Posts Tagged ‘Serge Lifar

22
Jan
22

Text: ‘Finding Integrity: “New Woman” artists and female emancipation in the first half of the twentieth century’ on the exhibition ‘The New Woman Behind the Camera’ at the National Gallery of Art, Washington Part 3

Exhibition dates: 31st October, 2021 – 30th January, 2022

Curator: The exhibition is curated by Andrea Nelson, associate curator in the department of photographs, National Gallery of Art, Washington.

 

 

Tsuneko Sasamoto (Japanese, b. 1914) 'Ginza 4 Chome P.X.' 1946, printed 1993

 

Tsuneko Sasamoto (Japanese, b. 1914)
Ginza 4 Chome P.X.
1946, printed 1993
Gelatin silver print
Image: 29.6 x 29.6cm (11 5/8 x 11 5/8 in.)
Frame: 40.64 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 41 x 51.2 x 2.5cm (16 1/8 x 20 3/16 x 1 in.)
Collection of Tokyo Photographic Art Museum

 

 

Abstract

Using the media images from the exhibition The New Woman Behind the Camera at the National Gallery of Art, Washington (31st October, 2021 – 30th January, 2022) as a starting point, this text examines the (in)visibility of the “New Woman” behind the camera. The text briefly investigates the disenfranchisement of women in 19th century through the work of George Sand and Camille Claudel; the role of the female flâneuse and the rise of the suffragettes; the relationship between two women and two men; a story; the work of two women photographers (Germaine Krull and Claude Cahun) who through photography challenged the representation of gender identity; a Zen proposition, and the particular becomes universal – in order to understand how artists, both female and male, find integrity on their chosen path.

 

Keywords

New Woman, photography, art, integrity, George Sand, Camille Claudel, female flâneuse, suffragette, camera, Germaine Krull, Claude Cahun, Leni Reifenstahl, Georgia O’Keeffe, Alfred Stieglitz, female emancipation, gender identity, representation, Sabine Weiss, Susan Sontag, self recognition, patriarchal society.

 

Download the complete text of Finding Integrity: “New Woman” artists and female emancipation in the first half of the twentieth-century (5.6Mb Word docx)

 

 

“The world doesn’t like independent women, why, I don’t know, but I don’t care.”

.
Berenice Abbott

 

 

Finding Integrity: “New Woman” artists and female emancipation in the first half of the twentieth-century

After thousands of years of human existence, woman still do not have equality. They have to fight for equal pay for the same job, they fight for equal opportunity in many jobs and top level positions, they fight for control of their body, and they fight against misogyny, discrimination and the aggression of hypermasculinity. They, and their children, fight not to be killed by jealous and enraged (x)lovers or (x)husbands – where x in mathematics is a variable number which is not yet known (in 2021 in Australia 43 women died at the hands of men) – whose ego and possessiveness cannot bear the thought of a vibrant, free thinking woman living beyond their control. I know of these things having grown in the womb, having grown up for the first 18 years of my life feeling my mother being abused, and then being abused myself trying to protect my mother.

My mother wanted to study music at Cambridge after graduating from the Royal College of Music but because she got married and had children she never had the opportunity. Her struggle, as with many women still, was to find her place in a man’s world – as a wife and mother in her case – to live within the parameters of the social construct that is a patriarchal society. At the time (in the 1960s) she said she felt less than human… for there was no help and little opportunity for women to escape their situation. Her one salvation was music and the one way she found to subvert the dominant structures was to teach piano. Now ninety years old, she has taught piano for the rest of her life. She found her voice and her independence. She found her integrity.

 

Earlier generations

In earlier generations, before the “New Woman”, women had to conform (to society’s expectations) and submit (to men) … unless they were notorious, celebrities or geniuses. Otherwise they were mainly disenfranchised and disempowered.

Women had to write under men’s names to be accepted, to sell and make a living. The novelist Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin initially collaborated with the male writer Jules Sandeau and they published under the name Jules Sand before Dupin took up the pen name that was to make her famous and a celebrity across Europe: George Sand (French, 1804-1876). “Sand’s writing was immensely popular during her lifetime and she was highly respected by the literary and cultural elite in France.”1 She chose to wear male attire in public without a permit (which “enabled her to circulate more freely in Paris than most of her female contemporaries, and gave her increased access to venues from which women were often barred, even women of her social standing”1), and she smoked “tobacco in public; neither peerage nor gentry had yet sanctioned the free indulgence of women in such a habit, especially in public… While there were many contemporary critics of her comportment, many people accepted her behaviour until they became shocked with the subversive tone of her novels.”1 Sand was also politically active and “sided with the poor and working class as well as women’s rights. When the 1848 Revolution began, she was an ardent republican. Sand started her own newspaper, published in a workers’ co-operative.”1

 

 

Nadar [Gaspard Félix Tournachon] (French, 1820-1910) 'George Sand (Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin), Writer' c. 1865

 

Nadar (Gaspard Félix Tournachon) (French, 1820-1910)
George Sand (Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin), Writer
c. 1865
Albumen silver print from a glass negative
24.1 x 18.3 cm (9 1/2 x 7 1/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Used under fair use conditions for the purposes of academic research and education

 

 

In other words because of her visibility, celebrity, social standing, writing, intellect and revolutionary fervour she was acknowledged as a great woman. Men consulted with her and took her advice. Upon her death under the heading “Emancipated Woman,” in The Saturday Review, Victor Hugo commented: “George Sand was an idea. She has a unique place in our age. Others are great men … she was a great woman.” All well and good, but then he continues, “In this country, whose law is to complete the French Revolution, and begin that of the equality of the sexes, being a part of the equality of men, a great woman was needed. It was necessary to prove that a woman could have all the manly gifts without losing any of her angelic qualities; be strong without ceasing to be tender. George Sand proved it.”2 In other words to be the equal of a man, a woman must act like a man but also keep her womanly qualities (tenderness, femininity). She couldn’t really be herself because she had to measure up to the ideals of men. What a slap in the face, a kind of pseudo-equality – if you played your cards right and obeyed the rules of the game.

An incredibly sad example of female disenfranchisement in the arts is that of August Rodin’s assistant Camille Claudel (French, 1864-1943) who became his model, his confidante, and his lover. Claudel started working in Rodin’s workshop in 1883 and became a source of inspiration for him.

 

César (French) 'Portrait de Camille Claudel' before 1883

 

César (French)
Portrait de Camille Claudel
before 1883
Musée Camille Claudel
Used under fair use conditions for the purposes of academic research and education

 

 

“The exact nature of the tasks with which she was entrusted remains uncertain, but she apparently spent most of her time on difficult pieces, such as the hands and feet of figures for monumental sculptures (notably The Gates of Hell). For Claudel, this was an intensive period of training under Rodin’s supervision: she learned about his profiles method and the importance of expression. In tandem, she pursued her own investigations, accepted her first commissions and sought recognition as an independent artist at the Salon. Between 1882 and 1889, Claudel regularly exhibited busts and portraits of people close to her at the Salon des Artistes Français. Largely thanks to Léon Gauchez, Rodin’s friend the Belgian art dealer and critic, several of her works were purchased by French museums in the 1890s.”3

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But women working under the “master” were not often acknowledged.

“Le Cornec and Pollock state that after the sculptors’ physical relationship ended [with Rodin in 1892 after an abortion], she was not able to get the funding to realise many of her daring ideas – because of sex-based censorship and the sexual element of her work. Claudel thus had to either depend on Rodin, or to collaborate with him and see him get the credit as the lionised figure of French sculpture. She also depended on him financially, especially after her loving and wealthy father’s death, which allowed her mother and brother, who disapproved of her lifestyle, to maintain control of the family fortune and leave her to wander the streets dressed in beggars’ clothing.

Claudel’s reputation survived not because of her once notorious association with Rodin, but because of her work. The novelist and art critic Octave Mirbeau described her as “A revolt against nature: a woman genius.”” …

Ayral-Clause says that even though Rodin clearly signed some of her works, he was not treating her as different because of her gender; artists at this time generally signed their apprentices’ work. Others also criticise Rodin for not giving her the acknowledgment or support she deserved. …

Other authors write that it is still unclear how much Rodin influenced Claudel – and vice versa, how much credit has been taken away from her, or how much he was responsible for her woes. Most modern authors agree that she was an outstanding genius who, starting with wealth, beauty, iron will and a brilliant future even before meeting Rodin, was never rewarded and died in loneliness, poverty, and obscurity. Others like Elsen, Matthews and Flemming suggest it was not Rodin, but her brother Paul who was jealous of her genius, and that he conspired with her mother, who never forgave her for her supposed immorality, to later ruin her and keep her confined to a mental hospital.”4

.
This “sculptor of genius” was eventually “voluntarily” committed by her family to a psychiatric hospital in 1913 where she lived the remaining 30 years of her life, unable to practice her art. Her remains were buried in a communal grave at the asylum, her bones mixed with the bones of the most destitute. Her brother Paul Claudel could not be bothered with a grave for her, while he specified the exact place of his internment… the ultimate irony being that, Rodin had decided to include an exhibition space reserved exclusively for Camille Claudel’s works in the future museum that would house the collections he bequeathed to the French state on his death (at the Rodin Museum) – a request that could not be honoured until 1952, when Paul Claudel donated four major works by his sister to the museum.5 Bitter irony.

 

Ruth Orkin. 'American Girl in Italy' 1951

 

Ruth Orkin (American, 1921-1985)
American Girl in Italy
1951
Gelatin silver print
© Ruth Orkin
Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Collection
Used under fair use conditions for the purposes of academic research and education

 

 

The female flâneuse and a period of transition

During the 19th century women could not stroll alone in the city.

“In Baudelaire’s essays and poems, women appear very often. Modernity breeds, or makes visible, a number of categories of female city-dwellers. Among the most prominent in these texts are: the prostitute, the widow, the old lady, the lesbian, the murder victim, and the passing unknown woman… But none of these women meet the poet as his equal. They are subjects of his gaze, objects of his ‘botanising’. The nearest he comes to a direct encounter, with a woman who is not either marginal or debased, is in the poem, À Une Passante (Even here, it is worth noting that the woman in question is in mourning – en grand deuil). The tall, majestic woman passes him in the busy street; their eyes meet for a moment before she continues her journey, and the poet remains to ask whether they will only meet again in eternity… (But if this is the rare exception of a woman sharing the urban experience, we may also ask whether a ‘respectable’ woman, in the 1850s would have met the gaze of a strange man).”6

But as Janet Wolff observes, women clearly were active and visible in other ways in the public arena, especially when it came to the construction of women’s dress as a sign of their husbands’ position: in effect, the less they worked and the more they evidenced the performance of conspicuous leisure and consumption, the more this was to the credit of their master rather than to their own credit. Wolff further notes, “The establishment of the department store in the 1850s and the 1860s provided an important new arena for the legitimate public appearance of middle-class women…” but denies this has anything to do with women being a female flâneur – a flâneuse – because the fleeting, anonymous encounters and purposeless strolling she has been considering “do not apply to shopping, or to women’s activities either as public signs of their husband’s wealth or as consumers.”7 Wolff rejects the notion of a female flâneuse as “such a character was rendered impossible by the sexual divisions of the nineteenth century.”8

Others disagree with this interpretation. In a paper titled “Gender Differences in the Urban Environment: The flâneur and flâneuse of the 21st Century”, Akkelies van Nes and Tra My Nguyen offer the following history of the flâneur9 and the flâneuse concepts (apologies for the long quotation but it necessary):

 

“The term flâneur originated from the 18th century. It was described by Charles Baudelaire as ‘gentleman stroller of city streets’ (van Godsendthoven, 2005). …

‘The flâneur was an idle stroller with an inquisitive mind and an aesthetic eye, a mixture of the watchful detective, the aesthetic dandy and the gaping consumer, the badaud. A solitary character, he avoided serious political, familial or sexual relationships, and was only keen on the aesthetics of city life. He read the city as a book, finding beauty in the obsolete objects of other people, but in a distanced, superior way’ (van Godsendthoven, 2005).

The flâneur is a product of modern life and the industrial revolution, parallel to the references of the tourist in contemporary times. The arrival of department stores and the ‘Haussmannization’ of Paris’ streets in the second half of the nineteenth century swept away large parts of the historical city and also the domain of the flâneur. The archetype of the flâneur disappeared with its surroundings, in favour of the women- oriented department stores. ‘The department store may have been, as Benjamin put it, the flâneur’s last coup, but it was the flâneuse’s first’ (Friedberg, 1993).

The flâneuse is not a female flâneur, but she is a version of the flâneur. She does not experience the city in the same way as he does. It is hard to define the archetype of the flâneuse, because the flâneur himself consists of paradoxes and many subcategories. Key concepts for flâneur and flâneuse are the amount of spare time, the aesthetic detachment towards objects, crowd and sceneries they see and their ambiguity about it.

The department stores were a starting point for the existence of the flâneuse, but this also marked her as a consumer, a ‘badaud’. The difference between badauds and flâneuses are the distance they create between themselves and the activities in the city. A characteristic of flânerie is an aesthetic distance between the subject and the object of attention. The badaud-flâneuse lacks this distance. The city is not being experienced, but is reduced to a place to consume.

As implied, the badaud-flâneuse did not have the full ability to flânerie. However, she has many qualities, which are at least some first initiatives to stroll around. Her domain moved from the interior of her home to the interior of the department store and sometimes even to the streets (Parsons, 2000). Shopping, art and day trips contribute to develop a certain view in that period of society, which was at the end of 19th century. Friedberg was very well aware that this new freedom was not the same as the freedom of the flâneur (Friedberg, 1993).

The flâneuse concept developed throughout the years expanded somehow further than being a badaud. She was discovering domains like art forms, like for example the cinema and the theatre at the beginning of the 20th century. But she was still objectified by men and patriarchic institutes. However, women became independent, without taking over the absent look and gaze of the flâneur. They changed their lives into art forms and had an opinion about the society they lived in. To gain respect as artists, the image of women as muses had to disappear. She had to claim an active role and to develop her own personality.

Through the literature, the life of the flâneuse and the female characters in the city, like passersby, artists, dandies and badauds [gawkers, bystanders] are often interlaced with each other, and difficulties they experienced are alike. The flâneuse often shifted between these roles, but distinguished herself by her independency and distanced. She became a symbol for post-modern urban life: a wanderer in many shapes.”10

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Nes and Nguyen further argue that the emancipation of women over the last two decades “has brought the flâneuse to a more equal position with the flâneur in the invisible right to be in public urban space. However, aspects like safety and when and where women are spending time in urban space still have effect on how women use public spaces and affect the public spheres.”11 Indeed, with the despicable murder of too many women in Melbourne in recent years by predatory men (Aiia Maasarwe, Mersina Halvagis, Masa Vukotic, Eurydice Dixon, Tracey Connelly, Sarah Cafferkey, Renea Lau and Jill Meagher to name just a few…), women still fear walking the streets alone. “Even when grief enveloped his family, Bill Halvagis can recall the wider sense of public outrage that followed the murder of his older sister Mersina. The shock that someone could do such a thing in a public place was as brutal as the crime itself.”12

 

Unknown photographer (Australian) 'People march through Brunswick in Melbourne after the murder of Jill Meagher in 2012' 2012

 

Unknown photographer (Australian)
People march through Brunswick in Melbourne after the murder of Jill Meagher in 2012
2012
Australian Associated Press (AAP)
Republished under Creative Commons from The Conversation website
Used under fair use conditions for the purposes of academic research and education

 

 

Looking back a century later, one of the key points of female emancipation in the early twentieth century is that women gained their independence “and had an opinion about the society they lived in… She had to claim an active role and to develop her own personality” while present and visible in the community, present in a public place. The world-wide suffragette movement was at the forefront of this early twentieth-century revolution.

“A suffragette was a member of an activist women’s organisation in the early 20th century who, under the banner “Votes for Women”, fought for the right to vote in public elections. The term refers in particular to members of the British Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), a women-only movement founded in 1903 by Emmeline Pankhurst, which engaged in direct action and civil disobedience.” During the First World War “the suffragette movement in Britain moved away from suffrage activities and focused on the war effort… Women eagerly volunteered to take on many traditional male roles – leading to a new view of what women were capable of.”13 However, this new found capability and visibility in society “cast women as passive, erotic objects, subjecting them to a kind of voyeuristic control” by men, embodying the gaze of modernity which is both covetous and erotic – public sites (of interaction) producing “meanings and positions from which those meanings are consumed.”14 Women were “playing” in a man’s world subject to their approval, their gaze and their desire to possess and control the female both physically and sexually.

But, as Griselda Pollock observes, “modernity was not represented as taking place in exclusively masculine, because public, domains: rather, the spaces of modernity were in fact marginal spaces, those in which the city’s “new subjective experiences of exhilaration and alienation, pleasure and fear, mobility and confinement, expansiveness and fragmentation,” were most intense. These spaces of intersection happened to be sites in which bourgeois men came into contact with women…”15

Here comes the “New Woman” taking on traditional male roles, socialising in marginalised spaces, boldly going where few women had gone before, sampling new subjective experiences, becoming who they wanted to be… all under the munificent gaze of the (bourgeois) male.

 

Two women and two men

The “New Woman”, mainly middle class females, took their courage in their hands to become professional photographers and artists: photojournalists, fashion photographers, war photographers, magazine and picture photographers, working with successful men and women in fashion, interior design, news, graphics and art. At the Bauhaus female students pushed the boundaries in fields such as textiles, lighting, ceramics and costume, the “New Woman” putting her femininity under the spotlight.

By pushing boundaries, female artists and photographers broke ground becoming female in a male world… within the framework of modernity and aesthetics, to form the modern divine. In a youthful culture of commercial and technological changes they gained their independence through hard work and talent via the stereotype of the “New Woman” – a constructed image portrayed in the magazines (bobbed hair beauty, flapper, speed, fast cars, cigarette smoking) which played into the male system of the recognition of the feminine subject. By playing the system they became successful and visible, self conscious of their undeniable abilities. But at what cost? Many women, excited by the world of men, where chewed up and spat out, dumped, and sometimes met a terrible end.

 

Unknown photographer (German) 'Leni Riefenstahl with Heinrich Himmler (left) during the 1934 Nuremberg Nazi Party Rally in the Luitpold Arena while recording her film "Triumph of the Will"' September 9, 1934

 

Unknown photographer (German)
Leni Riefenstahl with Heinrich Himmler (left) during the 1934 Nuremberg Nazi Party Rally in the Luitpold Arena while recording her film “Triumph of the Will”
September 9, 1934
German Federal Archives / Wikipedia (public domain)

 

 

The epito/me of this new self consciousness and will to power was the Nazi film director Leni Reifenstahl (German, 1902-2003). Reifenstahl began as an interpretive dancer who often made almost 700 Reichsmarks for each performance. “Her dancing revealed her childlike quality, her surrender to the moment, and this natural, naïve quality made her the perfect heroine for his [Arnold Fanck’s] Alpine love stories. Riefenstahl was involved in a love triangle involving Fanck and her leading man [in director Fanck’s 1920s “mountain films”], Luis Trenker, demonstrating, in Mr. Bach’s words, “Leni’s skill at dominating the exclusive male society in which she found herself now and for almost all the rest of her professional life.””16 Reifenstahl used her beauty, voracious sexual prowess (with both women and men) and talent to infiltrate the world of film and learn acting and film editing techniques. Hitler saw her films and thought Riefenstahl epitomised the perfect German female.

“Riefenstahl heard Nazi Party (NSDAP) leader Adolf Hitler speak at a rally in 1932 and was mesmerised by his talent as a public speaker… Hitler was immediately captivated by Riefenstahl’s work. She is described as fitting in with Hitler’s ideal of Aryan womanhood, a feature he had noted when he saw her starring performance in Das Blaue Licht. After meeting Hitler, Riefenstahl was offered the opportunity to direct Der Sieg des Glaubens (“The Victory of Faith”), an hour-long propaganda film about the fifth Nuremberg Rally in 1933… Still impressed with Riefenstahl’s work, Hitler asked her to film Triumph des Willens (“Triumph of the Will”), a new propaganda film about the 1934 party rally in Nuremberg. More than one million Germans participated in the rally. The film is sometimes considered the greatest propaganda film ever made… In February 1937, Riefenstahl enthusiastically told a reporter for the Detroit News, “To me, Hitler is the greatest man who ever lived. He truly is without fault, so simple and at the same time possessed of masculine strength”.”17

After the Second World War Riefenstahl was tried four times by postwar authorities for denazification and eventually found to be a “fellow traveller” (Mitläufer) who sympathised with the Nazis but she won more than fifty libel cases against people accusing her of having previous knowledge regarding the Nazi party.18 Research in the first decade of the twenty-first century (Jürgen Trimborn Leni Riefenstahl: A Life Faber & Faber, 2007 and Steven Bach Leni – The Life and Work of Leni Riefenstahl Knopf, 2007) dismantle Riefenstahl’s myth that she was an artist innocent of political motivations. She hitched her wagon to National Socialism, taking money to make her film Tiefland (Lowlands) and then bringing in extras from a concentration camp, keeping them in rags and starving them. After filming some were executed in the gas chambers. “Bach shows that the contract she entered into with the camp commandant makes clear the terms on which she had access to these ‘extras’ and that she knew they were going back to (at the very least) an uncertain future ‘in the east’.”19 Riefenstahl would later claim that all of the Romani extras – 53 Roma and Sinti from Maxglan, and a further 78 from a camp in eastern Berlin – had survived the war. In fact, almost 100 of them are known or believed to have been gassed in Auschwitz.20

Riefenstahl’s image of wholesome “New Woman” – a “version of an ideal presence, a kind of imperishable beauty” – never faded and she never wavered in her belief in herself and her innocence. The hubris of her egotistical narcissism denied any other version of history was possible, jealousy protecting her self-believed legacy like a protective tigress guarding her cubs, all the while denying her servitude and slavery to Nazi propaganda. Of course, all of it is a lie. There is Riefenstahl after the invasion of Poland filming away dressed as a uniformed army war correspondent replete with revolver around her waist.

 

Oswald Burmeister (German) 'Visit of Leni Riefenstahl with a pistol at the XIV Army Corps, conversation with soldiers, on the left a film camera' Poland, September, 1939

 

Oswald Burmeister (German)
Visit of Leni Riefenstahl with a pistol at the XIV Army Corps, conversation with soldiers, on the left a film camera
Poland, September, 1939
German Federal Archives / Wikipedia (public domain)

 

 

“Four of the six feature films she directed are documentaries, made for and financed by the Nazi government… [they] celebrate the rebirth of the body and of community, mediated through the worship of an irresistible leader.”21 Susan Sontag saw Riefenstahl’s aesthetics as entirely inseparable from Nazi ideology, “consistent with some of the larger themes of Nazi ideology: the contrast between the clean and the impure, the incorruptible and the defiled, the physical and the mental, the joyful and the critical.”22

Naturally, and I use the word advisedly, the leader was male. While Riefenstahl could wish all she liked that she had power as a “New Woman”, “dominating the exclusive male society” of Nazi Germany, she was in reality just a pawn of their largesse. Women in Nazi Germany were seen mainly as baby producing machines, representing the fundamental ideologies of the role of the mother (the role of women under National Socialism). To that end the Cross of Honour of the German Mother (Mutterkreuz – Mother’s Cross) conferred by the government of the German Reich to honour a Reichsdeutsche German mother for exceptional merit to the German nation – 1st class, Gold Cross: eligible mothers with eight or more children; 2nd class, Silver Cross: eligible mothers with six or seven children; 3rd class, Bronze Cross: eligible mothers with four or five children – reinforced traditional feminine and family values, and “traditional” lifestyle patterns.23 The New Woman in Germany thus became a pure woman of German blood-heredity and genetically fit, the mother worthy of the decoration. In Nazi Germany the New Woman became “decoration” herself, the ideal protected as Sontag puts it as, “the family of man (under the parenthood of leaders).”24

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946) 'Georgia O'Keeffe' 1920

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946)
Georgia O’Keeffe
1920
Platinum print
Wikiart (Public domain)

 

 

One of the greatest artists of the twentieth-century was the painter Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986). O’Keeffe, born in a small town named Sun Prairie in Dane County, Wisconsin grew up on the family farm south of the city. “As a child she received art lessons and her abilities were recognised and encouraged by local teaches and family throughout her school years. After O’Keeffe left Sun Prairie she pursued studies at the Art Institute of Chicago (1905-1906) and at the Arts Students League, New York (1907-9108).”25 She took a job as a commercial artist and then began teaching art, taking summer at classes at the University of Virginia for several years before becoming chair of an art department beginning the fall of 1916. A friend sent some of O’Keeffe’s charcoal drawings to the photographer, gallerist and impresario Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946) who exhibited them at his 291 gallery in April 1916. Stieglitz found them to be the “purest, finest, sincerest things that had entered 291 in a long while,” and in the spring of 1917 he sponsored her first one-artist exhibition at 291 – the last show held at the galleries before they closed in July of that year.

