Posts Tagged ‘social documentary photography

22
Aug
21

Exhibition: ‘Bill Brandt’ at the Fundación Mapfre, Madrid

Exhibition dates: 3rd June – 29th August 2021

Curator: Ramón Esparza (University of the Basque Country)

 

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'St. Paul's Cathedral in the moonlight' 1942

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
St. Paul’s Cathedral in the moonlight
1942
25.72 x 20.32cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Bill Brandt: master of photography, master of reinvention

“I’m 70% sure this was a reality not a dream”

In 12 years of writing this archive, this is the first chance I have had to assemble a posting and really think about the work of Bill Brandt, one of the most significant and inventive photographer of the 20th century. Brandt exhibitions are few and far between.

Son of a British father and German mother, Bill Brandt was born in Hamburg in 1904. As an adolescent he contracted tuberculosis and spent much of his youth in a sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland. In 1927 he travelled to Vienna, “to see a lung specialist and then decided to stay and find work in a photography studio. There, in 1928, he met and made a successful portrait of the poet Ezra Pound, who subsequently introduced Brandt to the American-born, Paris-based photographer Man Ray. Brandt arrived in Paris to begin three months of study as an apprentice at the Man Ray Studio in 1929 … his work from this time shows the influence of André Kertész and Eugène Atget, as well as Man Ray and the Surrealists.”1

“For any young photographer at that time, Paris was the centre of the world. Those were the exciting early days when the French poets and surrealists recognised the possibilities of photography.” ~ Bill Brandt

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Having visited London in 1928, upon his return to London, in 1931, Brandt was well versed in the language of photographic modernism. In 1933 Brandt settled permanently in North London with his wife. With the rise of Nazism in Germany, Brandt Anglicised his name and disowned his German background and would claim he was born in South London. “He adopted Britain as his home and it became the subject of his greatest photographs.” Here is his first reinvention: the obfuscation of his German heritage, but he could not hide that heritage in his photographs.

As a photojournalist working for magazines such as News Chronicle, Weekly Illustrated, Lilliput, Harper’s Bazaar and Picture Post, Brandt documented all levels of British society. In his first book, The English at Home (1936), “comprising sixty-three photographs, Brandt traversed the country to make a pictorial survey of sorts, moving across the social classes, and between rural life and the urban city.”2 In the book Brandt pairs upper and lower class photographs across double page spreads, mixing joy (girl dancing in the street) with sobriety (the parlourmaids). As David Campany observes in his excellent writing on the artist, “There is nothing overtly angry or revolutionary in the generally restrained tone of Brandt’s book. However it was unusual in bringing different classes into one volume, leaving the viewer to reconcile the social contradictions and inequities.”3

“The extreme social contrast, during those years before the war, was, visually, very inspiring for me. I started by photographing in London, the West End, the suburbs, the slums.” ~ Bill Brandt

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The book was not a success. Much like Robert Frank’s The Americans (published in France in 1958), another book by an émigré photographing as an outsider a foreign country, the British did not understand the book and probably did not like the mirror that was being held up to their society – much as the Americans hated Frank’s book for the pointed insights its probing images revealed of their fractured society, which had never been shown to them before. Campany notes, “In the 1930s Brandt was drawn to the rituals and customs of daily life, with what he saw as the deeply unconscious ways people inhabit their social roles and class positions. For him, to photograph these minutiae was not simply to document but to estrange through a heightened sense of atmosphere, theatrical artifice and a dreamlike sensibility. As an outsider he seemed to see English behaviour as bordering on passive automatism.”4

In the midst of the Great Depression of the 1930s, the photographs would have made the English feel very uncomfortable. Through their social commentary and poetic resonance, through their direct, modernist gaze and Surrealist dances (the women washing the blackened coal miner, a man sheltering in a coffin), Brandt squeezes (conflates?) documentary and art together, seeing the familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. Through reinvention he recasts the very nature of his characters, finding out what else is essential in the photographs, challenging the viewer to understand the complexities of the image as it moves across time and from documentary to art. Often this left the viewer perplexed and grasping at the mystery, the unknown.

Other bodies of work and books followed. In 1937, Brandt visited the North of England for the first time, photographing the desperate plight of the poor scavenging for coal on the slag-heaps. In 1938 Brandt published A Night in London which was based on Paris de Nuit (1936) by Brassaï, photographing pubs, common lodging houses at night, theatres, Turkish baths, prisons and people in their bedrooms. By 1939, he was back in London, photographing the blackout and people sheltering from the Blitz in the London Underground.

“In 1939, at the beginning of the war, I was back in London photographing the blackout. The darkened town, lit only by moonlight, looked more beautiful than before or since.”~ Bill Brandt

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And so it went, on through Literary Britain (1951) which combined brooding, atmospheric landscapes and photographs of William Wordsworth’s room at Dove Cottage, Shaw’s Corner, Glamis Castle from Macbeth, and the scene of Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment at Reading Gaol opposite British poetry and prose; from the 1940s onwards, portraits of the notable and creative, made during the 1960s using a wide-angle lens; and perspectives on nudes made from 1944 onwards using a 1931 Kodak mahogany and brass camera with a wide-angle lens used by the police for crime scene records, which allowed him to see, he said, ‘like a mouse, a fish or a fly’.

“The nudes reveal Brandt’s intimate knowledge of the École de Paris – particularly Man Ray, Picasso, Matisse and Arp – together with his admiration for Henry Moore. He published Perspective of Nudes in 1961. It featured nudes in domestic interiors and studios, and on the beaches of East Sussex and northern and southern France. He used a Superwide Hasselblad for the beach photographs. In 1977-8 Brandt added further nudes, published in Nudes, 1945-80.”5

Through all of this there is the reinvention… reinvention of the portrait where the sitter is now part of the whole scenario (the surroundings), reinvention of the landscape where the landscape emerges from chthonic darkness, and reinvention of the nude where Brandt transplants Brassai’s Distortions into domestic interiors and exterior beaches – where the Surrealist, distorted, enigmatic fragment, like an ear or a big toe, comes to stand for the whole embedded in an alien landscape. Finally, there was the big reinvention in the 1960s, where Brandt began to reprint his earlier photojournalist images with a much harsher contrast (see various comparison images in this posting) in order to enhance their (Surrealist) art credentials and keep them relevant in an Abstract Expressionist, Pop Art world.

As David Campany states, “In the 1960s there were two major changes in his work and its reception. Both were related to his emerging position in art photography. He began to print his negatives much more harshly, sacrificing the mid-tones for more modish graphic blocks of black and white. The rich descriptive information in his negatives would be subsumed, even obliterated in his new aesthetic… While his latest photography was pursued more openly as art, notably his nudes (published as a book in 1960), his expressionism was released anew upon his earlier work. His books from the 1960s are printed with graphic extremes of black and white.”6

These are the images that are now famous, these graphic reinventions of the work and the Self. The reinvention of the old into the new. Through rethinking, recalculating and reimagining his old photographs and how they looked (“the way in which the artist interpreted a single negative had changed over time”), Brandt opened up his way of seeing and opened up new matter… ‘in rerum natura‘: in the nature of things; in the realm of actuality; in existence. Perhaps never before in the history of photography had the negative just been a step in the production of an ever changing image.

It was in the totality of this new work that his eloquent eye emerged. To me Brandt is like a Zen master. Whether it be socio-documentary, portrait, landscape or nude, it was his ability to focus on a particular subject at any one time – to concentrate on seeing subjects and ideas clearly – that became a hallmark of his later artistic creation. Through bodies of work that mix reality and dream the artist challenges straight photographic seeing in order for us to understand that enigmatic fragments can stand alone from each other while at the same time combining to make the whole. While A snicket in Halifax (1937, below) may not be present in Unemployed miner returning home from Jarrow (1937, below), it is when they combine that the circle is closed. It is in the entirety of his imaged (imagined) world, in the entirety of his vision, when all fragments combine, that Brandt emphasises that the whole of anything is greater than its parts.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

  1. “Bill Brandt.” Introduction by Mitra Abbaspour, Associate Curator, Department of Photography, 2014 on the MoMA website Nd [Online] Cited 22/08/2021
  2. David Campany. “The Career of a Photographer, the Career of a Photograph – Bill Brandt’s Art of the Document,” on the David Company website [Online] Cited 10/06/2021. First published in the Tate Liverpool exhibition catalogue ‘Making History: Art and documentary in Britain from 1929-Now’, 2006
  3. Ibid.,
  4. Ibid.,
  5. Anonymous. “Bill Brandt Biography,” archived from the original on the V&A website Nd [Online] Cited 22/08/2021
  6. Campany, op cit.,

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

 

Fundación MAPFRE is presenting the first retrospective in Spain on Bill Brandt (1904-1983), considered one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century. The exhibition brings together 186 photographs developed by Brandt himself who, over the course of five decades, made use of almost all the photographic genres: social documentary, portraiture, the nude and landscape.

 

 

“Each of Brandt’s well-known images aims for a tight formal organisation, its content given dramatic charge and dense psychological resonance. As documents they aim unapologetically to exceed visual description. In this sense what served him ill as a photojournalist was just what predisposed his images toward posterity via art. …

In the 1950s he continued to work professionally but concentrated on the more established genres of portraiture and landscape. In the 1960s there were two major changes in his work and its reception. Both were related to his emerging position in art photography. He began to print his negatives much more harshly, sacrificing the mid-tones for more modish graphic blocks of black and white. The rich descriptive information in his negatives would be subsumed, even obliterated in his new aesthetic. It was a technique that looked backward through German expressionist cinema to art photography’s Pictorialist preference for deep shadows and chiaroscuro, but it also connected with the emerging Pop sensibility.

While his latest photography was pursued more openly as art, notably his nudes (published as a book in 1960), his expressionism was released anew upon his earlier work. His books from the 1960s are printed with graphic extremes of black and white. …

The reprinting of Parlourmaid and under-parlourmaid ready to serve dinner was never too harsh. Brandt knew well that the force of this photograph resided in its details as much as its bold graphic organisation. Shadow of Light even improved on its past reproductions allowing new layers of meaning to emerge. …

While some meanings of Brandt’s photograph have been buried as the image has moved across time and from documentary to art, new meanings have come to the surface, meanings entirely dependent on art’s demand for superior qualities of reproduction.

As with many photographers who were discovered by a wider audience later in life, Brandt found himself regarded as a ‘figure from the past’ and as a contemporary artist at the same time. Layered on top of this was what looked like a shift from documentarist to artist. The reality, as always, was more complicated. At his best Brandt was a ‘documentary artist’ with all the paradoxes and interpretative difficulties that entails. There could never be any simple distinction between his artistry and his documentary description. The two are inextricable and give us no clear answers. And in the end these tensions are at the heart of his work and its success.”

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David Campany. Extract from “The Career of a Photographer, the Career of a Photograph – Bill Brandt’s Art of the Document,” on the David Company website [Online] Cited 10/06/2021. First published in the Tate Liverpool exhibition catalogue ‘Making History: Art and documentary in Britain from 1929-Now’, 2006

 

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Death and the industrialist, Barcelona' 1932

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Death and the industrialist, Barcelona
1932
25.40 x 20.32cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

An apprentice in the studio of Man Ray and influenced in his origins by artists such as Brassaï, André Kertész or Eugène Atget, Bill Brandt (Hamburg, 1904 – London, 1983), one of the founders of modern photography, conceives the photographic language as a powerful means of contemplation and understanding of reality, but always from a primacy of aesthetic considerations over documentaries. Published in the press or in books, some of his photographs quickly became iconic pieces, indispensable to understanding mid-century English society.

His work also expresses a permanent attraction for the strange , for that which causes as much attraction as it is strange and causes unease. His aesthetics are thus close to the concept of “the sinister”, understood as something opposite to the idea of ​​the familiar, of the usual. This element will act as a plot line for a professional and artistic production that, at first, seems erratic and dispersed.

His late work shows a more experimental facet, a search for innovation through cropping and framing, present above all in nude images.

The exhibition brings together 186 photographs made by Bill Brandt himself, who throughout the almost five decades of his career did not stop addressing any of the great genres of the photographic discipline: social reporting, portraiture, nude and landscape .

The tour, divided into six sections (“First photographs”, “Up and down”, “Portraits”, “Described landscapes”, “Nudes” and “In Praise of imperfection”), tries to show how all these aspects – in the that identity and the concept of “the sinister” become protagonists – they come together in the work of this eclectic artist who was considered, above all, a flâneur, a “stroller” in terms similar to those of his admired Eugene Atget, whom he always considered one of his teachers. One hundred and eighty-six photographs that are complemented by writings, some of his cameras and various documentation (among which the interview he gave to the BBC shortly before his death stands out), as well as illustrated publications of the time. All thanks to the courtesy of the Bill Brandt Archive in London and the Edwynn Houk Gallery in New York.

