Posts Tagged ‘Rotterdam

09
Dec
18

Photographs: Germaine Krull ‘MÉTAL’ 1928

December 2018

 

Germaine Krull (photographer) Cover design by M. Tchimoukow. 'MÉTAL' cover 1928

 

Germaine Krull (photographer)
Cover design by M. Tchimoukow (Louis Bonin)
MÉTAL cover
1928
Librairie des Arts décoratifs
A. Calavas, Editeur

Portfolio comprising a title page, a preface by Florent Fels and sixty four (64) loose photogravures, each mentioning the photographer’s name, titled ‘MÉTAL’, plate number and publisher’s name. Original dust jacket.

folio 30 x 23.5 cm; 11 ¾ x 9 ¼ in.
plate 29.2 x 22,5 cm; 11 ½ x 8 ¾ in.
image 23.6 x 17.1 cm; 9 ¼ x 6 ½ in.

 

 

“Dans toute sa force” (In full force)

For my new body of work I have been researching the concept of The Oblique Function which was first developed in the 1960’s by Architecture Principe (Claude Parent and Paul Virilio). “The idea was to tilt the ground in order to revolutionise the old paradigm of the vertical wall. In fact, being inclined, the wall becomes experiencable and so are the cities imagined by the two French architects. The oblique is fundamentally interested in how a body physically experiences a space. The slope implies an effort to climb up and a speed to climb down; this way the body cannot abstract itself from the space and feel the degrees of inclination.”1

The key to the concept is: The oblique is fundamentally interested in how a body physically experiences a space.

Perhaps we can transfer this concept to the portfolio MÉTAL by Germaine Krull, one of the most important photobooks every produced … and ask how does Krull, her camera, and by extension the viewer, inhabit the spaces she creates.

In this portfolio Krull, through “extreme angles, producing dizzying compositions of overlapping and intersecting details”, one upside down image and two multiple exposures, “one showing two overlapped power generators and the other several layered bicycle parts printed at right angles to one another to create an effect of circular motion”2 – produces and directs (Krull was also an avant-garde filmmaker) the creation of a molecular structure – both grand and intimate, macro and micro at one and the same time. Probing further, we can link her filmic structure, this oblique mass of machines and images, to Eisenstein’s dynamic comprehension of a work of art, that is, “The logic of organic form vs. the logic of rational form [which] yields, in collision, the dialectic of the art-form.”3

This dialectic (the tension that exists between two conflicting or interacting forces, elements, or ideas; and, the process, in Hegelian and Marxist thought, in which two apparently opposed ideas, the thesis and antithesis, become combined in a unified whole, the synthesis) rests on Eisenstein’s definition of the organic form as “the passive principle of being”, defining its limit to be nature, and his definition of the rational form as “the active principle of production”, defining its limit to be industry, with art falling where nature and industry intersects.4 How these two forces interact “produces and determines Dynamism”, in which:

The spatial form of this dynamism is expression.
The phases of its tension: rhythm.5

.
These new concepts and viewpoints are the result of a constantly dynamic evolution from old perceptions to new perceptions which produce contradictions within the spectator’s mind. Eisenstein observes, “That which is not slightly distorted lacks sensible appeal; from which it follows that irregularity – that is to say, the unexpected, surprise and astonishment, are an essential part and characteristic of beauty.”6 “And Baudelaire wrote in his journal: That which is not slightly distorted lacks sensible appeal; from which it follows that irregularity-that is to say, the unexpected, surprise and astonishment, are an essential part and characteristic of beauty. Upon closer examination of the particular beauty of irregularity as employed in painting, whether by Grünewald or by Renoir, it will be seen that it is a disproportion in the relation of a detail in one dimension to another detail in a different dimension. The spatial development of the relative size of one detail in correspondence with another, and the consequent collision between the proportions designed by the artist for that purpose, result in a characterization – a definition of the represented matter.”7

What could me appropriate for Krull’s multi-layered, distorted, scaled, twisted representations of the new temples of industry than this definition of represented matter – a symbiosis between nature and industry, acknowledging, through emotion, beauty in the nature of industry, and landscapes of plenty in a people-less world?

An anonymous author on the Cinema Confessions blog comments, “Any art form ought to be understood as a communicative medium in which the thing being communicated is not an idea, but an emotion. Language communicates intellect, whereas art communicates sensation. The two are certainly compatible, as in poetry, but also just as certainly inimitably unique. And as communication requires the process of a message being sent and received, we must acknowledge that distinct communication is impossible without the process of time. Thus, as words in a sentence are given meaning through context of contiguous words in the same sentence, and sentences are given sub-textual meaning through context of other sentences within a conversation, given shots within a scene will conform to an over-tonal meaning intrinsically contextualized by other shots within the same scene, and in a broader sense, other scenes throughout the film.”

They continue: “In the essay The Filmic Fourth Dimension, Eisenstein compares film to music thusly, “There, along with the vibration of a basic dominant tone, comes a whole series of similar vibrations … Their impacts against each other … envelop the basic tone in a whole host of secondary vibrations … We find the same thing in optics, as well. All sorts of aberrations, distortions, and other defects, which can be remedied by systems of lenses, can also be taken into account compositionally, providing a whole series of definite compositional effects.” To simplify, he is describing the methods by which musicians and filmmakers are capable of manipulating audience emotion.”8

Thus, through Krull’s definitive compositional effects, her tonal montages capture more than just linear time, construct more than the spectator’s eye directed along the lines of some immobile object … for her holistic movement of the piece is perceived in a wider sense: where the “montage is based on the characteristic emotional sound of the piece – of its dominant. The general tone of the piece… I do not mean to say that the emotional sound of the piece is to be measured “impressionistically.” The piece’s characteristics in this respect can be measured with as much exactitude as in the most elementary case of “by the ruler” measurement in metrical montage. But the units of measurement differ. And the amounts to be measured are different.”9

This is the key to the effective nature of Krull’s portfolio, the power of the emotional sound of the piece: her understanding of the compositional effects of tonal montage as a piece of theatre measured in a different unit – through rhythm, through the interruption of sequences, through the distortion of spaces – to create a single unit of sensory and emotional experience. As Eisenstein notes, “In the Kabuki … a single monistic sensation of theatrical “provocation” takes place. The Japanese regards each theatrical element, not as an incommensurable unit among the various categories of affect (on the various sense-organs), but as a single unit of theatre . . .. Directing himself to the various organs of sensation, he builds his summation [of individual “pieces”] to a grand total provocation of the human brain, without taking any notice which of these several paths he is following.”10

Pace Krull. Her holistic compositions are intertextual and multi-faceted at a time when “straight” photography and even avant-garde photography could not string an adequate sentence together, let alone a multi-dimensional visual, sensual and emotional narrative. This is why Krull’s portfolio is so revolutionary for its time. And just to reinforce this shock of the new, of surprise and astonishment, Krull gets the writer Florent Fels – a traditionalist who by this time (1928) did not like contemporary art – to write a romantic eulogy of an introduction to the new gods of the sky, an introduction which gives the reader a sense of the soaring romanticism which is ascribed to these machinic megaliths. Citing Dostoyevsky, Rousseau and Cocteau, Fels’ florid fornications are, just like Krull’s stunning images, a joy for the senses:

“The trains break the horizon with a deafening roar. They leave the ground and glide there on the ether into the inevitable advance of progress, dragging the living with wonder towards the astral stations.

The strong and soft movement of the hammer softens the ingots like lead elephants. And see the Eiffel Tower, now a bell tower of acoustic waves, its improper monstrosity has provided for surprise and confusion. Now lovers are treated there, three hundred metres above the ground, to a rendezvous with the birds. And the poets, from the old Douanier Rousseau to Jean Cocteau, claim that on beautiful spring evenings fairies ride tobogan on its wing.

This giant was missing a heavenly glow: One has been given to it. The luminous progress of industry is evident in every majestic metre of its height.

Aeroplane, elevator and wheel, with which some humans soar up to the kingdom of the birds, are suddenly transformed into elements of our nature.”11

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

Word count: 1,438

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All of the photographs in this posting are published under “fair use” conditions for the purpose of educational research and academic comment. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

  1. “# Great Speculations /// The Oblique Functon by Claude Parent and Pau Virilio” on The Funambulist website [Online] Cited 09/12/2018
  2. Kim Sichel. “Contortions of Technique: Germaine Krull’s Experimental Photography,” on the MoMA website [Online] Cited 09/12/2018
  3. Sergei Eisenstein. Film Form: Essay in Film Theory. Edited and translated by Jay Leyda. New York and London: A Harvest/HBJ Book, 1949, p. 46
  4. Ibid.,
  5. Ibid., p. 47
  6. Charles Baudelaire, Intimate Journals (13 May 1 856), translated by Christopher Isherwood. New York, Random House, 1930, quoted in Sergei Eisenstein. Film Form: Essay in Film Theory. Edited and translated by Jay Leyda. New York and London: A Harvest/HBJ Book, 1949, p. 51
  7. Anonymous. “Film as Language: The Method and Form of Sergei Eisenstein,” on the Cinema Confessions blog 05/05/2011 [Online] Cited 09/12/2018
  8. Eisenstein op. cit., p. 51
  9. Ibid., p. 75
  10. Ibid., p. 64
  11. Extract of the Preface from Florent Fels to the first edition of MÉTAL. Librairie des Arts décoratifs, A. Calavas, Editeur, 68, Rue la Fayette, Paris, 1928

 

 

I did not have a special intention or design when I took the Iron photographs. I wanted to show what I see, exactly as the eye sees it.
‘MÉTAL’ is a collection of photographs from the time. ‘MÉTAL’ initiated a new visual era and open the way or a new concept of photography.
‘MÉTAL’ was the starting point which allowed photography to become an artisanal trade and which made an artist of the photographer, because it was part of this new movement, of this new era which touched all art.

.
Germaine Krull. Extract from the Preface to the 1976 edition of ‘MÉTAL’

 

Roland Barthes was skeptical of Krull’s experimental photographs. In his famous 1980 meditation on photography, ‘Camera Lucida’, he wrote: “There are moments when I detest Photographs: what have I to do with Atget’s old tree trunks, with Pierre Boucher’s nudes, with Germaine Krull’s double exposures (to cite only the old names).”3 Barthes discounts what he calls photographic “contortions of technique: superimpressions, anamorphoses, deliberate exploitation of certain defects (blurring, deceptive perspectives, trick framing),” and comments that “great photographers (Germaine Krull, Kertész, William Klein) have played on these surprises, without convincing me, if I understand their subversive bearing.”4 But while such photographs are sometimes subversive, to be sure, they are often celebratory in tone. Krull and her colleagues carried out their “contortions of technique” to produce metaphors for the swirling, confusing, exhilarating urban life in their post-World War I decade.

