniel Spear
October 12, 1863
Tintype
Overall: 8.6 x 6.5cm (3 3/8 x 2 9/16 in.)
Image: 8.3 x 6.2cm (3 1/4 x 2 7/16 in.)
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

 

John Adams Whipple. 'Colonel Robert Gould Shaw' 1863

 

John Adams Whipple
Colonel Robert Gould Shaw
1863
Albumen print
Image: 8.4 x 5.8cm (3 5/16 x 2 5/16 in.)
Boston Athenaeum

 

 

Death at the Battle of Fort Wagner

The 54th Regiment was sent to Charleston, South Carolina to take part in the operations against the Confederates stationed there. On July 18, 1863, along with two brigades of white troops, the 54th assaulted Confederate Battery Wagner. As the unit hesitated in the face of fierce Confederate fire, Shaw led his men into battle by shouting, “Forward, Fifty-Fourth, forward!” He mounted a parapet and urged his men forward, but was shot through the heart and died almost instantly. According to the Colors Sergeant of the 54th, he was shot and killed while trying to lead the unit forward and fell on the outside of the fort.

The victorious Confederates buried him in a mass grave with many of his men, an act they intended as an insult. Following the battle, commanding Confederate General Johnson Hagood returned the bodies of the other Union officers who had died, but left Shaw’s where it was. Hagood informed a captured Union surgeon that “had he been in command of white troops, I should have given him an honourable burial; as it is, I shall bury him in the common trench with the niggers that fell with him.” Although the gesture was intended as an insult, it came to be seen as an honour by Shaw’s friends and family that he was buried with his soldiers.

Efforts were made to recover Shaw’s body (which had been stripped and robbed prior to burial), but his father publicly proclaimed that he was proud to know that his son was interred with his troops, befitting his role as a soldier and a crusader for emancipation. In a letter to the regimental surgeon, Lincoln Stone, Frank Shaw wrote:

“We would not have his body removed from where it lies surrounded by his brave and devoted soldiers… We can imagine no holier place than that in which he lies, among his brave and devoted followers, nor wish for him better company – what a body-guard he has!”

.
Annie Haggerty Shaw, a widow at the age of 28, never remarried. She lived with her family in New York, Lenox and abroad, a revered figure and in later years an invalid. She died in 1907 and is buried at the cemetery of Church-on-the Hill in Lenox.

Text from Wikipedia

 

John Adams Whipple (September 10, 1822 – April 10, 1891) was an American inventor and early photographer. He was the first in the United States to manufacture the chemicals used for daguerreotypes; he pioneered astronomical and night photography; he was a prize-winner for his extraordinary early photographs of the moon; and he was the first to produce images of stars other than the sun (the star Vega and the Mizar-Alcor stellar sextuple system), which was thought to be a double star until 2009.

Text from Wikipedia

 

Unknown photographer. 'Captain Luis F. Emilio' c. 1863-1865

 

Unknown photographer
Captain Luis F. Emilio
c. 1863-1865
Tintype
Overall: 12.7 x 7.62cm (5 x 3 in.)
Image: 6.6 x 5.33cm (2 5/8 x 2 1/8 in.)
Pamplin Historical Park and The National Museum of the Civil War Soldier

 

 

Luis F. Emilio (December 22, 1844 – September 16, 1918) was a Captain in the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, an American Civil War Union regiment. Emilio was born on December 22, 1844 in Salem, Massachusetts, the son of a Spanish immigrant who made his living as a music instructor. Although the minimum age for service in the Union army was 18, in 1861 – at age 16 – Emilio gave his age as 18 and enlisted in Company F of the 23rd Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. He was noticeably brave and steadfast, and by September, 1862 he had been promoted to the rank of Sergeant.

Emilio was among the group of original officers of the 54th selected by Massachusetts War Governor John Albion Andrew. He mustered in as a 2nd Lieutenant on March 30, 1863. Two weeks later, he was promoted to 1st Lieutenant, and on May 27, he was made Captain of Company E. Captain Emilio emerged from the ferocious assault on Fort Wagner on July 18, 1863 as the regiment’s acting commander, since all of the other ranking officers had been killed or wounded. He fought with the 54th for over three years of dangerous combat, mustering out of the Union army on March 29, 1865, still not yet 21 years old.