 

Four keys

Surrealist beginnings

After starting his foray into photography in Vienna, where he made the famous portrait of the poet Ezra Pound in 1928, Bill Brandt went to Paris to enter as an assistant, for a short period of time, in the studio of Man Ray, which prompted him to blend in with the surrealist atmosphere of the French capital, which will permeate all of his work from then on. This influence, together with that of his admiration for Eugène Atget, the photographer who documented “old Paris” and for whom Fundación MAPFRE also organised an exhibition in 2011, led to images where the disturbing was already making an appearance: street scenes and Parisian nights are some of the most frequent motifs in the artist’s images during this period.

 

Concealment of German heritage

Together with his partner and future wife, Eva Boros, he also made numerous trips to the Hungarian steppe, to his native Hamburg and to Spain, where they visited Madrid and Barcelona, ​​before moving to London in 1934. It was in this city when Brandt got rid of his German roots, eliminating all reference to them, a concealment due to the growing animosity towards Germany that followed the rise of Nazism. Brandt invented a British birth, creating an artistic corpus in which the United Kingdom that is at the core of his identity.

 

The portrait

After having made several portraits in the early days of his career, starting in the 1940s – a period in which he worked for magazines such as Picture Post, Liliput and Harper’s Bazaar – Bill Brandt approached this genre in a professional way. Some of the portraits represented a break with tradition, such as those that appeared in the aforementioned Lilliput in 1941, illustrating the article “Young Poets of Democracy”, which included some of the most representative faces of the writers and poets of the Auden Generation.

 

In Praise of Imperfection

In his introduction to Camera in London, the book on the British capital published in 1948, Bill Brandt noted: ‘I consider it essential that the photographer make his own copies and enlargements. The final effect of the image depends to a large extent on these operations, and only the photographer knows what he intends. For the artist, work in the laboratory was essential and, at the beginning of his career, he learned a whole range of artisan techniques: from magnification to enlargement, the use of brushes, scrapers or other tools.’ This manual retouching sometimes gave his photographs that somewhat crude aspect that can be associated with the aforementioned Freudian concept of the “unheimlich”: the sinister.

Text from the Fundación Mapfre website translated from the Spanish by Google Translate

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Bond Street hatter's show-case' 1934

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Bond Street hatter’s show-case
1934
30.48 x 23.50 cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Born Hermann Wilhelm Brandt in Hamburg in 1904 to a wealthy family of Russian origin, after a period living in Vienna and Paris Brandt decided to settle in London in 1934. Within the context of growing hostility to all things German due to the rise of Nazism, he attempted to erase all traces of his origins to the point of stating that he was British by nationality. This concealment and the creation of a new personality enveloped Brandt’s life in an aura of mystery and conflict that is directly reflected in his works.

This aspect combines with the photographer’s interest in psychoanalysis, which he underwent during his youth in Vienna. A few years earlier, in 1919, Sigmund Freud had published the essay Das Unheimliche in which he analysed this term, which is generally translated as “the uncanny” in the sense of something that produces unease. Almost all Brandt’s photographs, both the pre-war social documentary type and those from his subsequent more “artistic” phase, possess a powerful poetic charge as well as that very typical aura of strangeness and mystery in which, as in his own life, reality and fiction are always mixed.

The structure of the exhibition, which is divided into six sections, reveals how all these qualities – in which identity and the concept of “the uncanny” become the principal ones – blend together in the work of this eclectic artist. Above all Brandt was considered a flâneur or stroller in a way comparable to his admired Eugène Atget, whom he always considered one of his masters. The exhibition also reveals the relationship between Brandt’s images and Dada and Surrealism. This interest is reflected in clear references to psychoanalytical issues, expressed through increasingly sombre tones and an obsession with collecting found objects.

The exhibition is completed with a range of documentation, a number of Brandt’s cameras and examples of the illustrated press of the period that published some of his most iconic images. All this has been made possible courtesy of the Bill Brandt Archive in London and the Edwynn Houk Gallery in New York.

Press release from the Fundación Mapfre website

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'East Durham coal-searchers' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
East Durham coal-searchers
1937
25.24 x 20.16cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

East Durham coal-searchers near Henworth, 1937. Coal searchers on slag heap searching for bits of coal 1940s.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Coal-Miner's Bath, Chester-le-Street, Durham' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Coal-Miner’s Bath, Chester-le-Street, Durham
1937
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Bill Brandt

Considered one of the most influential British photographers of the 20th century and one of the artists who, together with Brassaï, Henri Cartier-Bresson and others, laid the foundations of modern photography, Bill Brandt’s oeuvre can be considered an eclectic one, reflecting a career of nearly five decades during which he encompassed almost all the photographic genres: social documentary, portraiture, the nude and landscape.

Born Hermann Wilhelm Brandt in Hamburg in 1904 to a wealthy family of Russian origin, after a period living in Vienna and Paris Brandt decided to settle in London in 1934. Within the context of growing hostility to all things German due to the rise of Nazism, he attempted to erase all traces of his origins to the point of stating that he was British by nationality. This concealment and the creation of a new personality enveloped Brandt’s life in an aura of mystery and conflict that was directly reflected in his work. His images aim to construct a vision of the country that he embraced as his own, although not of the real country but rather of the idea that he had created of it during his childhood through reading and from stories told by relatives.

Brandt had tuberculosis as a child and it was seemingly in the Swiss sanatoriums at Agra and Davos where his family sent him to convalesce that he first became interested in photography. After some years in Switzerland he moved to Vienna to undergo an innovative treatment for tuberculosis based on psychoanalysis. Imbued with a post-Romantic air, Brandt’s photography always seems to be located on the edge, provoking simultaneous attraction and rejection. It can be related to the concept of unheimlich, a term first used by Sigmund Freud in 1919. The adjective unheimlich – generally translated as “the uncanny”, “the sinister” or “the disturbing”, and which according to Eugenio Trías “constitutes the condition and limit of the beautiful” – is one of the characteristic traits that remains present throughout Brandt’s career. Psychoanalytical theories were among the fundamental pillars of Surrealism and their influence extended to the entire Parisian cultural scene in the 1930s. Brandt and his first partner, Eva Boros, moved to the French capital in 1930 where he worked as an assistant in Man Ray’s studio. It was at this point that he assimilated the ideas circulating in a city filled with young artists, many of them immigrants looking to make their way in the professional art world. His images of this initial period suggest a catalogue of psychoanalytical “themes”, clearly reflecting the influence of Surrealism on him even though he never actively participated in any of the historic avant-garde groups.

Almost all Brandt’s images, both the pre-war social documentary type and those from his subsequent more “artistic” phase, possess a powerful poetic charge as well as that very typical aura of strangeness and mystery in which, as in his own life, reality and fiction are always combined.

Bill Brandt died in London in 1983.

Ramón Esparza, curator

 

Early photographs

Following his apprenticeship as a photographer in Vienna, Brandt left for Paris in order to work for a brief period as an assistant in Man Ray’s studio, an activity that allowed him to move in the city’s Surrealist circles. Nonetheless, his photographs of this period are closer to those of his admired Eugène Atget. Brandt followed Atget, becoming a stroller or flâneur whose images of Parisian nightlife and street scenes anticipate his subsequent work and possess an already palpable sense of unease.

Brandt and his partner Eva Boros travelled on numerous occasions to the Hungarian steppes, to his native Hamburg and to Spain, where they visited Madrid and Barcelona among other cities and with the plan of spending their holidays in Majorca before moving to London in 1934. It was in London that Brandt shed his German origins and created a body of work in which the United Kingdom – a country marked by significant social inequality at that time – established itself as the core of his identity.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Dressmaker's dummy, Paris' 1929

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Dressmaker’s dummy, Paris
1929
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

During his years in Paris Brandt established connections with the Surrealist circle and with groups of photographers who aimed to make the camera both a means of expression and of earning a living. He never followed the principal trends and focused his attention on the daily life of the suburbs rather than on events of the day. Brandt’s photographs of this period reveal how he increasingly assimilated Surrealist concepts into his way of seeing. This dressmaker’s dummy found on the street is a metaphor for the idea of the double. Other images from these years, such as the hot air balloon flying over the skies of Paris, allow his early work to be seen as a type of catalogue of the principal themes of Surrealism.

 

Upstairs downstairs

The growing antipathy on the part of the British towards Nazi Germany meant that many immigrants who had arrived from the latter country changed their name. Brandt went even further than this as he completely concealed his origins and for more than twenty-five years passed himself off as a British citizen.

The 1930s was the decade of the great social protest movements and of strikes over working conditions following the 1929 financial crash. It was within this context that in 1936 Brandt published his first book, The English at Home, produced in a wide, album format. He employed a design particularly favoured by Central European graphic publications based on the combination of opposites in order to achieve a significant contrast between each pair of photographs. With these double-page spreads Brandt aimed to juxtapose two opposing social social classes, thus generating two parallel narrative discourses without mixing them together.

Following the outbreak of World War II Brandt started to work for the Ministry of Information. It was at this point that he produced two of his most famous series of images: his photographs of Londoners sleeping in Underground stations converted into improvised shelters; and his images of the city at ground level, showing a ghostly London lit only by the moon as protection against the air raids. Brandt abandoned the class differences that he had previously portrayed in favour of other types of scenes which denounced the effects of the war on the civilian population.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Couple in Peckham' 1936

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Couple in Peckham
1936
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

Following in the wake of Brassaï and the success of his book Paris de nuit (1932), Brandt began to elaborate his own version of London at night. To do this he made regular use of friends and relatives who posed for him to create the scene he wished to photograph. In this case the “accosted” woman is his sister-in-law Ester Brandt and the man in the hat is his brother Rolf. The image allows for different interpretations but the reference to the genre of crime thrillers or simply to prostitution is clear.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Unemployed miner returning home from Jarrow' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Unemployed miner returning home from Jarrow
1937
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

The 1930s were economically harsh and politically turbulent years in Europe. The 1929 financial crash led the United Kingdom to close its mines and steelworks, resulting in unemployment rising to more than 2.5 million people. Activities such as collecting pieces of coal from mining waste on the beach became a way of life for many families. Brandt’s photograph shows one of these former miners, exhausted after an unproductive day’s labour and pushing his bicycle loaded with a sack of coal, the result of his efforts.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Parlourmaid and Under-parlourmaid ready to serve dinner' 1936

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Parlourmaid and Under-parlourmaid ready to serve dinner
1933 printed later
23.81 x 20.32cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

This photograph was taken for a reportage published in Picture Post on 29 July 1939 with the title “The Perfect Parlourmaid” [but it never appeared in the Picture Post photo story of that name in July 1939]. Following his habitual practice, Brandt turned to his own family, in this case making use of his uncle Henry’s house. Pratt the parlourmaid waits in the dining room for the family members and their guests to be seated for dinner before starting to serve the food and attend the diners. This could be a classic image of social documentary photography except for the fact that Brandt very probably sat down at the table with the rest of the family after taking his shot. The image, however, reveals far more. The faces and poses of the two maids convey the difference between the gaze of the senior parlourmaid, which suggests both experience and assimilation of her social role, and that of her assistant, which seems to wander vaguely around the room.

 

“In his marvellous photograph the two house parlourmaids, prepared to wait at table, have eyes loaded like blunderbusses. Their starched caps and cuffs, their poker backs, mirror the terrible rectitude of learned attitudes. They have the same irritated loathing in defence of caste that shows in portraits of Evelyn Waugh.”

Mark Haworth-Booth cites Henderson in his introduction to the second edition of Brandt’s book Shadow of Light, Gordon Fraser, London 1977, p. 17.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Parlourmaid and Under-parlourmaid ready to serve dinner' 1933

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Parlourmaid and Under-parlourmaid ready to serve dinner
1933
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

“… Brandt’s parlourmaids image is unusual in that something of those social contrasts is at play within its frame and so the image doesn’t lend itself to juxtaposition in the same way.

We see a dressed dinner table of a well-to-do household and the attendant women. The head parlourmaid seems at first glance to express a stern resentment mixed with weariness and professional discipline, but there is a kind of blankness about her too. Her junior has the vacant expression of an adolescent, not yet able to grasp the social forces that will shape her, perhaps. A reading of the image made by the photographer Nigel Henderson is similar but more pointed:

“In his marvellous photograph the two house parlourmaids, prepared to wait at table, have eyes loaded like blunderbusses. Their starched caps and cuffs, their poker backs, mirror the terrible rectitude of learned attitudes. They have the same irritated loathing in defence of caste that shows in portraits of Evelyn Waugh.”

Rhetorically, this is an image of doubles and differences. Its economy of form and content forces us to see in opposites, tapping into and reinforcing a general understanding of the social structures of class and service. It is as barbed as The English at Home gets. There is nothing overtly angry or revolutionary in the generally restrained tone of Brandt’s book. However it was unusual in bringing different classes into one volume, leaving the viewer to reconcile the social contradictions and inequities.”