At this time, “O’Keeffe painted to express her most private sensations and feelings. Rather than sketching out a design before painting, she freely created designs. O’Keeffe continued to experiment until she believed she truly captured her feelings [in watercolour] … After her relationship with Alfred Stieglitz started, her watercolour paintings ended quickly. Stieglitz heavily encouraged her to quit because the use of watercolour was associated with amateur women artists. … Stieglitz, twenty-four years older than O’Keeffe, provided financial support and arranged for a residence and place for her to paint in New York in 1918. They developed a close personal relationship while he promoted her work. She came to know the many early American modernists who were part of Stieglitz’s circle of artists, including painters Charles Demuth, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, and photographers Paul Strand and Edward Steichen. Strand’s photography, as well as that of Stieglitz and his many photographer friends, inspired O’Keeffe’s work.”26 Stieglitz and O’Keeffe were married in 1924. Between 1918 and 1928 O’Keeffe worked primarily in New York City and at the Stieglitz family’s summer home at Lake George.

Working creatively side by side with that egotistical beomoth of American art that was Stieglitz could not have been easy. While Stieglitz promoted his wife’s art, provided financial support, directed the medium of her continued development, he also controlled her “purest” form (a symbol of the ideal) – that of her image. O’Keeffe became Stieglitz’s muse (a goddess, a person or personified force who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist), between 1918-1920 the photographer “making more than 140 photographs of O’Keeffe that, unlike his earlier analytic work, resonated with emotion and personal meaning… conjoining her art and her body, suggesting they were one.”27

 

“Stieglitz conceived of his portraits of O’Keeffe as a single work – a composite portrait. Each photograph stands on its own, revealing a certain innate quality at a given moment. But because change is a constant, only a series of photographs can evoke a subject’s entire being over time. To underscore the composite nature of his project, in 1921 Stieglitz exhibited more than forty photographs of O’Keeffe – many clustered by body part – under the title “Demonstration of Portraiture.”

Stieglitz and O’Keeffe married in 1924, and he continued to photograph her through the 1930s – his composite portrait eventually numbering 331 works. But his pictures of her changed markedly over the years. In 1923 when he became entranced with photographing clouds, he made smaller, more casual pictures of her at work or holding the subjects of her paintings. Many of his portraits of her from the 1930s lack the feverish intensity of those he made from 1918 to 1920 and reveal instead the distance in their relationship.”28

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Stieglitz’s early photographs of O’Keeffe capture her in intimate encounters with the camera, portraying her through the gaze of male passion. “Extreme close-ups evoke an intimate sense of touch,” “different body parts were expressive of O’Keeffe’s individuality,” while in other photographs “she looks directly and longingly at the camera…”.29 O’Keeffe’s supposed independent New Woman was tied to the coat tails of an older man, her place in the cult of beauty (the ideal of life as art) an ideal eroticism. Her image was presented not as a temptation, not as a repression of the sexual impulse … but as its ultimate revelation in the seduction of the physicality of the photograph. Stieglitz’s composite “portrait in time,” “reflects his ideals of modern womanhood and is evocative of their close relationship.”30 Under the control of the man.

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946) 'Georgia O'Keeffe' 1918

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946)
Georgia O’Keeffe
1918
Wikipedia (Public domain)

 

 

O’Keeffe of course realised the power that Stieglitz had over her and she started to remove herself from his field of vision, from his power of influence. To truly gain her independence. As Akkelies van Nes and Tra My Nguyen observed earlier, “To gain respect as artists, the image of women as muses had to disappear” as so this is what O’Keeffe did: she stopped becoming Stieglitz’s muse. After first visiting New Mexico in 1917 O’Keeffe returned to what was her spiritual home in 1929 when she travelled to Mexico with her friend Rebecca Strand and stayed in Taos with Mabel Dodge Luhan, who provided the women with studios,31 from then on spending part of nearly every year working in New Mexico. “Upon returning to the place that touched her heart so deeply, O’Keeffe’s mental health did indeed improve. Her life and her artwork would never be the same again. “I felt as if something was ending and another was beginning,” O’Keeffe once said. She began to feel more like her true self, integrated with parts of her personality that had been submerged in New York City.”32

The distance in the relationship between O’Keeffe and Stieglitz (both physical, he in New York and she in New Mexico, and spiritual with her attenuation to the Cerro Pedernal landscape) was exacerbated by his long-term relationship with Dorothy Norman which started in 1928, leading to O’Keeffe’s mental breakdown and hospitalisation in 1933. She returned to New Mexico and in August 1934 moved to Ghost Ranch, north of Abiquiú. Literally, her place in Mexico was faraway, an isolated landscape which she called the Faraway: “She often talked about her fondness for Ghost Ranch and Northern New Mexico, as in 1943, when she explained, “Such a beautiful, untouched lonely feeling place, such a fine part of what I call the ‘Faraway’. It is a place I have painted before … even now I must do it again.””33 Metaphorically, it was faraway from the life she led with Stieglitz, far away from her wifely concerns. “Shortly after O’Keeffe arrived for the summer in New Mexico in 1946, Stieglitz suffered a cerebral thrombosis. She immediately flew to New York to be with him. He died on July 13, 1946. She buried his ashes at Lake George. She spent the next three years mostly in New York settling his estate, and moved permanently to New Mexico in 1949, spending time at both Ghost Ranch and the Abiquiú house that she made into her studio.”34

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887-1986) 'Rams Head, White Hollyhock - Hills' (Rams Head and White Hollyhock, New Mexico) 1935

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Rams Head and White Hollyhock, New Mexico
1935
Oil on canvas
Brooklyn Museum
Used under fair use conditions for the purposes of academic research and education

 

 

Stieglitz never came to New Mexico. It was her space. Here she found her integrity, her own voice, far from the madding crowd, far from the gallery openings – a voice full of songs of the world. “She painted Taos Pueblo, San Francisco de Asís Catholic Church, a tree on the D.H. Lawrence ranch (that still stands), Mexican paper flowers, wood carvings, wild flowers, hills and sky around Taos.”35 She painted her “flowers of the desert”, bleached animal bones that were alive to her; and “she hoped people could see the music that she painted.” In New Mexico she truly became a “New Woman”: independent, intelligent, talented and famous … and her own woman – untamed by men, full of fierce self-protection and formidable work ethic, a woman adept at embracing the unknown and appreciative of the art of solitude.

 

Pushing the boundaries, finding themselves

While the physical presence of women photographers and their work in the “Roaring Twenties” or “golden 1920s” – “which saw young women breaking with traditional “mores” or likewise step aside from “traditional” lifestyle patterns”36 – was apsirational for young and independent women in order to achieve social prestige and material success, for most women photographers it was all about having a job and making a living.

Paradoxically, while the “New Woman” behind the camera “embraced photography as a mode of professional and personal expression”, promoting female empowerment based on real women making revolutionary changes in life and art they also bought into a capitalist system of male dominance in a patriarchal society where the “feminine” – that is a feminine perspective – underwent a process of sublimation through the sequestering (hiding away) of gender. As women photographers “sought to redefine their positions in society and expand their rights”, their independence, so women were still outsiders in the male system of the recognition of the feminine subject – both of the female body as subject and that of the female photographers’ body (although the latter less so, with the numerous self-portraits of the “New Woman” and their cameras captured in mirrors). Indeed, most “New Woman” photographers never seem to have had the desire, or the eroticism, to virtually put gender in the image. They were still in servitude to the dominant status quo.

The story of the two mites is apposite here. In the story (see below) many rich people put money into the treasury, while a poor widow puts in two mites (two small coins worth a few cents) which is all she has. “The same religious leaders who would reduce widows to poverty also encourage them to make pious donations beyond their means. In [Adison] Wright’s opinion, rather than commending the widow’s generosity, Jesus is condemning both the social system that renders her poor, and “… the value system that motivates her action, and he condemns the people who conditioned her to do it.””37 In other words, the widow (in our case the New Woman) contributes her whole livelihood to maintaining the social system (patriarchal society) that oppresses her by supporting the value system that motivates her action… a system, controlled by men, that keeps her in servitude.

Many “New Woman” photographers behind the camera had to operate in such a value system in order have a job and make a living. Variously, they had to build a career as a fashion photographer, advertising and graphic photographer, magazine photographer, studio photographer, photojournalist, war photographer, social documentary photographer, street photographer and ethnographic photographic … and usually had be proficient at most styles of photography in order to obtain sufficient work for survive. For example, Sabine Weiss bridled at being labelled a humanist, “because she considered her street photography to be just one part of her oeuvre. Most of her career was spent as a fashion photographer and a photojournalist, shooting celebrities like Brigitte Bardot and musicians like Benjamin Britten. “From the start I had to make a living from photography; it wasn’t something artistic,” Weiss told Agence France-Presse in 2014. “It was a craft, I was a craftswoman of photography.”38

I suspect for most women photographers of the era this was the truth: taking photographs wasn’t something artistic it was a craft from which they earned a living. While part of the profound shaping of the medium during a time of tremendous social and political change they did not initiate the “modernisation” of photography but were undoubtedly an important part of that movement. But, and here is the key point, they were still producing “mainstream” images and, as Annette Kuhn notes, “‘Mainstream’ images in our culture bear the traces of the capitalist and patriarchal social relations in which they are produced, exchanged and consumed.”39 They bought into the value system.

 

Among others (such as Dora Maar, Tina Modotti, Lucia Moholy, Aenne Biermann, Eva Besnyö and Florence Henri to name just a few of my favourites) … two women photographers who did push the boundaries of the art of photography and, in their case, what was acceptable in terms of the representation of gender identity were the temporarily bisexual, pan-world Germaine Krull (1897-1985) and the “neuter” (neither) photographer Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954).

Krull published her seminal book Métal in 1928 in Paris, and began to receive attention alongside other practitioners of new, assertively modern photographic styles such as Man Ray and André Kertész.

 

“With Métal, Krull turned her lens on the soaring structures of industrial Europe: Rotterdam’s railroad bridge De Hef, Marseille’s Pont Transbordeur, a number of nameless industrial cranes, factory machinery, and, most recognizably, the Eiffel Tower. The portfolio bore the subtitle “métaux nus” (bare metals), and critics have often likened these metallic bodies to the nude photographs she made around the same time. In both cases, Krull got close to her subjects, dislocating them from their environments. In Métal, Krull rendered the familiar form of the Eiffel Tower nearly unrecognizable…

In an untitled nude photograph from 1928 or ’29, she deployed a similar approach, keeping the camera fixed on an unclothed torso twisting off toward the edge of the frame with upturned face cut off at mid-cheek. The dramatic play of shadow and light renders the figure’s gender indistinct. Whether focused on a living subject or an architectural one, Krull’s camera resists the viewer’s urge to name and categorize.”40

 

 

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

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985, 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. Used under fair use conditions for the purposes of academic research and education

Folio 30 x 23.5cm; 11 ¾ x 9 ¼ in.
Plate 29.2 x 22.5cm; 11 ½ x 8 ¾ in.
Image 23.6 x 17.1cm; 9 ¼ x 6 ½ in.

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985, photographer) From the portfolio 'Les amies' c. 1924

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985, photographer)
From the portfolio Les amies
c. 1924
Used under fair use conditions for the purposes of academic research and education

 

 

In 1924, in an earlier portfolio of eleven photographs titled Les amies (French for “the friends,” specifically denoting female friends), Krull depicts “a pair of women in stages of gradual undress, eventually left only in their stockings, the rest of their flesh laid bare.” In a tangle of insouciant bodies that hid breasts and eyes, in which none of the models stares at the camera, Krull presents an eroticism that “is contained between the two women, with no imaginary space for a third, presumably male, viewer to enter…,” Krull dismissing “”the male gaze of Weimar culture in favor of a female gaze” and her emphasis on the gazes within the images as the female models view each other. In Les Amies, there is no space for a third party: the only possibility is to become one of the women.”41

“By photographing erotic scenes, Krull not only constructed the desiring gaze but also placed herself in the position of that gaze, taking on privileges previously permitted only to male photographers…”42 whilst at the same time transgressing the definition of middle-class respectability – all the while emphasising the fluidity of female sexual identity in the 1920s, especially for the adventurous “New Woman”.

While these images received little attention during her lifetime (much like the gender bending images of Claude Cahun) they are representations of queer desire which picture the dissolution of the controlling male gaze. Using the mirror of her / Self and her camera, Krull’s staged (erotic) encounters in Les Amies and Métal undermine the male space of control through spatial disorientation – her “reforming mirror” performing a tangle of limbs, the fragmentation of the female body in which gender becomes neutral coupled with the dismantling of the phallocentrism of the (Eiffel) tower until its form becomes an unrecognisable and different “other”. “Armed with her camera, she had the power not only to depict reality but to transform it.”43

The French surrealist photographer, sculptor, and writer Lucy Renee Mathilde Schwob adopted the pseudonym Claude Cahun in 1914.

“In Disavowals, she writes: “Masculine? Feminine? It depends on the situation. Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.” … [She] is most remembered for her highly staged self-portraits and tableaux that incorporated the visual aesthetics of Surrealism. During the 1920s, Cahun produced an astonishing number of self-portraits in various guises such as aviator, dandy, doll, body builder, vamp and vampire, angel, and Japanese puppet.

Some of Cahun’s portraits feature the artist looking directly at the viewer, head shaved, often revealing only head and shoulders (eliminating body from the view), and a blurring of gender indicators and behaviours which serve to undermine the patriarchal gaze. Scholar Miranda Welby-Everard has written about the importance of theatre, performance, and costume that underlies Cahun’s work, suggesting how this may have informed the artist’s varying gender presentations.”44

.
Cahun’s self-portraiture over a period of 27 years (in collaboration with her lover Marcel Moore) was a unique investigation into the multiplicity of sexuality and gender identity. “By 1930, Cahun had amassed a considerable image bank of photographic self-portraits; that year, she publicly disseminated a handful of those images for the first and only time.”45 In her photographs she explored the mutable definitions of gender through multiple ‘masked’ personas – using photomontage, the doubling of the image (asserting another conception of gender identity that of a “third sex” or an “Androgyne”), the various ways photographs can be produced and viewed (meant to unsettle the audience’s understanding of photography as a documentation of reality), and the dissolution of the self in the space between the body and the mirror to aid her investigation. Self-reflection was not her objective in the use of the mirror but Cahun did use the mirror as a source of reflection in a contemplative, interrogatory mode in her photographs; and these were private photographs never intended for public display. “It has been proposed that these personal photographs allowed for Cahun to experiment with gender presentation and the role of the viewer to a greater degree.”46

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954) 'Autoportrait' (Self-Portrait) c. 1927

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Autoportrait (Self-Portrait)
c. 1927
Gelatin silver print
Used under fair use conditions for the purposes of academic research and education

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-Portrait' 1927

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Self-Portrait
1927
Gelatin silver print
Used under fair use conditions for the purposes of academic research and education

 

 

In Cahun’s gender non-conforming self-portraits “identity and gender is played out through performance and masquerade in a constructive way, a deep, probing interrogation of the self in front of the camera. While Cahun engages with Surrealist ideas – wearing masks and costumes and changing her appearance, often challenging traditional notions of gender representation – she does so in a direct and powerful way. As Laura Cumming observes, “She is not trying to become someone else, not trying to escape. Cahun is always and emphatically herself. Dressed as a man, she never appears masculine, nor like a woman in drag. Dressed as a woman, she never looks feminine. She is what we refer to as non-binary47 these days, though Cahun called it something else: “Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.””

Cahun had a gift for the indelible image but more than that, she possesses the propensity for humility and openness in these portraits, as though she is opening her soul for interrogation, even as she explores what it is to be Cahun, what it is to be human. This is a human being in full control of the balance between the ego and the self, of dream-state and reality. The photographs, little shown in Cahun’s lifetime, are her process of coming to terms with the external world, on the one hand, and with one’s own unique psychological characteristics on the other. They are her adaption48 to the world.”49

These were private manifestations of her inner self for the benevolence of her own spirit. She made art for herself, willing enough to face uncertainty and take the untrodden path of inner discovery. She was a “New Woman” where the term “woman” is fluid and fragmentary, open to adaptation and interpretation.

 

Claude Cahun. 'Que me veux tu?' 1929

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Que me veux tu? (What do you want from me?)
1929
Gelatin silver print
Used under fair use conditions for the purposes of academic research and education

 

 

A proposition and, the particular becomes universal

So the question becomes – when is a photographer a photographer a photographer. Does it matter who is behind the lens?

On the evidence of almost 200 photographs in the postings on this exhibition, if the photographs were labelled “unknown photographer”, many of these images could as easily have been made by men as by women. So in one sense it does not matter. What matters is the quality of the work.

But from other perspectives of course it matters, it matters a great deal. These women photographers have been whitewashed from the history of photography as though they never existed. Their challenge to the dominant narrative of male supremacy in society and the continuation of the struggle for female visibility and emancipation, requires a recognition of their courage and sacrifices. These were talented, strong and creative human beings and their work demands the recognition it deserves.

And then we ask, why has it taken a hundred years to shift the institutionally constructed history of photography, which has been perpetuated from generation to generation, where only male photographers were to be looked at, collected, admired and displayed? And the simple answer is that one word: “men”. Although things are changing slowly, too slowly, it was and still is a patriarchal society, a system of society controlled by men, and in the time period we are talking about (1920s-1950s), it was a world where institutions and their collecting practices were controlled by men; where photography was not being collected by many museums; and where the photographs of the “New Woman” behind the camera was not seen as collectible because it was what they did to make a living… it wasn’t art.

Further, we might postulate a proposition with regard to the practice of “New Woman” photographers, a form of Zen kōan if you like:

It doesn’t matter that I am a woman / I am a woman

.
In relation to this in/sight, I muse on a quotation about the work of Imogen Cunningham: “I keep coming back to this duality: Don’t pigeonhole her for being a woman. But don’t forget she’s a woman!” says Dunn Marsh. “She photographed flowers, which people sort of treated as a feminine subject matter. But Edward Weston was photographing peppers, and nobody considered that to be an exclusively masculine subject matter.”50

If we unpack this quotation, it reads as ‘it doesn’t matter that Cunningham was a woman… but don’t forget she’s a woman!’. Weston made images of peppers and nobody commented on his masculinity or the masculine “nature” of his subject matter and the same should go for Cunningham. Just because she is a women why comment on the femininity of flowers – but don’t forget Imogen is a women! It’s about the quality of the work, not the gender of the artist and then maybe it’s about being female but only if the artist chooses it to be … (Georgia O’Keeffe got very annoyed by the reading of her close-up flower paintings which many interpreted as representing female genitalia, insisting that the paintings has nothing to do with female sexuality).

Finally we can say, it’s doesn’t matter what gender you are when you look through the camera lens (as a machine it’s impartial), it is about the reality of yourself as a human being and your relationship to the camera. The actions of the photographer are a personal engagement with the camera (in other words, in relation to the women behind the camera, the camera in relation to her/Self) but through direct action – an engagement with time and light – their can be a shift in consciousness from the personal (the particular) to the universal.

It shouldn’t (that is the key word) matter whether you are male or female … it’s about the quality of the work and it’s about following the light. The light of self recognition of the path that you are on. As Maria Popova insightfully observes,

“And so the best we can do is walk step by next intuitively right step until one day, pausing to catch our breath, we turn around and gasp at a path. If we have been lucky enough, if we have been willing enough to face the uncertainty, it is our own singular path, unplotted by our anxious younger selves, untrodden by anyone else.”51

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The “New Woman” broke new ground by challenging the (in)visibility of women in a male dominated world. She placed herself in a man’s world but she still had to fit into that man’s world and conform to his image of her. But she followed her path of uncertainty with conviction and motivation, a path until then untrodden by anyone else, until she turned around and found that she had forged her own singular path, had looked within and had found her own voice. Looking back from a contemporary perspective we can finally recognise the struggle of the “New Woman” behind the camera, we can see their singular paths and recognise their achievements. What we can learn from the “New Woman” today, is that we all have a choice… to accept the status quo or offer determined defiance to prejudiced social conventions.

All human beings have to live within the parameters of social constructs but as human beings what we can do is push against the limits society imposes on us, push against the barriers of economic, political and sexual freedom. We can transgress the taboo. We can struggle that great and mighty struggle on the path of life, to push at the boundaries of being. What we all need to do, both women and men, is to find our integrity in relation to the reality of the world and to our own spirit. Through the efforts of those that came before us, we all now have a choice as to the path we follow and how we fit into this multifarious society.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

January 2021

Word count: 8,590

 

Footnotes

  1. Anonymous text. “George Sand,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 14/12/2021
  2. Victor Hugo. Les funérailles de George Sand quoted “Emancipated Woman,” in the Saturday Review: Politics, Literature, Science and Art, Volume 41, June 17, 1876, pp. 771 [Online] Cited 14/12/2021
  3. Anonymous text. “Camille Claudel,” on the Musée Rodin website [Online] Cited 14/12/2021
  4. Anonymous text. “Camille Claudel,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 14/12/2021
  5. Musée Rodin op cit.,
  6. Janet Wolff. “The Invisible Flaneuse. Women and the Literature of Modernity” in Theory, Culture and Society Volume 2, Number 3, Sage, 1985, p. 42
  7. Ibid., p. 44
  8. Ibid.,
    “When flanerie moves into the private realm of the department store, feminization alters this urban practice almost beyond recognition … By abolishing the distance between the individual and the commodity, the feminization of flanerie redefines it out of existence. The flaneur‘s dispassionate gaze dissipates under pressure from the shoppers’ passionate engagement in the world of things to be purchase and possessed. The flaneur ends up going shopping after all. … The department store cannot be the scene of urban strolling, not only because it is an enclosed and circumscribed space, but, more importantly, because shopping is a pre-defined and purposeful activity.”
    Janet Wolff. “Gender and the haunting of cities (or, the retirement of the flâneur),” in Aruna D’Souza and Tom McDonough (eds.,) The Invisible Flâneuse? Gender, Public Space, and Visual Culture in Nineteenth-Century Paris. London, UK: Manchester UP, 2006, p. 21
  9. Flaneur – “The flaneur symbolises the privilege or freedom to move about the public arenas of the city observing but never interacting, consuming the sights through a controlling but rarely-acknowledged gaze… The flaneur embodies the gaze of modernity which is both covetous and erotic. … The site of pleasurable looking, this look actively cast women as passive, erotic objects, subjecting them to a kind of voyeuristic control; it was in this sense that the visual purview of the bourgeois stroller – now the representative of middle-class masculinity in its entirety – became thoroughly implicated in issues of gender.”
    Griselda Pollock. Vision and Difference: Femininity, Feminism and the Histories of Art. London, UK: Routledge, 1988.
  10. Akkelies van Nes and Tra My Nguyen. “Gender Differences in the Urban Environment: The flâneur and flâneuse of the 21st Century,” in Daniel Koch, Lars Marcus and Jesper Steen (eds.,). Proceedings of the 7th International Space Syntax Symposium. Stockholm: KTH, 2009
  11. Ibid.,
    “Prostitution was indeed the female version of flânerie, which serves only to emphasise the inequality of gender differences in this era. The male flâneur was simply a man who loitered on the streets; but women who loitered risked being seen as prostitutes, streetwalkers, or les grandes horizontales as they were known in nineteenth-century Paris.”
    Bobby Seal. “From Streetwalker to Street Walker: The Rise of the Flâneuse,” on the Psychogeographic Review website 24/12/20212 [Online] Cited 20/01/2022
  12. Bianca Hall and Adam Cooper. “From Jill Meagher to Aiia Maasarwe: The murders that changed Melbourne over the past decade,” on The Age website December 30, 2019 [Online] Cited 15/12/2021.
  13. “Suffragette,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 14/12/2021
  14. Aruna D’Souza and Tom McDonough (eds.,) The Invisible Flâneuse? Gender, Public Space, and Visual Culture in Nineteenth-Century Paris. London, UK: Manchester UP, 2006, p. 8
  15. Ibid., p. 6
  16. Steven Bach quoted in Carl Rollyson. “Leni Riefenstahl on Trial,” on The New York Sun website March 7, 2007 [Online] Cited 04/01/2022
  17. Anonymous. “Leni Riefenstahl,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 02/01/2021
  18. Ibid.,
  19. Taylor Downing. “Leni: fully exposed,” on The Observer website Sun 29 April 2007 [Online] Cited 12/01/2022
  20. Kate Connolly. “Burying Leni Riefenstahl: one woman’s lifelong crusade against Hitler’s favourite film-maker,” on The Guardian website Thursday 9 December 2021 [Online] Cited 12/01/2022
  21. Susan Sontag. “Fascinating Fascism,” in The New York Review February 6, 1975 issue [Online] Cited 12/02/2022
  22. Ibid.,
  23. See “Cross of Honour of the German Mother” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 12/01/2022
  24. Sontag, op. cit.,
  25. Text from a sign commemorating birth of Georgia O’Keeffe, located next to Sun Prairie City Hall, 300 E, Main Street
  26. Anonymous. “Georgia O’Keeffe,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 02/01/2022
  27. Mark Levitch. “Stieglitz Career Overview: Georgia O’Keeffe, 1918-1920,” on the National Gallery of Art website Nd [Online] Cited 12/02/2022
  28. Ibid.,
  29. Ibid.,
  30. John Black. “Alfred Stieglitz and Modern America,” on the Boston Event Guide website Wednesday, 23 August 2017 [Online] Cited 12/02/2022
  31. Anonymous. “Georgia O’Keeffe,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 12/02/2022
  32. Roberta Courtney Meyers. “O’Keeffe in Taos,” on the Taos News website May 21, 2019 [Online] Cited 12/02/2022
  33. Anonymous. “Georgia O’Keeffe,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 12/02/2022
  34. Ibid.,
  35. Meyers, op. cit.,
  36. Anonymous. “Cross of Honour of the German Mother” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 12/01/2022
  37. Anonymous. “Lesson of the widow’s mite,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 15/02/2022
  38. Clay Risen. “Sabine Weiss, Last of the ‘Humanist’ Street Photographers, Dies at 97,” on The New York Times website Jan 4, 2022 [Online] Cited 06/01/2022
  39. Annette Kuhn. The Power of the Image: Essays on Representation and Sexuality. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985, p. 10.
  40. Marina Molarsky-Beck. “Germaine Krull’s Queer Vision,” on The Met website August 17 2021 [Online] Cited 15/12/2021
  41. Anonymous. “Germaine Krull, From Séries les Amies, 1924,” on the La Petite Mélancolie website 19/06/2012 [Online] Cited 15/01/2022
  42. Ibid.,
  43. Ibid.,
  44. Anonymous. “Claude Cahun,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 16/01/2022
  45. Jennifer Josten. “Reconsidering Self-Portraits by Women Surrealists: A Case Study of Claude Cahun and Frida Kahlo,” in the Atlantis Journal Vol. 30, No. 2, 30/02/2006 p. 24
  46. Anonymous. “Claude Cahun,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 16/01/2022
  47. Those with non-binary genders can feel that they: Have an androgynous (both masculine and feminine) gender identity, such as androgyne. Have an identity between male and female, such as intergender. Have a neutral or unrecognised gender identity, such as agender, neutrois, or most xenogenders.
  48. “The constant flow of life again and again demands fresh adaptation. Adaptation is never achieved once and for all.” Carl Jung. “The Transcendent Function,” CW 8, par. 143.
  49. Marcus Bunyan. “Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the mask, another mask” on the Art Blart website 24th May 2017 [Online] Cited 16/01/2022
  50. Dunn Marsh quoted in Margo Vansynghel. “How Seattle’s Imogen Cunningham changed photography forever,” on the Crosscut website November 16, 2021 [Online] Cited 08/01/2022
  51. Maria Popova. “Carl Jung on How to Live and the Origin of “Do the Next Right Thing”,” on The Marginalian website 12th July 2021 [Online] Cited 13/12/2021

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

 

 

Uncertainty is the price of beauty, and integrity the only compass for the territory of uncertainty that constitutes the landmass of any given life.