Following the war, he went into the real estate business, first in San Francisco, and later in New York. After assisting two old comrades documenting the history of the 23rd Massachusetts regiment in the mid-1880s, he began work on his own documentation of the 54th, publishing the first edition of Brave Black Regiment in 1891, and the revised edition in 1894. He died in New York on September 16, 1918 after a long illness, and was buried in the Harmony Grove Cemetery in Salem, Massachusetts.

Text from Wikipedia

 

Unknown photographer. 'Unidentified Private, Company I, 54th Massachusetts Regiment' 1863

 

Unknown photographer
Unidentified Private, Company I, 54th Massachusetts Regiment
1863
Ambrotype
Overall: 11.2 x 8.6cm (4 7/16 x 3 3/8 in.)
Image: 8.7 x 6.4cm (3 7/16 x 2 1/2 in.)
The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

 

Major J. W. Appleton. 'Diary of Major J. W. Appleton open to tintype of Private Samuel J. Benton' c. 1865-1885

 

Major J. W. Appleton
Diary of Major J. W. Appleton open to tintype of Private Samuel J. Benton
c. 1865-1885
Handwritten journal with clippings, drawings, and photographic prints
Page size: 35.56 x 20.96 cm (14 x 8 1/4 in.)
Image: 6.5 x 5.2cm (2 9/16 x 2 1/16 in.)
West Virginia University Libraries, West Virginia and Regional History Collection

 

Unknown photographer. 'Sergeant Major John Wilson' June 3, 1864

 

Unknown photographer
Sergeant Major John Wilson
June 3, 1864
Albumen print
Image: 9.1 x 5.8cm (3 9/16 x 2 5/16 in.)
West Virginia University Libraries, West Virginia and Regional History Collection

 

 

John Wilson, a painter from Cincinnati, Ohio, had this portrait made a month after he was promoted to sergeant major in May 1864. One of only five African American non-commissioned officers in the regiment at the time, Wilson proudly displayed his stripes and cap with its horn and the number “54.”

 

Unknown photographer. 'Private James Matthew Townsend' 1863

 

Unknown photographer
Private James Matthew Townsend
1863
Albumen print
Image: 8.6 x 5.8cm (3 3/8 x 2 5/16 in.)
Collection of Greg French

 

Abraham Bogardus. 'Major Martin Robison Delany' c. 1865

 

Abraham Bogardus
Major Martin Robison Delany
c. 1865
Albumen print
Image: 8.6 x 5.3cm (3 3/8 x 2 1/16 in.)
Courtesy of the National Park Service, Gettysburg National Military Park

 

 

Martin Robison Delany (May 6, 1812 – January 24, 1885) was an African-American abolitionist, journalist, physician, and writer, arguably the first proponent of American black nationalism. He was one of the first three blacks admitted to Harvard Medical School. Trained as an assistant and a physician, he treated patients during the cholera epidemics of 1833 and 1854 in Pittsburgh, when many doctors and residents fled the city. Active in recruiting blacks for the United States Colored Troops, he was commissioned as a major, the first African-American field officer in the United States Army during the American Civil War.

Text from Wikipedia

 

Abraham Bogardus (November 29, 1822 – March 22, 1908) was an American Daguerreotypist and photographer who made some 200,000 daguerreotypes during his career.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Captain Norwood P. Hallowell' c. 1862-1863

 

Unknown photographer
Captain Norwood P. Hallowell
c. 1862-1863
Albumen print
Overall: 10.16 x 6.35cm (4 x 2 1/2 in.)
Image: 8.8 x 5.9cm (3 7/16 x 2 5/16 in.)
Pamplin Historical Park and The National Museum of the Civil War Soldier
Courtesy of Pamplin Historical Park & The National Museum of the Civil War Soldier

 

 

Norwood Penrose “Pen” Hallowell (April 13, 1839 – April 11, 1914) was an officer in the Union Army during the American Civil War. One of three brothers to serve with distinction during the war, he and his brother Edward Needles Hallowell both became commanders of the first all-black regiments. He is also remembered for his close friendship with and influence upon future Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who was his classmate at Harvard and his comrade during the war.

