Posts Tagged ‘Rolleiflex camera

25
Jun
16

Exhibition: ‘Brett Weston: Significant Details’ at Pasadena Museum of California Art

Exhibition dates: 17th April – 11th September 2016

Curator: Erin Aitali, PMCA Director of Exhibitions and Registrar

 

 

If your subject is essentially unrecognizable – a defining characteristic of many of Weston’s photographs – devoid of sentimentality, featuring an explosion of geometry as a form of Western expressionism, able to extract the microcosm from the macrocosm through an absence of human presence and apparent narrative – then your previsualisation must be spot on otherwise you loose clear focus as to just what it is you are trying to communicate. It’s all very well being obsessed with capturing the intricacies and rhythms of form, light and shadow, visual poetry in photography, but if that obsession has no ‘feeling’ outcome then you are doomed to failure.

Imagine (if you can) that master of documentary realism Eugène Atget placing his camera in just the wrong position for one of his photographs. The tripod just a little too low, the position a metre to the left of where it should have been. The resulting image would not feel like an Atget, the angles would not feel right, the mixture of objective and subjective would not be present, the magic of his photographs – recognisably his photographs – would be missing. What Atget does so convincingly is to combine the aesthetic with the documentary or representational. As G.H. Saxon Mills observes in his essay ‘Modern photography’ ‘”modern” photography means photography whose aim is partly or wholly aesthetic, as opposed to photography which is merely documentary or representational.’ Atget proves that both were possible within the same frame.

This is not the case with the photographs by Brett Weston in this posting. Although I have commented elsewhere on this website that, “Brett Weston’s pictures are ageing well – the decorative aesthetic seems to have more currency today than previously when the values of his father were predominant,” and admired the reductive minimalism of his photographs … this is not the case with these ‘significant details’. In this instance they are just representation, poor relations to the photographs of Minor White and Aaron Siskind. I think that the best of his work is very fine – a sort of celebration of all that had gone before with a layer of super-fineness added. However he made many images that were a bit like a preacher rather than an artist. In some of his portfolios the choice of images is just plain weird, catering to the market rather than takng the chance to make a powerful statement. And photography aficionados remain unconvinced by his work, shying away from collecting it. Perhaps they know, or feel a lack of something, some spirit or other, or a seeming unevenness in the quality of his artistic production.

Perhaps it is his printing, which is a bit “Kodak meets EW” in the darkroom (even as his father entrusted him with printing some of his negatives). Weston achieved his good results because he was a careful craftsman, not an experimenter. Someone, I forget who, said that you never looked at his work when desperate for sustenance – and I think a lot of “connoisseurs” think that – and in a Brett Weston you can too often argue yourself out of the celebration. There is a certain dourness that is hard to overcome. I challenge you, now, to say one meaningful good thing about any of the images presented here. They take you nowhere. They are either too tightly cropped (that lack of true previsualisation / placing the camera in the wrong position / lack of context) or rely on pattern and representation, and only that, to do the heavy lifting.

My feeling about his work is that he saw and felt many great things that he used in his work – but at the final hurdle, his implementation was always handled a little directly, or not a well as might have been… or is sometimes absent. Perhaps it’s just his viewpoint which seems to be too limited in a psychological sense. If Atget had photographed the city without those magnificent tripod positions and understanding of space, then they would have been dead. That’s how BW’s work sometimes feels. Instead of the space feeling larger than the camera can contain, on occasions his photographs feel enclosed and stilted.

Weston said, “There are a million choices for shot. At its simplest, photography is very complex. So I try to keep it simple and focus on things I can master.”

Sometimes, keeping things simple does not result in preternatural outcomes.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

“My father was driven and so am I. You’re ruthless. You brush off your friends and women. He was much kinder than me. I don’t verbalize well and I don’t socialize much. Too time consuming. And I’m not a good salesman of my work. I love people, but they can be a drain. Some are stimulating; some are leeches. So I seek people on my own terms. Most artists are loners. I guess they have to be.”

.
Brett Weston

 

“Weston isn’t really a nature photographer… He was obsessed with capturing the intricacies and rhythms of form, light and shadow. Weston is as fascinated by close-ups of the exfoliating bark of a bristlecone pine or the spikes of a Joshua Tree as he is with the visual poetry of peeling paint on the side-panel of a rusted out truck.”

.
Jeffrey St. Clair

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brett Weston: Significant Details' at the Pasadena Museum of California Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brett Weston: Significant Details' at the Pasadena Museum of California Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brett Weston: Significant Details' at the Pasadena Museum of California Art

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition Brett Weston: Significant Details at the Pasadena Museum of California Art
Photos: © 2016 Don Milici

 

 

“Although Brett Weston (1911-1993) is best known for his striking scenic photographs, the majority of his work ranges from middle-distance scenes to close-up abstractions. These concentrated images share the high-contrast and graphic qualities of Weston’s panoramas while emphasizing his affinity for “significant details” and the unprecedented attention to form, texture, shadow, and light that he explored throughout his nearly-seventy-year career.

Weston took up photography at the age of fourteen. Although he received basic technical instruction from his father, renowned photographer Edward Weston, Brett’s early efforts owed much to his intuition and innate eye. His elemental talent coupled with an unflagging commitment to his photographic vision – often at the expense of personal relationships and fiscal well-being – carried him from early critical acclaim, through difficult periods, to eventual financial success within his own lifetime.