And so the best we can do is walk step by next intuitively right step until one day, pausing to catch our breath, we turn around and gasp at a path. If we have been lucky enough, if we have been willing enough to face the uncertainty, it is our own singular path, unplotted by our anxious younger selves, untrodden by anyone else.

.
Maria Popova. “Carl Jung on How to Live and the Origin of “Do the Next Right Thing”,” on The Marginalian website 12th July 2021 [Online] Cited 13/12/2021

 

The beautiful woman will continue to serve as a symbol of feminine mystery to the man who desires her and of potency and success to the man who can claim her. And to the women around her, she will remain a symbol of the ideal against which they will be judged. This can only change when beauty loses its distorted power in the evaluation of a “woman’s worth”; that is, when the dependent relationship between women and men has been dismantled. Thus are the politics of appearance inextricably bound up with the structures of social, political and economic inequality … Fighting pressure to conform, attempting to hold one’s own against the commercial and cultural images of the acceptable is a crucial first act of resistance. The attempt to pass and blend in actually hides us from those we most resemble. We end up robbing each other of authentic reflections of ourselves. Instead, imperfectibly visible behind a fashion of conformity, we fear to meet each others’ eyes …

Real diversity can only become a source of strength if we learn to acknowledge it rather than disguise it. Only then can we recognize each other as different and therefore exciting, imperfect and as such enough.

.
Wendy Chapkis. Beauty Secrets: Women and the Politics of Appearance. Boston: South End Press, 1986, p. 175.

 

… in practice, images are always seen in context: they always have a specific use value in the particular time and place of their consumption. This, together with their formal characteristics, conditions and limits the meanings available from them at any on moment. But if representations always have use value, then more often than not they also have exchange value: they circulate as commodities in a social / economic system. This further conditions, or overdetermines, the meanings available from representations. Meanings do not reside in images, then: they are circulated between representation, spectator and social function.

.
Kuhn, Annette. The Power of the Image: Essays on Representation and Sexuality. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985, p. 6.

 

Meanings readable from photographs … are at all points connected with the status they occupy as products, with the contexts of reception and the discourses of authorship, aesthetics, criticism and marketing which surround them. ‘Mainstream’ images in our culture bear the traces of the capitalist and patriarchal social relations in which they are produced, exchanged and consumed.

.
Kuhn, Annette. The Power of the Image: Essays on Representation and Sexuality. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985, p. 10.

 

 

Tsuneko Sasamoto (Japanese, b. 1914) 'Woman Selling Her and Her Husband's Poetry Books (Street Snapshot in Tokyo)' c. 1950-1953, printed 1993

 

Tsuneko Sasamoto (Japanese, b. 1914)
Woman Selling Her and Her Husband’s Poetry Books (Street Snapshot in Tokyo)
c. 1950-1953, printed 1993
Gelatin silver print
Image: 29.6 x 29.6cm (11 5/8 x 11 5/8 in.)
Frame: 40.64 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 41 x 51.2 x 2.5cm (16 1/8 x 20 3/16 x 1 in.)
Collection of Tokyo Photographic Art Museum

 

 

Lesson of the widow’s mite

The lesson of the widow’s mite or the widow’s offering is presented in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark 12:41-44, Luke 21:1-4), in which Jesus is teaching at the Temple in Jerusalem. The Gospel of Mark specifies that two mites (Greek lepta) are together worth a quadrans, the smallest Roman coin. A lepton was the smallest and least valuable coin in circulation in Judea, worth about six minutes of an average daily wage.

 

Biblical narrative

“He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, ‘Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.'”

 

Commentary

… In the passage immediately prior to Jesus taking a seat opposite the Temple treasury, he is portrayed as condemning religious leaders who feign piety, accept honour from people, and steal from widows. “Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honour in synagogues, and places of honour at banquets. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.”

The same religious leaders who would reduce widows to poverty also encourage them to make pious donations beyond their means. In [Adison] Wright’s opinion, rather than commending the widow’s generosity, Jesus is condemning both the social system that renders her poor, and “… the value system that motivates her action, and he condemns the people who conditioned her to do it.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Tsuneko Sasamoto (Japanese, b. 1914) 'The Labor Offensive Heats Up' 1946, printed 1993

 

Tsuneko Sasamoto (Japanese, b. 1914)
The Labor Offensive Heats Up
1946, printed 1993
Gelatin silver print
Image: 24.9 x 37.2cm (9 13/16 x 14 5/8 in.)
Frame: 40.64 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 41 x 51.2 x 2.5cm (16 1/8 x 20 3/16 x 1 in.)
Collection of Tokyo Photographic Art Museum

 

Tsuneko Sasamoto (Japanese, b. 1914) '"Living New Look" Photography Exhibition' 1950, printed 1993

 

Tsuneko Sasamoto (Japanese, b. 1914)
“Living New Look” Photography Exhibitionkru
1950, printed 1993
Gelatin silver print
Image: 37.6 x 29.5cm (14 13/16 x 11 5/8 in.)
Frame: 40.64 x 50.8 cm (16 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 41 x 51.2 x 2.5 cm (16 1/8 x 20 3/16 x 1 in.)
Collection of Tokyo Photographic Art Museum

 

Photographer unknown. 'Tsuneko Sasamoto, Tokyo' 1940, printed 2020

 

Photographer unknown
Tsuneko Sasamoto, Tokyo
1940, printed 2020
Inkjet print
Image: 18.2 x 18.2cm (7 3/16 x 7 3/16 in.)
Frame: 45.72 x 35.56cm (18 x 14 in.)
Frame (outer): 46.99 x 36.83cm (18 1/2 x 14 1/2 in.)
Tsuneko Sasamoto / Japan Professional Photographers Society

 

Tsuneko Sasamoto (Japanese, b. 1914) 'Hiroshima Peace Memorial' 1953, printed 2020

 

Tsuneko Sasamoto (Japanese, b. 1914)
Hiroshima Peace Memorial
1953, printed 2020
Inkjet print
Image: 37.4 x 37.3cm (14 3/4 x 14 11/16 in.)
Frame: 55.88 x 50.8cm (22 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 57.15 x 52.07cm (22 1/2 x 20 1/2 in.)
Tsuneko Sasamoto / Japan Professional Photographers Society

 

Tsuneko Sasamoto (Japanese, b. 1914) 'Untitled' 1940, printed 2020

 

Tsuneko Sasamoto (Japanese, b. 1914)
Untitled
1940, printed 2020
Inkjet print image: 47.5 x 33.8cm (18 11/16 x 13 5/16 in.)
Frame: 60.96 x 45.72cm (24 x 18 in.)
Tsuneko Sasamoto / Japan Professional Photographers Society

 

Toshiko Okanoue (Japanese, b. 1928) 'Full of Life' 1954

 

Toshiko Okanoue (Japanese, b. 1928)
Full of Life
1954
Collage on paper
Image/sheet: 23.8 x 24.9cm (9 3/8 x 9 13/16 in.)
Frame: 50.8 x 40.64cm (20 x 16 in.)
Frame (outer): 53.34 x 43.18cm (21 x 17 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund
© Okanoue Toshiko

 

 

Toshiko Okanoue (岡上 淑子, Okanoue Toshiko, born 3 January 1928) is a Japanese artist associated with the Japanese avant-garde art world of the 1950s and best known for her Surrealist photo collages. …

 

Early career

Born in Kochi and raised in Tokyo, Okanoue began to make photo collages while studying fashion and drawing at the Bunka Gakuin in Tokyo in the early 1950s. The young Okanoue, initially knew little of art history or the Surrealist movement.

In 1952, a classmate from Keisen Girls’ High School introduced Okanoue to poet and art critic Shuzo Takiguichi, a leading figure in the Japanese Surrealist movement, who would help introduce her to the wider art world, including the work of European Surrealists, such as German artist Max Ernst, who was an influence on her subsequent work.

Over the next six years she would produce over 100 works. She exhibited in two exhibits including, solo shows at the Takemiya Gallery in Tokyo, In the second show at Takemiya, over fifty pieces of Okanoue’s monochrome photographs were hung on display. Also exhibited at the “Abstract and Illusion” exhibition at the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo between 1 December 1953 and 20 January 1954, which attracted total of 16,657 audiences appreciating 91 artworks by 91 artists.

 

Artistic style

In post-war Japan, shortages of goods meant that foreign goods filled the market and fashion and lifestyle magazines such as Vogue, Harpers Bazaar and Life magazine provided the raw materials for Okanoue’s collages. Her black and white photo collages mix images of places, objects and people, often fashionable European women, in dynamic and often unsettling compositions whose subjects explored themes of war, femininity and the relations between the sexes.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Photographer unknown. 'Page spread featuring Eiko Yamazawa and her assistant, from the "Photo Times"' October 1940

 

Photographer unknown
Page spread featuring Eiko Yamazawa and her assistant, from the “Photo Times”
October 1940
Magazine
Open: 25.4 x 30.48cm (10 x 12 in.)
Cradle: 8.89 x 33.02 x 26.35 cm (3 1/2 x 13 x 10 3/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art Library, Gift of the Department of Photographs

 

American, 20th Century. '"Photo-Fighter," in "True Comics"' July 1944

 

American, 20th Century
“Photo-Fighter,” in “True Comics”
July 1944
Comic book
Open: 25.4 x 35.56cm (10 x 14 in.)
National Gallery of Art Library, Gift of the Department of Photographs

 

Ilse Bing (United States of America, Germany 1899–1998) 'Self portrait with Leica' 1931 printed 1941

 

Ilse Bing (United States of America, Germany 1899-1998)
Self-Portrait With Leica
1931
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg/Ilse Bing Estate

 

Ré Soupault (German, 1901–1996) 'Self-Portrait, Tunis' 1939

 

Ré Soupault (German, 1901–1996)
Self-Portrait, Tunis
1939
Gelatin silver print
Artists Rights Society, New York

 

Elisabeth Hase (German, 1905-1991) 'Ohne Titel (Weinende Frau)' (Untitled (Crying woman)) c. 1934

 

Elisabeth Hase (German, 1905-1991)
Ohne Titel (Weinende Frau) (Untitled (Crying woman))
c. 1934
Gelatin silver print
Image/sheet: 22.8 x 17.1cm (9 x 6 3/4 in.)
Frame (outer): 44.5 x 36.8cm (17 1/2 x 14 1/2 in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2016
Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art Resource, NY

 

 

Elisabeth Hase (December 16, 1905 – October 9, 1991) was a German commercial and documentary photographer active in Frankfurt from 1932 until her death in 1991, at the age of 85.

Hase was born in Döhlen bei Leipzig, Germany. She studied typography and commercial art from 1924 to 1929 at the School of Applied Arts, and later at the Städelschule, under, among other teachers, Paul Renner and Willi Baumeister. Hase was active as a photographer during the time of the transition from the Weimar Republic to the Third Reich and through post-WWII Germany. She was able to avoid government oversight of her work by establishing her own photographic studio in 1933.

Hase’s work included surreal photography, such as close-up photographs of dolls.

She received several awards, several for paper designs and collages. During a two-year collaboration in the studio of Paul Wolff and Alfred Tritschler, Hase took architectural photographs in New Objectivity style for the magazine Das Neue Frankfurt (The New Frankfurt) and documentary photographs of modern housing projects, including those of Ferdinand Kramer.

In 1932, Hase started her own business. It focused on timeless designs like still life, structures, plants, dolls, people, especially self-portraits. Often she used herself as a model in her photographic “picture stories.” Cooperation with agencies like Holland Press Service and the Agency Schostal enabled her to publish her photographs internationally.

Despite the bombing of Frankfurt in 1944 by the Allies, Hare’s photographic archive survived the war without major damage. Many of those works are now part of the collections held by the Folkwang Museum in Essen, Germany, in the Albertina (Vienna) in Vienna, and in the Walter Gropius estate in the Bauhaus Archive in Berlin, as well as in private collections in Germany and abroad.

Despite loss of her cameras and other technical equipment in the chaos of war, Hase was able to resume taking photographs in 1946 by the help of emigre friends who provided her with film and cameras to use. Among other subjects Hase documented was the reconstruction of St. Paul’s Church in Frankfurt.

From 1949, her work focused on advertising, consisting mostly of plant portraits.

Hase died at the age of 85 in 1991 in Frankfurt am Main.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Erna Lendvai-Dircksen (German, 1883-1962) 'Mädchen aus dem Guttachtal, Schwarzwald' (Young Woman from the Guttach Valley, Black Forest) Before 1934

 

Erna Lendvai-Dircksen (German, 1883-1962)
Mädchen aus dem Guttachtal, Schwarzwald (Young Woman from the Guttach Valley, Black Forest)
Before 1934
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.1 x 13.2cm (6 3/4 x 5 3/16 in.)
Mount: 26 x 18.4cm (10 1/4 x 7 1/4 in.)
Frame (outer): 52.07 x 39.37cm (20 1/2 x 15 1/2 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Erna Lendvai-Dircksen (born Erna Katherina Wilhelmine Dircksen, 31 May 1883 – 8 May 1962) was a German photographer known for a series of volumes of portraits of rural individuals from throughout Germany. During the Third Reich, she also photographed for eugenicist publications and was commissioned to document the new autobahn and the workers constructing it. …

 

Critical reception

Lendvai-Dircksen’s portraits of farmers suited the Nazi ethos except that in her initial publication, almost all her subjects were old, and indeed she clearly portrayed the damage to their bodies as a sign of authenticity. She later widened her focus to include children. She never, however, photographed sport, whether for technical reasons or because of her personal philosophy.

Although Lendvai-Dircksen has been referred to as “brown Erna” for the promotion of Nazi ideals in her work under the Third Reich, her portrait photography can be compared to the work of Dorothea Lange or Walker Evans as documentation of impoverished people, and Margaret Bourke-White also photographed labourers in a heroic light. As pointed out by Berlin photographic curator Janos Frecot in the catalogue of an exhibition at the Albertina which included her work, her portraits and those of others at the time can be seen as applications of the same ethnographic principle as portraits of people in faraway cultures; similarly, Leesa Rittelmann has shown that the same principle of characterising a country by the physiognomies of its people, although a throwback to 19th-century theories, was shared by Weimar-era photographers such as the progressive August Sander, in his Antlitz der Zeit (Face of Our Time).

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Annemarie Heinrich (Argentinian born Germany, 1912-2005) 'Serge Lifar, "El espectro de la rosa"' (Serge Lifar, "The Spirit of the Rose") 1935

 

Annemarie Heinrich (Argentinian born Germany, 1912-2005)
Serge Lifar, “El espectro de la rosa” (Serge Lifar, “The Spirit of the Rose”)
1935
Gelatin silver print
Image: 28.4 x 20.7cm (11 3/16 x 8 1/8 in.)
Frame: 45.72 x 35.56cm (18 x 14 in.)
Frame (outer): 49.53 x 39.37cm (19 1/2 x 15 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund

 

 

Annemarie Heinrich (9 January 1912 – 22 September 2005) was a German-born naturalised Argentine photographer, who specialised in portraits and nude photographs. Heinrich is considered one of Argentina’s most important photographers.

She is known for having photographed various celebrities of Argentine cinema, such as Tita Merello, Carmen Miranda, Zully Moreno and Mirtha Legrand; as well as other cultural personalities like Jorge Luis Borges, Pablo Neruda and Eva Perón. She also photographed landscapes, city scenes, animals, and abstracts. Her photographs of South America hold significant ethnographic value, showing changes to the area through the 20th century.

 

Career

In 1930, she opened her first studio in Villa Ballester, Buenos Aires. She also married Ricardo Sanguinetti, a writer under the name Alvaro Sol, in the same year. Two years later she moved to a larger studio and began photographing actors from the Teatro Colón.

Heinrich co-founded Foto Club Argentino and was a founding member of Consejo Argentino de Fotografía (Argentine Council on Photography) and the Consejo Latinoamericano de Fotografía (Latin American Council on Photography). Her photos were also the cover of magazines such as El Hogar, Sintonía, Alta Sociedad, Radiolandia and Antena for forty years.

In Argentina during the Second World War, Heinrich was part of the anti-war movement, Consejo Argentino por la Paz (Argentinian Council for Peace). She was also in the Junta de la Victoria (Victory Board), a women’s group advocating against fascism and for the Allies. After the war, Heinrich travelled across Europe, exhibiting her work in Rome, Milan, Paris, and Zürich. In the 1950s Heinrich was part of a modernist group calling themselves Carpeta de los diez (Group of Ten).

Heinrich was brought to court in 1991 for displaying one of her nude photographs in the Avenida Callao studio window. National and international outcry in support of Heinrich and the aesthetic value of the photograph led to the case being dropped.

In 2015, the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires held a retrospective of her work. Heinrich’s work was shown in New York for the first time in 2016 at Nailya Alexander Gallery in the show “Annemarie Heinrich: Glamour and Modernity in Buenos Aires.”

Heinrich’s archive has been digitised in a project between the British Library Endangered Archives Programme and the Institute for Research in Art and Culture, Universidad Nacional de Tres de Febrero, in 2016. The collection is available online at the Endangered Archives Programme website.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Germaine Krull (German, French, and Dutch, Brazil, Republic of the Congo, Thailand and India, 1897-1985) 'Ohne Titel (Studie für "Der Akt")' (Untitled (Study for "The Nude")) 1924

 

Germaine Krull (German, French, and Dutch, Brazil, Republic of the Congo, Thailand and India, 1897-1985)
Ohne Titel (Studie für “Der Akt”) (Untitled (Study for “The Nude”))
1924
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.23 x 16.51cm (8 3/4 x 6 1/2 in.)
Frame: 50.8 x 40.64cm (20 x 16 in.)
Frame (outer): 53.34 x 43.18cm (21 x 17 in.)
Trish and Jan de Bont

 

 

The photographer Germaine Krull is little known outside of specialist circles today, but in 1928 she was the toast of Paris. Her avant-garde photographs of the city filled the pages of VU, a magazine known for its dynamic spreads and modern, bold aesthetic. Krull was one of its signature photographers. She shot sailors on the docks, piles of curios at the flea market, dancers at the Moulin Rouge. As both photojournalist and art photographer, Krull was one of the leading lights of the Parisian photography scene. Her pictures hung in the Salon de l’Escalier, a major exhibition of modernist photography, and over the next few years, her work featured in exhibitions across Europe. By 1931, the cultural critic Walter Benjamin used Krull as an example of photography’s potential in his celebrated essay “Little History of Photography.”1

Krull, born in Posen (then Germany, now Poznán, Poland), wound up in Paris after an itinerant childhood, a few years’ study of photography in Munich, and a series of political embroilments that sound like the stuff of fiction. Banned from Bavaria for aiding a Bolshevik emissary’s attempted escape through the Alps, she was later deported from the Soviet Union as a supposed counterrevolutionary.

After a stint in Berlin, where she ran her own photography studio, she made her way to Paris. There, she published her photo book Métal in 1928 and began to receive attention alongside other practitioners of new, assertively modern photographic styles such as Man Ray and André Kertész.

With Métal, Krull turned her lens on the soaring structures of industrial Europe: Rotterdam’s railroad bridge De Hef, Marseille’s Pont Transbordeur, a number of nameless industrial cranes, factory machinery, and, most recognizably, the Eiffel Tower.2 The portfolio bore the subtitle “métaux nus” (bare metals), and critics have often likened these metallic bodies to the nude photographs she made around the same time. In both cases, Krull got close to her subjects, dislocating them from their environments. In Métal, Krull rendered the familiar form of the Eiffel Tower nearly unrecognizable. She tended to shoot the tower from beneath, its iron lattices stretching vertiginously upward, such that the monument’s iconic shape is lost.

In an untitled nude photograph from 1928 or ’29, she deployed a similar approach, keeping the camera fixed on an unclothed torso twisting off toward the edge of the frame with upturned face cut off at mid-cheek. The dramatic play of shadow and light renders the figure’s gender indistinct. Whether focused on a living subject or an architectural one, Krull’s camera resists the viewer’s urge to name and categorize.

Before Krull became a famous Parisian photojournalist, she made a series of enigmatic pictures of female couples. In 1924, while living in Berlin, Krull shot a portfolio of eleven photographs entitled Les amies (French for “the friends,” specifically denoting female friends). The photographs depict a pair of women in stages of gradual undress, eventually left only in their stockings, the rest of their flesh laid bare. In the narrative that unfolds from image to image, the two women move between sofa and floor: the shape of their union shifts but their bodies remain interlocked. The images were risqué enough that they received little attention during Krull’s lifetime – perhaps a bit too lewd for fine art display, and yet not quite pornographic either. Certainly though, these photographs are representations of queer desire; they were made by an artist who desired women herself.

In her memoirs, Krull describes the relationship she had with a woman (perhaps pseudonymously) referred to as “Elsa,” noting, “We would have laughed if someone had labeled us lesbians.” At the time, Krull and Elsa were both married to men, and Krull frames the affair as an exception. She calls Elsa “the only woman I have loved and who has loved me.” In another passage, she seems to contradict herself, stating, “I never loved a woman.” But she does not altogether dismiss this relationship: “With Elsa, the joy of feeling united was so great. … She was so much mine that the physical question did not count.”3

One of the Les amies photographs in The Met collection shows two women wrapped in an amorous knot, so engaged in their pursuit of pleasure that their faces remain almost entirely obscured. This elision of the models’ faces is, perhaps, an effect of modesty or concealing their identity, but it also produces a sense of intense absorption in the sexual act – despite performing for a camera, the two women seem concerned only with each other. The photographs offer a vision of queer feminine sexuality in its most visible form.

Krull’s straightforward depiction of these female lovers is all the more striking given that she took these photographs at a time when lesbians were often imagined to be invisible – or at the very least, imperceptible. In the interwar years of the 1920s and ’30s, and especially in France, anxieties ran high about precisely this problem. If lesbians could not be identified on sight, how could they be apprehended? How could the dangers of rampant female sexuality be curtailed with lesbians walking around Paris in plain sight, undetected? These worries occupied novelists, social scientists, and sexologists alike, as Carolyn J. Dean describes in her book, The Frail Social Body.4

Krull, unlike her (largely male) contemporaries, seems to have had no trouble locating queer female sexuality, or representing it. On the contrary, the Les amies photographs adopt a direct, frontal view of the two lovers. Krull’s models become almost indistinguishable over the course of the series. This compositional strategy suggests a particularly queer eroticization of sameness, very different from the conception of a butch-femme dyad imaged by Krull’s contemporary Brassaï in his photographs of the Parisian lesbian bar Le Monocle. But the representation of queerness as a kind of doubling accords with popular French conceptions of the so-called sapphist as a “female Narcissus,” as Nicole Albert puts it in her 2005 study of the lesbian phantasm at the fin-de-siècle, Lesbian Decadence.5

Just as Narcissus gazed upon his own likeness, the lesbian often appeared in popular representations gazing upon another woman as a kind of mirror image of herself. Mirrors, long linked with feminine vanity, became a convenient shorthand for the idea that lesbian desire is the ultimate narcissism. This allowed for artists and writers to simultaneously denounce sexual immorality and the eroticization of that sin. Contemporary illustrations in magazines and advertisements, for instance, offered up sensuous sights of women embracing through, near, or against mirrors. The mirror’s reflection plays up the autoeroticism of self-regard, and supposedly of sapphism itself. Meanwhile, literary accounts of lesbianism in the interwar period frequently staged scenes of erotic encounters in mirrored rooms.6 Such spaces – be they brothels, nightclubs, or private bedrooms – facilitated both voyeurism and spatial disorientation.

