Posts Tagged ‘social documentary photogaphy

13
Jun
21

Exhibition: ‘The Human Cost: America’s Drug Plague’ at the Bronx Documentary Center, New York

Exhibition dates: 5th June – 5th July 2021

Curators: Michael Kamber and Cynthia Rivera

Artists: James Nachtwey; Jeffrey Stockbridge; Mark Trent

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

 

 

James Nachtwey (American, b. 1943) 'A woman, who goes by Jen, struggling to inject herself in the freezing cold in Boston on Jan. 14. 2018' 2018

 

James Nachtwey (American, b. 1943)
A woman, who goes by Jen, struggling to inject herself in the freezing cold in Boston on Jan. 14. 2018
2018
James Nachtwey for TIME 

 

 

Nature ∞ nurture

Last year, over 81,000 men, women and children were lost to drug overdoses in America. Visualise that number of people if you can… nearly 4/5ths capacity of the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in Australia.

According to medical doctors (see quotation below), the causes of addiction “may involve an interaction of environmental effects – for example, stress, the social context of initial opiate use, and psychological conditioning – and a genetic predisposition in the form of brain pathways that were abnormal even before the first dose of opioid was taken.” So both nature and nurture.

Through experience, I understand both strands that lead to possible addiction: a genetic, psychological illness within family members coupled with the need for escape, the need for pleasure, peer group activity and the desire to loose oneself from the world. Luckily, I do not have a personality that easily becomes addicted, but the possibility within people is always there, no matter their background or social position in the world. While the photo stories in this posting concentrate on human beings from lower socio-economic backgrounds, addiction can affect anyone at anytime. Again through experience, I know that lots of high performing professional people suffer from chronic addiction but keep the fact well hidden from the community.

Addiction occurs when dependence interferes with daily life… when independence, that much searched for freedom from outside control or support (you don’t need or accept help, resources, or care from others), morphs into ‘in dependence’ – where the independence of the self, in addiction, opposes the autonomy of the self (meaning that you have free will and that you can stand behind your actions and their values while still exchanging support and care with others). In autonomy, no one is forcing you to do something you disagree with; in addiction, ‘in dependence’, those actions can no longer be justified. These are just my thoughts… but they can be seen to be linked to Self-Determination Theory (STD). “The interplay between the extrinsic forces acting on persons and the intrinsic motives and needs inherent in human nature is the territory of Self-Determination Theory.” Nature and nurture.

The word addicted (adjective) arises in the “mid 16th century: from the obsolete adjective addict ‘bound or devoted (to someone’), from Latin addict- ‘assigned’, from the verb addicere, from ad- ‘to’ + dicere ‘say’.” Its use has diminished from the 18th century until now. Conversely, the word addiction (noun) comes from the same root, but was unknown until 1900 with the use of the word skyrocketing since the 1950s onwards (with a particular spike in the use of the word in the 1960-70s, the era of free love). Perhaps this says a lot about the pressure of living in a high intensity, 24 hour world, a world where the gods of capitalism can write off 81,000 people in a year, in one country, without the blink of an eye.

What all three photo stories in this posting have ad- ‘to’ + dicere ‘say’ is this: every human being has a story worth listening to.

By embedding themselves in the communities they were photographing (instead of being “snatch and grab” photojournalists), all three photographers give their participants an opportunity to have their voice heard. To tell their stories in their own words and have those stories told with dignity and respect, through images and text. (I have linked all three segments to the full stories online).

As Jeffrey Stockbridge comments, “Everyone’s wading through problems that are unique to them, and I think it’s important to tell these stories… Hearing people discuss their past in their own words is something that you can’t ignore. It’s very powerful. I want the general public to forget what they thought they knew about prostitution, drug addiction, homelessness and poverty, and just listen to an actual person explain what they’ve been through. It’s important to remember that life is unpredictable!” James Natchwey observes, “Photography can cut through abstractions and rhetoric to help us understand complex issues on a human level.”

This is the crux of the matter: photography helps us understand these complex issues on a human level.

Every human being is a life, has a life, and is valuable as such. Every story, every breath, every death is connected to Mother Earth. In their indifference, what capitalism and society do to others, we do to ourselves.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

“Brain abnormalities resulting from chronic use of heroin, oxycodone, and other morphine-derived drugs are underlying causes of opioid dependence (the need to keep taking drugs to avoid a withdrawal syndrome) and addiction (intense drug craving and compulsive use). The abnormalities that produce dependence, well understood by science, appear to resolve after detoxification, within days or weeks after opioid use stops. The abnormalities that produce addiction, however, are more wide-ranging, complex, and long-lasting. They may involve an interaction of environmental effects – for example, stress, the social context of initial opiate use, and psychological conditioning – and a genetic predisposition in the form of brain pathways that were abnormal even before the first dose of opioid was taken. Such abnormalities can produce craving that leads to relapse months or years after the individual is no longer opioid dependent.”

.
Thomas R. Kosten, M.D. and Tony P. George, M.D. “The Neurobiology of Opioid Dependence: Implications for Treatment,” in Science & Practice Perspectives. 2002 Jul; 1(1), pp. 13–20.

 

“Photography can cut through abstractions and rhetoric to help us understand complex issues on a human level. Never is photography more essential than in moments of crisis. To witness people suffering is difficult. To make a photograph of that suffering is even harder. The challenge is to remain open to very powerful emotions and, rather than shutting down, channel them into the images. It is crucial to see with a sense of compassion and to comprehend that just because people are suffering does not mean they lack dignity.”

.
James Natchwey

 

 

James Nachtwey (American, b. 1943) 'Holly, detoxing in the Montgomery County Jail in Dayton, Ohio, on July 3, 2017' 2017

 

James Nachtwey (American, b. 1943)
Holly, detoxing in the Montgomery County Jail in Dayton, Ohio, on July 3, 2017
2017
© Photograph by James Nachtwey for TIME

 

 

Last year, America lost 81,000 men, women and children to drug overdoses. Driven primarily by the opioid crisis – and abetted by the pill-pushing of pharmaceutical companies – millions of individuals and countless families were devastated by addiction.

The war on drugs has failed: from sea to shining sea, fentanyl, heroin, K2, crystal meth, cocaine and other drugs are available in nearly every town and city. Drug-related violence has endangered many of our streets, including Courtlandt Avenue, home to the Bronx Documentary Center.

After decades of ever changing anti-drug strategies, we are still left with familiar and yet unanswered questions: how to stop the overdoses; how to keep our youth from addiction; how to stop drug-related violence; how to offer humanitarian treatment.

The Bronx Documentary Center’s upcoming photo exhibition, The Human Cost: America’s Drug Plague, explores these issues and portrays the human toll of America’s drug scourge. The deeply personal stories told here – of losing children, families and freedom – provide a stark but compassionate look at a very complex dynamic.

James Nachtwey, the dean of American conflict photographers, reports with visual journalist and editor, Paul Moakley, from New Hampshire, Ohio, Boston, San Francisco and beyond. Jeffrey Stockbridge documents Philadelphia’s Kensington neighbourhood over the course of 6 years. And Mark Trent follows a tight-knit group of friends in West Virginia through cycles of substance abuse and tragic death. The BDC hopes this exhibition will lead to productive discussions about an intractable American problem.

Exhibition curated by Michael Kamber and Cynthia Rivera.

Press release from the Bronx Documentary Center

 

James Nachtwey (American, b. 1943) 'Dorothy Onikute, 33, a deputy sheriff with the Rio Arriba County sheriff's office, responding to an overdose call on Feb. 4, on the side of the road in Alcalde, N.M.' Nd

 

James Nachtwey (American, b. 1943)
Dorothy Onikute, 33, a deputy sheriff with the Rio Arriba County sheriff’s office, responding to an overdose call on Feb. 4, on the side of the road in Alcalde, N.M.
Nd
© Photograph by James Nachtwey for TIME

 

 

‘This sort of thing happens so often, it’s sad to say it’s on to the next once they are out of our care.’

~ Dorothy Onikute

 

 

The Opioid Diaries – James Nachtwey and Paul Moakley

The opioid crisis is the worst addiction epidemic in American history. Drug overdoses kill more than 64,000 people per year, and the nation’s life expectancy has fallen for two years in a row. But there is a key part of the story that statistics can’t tell. In 2017, for over the course of a year, photographer James Nachtwey set out to document the opioid crisis in America through the people on its front lines. Alongside TIME‘s deputy director of photography, Paul Moakley, the pair traveled the country gathering stories from users, families, first responders and others at the heart of the epidemic. Here, Nachtwey’s images are paired with quotes from Moakley’s interviews, which have been edited. The voices are a mix of people in the photos and others who are connected to them. The Opioid Diaries is a visual record of a national emergency – and it demands our urgent attention.

Text from the Bronx Documentary Center website

The full text and more images from the series can be found on the TIME website

 

James Nachtwey (American, b. 1943) 'Chad Colwell' 2017

 

James Nachtwey (American, b. 1943)
Chad Colwell, 32, being revived by EMS workers after overdosing in his truck in Miamisburg, Ohio, on July 4, 2017. He says this, his fourth overdose, led him to seek treatment
2017
© Photograph by James Nachtwey for TIME

 

 

‘Heroin grabs ahold of you, and it won’t let go. It turned me into somebody I never thought I would be.’

~ Chad Colwell

 

James Nachtwey (American, b. 1943) 'Billy' Nd

 

James Nachtwey (American, b. 1943)
Billy, 31, right, preparing to use drugs in Boston on Jan. 14
Nd
© Photograph by James Nachtwey for TIME

 

James Nachtwey (American, b. 1943) 'Cheryl Schmidtchen, 67, being consoled at the funeral for her granddaughter Michaela Gingras in Manchester, N.H., on September 17th, 2017. Gingras, a heroin user, was 24' 2017

 

James Nachtwey (American, b. 1943)
Cheryl Schmidtchen, 67, being consoled at the funeral for her granddaughter Michaela Gingras in Manchester, N.H., on September 17th, 2017. Gingras, a heroin user, was 24
2017
© Photograph by James Nachtwey for TIME

 

 

‘After Michaela died, I saw it clear as day. They’re not only destroying themselves, they’re destroying us.’

~ Cheryl Schmidtchen

 

 

What I Saw

James Natchwey

Like most people, I’d heard about the opioid epidemic. It was especially hard to get my mind around a statistic from 2016: almost as many deaths from drug overdoses as in all of America’s recent wars combined. But numbers are an abstraction. I had no idea what it looked like on the ground. The only way to make real sense of it, I told my editors, was to see what happens to individual human beings, one by one.

Photography can cut through abstractions and rhetoric to help us understand complex issues on a human level. Never is photography more essential than in moments of crisis. To witness people suffering is difficult. To make a photograph of that suffering is even harder. The challenge is to remain open to very powerful emotions and, rather than shutting down, channel them into the images. It is crucial to see with a sense of compassion and to comprehend that just because people are suffering does not mean they lack dignity.

Over the past 35 years, my work as a photojournalist has taken me to other countries to document wars, uprisings, natural disasters and global health crises. In revisiting my own country I discovered a national nightmare. But the people living through it aren’t deviants. They are ordinary citizens, our neighbors, our family members. I don’t think I met one user whom I would consider to be a bad person. No one wants to be an addict.

I also saw signs of hope, particularly from the people who are dealing with the crisis at the street level. Some of them are former users who have lifted themselves up and are using their experience to help others. They are refusing to allow our country to be defined by this problem. Instead, they are helping us define ourselves by finding solutions. We must join them.

James Natchwey

 

Jeffrey Stockbridge (American, b. 1982) 'Bobby' 2010

 

Jeffrey Stockbridge (American, b. 1982)
Bobby
2010
© Jeffrey Stockbridge

 

 

Kensington Blues – Jeffrey Stockbridge

Kensington Blues by Jeffrey Stockbridge is a decade-long documentary project about the opioid crisis in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Featuring large-format photography, audio interviews, journal entries and video Stockbridge utilises a combination of styles and formats to humanise those suffering from addiction.