Hallowell’s fervent abolitionism led him to volunteer for service in the Civil War, and he inspired Holmes to do the same. He was commissioned a first lieutenant on July 10, 1861, joining the 20th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry with his brother, Edward, and Holmes. Hallowell fought in the Battle of Ball’s Bluff on October 21, 1861, in which he distinguished himself by leading a line of skirmishers to hold off Confederate forces. Hallowell then swam across the Potomac River, constructed a makeshift raft, and made several trips to the Virginia bank to rescue trapped Union soldiers before his raft fell apart. Hallowell was promoted to captain on November 26, 1861. He was wounded in the Battle of Glendale on June 30, 1862, and suffered more severe wounds in the Battle of Antietam on September 17. His left arm was shattered by a bullet but later saved by a surgeon; Holmes was shot in the neck. Both took refuge in a farmhouse (a historic site now known as the Royer-Nicodemus House and Farm) and were eventually evacuated.

On April 17, 1863, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel, as second-in-command (after Colonel Robert Gould Shaw) of the 54th Massachusetts, one of the first all-black regiments in the U.S. On May 30, he accepted Governor John A. Andrew’s personal request that he be made colonel in command of the 55th Massachusetts, another all-black regiment. He and his regiment were stationed at Charleston Harbor and participated in the siege and eventual taking of Fort Wagner; Hallowell was one of the first to enter the fort after its abandonment. Hallowell faced continuing disability due to his wounds, and was discharged on November 2, 1863.

Text from Wikipedia

 

J. E. Farwell and Co. 'To Colored Men. 54th Regiment! Massachusetts Volunteers, of African Descent' 1863

 

J. E. Farwell and Co.
To Colored Men. 54th Regiment! Massachusetts Volunteers, of African Descent
1863
Ink on paper
Overall: 109.9 x 75.2cm (43 1/4 x 29 5/8 in.)
Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society

 

 

The Massachusetts 54th Regiment was the first military unit consisting of black soldiers to be raised in the North during the Civil War. Prior to 1863, no concerted effort was made to recruit black troops as Union soldiers. At the beginning of the war, black men offered to serve as soldiers for the Union cause, however these offers were rejected by the military establishment and the country as a whole. A few makeshift regiments were raised – including the First South Carolina Regiment with whom the 54th Regiment would serve at Fort Wagner – however most were raised in the South and consisted primarily of escaped and abandoned slaves. (Footnote 1) The passage of the Emancipation Proclamation in December of 1862 provided the impetus for the use of free black men as soldiers and, at a time when state governors were responsible for the raising of regiments for federal service, Massachusetts was the first to respond with the formation of the 54th Regiment. (Footnote 2)

Soon after Governor John A. Andrew was allowed to begin recruiting black men for his newly formed 54th Regiment, Andrew realised the financial costs involved in such an undertaking and set out to raise money. He appointed George L. Stearns as the leader of the recruiting process, and also appointed the so-called “Black Committee” of prominent and influential citizens. The committee and those providing encouragement included Frederick Douglass, Amos A. Lawrence, William Lloyd Garrison, and Wendell Phillips, and $5000 was quickly raised for the cause. Newly appointed officers in the regiment also played an active part in the recruiting process. (Footnote 3)

An advertisement was placed in the Boston Journal for February 16, 1863 addressed “To Colored Men” recruiting “Good men of African descent.” It, like the recruiting posters, offered a “$100 bounty at the expiration of the term of service, pay $13 per month, and State aid for families”; it was signed by Lieutenant William J. Appleton of the 54th. (Footnote 4) Twenty-five men enlisted quickly, however the arrival of men at the recruiting stations and at Camp Meigs, Readville, soon slowed down. Stearns soon became aware that Massachusetts did not have enough eligible black men to fill a regiment and recruiters were sent to states throughout the North and South, and into Canada.