Nor was sapphism the mirror’s only resonance in the 1920s. Contemporary critics frequently compared photography to a mirror. The poet and polymath Jean Cocteau, for instance, told Krull of her art: “You are a reforming mirror. You and the darkroom [chambre noire] obtain a new world, a world that has passed through [the camera’s] workings and a soul.”7 Here, he plays upon the double meaning present in the French “chambre noire,” which refers at once to the literal darkroom where photographs are developed and to the camera obscura, which we might think of as a stand-in for the enterprise of photography itself. As Cocteau would have it, Krull herself was the mirror, not photography. Armed with her camera, she had the power not only to depict reality but to transform it.”

Marina Molarsky-Beck. “Germaine Krull’s Queer Vision,” on The Met website August 17 2021 [Online] Cited 15/12/2021

 

Footnotes

  1. Walter W. Benjamin, “Little History of Photography,” in Selected Writings: 1927-1934, ed. Howard Eiland, Michael W. Jennings, and Gary Smith, trans. Rodney Livingstone (Cambridge, M.A.: Harvard University Press, 1996), 507-528
  2. Kim Sichel, Making Strange: The Modernist Photobook in France (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2020), 19
  3. Germaine Krull, La vie mène la danse, ed. Françoise Denoyelle (Textuel, 2015), 179-180
  4. Carolyn J. Dean, The Frail Social Body: Pornography, Homosexuality, and Other Fantasies in Interwar France (Berkeley, C.A.: University of California Press, 2000)
  5. Nicole G. Albert, Lesbian Decadence: Representations in Art and Literature of Fin-de-Siècle France, trans. Nancy Erber and William A. Peniston (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016), 241-242. Originally published as Albert, Saphisme et décadence dans Paris fin-de-siècle (Paris: Martinière, 2005)
  6. Dean, The Frail Social Body, 193
  7. “Vous êtes un miroir reformant. Vous et la chambre noire obtenez un monde neuf, un monde qui a traversé des mécanismes et une âme.” Jean Cocteau, Jean Cocteau to Germaine Krull, April 1930. Quoted in Pierre MacOrlan, Germaine Krull (Paris: Librairie Gallimard, 1931), 16

 

Germaine Krull (German, French, and Dutch, Brazil, Republic of the Congo, Thailand and India, 1897-1985) 'André Malraux' 1930

 

Germaine Krull (German, French, and Dutch, Brazil, Republic of the Congo, Thailand and India, 1897-1985)
André Malraux
1930
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.5 x 16cm (8 7/8 x 6 5/16 in.)
Mount: 29.1 x 22.8cm (11 7/16 x 9 in.)
Frame: 45.72 x 35.56cm (18 x 14 in.)
Frame (outer): 49.53 x 39.37cm (19 1/2 x 15 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, R. K. Mellon Family Foundation
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull (German, French, and Dutch, Brazil, Republic of the Congo, Thailand and India, 1897-1985) 'Selbstporträt mit Icarette' (Self-Portrait with Icarette) c. 1925, printed 1978

 

Germaine Krull (German, French, and Dutch, Brazil, Republic of the Congo, Thailand and India, 1897-1985)
Selbstporträt mit Icarette (Self-Portrait with Icarette)
c. 1925, printed 1978
Gelatin silver print sheet: 30.8 x 24.3cm (12 1/8 x 9 9/16 in.)
Image: 23.3 x 17.3cm (9 3/16 x 6 13/16 in.)
Frame: 50.8 x 40.64cm (20 x 16 in.)
Frame (outer): 53.34 x 43.18cm (21 x 17 in.)
Department of Image Collections, National Gallery of Art Library © Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

 

During the 1920s, the iconic New Woman was splashed across the pages of magazines and projected on the silver screen. As a global phenomenon, she embodied an ideal of female empowerment based on real women making revolutionary changes in life and art. Featuring more than 120 photographers from over 20 countries, the groundbreaking exhibition, The New Woman Behind the Camera, explores the diverse “new” women who embraced photography as a mode of professional and personal expression from the 1920s to the 1950s. The first exhibition to take an international approach to the subject, it examines how women brought their own perspectives to artistic experimentation, studio portraiture, fashion and advertising work, scenes of urban life, ethnography, and photojournalism, profoundly shaping the medium during a time of tremendous social and political change. Accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, this landmark exhibition will be on view from October 31, 2021 through January 30, 2022, in the West Building of the National Gallery of Art, Washington. It was previously on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, from July 2 through October 3, 2021.

In an era when traditional definitions of womanhood were being questioned, women’s lives were a mix of emancipating and confining experiences that varied by country. Many women around the world found the camera to be a means of independence as they sought to redefine their positions in society and expand their rights. This exhibition presents a geographically, culturally, and artistically diverse range of practitioners to advance new conversations about the history of modern photography and the continual struggle of women to gain creative agency and self-representation.

“This innovative exhibition reevaluates the history of modern photography through the lens of the New Woman, a feminist ideal that emerged at the end of the 19th century and spread globally during the first half of the 20th century,” said Kaywin Feldman, director, National Gallery of Art. “The transnational realities of modernism visualised in photography by women such as Lola Álvarez Bravo, Berenice Abbott, Claude Cahun, Germaine Krull, Dorothea Lange, Niu Weiyu, Tsuneko Sasamoto, and Homai Vyarawalla offer us an opportunity to better understand the present by becoming more fully informed of the past.”

 

About the exhibition

This landmark exhibition critically examines the extraordinary impact women had on the practice of photography worldwide from the 1920s to the 1950s. It presents the work of over 120 international photographers who took part in a dramatic expansion of the medium propelled by artistic creativity, technological innovation, and the rise of the printed press. Photographers such as Berenice Abbott, Ilse Bing, Lola Álvarez Bravo, Madame d’Ora, Florence Henri, Elizaveta Ignatovich, Germaine Krull, Dorothea Lange, Dora Maar, Niu Weiyu, Eslanda Goode Robeson, Tsuneko Sasamoto, Gerda Taro, and Homai Vyarawalla, among many others, emerged at a tumultuous moment in history that was profoundly shaped by two world wars, a global economic depression, struggles for decolonisation, and the rise of fascism and communism. Against the odds, these women were at the forefront of experimentation with the camera and produced invaluable visual testimony that reflects both their personal experiences and the extraordinary social and political transformations of the era.

Organised thematically in eight galleries, The New Woman Behind the Camera illustrates women’s groundbreaking work in modern photography, exploring their innovations in the fields of social documentary, avant-garde experimentation, commercial studio practice, photojournalism, ethnography, and the recording of sports, dance, and fashion. By evoking the global phenomenon of the New Woman, the exhibition seeks to reevaluate the history of photography and advance new and more inclusive conversations on the contributions of female photographers.

Known by different names, from nouvelle femme and neue Frau to modan gāru and xin nüxing, the New Woman was easy to recognise but hard to define. Fashionably dressed with her hair bobbed, the self-assured cosmopolitan New Woman was arguably more than a marketable image. She was a contested symbol of liberation from traditional gender roles. Revealing how women photographers from around the world gave rise to and embodied the quintessential New Woman even as they critiqued the popular construction of the role, the exhibition opens with a group of compelling portraits and self-portraits. In these works, women defined their positions as professionals and artists during a time when they were seeking greater personal rights and freedoms.

For many women, the camera became an effective tool for self-determination as well as a source of income. With better access to education and a newfound independence, female photographers emerged as a major force in studio photography. From running successful businesses in Berlin, Buenos Aires, London, and Vienna, to earning recognition as one of the first professional female photographers in their home country, women around the world, including Karimeh Abbud, Steffi Brandl, Trude Fleischmann, Annemarie Heinrich, Eiko Yamazawa, and Madame Yevonde, reinvigorated studio practice. A collaborative space where both sitters and photographers negotiated gender, race, and cultural difference, the portrait studio was also vitally important to African American communities which sought to represent and define themselves within a society that continued to be plagued by racism. Photography studios run by Black women, such as Florestine Perrault Collins and Winifred Hall Allen, thrived throughout the United States, and not only preserved likenesses and memories, but also constructed a counter narrative to the stereotyping images that circulated in the mass media.

With the invention of smaller lightweight cameras, a growing number of women photographers found that the camera’s portability created new avenues of discovery outside the studio. In stunning photographs of the city, photographers such as Alice Brill, Rebecca Lepkoff, Helen Levitt, Lisette Model, Genevieve Naylor, and Tazue Satō Matsunaga used their artistic vision to capture the exhilarating modern world around them. They depicted everyday life, spontaneous encounters on the street, and soaring architectural views in places like Bombay (now Mumbai), New York, Paris, São Paulo, and Tokyo, revealing the multiplicity of urban experience. Many incorporated the newest photographic techniques to convey the energy of the city, and the exhibition continues with a gallery focused on those radical formal approaches that came to define modern photography. Through techniques like photomontage, photograms, sharp contrasts of light and shadow, extreme cropping, and dizzying camera angles, women including Aenne Biermann, Imogen Cunningham, Dora Maar, Tina Modotti, Lucia Moholy, and Cami Stone pushed the boundaries of the medium.

Women also produced dynamic pictures of the modern body, including innovative nude studies as well as sport and dance photography. Around the world, participation in spectator and team sports increased along with membership in fitness and hygiene reform movements. New concepts concerning health and sexuality along with new attitudes in movement and dress emphasised the body as a central site of experiencing modernity. On view are luminous works by photographers Laure Albin Guillot, Yvonne Chevalier, Florence Henri, and Jeanne Mandello who reimagined the traditional genre of the nude. Photographs by Irene Bayer-Hecht and Liselotte Grschebina highlight joyous play and gymnastic exercise, while Charlotte Rudolph, Ilse Bing, Trude Fleischmann, and Lotte Jacobi made breathtaking images of dancers in motion, revealing the body as artistic medium.

During the modern period, a growing number of women pursued professional photographic careers and traveled widely for the first time. Many took photographs that documented their experiences abroad and interactions with other cultures as they engaged in formal and informal ethnographic projects. The exhibition continues with a selection of photographs and photobooks by women, mainly from Europe and the United States, that reveal a diversity of perspectives and approaches. Gender provided some of these photographers with unusual access and the drive to challenge discriminatory practices, while others were not exempt from portraying stereotypical views. Publications by Jette Bang, Hélène Hoppenot, Ella Maillart, Anna Riwkin, Eslanda Goode Robeson, and Ellen Thorbecke exemplify how photographically illustrated books and magazines were an influential form of communication about travel and ethnography during the modern period. Other works on display include those by Denise Bellon and Ré Soupault, who traveled to foreign countries on assignment for magazines and photo agencies seeking ethnographic and newsworthy photographs, and those by Marjorie Content and Laura Gilpin, who worked on their own in the southwestern United States.

The New Woman – both as a mass-circulating image and as a social phenomenon – was confirmed by the explosion of photographs found in popular fashion and lifestyle magazines. Fashion and advertising photography allowed many women to gain unprecedented access to the public sphere, establish relative economic independence, and attain autonomous professional success. Producing a rich visual language where events and ideas were expressed directly in pictures, illustrated fashion magazines such as Die DameHarper’s Bazaar, and Vogue became an important venue for photographic experimentation by women for a female readership. Photographers producing original views of women’s modernity include Lillian Bassman, Ilse Bing, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Toni Frissell, Toni von Horn, Frances McLaughlin-Gill, ringl + pit, Margaret Watkins, Caroline Whiting Fellows, and Yva.

The rise of the picture press also established photojournalism and social documentary as dominant forms of visual expression during the modern period. Ignited by the effects of a global economic crisis and growing political and social unrest, numerous women photographers including Lucy Ashjian, Margaret Bourke-White, Kati Horna, Elizaveta Ignatovich, Kata Kálmán, Dorothea Lange, and Hansel Mieth engaged a wide public with gripping images. So-called soft topics such as “women and children,” “the family,” and “the home front” were more often assigned to female photojournalists than to their male counterparts. The exhibition asks viewers to question the effect of having women behind the camera in these settings. Pictures produced during the war, from combat photography by Galina Sanko and Gerda Taro to images of the Blitz in London by Thérèse Bonney and the Tuskegee airmen by Toni Frissell, are also featured. At the war’s end, haunting images by Lee Miller of the opening of Nazi concentration camps and celebratory images of the victory parade of Allied Forces in New Delhi by Homai Vyarawalla made way for the transition to the complexities of the postwar era, including images of daily life in US-occupied Japan by Tsuneko Sasamoto and the newly formed People’s Republic of China by Hou Bo and Niu Weiyu.

The New Woman Behind the Camera acknowledges that women are a diverse group whose identities are defined not exclusively by gender but rather by a host of variable factors. It contends that gender is an important aspect in understanding their lives and work and provides a useful framework for analysis to reveal how photography by women has powerfully shaped our understanding of modern life.

 

Exhibition catalog

Published by the National Gallery of Art, Washington and distributed by DelMonico Books | D.A.P., this groundbreaking, richly illustrated 288-page catalog examines the diverse women whose work profoundly marked the medium of photography from the 1920s to the 1950s. The book – featuring over 120 international photographers, including Lola Álvarez Bravo, Elizaveta Ignatovich, Germaine Krull, Dorothea Lange, Tsuneko Sasamoto, and Homai Vyarawalla – reevaluates the history of modern photography through the lens of the iconic New Woman. Inclusive scholarly essays introduce readers to these important photographers and question the past assumptions about gender in the history of photography. Contributors include Andrea Nelson, associate curator in the department of photographs, National Gallery of Art; Elizabeth Cronin, assistant curator of photography in the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints, and Photographs, New York Public Library; Mia Fineman, curator in the department of photographs, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Mila Ganeva, professor of German in the department of German, Russian, Asian, and Middle Eastern languages and cultures, Miami University, Ohio; Kristen Gresh, Estrellita and Yousuf Karsh Senior Curator of Photographs, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Elizabeth Otto, professor of modern and  contemporary art history, University at Buffalo (The State University of New York); and Kim Sichel, associate professor in the department of the history of art and architecture at Boston University; biographies of the photographers by Kara Felt, Andrew W. Mellon postdoctoral fellow in the department of photographs, National Gallery of Art.

Press release from the National Gallery of Art

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Père Ubu' (Portrait of Ubu) 1936

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Père Ubu (Portrait of Ubu)
1936
Gelatin silver print
Image: 24.13 x 17.78cm (9 1/2 x 7 in.)
Framed (outer): 40.01 x 33.66 x 2.86cm (15 3/4 x 13 1/4 x 1 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of J. Patrick and Patricia A. Kennedy
© 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

 

Portrait of Ubu (1936; also called Père Ubu), a monstrous close-up image by Maar of what may be an armadillo fetus (she would never confirm), became an icon of the movement.

 

Henriette Theodora Markovitch (22 November 1907 – 16 July 1997), known as Dora Maar, was a French photographer, painter, and poet. A love partner of Pablo Picasso, Maar was depicted in a number of Picasso’s paintings, including his Portrait of Dora Maar and Dora Maar au Chat.

 

Dora Maar the photographer

Maar’s earliest surviving photographs were taken in the early 1920s with a Rolleiflex camera while on a cargo ship going to the Cape Verde Islands.

At the beginning of 1930, she set up a photography studio on rue Campagne-Première (14th arrondissement of Paris) with Pierre Kéfer, photographer, and decorator for Jean Epstein’s 1928 film, The Fall of the House of Usher. In the studio, Maar and Kefer worked together mostly on commercial photography for advertisements and fashion magazines. Her father assisted with her finances in this period of her life as she was establishing herself while trying to earn a living. The studio displayed fashion, advertising and nudes, and it became very successful.

She met the photographer Brassaï with whom she shared the darkroom in the studio. Brassai once said that she had “bright eyes and an attentive gaze, a disturbing stare at times”.

During this time working in advertising and fashion photography, the influence of Surrealism could be seen in her work through her heavy use of mirrors and contrasting shadows. She felt that art should represent the content of reality through links with intuitions or ideas, rather than visually reproduce the natural. Maar also met Louis-Victor Emmanuel Sougez, a photographer working for advertising, archeology and artistic director of the newspaper L’Illustration, whom she considered a mentor.

In 1932, she had an affair with the filmmaker Louis Chavance. Maar frequented the “October group”, formed around Jacques Prévert and Max Morise after their break from surrealism. She had her first publication in the magazine Art et Métiers Graphiques in 1932. Her first solo exhibition was held at the Galerie Vanderberg in Paris.

It is the gelatin silver works of the surrealist period that remain the most sought after by admirers: Portrait of Ubu (1936), 29 rue d’Astorg, black and white, collages, photomontages or superimpositions. The photograph represents the central character in a popular series of plays by Alfred Jarry called Ubu Roi. The work was first shown at the Exposition Surréaliste d’objets at the Galerie Charles Ratton in Paris and at the International Surrealist Exhibition in London in 1936. She also participated in Participates in Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism, at the MoMA in New York the same year.

Surrealist concepts and interests often aligned with the ideas of the political left of the time and so Maar became very politically active at this point in her life. After the fascist demonstrations of 6 February 1934, in Paris along with René Lefeuvre, Jacques Soustelle, supported by Simone Weil and Georges Bataille, she signed the tract “Appeal to the Struggle” written at the initiative of André Breton. Much of her work is highly influenced by leftist politics of the time, often depicting those who had been thrown into poverty by the Depression. She was part of an ultra-leftist association called “Masses”, where she first met Georges Bataille, an anti-fascist organisation called the Union of Intellectuals Against Fascism, and a radical collective of left-wing actors and writers called October.

She also was involved in many Surrealist groups and often participated in demonstrations, convocations, and cafe conversations. She signed many manifestos, including one titled “When Surrealists were Right” in August 1935 which concerned the Congress of Paris, which had been held in March of that year.

In 1935, she took a photo of fashion illustrator and designer Christian Berard that was described by writer and critic Michael Kimmelman as “wry and mischievous with only his head perceived above the fountain as if he were John the Baptist on a silver platter”.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Arthur Rothstein (American, 1915-1985) 'Untitled (Marion Post Wolcott on assignment, Montgomery County, Maryland)' 1940

 

Arthur Rothstein (American, 1915-1985)
Untitled (Marion Post Wolcott on assignment, Montgomery County, Maryland)
1940
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.86 x 17.4cm (9 x 6 7/8 in.)
Sheet: 25.2 x 20.2cm (9 15/16 x 7 15/16 in.)
Frame (outer): 50.48 x 37.78cm (19 7/8 x 14 7/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Marion Post Wolcott with Rolleiflex and Speed Graphic in hand in Montgomery County, Maryland

 

 

Marion Post (June 7, 1910 – November 24, 1990), later Marion Post Wolcott, was a noted American photographer who worked for the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression documenting poverty and deprivation. …

 

Life

Marion Post was born in New Jersey on June 7, 1910. Her parents split up and she was sent to boarding school, spending time at home with her mother in Greenwich Village when not at school. Here she met many artists and musicians and became interested in dance. She studied at The New School.

Post trained as a teacher, and went to work in a small town in Massachusetts. Here she saw the reality of the Depression and the problems of the poor. When the school closed she went to Europe to study with her sister Helen. Helen was studying with Trude Fleischmann, a Viennese photographer. Marion Post showed Fleischmann some of her photographs and was told to stick to photography.

While in Vienna she saw some of the Nazi attacks on the Jewish population and was horrified. Soon she and her sister had to return to America for safety. She went back to teaching but also continued her photography and became involved in the anti-fascist movement. At the New York Photo League she met Ralph Steiner and Paul Strand who encouraged her. When she found that the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin kept sending her to do “ladies’ stories”, Ralph Steiner took her portfolio to show Roy Stryker, head of the Farm Security Administration, and Paul Strand wrote a letter of recommendation. Stryker was impressed by her work and hired her immediately.

Post’s photographs for the FSA often explore the political aspects of poverty and deprivation. They also often find humour in the situations she encountered.

In 1941 she met Leon Oliver Wolcott, deputy director of war relations for the U. S. Department of Agriculture under Franklin Roosevelt. They married, and Marion Post Wolcott continued her assignments for the FSA, but resigned shortly thereafter in February 1942. Wolcott found it difficult to fit in her photography around raising a family and a great deal of traveling and living overseas.

In the 1970s, a renewed interest in Wolcott’s images among scholars rekindled her own interest in photography. In 1978, Wolcott mounted her first solo exhibition in California, and by the 1980s the Smithsonian and the Metropolitan Museum of Art began to collect her photographs. The first monograph on Marion Post Wolcott’s work was published in 1983. Wolcott was an advocate for women’s rights; in 1986, Wolcott said: “Women have come a long way, but not far enough. … Speak with your images from your heart and soul” (Women in Photography Conference, Syracuse, N.Y.).

Marion Post Wolcott’s work is archived at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Arthur Rothstein (July 17, 1915 – November 11, 1985) was an American photographer. Rothstein is recognised as one of America’s premier photojournalists. During a career that spanned five decades, he provoked, entertained and informed the American people. His photographs ranged from a hometown baseball game to the drama of war, from struggling rural farmers to US Presidents.

 

Genevieve Naylor (American, 1915-1989) 'A Café, Brazil' Early 1940s

 

Genevieve Naylor (American, 1915-1989)
A Café, Brazil
Early 1940s
Gelatin silver print
Image/sheet: 16.51 x 17.78cm (6 1/2 x 7 in.)
Frame: 35.56 x 45.72cm (14 x 18 in.)
Frame (outer): 38.1 x 48.26 cm (15 x 19 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund

 

 

Genevieve Naylor (February 2, 1915 – July 21, 1989) was an American photographer and photojournalist, best known for her photographs of Brazil and as Eleanor Roosevelt’s personal photographer. …

 

Career

At the age of 22, in 1937, Naylor was chosen by Holger Cahill of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) as a photographer for the Harlem Arts Center. She also worked for the WPA in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., and New York. She then worked for the Associated Press and was one of the first women photojournalists to be hired by any American news wire services.

In 1940, Genevieve Naylor was assigned by the U.S. State department as part of a team to travel to Brazil. In an effort to further and strengthen the anti-Nazi relationship between the United States and Brazil and to promote mutual cultural awareness, the U.S. Office of Inter-American Affairs, under the leadership of Nelson Rockefeller, created a team of notable Americans that included Orson Welles, Errol Flynn, and Walt Disney. Genevieve Naylor and her partner (and later husband) Misha Reznikoff arrived in Brazil in October, 1940, where he showed his paintings while Miss Naylor took photographs. Naylor’s assignment was to document Brazil’s progress toward becoming a modern nation, capture images that would boost war-time morale, foster cultural interchange, and promote the Allied cause. But Naylor, with her energetic and outgoing personality, soon ventured into other milieus, taking photographs of Brazilian workers jammed into trams, school children, religious and street festivals, and various aspects of everyday lives. Because it was war time, film was rationed, and Naylor’s equipment was modest. She had neither flash nor studio lights and had to carefully choose her shots, balancing spontaneity with careful composition. Of her work, nearly 1,350 photos survived and were preserved. After her return to the states in 1943, Naylor become only the second woman photographer to be given a one-woman show when her work was exhibited by New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Naylor later spent 15 years as a photographer with Harper’s Bazaar and from 1944 to 1980 was a freelance photographer for Vogue, McCall’s, Town and Country, Life, Look, Saturday Evening Post, Women’s Home Companion, Cosmopolitan, Fortune, Collier’s, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, Vanity Fair, Elle, Ladies’ Home Journal, Redbook, House Beautiful, Holiday, Mademoiselle, American Home, Seventeen, Better Homes and Gardens, Charm, Bride’s, amongst others. She was a war time photographer, covering parts of the Korean War for Look magazine.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Genevieve Naylor (American, 1915-1989) 'São Januário Trolley' Early 1940s

 

Genevieve Naylor (American, 1915-1989)
São Januário Trolley
Early 1940s
Gelatin silver print
Image: 19.05 x 19.05cm (7 1/2 x 7 1/2 in.)
Sheet: 20.32 x 25.4cm (8 x 10 in.)
Frame: 35.56 x 45.72cm (14 x 18 in.)
Frame (outer): 38.1 x 48.26cm (15 x 19 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund

 

Elfriede Stegemeyer (German, 1908-1988) 'Selbstporträt' (Self-Portrait) 1933

 

Elfriede Stegemeyer (German, 1908-1988)
Selbstporträt (Self-Portrait)
1933
Gelatin silver print
Image: 23.81 x 17.94cm (9 3/8 x 7 1/16 in.)
Support: 23.81 x 17.94cm (9 3/8 x 7 1/16 in.)
Mat: 50.8 x 40.64cm (20 x 16 in.)
Frame: 50.8 x 40.64cm (20 x 16 in.)
Frame (outer): 51.44 x 41.28 x 3.33cm (20 1/4 x 16 1/4 x 1 5/16 in.)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Audrey and Sydney Irmas Collection

 

 

Elfriede Stegemeyer (1908-1988); German photographer, painter and film artist. In a bombing raid on Berlin in 1943, much of her work was destroyed. After the war, she dedicated herself under the pseudonym Elde Steeg increasingly to painting and drawing, and experimented with Surrealist and Constructivist expression. From 1945 she lived and worked under the name Elde Steeg. In 1974 she moved to Innsbruck and worked there until her death.