“During the 19th century the neighbourhood of Kensington in North Philadelphia was a strong working-class district, a national leader of the textile industry and home to a diverse population of immigrants. Like many rust belt cities, industrial restructuring of the mid twentieth century led to a sharp economic decline including high unemployment and a significant population loss.

Today, half of Kensington residents live at or below the poverty line. The neighbourhood has become an epicentre of the opioid crisis and is infamous for open air drug use, prostitution and violent crime. With the roaring El train overhead, Kensington Avenue (the major business corridor in the neighbourhood) is in a state of perpetual hustle. Heroin, Fentanyl, K-2, Crystal, Crack, Xanax, Subs – just about any drug that exists in the modern world is bought and sold in Kensington. Women, some as young as twenty years old, and others who’ve been working the Avenue for decades, populate the neighbourhood in great numbers. Prostitution has become a social norm. Drug users sell clean packaged needles for a dollar a piece – five needles equals a bag of dope.

Working with a large-format film camera, I chose a slow photographic process in order to literally slow down the rapid speed of life as it happens along the Ave. The focus of my photographic work is portraiture. I want to tap into the state of mind of those who are struggling to survive their addiction. Together my subjects and I have entered into a collaboration of sorts. Through audio recordings, journal entries and video, we are working to highlight the voices of those with lived experience. This work would not be possible without their trust and guidance. By sharing the intimate details of their plight, those I photograph are taking a stand to effectively humanise addiction and challenge the stigma that all drug addicts are morally corrupt. As the opioid crisis has taught us, addiction can happen to anyone.”

Text from the Bronx Documentary Center website

 

Jeffrey Stockbridge (American, b. 1982) 'Jamie' 2012

 

Jeffrey Stockbridge (American, b. 1982)
Jamie
2012
© Jeffrey Stockbridge

 

Jeffrey Stockbridge (American, b. 1982) 'Carol' 2010

 

Jeffrey Stockbridge (American, b. 1982)
Carol
2010
© Jeffrey Stockbridge

 

 

LC: Drug addicts, prostitutes and the homeless are often seen as “the other” in our society. Your photos show a different side of this – a side that people can relate to and empathise with. Can you say more?

JS: There are a million different reasons why people become homeless to begin with. You dehumanise people by lumping them into the lowest common denominator. By looking down on them and saying, “You’re all homeless because you couldn’t get your lives together” – that doesn’t help anybody. Everyone’s wading through problems that are unique to them, and I think it’s important to tell these stories. Alongside the photographs I feature a short bio or quotes; sometimes I’ll also incorporate diary entries written by my subjects, and I’ve recorded audio interviews that I post on my Kensington Blues blog.

Hearing people discuss their past in their own words is something that you can’t ignore. It’s very powerful. I want the general public to forget what they thought they knew about prostitution, drug addiction, homelessness and poverty, and just listen to an actual person explain what they’ve been through. It’s important to remember that life is unpredictable! I could end up on Kensington Avenue if certain circumstances occurred – anybody could.

LC: The images are “still” and considered. They communicate a feeling of respect and consent. You don’t seem to shoot from the hip or take the “fearless flashgun” approach like many street photographers. Can you talk about your process?

JS: I shoot with a 4 x 5 view camera. For these photographs to work, there has to be consent! My subjects have to hold still – if they move an inch forward or an inch back, they’ll be out of focus. It’s a slow-moving, old-looking camera, so it’s automatically a topic of conversation. People look at it and think, “Woah, what is that?” But it has certain limitations – you can’t photograph quickly. It takes time. I have to set it up, I have to focus, use the dark cloth, take a meter reading … It’s at least five minutes until I’m ready to go. Meanwhile, my subject has to stand around waiting. So consent is fairly important!

I’m not looking at the back of an LCP screen when I shoot; I’m in the moment. I’m connecting entirely with my subject, not just communicating with a computer. The camera is a trusted friend that’s standing there by my side. In the Kensington project it really grounded me in the neighbourhood. I think it put people at ease, because they knew I wasn’t going to take a photo and run off – I was stuck with a tripod and a big heavy camera!

Jeffrey Stockbridge, interviewed by Francesca Cronan. “Kensington Blues,” on the LensCulture website 2016 [Online] Cited 03/06/2021.

The full text and more images from the series can be found on the LensCulture website.

 

Jeffrey Stockbridge (American, b. 1982) 'Kevin' 2011

 

Jeffrey Stockbridge (American, b. 1982)
Kevin
2011
© Jeffrey Stockbridge

 

 

Surviving Kensington: behind the photos of ‘Kensington Blues’

What used to be a proud blue-collar neighbourhood in Philadelphia is now a deteriorating haven for drugs, crime, and prostitution. Kensington is famous for the place to get your fix; and for the place you end up stuck when you’ve let your vices get the best of you.

For the last five years, Philly-based photographer Jeffrey Stockbridge has been taking intimate portraits of current residents (‘survivors’) in Kensington. But the stories he finds here aren’t just about Philly: Jeffrey’s photographs and raw interviews show a side of the desperation, hopelessness, and broken dreams that plague America’s addicts across the country.

Through a walk with Jeffrey on the Avenue, we get a glimpse of what it’s like to survive on Kensington.

 

Jeffrey Stockbridge (American, b. 1982) 'Krysta' 2009

 

Jeffrey Stockbridge (American, b. 1982)
Krysta
2009
© Jeffrey Stockbridge

 

Mark E. Trent (American) 'Allie in traffic after losing a close friend in her recovery group to an overdose' Nd

 

Mark E. Trent (American)
Allie in traffic after losing a close friend in her recovery group to an overdose
Nd
© Mark E. Trent

 

 

Despair, Love and Loss – Mark E. Trent

None of us knew what was happening or how destructive this would be. We began seeing more and more overdoses and suicides in our community. The details were scarce and the stigma that came with drug abuse masked the early deaths until it was so common it didn’t phase us anymore; the word pillhead began being used to describe those people on drugs. This was long before it touched nearly everyone in West Virginia and across the country.

With the help of friends I travelled to interview small time dealers, addicts and local law enforcement in an attempt to understand the scope of it all. I never did. This body of work started taking shape when I was at a softball game with a long time friend. Her name is Allie. I told her what I was trying to do and she said “Stick with me and I will show you what’s going on.”

From there it was a matter of seeing what was right in front of me. I documented Allie and her friends and lovers as they struggled in active addiction and slowly lost themselves and each other. This group of women let me into their lives behind closed doors and gave me access to make this work possible. They didn’t have to. They are the reason this work exists. They were star basketball players, young mothers, and individuals that held jobs and had real dreams. One day a knee injury supplied the prescription opiate that led to the addiction that spread through their group of friends and community.

My goal with this project was longevity. I wanted to follow it through until the end. My hope is that these photographs will tell a story about a small group of individuals that suffered through a crisis few saw coming. Today Allie is six years sober. Peakay is working toward sobriety with medical assisted treatments. Barbie died of an overdose in her bed alongside her lover Kim. Jessie tells me she is “going good,” but to be honest I never know the truth with her.

Text from the Bronx Documentary Center website

 

Mark E. Trent (American) 'Allie freebasing a prescription opioid' Nd

 

Mark E. Trent (American)
Allie freebasing a prescription opioid
Nd
© Mark E. Trent

 

 

There were times whenever I was really strung out and I didn’t realise how bad I was. What you always say is, ‘Well at least I’m not doing it to anyone else. At least I’m not hurting anyone. I’m just hurting myself. I’m not sticking needles in anyone else. It’s just me.’ But I didn’t realise how much I’d hurt my family, and my mom.

I don’t know how many people died in the house I was living in, I can’t even – three off the top of my head, because of drugs, overdoses.

But it just didn’t, it just didn’t hit me that way, I didn’t think – I wasn’t ready to see it that way I think. I feel like I had to go through everything I went through to be where I am.

 

Mark E. Trent (American) 'Jessie injecting Barbie with morphine' Nd

 

Mark E. Trent (American)
Jessie injecting Barbie with morphine
Nd
© Mark E. Trent

 

 

Barbie really was like my big sister.

She told me a year before she died she had to go to the doctor for something. They couldn’t find a vein and she had to make them put it in her neck. And they asked about the scarring on her neck.

They asked her, ‘Do you shoot in your neck? Jesus.’ And she was like, ‘Yeah.’ And they were like, ‘You’re going to be dead in a year anyway.’ But I sort of didn’t believe it. Barbie really was invincible.

 

Mark E. Trent (American) 'Cooking pills for injection next to dinner' Nd

 

Mark E. Trent (American)
Cooking pills for injection next to dinner
Nd
© Mark E. Trent

 

Mark E. Trent (American) 'Allie crying, facing jail time and missing Barbie who died of an overdose, after a long night of using' Nd

 

Mark E. Trent (American)
Allie crying, facing jail time and missing Barbie who died of an overdose, after a long night of using
Nd
© Mark E. Trent

 

 

Sometimes I thought it was fine; other times I thought, ‘How did I get here? What did I do?’ I was supposed to be somebody. I was supposed to do something great with my life. I was supposed to go places. I wanted to travel. I wanted to play basketball. I wanted to be all these things.

And instead I was living in a house with no electricity, crying in the bathroom because I can’t find a vein, miserable. Absolutely miserable.

It took me getting sober and being sober for a while to look back and be like, ‘That was all really low, man. That was all really low.’

“Allie Rambo tells her story below in her own words” in ‘Despair, Love and Loss: A Journey Inside West Virginia’s Opioid Crisis’ on the NY Times website Dec. 13, 2018 [Online] Cited 03/06/2021

The full text and more images from the series can be found on the NY Times website.

 

Mark E. Trent (American) 'Allie and Regina catching snowflakes after a close friend's funeral' Nd

 

Mark E. Trent (American)
Allie and Regina catching snowflakes after a close friend’s funeral
Nd
© Mark E. Trent

 

 

Bronx Documentary Center Annex Gallery
364 E 151st St, Bronx, NY 10455

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Friday 3-7pm
Saturday – Sunday 12-5pm

Bronx Documentary Center website

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20
Dec
20

Exhibition: ‘Bruce Davidson: Brooklyn Gang’ at Cleveland Museum of Art

Exhibition dates: 25th October 2020 – 28th February 2021

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 27.9 x 35.6cm (11 x 14 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

For a few brief moments, rebels with a cause

This is one of my favourite photo essays of all time. The story Davidson tells of this male-orientated Brooklyn gang and its culture through his photographs is one of brotherhood, friendship, rivalry, love, longing, agony, depression and death at a time of utter poverty and rock ‘n roll rebellion. He produced “unflinchingly honest images of these American youths.” Now, all these years later, the photographs possess a powerful nostalgia for the era mixed with the desolation of destroyed lives and lost youth.

Davidson gets under the skin of his subjects, embeds himself firmly in their milieu. The subjects allow him to photograph their most intimate moments, seemingly free from worry or anxiety. There is an insouciance to their attitude, a knowing insouciance. In one photograph inside Helen’s Candy Store, Bob Powers stares directly and disarmingly at the camera while the girl playing with the yo-yo and the youth in the background also stare directly into the lens, forming a strong compositional triangle of the gaze. Powers said he was voted “most likely to die before I was 21 years old.” He lived with his seven siblings and alcoholic parents in a three-bedroom apartment that had a coal-powered cookstove and no hot water or central heating.