By the age of twenty-five, Weston’s photographs were included in significant exhibitions both nationally and internationally, but despite early recognitition he served as a WPA photographer during the Great Depression and as a Signal Corps photographer during World War II. By neccessity, he also worked intermittently in the first half of his career as an industrial and portrait photographer. However, when he achieved prosperity beginning in the 1970s, he devoted himself exclusively to the photography and intercontinental expeditions that fulfilled him. His initial interest in abstracted details continually revealed itself, especially once he began using a new, smaller camera after health problems in the late 1960s forced him to abandon the bulky equipment he had used for over thirty years.

Early and continuing critical success notwithstanding, following Brett’s death, the comparison to his famed father left the younger Weston on the wrong side of a narrowing modern canon of photography. Reaffirming Weston’s legacy and his exceptional contributions to modernist photography, these uncharted, close-up images – more than half of which are on view for the first time – demonstrate the major themes present in Weston’s work: a focus on natural and urban landscapes and the objects therein, the absence of human presence and apparent narrative, and an extraordinary ability to extract the microcosm from the macrocosm.”

Introduction text from the exhibition

 

Brett Weston. 'Untitled (Worm Wood, California)' c. 1937 (printed c. 1970)

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Worm Wood, California
c. 1937 (printed c. 1970)
Silver gelatin print
10 1/2 x 13 3/4 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

 

Although Weston’s wife Cicely provided the couple with a steady income, she became pregnant with the pair’s first (and only) child in 1937, providing Weston impetus to generate additional means of support. Hoping to replicate the financial success of Ansel Adams’s portfolio of limited edition original photographs, Weston produced one of his own. His first portfolio San Francisco (1937) consisted of twelve 8 x 10 original prints. Unlike the photograph Staircase, San Francisco (1928) included in this exhibition, the portfolio photos were panoramic vistas. However, without the robust support of a collector like Albert Bender, who both promoted and purchased enough of Adams’s portfolios to assure commercial success, Weston didn’t profit from his portfolio. He lacked not only the promotional skills and collector base but also refused gallery sales owing to his deep distrust and outrage at their commissions.

 

Brett Weston. 'Wood' 1972

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Wood
1972
Silver gelatin print
7 1/2 x 8 5/8 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

 

“One of the most celebrated and prolific photographers of the twentieth century, Brett Weston (1911-1993) is best known for his striking scenic images, yet the bulk of his work ranges from middle-distance scenes to closeup abstractions. The Pasadena Museum of California Art (PMCA) is proud to present Brett Weston: Significant Details, the first museum exhibition to focus on Weston’s close-up photography. The works – over half of which are on view for the first time – share the high-contrast and graphic qualities of Weston’s panoramic photographs while emphasizing the “significant details,” the tendency toward abstraction and extremes in tonality that Weston explored through his nearly 60-year career. The exhibition further contextualizes Weston within the pivotal Group f/64 and highlights how intuition and a dedication to photography in its purest form guided his practice.

Although the teaching of his father, famed modernist photographer Edward Weston, was invaluable and his influence undeniable, Weston’s practice was largely shaped by instinct and informal training. He took up photography at the age of 14 when, on an extended trip to Mexico with his father, he started photographing the crew of the SS Oaxaca with the elder Weston’s Graflex camera. This trip also coincided with the end of his formal education; he was enrolled at an English-speaking school, but dropped out within two weeks. While in Mexico, Weston became part of the modernist mileu, socializing with and viewing the work of some of the greatest artists of the time, including David Siqueiros, Diego Rivera, and José Clemente Orozco.

Weston’s professional entry into the world of photography occurred during a shift from the East Coast Pictorialists and their accentuation of romantic effects to the West Coast photographic movement, which coalesced with Group f/64 and their sharp images that captured daily life. Like the members of Group f/64, which included Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, Brett Weston focused primarily on two types of images: close-ups and the scenic view. However, Weston’s approach was distinct, tending toward highly graphic images, with intense areas of dark and highlights, rather than midgray tones used by many, including his father.

By the age of 25, Weston’s work had been included in the landmark international photography exhibition Film und Foto and in a solo exhibition at the M. H. de Young Museum in San Francisco. Though he received critical acclaim and  his reputation grew, Weston remained dedicated to art for art’s sake and to creating pure, elemental photographs. He was a simple man and used the same equipment for most of his career. However, when health problems forced him to switch to a smaller camera – the Rollei – in 1968, he further experimented with close-up photographs, and his work became even more intent on exploring specific details and abstract qualities. In Torn Leaf, Hawaii (1978, below), for example, the brittle, curling leaf appears monumental on a black ground. It exists as a singular object, not fully contained within the composition, and the size is indeterminable without context.

The uncharted, close-up images that are the focus of Significant Details demonstrate the major themes present in Weston’s work: a play on scale, the absence of the human presence, and a refrain from imposed order. This exhibition features approximately 40 works taken over a period of 55 years, ranging from 1929 to 1984, and brings to the forefront the unprecedented attention to form, texture, shadow, and light that was the distinctive characteristic of Weston’s oeuvre.”