 

Lillian Bassman. 'Translucent Hat' c. 1950

 

Lillian Bassman (American, 1917-2012)
Translucent Hat
c. 1950
Gelatin silver print
Image/sheet: 26.99 x 34.29cm (10 5/8 x 13 1/2 in.)
Frame: 50.8 x 60.96cm (20 x 24 in.)
Frame (outer): 53.34 x 63.5cm (21 x 25 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Renee Harbers Liddell Fund and Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund
© Estate of Lilian Bassman

 

 

Lillian Bassman (June 15, 1917 – February 13, 2012) was an American photographer and painter.

 

Career

From the 1940s until the 1960s Bassman worked as a fashion photographer for Junior Bazaar and later at Harper’s Bazaar where she promoted the careers of photographers such as Richard Avedon, Robert Frank, Louis Faurer and Arnold Newman. Under the guidance of the Russian emigrant, Alexey Brodovitch, she began to photograph her model subjects primarily in black and white. Her work was published for the most part in Harper’s Bazaar from 1950 to 1965.

By the 1970s Bassman’s interest in pure form in her fashion photography was out of vogue. She turned to her own photo projects and abandoned fashion photography. In doing so she tossed out 40 years of negatives and prints – her life’s work. A forgotten bag filled with hundreds of images was discovered over 20 years later. Bassman’s fashion photographic work began to be re-appreciated in the 1990s.

She worked with digital technology and abstract colour photography into her nineties to create a new series of work. She used Photoshop for her image manipulation.

The most notable qualities about her photographic work are the high contrasts between light and dark, the graininess of the finished photos, and the geometric placement and camera angles of the subjects. Bassman became one of the last great woman photographers in the world of fashion. A generation later, Bassman’s pioneering photography and her mentor Alexey Brodovitch’s bold cropping and layout innovations were a seminal influence on Sam Haskins and his black and white work of the sixties.

Bassman died on February 13, 2012, at age 94.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (British born Austria, 1908-1973) 'Untitled (Street, London)' 1940s, printed later

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (British born Austria, 1908-1973)
Untitled (Street, London)
1940s, printed later
Gelatin silver print
Image: 21 x 28cm (8 1/4 x 11 in.)
Frame: 35.56 x 45.72cm (14 x 18 in.)
Frame (outer): 38.1 x 48.26cm (15 x 19 in.)
Peter Suschitzky, Julia Donat, and Misha Donat

 

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (née Suschitzky; 28 August 1908 – 12 May 1973) was an Austrian-British photographer and spy for the Soviet Union. Brought up in a family of socialists, she trained in photography at Walter Gropius’s Bauhaus in Dessau, and carried her political ideals through her art. Through her connections with Arnold Deutsch, Tudor-Hart was instrumental in the recruiting of the Cambridge Spy ring which damaged British intelligence from World War II until the security services discovered all their identities by the mid-1960s. She recommended Litzi Friedmann and Kim Philby for recruitment by the KGB and acted as an intermediary for Anthony Blunt and Bob Stewart when the rezidentura at the Soviet Embassy in London suspended its operations in February 1940.

Read a fuller biography on the Wikipedia website

 

Lola Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1903-1993) 'En su propia cárcel' (In Her Own Prison) c. 1950

 

Lola Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1903-1993)
En su propia cárcel (In Her Own Prison)
c. 1950
Gelatin silver print
Image: 18.42 x 21.27cm (7 1/4 x 8 3/8 in.)
Frame: 50.8 x 45.72cm (20 x 18 in.)
Frame (outer): 53.34 x 48.26cm (21 x 19 in.)
Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© Center for Creative Photography, The University of Arizona Foundation

 

 

Lola Álvarez Bravo (3 April 1903 – 31 July 1993) was the first Mexican female photographer and a key figure in the post-revolution Mexican renaissance. Known for her high level of skill in composition, her works were seen by her peers as fine art. She was recognised in 1964 with the Premio José Clemente Orozco (José Clemente Orozco Prize), by the State of Jalisco, for her contributions to photography and her efforts to preserve the culture of Mexico. Her works are included in the permanent collections of international museums, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Álvarez was born in a small town in Jalisco, but moved to Mexico City with her father when her parents separated around 1906. For a decade, she lived with her father in a large mansion, but upon his death was taken in by her older half-brother, who sent her to boarding school. After completing a traditional education, in 1922 she enrolled in the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria, where she met her lifelong friend, Frida Kahlo. A friendship with another of her childhood friends, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, blossomed into romance around the same time and the two married in 1925. Her husband taught her photography, as well as development techniques, and for nearly a decade, she acted as his assistant. As she sought to explore her own creativity and was unhappy in the marriage, the couple separated in 1934.

Beginning her career as a teacher, Álvarez took photographic assignments for magazines and newspapers, developing a reputation as one of the only women photojournalists working in Mexico City. She chose to portray subjects candidly, revealing the deeper meaning of culture and social significance, rather than seeking newsworthy work. In 1935, she began cataloging photographs in the Department of Education and two years later was hired to run the photography workshops of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, where she remained until her retirement in 1971.

In addition to her contributions to advertising and photojournalism, Álvarez took many photographs of her artistic friends, and in 1951 opened the Galeria de Arte Contemporáneo (Gallery of Contemporary Art) to promote their work. In 1953 at the Galeria, she hosted the only exhibition of Frida Kahlo’s works held in Mexico during the artist’s life. From the late 1970s until her death in 1993, she gained international recognition for her body of work. Her photo archive is located at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Arizona, United States.

Read a fuller biography on the Wikipedia website

 

Jette Bang (Danish, 1914-1964) 'Grønland' 1940

 

Jette Bang (Danish, 1914-1964)
Grønland
1940
Bound volume
Open: 26.04 x 44.45cm (10 1/4 x 17 1/2 in.)
Closed: 26.04 x 22.86cm (10 1/4 x 9 in.)
Cradle: 6 1/8 (maximum height at left) x 15 1/2 (width) x 10 1/2 (depth) x 3 3/8 in. (maximum height at right)
National Gallery of Art Library, Gift of the Department of Photographs

 

 

Jette Bang (February 4, 1914 – February 16, 1964) was a Danish photographer and film maker who is remembered for the large collection of photographs and films she took in Greenland, depicting the country and the way of life of its inhabitants before their old culture disappeared. …

 

Career

In 1936, Bang arrived in Greenland for the first time and spent eight months taking photographs of the traditional lifestyle of the Greenlandic Inuit, which was beginning to die out as a result of European influence. She travelled around on dog sleds and lived with the natives, sharing their way of life. The result was 400 photographs which were exhibited at the Danish Museum of Art & Design in 1937. Some were published in her book Grønland (1940) with a foreword by Minister of State Thorvald Stauning. The book was an eyeopener for the Danes.

Her next expedition in the winter of 1938-1939 was supported by Denmark’s Greenland Administration, who provided a motorboat, lighting and helpers. Under harsh and primitive conditions, she lived closely together with the Greenlanders, spending most of the winter in a hole in the ground with floor space of just four square metres. Joining the Thule postal sleds, she travelled across Melville Bay up to Cape York in the district of Thule. Her trip resulted in a revealing colour film, Inuit, seen as a work of art when it was shown in Denmark in 1938. The film was in two parts, depicting the old and the new Greenland. The reels on Melville Bay were lost in a fire while she was in Thule but there was still enough material for a four-hour production.

For a time, Jette Bang hoped to go back and take some additional shots but her plans were brought to a standstill by the outbreak of the Second World War. Only after the liberation in 1945 was she able to continue her project.

Many stills taken from the film were published in her book 30.000 Kilometer med Sneglefart (30,000 kilometers at a snail’s pace) (1941). Bang, a good storyteller, was able to provide an excellent account of her experiences. With the photo book Grønlænderbørn (Greenlandic Children) (1944) she continued to report on her travels, now addressing Danish schoolchildren.

She travelled to Greenland five more times. Disappointed with modern developments there, she republished her book Grønland in 1961. In 1962, she travelled to Greenland for the last time, trying to rework her 1938 colour film; but illness prevented any more trips.

In 1959, she took part in Peter Glob’s archaeological expedition to Bahrain, which led to her film Beduiner (1962).

 

Assessment

Jette Bang was the first photographer to take close-up portraits of the Greenlanders. While earlier photographers had been more interested in their clothing and surroundings, she was more concerned with their behaviour, creating more lasting and universal impressions.

Jette Bang’s photographs from Greenland are the only remaining material documenting the old Greelandic way of life which has now almost disappeared. Her dedication to the country and its people was legendary. She was also a talented author: “The full moon’s twisted face tripped up over the tops of the pointed peaks in the north west like a fakir trying to walk on a bed of nails,” she wrote in 30.000 Kilometer med Sneglefart.

Many of her photographs are in the National Museum of Greenland in Nuuk. The main collection of 12,000 photographs is with the Arktisk Institut in Copenhagen, which has made them available on the Internet.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Gerda Leo (German, 1909-1993) 'Korbgeflecht' (Wicker Basket) c. 1928

 

Gerda Leo (German, 1909-1993)
Korbgeflecht (Wicker Basket)
c. 1928
Gelatin silver print
Image: 36.3 x 29.2cm (14 5/16 x 11 1/2 in.)
Frame (outer): 51.3 x 41.3 x 2.7cm (20 3/16 x 16 1/4 x 1 1/16 in.)
Galerie Berinson, Berlin

 

 

Gerda Leo (born February 1, 1909 in Hagen, Westphalia , died September 28, 1993 in Amsterdam, Netherlands) was a German photographer in the field of New Vision and New Objectivity. She studied at the Burg Giebichenstein State School of Applied Arts in Halle (Saale) with Hans Finsler and worked as an assistant to Albert Renger-Patzsch. Her photographic estate is in the Moritzburg Art Museum Halle (Saale).

Read a fuller biography on the Wikipedia website

 

 

Behind the Camera

Women actively participated in the development of photography soon after its inception in the 19th century. Yet it was in the 1920s, after the seismic disruptions of World War I, that women entered the field of photography in force. Aided by advances in technology and mass communications, along with growing access to training and acceptance of their presence in the workplace, women around the world made an indelible mark on the growth and diversification of the medium. They brought innovation to a range of photographic disciplines, from avant-garde experimentation and commercial studio practice to social documentary, photojournalism, ethnography, and the recording of sports, dance, and fashion.

 

The New Woman

A global phenomenon, the New Woman of the 1920s embodied an ideal of female empowerment based on real women making revolutionary changes in life and art. Her image – a woman with bobbed hair, stylish dress, and a confident stride – was a staple of newspapers and magazines first in Europe and the United States and soon in China, Japan, India, Australia, and elsewhere. A symbol of the pursuit of liberation from traditional gender roles, the New Woman in her many guises represented women who faced a mix of opportunities and obstacles that varied from country to country. The camera became a powerful means for female photographers to assert their self-determination and redefine their position in society. Producing compelling portraits, including self-portraits featuring the artist with her camera, they established their roles as professionals and artists.

 

The Studio

Commercial studio photography was an important pathway for many women to forge a professional career and to earn their own income. Running successful businesses in small towns and major cities from Buenos Aires to Berlin and Istanbul, women reinvigorated the genre of portraiture. In the studio, both sitters and photographers navigated gender, race, and cultural difference; those run by women presented a different dynamic. For example, Black women operated studios in Chicago, New Orleans, and elsewhere in the United States, where they not only preserved likenesses and memories, but also constructed a counter narrative to racist images then circulating in the mass media.

 

The City

The availability of smaller, lightweight cameras and the increasing freedom to move about cities on their own spurred a number of women photographers to explore the diversity of the urban experience beyond the studio walls. Using their creative vision to capture the vibrant modern world around them, women living and working in Bombay (now Mumbai), London, New York, Paris, São Paulo, Tokyo, and beyond photographed soaring architecture and spontaneous encounters on the street.

 

Avant-Garde Experiments

Creative formal approaches – photomontage, photograms, sharp contrasts of light and shadow, unconventional cropping, extreme close-ups, and dizzying camera angles – came to define photography during this period. Women incorporated these cutting-edge techniques to produce works that conveyed the movement and energy of modern life. Although often overshadowed by their male partners and colleagues, women photographers were integral in shaping an avant-garde visual language that promoted new ways of seeing and experiencing the world.

 

Modern Bodies

Beginning in the 1920s, new concepts concerning health and sexuality, along with changing attitudes about movement and dress, emphasised the human body as a central site of experiencing modernity. Women photographers produced incisive visions of liberated modern bodies, from pioneering photographs of the nude to exuberant pictures of sport and dance. Photographs of joyous play and gymnastic exercise, as well as images of dancers in motion, celebrate the body as artistic medium.

 

Ethnographic Approaches

During this modern period, numerous women pursued professional photographic careers and traveled extensively for the first time. Many took photographs that documented their experiences abroad in Africa, China, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, while others engaged in more formal ethnographic projects. Some women with access to domains that were off limits to their male counterparts produced intimate portraits of female subjects. While gender may have afforded these photographers special connections to certain communities, it did not exempt some, especially those from Europe and the United States, from producing stereotypical views that reinforced hierarchical concepts of race and ethnocentrism.

 

Fashion and Advertising

Images splashed across the pages of popular fashion and lifestyle magazines vividly defined the New Woman. The unprecedented demand for fashion and advertising photographs between the world wars provided exceptional employment opportunities for fashion reporters, models, and photographers alike, allowing women to emerge as active agents in the profession. Cultivating the tastes of newly empowered female consumers, fashion and advertising photography provided a space where women could experiment with pictures intended for a predominantly female readership.

 

Social Documentary

Galvanised by the effects of a global economic crisis and the growing political and social unrest that began in the 1930s, numerous women photographers produced arresting images of the human condition. Whether working for government agencies or independently, women contributed to the visual record of the Depression and the events leading up to World War II. From images of breadlines and worker demonstrations to forced migration and internment, women photographers helped to expose dire conditions and shaped what would become known as social documentary photography.

 

Reportage

The rise of the picture press established photojournalism as a dominant form of visual expression during a period shaped by two world wars. Women photographers conveyed an inclusive view of worldwide economic depression, struggles for decolonisation in Africa, and the rise of fascism and communism in Europe and the Soviet Union. They often received the “soft assignments” of photographing women and children, families, and the home front, but some women risked their lives close to the front lines. Images of concentration camps and victory parades made way for the complexities of the postwar era, as seen in pictures of daily life in US-occupied Japan and the newly formed People’s Republic of China.
The photographers whose works are in The New Woman Behind the Camera represent just some of the many women around the world who were at the forefront of experimenting with the camera. They produced invaluable visual testimony that reflected both their personal experiences and the extraordinary social and political transformations of the early 20th century. Together, they changed the history of modern photography.

Text from the National Gallery of Art website

 

Dulce Carneiro (Brazilian, 1929-2018) 'Mulher' (Woman) c. 1957

 

Dulce Carneiro (Brazilian, 1929-2018)
Mulher (Woman)
c. 1957
Gelatin silver print
Image: 37.94 x 28.58cm (14 15/16 x 11 1/4 in.)
Frame: 40.64 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 43.18 x 53.34cm (17 x 21 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Robert B. Menschel and the Vital Projects Fund

 

Galina Sanko (Russian, 1904-1981) 'During an Attack' 1943, printed c. 1960s

 

Galina Sanko (Russian, 1904-1981)
During an Attack
1943, printed c. 1960s
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.72 x 24.29cm (6 3/16 x 9 9/16 in.)
Frame: 40.64 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 43.18 x 53.34cm (17 x 21 in.)
Robert Koch Gallery

 

 

Galina Sanko (Russian: Галина Захаровна Санько and also Galina Sankova or Galina Sankowa) (1904-1981) was a Russian photographer who worked as a photojournalist and was one of only five women who served as a war photographer during World War II. She was one of the most noted Soviet photographers and known in the West, winning awards both at home and abroad. …

After the persecution of her husband in 1938, Sanko dedicated her life to photography. When the war broke out, she asked to go to the front as a war correspondent. Initially, Sanko trained as a nurse and then studied driving and auto mechanics. She bandaged the wounded and once she had proved her fitness for battle was allowed as one of only five women who served as war photographers. She worked for the magazine Frontline Illustration (Russian: Фронтовая иллюстрация) and took photographs of battles in Kursk, Moscow and Stalingrad, taking pictures at Bryansk and the Don Campaign near Stallingrad. In 1944, during the northern offensive, she took photographs of the siege of Leningrad. Near the end of the war, she took photographs of the fighting against Japan. She was seriously injured twice during the war. In the movie Wild Honey (Russian: Дикий мед) (1967) based on the novel by Leonid Pervomaisky, there is a scene based upon a real-life event in which Sanko escaped in the nick of time from being fired upon by a German tank.

At the end of the war, Sanko worked for the magazine Spark (Russian: Огонек) but until the 1960s, her work was banned and hidden in an archive. Accused of distorting the truth, with her photographs of the liberation of the Petrozavodsk camp, Sanko was exonerated when 20 years after the war, she returned to the Republic of Karelia and found one of the children she had photographed in the camp. After publishing “Claudia 20 years later”, her archive was opened in 1966 and Sanko participated in many photographic exhibitions at home and abroad. She was awarded the Order of the Red Star. Sanko died in Moscow in 1981.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Galina Sanko (Russian, 1904-1981) 'Prisoners, Stalingrad' 1943, printed c. 1960s

 

Galina Sanko (Russian, 1904-1981)
Prisoners, Stalingrad
1943, printed c. 1960s
Gelatin silver print
Image: 20.32 x 29.53cm (8 x 11 5/8 in.)
Frame: 40.64 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 43.18 x 53.34cm (17 x 21 in.)
Robert Koch Gallery

 

Galina Sanko (Russian, 1904-1981) 'Behind the front lines, workers at a factory evacuated from Ukraine to a town on the Volga' 1942, printed c. 1960s

 

Galina Sanko (Russian, 1904-1981)
Behind the front lines, workers at a factory evacuated from Ukraine to a town on the Volga
1942, printed c. 1960s
Gelatin silver print
Image/sheet: 24.13 x 16.67cm (9 1/2 x 6 9/16 in.)
Frame: 40.64 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 43.18 x 53.34cm (17 x 21 in.)
Robert Koch Gallery

 

Galina Sanko (Russian, 1904-1981) 'Observation Post, the Fight for Hill N' 1942

 

Galina Sanko (Russian, 1904-1981)
Observation Post, the Fight for Hill N
1942
Gelatin silver print
Image/sheet: 29.21 x 20.96cm (11 1/2 x 8 1/4 in.)
Frame: 40.64 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 43.18 x 53.34cm (17 x 21 in.)
Robert Koch Gallery

 

G. Herbert Taylor. 'My Best Photograph and Why' 1937

 

G. Herbert Taylor
My Best Photograph and Why
1937
Photography book
Closed: 29.53 x 23.18cm (11 5/8 x 9 1/8 in.)
Open: 29.53 x 44.77cm (11 5/8 x 17 5/8 in.)
Mount: 1.43 x 44.93 x 29.69cm (9/16 x 17 11/16 x 11 11/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art Library, David K.E. Bruce Fund

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954) 'Autoportrait' (Self-Portrait) c. 1927

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Autoportrait (Self-Portrait)
c. 1927
Gelatin silver print
Image: 25.5 x 20.1cm (10 1/16 x 7 15/16 in.)
Frame: 53 x 42cm (20 7/8 x 16 9/16 in.)
Wilson Centre for Photography

 

 

Claude Cahun (born Lucy Renee Mathilde Schwob, 25 October 1894 – 8 December 1954) was a French surrealist photographer, sculptor, and writer. Schwob adopted the pseudonym Claude Cahun in 1914. Cahun is best known as a writer and self-portraitist, who assumed a variety of performative personae. Cahun’s work is both political and personal. In Disavowals, she writes: “Masculine? Feminine? It depends on the situation. Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.” During World War II, Cahun was also active as a resistance worker and propagandist. …

Cahun’s works encompassed writing, photography, and theatre. She is most remembered for her highly staged self-portraits and tableaux that incorporated the visual aesthetics of Surrealism. During the 1920s, Cahun produced an astonishing number of self-portraits in various guises such as aviator, dandy, doll, body builder, vamp and vampire, angel, and Japanese puppet.

Some of Cahun’s portraits feature the artist looking directly at the viewer, head shaved, often revealing only head and shoulders (eliminating body from the view), and a blurring of gender indicators and behaviours which serve to undermine the patriarchal gaze. Scholar Miranda Welby-Everard has written about the importance of theatre, performance, and costume that underlies Cahun’s work, suggesting how this may have informed the artist’s varying gender presentations. …

Cahun’s work was often a collaboration with Marcel Moore. Cahun and Moore collaborated frequently, though this often goes unrecognised. It is believed that Moore was often the person standing behind the camera during Cahun’s portrait shoots and was an equal partner in Cahun’s collages.

With the majority of the photographs attributed to Cahun coming from a personal collection, not one meant for public display, it has been proposed that these personal photographs allowed for Cahun to experiment with gender presentation and the role of the viewer to a greater degree.

One of my favourite artists – a hero of mine!

Read a fuller biography on the Wikipedia website

 

Toni von Horn (American born Germany, 1899-1970) 'Untitled' 1932

 

Toni von Horn (American born Germany, 1899-1970)
Untitled
1932
Gelatin silver print
Image/sheet: 23 x 19cm (9 1/16 x 7 1/2 in.)
Frame: 40.64 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 45.09 x 55.25cm (17 3/4 x 21 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Gift of Charles van Horne on behalf of the family of Toni von Horn

 

 

Baroness Antonie “Toni” von Horn was born to a prominent family in Germany in 1899. Around 1920, she opened a photography studio in Heidelberg. While in New York on an assignment, she met the editor of Vanity Fair who recommended she pursue a career in New York.

She did, and soon became a leading fashion and advertising photographer in the 1920s and 30s, working for Vanity Fair, Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar and at her own studio. She was one of the first woman photographers to gain a national and international reputation, Her many celebrity portraits included Greta Garbo, Eleanor Roosevelt, Ginger Rogers, Cole Porter, Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, and Jean Harlow. Her photograph of Albert Einstein has been called the best ever made of him.

Toni von Horn was among the first woman professional photographers and was the first to join the stable of Conde Nast’s Vogue and Vanity Fair, and Harper’s Bazaar during those magazines’ glorious years of the early 1930s. Active as Tony von Horn, her images were regular features, along with such luminaries as Edward Steichen, Adolf de Meyer and George Hoyningen-Heune among others, in the magazines from the end of 1930 to 1935.

 

Ruth Orkin (American, 1921-1985) 'Ethel Waters, Carson McCullers, and Julie Harris at the Opening Night Party for "The Member of the Wedding," New York City' 1950

 

Ruth Orkin (American, 1921-1985)
Ethel Waters, Carson McCullers, and Julie Harris at the Opening Night Party for “The Member of the Wedding,” New York City
1950
Gelatin silver print
Image/sheet: 39.7 x 49.5cm (15 5/8 x 19 1/2 in.)
Frame (outer): 57.6 x 67.8cm (22 11/16 x 26 11/16 in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Dorothy Levitt Beskind Gift, 1980
© Ruth Orkin
Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY

 

 

Ruth Orkin (September 3, 1921 – January 16, 1985) was an American photographer, photojournalist, and filmmaker, with ties to New York City and Hollywood. Best known for her photograph An American Girl in Italy (1951), she photographed many celebrities and personalities including Lauren Bacall, Doris Day, Ava Gardner, Tennessee Williams, Marlon Brando, and Alfred Hitchcock.

 

Life

Ruth Orkin was born on September 3, 1921 in Boston, Massachusetts to Mary Ruby and Samuel Orkin. Ruth grew up in Hollywood, due to her mother’s career as a silent film actress. In 1931, she received her first camera, a 39-cent Univex, and soon began experimenting by taking photographs of her friends and teachers at school. At the age of 17, she decided to bike across America, beginning in Los Angeles, and ending in New York City for the 1939 World’s Fair. She completed the trip in three weeks’ time, taking photographs along the way.

She briefly attended Los Angeles City College for photojournalism in 1940, prior to becoming the first messenger girl at MGM Studios in 1941, citing a desire to become a cinematographer. She left the position after discovering the union’s discriminatory practices that did not allow female members. She joined the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps during World War II, in 1941 in an attempt to gain filmmaking skills, as advertisements promoting the group promised. The attempt was not fruitful, however, and she was discharged in 1943 without any filmmaking training.