.
Roland Barthes. Camera Lucida, p. 33 quoted in Kim Sichel. “Contortions of Technique: Germaine Krull’s Experimental Photography,” on the MoMA website [Online] Cited 25/11/2018

 

Krull’s most renowned photographs are not street scenes but abstracted views of the Eiffel Tower, and three of these images, accompanied by a short text by Florent Fels and laid out in overlapping fashion, appeared in a ‘Vu’ article titled “Dans toute sa force” (In full force) published in May 1928, just before the tower’s fortieth birthday (fig. 8).19 According to Krull’s memoirs, Vogel told her, “Go and photograph the Eiffel Tower, Germaine. Photograph it as you really see it, and make sure that you don’t bring me a postcard view.”20 As Krull wrote, she did not see much in the “dead old form” until she began climbing the staircases and experiencing the tower from various vantage points. Some of the resultant images  – vertiginous views of the wrought iron structure - appeared in the German magazine UHU and Philippe Lamour’s journal ‘Grand’route’ as well as in ‘Vu’, and others (eleven in all) grace the pages of ‘Métal’.21

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“Protest gegen ein unmögliches Bauwerk,” ‘UHU’ 4 (December 1927): 106-11; Eric Hurel, “La Confusion des arts,” ‘Grand’route’ 1, no. 3 (May 1930): 71-74; and Krull, ‘Métal’, cover and pls. 2, 11, 19, 26, 28, 33, 37, 50, 54, 57. Footnote 21 in Kim Sichel. “Contortions of Technique: Germaine Krull’s Experimental Photography,” on the MoMA website [Online] Cited 25/11/2018

 

 

Although a portfolio, rather than a book, MÉTAL is widely considered to be among the most important photographic publications of the 1920s. Not only was Krull able to create work that stood the test of time, but she managed it in a profession dominated by men. It is interesting that with MÉTAL, she embraces a clearly masculine theme.

Krull’s photographs, whether of bridges, cranes, or the Eiffel Tower, tend towards the unconventional. It seems as if her initial approach is quite conservative, but then she questions common rules of composition, avoiding the more obvious ways her subjects would have been photographed at the time. Krull consequently avoids implementing a strict visual language. Instead of striving for a “realistic” documentation of her subject in her photographs she chooses her angles instinctively, cropping the images tightly, or even reversing them. It is exactly this unexpected approach that makes MÉTAL stand out. …

The photographs were taken in Paris, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Marseille and Saint-Malo.

Curiously the cover image of the portfolio (also plate 37) is actually presented upside down. This decision was presumably taken by M. Tchimoukow (real name Louis Bonin), the designer of the portfolio’s cover. There appear to have been at least two versions of the portfolio. One with a black spine and band, and one with a brown spine and band. The brown cloth version (shown below) seems to be the rarer of the two. The portfolio consists of 64 plates with images printed on one side, and two folded sheets unbound resulting in 8 pages which include a two and a half page text by Florent Fels in French and a short explanatory text by Germaine Krull.

Text from the achtung.photography website

 

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
In the port of Amsterdam
1924
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Museum of Technology, Paris
1925
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Antwerp
1924
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

 

Preface from Florent Fels to the first edition of MÉTAL

The industrial activity of our times spreads a spectacle before our eyes, to which they have not yet become accustomed. Its newness captures and frightens us like that of a large natural phenomenon. In turn it expresses an attitude of mind, to which painters and poets are among those who devote themselves.

Europe’s cities appear to us as outdated and anachronistic. The provincial towns with their promenades, pleasant fountains and music pavilion suddenly become somewhat old fashioned, whilst the lyricism of our time succeeds in writing itself in concrete and steel cathedrals. Yet we are witness to the paradoxical fact, that the largest enterprises serve as forms of progress with exception of those who can contribute to an improvement in human dwellings. Except for a privileged few the accommodation of our contemporaries shows a similarity with that of our forebears at the time of Richelieu and Cromwell. The people of the cities succumb to the push of commercial practises. We demand houses with windows, which give a free view of the garden. Modern housing for modern people in which the sun and the fresh air find an unhindered inlet. Concrete and steel are their most important constituents: Ten years after the end of the war steel will at last serve a noble purpose, it will perhaps be rehabilitated.

Steel changes our landscape. Forests of masts replacing trees centuries old. Blast furnaces replacing hills.

From this new expression of the world some aspects have no been captured by beautiful photographs representative of a new romanticism.

Germaine Krull is the Marceline Desbores-Valmore of this lyricism and her photographs are sonnets of shining, piercing verse. Like an orchid is the driving force of Farcot and like frightening insects are the cogs.

Double exposure lends to the finest mechanisms a fantastic appearance and in considering a milling machine covered in muddy oil and detritus and from water dripping, one thinks of Dostoyevsky. In the halo that surrounds them the powerful, noiseless and quietly working dynamos seem to radiate luminous vibrations, and whose chimneys ring out whose fanfare tones to the heavens, these new godly concepts laid out before us. The bridges penetrate into the space. The trains break the horizon with a deafening roar. They leave the ground and glide there on the ether into the inevitable advance of progress, dragging the living with wonder towards the astral stations.

The strong and soft movement of the hammer softens the ingots like lead elephants. And see the Eiffel Tower, now a bell tower of acoustic waves, its improper monstrosity has provided for surprise and confusion. Now lovers are treated there, three hundred metres above the ground, to a rendezvous with the birds. And the poets, from the old Douanier Rousseau to Jean Cocteau, claim that on beautiful spring evenings fairies ride tobogan on its wing.

This giant was missing a heavenly glow: One has been given to it. The luminous progress of industry is evident in every majestic metre of its height.

Aeroplane, elevator and wheel, with which some humans soar up to the kingdom of the birds, are suddenly transformed into elements of our nature.

The Tower is and remains the highest symbol of the modern age. As he left New York and its vapour crowned palaces it was the Eiffel Tower, this beacon of the air, which Lindbergh envisaged, in order to reach Paris in the sentimental heart of the modern world.

Florent Fels.

 

The Eiffel Tower, the cranes and bridges of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Marseille and Saint-Malo provided me with the material for a number of plates which form this album. I am indebted to others for the extreme kindness with which I was welcomed, by the Director of the Conservatoire des Arts-et-Métiers to his museum, by the Director of the CPDE at the Saint-Quen Power Station, and by M. André Citroën in his factories.
The cover of the book is a composition by M. Tchimoukow.

Germaine Krull
Cover design by M. Tchimoukow

Librairie des Arts décoratifs,
A. Calavas, Editeur, 68, Rue la Fayette, Paris, 1928
Portfolio

23.5 x 29.9cm (Portfolio)
22.5 x 29cm (Plates)

64 plates and 2 leaves

 

Marceline Desbores-Valmore

Marceline Desbordes-Valmore (20 June 1786 – 23 July 1859) was a French poet and novelist…

She published Élégies et Romances, her first poetic work, in 1819. Her melancholy, elegiacal poems are admired for their grace and profound emotion. In 1821 she published the narrative work Veillées des Antilles. It includes the novella Sarah, an important contribution to the genre of slave stories in France…

The publication of her innovative volume of elegies in 1819 marks her as one of the founders of French romantic poetry. Her poetry is also known for taking on dark and depressing themes, which reflects her troubled life. She is the only female writer included in the famous Les Poètes maudits anthology published by Paul Verlaine in 1884. A volume of her poetry was among the books in Friedrich Nietzsche’s library. (Text from Wikipedia)

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Eiffel Tower
1927
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Railway lifting bridge, Rotterdam
1923-24
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Factory in Rotterdam
1923
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

 

Florent Fels

Ferdinand Florent Fels (1891-1977) was a French journalist, publisher and author prominent in discussing art in France. He often used the pseudonym Felsenberg. Fels launched the art magazine Action: Cahiers individualistes de philosophie et d’art in 1919. Here he expressed his individualist anarchist philosophy. (Text from Wikipedia)

 

Fels as an art critic before 1925

I now feel the need to make a step back on Fels. Born in 1891, he was recruited as a soldier-interpreter in the First World War thanks to his knowledge of English, and here became an anti-militaristic minded person. His experience at the front was quite parallel to that of Georg Grosz, the only German artist in his anthology, whose sad pages on the role of artists and critics during World War I corresponded largely to the thoughts of the French author. The experience of war convinced the young Fels of the need to overcome the traditional aesthetic models, linked to symbolism, but also of the emptiness of contemporary art, which had propagated or somehow supported the war effort. It is no coincidence that his friend de Vlaminck – in the Propos dedicated to him – used disdainful words on the role of Cubism in the years leading up to the war. According to Fels, the only art that, after the slaughter at the front, could still be trusted was the Dada movement, born in Zurich in 1916 and spread rapidly in Europe (it is also what can be read in the pages of Grosz, an artist about whom Fels published – in addition to the pages in the anthology – several other articles in the French world [14]).

Returning from the war front, in 1919, the twenty-eighty year old Fels launched with Robert Mortier (painter and poet) and Marcel Sauvage (poet) the journal Action. Cahiers individualistes de philosophie et d’art (Action. Individualist Notebooks on Philosophy and Art), which would have a short life (the last issue was 1922). The editors were young ex-soldiers who invested the money they had got from the state at the time they left the army, to launch the new journal. The founders of Action attempted to both awake and open the French culture. In the field of literature, Action hosted a series of poets, writers and literary critics such as Andre Malraux, Max Jacob, Jean Cocteau and Antonin Artaud; in the area of art, the journal liaised with all contemporary avant-garde movements (dada, fauves, cubists), discussed and exalted the production of the greatest artists (Claude Monet, Picasso, Matisse, Henri Rousseau Le Douanier) and gave great emphasis to African art. Looking at the journal’s issues, all available on the Internet [15], it is also easy to find that Action also housed reproductions of paintings and prints by many of the painters who later on were included in Propos d’Artistes: Derain, Kisling, Léger, Lhote, Pascin, Utrillo, Vlaminck. There were also art criticism articles of Duret and poems by Vlaminck.