Press release from the Pasadena Museum of California Art

 

Brett Weston. 'Wall, Europe' 1971

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Wall, Europe
1971
Silver gelatin print
8 x 10 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

 

In 1971 Brett returned to Europe for the third time. While there, he captured both abstract images, like this one, and panoramas. Notably, this trip resulted in the photograph of Holland Canal, which Weston grew to hate, despite its commercial success or perhaps because of it, “I’m so sick of the thing but people love it. I could retire on sales of this print alone. I’d hate to tell you how many of these I’ve printed.” Although this scenic print wasn’t the legacy Weston desired for himself, it led to an overall increased attention from collectors interested in his work, including his abstractions.

 

Brett Weston. 'Untitled (Cracked Mud, High Sierra, California)' 1960

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Cracked Mud, High Sierra, California
1960
Silver gelatin print
8 x 10 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

Direct evidence of human presence was rare in Weston’s photos. But here, two playful sets of handprints on the mud provide scale, which would otherwise be indeterminable in the image.

 

Brett Weston. 'Electrical Towers, Metal' c. 1975

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Electrical Towers, Metal
c. 1975
Silver gelatin print
8 x 10 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

 

Brett Weston: Significant Details

Brett Weston, born in 1911 in Tropico, CA (now Glendale), took up photography at the age of fourteen while on an extended trip to Mexico with his father, famed photographer Edward Weston. In Mexico for just over a year, his time there was pivotal in many ways, not only marking the start of his photography career, but also the end of his formal education. His father allowed him to drop out of the international school after two short weeks and provided the younger Weston with basic instructions in photography. Still, Brett relied heavily on his innate sensibilities toward form and tonality, evident in Tin Roof, Mexico, an early photograph from 1926 featuring a cropped view of a jagged roofline with dramatic dark shadows splitting the image. Weston also benefited from a social education of sorts. Through connections of his father’s mistress, photographer Tina Modotti, Weston became a part of the Mexican modernist milieu, socializing with and viewing the work of some of the greatest artists of the time, including Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros.

During his nearly-seventy-year career, Weston’s talent and unique vision developed into two related types of works, panoramic landscapes and abstracted close-ups. The image most associated with Weston was and probably still is Holland Canal from 1971. The photograph of a tree-lined canal with still water reflecting a flawless image of the surrounding landscape is sensual and magnificently balanced. However, the photographer bemoaned his connection to this particular work and its extreme popularity saying, “I’m so sick of the thing, but people love it.” Although this print and other panoramic images, such as Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska (1973), came to typify his work in the public’s mind, the bulk of Weston’s photographs range from middle-distance scenes to close-ups, which became increasingly abstract beginning in the 1950s. Brett Weston: Significant Details focuses on the close-up works that epitomize his unique and unwavering vision. These images share the high-contrast and graphic qualities of Weston’s well-known scenic photographs while emphasizing what the photography historian Beaumont Newhall characterized as his affinity for “significant details.” Weston applied this penchant for details to natural and urban environments alike. Another early image, Stairway, Grandview Park, San Francisco from 1928, offers a fragmented view of a San Francisco stairwell. Without context, the unpopulated image’s narrative possibilities are limited; instead, the emphasis is on the orderly, graphic form of the staircase.

From the beginning of his career, Weston’s work was celebrated by institutions and peers. The year following Stairway, Weston’s work was included in the landmark 1929 German photography exhibition Film und Foto, and the early 1930s saw his association with Group f/64, a distinctly West Coast movement of “straight” photographers (as opposed to the East Coast Pictorialist tradition, which was waning at this time) that comprised Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, Edward Weston, and others. Brett’s work appeared in their 1932 inaugural exhibition at the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco. The following year, both San Francisco Stairway and Tin Roofs (presumably the same works discussed in this essay) were included with forty-three other photographs in a solo exhibition at the de Young.

Although Weston saw early success with his work included in major exhibitions, this did not translate into a steady income. Like most artists during the Great Depression, the Federal Art Project – a branch of the Works Progress Administration – employed Weston, first as a sculptor and then later as a photographer. He quit the FAP in December of 1936 after about two and half years because he had no passion for the documentary nature of the work and it impinged upon time for his personal projects, something that he could not bear for long. Throughout the thirties and forties, he worked intermittently – and discontentedly – as a portrait and industrial photographer to stave off poverty and support his daughter who was born in 1938. In complete contrast to the realistic, documentary style of his FAP and commissioned works, an untitled photograph from 1937 is an extreme close-up of paint that is almost organic in appearance, with leaf-like veins in the upper portion of the image. The subject is essentially unrecognizable, which is a defining characteristic of many of Weston’s photographs.

The slim Depression years segued into the tumultuousness of World War II, during which Weston served in the US Army before a much-requested transfer to the US Signal Corps stationed him to work as a photographer in New York. At the end of the war, when Brett returned to Carmel, CA, where the Weston family had made their long-time home, he found his father beginning to show marked symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, which would increasingly debilitate the elder Weston in the last decade of his life. Before Edward’s death in 1958, he enlisted his sons Brett and Cole and a small group of trusted assistants to secure his lasting legacy by making thousands of prints under his supervision. In addition to printing work for his father, during this time, Brett also worked on his Guggenheim fellowship project and his second and third portfolios, White Sands (1949) and New York (1954).