In 1943, Orkin moved to New York City in pursuit of a career as a freelance photojournalist. She began working as a nightclub photographer, and received her first assignment in 1945 from The New York Times to shoot Leonard Bernstein. Shortly after, her freelance career grew as she traveled internationally on assignments and contributed photographs to Life, Look, Ladies’ Home Journal, and others. Orkin is credited with breaking into a heavily male field.

Orkin’s most celebrated image is An American Girl in Italy (1951). The subject of the now-iconic photograph was the 23-year-old Ninalee Craig (known at that time as Jinx Allen). The photograph was part of a series originally titled “Don’t Be Afraid to Travel Alone.” The image depicted Craig as a young woman confidently walking past a group of ogling Italian men in Florence. In recent articles written about the pair, Craig claims that the image was not staged, and was one of many taken throughout the day, aiming to show the fun of traveling alone.

In 1952 Orkin married photographer, filmmaker and fellow Photo League member Morris Engel. Orkin and Engel collaborated on two major independent feature films, “Little Fugitive” (1953) and “Lovers and Lollipops” (1955). After the success of the two films, Orkin returned to photography, taking colour shots of Central Park as seen through her apartment window. The resulting photographs were collected in two books, “A World Through My Window” (1978) and “More Pictures from My Window” (1983).

Orkin taught photography at the School of Visual Arts in the late 1970s, and at the International Center of Photography in 1980. After a long, private battle with cancer, Orkin died of the disease at her New York City apartment on January 16, 1985.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

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08
Oct
17

Review: ‘Brave New World: Australia 1930s’ at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 14th July – 15th October 2017

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

 

Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGV Australia, Melbourne is a small but stylishly designed exhibition that presents well in the gallery spaces. The look and feel of the exhibition is superb, and it was a joy to see so many works in so many disparate medium brought together to represent a decade in the history of Australia: photography, sculpture, painting, drawing, ceramic art, magazine art, travel posters, Art Deco radios, film, couture, culture, Aboriginal art, and furniture making, to name but a few.

The strong exhibition addresses most of the concerns of the 1930s – The Great Depression, beach and body culture, style, fashion, identity, culture, prelude to WW2, dystopian and utopian cities etc., – but it all felt a little cramped and truncated. Such a challenging time period needed a more expansive investigation. What there is was excellent but one display case on slums or magazine art was not substantive enough. The same can be said for most of the exhibition.

There needed to a lot more about the impact of the Great Depression and people living in poverty, for you get the feeling from this exhibition that everyone was living the Modernist high-life, wearing fashionable frocks and smoking cigarettes sitting around beautifully designed furniture surrounded by geometric textiles. The reality is that this paradigm was the exception rather than the rule. Many people struggled to even feed themselves due to The Great Depression, and it was a time of extreme hardship for people in Australia. Life for many, many people in Australia during the 1930s was a life of disenfranchisement, assimilation, oppression, social struggle, poverty, hunger and a hand to mouth existence.

“After the crash unemployment in Australia more than doubled to twenty-one per cent in mid-1930, and reached its peak in mid-1932 when almost thirty-two per cent of Australians were out of work… The Great Depression’s impact on Australian society was devastating. Without work and a steady income many people lost their homes and were forced to live in makeshift dwellings with poor heating and sanitation.” (Text from “The Great Depression,” on the Australian Government website [Online] Cited 06/10/2017. No longer available online)

New artists and designers may have been emerging, new skyscrapers being built and the new ‘Modern Woman’ may have made her appearance but the changes only affected white, middle and upper social classes. Migrants, particularly those from Italy and southern Europe, were resented because they worked for less wages than others; and only brief mention is made of the White Australia policy in the exhibition but not by name (see text under Indigenous art and culture below). This section was more interested in how white artists appropriated Aboriginal design during this period for their own ends.

With this in mind, it is instructive to read sections of the illustrated handbook (see cover below, handbook not in the exhibition) produced by the National Museum of Victoria (in part, the forerunner of the NGV) to accompany a special exhibition of objects illustrating Australian Aboriginal Art in 1929:

 

“The subject of aboriginal Art – in this case the Art of the Australian Aboriginal – has to be approached with the utmost caution, for, though it comes directly within the domain of anthropology, it is in an indirect way a very important question in psychology and pedagogies. We possess some knowledge of our own mentality through the kind of offices of psychology; but though we have some – many in certain classes – material relics of our primitive and prehistoric ancestor, the only evidence of evolution of thought and the development of his powers of abstract conception must be derived from his art…

Still it appears possible that the study of primitive man, as represented by our Australian black, will throw some new light on the subject, and even if not more important than the old world pictographs themselves, his art work will enable the efforts of the Aurignacian and Magdalenian artists [cultures of the Upper Paleolithic in western Europe] to be better comprehended, and their import understood. But, for that study to achieve even a modicum of success, it is essential that the inquiring psychologist divest his mind of all civilized conceptions and mentality and assume those of the prehistoric man – or of the infant of the present day.”1

.
This is the attitude towards Aboriginal art that pervaded major art institutions right across Australia well into the 1950s. That the white has to “divest his mind of all civilised conceptions and mentality and assume those of the prehistoric man” – in other words, he has to become a savage – in order to understand Aboriginal art. It says a lot that the Trustees of the National Museum of Victoria then decided to reprint the illustrated handbook in 1952 without amendment, reprinting the publication originally used for the Exhibition in 1929. Nothing had changed in 22 years!

Other small things in the exhibition rankle. The preponderance of the work of photographer Max Dupain is so overwhelming that from this exhibition, it would seem that he was the only photographer of note working in Australia throughout the decade. While Dupain was the first Modernist photographer in Australia, and a superb artist, Modernist photography was very much on the outer during most of the 1930s… the main art form of photography being that of Pictorialism. None of this under appreciated style of photography makes an appearance in this exhibition because it does not fit the theme of “Brave New World”. This dismisses the work of such people as Cecil Bostock, Harold Cazneaux, Henri Mallard, John Eaton et al as not producing “brave”, or valuable, portraits of a country during this time frame. This is a perspective that needs to be corrected.

Highlights in this exhibition included an earthenware vase by Ethel Blundell; a painting by that most incredible of atmospheric painters, Clarice Beckett (how I long to own one of her paintings!); a wonderful portrait by the underrated Cybil Craig; two stunning Keast Burke photographs; two beautiful stained glass windows of a male and female lifesaver; the slum photographs of F. Oswald Barnett (more please!); and the graphic covers of mostly short-lived radical magazines.

These highlights are worth the price of admission alone. A must see before the exhibition closes.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

  1. A. S. Kenyon. “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal.” in Australian Aboriginal Art. Melbourne: Trustees of the National Museum of Victoria, (1929) reprinted 1952, p. 15.

.
Many thankx to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Some installation photographs © Dr Marcus Bunyan. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Australian Aboriginal Art 1962

 

National Museum of Victoria
Australian Aboriginal Art (cover)
1952 (reprint of 1929 illustrated handbook)
Brown, Prior, Anderson Pty. Ltd., Melbourne (publishers)
Trustees of the National Museum of Victoria
39 pages

 

 

The 1930s was a turbulent time in Australia’s history. During this decade major world events, including the Depression and the rise of totalitarian regimes in Europe, shaped our nation’s evolving sense of identity. In the arts, progressive ideas jostled with reactionary positions, and artists brought substantial creative efforts to bear in articulating the pressing concerns of the period. Brave New World: Australia 1930s encompasses the multitude of artistic styles, both advanced and conservative, which were practised during the 1930s. Included are commercial art, architecture, fashion, industrial design, film and dance to present a complete picture of this dynamic time.

The exhibition charts the themes of celebrating technological progress and its antithesis in the nostalgia for pastoralism; the emergence of the ‘New Woman’ and consumerism; nationalism and the body culture movement; the increasing interest in Indigenous art against a backdrop of the government policy of assimilation and mounting calls for Indigenous rights; the devastating effects of the Depression and the rise of radical politics; and the arrival of European refugees and the increasing anxiety at the impending threat of the Second World War. Brave New World: Australia 1930s presents a fresh perspective on the extraordinary 1930s, revealing some of the social and political concerns that were pertinent then and remain so today.

Text from the NGV website

 

Harold Cazneaux (New Zealand 1878 - Australia 1953, Australia from 1886) 'No title (Powerlines and chute)' c. 1935

 

Harold Cazneaux (New Zealand 1878 – Australia 1953, Australia from 1886)
No title (Powerlines and chute)
c. 1935
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of the H. J. Heinz II Charitable and Family Trust, Governor, 1993

 

 

In 1934 BHP (Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited) commissioned leading pictorialist photographer Harold Cazneaux to record their mining and steel operations for a special publication to mark their fiftieth anniversary in 1935. Cazneaux’s dramatic industrial images blended a soft, atmospheric focus with a modernist sense of space, form and geometry. In 1935-36 Australia exported close to 300,000 tonnes of iron ore to Japan; however, after Japan’s invasion of China in 1937 fear of its expansionist aims in the Pacific increased and soon afterwards the federal government announced a ban on the export of all iron ore to Japan.

 

Fred Ward (designer) (Australia 1900-90)

 

Fred Ward (designer) (Australian, 1900-1990)
E. M. Vary, Fitzroy, Melbourne (attributed to) (manufacturer) active 1920s-1940s

Sideboard
c. 1932
Mountain ash (Eucalyptus sp.), painted wood, painted plywood, steel
(a-e) 84.0 x 119.7 x 48.7cm (overall)
Proposed acquisition

Side table
c. 1932
Mountain ash (Eucalyptus sp.), jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata), steel
55.7 x 66.0 x 49.2cm
Proposed acquisition

Tray table
c. 1932
Mountain ash (Eucalyptus sp.), blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon), steel
(a-b) 52.0 x 60.9 x 42.5cm (overall)
Proposed acquisition

 

 

A new generation of artists and designers

While modern art was a source of debate and controversy throughout the 1930s, modernism in architecture, interior design, industrial design and advertising became highly fashionable. In Melbourne a small group of designers pioneered modern design in Australia. Furniture designer Fred Ward first designed and made furniture for his home in Eaglemont, where he had established a studio workshop. It was admired by friends and he was encouraged to produce furniture for sale. In 1932 Ward opened a shop in Collins Street, Melbourne. There he offered his furniture, as well as linens and Scandinavian glass. The fabrics for curtains and upholstery were printed by Australian designer Michael O’Connell with bold designs that shocked some but were favoured by a new generation looking to create modern interiors.

More than in most periods, in the 1930s art, design and architecture were closely integrated with the changing realities of contemporary life. It was a time when the last vestiges of the conservative art establishment were swept away by a new generation of artists and designers who were to drive Australian art in the second half of the twentieth century.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Max Dupain’s Illustration for Kelvinator advertisement at left and Ethel Blundell’s Vase centre on sidboard
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

 

Fred Ward was one of the first and most important designers of modern furniture in Australia. He began making furniture around 1930, and in 1932 opened a shop in Collins Street selling his furniture, as well as textiles by Michael O’Connell and other modern design pieces. In 1934 Ward went into partnership with Myer Emporium and established the Myer Design Unit, for which he designed a line of modular ‘unit’ furniture for commercial production. Ward’s simple, functional aesthetic and use of local timbers with a natural waxed finish was in contrast to the luxurious materials and decorative motifs of the contemporary Art Deco style.

The armchair, sideboard and occasional tables were designed by Fred Ward and purchased by Maie Casey in the early 1930s. The wife of R. G. Casey, federal treasurer in the Lyons Government, Maie was a prominent supporter of modern art and design. Moving to Canberra in 1932, she furnished her house at Duntroon in a modern style with furniture by Ward and textiles by Michael O’Connell. The design of Ward’s armchair closely resembles a 1920s armchair by German Bauhaus furniture designer Erich Dieckmann, who was known for his standardised wooden furniture based on geometric designs.

 

Michael O'Connell designer (England 1898-1976, Australia 1920-37) 'Textile' c. 1933

 

Michael O’Connell designer (England 1898-1976, Australia 1920-1937)
Textile
c. 1933
Block printed linen
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased, 1988

 

 

Michael O’Connell pioneered modernist textiles in Melbourne and was an influential advocate of modern design. Working with his wife Ella from his studio in Beaumaris, O’Connell used woodblocks and linocuts to hand print onto raw linens and silks, which were used for fashion garments and home furnishing. O’Connell’s boldly patterned and highly stylised designs were considered startlingly modern. Some of his early fabrics featured ‘jazz age’ scenes of nightclubs and dancing, while later motifs were based on Australian flora and fauna, or derived from Oceanic and Aboriginal art.

 

Sam Atyeo. 'Album of designs: tables' c. 1933 - c. 1936

 

Sam Atyeo (Australian, 1910-1990)
Album of designs: tables
c. 1933 – c. 1936
Album: watercolour, brush and coloured inks, coloured pencils, 14 designs tipped into an album of 16 grey pages, card covers, tape and stapled binding
30.0 x 19.2 cm (page) 30.0 x 20.8 x 0.8cm (closed)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of the artist, 1988

 

 

Sam Atyeo was a leading figure in Melbourne’s emerging modernist circles in the early 1930s, the partner of artist Moya Dyring and lover of Sunday Reed. He had studied at the National Gallery School, where he was a brilliant and rebellious student. Around 1932 Atyeo became friendly with Cynthia Reed, who managed Fred Ward’s furniture shop and interior design consultancy on Collins Street. After she opened Cynthia Reed Modern Furnishings in Little Collins Street, Atyeo designed furniture for Reed, that was strongly influenced by Ward’s designs.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Illustration for Kelvinator advertisement' 1936

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-1992)
Illustration for Kelvinator advertisement
1936
Gelatin silver photograph
32.8 x 25.3cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2000

 

Ethel Blundell. 'Vase' 1936

 

Ethel Blundell (Australian, 1918-2010, worked in Switzerland 1946-2010)
Vase
1936
Earthenware
17.6 x 16.8cm diameter
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented through The Art Foundation of Victoria by Mrs Margaret Howie, Governor, 1999
© Ethel Blundell

 

 

Utopian cities

Modernity reflected what was new and progressive in Australian urban life. The image of the city became an allegory for this in art, and efficiency and speed became watchwords for modernity. Many artists celebrated the city and technological advancements in works utilising a modern style of hard-edged forms, flat colours and dynamic compositions. The engineering marvel of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which opened in 1932, was an ongoing source of fascination for artists, as were images of building the city, industry and modern modes of transport.

The skyscraper was also a powerful symbol of modern prosperity, especially when the Great Depression cast doubt on the inevitability of progress; hence the advent of tall buildings in Australian cities was hailed with relief and optimism. In 1932, at the peak of the Depression, the tallest building in Melbourne was opened: the Manchester Unity Building at the corner of Swanston and Collins streets. With its ornamental tower and spire taking its overall height to 64 metres, the building was welcomed by The Age newspaper as ‘a new symbol of enterprise and confidence, undaunted by the “temporary eclipse” of the country’s economic fortune’.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Seventh city of the Empire – Melbourne, Victoria at left; and Evening dress at right
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Percy Trompf (Australia 1902-64) 'Seventh city of the Empire - Melbourne, Victoria' 1930s

 

Percy Trompf (Australian, 1902-1964)
Seventh city of the Empire – Melbourne, Victoria
1930s
Colour lithograph printed by J. E. Hackett, Melbourne
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mr Grant Lee, 2007

 

 

Percy Trompf’s poster celebrates Melbourne’s first skyscraper, the iconic Manchester Unity Building on the corner of Swanston and Collins streets. Designed by architect Marcus Barlow in the Art Deco ‘Gothic’ style, it was built at high speed between 1930 and 1932, and provided much needed employment during the Depression. At twelve storeys high and topped with a decorative tower it was Melbourne’s tallest building and contained the city’s first escalators. A powerful symbol of the city’s modernity, it was often featured in images of Melbourne.

 

Unknown, Australia 'Evening dress' c. 1935

 

Unknown, Australia
Evening dress
c. 1935
Silk
144.0cm (centre back), 36.0cm (waist, flat)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Miss Irene Mitchell, 1975

 

Ethel Spowers (Australia 1890-1947, England and France 1921-24) 'The works, Yallourn' 1933

 

Ethel Spowers (Australia 1890-1947, England and France 1921-1924)
The works, Yallourn
1933
Colour linocut, ed. 3/50
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
The Joseph Brown Collection
Presented through the NGV Foundation by Dr Joseph Brown AO OBE, Honorary Life Benefactor, 2004

 

 

Ethel Spowers and Eveline Syme were leading figures in modern art in Melbourne. In the 1920s they studied with modernist Claude Flight at the Grosvenor School in London, where they learnt to make colour linocuts that followed Flight’s principles of rhythmic design combined with flat colour. In April 1933 Spowers and Syme visited the Yallourn Power Station in Gippsland, which had been opened in 1928 and was the largest supplier of electricity to the state.

 

Vida Lahey (Australia 1882-1968) 'Sultry noon (Central Station Brisbane)' 1931

 

Vida Lahey (Australian, 1882-1968)
Sultry noon (Central Station Brisbane)
1931
Oil on canvas on plywood
44.7 x 49.2cm
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane Purchased 1983
© QAGOMA

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia 1887-1935) 'Taxi rank' c. 1931

 

Clarice Beckett (Australian, 1887-1935)
Taxi rank
c. 1931
Oil on canvas on board
Kerry Stokes Collection, Perth

 

Installation view of Herbert Badham's 'George Street, Sydney' (1934) from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Herbert Badham’s George Street, Sydney (1934) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

After serving in the Royal Australian Navy during the First World War, Herbert Badham studied at the Sydney Art School and began exhibiting in 1927. In his paintings he was a keen observer of everyday urban life: streets with shoppers, city workers on their lunch break and drinkers in the pub were painted in a contemporary, hard-edged realist style.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Rush hour in King's Cross' 1938, printed c. 1986

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Rush hour in King’s Cross
1938, printed c. 1986
Gelatin silver photograph
41.2 x 40.3cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of Mr A.C. Goode, Fellow, 1987

 

 

During the 1930s the city provided a rich source of imagery for artists working in modern styles, who celebrated the speed and efficiency of modern transport technology and expanding road and rail networks. Yet as car ownership increased during the 1930s, larger cities began to suffer congestion and the rush hour became part of urban life. Throughout the decade the pace and stress of modern life became a topic of public debate, with conservative commentators decrying this transformation of the Australian lifestyle.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Max Dupain’s Rush hour in King’s Cross at right
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Grace Cossington Smith’s The Bridge in-curve at right
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Grace Cossington Smith. 'The Bridge in-curve' 1930

 

Grace Cossington Smith (Australia 1892-1984, England and Germany 1912-14, England and Italy 1949-1951)
The Bridge in-curve
1930
Tempera on cardboard
83.6 x 111.8cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented by the National Gallery Society of Victoria, 1967
© Estate of Grace Cossington Smith

 

 

The slow rise of the Sydney Harbour Bridge above the city was recorded by numerous painters, printmakers and photographers, including Sydney modernist Grace Cossington Smith. Her iconic The Bridge-in-curve depicts the bridge just before its two arches were joined in August 1930, and conveys the sense of wonder, achievement and hope that was inspired by this engineering marvel. By painting the emerging, rather than the complete bridge, Cossington Smith also focuses our attention on the energy and ambition required to create it.

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34) 'Trains passing' 1940

 

Installation view of Frank Hinder’s Trains passing (1940) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34) 'Trains passing' 1940

 

Frank Hinder (Australian, 1906-1992, United States 1927-1934)
Trains passing
1940
Oil on composition board
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1974

 

 

Frank Hinder was one of the first abstract artists in Australia. After living and studying in the United States, Hinder and his wife, the American sculptor Margel, returned to Sydney in 1934. There they became part of a small avant-garde group that included Grace Crowley, Rah Fizelle, Ralph Balson and the German sculptor and art historian Eleanore Lange, all of whom were interested in Cubist, Constructivist and Futurist art. Hinder later said that this work was inspired by seeing Lange, sitting next to him on a train, reflected in the windows of a passing train.

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34) 'Commuters' 1938

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-1992, United States 1927-1934)
Commuters
1938
Tempera on paper on board
Private collection

 

Victorian Railways, Melbourne (publisher) Australia 1856-1976 'The Victorian Railways present The Spirit of Progress' 1937

 

Victorian Railways, Melbourne (publisher) (Australia, 1856-1976)
The Victorian Railways present The Spirit of Progress
1937
Booklet: colour photolithographs and letterpress,
12 pages, cardboard cover
printed by Queen City Printers, Melbourne
20.8 x 26.8cm (closed)
State Library Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

Launched in November 1937, The Spirit of Progress express passenger train was a source of immense pride to Victorians. Built in Newport, Victoria, the train featured many innovations, including all-steel carriages and full air-conditioning. Designed in the Art Deco, streamlined style by architectural firm Stephenson & Turner, the passenger carriages were fitted out to a level of comfort not previously seen in Australia, and included a full dining carriage. The train ran between Melbourne and the New South Wales state border at Albury, the longest non-stop train journey in Australia at that time, at an average speed of 84 kilometres per hour.

 

Installation view of Ivor Francis' 'Speed!' from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Ivor Francis’ Speed! from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Ivor Francis (England 1906-Australia 1993, Australia from 1924) 'Speed!' 1931

 

Ivor Francis (England 1906 – Australia 1993, Australia from 1924)
Speed!
1931
Colour process block print
Art Gallery of South Australia
Adelaide South Australian Government Grant 1986

 

Randille, Melbourne (maker) active 1930s 'Night gown' c. 1938

 

Randille, Melbourne (maker) active 1930s
Night gown
c. 1938
Silk (a) 166.0cm (centre back) 38.9cm (waist, flat) (dress) (b) 121.0cm (centre back) 38.0cm (waist, flat) (slip)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented by Mrs A. G. Pringle, 1982

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Max Dupain’s Rush hour in King’s Cross left and Frank Hinder’s Jackhammer third from right and Margel Hinder’s Man with jackhammer second right
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Margel Hinder (United States 1906-Australia 1995, Australia from 1934) 'Man with jackhammer' 1939

 

Margel Hinder (United States 1906 – Australia 1995, Australia from 1934)
Man with jackhammer
1939
Cedar
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through the NGV Foundation with the assistance of J. B. Were & Son, Governor, 2001

 

 

American-born Margel Hinder was one of Australia’s leading modernist sculptors. She had studied art in Boston, where she met and married Sydney artist Frank Hinder. In 1934 they moved to Australia and became an important part of Sydney’s small modern art scene. In Man with jackhammer Hinder has simplified and contained the figure within a square frame, the strong diagonal form of the jackhammer creating a sense of compressed energy and force. Man and machine have fused in this celebration of industry and progress.

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34) 'Jackhammer' 1936

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-1992, United States 1927-1934)
Jackhammer
1936
Airbrush on black paper
52.0 x 38.0cm
Private collection, Sydney
© Enid Hawkins

 

 

Modern Woman

In the 1930s the new ‘Modern Woman’ made her appearance as a more serious and emancipated version of the giddy 1920s ‘flapper’. A woman who worked, she often lived alone in one of the new city apartment buildings, visited nightclubs and showed less interest in traditional marriage and child rearing. A lean body type became fashionable and was enhanced by the lengthened hemlines and defined waists introduced by French couturier Jean Patou in 1929. This slender silhouette was supported by form-fitting foundation garments by manufacturers such as Berlei.

The Modern Woman became one of the most potent images of contemporary life, being celebrated in women’s magazines such as the ultra-stylish Home and the Australian Women’s Weekly, launched in 1933. While such magazines were congratulating her and promoting new consumer goods to the Modern Woman, at the same time she was criticised by conservative commentators. In 1937 photographer Max Dupain wrote: ‘There must be a great shattering of modern values if woman is to continue to perpetuate the race… In her shred of a dress and little helmet of a hat, her cropped hair, and stark bearing, the modern woman is a sort of a soldier… It is not her fault it is her doom’.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Peter Purves Smith’s Maisie left, Cybil Craig’s Peggy second left and Peter Purves Smith’s Lucile at  top right
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Cybil Craig’s Peggy second left and Lina Bryans The babe is wise at right
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Peter Purves Smith (Australia 1912-49, England 1935-36, England and France 1938-40) 'Maisie' 1938-39

 

Peter Purves Smith (Australia 1912-1949, England 1935-1936, England and France 1938-1940)
Maisie
1938-1939
Gouache
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Bequest of Lady Maisie Drysdale 2001

 

 

In 1937 the striking, auburn-haired Maisie Newbold was a student at the George Bell School in Melbourne, where she met fellow student Peter Purves Smith and his best friend Russell Drysdale. Maisie and Purves Smith were married in 1946, only three years before latter’s premature death from tuberculosis. Purves Smith painted this portrait at the start of their relationship. It depicts Maisie as a stylish woman wearing the latest fashion, the angularity of her features contrasted by the soft fur of her collar and feathers of her hat. Many years later Maisie married Drysdale.