Within Dadaism, Action preached a ‘subjectivist’, or individualist, version of vanguard aesthetics. It did not propagate revolutions, but proclaimed the need for the absolute freedom of the artists. Fels’ points of reference were in fact the individualistic anarchist movements inspired by Rousseau and Proudhon; in March 1920, he held a conference on “Les Classiques de l’Esprit nouveau” and published the text in the journal L’un [16]: he rejected the traditional Dadaist attitude of total destruction of the past and identified the new classics (Monet, Cézanne, Renoir, Van Gogh) that were due to be the basis of the new art. Fels took distance from the anti-social attitudes typical of Dadaism, and animated a controversy over the direction of new art movements: for him, everyone should make his personal revolution, without destroying any social foundations. At the root of Fels’s aesthetic theory there was “the enhancement of individual psychologies, the free but orderly expression of the heart, the sense of art, inspiration, and individuality” [17].

In 1922, Action‘s experience ended: money was over and the attempt to counter the revolutionary drift within Dadaism had failed. Starting with 1924, André Breton imposed surrealism, inspired by a much more corrosive aesthetic and social criticism. Fels condemned it.

 

Florent Fels between 1923 and 1925

Once the experience of Action was concluded in 1922, Fels joined in 1923 the editorial staff of Les Nouvelles Littéraires. There he dealt not only with contemporary art, but with reviews of exhibitions of all kinds (from Renaissance to Art of Polynesia). Often, his articles updated the public on the developments of decorative arts (in those years, he published his already mentioned essay on French tapestries and carpets).

I already mentioned that Fels stated in the postscript of the anthology: “I wanted to produce a document dated 1925” [18]. The idea was therefore to offer the reader almost an instant book. In fact, as we have already said, the book gave readers a real-time image of the art discussion in 1923-1924. 1925 was however a very important year for Fels. In addition to the anthology, he published a monograph on Claude Monet with Gallimard and became chief editor of the new art journal “L’Art Vivant“, founded by Jacques Guenne (1896-1945) and Maurice Martin du Gard (1896-1970), i.e. the two directors of “Les Nouvelles Littéraires“. The new publication was in fact presented as the artistic attachment (complément artistique) to the literary weekly. Art Vivant. It was published by the house Larousse since January 1925.

As previously mentioned, Fels’s aesthetic taste (think again that only a few years before he had been forced to finance his own publication with the liquidation of the time spent in war as a simple soldier) was becoming closer to those of the great French progressive publishing companies (Gallimard, Larousse). In other words, he was taking on more and more classic aesthetic orientations. The Art Vivant magazine (which will have long life: Fels was his chief editor until 1939, when the magazine closed its doors in the wake of the war) became therefore one of the favourite targets of the communist intellectual and surrealist leader Louis Aragon (1897-1982), who called Fels “Paysan de Paris“, the peasant of Paris. From Aragon’s perspective, the only veritable surrealist anthology of art literature with a Marxist orientation will be published twenty years later by Paul Éluard.

Extract from Review by Francesco Mazzaferro of Florent Fels, Propos d’Artistes [The Propositions of the Artists], 1925. Part One 22 May 2017 [Online] Cited 30/11/2018

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Electricity France, Paris
1925
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Negative collotype print

 

Detail of a centrifugal speed governor?

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Technical Museum, Paris
1926
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Motor industry Citreon, Paris
1926-27
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Technical Museum, Paris
1926
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Her book MÉTAL contains only two multiple exposures, one showing two overlapped power generators and the other several layered bicycle parts printed at right angles to one another to create an effect of circular motion.

 

 

Germaine Krull

Germaine Luise Krull (20 November 1897 – 31 July 1985) was a photographer, political activist, and hotel owner. Her nationality has been categorized as German, French, and Dutch, but she spent years in Brazil, Republic of the Congo, Thailand, and India. Described as “an especially outspoken example” of a group of early 20th-century female photographers who “could lead lives free from convention”, she is best known for photographically-illustrated books such as her 1928 portfolio MÉTAL.

Krull was born in Posen-Wilda, a district of Posen (then in Germany; now Poznań, Poland), of an affluent German family. In her early years, the family moved around Europe frequently; she did not receive a formal education, but instead received homeschooling from her father, an accomplished engineer and a free thinker (whom some characterised as a “ne’er-do-well”). Her father let her dress as a boy when she was young, which may have contributed to her ideas about women’s roles later in her life.[6] In addition, her father’s views on social justice “seem to have predisposed her to involvement with radical politics.”

Between 1915 and 1917 or 1918 she attended the Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt für Photographie, a photography school in Munich, Germany, at which Frank Eugene’s teaching of pictorialism in 1907-1913 had been influential. She opened a studio in Munich in approximately 1918, took portraits of Kurt Eisner and others, and befriended prominent people such as Rainer Maria Rilke, Friedrich Pollock, and Max Horkheimer.

Krull was politically active between 1918 and 1921. In 1919 she switched from the Independent Socialist Party of Bavaria to the Communist Party of Germany, and was arrested and imprisoned for assisting a Bolshevik emissary’s attempted escape to Austria. She was expelled from Bavaria in 1920 for her Communist activities, and traveled to Russia with lover Samuel Levit. After Levit abandoned her in 1921, Krull was imprisoned as an “anti-Bolshevik” and expelled from Russia.

She lived in Berlin between 1922 and 1925 where she resumed her photographic career. She and Kurt Hübschmann (later to be known as Kurt Hutton) worked together in a Berlin studio between 1922 and 1924. Among other photographs Krull produced in Berlin were a series of nudes (recently disparaged by an unimpressed 21st-century critic as “almost like satires of lesbian pornography”).

Having met Dutch filmmaker and communist Joris Ivens in 1923, she moved to Amsterdam in 1925. After Krull returned to Paris in 1926, Ivens and Krull entered into a marriage of convenience between 1927 and 1943 so that Krull could hold a Dutch passport and could have a “veneer of married respectability without sacrificing her autonomy.”

In Paris between 1926 and 1928, Krull became friends with Sonia Delaunay, Robert Delaunay, Eli Lotar, André Malraux, Colette, Jean Cocteau, André Gide and others; her commercial work consisted of fashion photography, nudes, and portraits. During this period she published the portfolio MÉTAL (1928) which concerned “the essentially masculine subject of the industrial landscape.” Krull shot the portfolio’s 64 black-and-white photographs in Paris, Marseille, and Holland during approximately the same period as Ivens was creating his film De Brug (“The Bridge”) in Rotterdam, and the two artists may have influenced each other. The portfolio’s subjects range from bridges, buildings (e.g., the Eiffel Tower), and ships to bicycle wheels; it can be read as either a celebration of machines or a criticism of them. Many of the photographs were taken from dramatic angles, and overall the work has been compared to that of László Moholy-Nagy and Alexander Rodchenko. In 1999-2004 the portfolio was selected as one of the most important photobooks in history.

By 1928 Krull was considered one of the best photographers in Paris, along with André Kertész and Man Ray. Between 1928 and 1933, her photographic work consisted primarily of photojournalism, such as her photographs for Vu, a French magazine. Also in the early 1930s, she also made a pioneering study of employment black spots in Britain for Weekly Illustrated (most of her ground-breaking reportage work from this period remains immured in press archives and she has never received the credit which is her due for this work). Her book Études de Nu (“Studies of Nudes”) published in 1930 is still well-known today. Between 1930 and 1935 she contributed photographs for a number of travel and detective fiction books.

In 1935-1940, Krull lived in Monte Carlo where she had a photographic studio. Among her subjects during this period were buildings (such as casinos and palaces), automobiles, celebrities, and common people. She may have been a member of the Black Star photojournalism agency which had been founded in 1935, but “no trace of her work appears in the press with that label.”

In World War II, she became disenchanted with the Vichy France government, and sought to join the Free French Forces in Africa. Due to her Dutch passport and her need to obtain proper visas, her journey to Africa included over a year (1941-1942) in Brazil where she photographed the city of Ouro Preto. Between 1942 and 1944 she was in Brazzaville in French Equatorial Africa, after which she spent several months in Algiers and then returned to France.

After World War II, she traveled to Southeast Asia as a war correspondent, but by 1946 had become a co-owner of the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand, a role that she undertook until 1966. She published three books with photographs during this period, and also collaborated with Malraux on a project concerning the sculpture and architecture of Southeast Asia.

After retiring from the hotel business in 1966, she briefly lived near Paris, then moved to Northern India and converted to the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism. Her final major photographic project was the publication of a 1968 book Tibetans in India that included a portrait of the Dalai Lama. After a stroke, she moved to a nursing home in Wetzlar, Germany, where she died in 1985.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Eiffel Tower, Paris
1927
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Railway lifting bridge, Rotterdam
1923-24
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Eiffel Tower, Paris
1927
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Eiffel Tower, Paris
1927
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Curiously the cover image of the portfolio (also plate 37) is actually presented upside down. This decision was presumably taken by M. Tchimoukow (real name Louis Bonin), the designer of the portfolio’s cover.

 

 

Germaine Krull

Germaine Krull was a pioneer in the fields of avant-garde photomontage, the photographic book, and photojournalism, and she embraced both commercial and artistic loyalties. Born in Wilda-Poznań, East Prussia, in 1897, Krull lived an extraordinary life lasting nine decades on four continents – she was the prototype of the edgy, sexually liberated Neue Frau (New Woman), considered an icon of modernity and a close cousin of the French garçonne and the American flapper. She had a peripatetic childhood before her family settled in Munich in 1912. She studied photography from 1916 to 1918 at Bayerische Staatslehranstalt für Lichtbildwesen (Instructional and Research Institute for Photography), and in 1919 opened her own portrait studio. Her early engagement with left-wing political activism led to her expulsion from Munich. Then, on a visit to Russia in 1921, she was incarcerated for her counterrevolutionary support of the Free French cause against Hitler. In 1926, she settled in Paris, where she became friends with artists Sonia and Robert Delaunay and intellectuals André Malraux, Jean Cocteau, Colette, and André Gide, who were also subjects of her photographic portraits.

Krull’s artistic breakthrough began in 1928, when she was hired by the nascent VU magazine,the first major French illustrated weekly. Along with photographers André Kertész and Éli Lotar, she developed a new form of reportage rooted in a freedom of expression and closeness to her subjects that resulted in intimate close-ups, all facilitated by her small-format Icarette, a portable, folding bed camera. During this period, she published the portfolio, Metal (MÉTAL)(1928), a collection of 64 pictures of modernist iron giants, including cranes, railways, power generators, the Rotterdam transporter bridge, and the Eiffel Tower, shot in muscular close-ups and from vertiginous angles. Krull participated in the influential Film und Foto, or Fifo, exhibition (1929-30), which was accompanied by two books, Franz Roh’s and Jan Tschichold’s Foto-Auge (Photo-Eye) and Werner Gräff’s Es kommt der neue Fotograf! (Here Comes the New Photographer!)Fifo marked the emergence of a new critical theory of photography that placed Krull at the forefront of Neues Sehen or Neue Optik (New Vision) photography, a new direction rooted in exploring fully the technical possibilities of the photographic medium through a profusion of unconventional lens-based and darkroom techniques. After the end of World War II, she traveled to Southeast Asia, and then moved to India, where, after a lifetime dedicated to recording some of the major upheavals of the twentieth century, she decided to live as a recluse among Tibetan monks.