David Campany. Extract from “The Career of a Photographer, the Career of a Photograph – Bill Brandt’s Art of the Document,” on the David Company website [Online] Cited 10/06/2021. First published in the Tate Liverpool exhibition catalogue Making History: Art and documentary in Britain from 1929-Now, 2006

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Sheltering in a Spitalfields crypt' 1940

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Sheltering in a Spitalfields crypt
1940
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

Isidore Ducasse, who used the grandiloquent nom de plume of “the Comte de Lautréamont” for his poetic output, wrote one of the most frequently quoted definitions of Surrealist beauty: “As beautiful as the chance meeting, on a dissecting table, of a sewing machine and an umbrella.” Locating incongruence and transforming it into a work of art was one of Surrealism’s key strategies. By adding a dash of well-developed humour to this formula Brandt brought off the recipe with aplomb. At the height of the war, with German bombing raids nightly assailing a London whose inhabitants took shelter in the Underground and in basements, Bill Brandt photographed this man. Poor and working-class, to judge from his appearance, he is seen peacefully asleep in an open tomb in a crypt in clear defiance of death itself and of the terror it supposedly arouses.

 

Portraits

As a portraitist, a genre to which he devoted himself professionally from 1943, Bill Brandt considered that the photographer’s aim should be that of capturing a “suspended” moment rather than just the appearance: “I think a good portrait ought to tell something about a subject’s past and suggest something about their future”; in other words, achieving an image that asks questions and raises issues about both the sitter and the viewer. Some of Brandt’s portraits mark a break from tradition, such as the ones published in the magazine Lilliput in 1941 to accompany the article “Young Poets of Democracy”, which includes images of some of the leading names of the Auden generation.

Brandt subsequently began to distort the space in his portraits, for example Francis Bacon on Primrose Hill, London (1963). He also produced a new series of portraits of eyes of clearly Surrealist inspiration. The eyes of Henry Moore, Georges Braque and Antoni Tàpies are among the examples of gazes that transformed the way of seeing and representing the world.

 

“I always take portraits in my sitter’s own surroundings. I concentrate very much on the picture as a whole and leave the sitter rather to himself. I hardly talk and barely look at him.” ~ Bill Brandt

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Francis Bacon on Primrose Hill, London' 1963

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Francis Bacon on Primrose Hill, London
1963
25.40 x 20.32cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Brandt’s portraits evolved over time. Some mark a break with tradition, such as the images published in Lilliput in 1941 to accompany the article “Young Poets of Democracy”, which included some of the most famous faces of the writers and poets of the Auden generation. He subsequently began to distort the space in his images, as evident in Francis Bacon on Primrose Hill, London (1963), and also produced a new series of portraits of eyes of clearly Surrealist inspiration. The eyes of Henry Moore, Georges Braque and Antoni Tàpies are among the examples of gazes that transformed the way of seeing and representing the world.

One of several portraits of Francis Bacon by Brandt, here the photographer used the camera he had bought for his nudes on the beach. The notably wide angle lens, which produces a sense of space distorted in depth, and the chosen moment, just after sunset with the last light of day blending with the artificial light, give the scene a strange “atmosphere” (a term Brandt considered fundamental in his images). The familiar setting of an English park becomes disturbing with the dark sky, the curiously small and bent street light and Bacon, either indifferent or engaged, who turns his back on it all.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Henry Moore in his studio at Much Hadham, Hertfordshire' 1946

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Henry Moore in his studio at Much Hadham, Hertfordshire
1946
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

The friendship and professional relations between Bill Brandt and the sculptors Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth was a lifelong one and they frequently collaborated. Moore accompanied Brandt on his visits to the night shelters in the London Underground and drew while his friend took photographs. Their work is being exhibited at The Hepworth Wakefield in 2020. The mutual influence between the two artists is evident in this portrait of Moore alongside one of his sculptures. The biomorphic forms that Moore has created from the wood recall those of Brandt’s nudes.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Graham Greene in his flat, St James's Street, London' 1948

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Graham Greene in his flat, St James’s Street, London
1948
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

The writer Graham Greene appears in this photograph next to a window which gives onto the interior courtyard of his London flat. Brandt, however, transformed a view of a simple courtyard into a type of labyrinth of lines in which it is difficult to discern what belongs to the window, what to the triangular shape located immediately next to Greene and what to the construction in the background. This confusion, the repetition of triangles and the mixture of lines can be seen as mimicking the author’s complex plots in his novels, while the harsh light that illuminates his face, falling from the upper right downwards, imbues his figure with a theatrical aura of mystery.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Georges Braque' 1960

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Georges Braque
1960
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

The eye of…

In the early 1960s Brandt embarked on a photographic series in which he reduced the sitter’s face to a foreground shot of one of the eyes. The subjects photographed in this manner were some of the leading visual artists of the day: Ernst, Braque, Vasarely, Moore, Tàpies, Arp, Dubuffet and Giacometti. The series aims to make the viewer reflect on the role of the gaze in art. Once the imperative of resemblance is rejected, what makes a painting powerful and interesting is the artist’s gaze, the way he or she has to look at and represent reality, or simply to produce a visible reality that does not refer to any other, as in the case of Victor Vasarely and Jean Arp. The camera, that glass eye which reflected the world in the 20th century, is used here to depict the instrument through which artists have seen and interpreted that world. To be exact, however, it should be acknowledged that both the camera and the eye are mere tools and that the essence of the process takes place “further back”, in the mind.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Jean Dubuffet' 1960

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Jean Dubuffet
1960
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

This closely cropped eye belongs to the artist Jean Dubuffet. Brandt made ten photographs of notable visual artists; a few seem to have been taken at the same session as a published portrait, although none appear to be enlargements from other known works. They are striking departures from Brandt’s typical practice, mysterious despite their clarity of description, and they underscore the photographer’s experimental impulse, even late in his career. There is no record of their ever being published in a magazine.

MoMA gallery label from Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light, March 6 – August 12, 2013.

 

Landscapes described

Following his engagement with portraiture Brandt introduced landscape into his repertoire, thus encompassing all the categories traditionally considered to constitute the classic artistic genres. In his landscapes he aimed to introduce an atmosphere that connects with the viewer in order to provoke an emotional response from contemplation of the work. In this sense it would seem that Brandt did not merely aim to represent a place but to capture its very essence in a single image, as in Halifax; “Hail Hell & Halifax” (1937) and Cuckmere River (1963). When these landscapes started to include stone constructions such as tombs and crosses Brandt considered that he had achieved his aim: “Thus it was I found atmosphere to be the spell that charged the commonplace with beauty. … I only know it is a combination of elements … which reveals the subject as familiar and yet strange.”

It should be remembered that for Brandt the concept of landscape was deeply rooted in painting and the photographic tradition but also in literature. Literary Britain, which was published in 1951, makes this relationship clear. Brandt used images already published in other weekly magazines as well as photographs specially taken for this book, accompanying them with extracts from works by British authors.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) Halifax; 'Hail, Hell and Halifax' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Halifax; ‘Hail, Hell and Halifax’
1937
23.50 x 20.32cm
Bill Brandt Archive
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

In the social portrait that Brandt created of England in the 1930s the northern industrial cities made an inevitable appearance. Coal mining and steel production, both affected by a major crisis during this period, gave cities like Halifax and Newcastle a dark, sombre appearance which Brandt masterfully conveyed in his images. The photograph’s title refers to a verse from a popular 17th century poem by John Taylor: “From Hell, Hull and Halifax, Good Lord, deliver us!”, referring to the harshness of justice in those two cities.

 

The reputation of the great British documentary photographer Bill Brandt rests in large part on his capacity to manage the tension between black and white in a photograph. For Brandt, strong tonal contrast came to represent the social and cultural experience of Britain between the wars – a place of vast contrasts between rich and poor, worker and elite, urban and rural. But strong tonal contrast, and blackness in particular, carried other, more metaphysical associations. For Brandt, blackness represented the forces and mysteries at work in the world, a place of power and tragedy. Blackness in a photograph also introduced ‘a new beauty’ to the subject, one that intensified the visual and emotional experience of it.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Gull's nest, midsummer evening, Skye' 1947

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Gull’s nest, midsummer evening, Skye
1947
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

Brandt saw this gull’s nest on a sunny afternoon during his trip to photograph northern Scotland. The light was too flat so he decided to return later. This was close to the time of year of the midnight sun. As Brandt wrote: “When I approached the nest on an isolated outpost of rocks, an enormously large gull which had been sitting on the eggs flew off and circled low around my head, barking like a dog. It was windstill, the mountains of the Scottish mainland were reflected in the sea – the light was now just right for the picture.”

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, London' 1952

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, London
1952
22.86 x 19.37cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Nudes

In 1944 Brandt returned to the theme of the nude. For the artist, documentary photography had become a widely extended fashion while the old Great Britain with its marked class divisions was now something of the past. It should also be remembered that the nude is one of the traditional themes of painting and as such signals Brandt’s evolution from documentary photography to the social status of “artist”.

In the 1950s he visited the French Channel Coast beaches in order to make a series of portraits of the painter Georges Braque. Seeing those pebble beaches led to a change of direction and he started to photograph stones and parts of the female body as if they were stones themselves. He combined flesh and rock, heat and cold, hardness and softness in a single formal discourse.

The distortions are often so pronounced that the parts of the body have lost any reference point but they nonetheless produce sensations that are more poetic or profound. It may be that for Brandt these “fragments” of the human body in comparison or communion with natural forms represented primordial forms of some type through which we can perceive “the totality of the world”, as with the Urformen of the Gestalt School and its theory of perception.

Brandt’s nudes of the late 1970s bear no relation to his earlier ones. They transmit a certain sense of violence which reveals the alienation of an artist who no longer felt himself part of the world in which he lived.

 

“Instead of photographing what I saw, I photographed what the camera was seeing. I interfered very little, and the lens produced anatomical images and shapes which my eyes had never observed.” ~ Bill Brandt

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, Campden Hill, London' 1947

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, Campden Hill, London
1947
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

The Kodak camera that Brandt found in a second-hand shop near Covent Garden was designed to produce a clear image of an interior space without any major technical complications. It offered an unusual vision of the motif, creating a space that evokes a dreamlike mood. Most of Brandt’s photographs of nudes in interiors were taken with this old wooden camera which imbues the scene with a sensation of both beauty and disquiet. The repetition of specific visual elements such as windows, which are always in the background of the scene, half-open doors and different pieces of furniture, including the two chairs in this image, suggests issues such as absence, the desire to escape or a complex representation of desire stripped of the object (equivalent to reducing it to its most primary sense).

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, East Sussex coast' 1959

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, East Sussex coast
1959
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, East Sussex coast' 1977

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, East Sussex coast
1977
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

While walking on the Channel Coast beaches, Brandt’s attention was caught by the rounded forms of the rocks on the beach and their resemblance to some forms of the human body. This idea gave rise to his series of nudes photographed outdoors. For this project he abandoned his old Kodak plate camera in favour of a Hasselblad with a wide angle lens and his much used Rolleiflex. The formal interplay that he began to develop in this photograph is closely related to the constructivist nature of what the theoreticians of the Gestalt school (the German psychology movement which began to analyse the bases of human perception in the early 20th century) called Urformen or primordial forms. The combination of both elements, rock and flesh, hard and soft, produces a series of relationships that can be associated with Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture.

 

In Praise of Imperfection

In the introduction to Camera in London, his book on that city published in 1948, Brandt wrote: “I consider it essential that the photographer should do his own printing and enlarging. The final effect of the finished print depends so much on these operations. And only the photographer himself knows the effect he wants.”

For the artist, hands-on work in the photographic lab was essential for ensuring control over the final image, which in most cases was the stage prior to the publishing process when the image appeared in a book or magazine. At the outset of his career Brandt had learned a wide range of traditional techniques, including blow-up, enlarging and the use of brushes, scrapers and other tools.

These manual retouchings sometimes gave his photographs that rather crude look which can be associated with the above-mentioned Freudian concept of unheimlich or “sinister”. Many of them clearly show brushstrokes of black wash on the surface, for example At Charlie Brown’s, Limehouse (1946), displayed in this section of the exhibition.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'At Charlie Brown's, Limehouse' 1945/1946

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
At Charlie Brown’s, Limehouse
1945/1946
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'At Charlie Brown's, Limehouse' 1945/1946

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
At Charlie Brown’s, Limehouse
1945/1946
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

In the background of this image, taken in one of London’s East End pubs, is another one: a poster issued by the military Red Cross and referring to that organisation’s work on the battlefields during World War I. It is not known why, in the second version of the image, Brandt partly obscured the poster with black wash, the medium he most commonly used to retouch his photographs.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'A snicket in Halifax' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
A snicket in Halifax
1937
25.40 x 20.50cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'A snicket in Halifax' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
A snicket in Halifax
1937, printed later
25.40 x 20.50cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

In 1951 Brandt started to develop his photographs using a high contrast paper in order to obtain very dark and light zones in the same image. This led him to develop some of his best known images again, including A snicket in Halifax. In contrast to the earlier prints of that photograph, in which the details of the façade of the building on the left are perfectly visible, he now reinterpreted the image with the façade totally blackened and thus strongly contrasting with the glint on the ramp’s cobblestones while adding a plume of black smoke in the sky.