There is a dark undertone to the narrative. While there are moments of joy and happiness, you can sense the isolation and despair of these disaffected youths. Cathy O’Neal, seen in front of a cigarette machine at Coney Island, committed suicide by shotgun. Jimmie and his family were wiped out by drugs. Junior Rice became a heroin dealer. Lefty od’d in bed at 19. “He was the first in the group to die from a drug overdose… within a few years, drugs would claim the lives of many in the gang and in the neighbourhood.” In picturing their lives, the photographs gather moments (in time), enunciating how the gang members railed against the conformity and materialism of 1950s America whilst imbibing its rebellious iconography. Only occasionally does the artist pull back to show us the wider picture, the context of the action, with photographs of New York skyscrapers seen in the distance and the Statue of Liberty.

Davidson does not let his spontaneity slip. He is informed, aware, absent (but present) in all of these photographs waiting for that special moment. In the photograph above, a bird-like creature swoops down on something invisible on the ground. In informal yet tightly focused photographs – of sunbathing or walking the boardwalks of Coney Island, gang members fixing their hair, rolling up their sleeves, dead beat(s) in the back of the bus, making out in the back seat of a car, walking in the park or hooning around on the Metro – Davidson is there to capture the off-beat moments of gang existence and the members relationship to each other.

Through a superb eye, a feeling, a sensibility and connection towards the gang members desperation and isolation, universally acknowledged by the photographer himself, Davidson sets them all on the path to immortality. Do not forget, these photographs seem to be saying. For a few brief moments these people did exist, their lives were valuable, these rebels with a cause.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

One of Davidson’s best-known series, Brooklyn Gang was inspired by a news story he read about a teenage gang called the Jokers.

Davidson contacted the Jokers, one of Brooklyn’s roughest gangs, through their social worker. In the summer of 1959, Davidson roamed the streets of New York with these teens, loitered in stores that the Jokers called their own, and sunbathed with them on the beach at Coney Island. Eventually they allowed him to photograph even their most intimate, private moments. He responded by producing unflinchingly honest images of these American youths.

Gang membership was exclusively male, but the members’ girlfriends appear frequently in Davidson’s photographs. Some of the pictures depict the teenagers exploring lust and love and the boys struggling to define and prove their masculinity. Looking back at the series in 1998, Davidson said that he felt “the reason that body of work has survived is that it’s about emotion. That kind of mood and tension and sexual vitality, that’s what those pictures were really about.”

 

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

The pleasures and agonies of teenage romance are captured in Bruce Davidson’s photographs of the gang’s dance parties, which were held variously in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, at a neighbourhood school, and in members’ homes. The basement wallpaper seen here – with its fairy-tale figures, including horses, queens, knights, marionettes, and jokers – suggests a domestic setting. The event could have been a farewell party for an older gang member going off to join the army, which was a common occurrence.

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x 10 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Image: 16 x 23.9cm (6 5/16 x 9 7/16 in.)
Paper: 20.3 x 25.2cm (8 x 9 15/16 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

This rooftop view in Park Slope, Brooklyn, was taken from a building in the gang’s “turf,” which was a block anchored by the intersection of 17th Street and 8th Avenue. Davidson spent the summer hanging out with the gang and photographing them. Describing his process, the artist said, “I stay a long time. … I am an outsider on the inside.” Park Slope, now one of New York’s most desirable neighbourhoods, was then a poor, mostly Irish area.

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Image: 21.9 x 14.6cm (8 5/8 x 5 3/4 in.)
Paper: 25.1 x 20.2cm (9 7/8 x 7 15/16 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

Davidson contacted the Jokers, one of Brooklyn’s roughest gangs, through their social worker. In the summer of 1959, Davidson roamed the streets of New York with these teens, loitered in stores that the Jokers called their own, and sunbathed with them on the beach at Coney Island. Eventually they allowed him to photograph even their most intimate, private moments. He responded by producing unflinchingly honest images of these American youths.

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

The pleasures and agonies of teenage romance are captured in Bruce Davidson’s photographs of the gang’s dance parties, which were held variously in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, at a neighbourhood school, and in members’ homes.

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Image: 16.1 x 24.1cm (6 5/16 x 9 1/2 in.)
Paper: 20.2 x 25.3cm (7 15/16 x 9 15/16 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

Childhood pastimes like playing yo-yo were a thing of the distant past for 15-year-old Bob Powers, a Joker seen here leaning against a fixture in Helen’s Candy Store. He had already been in and out of the court system numerous times by 1959. Powers stabbed someone when he was 12 and had been incarcerated for bringing zip guns (homemade firearms) and chains to school, where, Powers said, he was voted “most likely to die before I was 21 years old.”

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 27.9 x 35.6cm (11 x 14 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

The gang members, most of whom were 15 or 16 years old, thought tattoos made them look older and might help them get served at bars. Tattoos were also a demonstration of masculinity and a rite of passage. Bob Powers, seen here at age 15 displaying his first tattoo, recalled years later that “the first time you get a tattoo it’s scary. I was sitting back with a cigarette like it’s nothing. Meanwhile, it was killing me. … I got ‘Bobby’ with stars around it. … They said, ‘Get your name.’ … I hated it forever.”

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 61 x 50.8cm (24 x 20 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

One of the gang members – Bob Powers – suggested that Davidson follow him to a rooftop on the gang’s block. “I remember thinking,” said Davidson, “‘This kid’s going to throw me off the roof and then rob me,’ but he’s pointing down at the stickball game (an informal form of baseball played in the street) and saying, ‘Get that,’ and saying: ‘Oh, there’s the Statue of Liberty. You can see it through all these television antennas.'”

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

The gang members were very concerned with their appearance, although they did not have much money to spend on grooming or clothes. “If you see a picture of me,” said former gang member Bob Powers, “the broken tooth, my teeth were green because I didn’t go to the dentist. We never had any money even though my father worked. … We used Vaseline petroleum jelly to make our hair stick like iron in a pompadour. We combed our hair constantly, wore sunglasses, and all thought we were Marlon Brandos.”

The Jokers’ slicked-back pompadours … and their clothing echoed the greaser style, a rebellious youth subculture that was promoted by cinematic antiheroes of the era. Role models included Marlon Brando’s portrayal of a motorcycle gang member in The Wild One (1953) and James Dean as a troubled teen in Rebel without a Cause (1955). The “bad boy” image flouted the aspirational role model of the time, the upwardly mobile white-collar worker in a business suit and short haircut.

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

Petey, a Jokers member who looks out the second-story window here, was injured in that fight. Petey’s best friend, fellow Jokers member Bob Powers, walks by the house. Housing in the gang’s neighbourhood, the then-impoverished Park Slope, Brooklyn, was overcrowded and rundown. Powers lived with his seven siblings and alcoholic parents in a three-bedroom apartment that had a coal-powered cookstove and no hot water or central heating.

 

 

One of the most highly respected and influential American documentary photographers of the past half century, Bruce Davidson spent several months photographing the daily lives of a teenage street gang for his 1959 series Brooklyn Gang. A new exhibition in the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Mark Schwartz and Bettina Katz Photography Gallery, Bruce Davidson: Brooklyn Gang features 50 black-and-white photographs from that series, which are part of a recent anonymous gift to the museum of extensive selections from the artist’s archives. The exhibition is on view now through February 28, 2021.

Brooklyn Gang was Davidson’s first major project after joining the distinguished photo agency Magnum and was the fruit of several months spent immersing himself in the daily lives of the Jokers, one of the many teenage street gangs worrying New York City officials at the time. He recorded the teenagers’ pleasures and frustrations as they attempted to define masculinity and mimic adult behaviour. The photographs reflect the group’s camaraderie but also their alienation from societal norms. While many officials and commentators at the time saw the gangs as evidence of social deterioration resulting from poverty, others regarded them as the most visible manifestations of a socially disengaged generation of males – rebels without a cause.

“Bruce Davidson: Brooklyn Gang presents an intimate portrayal of the teens’ lives,” said William Griswold, director of the Cleveland Museum of Art. “Davidson was an outsider, but one who spent so much time with the gang that he became, as he liked to say, ‘an outsider on the inside.’ Davidson offered an independent look at the lives of these disadvantaged youths; this view of society was quite different from the age of visual and social homogenisation of the 1950s presented in mainstream magazines such as Life and Look and predicts the social turmoil of the 1960s.”

The images reflect the time Davidson spent with the teens hanging out on street corners and in the local candy store and accompanying them to the beach at Coney Island with their girlfriends. Included are several sets of variant images, affording a rare glimpse into Davidson’s working process.

“Despite a more than ten-year age difference, Davidson describes recognising his own repression in his subjects and feeling a connection to their desperation,” said Barbara Tannenbaum, the CMA’s chair of prints, drawings, and photographs and curator of photography.

Press release from the Cleveland Museum of Art

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 40.6 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

The museum owns several groups of images from the series taken during the same shoot at Coney Island. They provide a rare glimpse of the artist’s selection process (see 2018.688, 2018.696, 2018.697, 2018.701, 2018.706, and 2018.735). The size of these prints, and the fact that the artist printed them long after they were shot, suggest he considered all four images worthwhile. In an exhibition print, the white marks on the woman’s cheek here, made by dust on the negative, would have been covered up with ink or dye, a process known as spotting. This may be a work print, made to aid in decisions on exactly how to print this picture. It has become one of the better-known images from Brooklyn Gang.

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x 10 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 27.9 x 35.6cm (11 x 14 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

In this photograph, gang member Bob Powers talks with friends in one of the many Coney Island bathhouses where people could change, shower, or swim in pools. “We’d come down on a Friday and sometimes we’d stay the whole weekend till Monday, down on the beach, me, Lefty, Junior,” Powers recalled. “The girls would stay too… We would light fires and bury all the cans of beer. I remember stealing cars and driving down there. We’d drive the car under the boardwalk and bring it right onto the bay and leave it there.”

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 50.8 x 61cm (20 x 24 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

Shown here on the Coney Island boardwalk, from left to right, are gang members Junior Rice, Bob Powers, and Lefty, who “was a pretty tough guy in the gang and then he went to jail for about a year,” according to Powers. “He came out and he just lost it. He wasn’t the same guy. Something happened and nobody knew what. … We protected him a bit, but he caught a couple of bad beatings and lost his reputation. He ate a lot of pills one night and never woke up. His mother found him dead. OD’d in bed at 19. He was the first in the group to die from a drug overdose.”

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Image: 16.1 x 24.1 cm (6 5/16 x 9 1/2 in.)
Paper: 20.2 x 25.3 cm (7 15/16 x 9 15/16 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

This print is vintage – made soon after the picture was shot – and its 8 x 10-inch size was typical of the period and preferred for making reproductions for magazines and books. As photography began gaining acceptance into the gallery and museum world in the 1980s, larger prints became the norm. The museum also owns an unusually large print of the same image, made in the 1990s or 2000s, which was created to be exhibited in galleries and museums. The two may look the same on the computer screen, but do not feel the same when viewed in real life.

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.8 x 24.1 cm (6 1/4 x 9 1/2 in.)
Paper: 20.1 x 25.4 cm (7 15/16 x 10 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

After a day at the beach at Coney Island, the teens “would take the long bus ride back to their neighbourhood,” remembered Bruce Davidson. “As they sat in the rear of the bus, the sunlight burned through the windows, giving them an angelic glow. They would drift into their dreams and awake alert to the mean streets awaiting them.”

 

 

Bruce Davidson

Barbara Tannenbaum

Curator of Photography

A hot topic in the 1950s, gangs were avidly analysed by sociologists, the press, and artists. Gordon Parks’s photographs of a young black Harlem gang leader were published in Life magazine in 1948. The musical West Side Story, which pitted a Polish gang against a Puerto Rican one, debuted on Broadway in 1957. The following year, a seven-part series in the New York Times analysed the social, economic, and psychological causes of this juvenile delinquency.

In the summer of 1959, Bruce Davidson went to Brooklyn to meet and photograph a teenage street gang called the Jokers. Davidson’s series Brooklyn Gang provided an in-depth view into the daily activities of an Irish and Polish gang whose turf was a block in the impoverished Park Slope neighbourhood. The Jokers were teenagers who were mostly students at the neighbourhood Catholic school or dropouts. They shoplifted and fought with members of rival gangs in rumbles that involved bricks, bats, knives, and occasionally zip (homemade) guns.