Introduction by Roxana Marcoci, Senior Curator, Department of Photography, 2016 on the MoMA website [Online] Cited 25/11/2018

 

Métal and Filmic Montage

For Krull, metal was the most powerful metaphor for the modern world, and her book Métal includes many of the industrial forms she saw in Europe. It features both multiple exposures and straight images, and the entire volume is structured according to the principles of film montage. As noted earlier, Krull was a member of the Dutch avant-garde film collective Filmliga, which was cofounded by Joris Ivens, who in 1927 became her husband. Both of them published work in Arthur Lehning’s related avant-garde journal i10.

They saw screenings of Soviet avant-garde films by Vsevolod Pudovkin and Sergei Eisenstein, and Krull made a portrait of Eisenstein when he visited Paris in 1930. Eisenstein’s theories of montage were particularly important to the couple, and Krull’s Métal serves to demonstrate them. She actively adopted the Soviet filmmaker’s ideas of rupture and “visual counterpoint,” involving graphic, planar, volumetric, and spatial conflicts.26

The book is technically an album, with sixty-four numbered but unbound collotype reproductions that can ostensibly be rearranged at will. There are no captions and no identifying markers, and the images include both vertical and horizontal compositions. In a brief note beneath an introductory text by Florent Fels, Krull tells us that these photographs include a lifting bridge over the Meuse River in Rotterdam (also the subject of Ivens’s renowned avant-garde montage film, The Bridge [De Brug], from that same year); the cranes in the Amsterdam port; the Eiffel Tower; Marseille’s transporter bridge; and other industrial forms she found.27 But it would be difficult to decipher these subjects from the photographs themselves. Although there are eleven Eiffel Tower images in the book, for example, they are often so abstracted that the subject is unidentifiable, and none are on contiguous pages. …

Scholars have often read Métal as a purely formal experiment, but Krull used it as a commentary on contemporary life, producing the kind of montage that her friend Walter Benjamin championed, in which “the superimposed element disrupts the context in which it is inserted. … The discovery is accomplished by means of the interruption of sequences. Only interruption here has not the character of a stimulant but an energizing function.”29 The quality of interruption, according to Benjamin, differentiates truly revolutionary work from the mere aping of the modern world, an approach that he scornfully attributes to the work of Albert Renger-Patzsch.30 For Krull, interruption could occur in a multiple exposure, as in the aforementioned Métal image depicting overlapping views of bicycle parts. Or interruption can be found while turning a book’s pages, moving from a drive-belt detail to ominously large-scale cargo cranes, or from the Rotterdam Bridge over the Meuse to a detail of a centrifugal speed governor. Whether portraying a roller coaster, documenting the Eiffel Tower, or creating her book of industrial fragments, Krull engaged the decade’s cacophony and used provocative experimental techniques to capture its allure.

Kim Sichel. “Contortions of Technique: Germaine Krull’s Experimental Photography,” p. 7 on the MoMA website [Online] Cited 25/11/2018.

Kim Sichel. “Contortions of Technique: Germaine Krull’s Experimental Photography,” in Mitra Abbaspour, Lee Ann Daffner, and Maria Morris Hambourg, eds. Object: Photo. Modern Photographs: The Thomas Walther Collection 1909-1949. An Online Project of The Museum of Modern Art. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2014.

27. Sergei Eisenstein, “A Dialectic Approach to Film Form” (1929), in Jay Leyda, ed., Film Form: Essays in Film Theory (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1949), pp. 52-54
29. Walter Benjamin, “The Author as Producer” (1934), in Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings (New York: Schocken Books, 1986), pp. 234-35
30. Benjamin, “The Author as Producer,” p. 230

 

 

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08
May
14

Exhibition: ‘Brancusi, Rosso, Man Ray – Framing Sculpture’ at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam

Exhibition dates: 8th February – 11th May 2014

 

What a magnificent exhibition. We all know Brancusi and Man Ray but it is the work of Medardo Rosso that surprises and delights here, an artist I admit I knew nothing about before this posting. What a revelation, both his sculptures and photographs. I must try and do a whole posting just on his photographs!

The two self-portraits of the artists in the studio are telling… Rosso, pensive, brooding, with a stack of chopped wood surrounding him, face wreathed in shadow, head titled slightly down and hands stuffed in pockets; Brancusi, seated on a plinth, legs crossed, swarthy arms folded replete with large hands, staring directly at the camera and surrounded by his work. Rosso in malleable darkness, Brancusi in towering light. The photographs reflect their respective personalities and inform the art which represents them.

Marcus

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Many thankx to Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the image for a larger version of the art.

 

Alessio delli Castelli considers the Italian sculptor’s photographic legacy.

“Medardo Rosso was born in Turin in 1858 and died in Milan 1928. However, he spent most of his life away from Italy, in Paris especially, from where he travelled to all the major European capitals. It was in Paris that, towards the close of the 19th century, he emerged alongside Auguste Rodin as a serious contender for the title of father of modern sculpture. Yet it was Rodin who achieved universal recognition. In spite of Rosso’s influence on sculptors such as Constantin Brancusi – whose Sleeping Muse (1909-10), with its radically abstracted features of a female head, is strongly reminiscent of Rosso’s Madame X (1896) – he was long held hostage by a provincial criticism which saw his practice confined, chronologically, thematically and formally, to the 19th century. Although it is true that Rosso only created two original sculptural works in the 20th century, to claim that he was no longer a practicing artist would be to overlook the variations he made of his sculptures, and the copies from antiquity. More importantly, it would be to dismiss his photographic work of that period merely as images of sculptures that already existed. This would mean ignoring the fact that his photography showed all the signs of rigorous artistic investigation – and was not, as critics in the 20th century often declared, indicative of either an accident that injured his leg and made him weak or a more general creative block.

It is only in recent years that Rosso’s photographs have acquired the status of art objects in and of themselves…”

Read more on the Frieze Magazine website

 

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Brancusi, Rosso, Man Ray - Framing Sculpture' at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, 2014

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Brancusi, Rosso, Man Ray - Framing Sculpture' at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, 2014

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Brancusi, Rosso, Man Ray - Framing Sculpture' at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, 2014

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Brancusi, Rosso, Man Ray - Framing Sculpture' at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, 2014

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Brancusi, Rosso, Man Ray - Framing Sculpture' at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, 2014

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Brancusi, Rosso, Man Ray - Framing Sculpture' at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, 2014

 

In mythology, Leda is a girl who is seduced by Zeus who turns her into a swan. In the Brancusi sculpture, Leda (foreground, above) is that metamorphosis. The swan is an animal whose body is often associated with a hybrid identity between male and female. His neck is close to a phallic shape while her body has feminine attributes. The bird and woman, male and female mingle in the same sculptural movement. This transfiguration is reflected in the complex forms of sculpture, asymmetrical contours, the offset top shape intersecting with the lower form, giving rise to multiple passages and perceptions.

In 1932, Brancusi sculpture adds a large polished steel disc which suggests the presence of water and Leda is reflected in the mirror which changes its shape. Modifications qu’accentuera still provide a motor and a ball bearing arranged in the circular plate. Within the workshop, the body of Leda is in a state of constant metamorphosis. The shimmer of light on the surface of polished bronze sculpture blends with its reflection in the steel circle and absorbs its environment. Leda becomes a pure luminous presence. Weight and lightness, balance and imbalance are the same event within a continuous time duration in the sculptures of Constantin Brancusi. (Translated from the French on the Constantin Brancusi web page of the Centre Pompidou website).

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Brancusi, Rosso, Man Ray - Framing Sculpture' at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, 2014

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition Brancusi, Rosso, Man Ray – Framing Sculpture
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, 2014
Foto / Photos: Gert-Jan de Rooij, Amsterdam

 

 

“In the spring of 2014 Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen brings together works from all over the world by three artists who were decisive for the development of modern art. This is the first exhibition to combine sculptures by Brancusi, Rosso and Man Ray together with their photographs, affording a unique insight into the artists’ working methods.

Masterpieces that have rarely or never been seen in the Netherlands will be lent by important museums such as the Centre Pompidou, MoMA and Tate. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen will show more than 40 sculptures and hundred photographs by Constantin Brancusi (Hobita 1876 – Paris 1957), Medardo Rosso (Turin 1858 – Milan 1928) and Man Ray (Philadelphia 1890 – Paris 1976). The exhibition will feature sculptures such as Brancusi’s Princesse X (1915-1916) and Rosso’s Ecce Puer (1906) alongside works by Man Ray from the museum’s collection, including the sculpture L’Énigme d’Isidore Ducasse (1920/1971). Presenting the sculptures together with the artists’ photographs of their sculptures reveals their often-surprising perspectives on their own works.

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Framing Sculpture

Brancusi, Rosso and Man Ray employed photography not so much as a means of recording their work. The photographs show how they interpreted their sculptures and how they wanted them to be seen by others. Brancusi is considered the father of modern sculpture with his highly simplified sculptures of people and animals. In his photographs he experimented with light and reflection so that his sculptures absorb their environment and appear to come to life. Rosso is the artist who introduced impressionism in sculpture. The indistinct contours of his apparently quickly modelled figures in plaster and wax make them appear to fuse with their surroundings. Rosso cut up the soft-focus photographs of his work, made them into collages and reworked them with ink so that the sculptures appear even flatter and more contourless. Man Ray is best known as a photographer but was also a painter and sculptor. His choice of materials was unconventional: he combined existing objects to create new works, comparable to the ‘readymades’ of his friend Marcel Duchamp. Man Ray’s experimental use of photography led him to make photographs without the use of a camera. He made these so-called ‘rayographs’ by placing objects directly on photographic paper and exposing them briefly to light, leaving behind a ghostly impression.

Press release from the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

 

06-WEB

 

Man Ray
L’Énigme d’Isidore Ducasse (The Riddle of Isidore Ducasse)
1920 (1971)
Iron, textile, rope, cardboard
45.4 x 60 x 24 cm
Collection Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
© Man Ray Trust / ADAGP, c/o Pictoright Amsterdam 2013.