As early as 1997 Nigel Warburton, an art historian who has undertaken some of the best work on Brandt, questioned the concept of authenticity in this photograph in one of his texts, reflecting on the changes that Brandt had introduced in the prints of his images. Warburton asked which is the most “authentic”, emphasising the fact that the way in which the artist interpreted a single negative had changed over time and rejecting the idea that the simple distinction between what are known as “vintage” prints and later reprints resolves this issue.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, Vasterival, Normandy' 1954

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, Vasterival, Normandy
1954
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, Vasterival, Normandy' 1954

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, Vasterival, Normandy
1954
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

In contrast to photographic purists such as Edward Weston, Brandt had no objection to retouching his images, cropping them or reversing the negative in accordance with his preferences or to meet the requirements of its layout on the printed page. Here we see two versions of the same image with the negative flipped in the enlarger. This is not a unique case and there are other examples in the exhibition: Policeman in a dockland alley, Bermondsey was published in two versions, while Behind the restaurant is a photograph that was always printed in reverse, as evident from the lettering on the boxes.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Policeman in a Dockland Alley, Bermondsey' 1934

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Policeman in a Dockland Alley, Bermondsey
1934
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Top Withens, West Riding, Yorkshire' 1944-1945

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Top Withens, West Riding, Yorkshire
1944-1945
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

This photograph was included in Brandt’s book Literary Britain (1951) and he recalled how he visited the place various times in order to take it, considering it one of the settings that best conveyed the world of Emily Brontë’s works. The farm, now a ruin, is supposedly the place that inspired her novel Wuthering Heights.

For the painter David Hockney, a great admirer of Brandt, this was one of his favourite photographs but he was extremely disappointed to discover that it is in fact a composite image and that the storm filled clouds, which descend almost to the ground, were taken from another negative and added in the photography lab. The other photograph, taken from higher up on the hill, provides the reverse shot on a foggy winter day.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Top Withens, West Riding, Yorkshire' 1944-1945

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Top Withens, West Riding, Yorkshire
1944-1945
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Barmaid at the Crooked Billet, Tower Hill' March 1939

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Barmaid at the Crooked Billet, Tower Hill
March 1939
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

Bill Brandt employed a wide range of retouching techniques on his prints, which was common practice in analogue photography, in which tiny scratches on the negative or specks of dust that cannot be completely removed leave marks on the photographic paper. In addition, Brandt often attempted to conceal imperfections in the individuals or objects photographed. The most widely used materials for this were watercolour, Conté crayon and even lead pencil. Brandt, however, also frequently used a scraper and Indian ink.

In this photograph the outline of the barmaid’s face, her eye and eyebrows have been reinforced with a metal point to define the lines, while the use of watercolour and Conté crayon allows various imperfections in the area of the left arm to be concealed.

 

Bill Brandt

Born Hermann Wilhelm Brandt in Hamburg in 1904 to a wealthy family of Russian origin, after a period living in Vienna and Paris in 1934 Brandt decided to settle in London. Within the context of growing hostility to all things German due to the rise of Nazism, he attempted to erase all traces of his origins to the point of stating that he was British by nationality. This concealment and the creation of a new personality enveloped Brandt’s life in an aura of mystery and conflict that was directly reflected in his work. His images aim to construct a vision of the country that he embraced as his own, although not of the real country but rather of the idea that he had created of it during his childhood through reading and from stories told by relatives.

Brandt had tuberculosis as a child and it was seemingly in the Swiss sanatoriums at Agra and Davos where his family sent him to convalesce that he first became interested in photography and where he made many of his literary discoveries: Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Gustave Flaubert, Franz Kafka, Guy de Maupassant, Ernest Hemingway and Charles Dickens. After some years in Switzerland he moved to Vienna to undergo an innovative treatment for tuberculosis based on psychoanalysis. Imbued with a post-Romantic air, Brandt’s photographs always seems to be located on the edge, provoking simultaneous attraction and rejection.

As the exhibition’s curator Ramón Esparza has noted, they can be related to the concept of unheimlich, a term first used by Sigmund Freud in 1919. The adjective unheimlich – generally translated as “the uncanny”, “the sinister” or “the disturbing”, and which according to Eugenio Trías “constitutes the condition and limit of the beautiful” – is one of the characteristic traits that remains present throughout Brandt’s career. Psychoanalytical theories were one of the fundamental pillars of Surrealism and their influence extended to the entire Parisian cultural scene in the 1930s. Brandt and his first partner, Eva Boros, moved to the French capital in 1930 where he worked as an assistant in Man Ray’s studio. Without ever actively participating in any of the historic avant-garde movements, he undoubtedly assimilated the ideas that circulated in a city filled with young artists, many of them immigrants looking to make their way in the professional art world. Brandt’s images of this period suggest a catalogue of psychoanalytical “themes”, clearly reflecting the influence of Surrealism on him.

Almost all Brandt’s images, both the pre-war social documentary type and those from his subsequent more “artistic” phase, possess a powerful poetic charge as well as that very typical aura of strangeness and mystery in which, as in his own life, reality and fiction are always mixed.

 

The exhibition

Fundación MAPFRE is delighted to be presenting the first retrospective in Spain on Bill Brandt (Hamburg 1904 – London, 1983), considered one of the most influential British photographers of the 20th century. The exhibition, together with Paul Strand. Fundación MAPFRE Collections, inaugurates the KBr Fundación MAPFRE, our new Photography Centre in Barcelona.

The exhibition presents 186 photographs developed by Brandt himself who, over the course of nearly five decades of professional activity, encompassed almost all the principal photographic genres: reportage, portraiture, the nude and landscape, as noted by his biographer Paul Delany in Bill Brandt. A Life, 2004.

The structure of the exhibition, which is divided into six sections, reveals how all these qualities – in which identity and the concept of “the uncanny” become the principal ones – blend together in the work of this eclectic artist. Above all Brandt was considered a flâneur or stroller in a way comparable to his admired Eugène Atget, whom he always considered one of his masters.

 

The early photographs

After initiating his activities as a photographer in Vienna, where he produced the famous and widely praised portrait of the poet Ezra Pound in 1928, Bill Brandt left for Paris in order to work for a short period as an assistant in Man Ray’s studio. In the French capital Brandt encountered Surrealism, which would influence his work from that point onwards. Some of his images, such as Balloon flying over the northern suburbs of Paris (1929), can be related to the psychoanalytical theories of Freud, who considered a hot air balloon in a dream to be a symbol of the masculine. Brandt’s photographs of this period are also closely related to the earlier work of his admired Eugène Atget; like him, Brandt photographed street scenes and Parisian nightlife (images that precede his subsequent, better known work) in which the above-mentioned notion of the disturbing makes its appearance.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Evening in Kew Gardens' 1932

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Evening in Kew Gardens
1932
25.24 x 20.48cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Brandt and his partner Eva Boros (another of Man Ray’s students who had previously studied with André Kertész) travelled on numerous occasions to the Hungarian steppes, to his native Hamburg and to Spain, where they visited Madrid and Barcelona among other cities and with the plan of spending their holidays in Majorca before moving to London in 1934. It was at this point that Brandt shed his German origins, even to the point of inventing British nationality for himself and creating a body of work in which the United Kingdom – a country marked by significant social inequality at that time – established itself as the core of his identity.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

“Bill Brandt was a man who loved secrets, and needed them. The face he presented to the world was that of an English-born gentleman, someone who could easily blend in with the racegoers at Ascot whom he liked to photograph. [A] façade which he would defend with outright lies if he had to […]. Today, many people are eager to discover their roots and make an identity from them. Brandt did the exact opposite: he buried his true origins and presented himself as a completely different person from the one he had been, in reality, for the first twenty-five years of his life.”

Paul Delany starts his biography of Bill Brandt with these lines. According to that author, Brandt not only wanted to live in England but to become English, which was understandable in the context of the growing British antipathy to Nazi Germany and to the events that followed Hitler’s rise to power and the outbreak of World War II. In the London art world it was habitual practice for emigrants arriving from Germany to change their name. Among those who had done so were Stefan Lorant, a Hungarian who had been the editor-in-chief of the Münchner Illustrierte Presse, and two of his photographers, Hans Baumann and Kurt Hübschmann, who anglicised their names to Felix Man and Kurt Hutton, just as Brandt changed his first name to Bill.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'East End girl dancing the 'Lambeth Walk'' March 1939

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
East End girl dancing the ‘Lambeth Walk’
March 1939
22.86 x 19.68cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

In February 1936, two years after his arrival in London, Brandt published his first book, The English at Home. Despite their natural, spontaneous appearance, the scenes reproduced in the book were carefully prepared in advance. For this first book Brandt opted for a wide, album format and made use of one of the design formats most commonly employed in Central European graphic publications: the combination of opposites in order to create a significant contrast between each pair of photographs. Brandt aimed to juxtapose and counterbalance two different social classes on each double-page spread, developing two parallel narrative discourses but without mixing them together. We thus see family scenes of the upper classes out strolling or dining, followed by the same activities undertaken by working-class and mining families. Two years after the publication of The English at Home Brandt published A Night in London, which represents a type of replica of a work by Brassaï, one of the photographers he most admired, whose book Paris de nuit had appeared in France six years earlier. A Night in London can be seen as Brandt’s contribution to the photographic and cinematographic genre that some art historians have termed “the symphony of the metropolis.”

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Elephant & Castle Underground' 1940

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Elephant & Castle Underground
1940
25.72 x 20.32cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Elephant and Castle underground station during WWII. 1942. Deep underground at Elephant and Castle Underground station, Bill Brandt photographed many hundreds sleeping as they sought shelter from the Blitz overhead.

Following the outbreak of World War II, Brandt started to work for the Ministry of Information, producing two of his most celebrated series. The first comprises photographs of hundreds of Londoners sleeping in Underground stations converted into improvised shelters, while the second portrays the city on the surface; a ghostly London lit only by moonlight as a safety precaution due to the air raids. The United Kingdom had become a single country united against the enemy. Brandt abandoned the class differences that he had previously portrayed in favour of other types of scenes which denounced the effects of the war on the civilian population.

 

Portraits

While Brandt produced photographs on an independent basis that he would subsequently group together for his different books, much of his output appeared in publications and magazines such as Picture Post, as well as in Lilliput and in the American edition of Harper’s Bazaar, for which he started to work in 1943. It was at this point that he turned to portraiture as a professional activity. His first reference to his portraits, of which more than 400 are known, was published in Lilliput in 1948. In Brandt’s words: “André Breton once said that a portrait should not only be an image but an oracle one questions, and that the photographer’s aim should be a profound likeness, which physically and morally predicts the subject’s entire future. […] The photographer has to wait until something between dreaming and action occurs in the expression of a face.”

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Francis Bacon' c. 1951

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Francis Bacon
c. 1951
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Brandt’s portraits evolved over time. Some mark a break with tradition, such as the images published in Lilliput in 1941 to accompany the article “Young Poets of Democracy”, which included some of the most famous faces of the writers and poets of the Auden generation. He subsequently began to distort the space in his images, as evident in Francis Bacon on Primrose Hill, London (1963), and also produced a new series of portraits of eyes of clearly Surrealist inspiration. The eyes of Henry Moore, Georges Braque and Antoni Tàpies are among the examples of gazes that transformed the way of seeing and representing the world.

 

Landscape described

Following his focus on portraiture, Brandt introduced landscape into his repertoire, thus encompassing all the categories traditionally considered to constitute the classic artistic genres. In his landscapes he aimed to introduce an atmosphere – a term that for Brandt seems to involve an entire series of aesthetic references associated with both the pictorial and the literary traditions – which connects with the viewer in order to provoke an emotional response from contemplation of the image. In this sense it would seem that Brandt did not aim to merely represent a place but to capture its very essence in a single image, as in Halifax; “Hail Hell & Halifax” (1937) and Cuckmere River (1963). When these landscapes started to include stone constructions such as tombs and crosses Brandt considered that he had achieved his aim of capturing the atmosphere.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Cuckmere River' (Río Cuckmere) 1963

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Cuckmere River (Río Cuckmere)
1963
20 x 24.13cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

It should be remembered that for Brandt the concept of landscape was deeply rooted in painting and the photographic tradition but also in literature. Literary Britain, which was published in 1951, makes this relationship clear. Using images already published in other weekly magazines as well as photographs specially taken for this book, Brandt accompanied his photographs with extracts from works by British authors. It is here that an explanation of his somewhat imprecise concept of “atmosphere” can be found: the moment when the different elements that make up the landscape (nature, light, viewpoint, weather conditions) converge in an aesthetic canon rooted in a cultural tradition.