Pennsylvania proved to he a fertile source for recruits, with a major part of Company B coming from Philadelphia, despite recent race riots there. New Bedford and Springfield, Massachusetts, blacks made up the majority of Company C, while approximately seventy men recruited from western Massachusetts and Connecticut formed much of Company D. (Footnote 5) Stearns’s line of recruiting stations from Buffalo to St. Louis produced volunteers from New York, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Canada. Few of the men were former slaves; most were freemen working as seamen, farmers, labourers, or carpenters. By May 1863, the regiment was full with 1000 enlisted men and a full complement of white officers. The remaining recruits became the nucleus of the 55th Massachusetts Regiment, commanded by Norwood P. Hallowell, who, for a short time, had served as second-in-command to Robert Gould Shaw of the 54th.  (Footnote 6)

The question of pay to the volunteers became an important issue, even before the regiment’s departure from Boston on May 18. When Governor Andrew first proposed the idea to Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War, Andrew was assured that the men would be paid, clothed, and treated in the same way as white troops. As the recruiting posters and newspaper advertisements stated, this included a state bounty and a monthly pay of $13. In July of 1863, an order was issued in Washington fixing the compensation of black soldiers at the labourers’ rate of $10 per month. This amount was offered on several occasions to the men of the 54th, but was continually refused. Governor Andrew and the Massachusetts legislature, feeling responsible for the $3 discrepancy in pay promised to the troops, passed an act in November of 1863 providing the difference from state funds. The men refused to accept this resolution, however, demanding that they receive full soldier pay from the federal government. It was not until September of 1864 that the men of the 54th received any compensation for their valiant efforts, finally receiving their full pay since the time of enlistment, totalling $170,000. (Footnote 7) Each soldier was paid a $50 bounty before leaving Camp Meigs and this is the extent of the bounty that many received. By a later law, $325 was paid to some men, however most families received no State aid. (Footnote 8)

Although the Massachusetts 54th Regiment was the first to enlist black men as soldiers in the North, it was only the beginning for blacks as Union soldiers. By the end of the war, a total of 167 units, including other state regiments and the United States Colored Troops, were raised, totalling 186,097 men of African descent recruited into federal service. (Footnote 9)

Text from the project Witness to America’s Past on the Massachusetts Historical Society Collections Online website

 

Footnotes

  1. Burchard, Peter. One Gallant Rush: Robert Gould Shaw and His Brave Black Regiment. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1965, p. xi.
  2. Hargrove, Hondon B. Black Union Soldiers in the Civil War. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1988, p. xi.
  3. Ibid., pp. 77-78.
  4. Emilio, Luis F. History of the fifty-fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1863-1865. 2nd ed. Boston Boston Book Co., 1894, pp. 8-9.
  5. Ibid., pp. 9-10.
  6. Burchard, Peter. One Gallant Rush: Robert Gould Shaw and His Brave Black Regiment. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1965, pp. 83-90.
  7. Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines in the Civil War.. 8 vols. Norwood, Mass.: Printed at The Norwood Press, 4:657.
  8. Emilio, Luis F. History of the fifty-fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1863-1865. 2d ed. Boston Boston Book Co., pp. 327-328.
  9. Hargrove, Hondon B. Black Union Soldiers in the Civil War. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1988, p. 2.

 

Augustus Saint-Gaudens. 'Shaw Memorial' 1900

 

Augustus Saint-Gaudens (American, 1848-1907)
Shaw Memorial
1900
Patinated plaster
Overall (without armature or pedestal): 368.9 x 524.5 x 86.4cm (145 1/4 x 206 1/2 x 34 in.)
Overall (with armature & pedestal): 419.1 x 524.5 x 109.2cm (165 x 206 1/2 x 43 in.)
U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, Cornish, New Hampshire, on long-term loan to the National Gallery of Art

 

 

Even before the war’s end in April 1865, the courage and sacrifice that the 54th Massachusetts demonstrated at Fort Wagner inspired artists to commemorate their bravery. Two artists working in Boston, Edward Bannister and Edmonia Lewis, were among the first to pay homage to the 54th in works they contributed to a fair that benefited African American soldiers. Yet it was not until the late 19th century that Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Shaw Memorial solidified the 54th as an icon of the Civil War in the American consciousness.

Commissioned by a group of private citizens, Saint-Gaudens first conceived the memorial as a single equestrian statue of Colonel Shaw, following a long tradition of military monuments. Shaw’s family, however, uncomfortable with the portrayal of their 25-year-old son in a fashion typically reserved for generals, urged Saint-Gaudens to rework his design. The sculptor revised his sketch to honour both the regiment’s famed hero and the soldiers he commanded – a revolutionary conception at the time. Saint-Gaudens worked on his memorial for 14 years, producing a plaster and a bronze version.