 

07-WEB

 

Man Ray
L’Énigme d’Isidore Ducasse (The Riddle of Isidore Ducasse)
1920 (1975)
Gelatin silver print
47.5 x 59 cm
Courtesy Fondazione Marconi, Milan
© Man Ray Trust / ADAGP, c/o Pictoright Amsterdam 2013

 

12-WEB

 

Medardo Rosso
Enfant à la Bouchée de pain (Child in the soup kitchen)
1897 (1892-1893)
Wax over plaster
46 x 49 x 37 cm
Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Rome

 

13-WEB

 

Medardo Rosso
Enfant à la Bouchée de pain in the Cézanne room at the Salon d’Automne
1904
Felatin silver print
12.3 x 15.5 cm
Private collection

 

The Italian sculptor Medardo Rosso (1858-1928) is the oldest and most traditional of the three artists. He stands in the Impressionist tradition of French sculptor August Rodin. Rosso has made many portraits of children, which he adored. They were one of his favorite subjects. Rosso kept working on the same pieces throughout his career, making changes to their titles, shapes or materials. Sometimes he combined materials or poured another substance over the original. A work of plaster then became a wax sculpture. Other times he made two different versions of the same image, using different materials…

Rosso… used his camera to present his art in the way he preferred. By taking pictures and displaying them next to the actual sculptures he could show the audience what was, in his opinion, the right angle to look at his piece. Of course, everyone is free to walk around the sculpture, but the photographs show what the artist had in mind when he created it. Many times he would cut up his pictures, tear away corners or color them with ink. This way he even reinterpreted his interpretations. Together the sculptures, photographs and collages give a complete picture of the work by Medardo Rosso. Never before have there been so many of his works on display in the Netherlands. (Text by Evita Bookelmann on the Kunstpedia website)

 

Constantin Brancusi. 'Tête d’enfant endormi' (Head of a Sleeping Child) 1906-07

 

Constantin Brancusi
Tête d’enfant endormi (Head of a Sleeping Child)
1906-07
Plaster, coloured dark brown
10.8 x 13.6 x 15.2 cm
Private collection

 

 

A previously unknown sculpture by Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957) can be seen in Brancusi, Rosso, Man Ray – Framing Sculpture, the exhibition opening at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen on Saturday. The museum is especially delighted by the arrival of Tête d’enfant endormie (Head of a Sleeping Child, 1906-07). This early sculpture is an important key work in Brancusi’s development of his famous ‘ovoid’.

The exhibition, which features more than forty sculptures by Constantin Brancusi, Medardo Rosso and Man Ray and a hundred vintage photographs taken by them, runs in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen for three months from 8 February. The plaster sculpture was purchased at a sale by a French private collector. Leading expert Friedrich Teja Bach has recently confirmed that it is a version of the ‘head of a sleeping child’. Curators Francesco Stocchi and Peter van der Coelen remarked, “It is unusual for a previously unknown work by Brancusi to turn up at a sale. Works by Brancusi are rare and almost all of them are in prominent museum collections like those of the Centre Pompidou, the Tate and MoMA.”

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The Road to Abstraction

The child’s head with natural features is in the tradition of the contemporary Impressionists Auguste Rodin and Medardo Rosso. At the same time, this early work is a starting point in Brancusi’s journey towards a more abstract style, which culminated in an entirely smooth oval form, devoid of any facial features. This process can also be seen in the photographs taken by Brancusi himself, in which he pictured Tête d’enfant endormie in his studio with Le Nouveau-Ne II, a work he made ten years later. The exhibition in Rotterdam examines the artistic practices and development of Brancusi, Rosso and Man Ray by showing the sculptures alongside the photographs they took of them.

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Painted Bronze

Brancusi’s oeuvre contains a number of recurring subjects, which the artist executed in a variety of materials, including plaster, marble and bronze. This allowed Brancusi to explore various effects, such as the reflection of light. The signed Tête d’enfant endormie is an early version in the series. It is unusual that Brancusi painted the plaster, making it look like bronze.

Press release from the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

 

Constantin Brancusi. 'La Muse endormie' (Sleeping muse) 1910

 

Constantin Brancusi
La Muse endormie (Sleeping muse)
1910
Bronze
16.1 x 27.7 x 19.3 cm
Arthur Jerome Eddy Memorial Collection. The Art Institute of Chicago
© 2013 c/o Pictoright Amsterdam

 

Man Ray. 'Noire et blanche (Black and white)' 1926

 

Man Ray
Noire et blanche (Black and white)
1926
Gelatin silver print
18 x 23.5 cm
© Man Ray Trust / ADAGP – PICTORIGHT / Telimage – 2013

 

Man Ray’s Noire et blanche is a photograph exemplary of Surrealist art. The striking faces of the pale model and the dark mask have a doubling effect. This repetition is a reminder that a photograph is a double of what it represents, namely, a sign or an index of reality. In Surrealism the act of doubling indicates that we are all divided subjects made up of the conscious and unconscious. In reading this photograph as typical of primitivism, the woman can be understood as European civilization and the mask as “primitive” Africa. The image draws a parallel between the two faces presenting them as related to each another. The title “black and white” is a word play because the order is reversed when reading the image left to right. The artist also printed a negative version of this image. The photograph was first published in Vogue. It is a portrait of Kiki of Montparnasse, Man Ray’s lover and model at the time the photograph was taken. (Text from the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam website)

 

Medardo Rosso. 'Enfant malade (Ziek kind)' c. 1909

 

Medardo Rosso
Enfant malade (Ziek kind)
c. 1909
Aristotype
7.9 x 6.3 cm
Private collection

 

Medardo Rosso. 'Enfant malade (Ziek kind) 1895 (1903-1904)

 

Medardo Rosso
Enfant malade (Ziek kind)
1895 (1903-1904)
Bronze
25.5 x 14.5 x 16.5 cm
Collectie Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Milan

 

Medardo Rosso. 'Madame X' 1896

 

Medardo Rosso
Madame X
1896
Wax
300 mm
Venice, Ca’ Pesaro

 

“With absolute consistency, insensitive to the controversies and disputes that his art aroused, and even more outrageous contempt of which he did hold official culture, Rosso deduced to the extreme the basic premises of his vision. Before our eyes a daunting shadow surface which shows the blade trembling and vibrating of a living being, which criticizes the mysterious anything that presses him and when you blow in a dissolver, its right in the light, that all ‘vital’ essence. The premises literary, philosophical or vaguely esoteric suggestions are totally absorbed in the supreme quality of style: the sculptor modulation and tapering the matter to the extent possible, the absolute brink of abstraction, seeking spasmodically every musical vibration; the equation of light-sculpture-painting could be said to be verified.”

(Terrible translation by Google translate of anonymous Text = but so beautiful at the same time!)

 

Constantin Brancusi. 'Princesse X' (Princess X) c. 1930

 

Constantin Brancusi
Princesse X (Princess X)
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print
29.7 x 23.7 cm
Collection Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Paris
© 2013 c/o Pictoright Amsterdam
Photo: Bertrand Prévost

 

Constantin Brancusi. 'Princesse X (Princess X)' 1915-1916

 

Constantin Brancusi
Princesse X (Princess X)
1915-1916
Bronze
61.7 x 40.5 x 22.2 cm
Collection Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Paris
© 2013 c/o Pictoright Amsterdam
Photo: Adam Rzepka

 

Princess X is a sculptured rendering of the French princess, Marie Bonaparte, by the artist Constantin Brâncusi. Princess Bonaparte was the great-grand niece of the emperor Napoleon Bonaparte…

According to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Brâncusi had been “at the center of two of modern arts most notorious scandals.” One of the scandals being that the Salon des Indépendants, in Paris where Brâncusi practiced his trade, discontinued the display of Princess X from its establishment for its apparent obscene content, as some thought it looked like a penis. After having his art taken off display, Brâncusi was shocked. He declared the incident a misunderstanding. He had created Princess X not as a sculpture depicting a more masculine subject, but the object of feminine desire and vanity.

After much accusation, Brâncuși insisted the sculpture had been his rendition of Marie Bonaparte. Brâncusi discussed the comparison of the bronze figure to the princess. He described his detest of Marie, as a “vain woman.” He claimed she went as far as placing a hand mirror on the table at mealtimes, so she could gaze upon herself. The sculpture’s C-like form reveals a woman looking over and gazing down, as if looking into an object. The large anchors of the sculpture resemble the “beautiful bust” which she possessed. Without knowing the context, to a viewer Princess X could look like an erect penis. Brâncusi allows the princess to gaze upon herself in an eternal loop locked in the bronze sculpture.

The style of Brâncusi is one that “was largely fueled by myths, folklore, and primitive culture,” this combined with the modern materials and tools Brâncuși used to sculpt, “formed a unique contrast…resulting in a distinctive kind of modernity and timelessness.” The technique Brâncusi was known for and used on Princess X could be mistaken for a penis, but in fact it was the simple form of a woman.

“What my art is aiming at, is above all realism; pursue the inner hidden reality, the very essence of objects in their own intrinsic fundamental nature: this is my only preoccupation.” – Constantine Brâncusi. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

 

Constantin Brancusi. 'View of the Studio with Maïastra' 1917

 

Constantin Brancusi
View of the Studio with Maïastra
1917
Gelatin silver print
23.9 x 17.8 cm
Collection Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Paris
© 2013 c/o Pictoright Amsterdam

 

According to Constantin Brancusi’s own testimony, his preoccupation with the image of the bird as a plastic form began as early as 1910. With the theme of the Maiastra (1910-18), he initiated a series of about thirty sculptures of birds.

The word maïastra means “master” or “chief” in Brancusi’s native Romanian, but the title refers specifically to a magically beneficent, dazzlingly plumed bird in Romanian folklore. Brancusi’s mystical inclinations and his deeply rooted interest in peasant superstition make the motif an apt one. The golden plumage of the Maiastra is expressed in the reflective surface of the bronze; the bird’s restorative song seems to issue from within the monumental puffed chest, through the arched neck, out of the open beak. The heraldic, geometric aspect of the figure contrasts with details such as the inconsistent size of the eyes, the distortion of the beak aperture, and the cocking of the head slightly to one side. The elevation of the bird on a saw-tooth base lends it the illusion of perching. The subtle tapering of form, the relationship of curved to hard-edge surfaces, and the changes of axis tune the sculpture so finely that the slightest alteration from version to version reflects a crucial decision in Brancusi’s development of the theme.