 

Installation view of Sybil Craig's work 'Peggy' c. 1932

 

Installation view of Sybil Craig’s work Peggy c. 1932
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Sybil Craig (England 1901 - Australia 1909, Australia from 1902) 'Peggy' c. 1932

 

Sybil Craig (England 1901 – Australia 1909, Australia from 1902)
Peggy
c. 1932
Oil on canvas
40.4 x 30.4cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased, 1978
© The Estate of Sybil Craig

 

Lina Bryans (Germany (of Australian parents) 1909-Australia 2000, Australia from 1910) 'The babe is wise' 1940

 

Lina Bryans (Germany (of Australian parents) 1909 – Australia 2000, Australia from 1910)
The babe is wise
1940
Oil on cardboard
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Miss Jean Campbell, 1962

 

 

Lina Bryans’s portrait of author Jean Campbell is titled after Campbell’s 1939 novel The Babe is Wise, a contemporary story set in Melbourne and in which the main protagonists are European migrants. A well-known figure in Melbourne’s literary circles, Campbell was noted for her ‘quick and slightly audacious wit’. Bryans had begun painting in 1937 with the support of William Frater. In the late 1930s she lived at Darebin Bridge House, which became an informal artists’ colony and meeting place for writers associated with the journal Meanjin.

 

Peter Purves Smith (Australia 1912-49, England 1935-36, England and France 1938-40) 'Lucile' 1937

 

Peter Purves Smith (Australian, 1912-1949, England 1935-1936, England and France 1938-1940)
Lucile
1937
Oil on board
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane
Purchased 2011 with funds raised through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Appeal

 

Nora Heysen (Australia 1911-2003, England and Italy 1934-37) 'Self-portrait' 1932

 

Nora Heysen (Australian, 1911-2003, England and Italy 1934-1937)
Self-portrait
1932
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Acquired with the assistance of the Masterpieces for the Nation Fund 2011

 

 

During the first decade of her life as a professional artist, Nora Heysen completed numerous self-portraits. In many of these she depicts herself in the act of drawing or painting, holding a palette and brush or with other accoutrements of the artist, and thereby asserting her professional identity. Yet these are also highly charged works in which Heysen scrutinises herself (and the viewer) with an unflinching and unsmiling gaze.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Arthur Challen’s Miss Moira Madden above chair
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Arthur Challen 'Miss Moira Madden' 1937

 

Arthur Challen
Miss Moira Madden
1937
Oil on canvas
89.8 x 77.4cm (framed)
State Library of Victoria
Gift of Mrs S. M. Challen, 1966
© The Estate of Arthur Challen

 

 

Body culture

The terrible physical losses and psychological traumas of the First World War changed Australian society and prompted anxious concerns about the direction of the nation. For some this meant an inward-looking isolationism, a desire that Australian culture should develop independently and untouched by the ‘degenerate’ influences of Europe.

The search for rejuvenation frequently involved explorations of the capabilities and vulnerabilities of the human body. In the hands of artists, corporeal forms came to symbolise nationhood, most often expressed through references to the art of Classical Greece and mythological subjects. The evolution of a new Australian ‘type’ was also proposed in the 1930s – a white Australian drawn from British stock, but with an athletic and streamlined shape honed by time spent swimming and surfing on local beaches.

This art often has a distinctive quality to it, which in the light of history can sometimes make for disquieting viewing. With the terrible knowledge of how the Nazi Party in Germany subsequently used eugenics in its systematic slaughter of those with so-called ‘bad blood’, the Australian enthusiasm for ‘body culture’ can now seem problematic. Images of muscular nationalism soon lost their cache in Australia following the Second World War, tainted by undesirable fascistic overtones.

 

Keast Burke (New Zealand 1896 - Australia 1974, Australia from 1904) 'Harvest' c. 1940

 

Keast Burke (New Zealand 1896 – Australia 1974, Australia from 1904)
Harvest
c. 1940
Gelatin silver photograph (25.6 x 30.5cm)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gerstl Bequest, 2000

 

Keast Burke (New Zealand 1896 - Australia 1974, Australia from 1904) 'Husbandry 1' c. 1940

 

Keast Burke (New Zealand 1896 – Australia 1974, Australia from 1904)
Husbandry 1
c. 1940
Gelatin silver photograph
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Gift of Iris Burke 1989

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Discus thrower' 1937, printed (c. 1939)

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Discus thrower
1937, printed (c. 1939)
Gelatin silver photograph
38.5 x 37.5cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 2003

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Souvenir of Cronulla' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Souvenir of Cronulla
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of National Australia Bank Limited, Honorary Life Benefactor, 1992

 

 

In the 1930s Max Dupain responded to Henri Bergson’s book Creative Evolution (1907) in which he considered creativity and intuition as central to the renewed development of society, and the artist as prime possessor of these powers. Vitalism, as this philosophy was termed, was believed to be expressed through polarised sexual energies. In this work Dupain focuses on the sexually differentiated ‘energies’ of men and women, associating women with the forces of nature.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Daphne Mayo’s A young Australian in foreground
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Daphne Mayo (Australia 1895-1982, England 1919-23, France 1923-25) 'A young Australian' 1930, cast 1931

 

Daphne Mayo (Australian, 1895-1982, England 1919-1923, France 1923-1925)
A young Australian
1930, cast 1931
Bronze, marble
(a-b) 51.0 x 35.2 x 18.1cm (overall)
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney Purchased 1930
© 1982 by The Surf Life Saving Foundation and the Uniting Church in Australia Property Trust (Q.)

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Dorothy Thornhill’s Neo-classical nudes and Resting Diana at left; Tom Purvis’ Australia’s 150th Anniversary Celebrations (wall print) at centre rear; and Jean Broome-Norton’s Abundance on plinth at right
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Tom Purvis (England 1888-1959) 'Australia's 150th Anniversary Celebrations' c. 1938

 

Tom Purvis (England, 1888-1959)
Australia’s 150th Anniversary Celebrations
c. 1938
Colour lithograph
Courtesy of Josef Lebovic Gallery, Sydney

 

Installation view of Dorothy Thornhill's 'Neo-classical nudes' from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Dorothy Thornhill’s Neo-classical nudes from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Dorothy Thornhill (England 1910 - Australia 1987, New Zealand 1920-29, Australia from 1929) 'Resting Diana' 1931

 

Dorothy Thornhill (England 1910 – Australia 1987, New Zealand 1920-1929, Australia from 1929)
Resting Diana
1931
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1977

 

 

The invocation of the Classical body as a modern prototype was a powerful idea in the 1930s. The Graeco- Roman goddess Diana, the virgin patron goddess of the hunt, was popularly invoked as an ideal of female perfection, and represented with a slender and athletic physique. Dorothy Thornhill’s Diana is a remarkable visualisation of such a ‘modern Diana’, her angular body and defined musculature reflecting the masculinisation of female bodies at this time. She is a formidable presence, the quiver of arrows slung nonchalantly across her shoulders a trophy of her victory over the male gender.

 

Jean Broome-Norton (Australia 1911-2002) 'Abundance' 1934

 

Jean Broome-Norton (Australian, 1911-2002)
Abundance
1934
Plaster, bronze patination
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of ICI Australia Limited, Fellow, 1994

 

 

“High-rise buildings, fast trains and engineering feats such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge jostled against the Great Depression, conservatism and a looming Second World War during the 1930s, one of the most turbulent decades in Australian history. The major exhibition at the NGV, Brave New World: Australia 1930s, will explore the way artists and designers engaged with these major issues providing a fresh look at a period characterised by both optimism and despair. The exhibition will present a broad-ranging collection of more than 200 works spanning photography, painting, printmaking, sculpture and decorative arts as well as design, architecture, fashion, graphics, film and dance.

Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV, commented, “Brave New World explores an important period of Australian art history during which Abstraction, Surrealism and Expressionism first emerged, and women artists arose as trailblazers of the modern art movement. It will offer an immersive look at the full spectrum of visual and creative culture of the period, from Max Dupain’s iconic depictions of the Australian body and beach culture to a vast display of nearly 40 Art Deco radios, which were an indispensable item for the Australian home during the 1930s.”

Presented thematically, Brave New World will show how artists and designers responded to major social and political concerns of the 1930s. The Great Depression, which saw Australia’s unemployment rate rise to 32% by 1932, is seen through the eyes of photographer F. Oswald Barnett in his powerful images of poverty-stricken inner Melbourne suburbs such as Fitzroy, Collingwood and Carlton, and in the works of Danila Vassilieff, Yosl Bergner, Arthur Boyd and Albert Tucker who were among the first artists to depict Australia’s working class and destitute.

In contrast, many other artists at the time chose to focus upon the vibrant city streets, cafes and buildings of contemporary Australian cities, such as renowned modernist Grace Cossington Smith with her energetic canvasses of flat colours and abstracted forms. Other artists featured in Brave New World including Hilda Rix Nicholas and Elioth Gruner concentrated on more traditional scenes of the Australian bush, which was seen as a place of respite from the frenetic pace of modern city life.

The exhibition will explore artists’ responses to the growing calls for Indigenous rights during the 1930s, which was accompanied by a rising interest in Aboriginal art and particularly the work of Albert Namatjira, the first Indigenous artist of renown in Australia; and the rise of the ‘modern woman’, a female who favoured urban living, freedom and equality over marriage and child rearing.

The 1930s also saw the idea of the ‘Australian body’, a tanned, muscular archetype shaped by sand and surf, come to the fore of the Australian identity. Artists who engaged with this idea, including Max Dupain, Charles Meere and Olive Cotton, will be presented in Brave New World. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully-illustrated, 212-page hardback publication, featuring essays by leading writers on each of the exhibition themes. A series of public programs will also be offered including a major symposium, an Art Deco walking tour of Melbourne and a dance performance, recreating Demon machine (1924) by the Bodenweiser company that toured Australia in the late 1930s as well as an original solo by the choreographer, Carol Brown (NZ).

Press release from the NGV

 

Nanette Kuehn (Germany 1911-Australia 1980, Australia from 1937) 'Borislav Runanine and Tamara Grigorieva in Jeux D'Enfants, original Ballets Russes, Australian tour' 1939-40

 

Nanette Kuehn (Germany 1911 – Australia 1980, Australia from 1937)
Borislav Runanine and Tamara Grigorieva in Jeux D’Enfants, original Ballets Russes, Australian tour
1939-1940
Gelatin silver photograph
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre, Melbourne
The Australian Ballet Collection. Gift of The Australian Ballet, 1998

 

 

The expressive body: dance in Australia

If modern art encapsulated the ideals and conflicting forces of the early twentieth century, then modern dance embodied its restless vitality and the quest for a different kind of subjectivity and expression. To many, modern dance is the pivotal art form for a mid twentieth century concerned with plasticity, the expressive body and tensions between the individual and its collective formation.

The decade of the 1930s is framed by the 1928-1929 tour of Anna Pavlova’s dance company and the three tours of the remnant Ballets Russes companies (1936-1937, 1938-1939,1939-1940) that excited many aspiring modernist artists. These tours sowed the seeds for subsequent ballet narratives in Australia, because the eruption of war in 1939 meant that Ballets Russes dancers, including Helene Kirsova and Edouard Borovansky, stayed in the country and established ballet companies. While trained in Russian dance technique, these artists were also influenced by the aesthetics of change in European art and dance that included new bodily techniques, dynamic movement patterns and modern technologies. It was the individual dancers of modern dance, however, including Louise Lightfoot and Sonia Revid, who produced the expressive intensity of a more autonomous art of movement.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA featuring a wall print of Sonia Revid dancing on Brighton beach c. 1935 by an unknown Australian photographer
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Australia, Unknown photographer. 'Sonia Revid dancing on Brighton beach' c. 1935

 

Australia, Unknown photographer
Sonia Revid dancing on Brighton beach
c. 1935
Courtesy of State Library Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

Sonia Revid was one of the leading proponents of modern interpretative dance in Melbourne. Born in Latvia, she studied with the great dancer Mary Wigman in Germany before coming to Australia in 1932. Revid is credited with introducing the ‘German Dance’ to Australian audiences, and in the mid 1930s established the Sonia Revid School of Art and Body Culture in Collins Street. She composed her own dances, one of the best known being Bushfire drama (1940), based on the 1939 Victoria Bushfires.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Ballet (Emmy Towsey and Evelyn Ippen, Bodenwieser Dancers performing Waterlilies)' 1937, printed (c. 1939)

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Ballet (Emmy Towsey and Evelyn Ippen, Bodenwieser Dancers performing Waterlilies)
1937, printed (c. 1939)
Gelatin silver photograph
44.5 x 33.5cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 2003

 

Jack Cato (Australia 1889-1971, England 1909-14, South Africa 1914-20) 'Helene Kirsova and Igor Youskevitch in Les Presages, Monte Carlo Russian Ballet' 1936-37

 

Jack Cato (Australia 1889-1971, England 1909-1914, South Africa 1914-1920)
Helene Kirsova and Igor Youskevitch in Les Presages, Monte Carlo Russian Ballet
1936-1937
Gelatin silver photograph
24.8 x 19.4cm
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre, Melbourne
The Australian Ballet Collection
Gift of The Australian Ballet, 1998

 

 

Choreographed by Léonide Massine in 1933, Les Presages (Destiny) was a popular and avant-garde work during the Ballets Russes tours to Australia in 1936-1937. It was one of the first contemporary ballets to be choreographed to an existing musical score, Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. Portrayed in this picture are two principal dancers from the Monte Carlo Ballets Russes: Hélène Kirsova, who remained in Australia and formed her own ballet company in Sydney in the early 1940s, and Igor Youskevitch, who became a leading American ballet dancer, appearing here in the role of the Hero.

 

Evelyn Ippen designer and maker active in Australia 1930s 'Dress for Slavonic Dances' 1939

 

Evelyn Ippen designer and maker active in Australia 1930s
Dress for Slavonic Dances
1939
Cotton, silk (velvet) (appliqué), elastic, metal (zip) for a production of the Bodenwieser Ballet, choreographed by Gertrud Bodenwieser
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre, Melbourne
Bodenwieser Collection. Gift of Barbara Cuckson, 2000

 

 

The Slavonic Dances were choreographed by Gertrud Bodenwieser to represent what she described as the ‘vigour and passionate feelings of the Slavonic people’, and toured with her first company in Australia in 1939. Loosely using folk-dance motifs, this ensemble work would have been a stylish crowd-pleaser in contrast to more serious dances. The appliqué and colourful flower motifs on this dress are similar to designs by Natalia Goncharova for the Ballets Russes, although the simplified appeal of its ‘red bodice, long, swirling skirt, and gathered white sleeves’ were probably designed by one of the company dancers, Evelyn Ippen.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Tamara Tchinarova in Presages' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Tamara Tchinarova in Presages
Published in Art in Australia, February 15, 1937
National Gallery of Victoria
Melbourne Shaw Research Library

 

 

Australia Tunes Into The World

These radios comprise a selection of Australian designed and manufactured tabletop models from the 1930s at a time when this new method of communication became an integral part of every home. They reflect the rapid spread of the streamlined style to Australia from the United States, England and Europe, where industrial designers applied machine-age styling to everyday household appliances. The use of new synthetic plastics (Bakelite) and mass production helped to make radios affordable for ordinary people, even in the depths of the Depression, and radio transmission brought the world into every Australian home. As cheap alternatives to the expensive wooden console in the lounge room, these small, portable radios allowed individual family members to listen to serials, quizzes and popular music in other rooms such as the kitchen, bedroom and verandah, as well as in the workplace.

Radios of the 1930s are now appreciated as quintessential examples of Art Deco styling, and one of the first expressions of art meeting industry. These colourful and elegant radio sets were one of the first pieces of modern styling in the Australian home. They were also a symbol of modern technology and a new future.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Australian Art Deco radios from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Airzone (1931) Ltd, Sydney (manufacturer) 'Mullard' 1938

 

Airzone (1931) Ltd, Sydney (manufacturer)
Mullard (white)
1938
Collection of Peter Sheridan and Jan Hatch

Airzone (1931) Ltd, Sydney (manufacturer)
Mullard (speckled green)
1938
Collection of Peter Sheridan and Jan Hatch

Airzone (1931) Ltd, Sydney (manufacturer)
Mullard (black)
1938
Collection of Peter Sheridan and Jan Hatch
Photo © Peter Sheridan

 

Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd., Sydney (manufacturer) est. 1913 'AWA 'Egg crate' (various colours)' 1938

 

Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd., Sydney (manufacturer) est. 1913
AWA ‘Egg crate’ (various colours)
1938
Bakelite
21.0 x 33.0 x 19.0cm (each)
Collection of Peter Sheridan and Jan Hatch
Photo © Peter Sheridan

 

Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd., Sydney (manufacturer) est. 1913 'AWA Radiolette 'Empire State' and cigarette box (green)' 1934

 

Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd., Sydney (manufacturer) est. 1913
AWA Radiolette ‘Empire State’ and cigarette box (green)
1934
Bakelite
(a) 28.0 x 27.0 x 15.0cm (radio) (b) 8.0 x 8.0 x 4.5cm (cigarette box)
Collection of Peter Sheridan and Jan Hatch
Photo © Peter Sheridan

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation views of Australian Art Deco radios from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

 

Sun and surf

The beach was a complex location in the Australian creative imagination. It was a democratic site in which the trappings of wealth and position were abandoned as people stripped down to their bathers. It was a place of hedonistic pleasures that offered sensuous engagement with sun and surf, and a primitive landscape where natural forces restored the bodies of those depleted by modern life. It was a playground for the tourist that was considered distinctively Australian. As war loomed again in the late 1930s, it was also a pseudo-militaristic zone in which the lifesaver was honed for ‘battle’ in the surf.

The lifesavers that helped protect the beach-going public were regularly praised as physical exemplars who could build the eugenic stock of the nation. As the Second World War approached, the connection of these trained lifesavers to military servicemen also became painfully apparent.

Male lifesavers were used by artists in promoting Australia to tourists: a poster commemorating the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932 positioned the lifesaver as the quintessential representative of Australian manhood. Douglas Annand and Arthur Whitmore’s virile lifesaver proudly gestures towards the new bridge, his muscles as strong and protective as the steel girders that span the harbour.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'On the beach. Man, woman, boy' 1938

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
On the beach. Man, woman, boy
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
39.2 x 47.2cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

Showing a naked family on the beach, Max Dupain’s work is a perfect illustration of social concerns of the times. As Australia moved closer to engagement in another world war, fears about the poor physical fitness of the population were debated, with a ‘national fitness’ campaign instituted by the government in 1938. Dupain’s father, George, was one of the country’s first physical educationalists, opening the Dupain Institute of Physical Education and Medical Gymnastics in 1900 and writing extensively on the subject of health and fitness. Max Dupain attended the gym and was well versed in contemporary concerns about fitness.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of 'Male lifesaver, window' and 'Female lifesaver, window' (both c. 1935)

 

Installation view of Male lifesaver, window and Female lifesaver, window (both c. 1935) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Unknown, Melbourne. 'Male lifesaver, window' c. 1935

 

Unknown, Melbourne
Male lifesaver, window
c. 1935
Stained glass, lead
47.5 x 40.8cm
Williamstown Swimming and Life Saving Club, Williamstown
Donated by C. J Dennis

 

 

‘On golden and milky sands, bodily excellence is displayed the year round, clearly defined by the sun in an atmosphere as viewless and benign as the air of Hellas as described by Euripides.’

J. S. Macdonald, 1931

 

Unknown, Melbourne. 'Female lifesaver, window' c. 1935

 

Unknown, Melbourne
Female lifesaver, window
c. 1935
Stained glass, lead
47.0 x 40.9cm
Williamstown Swimming and Life Saving Club, Williamstown
Donated by Councillor R. T. Bell

 

 

Although much was made of the ‘gods of the golden sand’, as one poet glowingly described lifesavers, lifesaving clubs were not entirely male in membership. Women lifesavers also made their mark, albeit in more limited numbers and with much less recognition. At the Williamstown Lifesaving Club in Melbourne a woman lifesaver was included in this fine and very rare stained glass window that, along with its counterpart featuring a male lifesaver, graced the newly established clubhouse around 1935.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with the male and female lifesavers (centre); Max Dupain’s The carnival at Bondi (fourth from right); Sydney Bridge celebrations (second right); and Douglas Annand and Max Dupain’s Australia (right)
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Max Dupain. 'Sunbaker' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australian 1911-1992)
Sunbaker
(1938), dated 1937, printed c. 1975
Gelatin silver photograph
38.0 x 43.1cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with the assistance of the Visual Arts Board, 1976

 

 

Taken on a camping trip near Culburra, on the Shoalhaven River in New South Wales, in January 1938, Max Dupain’s original version of the Sunbaker was a much darker image that existed at the time only in an album gifted to his friend Chris Van Dyke. Dupain lost the original negative and printed this variant version in 1975 for an exhibition. It is an image that is now considered an icon in Australian photography, and has come to represent key values of the interest in ‘body culture’, celebrating health and fitness in the context of the beach.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'The carnival at Bondi' 1938

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
The carnival at Bondi
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

‘The lifesaving teams … are splendid examples of the physique, resourcefulness and vitality of our youth and manhood. They are typical of the outdoor life which Australians lead and they are living testimonies to the value of surfing and the vigour and stamina of our race.’

DAILY EXAMINER, July 1935

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Manly' 1938, printed c. 1986

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Manly
1938, printed c. 1986
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased from funds donated by Hallmark Cards Australia Pty Ltd, 1987

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926) 'The seaside calls - go by train - take a Kodak' 1930s

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901 – Australia 1970, Australia from 1926)
The seaside calls – go by train – take a Kodak
1930s
Colour lithograph
Printed by F. W. Niven, Melbourne
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mr Grant Lee

 

 

Gert Sellheim was born to German parents in Estonia, at that time part of the Russian Empire. After studying architecture in Europe he travelled to Western Australia in 1926, before settling in Melbourne in 1931, where he began working as an industrial and commercial designer. Working for the Australian National Travel Association, Sellheim created a series of posters promoting beach holidays, which incorporated Art Deco motifs and typography. His most famous design is the flying kangaroo logo for Qantas, which he created in 1947.

 

Douglas Annand (Australia 1903-76) Arthur Whitmore (Australia 1910-65) 'Sydney Bridge celebrations' 1932

 

Douglas Annand (Australia 1903-1976)
Arthur Whitmore (Australia 1910-1965)
Sydney Bridge celebrations
1932
Colour lithograph
47.6 x 63.6cm (image and sheet)
Australian National Maritime Museum Purchased, 1991
© Courtesy of the artist’s estate

 

Douglas Annand (Australia 1903-76) Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Australia' c. 1937

 

Douglas Annand (Australian, 1903-1976)
Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Australia
c. 1937
Colour and process lithograph
105.3 x 68.4cm (image and sheet)
Australian National Maritime Museum Purchased, 1991
© Courtesy of the artist’s estate

 

Douglas Annand (attributed to) (Australia 1903-76) 'Follow the sun - Australia's 150th Anniversary celebrations' 1938

 

Douglas Annand (attributed to) (Australian, 1903-1976)
Follow the sun – Australia’s 150th Anniversary celebrations
1938
Colour lithograph and photolithograph
Courtesy of Josef Lebovic Gallery, Sydney

 

 

The 1930s were the heyday of the travel poster. Posters were commissioned by railway and tourism groups or shipping companies and airlines to promote Australian holiday destinations, both at home and overseas. The Australian National Travel Association was formed in 1929 to promote Australia to overseas markets. As part of its strategy it commissioned posters from leading graphic artists, such as Percy Trompf, James Northfield and Douglas Annand. From the late 1920s Australia began to actively promote itself to the world by using the beach, sun and surf as motifs.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with the work of John Rowell, Hilda Rix Nicholas, Gert Sellheim and Percy Trompf on the far wall, and Robert E. Coates Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World’s Fair (1939) on the projector screen at left
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

 

The Australian Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair projected an image of Australia as a young and healthy nation, a place of industry, sport and tourism. Designed by John Oldham of Sydney architectural firm Stephenson & Turner, the modern design of the building was complemented by Douglas Annand’s interior displays featuring the latest graphic design, and audio-visual and photomontage techniques. These photographs of the Australian Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair were taken by commercial photographer Robert E. Coates.

 

Installation view of Robert E. Coates' 'Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World's Fair' (1939)

Installation view of Robert E. Coates' 'Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World's Fair' (1939)

Installation view of Robert E. Coates' 'Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World's Fair' (1939)

Installation view of Robert E. Coates' 'Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World's Fair' (1939)

Installation view of Robert E. Coates' 'Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World's Fair' (1939)

 

Installation views of Robert E. Coates’ Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World’s Fair (1939) (digital images, looped)
Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Pastoral landscapes

Along with the beach, another national myth evolved around the Australian bush. Although most Australians lived in cities, in the years following the First World War the nation became increasingly informed by a mythology centred on the bush and the landscape. For those who considered the modern city a profoundly depleting force, the bush was a touchstone of traditional ‘values’. It was nostalgically conceived of as an idyllic natural realm whose soil, literally and metaphorically, sustained its people. Both the classical Pastoral ideal of a land in which only sheep and cattle roam, and the Georgic tradition, which celebrated the achievements of agriculture, became dominant themes in landscape art.

Pastoral landscapes were admired above all as representing the antithesis of ‘decadent’ modern life. As art critic and gallery director J. S. Macdonald wrote, such art would ‘point the way in which life should be lived in Australia, with the maximum of flocks and the minimum of factories’. With their emphasis on farming and pastoral industries, such works affirmed white landownership, with Indigenous people largely absent.