Besides photographing the beaches of Carmel, one of which was dubbed “Weston Beach,” Brett also traveled up and down the California coast countless times over the decades. He repeatedly returned to capture the dunes of Oceano, and these images range from sweeping vistas to striking abstractions. An image from 1952, Dune, Oceano, although not technically a detail, falls into the latter category. The dunes appear wave-like and swirling, and a dark, somewhat-menacing shadow at the centre – similar to the roofline image taken in Mexico – provides graphic force. Jellyfish, California, another beach image, taken in 1967, is a close-up of one of the bulbous marine animals washed ashore. In contrast to the ethereal and weightless appearance jellyfish take underwater, it looks monumental and grotesquely beautiful. The curving form expands beyond the picture’s boundaries and in place of luminescence is a gradation of pure white reflections to jet-black striated patterns on the bell.

Although the tendency to work close-up had always been present in Weston’s work, it became much more pronounced and obvious after health issues necessitated a change in camera equipment. For over thirty years, Weston worked with a large format 8 x 10 camera and preferred contact prints (versus enlarging from smaller negatives). However, a heart attack  in 1967 and an ongoing battle with angina forced Weston to switch to a smaller camera because he could no longer manage the bulky equipment. In 1968, he began using the Rollei SL-66 almost exclusively. The camera used roll film that produced small, square negatives and allowed the artist to work close-up with ease. As a result, his work became even more intent on exploring specific elements and abstract qualities. Sand and Kelp from around 1970 is a lyrical example of this. Individual grains of sand are visible and marked by traces of implied movement, both in the dancing shadows of the kelp and the trailing patterns lightly indented into the surface.

While Weston had traveled steadily and as often as he could afford to in his younger years – expeditions that included Europe, Japan, the Pacific Northwest, Baja California, and Mexico – his later years were spent primarily in Hawaii. The tropical climate was beneficial for his health, and the varied terrain provided limitless visual appeal. In 1979, the photographer purchased land there on the slopes of a volcanic mountain. He became especially engrossed with the lava formations and the verdant and spectacular plant life, which he photographed until his death in 1993.

Weston achieved, within his lifetime, the recognition and financial comforts of a highly esteemed photographer. Even so, following his death, Brett’s reputation was eclipsed in favor of his father, due in part to the notion that there wasn’t room for two Westons in the canon of modernist photography. The 2008 exhibition Out of the Shadow (Oklahoma City Museum of Art and The Phillips Collection) and his biography A Restless Eye (2011) have begun to remedy this situation. Significant Details furthers that work by centering on the uncharted, closeup images that characterize Weston’s innate and distinctive eye. These photographs reveal the major themes present in his oeuvre: a focus on natural and urban landscapes and the objects therein, the absence of human presence and apparent narrative, and an extraordinary ability to extract the microcosm from the macrocosm.

Erin Aitali, Director of Exhibitions and Registrar

 

Brett Weston. 'Broken Glass, California' 1954

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Broken Glass, California
1954
Silver gelatin print
8 x 10 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

Brett Weston. 'Torn Leaf, Hawaii' 1978

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Torn Leaf, Hawaii
1978
Silver gelatin print
10 3/4 x 12 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

Brett Weston. 'Jellyfish, California' 1967

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Jellyfish, California
1967
Silver gelatin print
7 5/8 x 9 5/8 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

Brett Weston. 'Cracked Paint' 1937 (printed later)

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Cracked Paint
1937 (printed later)
Silver gelatin print
12 1/2 x 10 1/8 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

 

Like Broken Glass, California (1954, above), this image of cracked paint is an extreme close-up to the point that the subject is indistinguishable. Instead pure form becomes the focus. This intense focus also characterizes Weston’s approach to life; he prioritized his photography above all else, often at the expense of both financial stability and personal relationships (he was married four times and had countless lovers).

In 1937 Weston was living with his first wife, Cicely, in San Francisco who was employed as a violinist in the WPA symphony. Weston had recently quit the WPA because, as he explained in a letter to his father in December 1936, “It has been a good thing in many ways but after 2 1/2 years I feel that I have had enough experience of this kind. I feared it was beginning to tell on me as well as my work. I would rather divorce, starve, anything, than have this happen. The actual work I’ve been doing for the work program has been child’s play but the sacrifice of one’s priceless days… has become too much.”

 

Brett Weston. 'Snow' 1954

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Snow
1954
Silver gelatin print
9 1/2 x 7 5/8 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

 

Pasadena Museum of California Art
490 East Union Street
Pasadena, CA 91101
Tel: (626) 568-3665

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Sunday 12.00 – 5.00pm
Third Thursday of each month 12.00 – 8. 00pm
Closed Monday, Tuesday, July 4, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day

Pasadena Museum of California Art website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

04
May
14

Exhibition: ‘Philippe Halsman, Astonish Me!’ at The Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

Exhibition dates: 29th January – 11th May 2014

 

He “photographed a little bit of everything: animals, Paris, the homeless, underwater, nudes, advertising, fashion and, above all, celebrities portraits, from Ali, Einstein, Churchill, Hepburn, Warhol, Hitchcock and, of course, Marilyn Monroe.”