Seven other versions of Maiastra have been identified and located: three are marble and four bronze. (Text from the Guggenheim website)

 

 

Constantin Brancusi. 'Self-portrait in the studio' c. 1934

 

Constantin Brancusi
Self-portrait in the studio
c. 1934
Gelatin silver print
39.7 x 29.7 cm
Collection Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Paris
© 2013 c/o Pictoright Amsterdam
Photo: Philippe Migeat

 

Man Ray. 'Rayographie' (Rayograph) 1925

 

Man Ray
Rayographie (Rayograph)
1925
Photogram
50 x 40.5 cm
Collection Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
© Man Ray Trust / ADAGP, c/o Pictoright Amsterdam 2013

 

Man Ray. 'Le Violon d'Ingres' (Ingres's Violin or The Hobby) 1924

 

Man Ray
Le Violon d’Ingres (Ingres’s Violin or The Hobby)
1924
Gelatine silver print
17.2 x 22.4 cm
Private collection Turin
© Man Ray Trust / ADAGP, c/o Pictoright Amsterdam 2013

 

Man Ray. 'Self-portrait with the lamp' 1934

 

Man Ray
Self-portrait with the lamp
1934
Gelatin silver print
10. 8 x 8 cm
© Man Ray Trust / ADAGP, c/o Pictoright Amsterdam 2013

 

Medardo Rosso. 'Self-portrait in the studio' c. 1906

 

Medardo Rosso
Self-portrait in the studio
c. 1906
Modern contact print of the original glass negative
12.7 x 13 cm
Private collection

 

'Brancusi, Rosso, Man Ray - Framing Sculpture' exhibition poster

 

Constantin Brancusi, La Muse endormie, 1910. Arthur Jerome Eddy Memorial Collection. The Art Institute of Chicago. © 2013 c/o Pictoright Amsterdam /
Medardo Rosso, Enfant malade, c. 1909. Private collection /
Man Ray, Noire et blanche, 1926. © Man Ray Trust / ADAGP – PICTORIGHT / Telimage – 2013
Design: Thonik.

 

 

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
Museumpark 18-20
3015 CX Rotterdam
The Netherlands
T: +31 (0)10 44.19.400

Opening hours:
Tuesdays to Sundays, 11 am – 5 pm

 

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen website

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24
Dec
12

Exhibition: ‘Lewis Hine: Photography for a Change’ at the Netherlands Museum of Photography, Rotterdam

Exhibition dates: 15th September – 6th January 2013

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“In the last analysis, good photography is a question of art.”

“I wanted to show the thing that had to be corrected: I wanted to show the things that had to be appreciated.”

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Lewis Wickes Hines

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Something that you really don’t get in reproductions is the absolutely beautiful tonality of Hine’s social documentary photography. Even less so when the images provided by the institution are degraded by scratches, dust, spots and colour irregularities. Despite these media images being 300 dpi when I received them from the museum media department they were in very average condition. For example, the image of Christmas Fiddles (below) was in such poor condition when enlarged that I had to spend over half and hour cleaning up the image to make it pictorially legible to the viewer at a larger size.

This is not an unusual occurrence and, unbeknownst to the readers of the blog, I spend many hours quickly cleaning the digital files before they are presented to you. Some individual images and sets of images are of such poor quality that I simply cannot use them at all. I will do a posting on this issue soon, but suffice to say that museums that spend thousands of hours and dollars staging impressive photographic exhibitions really let themselves down in the promotion of the exhibition if they provide dodgy scans and unusable media images to people that promote the exhibition for free. In this world of media saturated images it should be the norm that the “quality” of the image outweighs the indifferent quantity. With faster and faster download speeds larger images can be viewed more readily online and therefore scans provided by institutions must live up to this enlarged capacity.

Hopefully you can get some idea of the work of this socially conscious photographer, an American photographer who saw the camera as both a research tool and an instrument of social reform, whose images helped change the world with regard to child labour. Unfortunately success and reputation counted for nought. He died totally impoverished in 1940, shortly before a resurgence of public interest in his work raised him to the highest level of American photographers. What an infinite sadness.

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

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Lewis Hine
. 'Man on hoisting ball, Empire State building' 1931

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Lewis Hine

Man on hoisting ball, Empire State building
1931
© George Eastman House

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Lewis Hine. 'Lunch Time, New York' 1910

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Lewis Hine
Lunch Time, New York
1910
© George Eastman House

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Lewis Hine. 'Belgrade. Christmas Fiddles' 1918

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Lewis Hine
Belgrade. Christmas Fiddles
1918
© George Eastman House

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Lewis Hine. 'Belgrade. Christmas Fiddles' 1918 (detail)

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Lewis Hine
Belgrade. Christmas Fiddles (detail)
1918
© George Eastman House

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Lewis Hine. 'Steelworker standing on beam' 1931

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Lewis Hine
Steelworker standing on beam
1931
© George Eastman House

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“From 15 September 2012 to 6 January 2013, the Netherlands Museum of Photography will present the first large retrospective in the Netherlands of the work of the renowned American photographer Lewis Hine. Hine was an enthusiastic photographer who wished to improve people’s lives through his photos. His pictures of immigrants on Ellis Island, of child labour, and of workers busy on the Empire State Building high above New York belong to the visual icons of the 20th century. The internationally touring exhibition contains more than 200 photos and documents, many in their original state and originating from the collection of the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York State. Lewis Hine is an initiative of three European institutions: Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson (Paris), Fundación MAPFRE (Madrid) and the Netherlands Museum of Photography (Rotterdam). It is with great pride that the Netherlands Museum of Photography can now present this exhibition that harmonizes perfectly with its aim to pay attention to the canon of international documentary photography.

Lewis W. Hine (Wisconsin, 1874 – New York, 1940), a sociologist and photographer, belongs to the group of famous photographers such as Joel Meyerowitz, Robert Frank, Robert Capa, Eugène Atget to whom the Netherlands Museum of Photography has previously devoted impressive exhibitions. Hine is known as a 20th-century pioneer of social documentary photography. It is characteristic of Hine that he strongly believed in the camera’s powers of conviction. Thus, armed only with a heavy camera he fought for social justice. For the National Child Labor Committee he travelled more than 75,000 kilometres through the United States to photograph children working in agriculture, the mines, factories, sewing attics, and on the streets. His photos were partly responsible for reforms in these fields. The themes in Hine’s work – child labour, situations of human indignity, and the vulnerability of immigrants and refugees – are still current. Despite his present reputation, his early successes and the fact that many governmental organizations made use of his photos, he died totally impoverished in 1940.

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Empire State Building and Building the Rotterdam

In 1932 Lewis Hine published the famous photographic book entitled Men at Work, which covered the construction of the Empire State Building. From the most audacious vantage points he took photos of the 381-metre building, showing the strength and willpower of humankind, man’s contribution to industry. The tall buildings on the Wilhelminapier have determined the skyline of Rotterdam for many years, just as the Empire State Building did in New York around 1930. The Wilhelminapier is now under full development. De Rotterdam Building, designed by Rem Koolhaas of OMA (Office for Metropolitan Architectural) will be completed in 2013-2014. The photographer Ruud Sies has followed the genesis of the largest building in the Netherlands for four years now. The project entitled Building the Rotterdam – a work in progress by Ruud Sies was inspired by the work of Lewis Hine and establishes the connection with the Wilhelminapier as a historical location. To the Netherlands Museum of Photography, this is a reason to include this project in the exhibition of the work of Lewis Hine.

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Exhibition

With 170 vintage photos from the period 1903-37 as well as 42 documents, this exhibition of Hine’s work is the first extensive and well-documented overview in the Netherlands and even in Europe. Hine’s entire oeuvre is on show, ranging from his earliest portraits of immigrants on Ellis Island to his work in Europe after the First World War. The Lewis Hine touring exhibition was on display in Paris toward the end of 2011, and in Madrid at the beginning of this year. For this international journey, Hine’s work has undergone preventative preservation treatment and is exposed to a minimum amount of light. After the exhibition in the Netherlands, the work will return to the George Eastman House in America to relax in a dark depot.”

Press release from the Netherlands Museum of Photography website

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Lewis Hine. 'The Sky Boy' 1931

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Lewis Hine
The Sky Boy
1931
© George Eastman House

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Lewis Hine. 'Waiting for the dispensary to open Hull House District, Chicago' 1910

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Lewis Hine
Waiting for the dispensary to open Hull House District, Chicago
1910
© George Eastman House

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“Lewis Hine was born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, in 1874. He moved to New York City in 1901 to teach at the Ethical Culture School. There Hine used photographs as educational tools, and soon began to photograph immigrants at Ellis Island. He hoped his photographs would encourage people to “exert the force to right wrongs.” While continuing to teach at ECS, Hine began to do freelance work for the National Child Labor Committee, an association that transformed his professional life.

In 1908, the NCLC provided Hine a monthly salary to photographically document children in factories, mills, canneries, textile mills, street trades, and agricultural industries. Through his photographs he sought to alert the public to the extent of child labor in America, and the degree to which it denied these children their childhood, health, and education. In one year, Hine covered 12,000 miles in his quest to end abusive child labor. By 1913, Hine was considered the leading social welfare photographer in America.

Hine enjoyed a long and successful career following his work for the NCLC. He worked for the American Red Cross (1917-20), photographing refugees and civilians in war-torn Europe, a new series of photographs of immigrants at Ellis Island (1926), a series of photographs documenting the construction of the Empire State Building (1930), photographs of drought-ridden communities in Arkansas and Kentucky (1931), as well as work for the Tennessee Valley Authority.

In 1936-37 Hine was appointed head photographer for the National Research Project of the Works Progress Administration. The aging Hine, however, was disappointed at the rebuff of his attempts to secure work with the Farm Services Administration, where director Roy Stryker considered Hine old fashioned and difficult. Lewis Hine died in 1940, shortly before a resurgence of public interest in his work raised him to the highest level of American photographers.”