When the bronze was dedicated on Boston Common on Memorial Day 1897, Booker T. Washington declared that the monument stood “for effort, not victory complete.” After inaugurating the Boston memorial, Saint-Gaudens continued to modify the plaster, reworking the horse, the faces of the soldiers, and the appearance of the angel above them. The success of his final plaster earned the artist the grand prize for sculpture when it was shown at the 1900 Universal Exposition in Paris. It was installed at the National Gallery of Art in 1997, on long-term loan from the U.S. Department of the Interior, the National Park Service, and the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, New Hampshire.

“Tell It with Pride: The 54th Massachusetts Regiment and Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Shaw Memorial” from the National Gallery of Art website [Online] Cited 23/01/2021

 

Richard Benson. 'Robert Gould Shaw Memorial' 1973

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Robert Gould Shaw Memorial
1973
Pigmented ink jet print
Image: 26 x 32.9cm (10 1/4 x 12 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Susan and Peter MacGill
© Richard Benson. Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

 

In 1973 Richard Benson and Lincoln Kirstein published Lay This Laurel, a book with photographs by Benson, an essay by Kirstein, and poems and writings by Emily Dickinson, Frederick Douglass, and Walt Whitman, among others. It was intended to focus renewed attention on the bronze version of the Shaw Memorial on Boston Common, which had fallen into disrepair.

 

Carrie Mae Weems. 'Restless After the Longest Winter You Marched & Marched & Marched' From the series, 'From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried' 1995-1996

 

Carrie Mae Weems (American, b. 1953)
Restless After the Longest Winter You Marched & Marched & Marched
From the series, From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried
1995-1996
Chromogenic colour print with etched text on glass
Overall: 67.31 x 57.79cm (26 1/2 x 22 3/4 in.)
Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

 

 

In this piece Carrie Mae Weems appropriated and altered one of Richard Benson’s photographs of the Shaw Memorial. Printed with a blood red filter, it is placed beneath glass etched with words that allude to African Americans’ quest for freedom and equal rights as well as their long struggle to attain them.

 

 

National Gallery of Art
National Mall between 3rd and 7th Streets
Constitution Avenue NW, Washington

Opening hours:
Monday – Saturday 10.00am – 5.00pm
Sunday 11.00am – 6.00pm

National Gallery of Art website

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07
Nov
13

Exhibition: ‘Lee Friedlander – America by Car’ at Foam, Amsterdam

Exhibition dates: 13th September – 11th December 2013

 

Lee Friedlander. 'Bettina Katz, Cleveland, Ohio' 2009

 

Lee Friedlander (American, b. 1934)
Bettina Katz, Cleveland, Ohio
2009
From the series America by Car, 1995-2009
Gelatin silver print
15 × 15 in. (38.1 × 38.1cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Lee Friedlander, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

“I’m not trying to do something to you, I’m trying to do something with you.”

.
American pianist and composer Keith Jarrett at a concert in Melbourne, 1970s

 

 

LEE FRIEDLANDER IS ONE OF THE GREATEST PHOTOGRAPHERS THAT HAS EVER LIVED.

The vision of this man is incredible. His complex, classical photographs in such books as Letters from the People (1993), Flowers and Trees (1981), The American Monument (1976) and America by Car (2010) have redefined the (photographic) landscape. The artist is constantly reinventing himself, reinventing pictorial space – cutting, distorting, reflecting it back onto itself – to create layered images (after Eugène Atget and Walker Evans). These self-reflective spaces are as much about the artist and his nature as they are about the world in which he lives. They have become the basis of Friedlander’s visual language. Here is a love of the medium and of the world that is a reflection of Self.

I don’t see these cars (or photographs) as illusion factories. For me, this series of work is akin to a tri-view self-portrait. Instead of the artist painting the sitter (as in the triple portrait of Cardinal Richelieu, 1627 below), a vision, an energy of Self emanates outwards from behind the bulwark of the car steering wheel and dash. It is a Self and its relationship to the world split into multifaceted angles and views. He looks out the left window, the front window, the side window – and then he splits his views between side and front windows using the A pillar of the car as a dividing, framing tool. Sometimes he throws in the reflections of him / self with camera in the rear view mirror for good measure. There is wit, humour and irony in these photographs. There is cinematic panorama and moments of intimacy. There is greatness in these images.