You could say that he was a versatile photographer, doing everything to pay the bills and anything to make interesting images. He never stopped experimenting with the image, but it is the “straight” portraits that I find are his strongest work. Not the “jump” photos, Monroe, or the surreal experiments with Dalí, much as they delight, but the portraits of Hepburn, Einstein and Churchill for example.

Look at the photograph of Winston Churchill (1951, below). What a way to portray the great man. The bulk of the overcoat, the slope of the shoulders (evincing a certain weariness), the famous Homburg hat pulled down on the head, the leader staring into the tranquil landscape. But what makes the image is the seam down the back of the overcoat which speaks to history itself – the backbone of the country, the never say die spirit, stiff upper lip, the rock of the British empire which Nazism could not defeat – epitomising the British bulldog spirit. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Solid. Immovable. What a glorious photograph to capture that essence.

Marcus

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

 

 

“Shortly before World War I, the greatest sensation in Paris was the Russian Imperial Ballet under Serge Diaghilev. The divine Nijinsky and Pavlova were dancing for him, Stravinsky composed, Picasso, Bakst, and Chagall were painting scenery for him. To work for Diaghilev was the highest accolade for an artist. Jean Cocteau approached Diaghilev and asked: ‘What can I do for you?’ Diaghilev looked at him and answered: ‘Etonne-moi!’ (‘Astonish me!’) These two words can be considered as a motto, as a slogan for the development of the modern art which followed.”

.
Philippe Halsman

 .
“Photography is a separate form of expression since it falls between two art forms… It’s not only trying to give us a visual impression of reality, like painting and graphic arts, but also to communicate and inform us the way writing does. No writer should be blamed for writing about subjects that exist only in his imagination. And no photographer should be blamed when, instead of capturing reality, he tries to show things that he has only seen in his imagination.”

.
Philippe Halsman

 

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Folle Iseult' 1944

 

Philippe Halsman
Folle Iseult
1944
Musée de l’Elysée
© 2013 Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos

 

Philippe Halsman. 'The Versatile Jean Cocteau' 1949

 

Philippe Halsman
The Versatile Jean Cocteau
1949
Musée de l’Elysée
© 2013 Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos

 

 

“In my serious work I am striving for the essence of things and for goals which are possibly unobtainable. On the other hand, everything humorous has great attraction for me, and a childish streak leads me into all kinds of frivolous endeavour.”

Photographer Philippe Halsman had an exemplary career. Over a forty-year period, in Paris during the 1930s and in New York from 1940 on, he developed a broad range of activities (portraits, fashion, reportage, advertisements, personal projects, commissions from individuals and institutions). The Musée de l’Elysée presents the first study dedicated to his entire body of work, with a selection of over 300 pieces.

This project, produced in collaboration with the Philippe Halsman Archive, includes many exclusive unseen elements of the photographer’s work (contact sheets, annotated contact prints, preliminary proofs, original photomontages and mock-ups). The exhibition shows Philippe Halsman’s creative process and reveals a unique approach to photography: a means of expression to explore.

Born in 1906 in Riga, Latvia, Halsman studied engineering in Dresden before moving to Paris, where he opened a photographic studio in 1932. His years in Paris already heralded the approach he was to develop throughout his long career. A studio and reportage photographer, Halsman took inspiration from the contemporary art scene and participated in promoting it. Though he specialised in portraiture, he also branched out into advertising and publishing, which were thriving at the time. In 1940, the German invasion brought Halsman’s prosperous career to a halt, leading him to flee with his family to New York. Though initially unknown, he succeeded in establishing himself on the American market in under a year, and his studio soon became successful. Halsman stood out for his “psychological” approach to portraiture.

He distinguished himself in this area with his vast portrait gallery of celebrities (actors, industrialists, politicians, scientists, writers). Some of these images, such as Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Winston Churchill or Albert Einstein, became icons. He produced the largest number of covers (101) for Life magazine, the first weekly magazine to be illustrated only by photographs.

Halsman’s photography is characterised by a direct approach, masterful technique and a particular attention to detail. His work testifies to his constant research and his interest in all forms of technical and aesthetic experimentation, which he applied to a wide variety of subjects. For Halsman, photography was an excellent way of giving his imagination free reign. He was especially interested in mises en scène – in the form of single images or fictional series. He met Salvador Dalí in 1941 and the artist turned out to be the ideal accomplice. Their fruitful collaboration lasted 37 years. Philippe Halsman also introduced innovations through more personal creations such as the “photo-interview book” or ‘jumpology’.

Press release from the Musée de l’Elysée Lausanne website

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Winston Churchill' 1951

 

Philippe Halsman
Winston Churchill
1951
Musée de l’Elysée
© 2013 Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Albert Einstein' 1947

 

Philippe Halsman
Albert Einstein
1947
Musée de l’Elysée
© 2013 Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Audrey Hepburn' 1955

 

Philippe Halsman
Audrey Hepburn
1955
Musée de l’Elysée
© 2013 Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Sammy Davis Jr' 1965

 

Philippe Halsman 
Sammy Davis Jr
1965
Musée de l’Elysée
© 2013 Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos

 

 

Presentation of the exhibition

In 1921, Philippe Halsman found his father’s old camera, and spoke of a “miracle” when he developed his first glass plates in the family’s bathroom sink. He was 15 years old, and this was the first encounter with photography of someone who was to become one of the leading photographers of the 20th century. This exhibition, produced by the Musée de l’Elysée in collaboration with the Philippe Halsman Archive, showcases the American photographer’s entire career for the first time, from his beginnings in Paris in the 1930s to the tremendous success of his New York studio between 1940 and 1970.