At age 25, Davidson was an outsider to them. He had been raised in a Jewish family in suburban Chicago and held an MFA in photography from Yale University. His images were being published in major magazines, and he had just joined Magnum, a distinguished, artist-run photographic agency. The Jokers’ role models were the greasers, a rebellious youth subculture promoted by cinematic antiheroes such as Marlon Brando’s motorcycle gang member in The Wild One (1953) and James Dean’s troubled teen in Rebel without a Cause (1955). The gang members’ “bad boy” image, replete with Vaseline-slicked pompadours and blue-collar clothing, flouted the era’s aspirational role model of an upwardly mobile white-collar worker in a business suit and short haircut.

Davidson did not sport a pompadour, but making a living as a freelance photojournalist was itself a rebellion against the nine-to-five office world. He spent the summer with the Jokers, hanging out on street corners, in the local candy store, and on the beach at Coney Island. His images reflect their alienation and anxieties but also their camaraderie. The boys explore male bonding rituals and act out their visions of maleness and adulthood. They may roughhouse, but gang ethics dictated that they were not to hurt each other. Real violence was reserved for rival gangs and, like their criminal acts, was not shown by Davidson.

He did capture the teens’ early experiences with lust and love. The Lothario in the back seat of a car is Lefty, of whom Bob Powers, a gang member who wrote a memoir 40 years later, remarked, “We never thought he was good-looking, but all the girls loved him.” This well-known image of Lefty is joined in the exhibition by three others from that same make-out session. Together they form an almost cinematic progression. Several other groups of related images of events are also included in the exhibition. These rare glimpses into the artist’s shooting and editing processes are all drawn from the recent anonymous gift to the museum of 367 works from Davidson’s archive, selections that span his 70-year career.

Davidson was careful not to pass judgment in his Brooklyn Gang photographs. The youngsters’ hairstyles, tattoos, and underage drinking, smoking, and sex were considered ruinous behaviour at the time. The memoirs of Bob Powers and the reminiscences of other members give the Jokers’ story a dark tone. The best-known image in the series, taken in front of a cigarette machine at Coney Island, shows Artie Giammarino, who later became a transit police detective, and Cathy O’Neal, whom the boys considered “beautiful like Brigitte Bardot.” Cathy is seen here at age 13 or 14, around the time she began dating the “coolest” of the gang, Junior Rice. At 14 she got pregnant. Though they were both under the legal age, they married. They later divorced, and Junior became a heroin dealer and user; within a few years, drugs would claim the lives of many in the gang and in the neighbourhood. Years after their divorce, Cathy committed suicide by shotgun.

Davidson would always remain an outsider to the gang, but his working process allowed for intimacy and trust to grow between the gang members and the photographer. By the end of the summer, Davidson realised that he and the Jokers were all considered outsiders in the conformist, materialistic 1950s. “I could see my own repression in them, and I began to feel a connection to their desperation,” he remembered. “I began to feel their isolation and even my own.”

Cleveland Art, Fall 2020

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 61 x 50.8 cm (24 x 20 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

Although most of the gang members’ time was spent in their neighbourhood of Park Slope, Brooklyn, the Jokers sometimes took excursions. Few had access to cars, so most travel was by bus and subway. The subway fare of 15 cents – the equivalent of $1.33 today – would take them anywhere in New York City. Here a gang member and his girlfriend wait for a train on the neighbourhood subway platform. The beach at Coney Island was a favourite summer destination for the gang.

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x 10 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

“We used to hang out in [Brooklyn’s] Prospect Park all the time,” recalled Jokers member Bob Powers. “We did a lot of drinking and sleeping overnight in the park. … The cops with their bats would push us along, tell us to move. We were very defiant. If we moved, we moved ten feet. Then they had to tell us to move another ten feet. We’d kind of like move around in a circle and come back to where we originally started. The cops were mean at that time, but then we weren’t the best of kids either.”

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 13.9 x 17.6cm (5 1/2 x 6 15/16 in.)
Image: 11.4 x 16.9cm (4 1/2 x 6 5/8 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

The Jokers roughhoused and fought among themselves but were not allowed to hurt each other. Real violence was reserved for those in other gangs or occasionally for civilians. “Did we fight with chains and pipes and knives? Yeah,” gang member Bob Powers reminisced years later. “Did people get stabbed? Yeah, people got stabbed. And people got their heads cracked open with bats.”

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x 10 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

The gang member making out in the back seat of a car on the way home from Coney Island is Lefty, identifiable by his tattoo. “We always wondered why the girls liked him,” recalled Jokers member Bob Powers. “We never thought he was good-looking, but all the girls loved him. It was amazing.”

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 61 x 50.8 cm (24 x 20 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

Jimmie, an older member of the gang, watched over the younger members with his brother Johnny. In 1998, Jokers member Bob Powers recalled, “Later, the whole family, all six of them … died, wiped out, mostly from drugs. It’s amazing because at this particular time, if you see Jimmie, he’s like the ‘Fonz,’ like James Dean – handsome. He was good-looking, he had the women, and he was always working on cars.”

 

 

Cleveland Museum of Art
11150 East Boulevard
Cleveland, Ohio 44106

Opening hours:
Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, Sundays 10.00am – 5.00pm
Wednesdays, Fridays 10.00am – 9.00pm
Closed Mondays

Cleveland Museum of Art website

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19
Oct
19

Exhibition: ‘Once. Again. Photographs in Series’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 9th July – 10th November 2019

Curator: Mazie Harris

 

 

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

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946)
Georgia O’Keeffe: A Portrait
1918
Gelatin silver print
Image: 11.4 × 8.6 cm (4 1/2 × 3 3/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Some fabulous photographs in series in this posting, which document transformations in landscapes or intimate portraits of people at different times in their lives… and some challenging ones as well. My favourite photographs in series are not represented: Duane Michals narrative fairytales; Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills; and Nicholas Nixon’s The Brown Sisters.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thanks to the J. Paul Getty Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Photographers often record change through images in series, registering transformations in the world around them. Artists featured in the exhibition photographed faces and places over minutes, months, or years. Historical and contemporary photographs prompt reflection on the ways the passage of time impacts how we see people and spaces.

 

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946) 'Georgia O'Keeffe: A Portrait' 1923

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946)
Georgia O’Keeffe: A Portrait
1923
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8.9 × 11.7 cm (3 1/2 × 4 5/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946) 'Georgia O'Keeffe: A Portrait' 1933

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946)
Georgia O’Keeffe: A Portrait
1933
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8.9 × 11.4 cm (3 1/2 × 4 1/2 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Artists have long used cameras to record change, documenting transformations in landscapes or intimate portraits of people at different times in their lives. Once. Again. Photographs in Series, on view July 9-November 10, 2019 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, features historical and contemporary artists who have revisited people and places to make extended photographic series, prompting reflection on the impact of the passage of time – on photographers as well as their subjects.

The exhibition, drawn primarily from the collection of the Getty Museum, takes its cue from artist Gordon Parks’ trips to Brazil over several decades to document the life of Flávio da Silva. Parks’ photographs are on view in Gordon Parks: The Flávio Story, installed in the adjacent galleries of the Center for Photographs.

Photographing friends and family is a familiar pastime for many, and the exhibition includes the work of several artists who made masterful portraits of loved ones over the course of many years. Alfred Stieglitz photographed artist Georgia O’Keeffe frequently during their tumultuous 30 year relationship, and the photographs on view expose shifts in their rapport as well as changes in Stieglitz’s photographic style over time. Series by Harry Callahan of his wife Eleanor, Paul Strand of his wife, artist Rebecca Salsbury, and Julia Margaret Cameron of her niece Julia Jackson similarly offer fascinating reflections on the changes in relationships over time.

The exhibition also includes compelling contemporary portraits, including photojournalist Seamus Murphy’s record of the physical and emotional toll inflicted upon a family living in Afghanistan under rule of the Taliban, and Donna Ferrato’s documentation of a woman who fled an abusive relationship. Both series register the struggles as well as triumphs.

A number of artists in the exhibition document seasonal and man-made changes in the landscape. In a 1953 series by William A. Garnett, aerial photography is used to capture a walnut grove before and after the trees were felled to make way for a housing development. The startling perspective of Garnett’s images came to play an important role in the burgeoning environmental movement. Richard Misrach used his move to a new home in the hills above Berkeley, California, as an opportunity to take hundreds of photographs of the astonishing range of colours and atmospheric conditions surrounding the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset each evening. Several of his richly saturated sunset images are featured in the exhibition. Works by Roni Horn, Jem Southam, and Josef Sudek also trace changes in the natural world, to both political and poetic effect.

Transformations in the built environment also reveal the profound effects of the passage of time. LaToya Ruby Frazier documented the painful process of clearing the rooms of her family home in a series of self-portraits in which she cloaked herself in the familiar belongings of her loved ones. In order to spotlight socioeconomic changes in American neighbourhoods, Camilo José Vergara photographed the dramatic transformation of a single Harlem storefront over 40 years, as it changed hands, changed facades, and split into two establishments. Other artists in the exhibition, including John Divola and William Christenberry, chronicle the disintegration of architecture over time, creating evocative meditations on deterioration.

“‘Once again’ is a phrase repeated in a poem by William Wordsworth,” says Mazie Harris, assistant curator of photographs at the Getty Museum and curator of the exhibition. “He was fascinated by the powerful feeling that arises when revisiting a familiar place. He’s experiencing his surroundings in real time and yet is constantly aware of his memories of being there before. The photographers in this exhibition conjure that same sensation. They offer us the opportunity to see people and places afresh, even as we track the powerful changes wrought by time.”

Once. Again. Photographs in Series, is on view July 9-November 10, 2019 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center. The exhibition is curated by Mazie Harris, assistant curator of photographs at the Getty Museum.

Press release from the J. Paul Getty Museum website [Online] Cited 11/08/2019

 

Josef Sudek (Czech, 1896-1976) 'The Window of My Studio' 1940-54

 

Josef Sudek (Czech, 1896-1976)
The Window of My Studio
1940-54
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.1 × 14.1 cm (8 11/16 × 5 9/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© I&G Fárová Heirs

 

Josef Sudek (Czech, 1896-1976) 'The Window of My Studio' 1940-54

 

Josef Sudek (Czech, 1896-1976)
The Window of My Studio
1940-54
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.1 × 10.3 cm (6 3/4 × 4 1/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© I&G Fárová Heirs

 

Josef Sudek (Czech, 1896-1976) 'The Window of My Studio' 1940-54

 

Josef Sudek (Czech, 1896-1976)
The Window of My Studio
1940-54
Gelatin silver print
Image: 23.5 × 16.5 cm (9 1/4 × 6 1/2 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© I&G Fárová Heirs

 

William A. Garnett (American, 1916-2006) 'Walnut Grove Standing' March 21, 1953

 

William A. Garnett (American, 1916-2006)
Walnut Grove Standing
March 21, 1953
Gelatin silver print
Image: 34.3 × 26.7 cm (13 1/2 × 10 1/2 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Estate of William A. Garnett

 

William A. Garnett (American, 1916-2006) 'Walnut Grove Bulldozed' March 21, 1953

 

William A. Garnett (American, 1916-2006)
Walnut Grove Bulldozed
March 21, 1953
Gelatin silver print
Image: 26.5 × 34.3 cm (10 7/16 × 13 1/2 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Estate of William A. Garnett

 

William A. Garnett (American, 1916-2006) 'Walnut Grove Uprooted by Bulldozers' March 22, 1953

 

William A. Garnett (American, 1916-2006)
Walnut Grove Uprooted by Bulldozers
March 22, 1953
Gelatin silver print
Image (trimmed to mount): 34.1 × 26.5 cm (13 7/16 × 10 7/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Estate of William A. Garnett