Text from Child Labour in Virginia: Photographs by Lewis Hine web page

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Lewis Hine. 'Mechanic at steam pump in electric power house' 1920

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Lewis Hine
Mechanic at steam pump in electric power house
1920
© George Eastman House

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Lewis Hine. 'Candy Worker, New York' 1925

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Lewis Hine
Candy Worker, New York
1925
© George Eastman House

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Lewis Hine. 'Paris Gamin' 1918

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Lewis Hine
Paris Gamin
1918
© George Eastman House

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Netherlands Museum of Photography
Wilhelminakade 332
3072 AR Rotterdam
The Netherlands

Opening hours
Tuesday to Friday 10 am – 5 pm
Saturday and Sunday 11 am – 5 pm
Free entrance on Wednesday

Nederlands Museum of Photography website

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21
Sep
12

Exhibition: ‘Eva Besnyö 1910-2003: The Sensuous Image’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 22nd May – 23rd September 2012

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“Ranging from the experimental to the photojournalistic, from street scenes to portraits, and from new architecture to the aftermath of the aerial bombardment of Rotterdam, July 1940, Besnyö explored the different terrains that photography was opening up, while at the same time helping to define them. The various bodies of work make it difficult to characterize her… she seems to have no signature body of work, which is one of her abiding strengths. Just when you think you have gotten some sense of her, she slips through your fingers.”

John Yau. “Something Special About Her, Eva Besnyö at the Jeu de Paume” on the Hyperallergic website, July 8th 2012

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Eva Besnyö
Self Portrait
1932
Silver gelatin photograph
Private Collection, Berlin
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Self Portrait
Nd
Silver gelatin photograph
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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One of the purposes of this blog is to bring relatively unknown artists into the spotlight. Eva Besnyö is one such artist. Leaving the repressive atmosphere of Hungary in 1930, Besnyö joined László Moholy-Nagy, Martin Munkácsi, György Kepes and Endre Friedmann (Robert Capa) in Berlin before, sensing the danger of National Socialism, she moved to the Netherlands in 1932. After the invasion of the Netherlands by Nazi Germany in 1940 Besnyö survived four long years in hiding before obtaining false papers in 1944 that allowed her to emerge into the open. She was Jewish.

Exploring elements of the New Vision and New Objectivity in her work, Besnyö explored “the different terrains that photography was opening up” through various bodies of work: “ranging from experimental to the photojournalistic, from street scenes to portraits, and from new architecture to the aftermath of the aerial bombardment of Rotterdam.” As John Yau observes in the quote at the top of the posting, “The various bodies of work make it difficult to characterize her… she seems to have no signature body of work, which is one of her abiding strengths. Just when you think you have gotten some sense of her, she slips through your fingers.”

Continuing the conversation from my recent review of the work of Pat Brassington (where I noted that curators and collectors alike try to pigeon hole artists into one particular style, mainly so that they can compartmentalise and order the work that they produce: such and such produces this kind of work – and that the work produced in this style is not necessarily their best), Besnyö can be seen to be a transmogrifying artist, one that experimented and investigated the same themes through different subject matter – hence no signature body of work. One of my friends observed that this kind of art making could be mistaken for a strange form of nihilism (in which nothing in the world has a real existence). It could be argued that the artist keeps changing subject matter, just dabbling really, pleasing herself with the images that she took, without committing to a particular style. Without seeing the 120 vintage prints it is hard to make a judgement.

From the work posted here it would seem that for Besnyö, observation and exploration of the lines of sight of life were the most critical guide to her art. In other words her shifting viewpoints create a multi-dimensional narrative that coalesces in a holistic journey that challenges our point of view in a changing world. As Victor Burgin notes in Thinking Photography, “The structure of presentation – point-of-view and frame – is intimately implicated in the reproduction of ideology (the ‘frame of mind’ of our ‘points-of-view’)” (1982, pp.146). The frame of mind of our points of view…. this is what Eva’s work challenges, the reproduction of our own ideology. Her morphology (the philosophical study of forms and structures) challenges the cameras and our own point of view. As Paul Virilio observes,

“In calling his first photographs of his surroundings ‘points of view’, around 1820, their inventor, Nicéphore Nièpce came as close as possible to Littré’s rigorous definition: ‘The point of view is a collection of objects to which the eye is directed and on which it rests within a certain distance.'” (Virilio, Paul. The Vision Machine (trans. Julie Rose). Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994, p.19.)

Besnyö changes the collection of objects to which the eye is directed as she also changes the distance and feeling of the objects upon which the eye rests. Notice how in most of the photographs the human subjects all have their back to the camera or are looking away from the instrument of objectification (or looking down into it). Even in the two self portraits Besnyö – formal in one with bobbed hair and skirt, wild in the other with a shock of tousled hair – she avoids the gaze of the camera. Like most of her subjects she remains hard to pin down. What Besnyö does so well (and why she isn’t just pleasing herself) is to construct a mythology of the city, a mythology of life which resonates through the ages. She creates a visual acoustics (if you like), a vibration of being that is commensurate with an understanding of the vulnerability of existence.

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

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [boy with a violoncello, Balaton, Hungary]
1931
Silver gelatin photograph
29.4 x 24.3 cm
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Gypsies
1931
Silver gelatin photograph
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Der Monteur am Ladenfenster
Berlin, 1931
Silver gelatin photograph
20.1 x 17.7 cm
Collection Iara Brusse, Amsterdam.
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Starnberger Straße
Berlin, 1931
Silver gelatin photograph
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [Shadow play]
Hungary 1931
Silver gelatin photograph
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [dockers on the Spree]
Berlin, 1931
Silver gelatin photograph
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [Vertigo #3]
Nd
Silver gelatin photograph
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö (1910–2003) is one of those women who found in photography not just a profession but also a form of liberation, and of those cosmopolitan avant-garde artists who chose Europe as their playing field for both play and work. Immediately after her photographic training in the studio of József Pécsi in Budapest, Eva Besnyö left the repressive, antiprogressive environment of her native Hungary for ever. Then aged 20, she decided, like her compatriots László Moholy-Nagy, Martin Munkácsi, György Kepes and Endre Friedmann (Robert Capa), to go to Berlin. As soon as she arrived in autumn 1930, she discovered there a dynamic photographic scene, open to experimentation and placed under the double sign of the New Vision and the New Objectivity, whose modern language would allow her to develop her personal style.

Of Jewish origins, Eva Besnyö, who foresaw the threat of National Socialism, moved to the Netherlands in 1932 where she met again her companion the film director John Fernhout. There she was welcomed into the circle of international artists around the painter Charley Toorop, and rapidly became known in Amsterdam, where she had her own photographic studio. A solo exhibition at the Kunstzaal van Lier in 1933 gained the attention notably of the Dutch followers of the “Neues Bauen” (New Building), whose architecture she recorded, in a highly personal manner, over a long period. The invasion of the Netherlands by Nazi Germany in 1940 marked a dramatic turning point in Eva Besnyö’s life. If she managed to come out of hiding in 1944, thanks to an invented genealogy, the traces of this experience would remain acute throughout the postwar decades. During the 1950s and 60s, her family life led her to abandon street photography for commissions. Finally, in the twilight of her career, the photographer militated in the Dolle Mina feminist movement, whose street actions she chronicled in the 1970s.

With more than 120 vintage prints, some modern prints and numerous documents, this first French retrospective devoted to Eva Besnyö aims to show the public the different facets of her work, which is situated between New Vision, New Objectivity and social documentary, at the crossroads between poetry and political activism.

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With other eyes

In 1929, during her second year of apprenticeship to József Pécsi, portrait and advertising photograper in Budapest, Eva Besnyö received the book of photographs Die Welt ist schön (The World is Beautiful), published a few months earlier in Munich. Its author, Albert Renger-Patzsch, is the precursor of New Objectivity in photography. While pictorialism reigned in Hungary, Eva Besnyö discovered the world with other eyes: from up close and under unexpected angles. With these new models in mind and her Rolleiflex in hand, she strode along the banks of the Danube in search of subjects and daring viewpoints, showing concern for a precise, close-up description of the most diverse objects, as well as a taste for fragmentation and for the repetition of the motif in the frame.

As soon as she finished her studies, Eva Besnyö went to Berlin on the advice of the painter and photographer György Kepes – and against the wishes of her father who would have preferred that she chose Paris. The Berlin years, between 1930 and 1932, were for her those of a political and aesthetic awakening. Besides the influence of the revolutionary aesthetic of Russian cinema, she came under that of the New Vision, which took off with László Moholy-Nagy and his book Painting Photography Film (1925), using a whole stylistic grammar, advocating downward perspectives or low-angle shots, a taste for the isolated object and its repetition, as well as optical manipulations revealing an unknown, but very real, world. The activity of the town or the empty crossroads of Starnberger Straße, portraits and images of summer on the banks of Lake Wannsee count among Besnyö’s most successful compositions.

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Worker and social photography

At the Marxist Workers’ School in Berlin, Eva Besnyö schooled her social and political conscience. In her circle of friends gathered around fellow Hungarian György Kepes, she discussed passionately the role of the workers’ movements. In Berlin, as earlier in Budapest, Eva Besnyö took her camera to the principal sites of trade and business, where she photographed labourers hard at work: dockers on the Spree, coalmen in the street, fitters perched on ladders; in the city centre, she followed the workers at Alexanderplatz, in around 1930 the largest construction site in Europe. In Hungary, where she returned from time to time from Berlin, she carried out an extraordinary documentary project on the people of Kiserdö, in the suburbs of Budapest. Blessed with a heightened political awareness, she had already understood by 1932 that, as a Jew, her future was not in this country, and left Berlin for Amsterdam.

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New Vision and New Building

In 1933, the solo show devoted by the Kunstzaal van Lier to Eva Besnyö just one year after her arrival in Amsterdam aroused the enthusiasm of numerous architects – her principal clients in the years to come. Mostly members of the group de 8 in Amsterdam and the radical abstract collective Opbouw in Rotterdam, they discerned in her images, which emphasised the functional side of objects, their structure and their texture, a suitable approach for explaining their buildings.

Equipped with a Linhof 9 x 12 cm plate camera acquired especially for the purpose, Eva Besnyö went to building sites and photographed public and private buildings, notably the studios of the Dutch radio station AVRO at Hilversum, the Cineac cinema in Amsterdam and a summer house in Groet, in the north of the country. Become, in the 1930s, the preferred photographer of Dutch New Building, Eva Besnyö made most of her income at the time from architectural photography.

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Bergen and Westkapelle

From Amsterdam, where from 1935 to 1939 she shared a studio at Keizersgracht 522 with the photographer Carel Blazer and the architect Alexander Bodon, Eva Besnyö went regularly to Bergen and Westkapelle, two villages where many artists gathered. In Bergen, north of Amsterdam, Charley Toorop, Expressionist painter and mother of the film director John Fernhout, whom Eva had married in 1933, held an artistic salon in the De Vlerken studio. It was at Westkapelle, a centuries-old village built on a polder in Zealand, that the family often spent their holidays. In this landscape shaped by the natural elements, Eva Besnyö returned to a free photographic practice, with views of vast beaches of white sand, of black silhouettes against a background of old windmills and cut-out shadows.