Halsman was able to go to Paris thanks to the support of French minister Paul Painlevé -whose son Jean, a scientific filmmaker, gave him one of the best cameras of the time upon his arrival. He remained in Paris for ten years, until 1940. Over that period, he collaborated with the magazines Vogue, Vu and Voilà and created portraits of numerous celebrities like Marc Chagall, Le Corbusier and André Malraux. He exhibited his work several times at the avant-garde Pléiade gallery, alongside photographers like Laure Albin Guillot, whose work was exhibited at Musée de l’Elysée in 2013.

Fleeing Nazism, he left Paris in 1940 and moved to New York. There, he worked for many American magazines including Life, which brought him into contact with the century’s top celebrities – Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Duke Ellington, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Richard Nixon, Albert Einstein to name only a few. Halsman shot 101 covers for Life magazine. Far from restricting himself to photographing celebrities, throughout his whole life Halsman never stopped experimenting and pushing the limits of his medium. He collaborated with Salvador Dalí for over thirty years and invented ‘jumpology’, which consisted in photographing personalities in the middle of jumping, offering a more natural, spontaneous portrait of his subjects.

The exhibition Philippe Halsman, Astonish me! is divided into four sections illustrating memorable periods, collaborations and themes in the photographer’s work and life.

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Expérimentation pour un portrait de femme (Experimentation for a portrait of a woman)' 1931-1940

 

Philippe Halsman
Expérimentation pour un portrait de femme (Experimentation for a portrait of a woman)
1931-1940
Musée de l’Elysée
© 2013 Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Affiche exposition Pleiade (Poster for exhibition at La Pléiade gallery)' 1936

 

Philippe Halsman
Affiche exposition Pleiade (Poster for exhibition at La Pléiade gallery)
1936
Musée de l’Elysée
© 2013 Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos

 

 

“When I arrived in America in 1940 I had to adapt to the American style, that is to say, produce photographs that were technically perfect, clear, precise and properly modelled by the light without being distorted. Once, to accentuate the coldness of a rainy landscape I added a blue gelatin to my transparent film. Wilson Hicks took this gelatin off saying: ‘You’re cheating, Philippe’. Any hint of artifice was considered dishonest.”

.
Philippe Halsman

 

Paris in the 1930s

Philippe Halsman was born in Riga, Latvia in 1906. When he was 22, his father died in a hiking accident in Austrian Tyrol, and Philippe Halsman was wrongly convicted of his murder in a highly anti-Semitic climate. He was freed thanks to his sister’s support; she organized the support of prominent European intellectuals, who endorsed his innocence.

He went to Paris, where he began his career as a photographer, quickly distinguishing himself through his portrait technique. He explored various genres, such as views of Paris, nudes and fashion. His work was exhibited three times at the La Pléiade gallery, a famous avant-garde gallery where artists like Man Ray, André Kertész and Brassaï presented their works.

Focus on La Pléiade gallery

Founded by publisher Jacques Schiffrin in the spring of 1931 and located in the heart of the Latin Quarter, this art gallery was one of the first to present photographic exhibitions, and it started specializing in this field in April 1933 under directorship of Rose Sévèk. Dedicated to contemporary photography, the program incorporated its new practices and applications. It was one of the places where New Photography was promoted in the form of solo, group or thematic exhibitions.

It was probably through his friend Jean Painlevé that Halsman entered in contact with La Pléiade gallery. He was given a first solo exhibition, Portraits and Nudes, which ran from March 28 to April 30, 1936. The following year, his name became associated with the New Vision movement in the context of two group exhibitions: Portraits of Writers (April 17 to May 14, 1937) which included Emmanuel Sougez, Rogi André, Roger Parry and others; La Parisienne de 1900… à 1937 (June 4-30, 1937), which included photographs by Florence Henri and Maurice Tabard. It was one of the last exhibitions at the gallery, which was sold a few months later in October, to Paul Magné.

Having initially been unable to flee wartime Paris, Halsman finally received an emergency visa in 1940 thanks to a letter from Albert Einstein to Eleanor Roosevelt, making it possible for him to join his family, who had left six months earlier.

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Marilyn Monroe jump' 1959

 

Philippe Halsman
Marilyn Monroe jump
1959
Musée de l’Elysée
© 2013 Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Marilyn Monroe jump' 1959

 

Philippe Halsman
Marilyn Monroe jump
1959
Musée de l’Elysée
© 2013 Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos

 

 

“Of the group of starlets only Marilyn emerged. Still photographers discovered her natural talent for flirting with the camera lens, and her blond looks of instant availability made her America’s most popular pin-up girl. Marilyn felt that the lens was not just a glass eye, but the symbol of the eyes of millions of men. She knew how to woo this lens better than any actress I ever photographed.”

.
Philippe Halsman

 

Portraits

Champion of the direct approach, Philippe Halsman also experimented with a wide range of techniques in order to capture the essence of his subjects and express their individuality. Many portraits became iconic images such as his 101 Life magazine covers.