 

Milton Rogovin (American, 1909-2011) 'Michael and Pam' 1973

 

Milton Rogovin (American, 1909-2011)
Michael and Pam
1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.9 × 17.4 cm (7 1/16 × 6 7/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Milton Rogovin

 

Milton Rogovin (American, 1909-2011) 'Michael and Pam' 1973

 

Milton Rogovin (American, 1909-2011)
Michael and Pam
1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.9 × 17.4 cm (7 1/16 × 6 7/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Milton Rogovin

 

Milton Rogovin (American, 1909-2011) 'Michael and Pam' 1973

 

Milton Rogovin (American, 1909-2011)
Michael and Pam
1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.9 × 17.4 cm (7 1/16 × 6 7/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Milton Rogovin

 

Milton Rogovin (American, 1909-2011) 'Yvonne and Daughter Sonya' 1974

 

Milton Rogovin (American, 1909-2011)
Yvonne and Daughter Sonya
1974
Gelatin silver print
Image: 18 × 17.3 cm (7 1/16 × 6 13/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Milton Rogovin

 

Milton Rogovin (American, 1909-2011) 'Yvonne and Daughter Sonya' 1974

 

Milton Rogovin (American, 1909-2011)
Yvonne and Daughter Sonya
1974
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.2 × 17.2 cm (6 3/4 × 6 3/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Milton Rogovin

 

Milton Rogovin (American, 1909-2011) 'Yvonne and Daughter Sonya' 1974

 

Milton Rogovin (American, 1909-2011)
Yvonne and Daughter Sonya
1974
Gelatin silver print
Image: 18.1 × 16.8 cm (7 1/8 × 6 5/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Milton Rogovin

 

John Divola (American, born 1949) 'Zuma' 1977

 

John Divola (American, born 1949)
Zuma
1977
Chromogenic print
Image: 24.7 × 30.4 cm (9 3/4 × 11 15/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Gift of the Wilson Centre for Photography
© John Divola

 

John Divola (American, born 1949) 'Zuma' 1977

 

John Divola (American, born 1949)
Zuma
1977
Chromogenic print
Image: 24.8 × 30.6 cm (9 3/4 × 12 1/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Gift of the Wilson Centre for Photography
© John Divola

 

John Divola (American, born 1949) 'Zuma' 1977

 

John Divola (American, born 1949)
Zuma
1977
Chromogenic print
Image: 24.7 × 30.5 cm (9 3/4 × 12 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Gift of the Wilson Centre for Photography
© John Divola

 

John Divola (American, born 1949) 'Zuma' 1977

 

John Divola (American, born 1949)
Zuma
1977
Chromogenic print
Image: 24.8 × 30.6 cm (9 3/4 × 12 1/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Gift of the Wilson Centre for Photography
© John Divola

 

Camilo José Vergara (American, born Chile, 1944) '65 East 125th Street, Harlem' December 1977

 

Camilo José Vergara (American, born Chile, 1944)
65 East 125th Street, Harlem
December 1977
Chromogenic print
Image: 38.7 × 58.4 cm (15 1/4 × 23 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Gift of Bruce Berman and Lea Russo
© Camilo José Vergara

 

Camilo José Vergara (American, born Chile, 1944) '65 East 125th Street, Harlem' October 1980

 

Camilo José Vergara (American, born Chile, 1944)
65 East 125th Street, Harlem
October 1980
Chromogenic print
Image: 37.8 × 58.5 cm (14 7/8 × 23 1/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Gift of Bruce Berman and Lea Russo
© Camilo José Vergara

 

Camilo José Vergara (American, born Chile, 1944) '65 East 125th Street, Harlem' October 1981

 

Camilo José Vergara (American, born Chile, 1944)
65 East 125th Street, Harlem
October 1981
Chromogenic print
Image: 38.7 × 58.4 cm (15 1/4 × 23 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Gift of Bruce Berman and Lea Russo
© Camilo José Vergara

 

Seamus Murphy (Irish, born 1959) 'Kabul: November 1994' 1994, print 2015

 

Seamus Murphy (Irish, born 1959)
Kabul: November 1994
1994, print 2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.6 × 34.2 cm (8 7/8 × 13 7/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Gift of David Knaus
© Seamus Murphy

 

Seamus Murphy (Irish, born 1959) 'Ba Deli Family, Kabul: November 1996' 1996, print 2015

 

Seamus Murphy (Irish, born 1959)
Ba Deli Family, Kabul: November 1996
1996, print 2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.4 × 34.5 cm (8 13/16 × 13 9/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Gift of David Knaus
© Seamus Murphy

 

Seamus Murphy (Irish, born 1959) 'Gulbahar, Kapisa Province: June 2003' 2003, print 2015

 

Seamus Murphy (Irish, born 1959)
Gulbahar, Kapisa Province: June 2003
2003, print 2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 34.6 × 22.6 cm (13 5/8 × 8 7/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Gift of David Knaus
© Seamus Murphy

 

Seamus Murphy (Irish, born 1959) 'Gulbahar, Kapisa Province: May 2009' 2009, print 2015

 

Seamus Murphy (Irish, born 1959)
Gulbahar, Kapisa Province: May 2009
2009, print 2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.5 × 34.4 cm (8 7/8 × 13 9/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Gift of David Knaus
© Seamus Murphy

 

Seamus Murphy (Irish, born 1959) 'Kabul: July 2010' 2010, print 2015

 

Seamus Murphy (Irish, born 1959)
Kabul: July 2010
2010, print 2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.6 × 34.7 cm (8 7/8 × 13 11/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Gift of David Knaus
© Seamus Murphy

 

Seamus Murphy (Irish, born 1959) 'Kabul: July 2010' 2010, print 2015

 

Seamus Murphy (Irish, born 1959)
Kabul: July 2010
2010, print 2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.6 × 34.7 cm (8 7/8 × 13 11/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Gift of David Knaus
© Seamus Murphy

 

Richard Misrach (American, born 1949) '10.29.97, 4:35 PM' 1997, print 1999

 

Richard Misrach (American, born 1949)
10.29.97, 4:35 PM
1997, print 1999
Chromogenic print
Image: 45.8 × 59 cm (18 1/16 × 23 1/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© Richard Misrach, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, Pace/ MacGill Gallery, New York and Marc Selwyn Fine Art, Los Angeles

 

Richard Misrach (American, born 1949) '2.21.98, 4:45 PM' 1998, print 2016

 

Richard Misrach (American, born 1949)
2.21.98, 4:45 PM
1998, print 2016
Chromogenic prin
Image: 152.4 × 188 cm (60 × 74 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Gift of Sharyn and Bruce Charnas
© Richard Misrach, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Marc Selwyn Fine Art, Los Angeles

 

Richard Misrach (American, born 1949) '2.16.98, 5:20 PM' 1998, print 1999

 

Richard Misrach (American, born 1949)
2.16.98, 5:20 PM
1998, print 1999
Chromogenic print
Image: 46.2 × 58.9 cm (18 3/16 × 23 3/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© Richard Misrach, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, Pace/ MacGill Gallery, New York and Marc Selwyn Fine Art, Los Angeles

 

Richard Misrach (American, born 1949) '10.31.98, 5:22 PM' 1998, print 1999

 

Richard Misrach (American, born 1949)
10.31.98, 5:22 PM
1998, print 1999
Chromogenic print
Image: 46.3 × 58.9 cm (18 1/4 × 23 3/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© Richard Misrach, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, Pace/ MacGill Gallery, New York and Marc Selwyn Fine Art, Los Angeles

 

LaToya Ruby Frazier (American, born 1982) Four photographs 2010

 

LaToya Ruby Frazier (American, born 1982)
Clockwise from top left: Wrapped in Gramps’ Blanket, 2010; In Grandma Ruby’s Velour Bottoms, 2010; Covered in Gramps’ Blanket, 2010; In Gramps’ Pajamas, 2010
Gelatin silver prints
Image (each): 43.5 × 58.4 cm (17 1/8 × 23 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Purchased with funds provided by the Photographs Council
© LaToya Ruby Frazier

 

Jem Southam (British, born 1950) 'December 1996'

 

Jem Southam (British, born 1950)
December 1996
1996
Chromogenic print
68.6 × 85.7 cm (27 × 33 3/4 in.)
Gift of The Michael G. and C. Jane Wilson 2007 Trust
© Jem Southam

 

Jem Southam (British, born 1950) 'March 1998'

 

Jem Southam (British, born 1950)
March 1998
1998
Chromogenic print
68.6 × 85.7 cm (27 × 33 3/4 in.)
Gift of The Michael G. and C. Jane Wilson 2007 Trust
© Jem Southam

 

Jem Southam (British, born 1950) 'January 2000'

 

Jem Southam (British, born 1950)
January 2000
2000
Chromogenic print
68.6 × 85.7 cm (27 × 33 3/4 in.)
Gift of The Michael G. and C. Jane Wilson 2007 Trust
© Jem Southam

 

Donna Ferrato (American, born 1949) 'Sarah Augusta' 2012

 

Donna Ferrato (American, born 1949)
Sarah Augusta
2012
Pigment print
28.6 × 50.8 cm (11 1/4 × 20 in.)
Gift of The Kevin & Delia Willsey Collection
© Donna Ferrato

 

'Donna Ferrato (American, born 1949) Sarah Augusta Learning Self Defense' 2013

 

Donna Ferrato (American, born 1949)
Sarah Augusta Learning Self Defense
2013
Pigment print
33.9 × 50.9 cm (13 3/8 × 20 1/16 in.)
Gift of The Kevin & Delia Willsey Collection
© Donna Ferrato

 

Donna Ferrato (American, born 1949) 'Sarah after a Court Hearing' 2014

 

Donna Ferrato (American, born 1949)
Sarah after a Court Hearing
2014
Pigment print
33.9 × 50.8 cm (13 3/8 × 20 in.)
Gift of The Kevin & Delia Willsey Collection
© Donna Ferrato

 

Donna Ferrato (American, born 1949) 'Sarah and a member of B.A.C.A. discussing a strategy to protect the boys' 2014

 

Donna Ferrato (American, born 1949)
Sarah and a member of B.A.C.A. discussing a strategy to protect the boys
2014
Pigment print
33.9 × 50.8 cm (13 3/8 × 20 in.)
Gift of The Kevin & Delia Willsey Collection
© Donna Ferrato

 

Donna Ferrato (American, born 1949) 'Sarah' 2013

 

Donna Ferrato (American, born 1949)
Sarah
2013
Pigment print
50.8 cm x 33.9 (20 in. x 13 3/8)
Gift of The Kevin & Delia Willsey Collection
© Donna Ferrato

 

 

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1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles, California 90049

Opening hours:
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Saturday 10 am – 9 pm
Sunday 10 am – 5.30 pm
Monday closed

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09
Feb
19

Exhibition: ‘Roman Vishniac Rediscovered’ at The Photographers’ Gallery and Jewish Museum London

Exhibition dates: 26th October 2018 – 24th February 2019

Curators: Maya Benton in collaboration with The Photographers’ Gallery curator, Anna Dannemann and Jewish Museum London curator, Morgan Wadsworth-Boyle.

Presented simultaneously at The Photographers’ Gallery and Jewish Museum London, Roman Vishniac Rediscovered is the first UK retrospective of Russian born American photographer, Roman Vishniac (1897-1990).

 

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Interior of the Anhalter Bahnhof railway terminus near Potsdamer Platz, Berlin' 1929-early 1930s

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Interior of the Anhalter Bahnhof railway terminus near Potsdamer Platz, Berlin
1929-early 1930s
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at The Photographers’ Gallery
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

Wondrous, glorious images

Apart from the title, Roman Vishniac “Rediscovered” – photographically, I never thought he went away? – this is a magnificent exhibition of Vishniac’s complete works.