 

Nudes

When Brandt focused again on the theme of the nude in 1944 he seemed to feel the need to return to a more poetic type of image. For the artist, documentary photography had become a widely extended fashion while the old Great Britain with its marked class divisions was now something of the past. It should also be remembered that the nude is one of the traditional themes of painting and as such signals Brandt’s evolution from documentary photography to the social status of “artist”. For this transition he made use of an old plate camera with a lens that produced an effect of broad spatiality and depth, transforming the everyday space of a room into a dreamlike setting.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, Baie des Anges, France' 1959

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, Baie des Anges, France (Desnudo, Baie de Anges, Francia)
1959
25.24 x 20.32cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

In the 1950s Brandt visited the beaches of Normandy in order to make a series of portraits of the painter Georges Braque. Seeing those pebble beaches led to a change of direction and he started to photograph stones and parts of the female body as if they were stones themselves. He combined flesh and rock, heat and cold, hardness and softness in a single formal discourse. The distortions are often so pronounced that the parts of the body have lost any reference point but they nonetheless produce sensations that are more poetic or profound. It may be that for Brandt these “fragments” of the human body in comparison or communion with natural forms represented primordial forms of some type through which we can perceive “the totality of the world”, as with the Urformen of the Gestalt School and its theory of perception.

In the late 1970s Brandt again returned to the theme of the nude but these images bear no relation to his earlier ones. They transmit a certain sense of violence which reveals the alienation of an artist who no longer felt himself part of the world in which he lived.

 

In Praise of Imperfection

In the introduction to Camera in London, his book on that city published in 1948, Brandt wrote: “I consider it essential that the photographer should do his own printing and enlarging. The final effect of the finished print depends so much on these operations. And only the photographer himself knows the effect he wants.” Brandt was far more concerned than many other photographs with the actual developing of his analogue photographs. He considered working in the photographic lab to be essential and he could spend hours there in order to ensure complete control over the final image, which in most cases was the stage prior to the publishing process when the image appeared in a book or magazine. At the outset of his career he had learned a wide range of traditional techniques, including blow-up, enlarging and the use of brushes, scrapers and other tools, as can be seen in the works displayed in the case in this room, which include various prints of the same image retouched in different ways. These manual retouchings sometimes gave his photographs that rather crude look which can be seen in the context of the above-mentioned Freudian concept of unheimlich or “the uncanny”. A large number of these images clearly show brushstrokes of black wash on the surface. Another example is Top Withens, West Riding, Yorkshire of 1945, an image taken for Brandt’s book Literary Britain. It includes clear signs that the stormy sky which gives the landscape a more threatening appearance was added later in the lab.

 

The catalogue

The catalogue that accompanies the exhibition includes reproductions of all the works on display, in addition to a principal essay by the project’s curator, Ramón Esparza, doctor of Communication Sciences and professor of Audiovisual Communication at the Universidad del País Vasco, and another by Maud de la Forterie, doctor in Art History at the Sorbonne, whose doctoral thesis was devoted to the work of Bill Brandt. The catalogue also features an essay by Nigel Warburton on the artist, originally published in 1993 and revised for the present edition, and Bill Brandt’s text “A Statement” which was published in the magazine Album in March 1970.

 

 

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15
Aug
21

Review: ‘William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen’ at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), Brisbane

Exhibition dates: 27th March – 22nd August 2021

Curator: Rosie Hays, Associate Curator, Australian Cinémathèque, QAGOMA

 

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Golden Summer' 1987/2016

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Golden Summer
1987/2016
Inkjet print, gold leaf on Innova Softex paper
40 x 30cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) ''Allan' from the monologue 'Sadness'' 1992

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
‘Allan’ from the monologue ‘Sadness’
1992
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

The Family of Yang

Let me tell you a story… a story made up of many smaller tales, told to me by a chronicler, diarist, writer, performance artist and filmmaker; socio-documentary photographer and historian; master of oral history and storytelling – Chinese-Australian artist William Yang.

Voluminous amounts of text have been written about Yang’s art practice and for this reason I only offer here a brief precis of his fifty year career as an artist. Indeed, it is impossible to cover such an expansive career in performance, film, text and photographs in one posting. After the precis I offer some thoughts and insights into Yang’s work.

Yang was born in 1943 into a family of Chinese immigrants in Far North Queensland. After moving to Brisbane in the mid-1960s to study architecture, he journeyed to Sydney in 1969 where he helped produce plays. Yang picked up a camera and started taking photographs of his friends, celebrities, parties and the gay scene in Sydney, Australia in the early-mid 1970s. His first exhibition Sydneyphiles at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Photography in 1977 set him on his way. Personal reflections were written directly on the mounts around his photographs something that he was to adapt further, inscribing his stories directly on the photographs in later bodies of work (“an oral tradition of storytelling transferred to the physical medium of the photograph”). In 1989, Yang began performing monologues with slide projections in theatres, integrating his skills as a writer and a visual artist.

As can be heard in the exhibition curator Rosie Hays’ video talk below, Yang’s first period was as a social life photographer / commercial photographer, earning a living selling his photographs to gay newspapers; his second period encompassed investigations into marginalised communities: queer community, Australian-Chinese community, Indigenous communities and telling alternative histories of Australia including the history of his Chinese-Australian heritage; and in the third period, Yang’s work has become more reflective, interested in ordinary things, interested in the life of the human embodied in the landscape.

.
As a documentary photographer and performance artist, Yang’s work has examined numerous linked themes. The artist investigates the intimate connections between dystopian and utopian worlds – for example, between the body racked by AIDS and the body beautiful (see above), or between the racism of his childhood and the acceptance of his Chinese heritage – as he probes the paradoxes of existence, those parallels streams of life and death, where one person looks death in the eye and the other doesn’t even know it exists… in that moment. And then proposes a reconciliation between past and present, personal and private, between the margins and the centre. Through his personal stories he exposes himself in the act of making his art, transcending his life in art. Ego drops away and he becomes entirely his own person, entirely himself, when he performs in his inimitable, self-deprecating style.

I have a suspicion, and I could be entirely wrong here, that at heart the young Yang was a very shy and insecure person. From personal experience I know that many introverts hide their shyness through extrovert behaviour, wanting to belong, wanting to be in with the in crowd, to be the life of the party. Yang was always there at any event opening or party, never without a camera, always ready to capture what life put before him because he wanted to belong. Then, to his great credit, instead of getting caught in a rut as many artists do repeating the same thing over and over again, he had the intelligence, will and creativity to push himself further, to take those next steps in his development as an artist and human being… to take those steps that descend, in metaphor, to the centre of the earth, to the centre of his existence. He was on that golden path of self discovery, another step in the evolution of himself. He wanted to know how he, and others, fitted into the great scheme of life. As a chronicler of moments, a chronicler of history, he speaks aloud the thoughts of his own becoming.

While photography is about capturing a moment and being a vehicle for storytelling, it is so much more than that. It can be about the relationship between the photographer and the subject and how that relationship evolves from a personal engagement to a universal engagement. It is the artist’s view of the world through the camera lens turned from a personal story into a universal story to which any human being can relate. Here we have empathy and humanity, diversity and racism, voyeurism and performance, public and private, bigotry and poofdom, decadence and death. The artist tells those stories, where personal is universal.

Yang is an national treasure, a living legend. People relate to William Yang. They reveal themselves to him because they feel comfortable in his presence, comfortable in his spirit and energy. He draws people to him, he is a sage – from the Latin sapere ‘be wise’ – who loves documenting people and their interactions with each other and with himself. He draws people into his orbit… and creates magical stories and intimate photographs about human existence. There is an undeniable virtu to the person and his work. All the subjects of his art are his family. Whether a celebration of life, an investigation into community, in joy and in sadness, we are all, always, part of the Family of Yang.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Queensland-born, Sydney-based photographer William Yang’s significant contribution to Australian photography spans five decades. Known for his reflective and joyous depictions of Australia’s LGBTIQ+ scene in the late 70s and 80s through to the present. Yang’s photography is informed by the cultural and political pressures of growing up as a gay man from a Chinese immigrant family in north Queensland.

This exhibition is a major survey of Yang’s work, which traces his career from documentary photography through to explorations of cultural and sexual identities and his depictions of landscape. Yang integrates a photographic practice with writing, video and performance. The exhibition includes Yang’s prolific social portraiture which features prominent creative identities from theatre, film, art and literature such as Patrick White, Brett Whiteley and Cate Blanchett, his revelatory insights into the LGBTIQ+ community, and insightful images of the Australian landscape.

Seeing and Being Seen also includes early social photographs of Sydney’s arts scene as well as the artist’s long exploration of his family and childhood experience in North Queensland which interrogate and celebrate his Chinese-Australian identity, Yang’s identity as a Chinese-Australian, a gay man and artist informs his marginalised experience.

While the stories and images included in the exhibition are quite specific to Yang’s life, the emotions underpinning them are instantly recognisable and acutely relatable. There is confession and courage in his storytelling – his most well-known works are often deeply personal and represent the means by which he reckons with his past, his relationships, and his experience outside the mainstream.

Text from the QAGOMA website

 

 

“Yang’s generation is not life as reported in the newspapers but ‘as I saw it’: a personal account summed up as a litany of parties, of innocence lost and worldliness gained, a continuum of his search for contact and meaning. Like his contemporaries Rennie Ellis or Michael Rosen, William Yang is a social photographer, a recorder of life. His strength lies in creating a living testament, and his medium’s strength is that it is necessarily shared. He offers no moral tale, nor any notion of karma to underscore the events: just the three basic but vital stories – birth, love and death.”

.
Michael Desmond, Senior Curator, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

 

“For me, seeing William’s images of men, swaddled in their desire, affection and easy love for one another, continues to disentangle something that’s been knotted up inside me for as long as I can remember. Asian men occupy a very specific idea in the Australian imagination – of being non-sexual, and therefore, undesirable – that we all inevitably internalise. The raw, unashamed sensuality of William’s imagery – of his unabashed desire for the men he captures, and the framing of Asian male beauty itself – is such a potent corrective. His images remind us that desire isn’t anything to be ashamed of, and that Asian men are desirable too.”

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Benjamin Law. ‘Bearing witness in the church of William Yang’ 2021

 

“I was a photographer, which means that I was a voyeur.”

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William Yang

 

“It was difficult to make ends meet as a playwright, so I became a photographer as a way of making money. I was attracted to the glamorous world. I wanted to be a part of it. One way of doing this, I thought, was to be a fashion photographer but i was terrible at it – I couldn’t cover up the flaws. I was better at covering parties and events.”

.
William Yang, 1993

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen' at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA)

 

Installation view of the exhibition William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) showing at left, Stand Palm Beach (1981); at middle, The Pool at Bondi #3 (1987); and at right, Golden Summer (1987/2016, above)

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Tamarama Lifesavers' 1981

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Tamarama Lifesavers
1981
Inkjet print on Hahnemühle Fine Art Pearl
39 x 70cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen / Exhibition walk-through

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Life Lines #3 – Self portrait #2 (1947)' 1947/2008

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Life Lines #3 – Self portrait #2 (1947)
1947/2008
Photographer: Unknown
Inkjet print on Innova Softex paper, ed. 2/30
100 x 70cm
Collection of The University of Queensland, purchased 2010
Photo: Carl Warner Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Andrew Baker Art Dealer, Brisbane

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Alter ego' 2001

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Alter ego
2001
Digital inkjet print on rag paper
68 x 88cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen' at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA)

 

Installation view of the exhibition William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) showing the artist standing in front of his photograph Life Lines #11 – William in scholar’s costume (1984) (1984/2009, below)

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Life Lines #11 – William in scholar's costume (1984)' 1984/2009

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Life Lines #11 – William in scholar’s costume (1984)
1984/2009
Inkjet print on Innova Softex paper, ed. 1/20
94.6 x 61.6cm
Collection of The University of Queensland, purchased 2010
Photo: Carl Warner Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Andrew Baker Art Dealer, Brisbane

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Self Portrait #5' 2008

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Self Portrait #5
2008
Inkjet print on Innova Softex paper
42 x 65cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

An exhibition of more than 250 works by Australian photographer and performance artist William Yang opens at the Queensland Art Gallery from tomorrow until 22 August, 2021. William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen spans the artist’s five-decade career and is the first major survey of his work to be presented by an Australian state gallery.

Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Director Chris Saines said Seeing and Being Seen referred to the artist’s view of the world through the camera lens. ‘Yang captures people across all walks of life, including celebrity artists, alongside photographic explorations that throw light onto subcultures and marginalised groups, and he does not turn away from unsettling narratives or uncomfortable truths,’ Mr Saines said. ‘We are thrilled to be presenting this major exhibition encompassing every aspect of Yang’s practice and highlighting his life-long fascination with people and storytelling. We are also premiering his major new performance ‘In Search of Home’ at GOMA.’

Minister for the Arts Leeanne Enoch said QAGOMA continued to take a leading role in showcasing Queensland-born artists, such as William Yang.

‘William Yang is a noted writer, performer and visual artist with an international profile and this exhibition is an important survey of his work, celebrating inclusivity and diversity,’ Minister Enoch said. ‘The Queensland Government’s support for QAGOMA helps ensure the Gallery will continue its legacy of celebrating Queensland artists and sharing works that tell our stories.’