Focus on Marilyn Monroe

Philippe Halsman photographed Marilyn Monroe on several occasions between 1949 and 1959. This important corpus traces the actress’s career and reveals the photographer’s varied approach during this period. In the autumn of 1949, Halsman was sent to Hollywood by Life magazine to do a report on eight young models embarking on acting careers. Halsman photographed them in four scenes he imposed (the approach of a monster, embracing a lover, reacting to a funny story and drinking a favorite drink). He quickly noticed the talents of the young Marilyn Monroe.

This opinion was confirmed three years later when Life commissioned him to do a feature on the actress entitled “The Talk of Hollywood”. These shots, some in color and some in black and white, illustrated the actresses’s everyday life and talents. She acted out a series of scenes, humorously presenting the different stages of the strategy she used when being interviewed for roles. Most importantly, Halsman created several emblematic images of the actress and helped promote her by giving her a chance to have her first Life magazine cover.

In 1954, Halsman welcomed Marilyn Monroe to his New York studio. Halsman’s photographs reflect the ‘sex symbol’ image she cultivated. However, he managed to shoot a more natural portrait of the actress by asking her to jump in the air. There was only a few images of this type because when Halsman explained his ‘jumpology’ concept, Marilyn Monroe, frightened by the idea of revealing her personality, refused to repeat the experiment.

It took five years before she agreed to go along with ‘jumpology’. Marilyn Monroe had become a star by the time Life magazine offered to feature her on its cover in 1959 to illustrate a major article on Philippe Halsman’s ‘jumpology’. She treated it as a request for a performance. Over the course of three hours, the actress jumped over 200 times in front of Halsman’s lens, in order to achieve the “perfect jump”.

Several times Halsman suggested to Marilyn Monroe that they continue this collaboration, but without success. The actress was then at a turning point in her life that was foreshadowing her decline. However, Halsman continued his photographic work on the actress by creating new images, or more precisely variations of portraits he had previously shot. These compositions – montages of prints cut out and rephotographed together expressing the idea of movement, or reworked images transposed in negative format are characteristic of Halsman’s approach in the 1960s. Ten years later, he created a portrait of Marilyn Monroe as Chairman Mao, as requested by Salvador Dalí during his guest editorship of the French edition of Vogue magazine (December 1971-January 1972).

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Alfred Hitchcock for the promotion of the film 'The Birds'' 1962

 

Philippe Halsman
Alfred Hitchcock for the promotion of the film ‘The Birds’
1962
Musée de l’Elysée
© 2013 Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos

 

Cover of the magazine Life with a portrait of Marilyn Monroe jumping by Philippe Halsman, November 9, 1959

 

Cover of the magazine Life with a portrait of Marilyn Monroe jumping by Philippe Halsman, November 9, 1959
Musée de l’Elysée
© 2013 Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos

 

 

Mises en scène

Halsman was often commissioned to photograph the contemporary art scene for magazines including dance, cinema and theatre. Collaborations with artists were important in Halsman’s career and inspired performances resulting in picture stories or striking individual images.

Focus on ‘Jumpology’

In 1950, Halsman invented ‘jumpology’, a new way of creating spontaneous, authentic portraits: “When you ask a person to jump, his attention is mostly directed toward the act of jumping and the mask falls so that the real person appears”. Over a period of ten years, Halsman created an extraordinary gallery of portraits of American society.

Containing over 170 portraits, Philippe Halsman’s Jump Book illustrated a new “psychological portrait” approach developed by Philippe Halsman in the 1950s. His method was systematic. During commissioned work, at the end of shooting sessions Halsman would ask his subjects if they would agree to take part in his personal project, and then the jumps were done on the spot. In this way he managed to photograph hundreds of jumps. Producing these shots was in fact simple: his equipment was limited to a Rolleiflex camera and an electronic flash, and as he pointed out, the only constraint was the height of the ceiling.

Although these portraits are characterized by their lightheartedness, Halsman viewed ‘jumpology’ as a new scientific tool for psychology. While the subject was concentrating on his jump, “the mask” fell, and it was this moment that the photographer needed to capture. Over the time that he was conducting this experiment, Halsman noticed the great diversity of the various participants’ postures, and discerned in these gestures – leg positions, arm positions, facial expressions and other details revealing signs of their character, expressed unwillingly.

The arrangement of the portraits in Philippe Halsman’s Jump Book illustrated these views. Halsman made a distinction in the form of two corpuses. First he presented influential personalities from different fields (political, industrial, scientific, theological, literary, etc…) resulting in a gallery of unexpected portraits that contrasted with their official image. For this project, Halsman also enjoyed the collaboration of actors, singers, dancers, etc… Conscious of the special character of their performances, Halsman assembled their images in a second part, categorized by discipline. This organization was punctuated by various themes like American flamboyance, British reserve, and the eloquence of actresses’ legwork. The layout played with different photograph formats and assemblages.

Although it only presented well-known personalities, the publication nevertheless encouraged the democratization of this practice: it ended with a photograph of Philippe Halsman jumping on a beach, with a caption asking: “How do you jump?”