Since the press release states, “Roman Vishniac Rediscovered offers a timely reappraisal of Vishniac’s vast photographic output and legacy and brings together – for the first time – his complete works including recently discovered vintage prints, rare and ‘lost’ film footage from his pre-war period, contact sheets, personal correspondence, original magazine publications, newly created exhibition prints as well as his acclaimed photomicroscopy…” perhaps the exhibition should have been titled: Roman Vishniac Reappraised or Roman Vishniac: Complete Works. Each makes more sense than the title the curators chose.

Vishniac’s work is powerful and eloquent, a formal, classical, and yet poetic representation of the time and space of the photographs taking. Modernist yet romantic, monumental, sociological yet playful, his work imbibes of the music of people and place, portraying the rituals of an old society about to be swept away by the maelstrom of war. They are a joy to behold.

Here is happiness and sadness, urban poverty, isolation (as in figures from each other, figures isolated within their world, and within the pictorial frame – see the people walking in every direction in Isaac Street, Kazimierz, Cracow 1935-38, below), and nostalgia (for what has been lost). Here is life… and death.

Here is a handsome man, Ernst Kaufmann, born in Krefeld, Germany, in 1911. Arrested in June 1941 and killed in August of that year in the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. Killed at barely 30 years old. As Vishniac recalls of his portrait of the seven year old David Eckstein, ‘I watched this little boy for almost an hour, and in this moment I saw the whole sadness of the world.’ Never forget what human beings are capable of, lest history repeat itself, and all our hard fought freedoms are destroyed.

Despite the hubbub and movement of the people, towns and marketplaces, for me it is the sensitivity of a quiet moment, beautifully observed, that gets me every time. That hand (Exhausted. A Carrier of Heavy Loads, Warsaw c. 1935-38, below), resting on the chest of an exhausted porter, seen in all its clarity and in humanity is transcendent. That intense feeling of an extended, (in)decisive moment, if ever there was one.

In my humble opinion, Vishniac is one of the greatest 20th century social documentary photographers to have ever lived.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

 

Interview with curator Maya Benton

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'German family walking between taxicabs in front of the Ufa-Palast movie theater, Berlin' late 1920s-early 1930s

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
German family walking between taxicabs in front of the Ufa-Palast movie theater, Berlin
late 1920s-early 1930s
Courtesy International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Woman washing windows above Mandtler & Neumann Speditionen (Mandtler & Neumann Forwarding Agents), Ferdinandstrasse, Leopoldstadt, Vienna' 1930s

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Woman washing windows above Mandtler & Neumann Speditionen (Mandtler & Neumann Forwarding Agents), Ferdinandstrasse, Leopoldstadt, Vienna
1930s
Courtesy International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Jewish school children, Mukacevo' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Jewish school children, Mukacevo
c. 1935-38
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at Jewish Museum London
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

From 1935 to 1938, Vishniac made numerous trips to the city of Mukacevo, a major center of religious learning among Jews from Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and the Carpathian region. Mukacevo was widely known for its famous rabbis and yeshivot (religious schools). This image of Jewish schoolchildren appears in cropped form on the cover of Vishniac’s first posthumous publication, To Give Them Light; the recently digitised negative reveals that it represents only one-fifth of the full frame. Vishniac often directed printers or publishers to crop his images to focus on religiously observant Jewish men or boys, identifiable by their dress, an editorial decision that sometimes detracted from the composition by subverting aesthetic considerations to emphasise religious and observant life. The negative reveals Vishniac’s instinctive compositional acumen: a bustling and vibrant street scene, with a boy’s beaming, slightly out-of-focus face in the foreground and numerous hands pushing into and out of the frame, communicating the vitality and liveliness of the students.

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Man purchasing herring, wrapped in newspaper, for a Sabbath meal, Mukacevo' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Man purchasing herring, wrapped in newspaper, for a Sabbath meal, Mukacevo
c. 1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Fish is the Favored Food for the Kosher Table' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Fish is the Favored Food for the Kosher Table
c. 1935-38
Gelatin silver print
Image (paper): 11 1/2 x 9 3/16 in. (29.2 x 23.3 cm)
Collection Philip Allen
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

“This image of a boy bending over a vat of herring communicates the excitement of the marketplace and the sheer abundance of herring. The unparalleled quality of the print transmits every detail, from the wet cobblestones and circular motion of the swimming fish to the rapid, eager movement of hands reaching in to grab the herring. Rather than focusing on religious life, these early prints demonstrate the vitality and frantic charm of a town rushing to prepare for the Sabbath.”

.
Maya Benton, ICP Adjunct Curator

 

These rare vintage prints are part of a collection of sixteen recently discovered prints that comprised Vishniac’s first exhibition abroad, and were displayed in the New York office of the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) in 1938. Vishniac developed these early prints in his apartment in Berlin, and they are rare early examples of his virtuosic skill as a master printmaker. He gifted all sixteen prints to an employee of the New York office of the JDC who had helped him to organise his first exhibit; these prints are on loan from his son.

The image of a boy bending over a vat of herring communicates the excitement of the marketplace and the sheer abundance of herring. The unparalleled quality of the print transmits every detail, from the wet cobblestones and circular motion of the swimming fish to the rapid, eager movement of hands reaching in to grab the herring. Rather than focusing on religious life, these early prints demonstrate the vitality and frantic charm of a town rushing to prepare for the Sabbath.

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Young Jewish boys suspicious of strangers, Mukachevo' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Young Jewish boys suspicious of strangers, Mukachevo
c. 1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Three women, Mukacevo' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Three women, Mukacevo
c. 1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) The notice on the wall reads "Come Celebrate Chanukah." c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
The notice on the wall reads “Come Celebrate Chanukah”
c. 1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Jewish street vendors, Warsaw, Poland' 1938

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Jewish street vendors, Warsaw, Poland
1938
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Children playing outdoors and watching a game' c. 1935-37

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Children playing outdoors and watching a game
c. 1935-37
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac. 'Children playing on a street lined with swastika flags' mid-1930s

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Children playing on a street lined with swastika flags
mid-1930s
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac. 'Nat Gutman's Wife, Warsaw' 1938

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Nat Gutman’s Wife, Warsaw
1938
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

Nat Gutman, the porter, Warsaw 1935-1938 from A Vanished World, 1983 is the photograph of her husband. After working as a bank cashier for six years, Nat Gutman was dismissed because he was a Jew. He became a porter. The loads usually weighed forty-five to ninety pounds. This was the kind of work that bank cashier Gutman, a man with a bad hernia, was reduced to in order to support his wife and son. The family were exterminated.

 

Roman Vishniac. 'A street of Kazimierz, Cracow' 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
A street of Kazimierz, Cracow
1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac. 'Isaac Street, Kazimierz, Krakow' 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Isaac Street, Kazimierz, Krakow
1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac. 'Isaac Street, Kazimierz, Cracow' 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Isaac Street, Kazimierz, Cracow
1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Window washer balancing on a ladder, Berlin' mid-1930s

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Window washer balancing on a ladder, Berlin
mid-1930s
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at The Photographers’ Gallery
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Exhausted. A Carrier of Heavy Loads, Warsaw' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Exhausted. A Carrier of Heavy Loads, Warsaw
c. 1935-38
Gelatin silver print
7 1/2 x 10 in. (19.1 x 25.4 cm)
International Center of Photography
Gift of Mara Vishniac Kohn, 2013
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

“This unpublished image of a porter at rest in his wagon demonstrates Vishniac’s modern aesthetic and the influence of the avant-garde on his work. The diagonal slope of the central figure, stretched out along a sloping plane, fills the entire frame. The intuitive amalgamation of patterns and textures, one of Vishniac’s greatest talents, is evident throughout the image: the light reflected on the ornamented belt buckle; the double-patterned cable knit of his shrunken wool vest, which barely conceals a plaid shirt; and the round shapes of a wheel and bucket that divide the angular line formed by the central figure. It is a triumph of textures, angles, and lines, yet the worn sign with the name Nuta Hersz and his porter license number reminds us that the subject of the photograph is the victim of anti-Semitic boycotts and the limited job opportunities (only vendors and porters) permitted to Jews in Poland at that time.”

.
Maya Benton, ICP Adjunct Curator

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Villagers in the Carpathian Mountains' c. 1935–38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Villagers in the Carpathian Mountains
c. 1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

“Vishniac traveled to remote Jewish villages in rural Carpathian Ruthenia throughout the late 1930s, and in many cases was the only photographer to ever document these communities, which had been isolated for hundreds of years, yet maintained an enduring connection to Jewish observance, customs, and traditions.

Every detail of this image makes it a nearly perfect photograph: the sense of movement and the figures’ varied gestures and vibrant expressions; the carefully balanced horizontal bands of shadow and striped fabric; the detail of a woman peering out of a window while a glass pane on the facing structure points in the direction of an impossibly angled triangular building that vertically divides the frame in half; and the collective sense of surprise at encountering the photographer. Like much of Vishniac’s unpublished work, this composition recalls Henri Cartier-Bresson’s description of the decisive moment (a precise organisation of forms that give a time and place its ideal expression) and places Vishniac on par with the great photographers of the 20th century.”

.
Maya Benton, ICP Adjunct Curator

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) '[David Eckstein, seven years old, and classmates in cheder (Jewish elementary school), Brod]' c. 1938

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
[David Eckstein, seven years old, and classmates in cheder (Jewish elementary school), Brod]
c. 1938
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

“The boy in this photograph has been identified as David Eckstein, a Holocaust survivor currently living in a commune in the American Southwest. Born in 1930 in the small town of Brod, Eckstein was seven years old when Vishniac took several photographs of him, his classmates, and his teacher just before the onslaught of World War II. Vishniac later recalled, ‘I watched this little boy for almost an hour, and in this moment I saw the whole sadness of the world.’ This portrait was later selected as the cover of Vishniac’s first publication, Polish Jews: A Pictorial Record (1947), and reprinted on the cover of I. B. Singer’s National Book Award-winning collection of stories, A Day of Pleasure: Stories of a Boy Growing Up in Warsaw (1969).”

.
Maya Benton, ICP Adjunct Curator

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) '[Grandmother and grandchildren in basement dwelling, Krochmaina Street, Warsaw]' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
[Grandmother and grandchildren in basement dwelling, Krochmaina Street, Warsaw]
c. 1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

“Vishniac documented urban poverty in Warsaw, often focusing on the dark, cold basement dwellings of families where hungry Jewish children lived in crowded conditions. Vishniac photographed this woman taking care of her grandchildren while their parents searched for work in one of 26 basement compartments, each inhabited by a large family. In June 1941, the National Jewish Monthly published this image with the caption ‘Polish Jewry, once the bulwark of world Jewry, is done for as a community. Even if Hitler were to lose power tomorrow, their institutions and organizations are hopelessly smashed, could not be rebuilt in generations. But individuals remain, starved and persecuted. This picture shows an old grandmother and her grandchildren. What is going to become of them, and of the millions of other innocent victims of Fascist violence and terror?'”

.
Maya Benton, ICP Adjunct Curator

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Sara, sitting in bed in a basement dwelling, with stencilled flowers above her head, Warsaw' c. 1935-37

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Sara, sitting in bed in a basement dwelling, with stencilled flowers above her head, Warsaw
c. 1935-37
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at The Photographers’ Gallery
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

Vishniac documented the basement dwellings of Warsaw using the scant natural light that trickled through a few narrow, high windows, necessitating that he shoot during the day, when adults were often out looking for work or peddling their wares and children were sometimes the only inhabitants indoors. This photograph of Sara, one of Vishniac’s most iconic images, was reproduced on charity tins, or tzedakah boxes, and circulated throughout France by Jewish social service organisations, including the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC) in the late 1930s.