The exhibition includes Yang’s prolific social portraiture which features prominent creative identities from theatre, film, art and literature such as Patrick White, Brett Whiteley and Cate Blanchett, his revelatory insights into the LGBTIQ+ community, and insightful images of the Australian landscape. Seeing and Being Seen also includes early social photographs of Sydney’s arts scene as well as the artist’s long exploration of his family and childhood experience in North Queensland which interrogate and celebrate his Chinese-Australian identity.

Rosie Hays, Associate Curator, Australian Cinémathèque, QAGOMA and curator of Seeing and Being Seen said Yang’s identity as a Chinese-Australian, a gay man and artist informs his marginalised experience.

‘While the stories and images included in the exhibition are quite specific to William’s life, the emotions underpinning them are instantly recognisable and acutely relatable,’ Ms Hays said. ‘There is confession and courage in William’s storytelling. His most well-known works are often deeply personal and represent the means by which he reckons with his past, his relationships, and his experience outside the mainstream.’

Born in North Queensland in 1943, Yang grew up with little knowledge of his Chinese heritage. Even though his parents were second-generation Chinese-Australian, Cantonese was not spoken at home. After coming to Brisbane in the mid-1960s to study architecture at the University of Queensland, he moved to Sydney in 1969, and has lived and worked there ever since.

A major hard-cover publication accompanying the exhibition features essays by William Yang, curator Rosie Hays, Professor Susan Best and Benjamin Law.

Press release from the GOMA website

 

 

 

William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen / Illustrated Curator’s Talk

Exhibition curator Rosie Hays (Associate Curator, Australian Cinémathèque, QAGOMA) traces William Yang’s reflective and joyous career, delving deeper into the artworks and themes addressed in Seeing and Being Seen.

 

 

 

Artist William Yang’s slideshow performance with stories and eyewitness images from Sydney’s thrilling and turbulent gay scene from the 1970s until now.

Yang is one of Australia’s greatest storytellers, a prolific photographer and a performer of monologues with slide projections. His stories describe the experience of coming to terms with his identity as a gay Chinese Australian. Yang’s work presents a rich and celebratory visual record of this journey, from Gay Liberation in the seventies, to the emergence of the Mardi Gras and a gay subculture in the eighties, to AIDS in the nineties.

 

 

William Yang. Families and Fictions: Contemporary Photography from the Collection: Artist Talk, Queensland Art Gallery, 2005

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) '"Mother Standing" Brisbane' 1981

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
“Mother Standing” Brisbane
1981
Gelatin silver photographs, ed. 2/10
51.3 x 61.1cm
Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant purchased 2004
Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art
© William Yang

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) '"Mother Standing" Brisbane' 1981

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
“Mother Standing” Brisbane (detail)
1981
Gelatin silver photographs, ed. 2/10
51.3 x 61.1cm
Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant purchased 2004
Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art
© William Yang

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen' at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA)

 

Installation view of the exhibition William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) showing photographs for Yang’s ‘About my mother’ portfolio

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Mother. Graceville. 1989' 1989

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Mother. Graceville. 1989
1989
From ‘About my mother’ portfolio 2003
Gelatin silver photograph ed. 2/10
51.3 x 61.1cm
Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant purchased 2004
Collection: Queensland Art Gallery│Gallery of Modern Art
© William Yang

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen' at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA)

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen' at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA)

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen' at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA)

 

Installation views of the exhibition William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) showing in the top image, Dawn, Central Australia #3; and in the bottom image at centre top, Doris Fish (1988, below)

 

William Yang. 'Doris Fish' 1988

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Doris Fish
1988
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'The morning after' 1976

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
The morning after
1976
Gelatin silver print
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

Morning sun raking through a window gently lights William Yang’s photograph of sleeping bodies and cast-off clothing, portraying ‘the morning after’ with the intimacy of the dawn. Yang photographed Sydney’s social scene of the 1970s and 80s, capturing wild times at discos, nightclubs and parties. Yang also captured the revellers at rest, photographing the supine forms of his naked lovers, night-clubbers passed out on city pavements and benches, and friends sharing makeshift beds on lounge-room floors.

Yang’s first solo exhibition in 1977, Sydneyphiles, was a frank depiction of the Sydney party scene and the emerging gay community. In their unposed realism, his photographs avoid any air of glamour, focusing instead on the unguarded moment and the spontaneous interactions between friends. The scrupulous honesty of his black-and-white documentary style is offset by his poignant and affectionate portrayals of those people and places familiar to him. His photographs are taken from the position of a participant in the worlds they depict, collectively describing the experience of coming to terms with his identity as a gay Chinese Australian. Yang’s visual stories are infused with a gently wry tone, mixing self-deprecating humour with insightful reflections on cultural identity. Here Yang has created images of the aftermath of intimate encounters, apparent in crumpled sheets and the shapes of sleeping bodies.

Text from the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney website

 

William Yang. 'Synthetic Diamonds at Paddington Town Hall' 1977

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Synthetic Diamonds at Paddington Town Hall
1977
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Alpha' late 1960s

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Alpha
late 1960s
Gelatin silver photograph with fibre-tipped pen on fibre-based paper, ed. 6/10
26.7 x 40.2cm
Collection: The University of Queensland purchased 2001
© William Yang

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Ben Law. Arncliffe' 2016/2020

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Ben Law. Arncliffe
2016/2020
Inkjet print on Ilford Galerie Smooth Cotton Rag
30 x 50cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'The Story of Joe' 1979/2020

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
The Story of Joe
1979/2020
Inkjet print on Ilford Galerie Smooth Cotton Rag; single-channel video
Print: 40 x 60cm; video: 16:9, 3:50 minutes, colour, sound; installed dimensions variable
Writer/Performer: William Yang; Director/Producer: Ben Latham Jones
Co-Director/ Co-Producer: Sophie Georgiou
Camera Operator/Editor: Dean Lever; Auslan
Consultant: Sue Jo Wright
Technical Assistant: Jack Okeby
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang. 'Bondi Beach' 1970s

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Bondi Beach
1970s
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang. 'Splashproof #1' 1994

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Splashproof #1
1994
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

William Yang, like many of his fellow Australian photographers, cannot help but be fascinated with the beach. In 1969, Yang left Brisbane for the bright lights of Sydney, and he fell in love with the city. At a distance from his family and Queensland’s conservatism, Sydney provided an opportunity for reinvention.

It was here that he combined his two photographic passions – landscape and people. Yang embraced the bleached allure of the city’s eastern beaches and took many iconic photographs of Bondi, Tamarama and Clovelly. …

Yang’s beach images present a refreshingly different framing of the typical Australian beach scene. The usual shots of bronzed female bodies or recreational pursuits take a backseat. Instead, Yang takes immense joy in the male figure, and his works represent a desirous male gaze on desirable male bodies.

The beach captured Yang’s eye from early in his career. At the time he started exploring the beach in his new Sydney home, Yang was also a jobbing social photographer, capturing celebrities and the ‘beautiful people’ behind the scenes at A-list parties for magazines. His approach to this work was in the photo-journalist style of capturing the unguarded moment.

Of his passion for taking images of the beach, Yang is a romantic at heart and has said:

“There”s an impulse in me that makes me go for the runny make-up, the unguarded moment, the Freudian slip. I mean I could photograph the plastic bags in the water, the rolls of fat, but the beach brings out the romantic in me. I’m overwhelmed by the beauty of it – the space, the surf, the sand and all that flesh. I’ve never gotten beyond the obvious.”

Rosie Hays. “William Yang: The Beach,” on the QAGOMA website 17 June, 2021 [Online] Cited 10/08/2021

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Great Wave off Clovelly' 2005/2016

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Great Wave off Clovelly
2005/2016
Inkjet print on Hahnemühle Fine Art Pearl
40 x 40cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang. 'Lifesaver Double' 1987/2017

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Lifesaver Double
1987/2017
Digital print
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Lifesavers #3' 1987

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Lifesavers #3
1987
Inkjet print on Hahnemühle Fie Art Metallic Pearl
32 x 49.5cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

“A prolific documentary photographer, storyteller and performer, William Yang creates works that tell an intimate, autobiographical story. Yang draws on his extensive archive of images, memories and sensual experiences, showing the unique atmosphere of freedom that prevailed on Sydney beaches in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Taken around Bondi and Tamarama, Yang has captured the joy of an era and the beauty of the elements with humour and generosity. More than reminiscence or exposé, Yang’s images reveal sensitive connections and insightful reflections about cultural identity.”

.
Text from the ‘Under The Sun’ exhibition 2017

 

 

William Yang 'Checking Out Bondi' 1981/2017

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Checking Out Bondi
1981/2017
Digital print
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

The Power of Being Seen

William Yang’s work, intimate and considered, draws on the artist’s own lived experience. Yang’s personal stories inform his spoken-word performances and photography, and he often scribes these stories directly onto his photographic prints. Drawn to people, Yang’s work reveals unsettling narratives in his own life, in the lives of his subjects, and in society. Adept at uncovering the unvarnished beauty and hidden foibles of our lives, storytelling is intrinsic to his practice. The artist spoke with exhibition curator Rosie Hays.

Rosie Hays: Are there stories you feel must be told? What draws you to the stories you tell from your own life?

William Yang: I [was] brought up as an assimilated Australian. Neither my brother, Alan, or my sister, Frances, or I learned to speak Chinese. Partly because my father’s clan was the Hakka, so he spoke Hakka, whereas my mother’s clan was the See Yap, and she spoke Cantonese, so English was their common language and that was what we spoke at home. My mother could have taught us Cantonese as it was generally left up to her to do that sort of thing, but she never did. She thought being Chinese was a complete liability and wanted us to be more Australian than the Australians. So, the Chinese part of me was completely denied and unacknowledged until I was in my mid-30s and I became Taoist. It was through my engagement with Chinese philosophy that I embraced my Chinese heritage. People at the time called me Born Again Chinese, and that’s not a bad description as there was a certain zealousness to the process, but now I see it as a liberation from racial suppression, and I prefer to say I came out as a Chinese.

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Chinese New Year Party Year of the Rabbit' 1999

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Chinese New Year Party Year of the Rabbit
1999
Gelatin silver print
51 x 61.5cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

My first big success was my show ‘Sydneyphiles’ at the Australian Centre for Photography in 1977. It was mainly about my social life in Sydney, with portraits of people I had met. Besides my own set of artistic types (I knew Brett Whiteley, Martin Sharp, Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson), I brushed with celebrities on the social rounds working for magazines. The exhibition caused a sensation. I knew then that people were my subject. I found that they wanted to see themselves on the gallery walls, they wanted representation. A compromising photo might cause annoyance, but it was better than being left out. There has always been an appetite for celebrities, well, that was to be expected. A vicarious interest in celebrity life still fuels the media. But I showed many photos of the emerging gay community as well. Australian photos of this type had not been shown in institutions before and it got a mixed reaction. Some said that these works shouldn’t be shown at a public institution, but mostly the pictures were accepted, especially by the gay community. A few were angry with me for outing them, but mostly I was hailed as a hero and was metaphorically given the keys to Oxford Street. I sensed that the mood of the gay community at the time was this: throughout history our community has been invisible. These photos may not be pretty, but we recognise them, and we accept them. We want our stories told.

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Four film directors' 1981

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Four film directors
1981
Inkjet print on solid substrate Kapaplast
53 x 80cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Brett Whiteley, Martin Sharp, Wirian' 1982

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Brett Whiteley, Martin Sharp, Wirian
1982
Inkjet print on solid substrate Kapaplast
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Party at the Whiteleys', Lavender Bay' 1982

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Party at the Whiteleys’, Lavender Bay
1982
Inkjet print on solid substrate Kapaplast
65 x 110cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen' at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA)

 

Installation view of the exhibition William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) showing at centre right, Brett Whiteley, Lavander Bay, Sydney (1975, below); and directly below this, Cate Blanchett: The star in her dressing room. After “Hedda Gabler.” Wharf Theatre. Sydney (2004, below)

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Brett Whiteley, Lavender Bay, Sydney' 1975

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Brett Whiteley, Lavender Bay, Sydney
1975
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Cate Blanchett: The star in her dressing room. After "Hedda Gabler." Wharf Theatre. Sydney' 2004

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Cate Blanchett: The star in her dressing room. After “Hedda Gabler.” Wharf Theatre. Sydney
2004
Inkjet print on solid substrate Kapaplast
54 x 80cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

These days I don’t take as many photographs. I’m sorting through my collection, trying to get it into some sort of order, and trying to digitise the negatives and the colour transparencies […]. I don’t want to be a photographer who dies leaving a pile of mouldy negatives for someone else to sort out […]. Every time I look through my collection, I am surprised because I have largely forgotten what happened in the past. Photography is a major aid to memory and the photographer a witness to the past. A photograph captures a moment in time. You don’t have to do anything special for this to happen, just press the shutter. There is something in the nature of the camera to freeze these moments in time, and there is something in the nature of the world to change and move on, so these moments never occur again.