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Nu au pop-corn (Popcorn nude)' 1949

 

Philippe Halsman
Nu au pop-corn (Popcorn nude)
1949
Musée de l’Elysée
© 2013 Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Dalí Atomicus' 1948 contact sheet

 

Philippe Halsman
Dalí Atomicus
1948
Contact sheet
Musée de l’Elysée
© 2013 Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos
Exclusive rights for images of Salvador Dalí: Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres, 2014

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Dalí Atomicus' 1948

 

Philippe Halsman
Dalí Atomicus
1948
Musée de l’Elysée
© 2013 Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos
Exclusive rights for images of Salvador Dalí: Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres, 2014

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Épreuve préparatoire pour "Certainement. Je m'adonne personnellement à des explosions atomiques," Dalí's Mustache (Test event for "Certainly. I personally engaged in atomic explosions," Dalí's Mustache)' 1953-1954

 

Philippe Halsman
Épreuve préparatoire pour “Certainement. Je m’adonne personnellement à des explosions atomiques,” Dalí’s Mustache
(Test event for “Certainly. I personally engaged in atomic explosions,” Dalí’s Mustache)
1953-1954
Musée de l’Elysée
© 2013 Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Portrait de Salvador Dalí avec casque de footballeur américain (Portrait of Salvador Dalí with American football helmet)' 1964

 

Philippe Halsman
Portrait de Salvador Dalí avec casque de footballeur américain (Portrait of Salvador Dalí with American football helmet)
1964
Musée de l’Elysée
© 2013 Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Dalí Cyclops' 1949

 

Philippe Halsman
Dalí Cyclops
1949
Musée de l’Elysée
© 2013 Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos

 

 

“In the thirty years of our friendship I have made countless photographs showing the surrealist painter in the most incredible situations. Whenever I needed a striking or famous protagonist for one of my wild ideas, Dalí would graciously oblige. Whenever Dalí thought of a photograph so strange that it seemed impossible to produce, I tried to find a solution. ‘Can you make me look like Mona Lisa?… Can you make a man one half of whom would look like Dalí and the other half like Picasso?’ I could and I did.”

.
Philippe Halsman

 

Halsman/Dalí

One of Halsman’s favourite subjects was Salvador Dalí with whom he shared a unique collaboration that spanned 37 years. Their 47 sittings, combining Dalí’s talent for performance and Halsman’s technical skill and inventiveness, resulting in an impressive repertoire of “photographic ideas”.

Focus on Dalí’s Mustache

As Halsman explains, Dalí’s Mustache is the fruit of this marriage of the minds. They conceived this book entirely dedicated to Dalí’s mustache, and created over thirty portraits of the painter absurdly answering Halsman’s questions. In 1953 Halsman realised that Salvador Dalí’s expanding mustache gave him the “chance to fulfil one his most ambitious dreams yet and create an extraordinarily eccentric work”. Dalí was enormously fond of his own person and of his mustache in particular, which he saw as a symbol of the power of his imagination, and was immediately thrilled at the idea. To create a “picture book” containing an interview with Salvador Dalí, Halsman reused an editorial concept he had introduced five years earlier with French actor Fernandel: a question asked of the artist was printed on one page, and the answer appeared on the following page in the form of a captioned photograph.

For this project, it was no longer just a matter of photographic expression, but of genuine mise en scène, combining Dalí’s theatrical character with Halsman’s impressive inventiveness and technical skill. Halsman presented the book as a genuine collaboration between two artists, representing their mutual understanding.

Halsman photographed Dalí with his 4×5 camera and his electronic flash through many sessions over a period of two years. Most of the plates in the book are portraits of the artist posing in a variety of positions, playing with his mustache in various ways, accentuated by light and framing effects. Dalí was ready to go along with any whim to create the scenes: he styles his precious mustache with the help of Hungarian wax, and agrees to take part in incongruous mises en scène, pressing his head behind a round of cheese to put the ends of his mustache through its holes, or plunging his head into a water-filled aquarium, his mouth full of milk.

As for Halsman, he put a lot of his effort into the post-production work in order to give concrete expression to their ideas. It sometimes took a laborious process to achieve images like the Mona Lisa portrait, inner conflicts, surrealism or the essence of Dalí, which not only required work on the print or negative (cutting, enlargement, deformation, double exposure) but also a montage and a new shot to create a negative of the final image. For the portrait of the artist in the form of a “soft watch”, Halsman worked around one hundred hours. He photographed Dali close up, then tacked a wet print of the image onto the edge of a table and re-photographed it at an angle that matched the angle of the original painting. He then cut it out, made a collage, and re-photographed it again – creating an image of Dali’s melted face. For the photographer, it was a genuine technical challenge, which he seized with patience and success.

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Like Two Erect Sentries, My Mustache Defends the Entrance to My Real Self, Dalí’s Mustache' 1954

 

Philippe Halsman
Like Two Erect Sentries, My Mustache Defends the Entrance to My Real Self, Dalí’s Mustache
1954
Philippe Halsman Archive
© 2013 Philippe Halsman Archive / Magnum Photos
Exclusive rights for images of Salvador Dalí: Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres, 2014

 

 

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

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

The Musée de l’Elysée website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top




Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

Join 2,617 other followers

Follow Art_Blart on Twitter
Art Blart on Pinterest

Lastest tweets

April 2020
M T W T F S S
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
27282930  

Archives

Categories