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Rotterdam

In July 1940, Eva Besnyö photographed the old town of Rotterdam destroyed by German airforce bombing. Far from classic photo-journalism, these images of ruins and traces of devastation – from which, in retrospect, she distanced herself – are today silent, bare statements of the wounds and scars of history.

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Dolle Mina

The Dolle Mina feminist movement gathered both men and women, mainly from the student protest movement. In the 1970s, Eva Besnyö militated actively within it, alongside sympathisers of all ages. In a second phase, she focused on photographic documentation of the movement’s actions and activities, taking responsibility for sending out images daily, like a press agency.

Text by Marion Beckers and Elisabeth Moortgat, curators of the exhibition

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled
1934
Collection Iara Brusse, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [Summer house in Groet, North Holland. Architects Merkelbach & Karsten]
1934
18.2 x 24.2 cm
Collection Iara Brusse, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Stadion, Berlin, 1931
1931
16.8 x 23.9 cm
Collection Iara Brusse, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [Lieshout, The Netherlands]
1954
Silver gelatin photograph
25.3 x 17.7 cm
Collection Iara Brusse, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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“In 1930, when Eva Besnyö arrived in Berlin at the age of only twenty, a certificate of successful apprenticeship from a recognised Budapest photographic studio in her bag, she had made two momentous decisions already: to turn photography into her profession and to put fascist Hungary behind her forever.

Like her Hungarian colleagues Moholy-Nagy, Kepes and Munkacsi and – a little later – Capa, Besnyö experienced Berlin as a metropolis of deeply satisfying artistic experimentation and democratic ways of life. She had found work with the press photographer Dr. Peter Weller and roamed the city with her camera during the day, searching for motifs on construction sites, by Lake Wannsee, at the zoo or in the sports stadiums, and her photographs were published – albeit, as was customary at the time, under the name of the studio. Besnyö’s best-known photo originates from those years: the gypsy boy with a cello on his back – an image of the homeless tramp that has become familiar all over the world.

Eva Besnyö had a keen political sense, evidenced by the fact that she fled in good time from anti-Semitic, National Socialist persecution, leaving Berlin for Amsterdam in autumn 1932. Supported by the circle surrounding woman painter Charley Toorop, filmmaker Joris Ivens and designer Gerrit Rietveld, Besnyö – meanwhile married to cameraman John Fernhout – soon enjoyed public recognition as a photographer. An individual exhibition in the internationally respected Van Lier art gallery in 1933 made her reputation in the Netherlands practically overnight. Besnyö experienced a further breakthrough with her architectural photography only a few years later: translating the idea of functionalist “New Building” into a “New Seeing.” In the second half of the 30s, Besnyö demonstrated an intense commitment to cultural politics, eg. at the anti-Olympiad exhibition “D-O-O-D” (De Olympiade onder Diktatuur) in 1936; in the following year, 1937, she was curator of the international exhibition “foto ’37” in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.

The invasion of German troops in May 1940 meant that as a Jew, Eva Besnyö was compelled to go into hiding underground. She was attracted to a world view shaped by humanism in the post-war years, and her photographs became stylistically decisive for neo-Realism and immensely suitable for the moralising exhibition, the “Family of Man” (1955). The mother of two children, she had experienced the classic female conflict between bringing up children and a profession career as a crucial and very personal test. Consequentially, Besnyö became an activist in the Dutch women’s movement “Dolle Mina” during the 70s, making a public commitment to equal rights and documenting demonstrations and street protests on camera.

This first retrospective exhibition, showing approximately 120 vintage prints, aims to introduce the public to the life and work of this emigrant and “Berliner by choice”, a convinced cosmopolitan and the “Grande Dame” of Dutch photography. “Like many other talents, that of Eva Besnyö was lost to Germany and its creative art as a direct consequence of the National Socialists’ racial mania.” (Karl Steinorth, DGPh, 1999)”

Press release from the Jeu de Paume website

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Eva Besnyö
Narda, Amsterdam
1937
Private collection, Berlin
40 x 50 cm
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [The shadow of John Fernhout, Westkapelle, Zeeland, Netherlands]
1933
25.3 x 20.4 cm
Collection Iara Brusse, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled
Berlin, 1931
17.4 x 17.4 cm
Collection Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [John Fernout with Rolleiflex at the Baltic seaside]
1932
44.2 x 39.5 cm
Private collection, Berlin
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [Magda, Balaton, Hungary]
1932
40.5 x 30.6 cm
Collection Iara Brusse, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Jeu de Paume
1, Place de la Concorde
75008 Paris
métro Concorde
T: 01 47 03 12 50

Opening hours:
Tuesday: 12.00 – 21.00
Wednesday – Friday: 12.00 – 19.00
Saturday and Sunday: 10.00 – 19.00
Closed Monday

Jeu de Paume website

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17
Aug
12

Exhibition: ‘Before Color: William Eggleston’ at Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam

Exhibition dates: 16th June – 26th August 2012

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“As these rediscovered prints reveal, the man who made colour photography into an artform worked brilliantly in monochrome – and his eye for unsettling detail is every bit as sharp”

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Sean O’Hagan

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These are magnificent, intelligent photographs. They are works from the master that show that Eggleston found his own style early on. His understanding of the “quietness” of space and form within the picture plane is already fully developed and his aesthetic decision to use grainy, black and white high speed film just adds to the stillness and eeriness of the photographs. His signature style, his unique messianic voice, really shines through in these recently discovered images which could be seen to be BC – before the beginning of colour (photography) as eulogised by the museum establishment.

Highlights in these photographs include:

  • The pose of the women caught mid-stride, about to put the telephone back in its cradle
  • The man and the woman frozen mid-conversation in a minimal hotel lobby(?) with the shroud of a dark man on the plaque behind
  • The barren hotel room with old air conditioner, vinyl chair, floral bedspread and newspapers strewn over the floor (remeniscent of the spaces of so many of his later colour photographs)
  • And my favourite, Untitled (1960, below), the bulk of the heavy car looming out of the murk at the bottom of the picture frame, the intransigent windscreen wipers, the rain and the blurred traffic moving behind. You can almost touch and taste the atmosphere of this moment, in this day, of that year…

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The wondrous thing is that Eggleston’s voice transfers beautifully through into the saturation of his later colour dye-transfer prints. His pared down vision of life and world become unmistakably his own in the colour photographs. Unlike the Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama, whose panache in his black and white photographs is matched only by the shallowness of his colour work, here Eggleston lays the ground work for the rest of his monumental career.

Great to see these early photographs. I’m so glad they found them!

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

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William Eggleston
Untitled
1960
Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York and Peder Lund, Oslo
Eggleston Artistic Trust, Photo Courtesy Vegard Kleven, Oslo

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William Eggleston
Untitled
1960
Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York and Peder Lund, Oslo
Eggleston Artistic Trust, Photo Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York

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William Eggleston
Untitled
1966
Private collection, Oslo. Courtesy Peder Lund
Eggleston Artistic Trust, Photo Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York

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“The American photographer William Eggleston (1939) is known as one of the first major pioneers of artistic colour photography. His book William Eggleston’s Guide was one of the most influential photography books of the 20th century and still inspires many today. Eggleston’s black-and-white photographs are less well-known. In Before Color, the Nederlands Fotomuseum highlights this famous photographer’s earliest work, which was only recently discovered. The photographs show that Eggleston found his own style early on. Inspired by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Eggleston used a 35mm camera and fast black-and-white film to photograph the American way of life in the early 1960s. We see his own surroundings: suburban Memphis, with its diners, car parks and supermarkets, as well as the houses and domestic interiors of the people who lived there. Before Color by William Eggleston will be on display from 16 June until 26 August.

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Black-and-white snapshots

When Eggleston started taking photographs in the early 1960s, he was particularly inspired by the French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson and his book The Decisive Moment from 1952. Contrary to the big names in American photography at the time – who were preoccupied with the stunning landscape, like Ansel Adams – Cartier-Bresson took snapshots of everyday life. Eggleston found this approach very appealing. Using a 35mm camera and fast black-and-white film he began photographing his own surroundings. These were predominantly shaped by suburban Memphis, with its diners, car parks and supermarkets, but he also focused on the houses and domestic interiors of the people who lived there.

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Breaking a tradition

At the same time Eggleston experimented with colour photography. Together with Joel Meyerowitz, Joel Sternfeld and others, he broke the long tradition of black-and-white photography by working in colour and focusing on subjects from daily life. In 1972 he completed an extensive series of 2,200 photographs entitled Los Alamos, which provided a unique picture of life in America in the ’60s and early ’70s. He discovered the deep and saturated colours of the so-called dye-transfer printing technique, originally a commercial application that he perfected and that would become his international trademark. His first solo exhibition in 1976 was also the first exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art devoted to colour photography. The exhibition was accompanied by what would become the acclaimed and influential book William Eggleston’s Guide.

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Before color

Eggleston would later abandon black-and-white film altogether and his earliest work was forgotten. So it was a surprise when a box of his black-and-white photographs was recently found in the archives of the William Eggleston Artistic Trust in Memphis. The photographs were exhibited for the first time in 2010 at the Cheim & Read Gallery in New York and published in the book Before Color (Steidl, 2010).

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Before Color
exhibition

This is the first time that Before Color has been exhibited in the Netherlands and includes nearly 40 photographs from William Eggleston’s early career. The images show that Eggleston found his personal style and photographic motifs early on and provide a wonderful picture of the American way.”

Press release from the Nederlands Fotomuseum website

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William Eggleston
Untitled
1960
Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York and Peder Lund, Oslo
Eggleston Artistic Trust, Photo Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York

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William Eggleston
Untitled
Nd
Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York and Peder Lund, Oslo
Eggleston Artistic Trust, Photo Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York

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William Eggleston
Untitled
Nd
Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York and Peder Lund, Oslo
Eggleston Artistic Trust, Photo Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York

.

.

William Eggleston
Untitled
1960
Private collection, Oslo. Courtesy Peder Lund
Eggleston Artistic Trust, Photo Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York

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William Eggleston
Untitled
1960
Private collection, Oslo. Courtesy Peder Lund
Eggleston Artistic Trust, Photo Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York

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Nederlands Fotomuseum
Wilhelminakade 332
3072 AR Rotterdam
The Netherlands

Opening hours
Tuesday to Friday 10 am – 5 pm
Saturday and Sunday 11 am -5 pm
Free entrance on Wednesday

Nederlands Fotomuseum website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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