In the early 1980s I started to do slide projection. It started off as a way to show my colour photography. At the time the colour printing process, Cibachrome, was expensive, and projection was a cheaper way showing my colour images. In 1980 in Adelaide, I met Ian de Gruchy, who did slide projection as his main art form. I was interested in his dissolve unit – a device using two projectors where the projected images dissolved into each other. Music was used, usually minimal music, and the result was known as an audio-visual. When one projects slides, as in a living room slide show, there is a tendency to talk with the slides, explaining them, and I started to do that. I worked with audio-visuals for seven years during the 80s until I had nine photographic essays, or short stories, to string together into a one man show. It was called ‘The Face of Buddha’ and I presented it at the Downstairs Belvoir Street Theatre in 1989. I lost money on that show, but still consider it a success. Everyone liked the form, story-telling with images and music.

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) "William Yang performing Sadness" Sydney 1992

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
“William Yang performing Sadness”
Sydney 1992
Photo: Peter Elfes (from ‘About my mother’ portfolio 2003)
Gelatin silver photograph, ed. 2/10 / 51.3 x 61.1cm
Purchased 2004
Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant
Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art
© William Yang

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Production still from Sadness' 1999

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Production still from Sadness
1999
Director: Tony Ayres
Image courtesy: National Film and Sound Archive, Australia and William Yang

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) ''Allan' from the monologue 'Sadness'' 1992

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
‘Allan’ from the monologue ‘Sadness’
1992
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

“Allan was a landmark for Yang and for Australian documentary photography. The combination of simple, unadorned portrait photos and diaristic, handwritten commentary made each viewer feel intimately acquainted with the subject. The step-by-step progress towards death puts us on the alert for every passing emotion in Allan’s face – he is sad, stoical, cheerful, grim, frivolous and heroic by turns. At the end of his life he has become an empty husk. It’s a devastating slice of reality smuggled into an art gallery, a piece that stops viewers in their tracks every time it’s shown.”

.
Extract from John McDonald. “Devastating and intimate: the landmark photos that stop viewers in their tracks,” on the Sydney Morning Herald website April 1, 2021 [Online] Cited 09/08/2021

 

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) ''Allan' from the monologue 'Sadness'' 1992

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
‘Allan’ from the monologue ‘Sadness’
1992
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

The most popular story was called ‘About My Mother’. I told the story about my mother’s family, how they came to Australia in the 1880s from Guang Dong province in China. My mother’s sister, my Aunt Bessie, married a rich landowner, William Fang Yuen, who was murdered by the white manager on his cane farm at Marilyan in north Queensland in 1922. I got an Australia Council grant to do my third performance piece, ‘Sadness’, in 1992. There were two themes: the first involved the AIDS pandemic in Sydney where many gay men, some of them my friends, were dying; and the second was a trip I took to north Queensland to talk to my relatives about William Fang Yuen’s murder. The two themes formed a powerful story about death and legacy. It was an immediate hit and toured Australia and the world. International entrepreneurs wanted my performance pieces, which they considered unique, not my exhibitions, so I kept doing more performance pieces and they became my main artistic expression.

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'William in Cane Fields' 2008

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
William in Cane Fields
2008
From ‘My uncle’s murder’ portfolio 2008
Inkjet print on Innova Softex paper
59 x 91cm
© William Yang
Photograph: Jenni Carter
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Self Portrait, Listening' 2017

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Self Portrait, Listening
2017
Inkjet print on Ilford Galerie Smooth Cotton Rag
38 x 60cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

The performance pieces changed my photographic practice. Before the 1990s, I made my living from freelance work. I would do whatever jobs people would pay me money to do. Then I found I could make a living doing my performance pieces, so I didn’t have to work for other people. I was able to channel all my energy into my own work and I became more productive. My performance pieces were about stories and I realised that many of my photos had stories behind them. I started writing the text directly onto the photo with a pen. My first series was about men with whom I had had encounters. All those photos had good stories. I have continued to do written works, as I call them, and the pictures with my handwriting have become the signifier of my work. Now I often choose images because they have a story.

Rosie Hays: Do you ever feel you’re telling other people’s stories, or are they your stories that happen to intersect with other people?

William Yang: When I ran out of my own stories, I wanted to tell an Aboriginal story because I felt the Chinese and the Aboriginal people had something in common: both had suffered under British colonialism. In my commissioned piece ‘Shadows’, I tried to tell an Aboriginal story about a community in Enngonia in north-western New South Wales, and it was successful in that I made myself part of the story, but I felt a little uncomfortable telling their story. Later I found someone, Noeline Briggs-Smith, who could tell her own story, and we did a story-telling duet on stage [called] ‘Meeting at Moree’, where we told alternating chapters of our stories on stage. She […] had a much stronger story than me. She had suffered more and worse injustices than I had, but there were interesting intersections in our stories.

Rosie Hays: Something we highlight in the exhibition is your connection to landscape. How would you describe your relationship to nature / the landscape, and has it changed over time?

William Yang: Most photographers have a go at nature. Everyone has photographed a sunset. I had my first serious encounter with photographing nature when I was recovering from a bad case of hepatitis at Frogs Hollow, Maleny, in 1979. I felt fragile from the illness and taking photos made me feel I could still do things. Looking at the photos now, the pictures are a beginner’s view. That’s the thing about nature: it’s been done a billion times before, and it’s difficult [to] escape cliché, but I had to start somewhere and I got a few good ones.

When I became Taoist, I took on a whole new philosophy. I came to appreciate nature, in the form of landscape, as a source and a driving force behind everything that exists. It was constantly changing and renewing itself. Everything about nature was beautiful because it was essentially always itself. I found I could apply a concept of beauty to nature, at least compared to the human nature I was photographing at the time. Later I began to see nature as a titanic struggle for survival […].

I came to realise that the landscape which moved me the most was the country around Dimbulah in north Queensland (on the Atherton Tableland), where I had grown up. It was part of my identity, part of my idea of home. I had absorbed it, it had imprinted itself upon me, and, although I did not realise it at the time – this was before I had articulated an artistic consciousness – it was there in my consciousness and I could draw upon it. So, in the early 90s, I made several trips up to Dimbulah, checking out the country that I remembered from my childhood. Nothing quite fitted my memories, but perhaps that’s a thing about childhood and memory. Nevertheless, I photographed a series on a medium format camera, trying to recapture memories. Now I enjoy returning to Dimbulah and seeing the landscape. It still triggers off emotions, but I feel they have become more distant. This text is from my print William at Thornborough, 2006:

“I have left these places and I have changed. These places still hold me but I move around these hills like a ghost. It is the motherland which formed and nourished me, from where I came, but to which I can never return.”

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Climbing Huang Shan' 2005

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Climbing Huang Shan
2005
Inkjet print on Innova Softex paper
41 x 48cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen' at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA)

 

Installation view of the exhibition William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) showing Return to the place of childhood. Dimbulah (2016, below)

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Boranup Karri Forest #1' 2018

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Boranup Karri Forest #1
2018
Inkjet print on Ilford Galerie Smooth Cotton Rag
50 x 150cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Return to the place of childhood. Dimbulah' 2016

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Return to the place of childhood. Dimbulah
2016
Inkjet print on Ilford Galerie Smooth Cotton Rag
50 x 150cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen' at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA)

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen' at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA)

 

Installation views of the exhibition William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) showing at lower left, Boranup Karri Forest #1 (2018, above)

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Earth Below, Heaven Above' 2020 (still)

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Earth Below, Heaven Above (still)
2020
Two-channel video, 16:9, 5:36 minutes, colour, sound
Editor: Jack Okeby
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

Rosie Hays: What are your aspirations as an artist? What is the aim for your work in the larger sense?

William Yang: Two of my most important realisations were, firstly, that I was not white but Chinese, and secondly, that I was not straight, but gay. I probably realised these at an early age, but it took me a long time to articulate the condition and to come to terms with it. Personally, I suffered more pain being a closeted gay than being Chinese. These are both big themes in my work. When I started including gay work in my exhibitions, some photographers told me it [was] a phase I was going through and I’d be better off dealing with universal issues. They were right, in a way, because by continuing to deal with marginalised issues, my audience base is much smaller. I would probably have made more money sticking with celebrity lives and continuing the status quo, but it is important for me to talk about being gay and to talk about racial difference, even if they are commercially unpopular subjects. Nowadays, there is more acceptance of being gay here in Australia, and likewise, there is more awareness of racial difference, but in the wider world this is not always the case. It is a cause worth pursuing, and documentary photography with a personal story thrown in is a good way of doing it. I want to acknowledge the activists around the world that have made social change happen.

I want my work to embrace my life. I’ve managed to live to a mature age – I was fortunate not to die young as many of my colleagues did during the AIDS pandemic. One lives a life, and I am not the same person as I was when I was younger. Then I had more energy, had more opinions, some of them obnoxious – in short, I had many of the traits of a young person that old people like to complain about. But one learns from life, and I have lived to this age and can see there is a shape to one’s life. It has to do with the things you believe in and the choices you make (I always knew being an artist would be a hard road), it is shaped by external forces beyond your control, and it is also shaped by luck. Still, I consider my life a fortunate one.

I think I like stories because they are about people and the world. They somehow embrace humanity. I would like my art to convey feelings, emotions, what it is like to be a sentient human: experiencing joy, laughter and sadness, to realise we are vulnerable, that we have our failings, we do bad things, but we are capable of forgiveness, kindness and love.

Rosie Hays is Associate Curator, Australian Cinémathèque, QAGOMA She spoke with the artist in 2020.

This is an edited excerpt of the original interview, which appears in the exhibition publication William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen, available at the QAGOMA Store

 

William Yang. 'Deposition. Innisfail Court House. 1922' 1990

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Deposition. Innisfail Court House. 1922
1990
From ‘About my mother’ portfolio 2003
Gelatin silver photograph on paper
51.3 x 61.1cm (comp.)
Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant
Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art purchased 2004
© William Yang

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Self portrait #1' 1992, printed 2013

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Self portrait #1
1992, printed 2013
Inkjet print on paper
87 x 119cm (comp.)
Gallery of Modern Art Foundation Grant
Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art purchase 2013
© William Yang

 

 

William Yang Self portrait #1 / A Director’s Perspective

Join QAGOMA Director Chris Saines CNZM as he discusses William Yang’s Self portrait #1 1992 (printed 2013)

 

 

William Yang’s work, intimate and considered, draws on the artist’s own lived experience. Yang’s personal stories inform his spoken-word performances and photography, and he often scribes these stories directly onto his photographic prints. Drawn to people, Yang’s work reveals unsettling narratives in his own life, in the lives of his subjects, and in society. Adept at uncovering the unvarnished beauty and hidden foibles of our lives, storytelling is intrinsic to his practice.

 

Self Portrait #1

Yang’s unflinching photographic gaze draws from the documentary tradition. Since the 1980s, Yang has displayed an unyielding persistence in unearthing stories that society, or even his subjects, might prefer to remain hidden. His instinct and passion is to present the whole, flawed story, not just the glossy surface.

With stories such as his uncle’s murder, Yang courts his family’s disapproval by airing hidden family stories, balancing potential indiscretions with the importance of telling real stories that reveal experiences or communities often left out of public discourse.

In the mid 1980s, Yang met Yensoon Tsai, a young Taiwanese woman who would become a close friend. Tsai taught Yang the tenets of the Chinese philosophy of Taoism, which led him to explore his Chinese-Australian identity.

Throughout the late 1980s and 90s in Australia, multicultural stories emerged across various art forms. Yang was part of this wave of artists rejecting a suppression of their cultural histories, and who instead wanted to highlight and celebrate diversity. Yang travelled throughout regional and urban Australia documenting the lives of Chinese-Australians, and the landscapes reflecting the legacy of the Chinese in Australia, such as religious shrines and mining sites.

Self Portrait #1 is a landscape work (in the way Yang talks about landscape which is often rooted in people and place and memory) as much as it a portrait work. Capturing the landscape is part of Yang’s somewhat diaristic approach to processing his social and physical environment.

When Yang returns to the Queensland landscape from his childhood, he characterises it as a site to escape from. He needed to escape from racist school bullying, constrictive family expectations, and the dread that his sexuality may be met with disapproval. Yang revisits his childhood home regularly, and some of his most potent performances and photographs come from connecting family and place. The series ‘My Uncle’s Murder’ – and its recounting of an injustice borne of racism dating from 1922 – resulted from such a trip. In his later works, he makes an uneasy peace with these past experiences that are embedded in the landscape of his youth.

Rosie Hays. “William Yang’s work reveals unsettling narratives in his own life,” on the QAGOMA website 4 October, 2020 [Online] Cited 10/08/2021

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Waiting for the Parade to Start' 2019

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Waiting for the Parade to Start
2019
Inkjet print on solid substrate Kapaplast
56.5 x 85cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Jac Vidgen and Akira Isogawa, Sweatbox Party' 1989

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Jac Vidgen and Akira Isogawa, Sweatbox Party
1989
Inkjet print on solid substrate Kapaplast
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Patrick White #1, living room, Martin Road' 1988

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Patrick White #1, living room, Martin Road
1988
Gelatin silver photograph, ed. 2/10
45.6 x 36.4cm
Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant purchased 1998
Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'My Generation (Brett Whiteley)' 1975 (detail)

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
My Generation (Brett Whiteley) (detail)
1975
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

My Generation

Queensland-born, Sydney-based artist William Yang describes a moment in Sydney when a number of creative groups came together to generate an artistic wave that swept across Australian society.