Friedlander is not trying to do something to you, but something with you, for he is showing you something that you inherently know but may not be aware of. Like a Zen master, he asks you questions but also shows you the way. If you understand the path of life and the energy of the cosmos, you understand what a journey this is.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674) 'Triple portrait of Cardinal Richelieu' 1642

 

Philippe de Champaigne (French, 1602-1674)
Triple portrait of Cardinal Richelieu
c. 1640
Oil on canvas
58cm (22.8 in) x 72cm (28.3 in)
The National Gallery, London
This reproduction is in the public domain

 

 

Lee Friedlander. 'Houston, Texas' 2006

 

Lee Friedlander (American, b. 1934)
Houston, Texas
2006
From the series America by Car, 1995-2009
Gelatin silver print
15 × 15 in. (38.1 × 38.1cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Lee Friedlander, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Lee Friedlander. 'Denali National Park, Alaska' 2007

 

Lee Friedlander (American, b. 1934)
Denali National Park, Alaska
2007
From the series America by Car, 1995-2009
Gelatin silver print
15 × 15 in. (38.1 × 38.1cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Lee Friedlander, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Lee Friedlander. 'Nebraska' 1999

 

Lee Friedlander (American, b. 1934)
Nebraska
1999
From the series America by Car, 1995-2009
Gelatin silver print
15 × 15 in. (38.1 × 38.1cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Lee Friedlander, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

The automobile has come to symbolise the American dream and the associated urge for freedom. It is therefore no surprise that cars play a central role in the series America by Car and The New Cars 1964 by renowned American photographer Lee Friedlander (1934, US), now receiving their first showing in the Netherlands.

 

Road Trip

America by Car documents Friedlander’s countless wanderings around the United States over the past decade. In this he follows a trail laid down by numerous photographers, film makers and writers like Robert Frank, Stephen Shore and Jack Kerouac. Friedlander nevertheless succeeds in giving the theme of the American road trip his own very original twist, using the cars’ windscreens and dashboards to frame the familiar American landscape, as well as exploiting the reflections found in their wing and rear view mirrors. It is a simple starting point which results in complex and layered images that are typical for Friedlander’s visual language. He also has a sharp eye for the ironic detail. He makes free use of text on billboards and symbols on store signs to add further meaning to his work. His images are so layered that new information continues to surface with every glance, making America by Car a unique evocation of contemporary America.

 

Car portraits

The New Cars 1964 is a much older series. Friedlander had been commissioned by Harper’s Bazaar to photograph all the new models of automobile introduced in 1964. Rather than placing them centrally and showing them to best advantage, Friedlander decided to set the cars in the most banal of locations, in front of a furniture store or in a scrap yard for instance. Exploiting reflections, available light and unusual perspectives, his cars are almost completely absorbed into the street scene. Although they were rejected at the time by the magazine’s editorial board on the grounds that the images were not attractive enough, the pictures were put away in a drawer and since forgotten. Friedlander however recently rediscovered this series. The New Cars 1964 has since become a special historical and social document and has in its own right become part of Friedlander’s impressive oeuvre.

 

Fifty-year career

Lee Friedlander was born in the US in 1934. In a career extending across 5 decades Friedlander has maintained an obsessive focus on the portrayal of the American social landscape. His breakthrough in the eyes of the wider public came with the New Documents exhibition at the MoMA in 1967, where his work was presented alongside that of Diane Arbus and Garry Winogrand. Friedlander accumulated numerous awards during his career, including the MacArthur Foundation Award and three Guggenheim Fellowships. He also published more than twenty books. His work has been shown at many venues around the world, including the Whitney Museum of American Art and the MoMA in New York, San Francisco’s SFMOMA, the MAMM in Moscow and the National Museum of Photography in Copenhagen.”