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

 

An extraordinarily versatile and innovative photographer, Vishniac is best known for having created one of the most widely recognised and reproduced photographic records of Jewish life in Eastern Europe between the two World Wars. Featuring many of his most iconic works, this comprehensive exhibition further introduces recently discovered and lesser-known chapters of his photographic career from the early 1920s to the late 1970s. The cross-venue exhibition presents radically diverse bodies of work and positions Vishniac as one of the most important social documentary photographers of the 20th century whose work also sits within a broader tradition of 1930s modernist photography.

Born in Pavlovsk, Russia in 1897 to a Jewish family Roman Vishniac was raised in Moscow. On his seventh birthday, he was given a camera and a microscope which began a lifelong fascination with photography and science. He began to conduct early scientific experiments attaching the camera to the microscope and as a teenager became an avid amateur photographer and student of biology, chemistry and zoology. In 1920, following the Bolshevik Revolution, he immigrated to Berlin where he joined some of the city’s many flourishing camera clubs. Inspired by the cosmopolitanism and rich cultural experimentation in Berlin at this time, Vishniac used his camera to document his surroundings. This early body of work reflects the influence of European modernism with his framing and compositions favouring sharp angles and dramatic use of light and shade to inform his subject matter.

Vishniac’s development as a photographer coincided with the enormous political changes occurring in Germany, which he steadfastly captured in his images. They represent an unsettling visual foreboding of the growing signs of oppression, the loss of rights for Jews, the rise of Nazism in Germany, the insidious propaganda – swastika flags and military parades, which were taking over both the streets and daily life. German Jews routinely had their businesses boycotted, were banned from many public places and expelled from Aryanised schools. They were also prevented from pursuing professions in law, medicine, teaching, and photography, among many other indignities and curtailments of civil liberties. Vishniac recorded this painful new reality through uncompromising images showing Jewish soup kitchens, schools and hospitals, immigration offices and Zionist agrarian training camps, his photos tracking the speed with which the city changed from an open, intellectual society to one where militarism and fascism were closing in.

Social and political documentation quickly became a focal point of his work and drew the attention of organisations wanting to raise awareness and gain support for the Jewish population. In 1935, Vishniac was commissioned by the world’s largest Jewish relief organisation, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), to photograph impoverished Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. These images were intended to support relief efforts and were used in fundraising campaigns for an American donor audience. When the war broke out only a few years later, his photos served increasingly urgent refugee efforts, before finally, at the end of the war and the genocide enacted by Nazi Germany, Vishniac’s images became the most comprehensive photographic record by a single photographer of a vanished world.

Vishniac left Europe in 1940 and arrived in New York with his family on New Year’s Day, 1941. He continued to record the impact of World War II throughout the 1940s and 50s in particular focusing on the arrival of Jewish refugees and Holocaust survivors in the US, but also looking at other immigrant communities including Chinese Americans. In 1947, he returned to Europe to document refugees and relief efforts in Jewish Displaced Persons camps and also to witness the ruins of his former hometown, Berlin. He also continued his biological studies and supplemented his income by teaching and writing.

In New York, Vishniac established himself as a freelance photographer and built a successful portrait studio on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. At the same time he dedicated himself to scientific research, resuming his interest in Photomicroscopy. This particular application of photography became the primary focus of his work during the last 45 years of his life. By the mid-1950s, he was regarded as a pioneer in the field, developing increasingly sophisticated techniques for photographing and filming microscopic life forms. Vishniac was appointed Professor of Biology and Art at several universities and his groundbreaking images and scientific research were published in hundreds of magazines and books.

Although he was mainly embedded in the scientific community, Vishniac was a keen observer and scholar of art, culture, and history and would have been aware of developments in photography going on around him and the work of his contemporaries. In 1955, famed photographer and museum curator Edward Steichen featured several of Vishniac’s photographs in the influential book and travelling exhibition The Family of Man shown at the Museum of Modern Art. Steichen later describes the importance of Vishniac’s work. “[He]… gives a last minute look at the human beings he photographed just before the fury of Nazi brutality exterminated them. The resulting photographs are among photography’s finest documents of a time and place.”

Roman Vishniac Rediscovered offers a timely reappraisal of Vishniac’s vast photographic output and legacy and brings together – for the first time – his complete works including recently discovered vintage prints, rare and ‘lost’ film footage from his pre-war period, contact sheets, personal correspondence, original magazine publications, newly created exhibition prints as well as his acclaimed photomicroscopy.

Drawn from the Roman Vishniac Archive at the International Center of Photography, New York and curated by Maya Benton in collaboration with The Photographers’ Gallery curator, Anna Dannemann and Jewish Museum London curator, Morgan Wadsworth-Boyle, each venue will provide additional contextual material to illuminate the works on display and bring the artist, his works and significance to the attention of UK audiences. Roman Vishniac Rediscovered is organised by the International Center of Photography.

Press release from The Photographers’ Gallery

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Inside the Jewish quarter, Bratislava' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Inside the Jewish quarter, Bratislava
c. 1935-38
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at Jewish Museum London
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac. 'Children at Play, Bratislava' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Children at Play, Bratislava
c. 1935-38
Courtesy International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Vishniac's daughter Mara posing in front of an election poster for Hindenburg and Hitler' 1933

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Vishniac’s daughter Mara posing in front of an election poster for Hindenburg and Hitler that reads “The Marshal and the Corporal: Fight with Us for Peace and Equal Rights,” Wilmersdorf, Berlin
1933
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at Jewish Museum London
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

Vishniac’s daughter Mara, age seven, was photographed standing in front of this 1933 poster celebrating Hitler’s recent appointment as German chancellor. The poster advertises a plebiscite to permit withdrawal from the League of Nations and Geneva Disarmament Conference, which restricted Germany’s ability to develop a military. Other posters include the slogans “Mothers, fight for your children!,” “The coming generation accuses you!,” and “In 8 months… 2,250,000 countrymen able to put food on the table. Bolshevism destroyed. Sectionalism overcome. A kingdom and order of cleanliness built… Those are the achievements of Hitler’s rule…”

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Benedictine nun reading, probably France' 1930s

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Benedictine nun reading, probably France
1930s, printed 2012
Photo digital inkjet print
12 x 11 3/8 in. (30.5 x 29 cm)
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Ernst Kaufmann, center, and unidentified Zionist youth' 1938-39

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Ernst Kaufmann, center, and unidentified Zionist youth, wearing clogs while learning construction techniques in a quarry, Werkdorp Nieuwesluis, Wieringermeer, The Netherlands
1938-39
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at Jewish Museum London
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

Ernst Kaufmann was born in Krefeld, Germany, in 1911. He was arrested in June 1941 and killed in August of that year in the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria.

This photograph is strikingly similar in subject and composition to a bronze relief plaque made in 1935 by Dutch artist Hildo Krop (1884-1970) for the monument on the Afsluitdijk, a dam that was completed in 1933 in the north of the Netherlands. The relief depicts three stoneworkers below the text “A nation that lives builds for the future.” Dutch modernist architect Willem Dudok (1884-1974) designed the Afsluitdijk and in 1935 Krop’s plaque was added. The dam was a triumph of Dutch engineering and a source of national pride. Residents of the Werkdorp probably took Vishniac to the Afsluitdijk; the well-known relief undoubtedly inspired him to stage this shot, an ideal composition for his heroic image of Jewish pioneers in the Werkdorp, and an unusual conflation of Dutch nationalist and Zionist visual sensibilities.

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Beach dwellers in the afternoon, Nice, France' c. 1939

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Beach dwellers in the afternoon, Nice, France
c. 1939
Courtesy International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Boys exercising in the gymnasium of the Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn' 1949

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Boys exercising in the gymnasium of the Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn
1949
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at The Photographers’ Gallery
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

The Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst, known as the “J,” was established in 1927 to serve the growing population of first-generation American Jews migrating to South Brooklyn. The J’s mission, to “ennoble Jewish youth” by building and fostering a sense of Jewish community, was accomplished through the promotion of arts and recreation for all ages. American Jewish major league baseball legend Sandy Koufax, a regular at the J, had started his sports career there as a basketball player.

In a dramatic departure from his iconic photographs of impoverished children in prewar eastern Europe, here Vishniac focused on the strong, healthy young American children. The children’s vitality is reinforced by the diagonal lines and geometric angles of the ropes, contributing to a forceful and innovative composition reflective of Vishniac’s previously unknown American work from the 1940s.

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Customers waiting in line at a butcher's counter during wartime rationing, Washington Market, New York' 1941-44

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Customers waiting in line at a butcher’s counter during wartime rationing, Washington Market, New York
1941-44
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at The Photographers’ Gallery
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

New York’s Washington Market, famed for its exceptional variety and quantity of food, was established in the eighteenth century. Vishniac documented the mostly female customers waiting for service during a period of wartime restrictions and food rationing. Through careful framing – customers stand against bare counters and voided display cases – he captured disenchanted expressions that can be read as a projection of Vishniac’s own experience as a new immigrant in America, as well as a record of comparative privation in the former plenty of Washington Market. As such, they anticipate the isolation and indifference shown in The Americans by Robert Frank, another Jewish immigrant from war-torn Europe.

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

 

The Photographers’ Gallery
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London
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Opening hours:
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Thursday: 10.00 – 20.00 during exhibitions
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Phone: +44 (0)20 7284 7384

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24
May
14

Review: ‘The Rennie Ellis Show’ at Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 3rd April – 8th June 2014

 

Ponch Hawkes. 'Rennie Ellis photographing at the Gay Liberation march, Elizabeth Street, Melbourne, 1973' 1973

 

Ponch Hawkes (Australian, b. 1946)
Rennie Ellis photographing at the Gay Liberation march, Elizabeth Street, Melbourne, 1973
1973
Silver gelatin photograph
© Ponch Hawkes

 

 

In researching photographs for the upcoming exhibition Out of the closets, onto the streets: Gay Liberation photography 1971-73 I came across this photograph taken by Ponch Hawkes of the Gay Liberation march that was part of Gay Pride week in 1973. Ponch had never seen this image before until I scanned the negative. And there, front and centre as always, is Rennie Ellis capturing the action… What a special find and a wonderful photograph by Ponch!

 

 

We Are Family

This is FAB, one of the best experiences I have had this year at an exhibition in Melbourne. You know you are having a good time when you laugh out loud at so many photographs, sharing the experience of the artist as though you had been there. As indeed I had, for in many cases the clubs pictured in Rennie Ellis’ photographs are the ones I went to.

I remember: Wednesday nights at Inflation in the late 80s, where to satisfy licensing restrictions you had to be served a “meal” so that you could drink alcohol (Dining Out, Inflation, 1980 below). The famous Razor Club (1986-1992), based at the Light Car Club of Australia’s clubrooms on the corner of Queens Road and Roy Street, opposite the Albert Park Lake and golf course. “It was Melbourne’s version of Studio 54, the hedonistic, off-the-wall New York disco of the late ’70s – both places notoriously hard to get into but once inside a wonderland of celebrities, freaks, transvestites and fantastic music free from the tyranny of genre.” Once on a big party night the gang of us tried to get in but the queue was so long it was impossible – so I went down the side, climbed up the drain pipes past the ladies loo, and up to the first floor balcony where someone pulled me over – completely off my face, just to get my friends in. Zu Zu’s, Cadillac Bar, 397, Commerce Club, Tasty, Freakazoid, Dome, Baseline, Hardware Club, The Peel and so many parties you could poke a stick at – what a time we had!

There to capture it all – affectionately, non-judgementally – was Rennie Ellis. He wasn’t like Diane Arbus, who thrust her camera as an outsider at people, waiting for a reaction. He was always part of the action because he was part of the family. He was a humanist photographer in the true sense of the word, for he loved photographing human beings, their social relations and their habitats, whatever that might be – sunning, partying, boozing, smoking, picking up. He referred to himself as a “people perv.”