 

John Rowell (Australia 1894-1973) 'Blue hills' c. 1936

 

John Rowell (Australian, 1894-1973)
Blue hills
c. 1936
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Felton Bequest, 1936

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926) 'Spring in the Grampians' 1930s

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901 – Australia 1970, Australia from 1926)
Spring in the Grampians
1930s
Colour photolithograph
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased 2000

 

Hilda Rix Nicholas (Australia 1884-1961, Europe 1911-18) 'The fair musterer' c. 1935

 

Hilda Rix Nicholas (Australian, 1884-1961, Europe 1911-1918)
The fair musterer
c. 1935
Oil on canvas
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane
Purchased 1971

 

 

As a young artist Hilda Rix Nicholas had a successful career in France before returning to Australia after the First World War. In 1934, several years after the birth of her son, Rix Nicholas returned to painting and depicted her new life living on the family property Knockalong, on the Monaro Plains in New South Wales. Depicting the governess of her young son holding the reins of her horse, dog at her feet, and sheep in the distance, in The fair musterer Rix Nicholas claims for women an active role in the masculine world of pastoral Australia.

 

Hilda Rix Nicholas (Australia 1884-1961, Europe 1911-18) 'The shepherd of Knockalong' 1933

 

Hilda Rix Nicholas (Australian, 1884-1961, Europe 1911-1918)
The shepherd of Knockalong
1933
Oil on canvas
Collection of Peter Rix, Sydney
Courtesy of Deutscher & Hackett

 

 

Depicting the artist’s husband and young son, The shepherd of Knockalong is a reminder of the traditional importance of the wool industry to the nation’s economy. With his legs firmly connected to the ground and pictured as a large figure dominating the landscape setting, the farmer is the benign owner and ‘shepherd’ of the land spreading out behind him, the presence of his young son ensuring dynastic succession. At a time when Aboriginal people were confined to reservations and denied citizenship, Hilda Rix Nicholas’s painting can also be considered as an assertion of the British colonisers’ right to ownership of Australia.

 

Percy Trompf (Australia 1902-64) 'Western Australia' c. 1936

 

Percy Trompf (Australian, 1902-1964)
Western Australia
c. 1936
Colour lithograph
Courtesy of Josef Lebovic Gallery, Sydney

 

 

Indigenous art and culture

During the 1930s Aboriginal people were often pejoratively referred to as a ‘dying race’. The Australian Government continued to enforce a ‘divide and rule’ assimilationist policy. Determined by eugenics, this entailed removing Aboriginal people of mixed descent from their families and reserves, and absorbing them into the dominant society, with consequent loss of their own language and customary ritual practices. Increasingly during this period, Aboriginal people formed their own organisations and agitated for full citizenship rights.

This was also a decade that saw increasing awareness of, and interest in, Indigenous art. Albert Namatjira astonished Melbourne audiences at his first solo exhibition at the Athenaeum Gallery in 1938. Comprising forty-one watercolour paintings, all of his works sold within three days of the opening. The following year the Art Gallery of South Australia purchased one of Namatjira’s works. Indigenous art also inspired non-Indigenous artists, including Margaret Preston and Frances Derham who appropriated design elements in their works. The idea of ‘Aboriginalism’, in which settlers sought an Australian identity in the context of Britishness and the Empire, saw artists travelling to the outback to paint and sketch subjects they believed connected them to Indigenous history.

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894–1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08) Kangaroo and 'Aboriginal motifs' 1925-1940

 

Frances Derham (Australian, 1894-1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-1908)
Kangaroo and Aboriginal motifs
1925-1940
Linocut printed in brown ink on buff paper
4.6 x 7.3cm (image) 12.6 x 10.3cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mr Richard Hodgson Derham, 1988
© Estate of Frances Derham

 

 

Best known as a progressive educator and advocate of children’s art, Frances Derham was also an active member of the Arts and Crafts Society of Victoria, and with potter Allan Lowe shared Margaret Preston’s interest in the appropriation of Indigenous art. From the mid 1920s Derham began to incorporate Aboriginal motifs into her linocuts and in 1929, synchronous with the exhibition Australian Aboriginal Art at the Museum of Victoria, Derham presented a lecture to the Arts and Crafts Society, entitled ‘The Interest of Aboriginal Art to the Modern Designer’.

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894-1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08) 'Kangaroo (at the zoo)' c. 1931

 

Frances Derham (Australian, 1894-1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-1908)
Kangaroo (at the zoo)
c. 1931
Linocut printed in brown ink on Chinese paper
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mr Richard Hodgson Derham, 1988

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894-1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08) 'The Aboriginal artist' 1931

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894-1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-1908)
The Aboriginal artist
1931
Colour linocut on Japanese paper
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mr Richard Hodgson Derham, 1988

 

Margaret Preston (Australia 1875-1963, Germany and France 1904-07, France, England and Ireland 1912-19) 'Shoalhaven Gorge, New South Wales' 1940-1941

 

Margaret Preston (Australia 1875-1963, Germany and France 1904-1907, France, England and Ireland 1912-1919)
Shoalhaven Gorge, New South Wales
1940-1941
Oil and gouache on canvas
53.7 x 45.8cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated from the Estate of Dr Donald Wright, 2008
© Margaret Preston/Licensed by VISCOPY, Australia

 

 

During the 1920s Margaret Preston considered Aboriginal art a source of good design in the decoration of household items. In the 1930s her study of Aboriginal culture intensified, as she developed a greater interest in its anthropological and cosmological elements. In 1940 Preston travelled to the Northern Territory to study Aboriginal art. On her return she developed a more explicit Aboriginal style in paintings featuring earthy tones, strong black outlines and patterns of dots and lines.

 

Unknown Walamangu active (1930s) 'Dhukurra dhaawu (Sacred clan story)' c. 1935

 

Unknown
Walamangu active (1930s)
Dhukurra dhaawu (Sacred clan story)
c. 1935
Earth pigments on Stringybark (Eucalyptus sp.), resin
128.3 x 63.9cm
The Donald Thomson Collection
Donated by Mrs Dorita Thomson to the University of Melbourne and on loan to Museums Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, segregation was the main government policy regarding Aboriginal people. It was re-enforced by the 1909 Aborigines Protection Act, which gave the Aborigines Protection Board the power to control where Aboriginal people lived in New South Wales. In 1937 the Commonwealth Government adopted a policy of assimilation, whereby Aboriginal people of mixed descent were henceforth to be assimilated into white society, while others were confined to reserves. In 1931 Arnhem Land was declared an Aboriginal Reserve by the government and non-Indigenous entry into the region was restricted.

 

Tjam Yilkari Katani Liyagalawumirr active 1930s 'Wagilag dhaawu (Wagilag Sisters story)' 1937

 

Tjam Yilkari Katani
Liyagalawumirr active 1930s
Wagilag dhaawu (Wagilag Sisters story) (installation view)
1937
Earth pigments on Stringybark (Eucalyptus sp.)
The Donald Thomson Collection Donated by Mrs Dorita Thomson to the University of Melbourne and on loan to Museums Victoria, Melbourne
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

For Yolgnu people, painting on bark or objects is intimately connected with painting on the body, and the Yolgnu term barrawan means both ‘skin’ and ‘bark’. These paintings are transcriptions of the sacred designs that were painted onto men’s bodies and convey the power of the Yolgnu ancestors whose actions created their world. The Wagilag Sisters Dreaming story chronicles the creative acts of the sisters as they travelled across Arnhem Land. Such stories pass on important knowledge, cultural values and belief systems to later generations.

 

Arthur Murch (Australia 1902-89, Europe 1936-40) 'Walila, Pintupi tribe' 1934

 

Arthur Murch (Australian, 1902-1989, Europe 1936-1940)
Walila, Pintupi tribe
1934
Pencil
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1934

 

 

In 1933, on the invitation of Professor H. Whitridge Davies, Sydney artist Arthur Murch accompanied a research team from Sydney University to Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission, south-west of Alice Springs. Murch remained there for six weeks painting the landscapes and making portraits of Indigenous people. These were exhibited in Sydney soon after his return.

 

Percy Leason (Australia 1888-United States 1959, United States from 1938) 'Thomas Foster' (installation view) 1934

 

Percy Leason (Australia 1888 – United States 1959, United States from 1938)
Thomas Foster (installation view)
1934
Oil on canvas
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Isabelle Leason, 1969
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Thomas Foster was born at Coranderrk Station in 1882, the son of Edward Foster and Betsy Benfield. Foster’s was one of the last portraits painted by Leason as part of the unfortunately titled exhibition The Last of the Victorian Aborigines. These portraits were debuted on 11 September at the Athenaeum Gallery in Collins Street, Melbourne, to great public acclaim. Foster, like most of Leason’s subjects, appears shirtless, his arms folded behind his back, pushing forward his chest and clearly showing his scarification marks.

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926) 'Corroboree Australia' 1934

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901 – Australia 1970, Australia from 1926)
Corroboree Australia
1934
Colour lithograph printed by F. W. Niven, Melbourne
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of the Australian National Travel Association, 1934

 

 

Dystopian cities

Australia was hit hard by the Great Depression. The worst year was 1932, when unemployment reached nearly thirty-two per cent, and by the following year almost a third of all unemployed men had been without work for three years. With wages cut and unemployment rising, many families were left struggling to survive and this poverty was most evident in run-down, inner-city areas. Two émigrés, Danila Vassilieff and Yosl Bergner, were the first Australian artists to turn their attention to the plight of the urban poor and the disposed. Their powerful, expressive style was influential upon young artists, including Arthur Boyd and Albert Tucker.

Economic hardship fostered bitterness and political unrest, and membership of radical groups on both the left and right increased. Boundaries between political agendas and art production became porous in this decade, and many artists believed, like Bergner, ‘that by painting we would change the world’. The complex enmeshment of the creative and political became a defining feature of the decade, and art in Australia became increasingly political, with the political realm involving itself with art.

By the end of the decade the worsening political situation overseas and a sense that another world war was inevitable contributed to a growing sense of unease. Many artists expressed this anxiety and foreboding in their works.

 

Laurence Le Guay (Australia 1917-90) 'No title (War montage with globe)' c. 1939

 

Laurence Le Guay (Australian, 1917-1990)
No title (War montage with globe)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver photograph
30.4 x 24.9cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through the NGV Foundation with the assistance of Mrs Mem Kirby, Fellow, 2001

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Hot rhythm!' 1936

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Hot rhythm!
1936
Silver gelatin photograph
24.7 x 17.8cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
William Kimpton Bequest, 2016

 

 

In this work, Max Dupain has the shadow of a slide trombone seemingly bisect the naked body of a woman in a photograph that, in the context of his known views, is less an erotic celebration of modern jazz culture and nightlife than a comment on the disruptive nature of modernity.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Doom of youth' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Doom of youth
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

In Doom of youth – a title taken from Wyndham Lewis’s 1932 polemical book of the same name – Max Dupain creates an allegorical photograph in which a naked male body represents his vision of modern Australia. Using symbols that suggest disempowerment, Dupain implies that the flywheel of mechanisation has doomed youth (the representatives of a nation’s future) to a bleak fate.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Night with her train of stars and her gift of sleep' 1936-37

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Night with her train of stars and her gift of sleep
1936-1937
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
William Kimpton Bequest, 2016

 

 

Referring to Edward Hughes’s 1912 Symbolist work of the same name, Max Dupain has replaced the painter’s dark-winged goddess of the night, who tries to calm the putti (or ‘stars’) that cling to her, with an updated modern version in which city lights replace starlight. The symbolism of the giant breast that towers over the electric lights of the urban landscape suggests an inversion of the natural for the man-made. The personification of night refers to the Greek goddess Nyx, a powerful force born of Chaos, and the mother of children including Sleep, Death and Pain. Given his often gloomy assessment of modernity, Dupain’s invocation of Nyx seems appropriate in the context.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Herbert Badham’s Paint and morning tea second left and Albert Tucker’s Self-portrait third from right
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Herbert Badham (Australia 1899-1961) 'Paint and morning tea' 1937

 

Herbert Badham (Australian, 1899-1961)
Paint and morning tea
1937
Oil on cardboard
75.6 x 71.5cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Felton Bequest, 1937
© The Estate of Herbert Badham

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Albert Tucker’s Self-portrait (1937) at left
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of Albert Tucker's 'Self-portrait' from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Albert Tucker’s Self-portrait (1937) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

In the late 1930s Albert Tucker’s contact with émigré artists Yosl Bergner and Danila Vassilieff was to provide important encouragement for him to pursue his artistic vocation and to make art that was responsive to the issues of his time. In 1938 Tucker was a founding member of the Contemporary Art Society, and he became one of the most articulate voices in the often bitter debates between modernists and conservatives. In the 1940s, together with his partner Joy Hester, Tucker was a key member of the group of artists and writers that formed around John and Sunday Reed at Heide.

From 1936 until the early 1940s Albert Tucker chronicled himself with numerous painted and drawn self-portraits. In these works we witness a harrowing disintegration of his physical self, which mirrored the artist’s overwrought emotional state. He recalled: ‘It was a period when the whole world, and all the people I knew, seemed to be seething with ideas and energies and experiences; and my own mind was a seething mess … The highly emotional, overwrought expressionist paintings suited my state at the time’.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with work by Danila Vassilieff on the centre black wall including Street scene with graffiti (left), Truth, Woolloomooloo (second left) and Young girl (Shirley) the large painting at right; and F. Oswald Barnett’s photographs of Melbourne slums in the display cabinet
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Danila Vassilieff (Russia 1897-Australia 1958, Australia from 1923, Central and South America, Europe, England 1929-34) 'Street scene with graffiti' 1938

 

Installation view of Danila Vassilieff ‘s Street scene with graffiti (1938) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Danila Vassilieff (Russia 1897-Australia 1958, Australia from 1923, Central and South America, Europe, England 1929-34) 'Truth, Woolloomooloo' 1936

 

Danila Vassilieff (Russia 1897 – Australia 1958, Australia from 1923, Central and South America, Europe, England 1929-1934)
Truth, Woolloomooloo
1936
Oil on canvas
Private collection

 

 

It is notable that the first artists to depict the poverty of inner-city slums were two recently arrived émigrés, Danila Vassilieff and Yosl Bergner. Russian-born Vassilieff, who had fought with the white Russian army, first arrived in Australia in 1923 before leaving again in 1929. On his return in 1935 he painted a series of dark streetscapes, depicting the inner suburban areas of Woolloomooloo and Surry Hills in Sydney. Moving to Melbourne, Vassilieff’s expressionist style influenced many young artists, including Lina Bryans, Albert Tucker, Arthur Boyd and Sidney Nolan.

 

Danila Vassilieff (Russia 1897-Australia 1958, Australia from 1923, Central and South America, Europe, England 1929-34) 'Young girl (Shirley)' 1937

 

Danila Vassilieff (Russia 1897 – Australia 1958, Australia from 1923, Central and South America, Europe, England 1929-1934)
Young girl (Shirley)
1937
Oil on canvas on composition board
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
National Gallery Society of Victoria Century Fund, 1984

 

F. Oswald Barnett. 'Fitzroy. View from the Brotherhood of St Lawrence'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'Fitzroy. Rear view of house'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'North Melbourne. Group of children in Erskine Place'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'West Melbourne. A Dudley Mansion'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'Carlton. Wash-house and bath-room 48 Palmerston Street'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'North Melbourne. No. 19 Byron Street'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'West Melbourne rubbish tip'

 

F. Oswald Barnett (Australian, 1883-1972)

Fitzroy. View from the Brotherhood of St Lawrence
Fitzroy. Rear view of house
North Melbourne. Group of children in Erskine Place
West Melbourne. A Dudley Mansion
Carlton. Wash-house and bath-room, 48 Palmerston Street
North Melbourne. No. 19 Byron Street
West Melbourne rubbish tip

c. 1930 – c. 1935
Gelatin silver photograph and typewriting on card
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
F. Oswald Barnett Collection
Gift of Department of Human Services, Victoria 2001

 

 

One of the most visible and lasting effects of the Great Depression was the housing crisis in the poor working class areas of Melbourne and Sydney. Many of the nineteenth-century houses had fallen into disrepair, overcrowding was endemic and a great number of families lived in squalid and unhealthy conditions. Throughout the decade ‘slum’ abolition movements in Melbourne and Sydney ran public campaigns to place public housing on the political agenda, leading to the creation of the first state Housing Commissions.

In Melbourne, Methodist layman F. Oswald Barnett led a campaign calling for slum demolition and the rehousing of residents in government-financed housing. He took hundreds of photographs that were used in public lectures and to illustrate the 1937 report of the Housing Investigation and Slum Abolition Board. This led to the creation of the Housing Commission of Victoria in 1938, with its first major project being the Garden City estate at Fishermans Bend. In Sydney a similar campaign led to the Housing Improvement Act of 1936 and the construction of the first fifty-six home units at Erskineville. (NGV)

The photographs in the F. Oswald Barnett Collection were taken by Barnett and other unidentified photographers in the 1930s. Many of them were used to illustrate a government report on slum housing and/or made into lantern slides for lectures in a public campaign.  F. Oswald Barnett was born in Brunswick, Victoria. A committed Methodist and housing reformer, he led a crusade against Melbourne’s inner city slums. In 1936 he was appointed to the Slum Abolition Board and from 1938-1948 he was the vice-chair of the Housing Commission. In this position he attempted to shape compassionate public housing policy. He later protested vigorously against proposed high-rise housing (Monash Biographical Dictionary of 20th century Australia).

 

 

Scenes from Melbourne during the depression (extract)
c. 1935
Black and white film transferred to media player
1 min. 51 sec. silent (looped)
Courtesy of National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, Canberra
Video: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

While there is an abundance of newspaper and documentary photographs which document the 1930s shanty towns, slums, relief and charity works, there is very little moving image recordings available. Instead, the moving image medium at the time was primarily focused on providing entertainment that would allow the audience temporary relief from the Depression. This rare footage depicts slum areas of inner Melbourne, and provides great insight into the horrible living conditions that many Australian families experienced.

 

Ola Cohn (Australia 1892-1964, England 1926-30) 'The sundowner' 1932

 

Ola Cohn (Australian, 1892-1964, England 1926-1930)
The sundowner
1932
Painted plaster
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Jack and Zena Cohn, 2016

 

 

Ola Cohn studied sculpture with Henry Moore at the Royal College of Art in London in the 1920s. She returned to Melbourne in 1930, where the following year her solo exhibition established her as a leading proponent of modern sculpture. During the Depression the sight of ‘swagmen’ or ‘sundowners’ became commonplace as unemployed men travelled across the country in order to find work. In 1932 Cohn submitted this maquette of a sundowner to a competition for a full-scale sculpture to be erected in Fitzroy Gardens in Melbourne: unsurprisingly it was not chosen as the winning entry.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Bernard Smith’s The advance of Lot and his Brethren at centre and Albert Tucker’s The futile city at right
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of Bernard Smith's 'The advance of Lot and his Brethren' from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Bernard Smith’s The advance of Lot and his Brethren from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bernard Smith (Australia 1916-2011, England and Europe 1948-51) 'The advance of Lot and his Brethren' 1940

 

Bernard Smith (Australian, 1916-2011, England and Europe 1948-1951)
The advance of Lot and his Brethren
1940
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of the artist, 2008

 

 

In the early 1930s, artists depicted the city as a modern utopia, a place of triumphant progress and aspiration later in the decades, a new radical iconography of the city as a place of moral decay and corruption appeared. Painted at the start of the Second World War, Lot and his brethren expresses Bernard Smith’s despair at the conflagration that the world had been plunged into. Based on the biblical story of Lot, who fled from God’s destruction of Sodom, Smith depicts Karl Marx as the saviour who leads his people from the burning city.

 

Albert Tucker (Australia 1914-99, Europe and United States 1947-60) 'The futile city' 1940

 

Albert Tucker (Australian, 1914-99, Europe and United States 1947-1960)
The futile city
1940
Oil on cardboard
Heide Museum of Modern Art, Bulleen, Melbourne
Purchased from John and Sunday Reed, 1980

 

 

At the start of the Second World War Surrealism was an important influence upon Albert Tucker, as were the writings of T. S. Eliot. The futile city was inspired by Eliot’s epic poem The Waste Land (1922): ‘I came on T. S. Eliot, and instantly I recognised a twin soul because here was horror, outrage, despair, futility, and all the images that went with them. He confirmed my own feelings and also became a source … because of the images that would involuntarily form while I was reading the poetry’.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Yosl Bergner’s Citizen (c. 1940) at left
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of Yosl Bergner's 'Citizen' from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Yosl Bergner’s Citizen (c. 1940) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Yosl Bergner was one of approximately 7000-8000 Jewish people, mainly from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia, who arrived in Australia between 1933 and 1939 fleeing Nazi persecution. This number included many artists, musicians, architects, writers and intellectuals who were to contribute greatly to Australia’s cultural life. However, government policy remained opposed to large-scale intake of Jewish refugees, and some were met with anti-Semitic sentiments upon their arrival.

 

Yvonne Atkinson (Australia 1918-99) 'The tram stop' 1937

 

Installation view of Yvonne Atkinson The tram stop (1937) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Brave New World' 1938

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Brave New World
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
29.0 x 20.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
William Kimpton Bequest, 2017

 

 

In 1935 Max Dupain referred to Aldous Huxley’s book Brave New World (1932) in his photograph of a woman trapped by technology. Dupain was attracted to this biting satire on the ethical dilemmas of social engineering because it appeared to endorse his own fervently held ideas of how modernity was affecting the individual and national body. At the time his choice to directly reference this book was surprisingly provocative: Brave New World had been banned by the Australian customs department, with existing copies rounded up and burned. Dupain returned again to the theme in 1938, producing this variant version.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Max Dupain’s Brave New World (wall print) at centre rear with Sideboard and Chest of drawers at right
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Sideboard and Chest of drawers from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Eugene Hyland

Unknown, Australia
Sideboard
1920s-1940s
Painted wood, wood, tin
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

Unknown, Australia
Chest of drawers
1920s-1940s
Painted wood, wood, tin
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

 

Unknown, Australia. 'Sideboard' 1920s-40s

 

Unknown, Australia
Sideboard
1920s-1940s
Painted wood, wood, tin
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

 

Unknown, Australia. 'Chest of drawers' 1920s-40s

 

Unknown, Australia
Chest of drawers
1920s-1940s
Painted wood, wood, tin
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

 

 

Working-class people were the most affected by the high levels of unemployment during the Depression. By 1932 more than 60,000 men, women and children were dependent on the susso, a state-based sustenance payment that enabled families to buy only the bare minimum of food. Many families unable to pay their rent were evicted from their homes. For those suffering economic hardship, ‘making do’ became a way of life, and furniture would be constructed from found items such as kerosene tins and packing crates.

 

J. M. Harcourt (writer) John Long (publisher) 'Upsurge' 1934

 

J. M. Harcourt (writer)
John Long (publisher)
Upsurge
1934
London, March 1934
State Library Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

Censorship of books was vigorously pursued by federal and state governments during the 1930s. Australia was one of only two countries in the world to ban Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World when it was first published in 1932. Australian author J. M. Harcourt’s novel Upsurge (1934) was the first book to be banned following a recommendation by the newly established Book Censorship Board in 1934. Portraying the lives of Western Australia’s working class during the Depression, it was described by one customs official as ‘thinly disguised propaganda on behalf of Communism and social revolution’.

 

Activism

During the 1930s a small number of artists became active in the militant working-class struggle through their involvement in social and cultural organisations affiliated with the Communist Party, such as the Friends of the Soviet Union, the Workers’ Art Club and the Workers’ Theatre Group, which were formed in Sydney, Melbourne and other metropolitan centres. A number of these artists were also involved with a variety of mostly short-lived radical magazines, helping with their production, as well as providing covers and illustrations. Linocuts were a preferred medium for these artists, as the materials were inexpensive and the images reproduced well.

 

Jack Maughan illustrator (Australia 1897-1980) 'Masses' 1932

 

Jack Maughan illustrator (Australia 1897-1980)
Masses
Cover illustration for Masses, vol. 1, no. 1, printed by Bright Printing Services, published by the Workers’ Art Club, Melbourne, November 1932
1932
Linocut printed in red and black ink
State Library Victoria, Melbourne

 

Installation view of Herbert McClintock's cover illustration for 'Strife', vol. 1, no. 1

 

Installation view of Herbert McClintock’s cover illustration for Strife, vol. 1, no. 1 (1930) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Edited by eighteen-year-old communist Judah Waten, with Herbert McClintock as art editor, Strife declared itself ‘an organ of the new culture, destructive and constructive’. The first issue was due for release in October 1930; however, a blasphemous poem by Brian Fitzpatrick published in the magazine prompted a police raid on the Strife office and the editor’s hasty destruction of (most) copies of the issue.

 

Installation view of cover illustration for 'Proletariat', vol. 2, no. 1 (1933) by an unknown illustrator

 

Installation view of cover illustration for Proletariat, vol. 2, no. 1 (1933) by an unknown illustrator from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

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Federation Square
Corner of Russell and 
Flinders Streets, Melbourne

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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

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