Press release from the FOAM website

 

Lee Friedlander. 'Cleveland, Ohio' 2009

 

Lee Friedlander (American, b. 1934)
Cleveland, Ohio
2009
From the series America by Car, 1995-2009
Gelatin silver print
15 × 15 in. (38.1 × 38.1cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Lee Friedlander, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Lee Friedlander. 'Montana' 2008

 

Lee Friedlander (American, b. 1934)
Montana
2008
From the series America by Car, 1995-2009
Gelatin silver print
15 × 15 in. (38.1 × 38.1cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Lee Friedlander, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Lee Friedlander. 'Montana' 2008

 

Lee Friedlander (American, b. 1934)
Montana
2008
From the series America by Car, 1995-2009
Gelatin silver print
15 × 15 in. (38.1 × 38.1cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Lee Friedlander, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

Mr. Friedlander took his black-and-white, square-format photographs entirely from the interior of standard rental cars – late-model Toyotas and Chevys, by the looks of them – on various road trips over the past 15 years. In these pictures our vast, diverse country is buffered by molded plastic dashboards and miniaturized in side-view mirrors…

Mr. Friedlander groups images by subject, not geography: monuments, churches, houses, factories, ice cream shops, plastic Santas, roadside memorials.

So “America by Car,”… is more of an exercise in typology, along the lines of Ed Ruscha’s “Twentysix Gasoline Stations.” But there’s nothing deadpan or straightforward about the way Mr. Friedlander composes his pictures. He knows that cars are essentially illusion factories – to wit: “Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.”

Some of the illusions on view here exploit the technology of the camera Mr. Friedlander has been using since the 1990s, the square-format Hasselblad Superwide (so named for its extra-wide-angle lens). The Superwide produces crisp and detail-packed images that are slightly exaggerated in perspective, giving the foreground – the car – a heightened immediacy…

Some of the photographs are dizzyingly complex, like one taken in Pennsylvania in 2007. The camera looks out through the passenger-side window, at a man whose feet appear to be perched on the door frame. He is standing in front of a trompe l’oeil mural of a train, which seems to be heading right at the car. In the side-view mirror you can see a woman approaching. It’s a bizarre pileup of early cinematic trickery (as in the Lumière Brothers), amateur photography and surveillance technology.

Mr. Friedlander’s love of such layering can be traced to Walker Evans and Eugène Atget. He also shares, in this series, Evans’s wry eye for signs of all kinds: the matter-of-fact “Bar” advertising a Montana watering hole, or the slightly more cryptic “ME RY RISTMAS” outside a service station in Texas [see image below]. He strikes semiotic gold at Mop’s Reaching the Hurting Ministry in Mississippi: “LIVE IN RELATIONSHIP ARE LIKE RENTAL CARS NO COMMITMENT.”

Cars distance people from one another, this series reminds us over and over. When Mr. Friedlander photographs people he knows – the photographer Richard Benson, or the legendary MoMA curator John Szarkowski (to whom the book is dedicated) – he remains in his seat, shooting through an open window. In just a few instances the subjects poke their heads inside, a gesture that seems transgressive in its intimacy…

Did he ever get out of the vehicle? Just once in this series, for a self-portrait. It’s the last picture, and it shows him leaning into the driver’s-side window, elbow propped on the door, left hand reaching for the steering wheel.

Maybe he was thinking of the last image in “The Americans” – a shot of Mr. Frank’s used Ford taken from the roadside, showing his wife and son huddled in the back seat. In Mr. Frank’s photograph the car is a protective cocoon. Mr. Friedlander seems to see it that way too, but from the inside out.

Excerpts of an excellent review of “America by Car” by Karen Rosenberg published on The New York Times website on September 2, 2010.

 

Lee Friedlander. 'Alaska' 2007

 

Lee Friedlander (American, b. 1934)
Alaska
2007
From the series America by Car, 1995-2009
Gelatin silver print
15 × 15 in. (38.1 × 38.1cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Lee Friedlander, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Lee Friedlander. 'Montana' 2008

 

Lee Friedlander (American, b. 1934)
Montana
2008
From the series America by Car, 1995-2009
Gelatin silver print
15 × 15 in. (38.1 × 38.1cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Lee Friedlander, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Lee Friedlander. 'California' 2008

 

Lee Friedlander (American, b. 1934)
California
2008
From the series America by Car, 1995-2009
Gelatin silver print
15 × 15 in. (38.1 × 38.1cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Lee Friedlander, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Lee Friedlander. 'Texas' 2006

 

Lee Friedlander (American, b. 1934)
Texas
2006
From the series America by Car, 1995-2009
Gelatin silver print
15 × 15 in. (38.1 × 38.1cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Lee Friedlander, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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