Ellis had an eloquently clumsy eye, and for the type of baroque photographs he took this is a great thing. No perfect framing, no perfect tension points within the image, no regular alignment of horizontals, verticals or diagonals – just instinctual images taken in a split second, with his own particular brand of humour embedded in them. And always with this slight eccentricity in his vision. Look at the image of Dancing People, Razor Club (1991, below) and notice the odd hand poking in at the left hand side and the attitude of the dancers, or Fully equipped, Albert Park Beach (c. 1981, below), with the angle of the three cigarettes, the drink and the bottle of sun tan lotion strapped to the hip – FIERCE!

But he was not averse to understanding the structure of his images either, as can be seen by my comparison between the tight, formal structure of Paul Strand’s The Family, Luzzara, Italy (1953, below) and the looser, more natural gathering in Ellis’ The Gang, Windsor (1976, below); or the influence of other artists on his work, for example Norman Lindsay in his My Bare Lady, The Ritz, St Kilda (1977, below). Ellis also liked to push and pull at the pictorial plane; he liked to use pairs of people; he was not afraid of out of focus elements in the foreground of his images; he used chiaroscuro; and his use of light is always excellent. Above all, there is a consistency to his vision that never falters – a concatenation of images that is his style?

This is not just nostalgia. These are bloody good images, and Ellis takes these insightful type of images over and over again – the excesses of hedonism, the influences of wealth, the see-and-be-seen syndrome, things erotic and bizarre and, most importantly, enduring friendships. He photographs what he sees with a love and affection for his subject matter. None of this “staged” vernacular photography that I recently featured in an exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. This is the real deal. A friend said to me recently, “Ah, but you know, he never did in depth photo-essays like Mary Ellen Mark did of the circus, for example.” To which I have a one word reply: BULLSHIT. His whole oeuvre is a huge photo-essay on the human race, specifically the construction of Australian identity as evidenced in sections like portraits, gangs, sharpies, Aboriginals, Kings Cross, Social Documentary, Decadence, Graffiti, Life’s a Parade, Life’s a Beach etc…

When you look at his photography it would seem to me that his images dissolve the barriers between image / subject / viewer. It’s a strange phenomena to feel so connected to a person’s work. It’s the journey that he takes us on, that we went on too – not so much the destination but the rejoicing in this journey… of company, of environment, friends, places – the joy of being human. He was allowed entry into these public/private spaces because he earned our trust. He lived with the people, and they allowed him to take a bit of their life with him – as a photographic memory, to be retold and relived in the present, allowing us all to relive those times and places. It’s the love, trust, humour and anticipation of the journey that make Ellis’ images truly unique in the history of Australian photography.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to Manuela Furci, Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive and the Monash 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.

 

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Dancing People, Razor Club' 1991

 

Rennie Ellis (Australian, 1940-2003)
Dancing People, Razor Club
1991
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print
26.7 x 40.7cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Robyn Dean. 'Marcus dancing at an unknown club, Melbourne' c. 1991-92

 

Robyn Dean
Marcus dancing at an unknown club, Melbourne
c. 1991-92

 

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Dining Out, Inflation' 1980

 

Rennie Ellis (Australian, 1940-2003)
Dining Out, Inflation
1980
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print
26.7 x 40.7cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Fitzroy extrovert' 1974

 

Rennie Ellis (Australian, 1940-2003)
Fitzroy extrovert
1974
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print
40.5 x 50.8cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Dino Ferrari, Toorak Road' 1976

 

Rennie Ellis (Australian, 1940-2003)
Dino Ferrari, Toorak Road
1976
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print
26.7 x 40.7cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Bon Scott and Angus Young, Atlanta, Georgia' 1978

 

Rennie Ellis (Australian, 1940-2003)
Bon Scott and Angus Young, Atlanta, Georgia
1978
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print
26.7 x 40.7cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

 

Ronald Belford “Bon” Scott (9 July 1946 – 19 February 1980) was a Scottish-born Australian rock musician, best known for being the lead singer and lyricist of Australian hard rock band AC/DC from 1974 until his death in 1980.

Angus McKinnon Young (born 31 March 1955) is a Scottish-born Australian guitarist best known as a co-founder, lead guitarist, and songwriter of the Australian hard rock band, AC/DC. Known for his energetic performances, schoolboy-uniform stage outfits, and popularisation of Chuck Berry’s duckwalk, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Young as the 24th greatest guitarist of all time.

AC/DC’s popularity grew throughout the 1970s, initially in Australia, and then internationally. Their 1979 album Highway to Hell reached the top twenty in the United States, and the band seemed on the verge of a commercial breakthrough. However, on 19 February 1980, Scott died after a night out in London. AC/DC briefly considered disbanding, but the group quickly recruited vocalist Brian Johnsonof the British glam rock band Geordie. AC/DC’s subsequent album, Back in Black, was released only five months later, and was a tribute to Scott.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

Rennie Ellis. 'At the Pub, Brisbane' 1982

 

Rennie Ellis (Australian, 1940-2003)
At the Pub, Brisbane
1982
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print
26.7 x 40.7cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Rennie Ellis. 'The Gang, Windsor' 1976

 

Rennie Ellis (Australian, 1940-2003)
The Gang, Windsor
1976
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print
26.7 x 40.7cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Paul Strand. 'The Family, Luzzara, Italy' 1953

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
The Family, Luzzara, Italy
1953
Silver gelatin photograph

 

 

“The photographer Rennie Ellis (1940-2003) is a key figure in Australian visual culture. Ellis is best remembered for his effervescent observations of Australian life during the 1970s-90s, including his now iconic book Life is a beach. Although invariably inflected with his own personality and wit, the thousands of social documentary photographs taken by Ellis during this period now form an important historical record.

The Rennie Ellis Show highlights some of the defining images of Australian life from the 1970s and ’80s. This is the period of Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser, Paul Keating and Bob Hawke; AC/DC and punk rock; cheap petrol and coconut oil; Hare Krishnas and Hookers and Deviant balls.

This exhibition of over 100 photographs provides a personal account of what Ellis termed ‘a great period of change’. Photographs explore the cultures and subcultures of the period, and provide a strong sense of a place that now seems worlds away, a world free of risk, of affordable inner city housing, of social protest, of disco and pub rock, of youth and exuberance.”

Text from the MGA website

 

Rennie Ellis. 'My son Josh learns to swim' 1972

 

Rennie Ellis (Australian, 1940-2003)
My son Josh learns to swim
1972
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print
26.7 x 40.7cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Rennie Ellis. 'My Bare Lady, The Ritz, St Kilda' 1977

 

Rennie Ellis (Australian, 1940-2003)
My Bare Lady, The Ritz, St Kilda
1977
Digital C Type photograph
Fuji Crystal Archive print
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Norman Lindsay. 'The Olympians' Nd

 

Norman Lindsay (Australian, 1879-1969)
The Olympians
Nd
Oil on canvas
Collection of Hamilton Art Gallery

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Richmond fans, Grand Final, MCG' 1974

 

Rennie Ellis (Australian, 1940-2003)
Richmond fans, Grand Final, MCG
1974
Chromogenic print
40.5 x 50.8 cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

 

Interesting to note that Ellis must have been shooting both black and white and colour film during the VFL Grand Final of 1974. He must have had two cameras with him (this is more likely than swapping between films in the same 35mm camera) to shoot the photograph above in colour and the black and white image of Robbie McGhie (1974, below).

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Mr Muscleman, Albert Park Beach' c. 1986

 

Rennie Ellis (Australian, 1940-2003)
Mr Muscleman, Albert Park Beach
c. 1986
Chromogenic print
26.7 x 40.7cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Fully equipped, Albert Park Beach' c. 1981

 

Rennie Ellis (Australian, 1940-2003)
Fully equipped, Albert Park Beach
c. 1981
Digital C Type photograph
Fuji Crystal Archive print
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Don and Patrizia, St Kilda Beach' 1985

 

Rennie Ellis (Australian, 1940-2003)
Don and Patrizia, St Kilda Beach
1985
Chromogenic print
40.5 x 50.8cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Berlin Party, Inflation, Melbourne' 1980

 

Rennie Ellis (Australian, 1940-2003)
Berlin Party, Inflation, Melbourne
1980
Digital C Type photograph
Fuji Crystal Archive print
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Rennie Ellis book covers: 'Decade, 1970-1980' (left) and 'Decadent, 1980-2000' (right)

 

Rennie Ellis book covers: Decade: 1970-1980 (left) and Decadent: 1980-2000 (right)

 

 

Decade: 1970-1980 is a photography book showcasing Rennie Ellis’ (1940-2003) contribution to photography and social history. With an introduction by film maker and Rennie contemporary Paul Cox and an essay by academic Susan Van Wyk, Decade highlights Ellis as one of Australia’s most important chroniclers of the 1970s. The photographs, predominantly black and white, are drawn from a core selection originally made by Rennie from his own unpublished book, supplemented by other significant and iconic images from 1970 to 1980 drawn from the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive and the State Library of Victoria Rennie Ellis collection. Many of the photographs are accompanied by extended captions written by Rennie himself, published here for the first time. Decade explores the cultures and sub-cultures of the seventies: the political upheavals, alternative lifestyles and counter culture, the women’s movement, gay liberation, the new religions and cults, pop festivals, Vietnam and other protests, massage parlours, the disco scene, the blossoming of Australia’s film industry, the new sexual freedom, Aboriginal rights, street festivals, the new theatre, fashion, drugs and the emergence of a decadent and hedonistic society that would later characterise the 1980s.

Decadent: 1980-2000 is a photography book showcasing Rennie Ellis’ (1940-2003) contribution to photography and social history. It is a fascinating snapshot of the wild, opulent, sometimes tacky and always decadent 1980s in Australia by a true original. With an introduction by photographer and Rennie contemporary William Yang and an essay by photographer and art critic Robert McFarlane, Decadent highlights Ellis as one of Australia’s most important chroniclers of the 1980s. The photographs, both colour and black and white, are drawn from the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive and the State Library of Victoria Rennie Ellis collection. Decadent explores the rise of the hedonism that we now associate with the 1980s. Ellis’ boundary-pushing, racy and sometimes voyeuristic works capture a society that seems to be revelling in its abandonment of the politically charged 1970s documented in Decade.

 

About the Author

No other photographer has documented – in such depth – the life and times in Australia, throughout the 1970s until his death in 2003, with such insight into the human condition as Rennie Ellis. His non-judgmental approach was his ‘access-to-all-areas’ pass. Ellis used his camera as a key to open the doors to the social arenas of the rich and famous and to enter the underbelly of the nightclubs, bearing witness to the indulgences and excesses. In today’s post-Henson era, these captured moments offer an intimate access to an Australia tantalisingly, but sadly, now almost out of reach.

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Robert McGhie, Grand Final, MCG' 1974

 

Rennie Ellis (Australian, 1940-2003)
Robert McGhie, Grand Final, MCG
1974
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print
50.8 x 40.5cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

 

Robert ‘Robbie’ McGhie is a former Australian rules football player who played in the VFL between 1969 and 1972 and again in 1979 for the Footscray Football Club, from 1973 to 1978 for the Richmond Football Club and in 1980 and 1981 for the South Melbourne Football Club. His height was 192 cm and he weighed 85.5 kg. He played 46 games for Footscray, 80 games for Richmond and 16 games for South Melbourne. He was a Richmond Premiership Player 1973, 1974 (the year this photograph by Rennie Ellis was taken at the Grand Final).

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Property of Hells Angels, Kings Cross' 1970-71

 

Rennie Ellis (Australian, 1940-2003)
Property of Hells Angels, Kings Cross
1970-71
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print
50.8 x 40.5cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Invitation to The Rennie Ellis Show at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Invitation to The Rennie Ellis Show at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

 

Monash Gallery of Art
860 Ferntree Gully Road, Wheelers Hill
Victoria 3150 Australia
Phone: + 61 3 8544 0500

Opening hours:
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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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

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