The intersections of the tight literary circle of Nobel award winner Patrick White and his partner, Manoly Lascaris, with the theatrical circle, their friends Jim Sharman and actress Kate Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick, in turn, models frocks in the exuberant fashion parades organised by designers Linda Jackson and Jenny Kee, while artists Peter Tully and David McDiarmid extend the tongue-in-cheek Australiana of the two fashionistas’ outfits with witty accessories. Their parades and parties at retail outlet Flamingo Park, a magnet for influential people in business, politics and the arts, determined the look of the 1970s and early 1980s. Tully and McDiarmid used their bravura visuals to jump start the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, giving the event its unique and unforgettable style. The pair lived out a parallel lifestyle that might epitomise the Australian story of gay liberation, with its heady rush unfolding into aching tragedy.

Golden couple Brett and Wendy Whiteley enjoyed the creative atmosphere of the swinging ’60s and the plunge into a riotous world of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. Yang shows Brett painting, smoking and partying with the beautiful people, and his eventual deterioration as heroin took a fearful hold. The early death of their beautiful daughter, Arkie, was another aspect of this fated family history. Linda Jackson and Jenny Kee eventually split; Kee takes Danton Hughes, the son of Robert Hughes, as a lover; Danton suicides; Kee takes up Buddhism. Yang portrays lives that unfold, flower or wither: lives lived.

Yang’s generation is not life as reported in the newspapers but ‘as I saw it’: a personal account summed up as a litany of parties, of innocence lost and worldliness gained, a continuum of his search for contact and meaning. Like his contemporaries Rennie Ellis or Michael Rosen, William Yang is a social photographer, a recorder of life. His strength lies in creating a living testament, and his medium’s strength is that it is necessarily shared. He offers no moral tale, nor any notion of karma to underscore the events: just the three basic but vital stories – birth, love and death.

Extract from Michael Desmond. “William Yang: My Generation,” in Artlines 1-2009 in “William Yang: Portraits,” on the QAGOMA website 22 September, 2017 [Online] Cited 10/08/2021.

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'David Gulpilil' 1978

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
David Gulpilil
1978
Inkjet print on solid substrate Kapaplast
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Linda Jackson and Jenny Kee' 1979

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Linda Jackson and Jenny Kee
1979
Inkjet print on solid substrate Kapaplast
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Richard Neville and Bob Geldof at Wirian' 1980

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Richard Neville and Bob Geldof at Wirian
1980
Inkjet print on solid substrate Kapaplast
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

In order to make a living as a photographer, Yang began his career taking candid shots of ‘beautiful people’ at parties and events for the social pages of newspapers and magazines. Yang rubbed shoulders with celebrities, artists and performers, and discovered that the camera was an entry pass to an exclusive backstage world populated by kindred spirits, with whom he formed close bonds.

Yang’s prolific social portraiture includes some of the most prominent people in Australian theatre, film, art and literature, with more than a few international cameos. A much-loved and trusted figure who is embedded into Sydney’s social fabric, Yang’s images are taken with the razzle-dazzle of celebrity, but little of its conceit.

Within the show is a salon hang ‘social wall’ which long predates Instagram. The selection of faces is reflective of Yang’s friendships and his abiding passion for the arts – they embody both the glamour of celebrity and provide behind-the-scenes insights into the lives of artists from a range of backgrounds. With a camera around his neck, Yang came to understand that he could ask his subjects a series of personal questions, and they would reveal more of themselves than they would during the course of casual conversation.

Representing only a fraction of Yang’s social photography, these images capture the almost compulsive nature of his passion for recording people and places. His gift for eliciting the essence of his subjects through portraiture – whether candid or posed – has been apparent his entire career.

Rosie Hays. “William Yang: Celebrity and Portraiture,” on the QAGOMA website 7 May, 2021 [Online] Cited 10/08/2021.

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Rainbow Angel Wings' 2003

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Rainbow Angel Wings
2003
Inkjet print on solid substrate Kapaplast
27 x 40cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Marriage Equality, Mardi Gras' 2013

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Marriage Equality, Mardi Gras
2013
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

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Stanley Place, South Brisbane
Queensland 4101, Australia
Phone: +61 (0)7 3840 7303

Opening hours:
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06
Jun
21

Exhibition: ‘Herbert List: Italia’ at Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne

Exhibition dates: 20th May – 31st July 2021

 

Herbert List (German, 1903-1975) 'Orco, Sacro Bosco – Garden of Pier Francesco Orsini, Bomarzo, (Lazio), Italy' 1952

 

Herbert List (German, 1903-1975)
Orco, Sacro Bosco – Garden of Pier Francesco Orsini, Bomarzo, (Lazio), Italy
1952
Vintage gelatin silver print
30.4 x 24cm
© Herbert List Estate, Hamburg, Germany
Courtesy Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne Paris St. Moritz

 

 

Every kind of pleasure

I feel that Herbert List is a very underrated photographer.

While celebrated socialites and fashion, architectural and urban(e) photographers in their day, the fame of List (together with his compatriots George Hoyningen-Huene and Horst P. Horst) has largely waned.

Is this because of the photographs aesthetic beauty and classical forms, their austerity and stillness, or their allusion to Romantic realism? Or is it because all three are gay and their homoerotic photographs of youthful masculinity still possess a residual stigma that clings to photographs of young men?

Whatever the reason this is a great pity for they are, all, superb photographers.

In his Self-Portrait in a Mirror, Rome, Italy (1955, below), List can be seen as an illusionist.

With seeming simplicity but utmost dexterity, List constructs magical spaces within the image plane – enchanted openings into other worlds that are actually present in the here and now: The Enchanted – At the Villa Magica, Rome Italy (1949, below); Painter in the Forum Romanum, Rome, Italy (1949, below).

His photographs play (there is the critical word) with how the camera pictures the reality of life on earth.

At a fundamental level of existence, this is magic (realism)1 played out on a global scale that investigates the fabric and structure of existence itself.

As a song I love titled “Dreams” by the group Nuages reflects:

 

“… and you understand black implies white

self implies other

life implies death

you can feel yourself

not as a stranger in the world

not as something here on probation

not as something that has arrived here by fluke

but you can begin to feel your own existence as absolutely fundamental

what you are basically

deep deep down

far far in

is simply the fabric and structure of existence itself.

 

Dr Marcus Bunyan

  1. The existence of fantastic elements in the real world provides the basis for magical realism. Writers do not invent new worlds, but rather, they reveal the magical in the existing world, as was done by Gabriel García Márquez, who wrote the seminal work One Hundred Years of Solitude. In the world of magical realism, the supernatural realm blends with the natural, familiar world. List’s style of fotografia metafisica, which pictured dream states and fantastic imagery, is related to magic realism.

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

 

 

“The lens is not objective. Otherwise photography would be useless as an artistic medium.”

.
Herbert List. “Photografie als künstlerisches Ausdrucksmittel,” in List, H. (1985). ‘Herbert List’. München: Christian Verlag., p. 36.

 

 

 

Herbert List (German, 1903-1975) 'Boys Playing Soccer, Naples, Italy' 1950

 

Herbert List (German, 1903-1975)
Boys Playing Soccer, Naples, Italy
1950
Vintage gelatin silver print
23 x 29.5cm
© Herbert List Estate, Hamburg, Germany
Courtesy Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne Paris St. Moritz

 

Herbert List (German, 1903-1975) 'Painter in the Forum Romanum, Rome, Italy' 1949

 

Herbert List (German, 1903-1975)
Painter in the Forum Romanum, Rome, Italy
1949
Vintage gelatin silver print
29.1 x 22.4cm
© Herbert List Estate, Hamburg, Germany
Courtesy Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne Paris St. Moritz

 

Herbert List (German, 1903-1975) 'Ottavio Russo – The Vagabond, Naples, Italy' 1961

 

Herbert List (German, 1903-1975)
Ottavio Russo – The Vagabond, Naples, Italy
1961
Vintage gelatin silver print
29 x 22cm
© Herbert List Estate, Hamburg, Germany
Courtesy Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne Paris St. Moritz

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Herbert List Italia' at Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Herbert List: Italia at Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne showing at right, Fight in Trastevere (1953)

 

Herbert List (German, 1903-1975) 'Fight in Trastevere, Trastevere, Rome, Italy' 1953

 

Herbert List (German, 1903-1975)
Fight in Trastevere, Trastevere, Rome, Italy
1953
Vintage gelatin silver print
29.3 x 23.2cm

 

 

Galerie Karsten Greve is presenting an exhibition dedicated to one of the major photographers of the 20th century: Herbert List Italia. This is a debut for Herbert List at Karsten Greve’s Cologne gallery space. Photo essays, photo reports, and portraits from the artist’s estate are on show, including around 80 vintage gelatin silver prints, based on photographs taken during Herbert List’s stays in Italy between 1934 and 1961. As much a bon vivant and educational traveler as an artist, professional photographer, and a collector of 16th to 18th-century Italian Old Master drawings, Herbert List felt closely connected to Italy.

Born in Hamburg in 1903, the son of Felix List of coffee importers List & Heineken, Herbert List started an apprenticeship with a Heidelberg coffee wholesaler in 1921 while studying art history and literature at Heidelberg University, attending lectures, for instance, given by Friedrich Gundolf, a professor of German philology, Goethe scholar, and member of the George circle. His encounter with photographer Andreas Feininger, who introduced him to the reflex camera (Rolleiflex), inspired Herbert List to take up photography in 1930. Influenced by Surrealism and the Bauhaus, he began shooting still life and portraits. In 1936, he emigrated to London and Paris; most of the time between 1937 and 1941, he spent in Greece. In 1941, to avoid internment, he fled to Munich where the American military government eventually admitted him as a photo reporter after he had been forbidden to officially publish or work in Germany. Being drafted into the Wehrmacht, the German armed forces, in 1944, he served in Norway until the end of the war. In 1946, he took photos of the ruins in bombed-out Munich. He became art editor of Heute magazine. In 1952, he joined Magnum, the international photographic cooperative, in Paris and traveled Italy. He completed several book projects. From the mid-1960s, he devoted himself almost entirely to his collection of Italian Old Master drawings. Herbert List died in Munich in 1975.

The artist’s estate, formerly in the care of Max Scheler from 1975 to 2003, is currently managed by Peer-Olaf Richter in Hamburg. Since Herbert List’s first solo exhibition in Paris in 1937, his oeuvre has been shown in numerous international exhibitions and published in internationally renowned magazines. His works are held in notable public collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Museum of Fine Art, Boston, Kunsthaus Zürich, the Photography Museum (now Photography Collection) at Münchner Stadtmuseum, Munich, the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, Museum Ludwig in Cologne, and the Musée Picasso in Paris.

In the 1930s, creating works of homoerotic sensuality in line with classical aesthetics, Herbert List took photographs of vigorous boys worshiping the sun on the beaches and coasts of Liguria, and on the islands of Capri and Ischia. He dealt with age, loneliness, and death in a 1938 picture essay about Casa Verdi, the old age residence and final destination for many singers and musicians at La Scala in Milan. List’s photographs taken in the catacombs of Palermo’s Capuchin monastery (Le Catacombe dei Cappuccini) with skeletons wrapped in robes whose bizarre facial expressions gain an uncanny presence thanks to close vision and lighting effects, date from 1939. Another grotesque photographic essay shows the monster monuments overgrown with moss and leaves in the Sacro Bosco of Bomarzo (province of Viterbo, Lazio), which is used as a pasture and playground. In the jaws of Orcus, the personified throat of hell, stands a shepherd boy trying to survey his flock of grazing sheep. The ingenious gardens designed by architects Pirro Ligorio and Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola on behalf of the Roman condottiero and patron of the arts Pier Francesco (called Vicinio) Orsini between 1552 and 1585 are unique and full of puzzles.

Herbert List uncovers, and, at the same time, ironically comments on, the monumental character of architecture in Rome, the Eternal city, by juxtaposing it with people or animals: the giant marble hand of the Colossus of Emperor Constantine points its index finger towards Heaven behind a monk’s head; a cat poses under a monumental head of Jupiter. In 1952, the camera artist first used a 35 mm camera (Leica) with a telephoto lens to candidly capture events on the piazza in the Trastevere district for his View from a Window series. For a photo report about Naples, Herbert List went on photographic forays through the city starting in 1957. His sympathy was with the local residents: fishermen, traders, craftsmen, seamstresses, and laundresses, but also nuns and priests, idlers and singers, and, in particular, with the street urchins. A native of Naples, director and actor Vittorio De Sica interviewed the people List portrayed. Their collaboration resulted in Napoli, an illustrated book published in 1962; featuring photographs of authentic everyday occurrences and quotations from the people shown, it provides an overall picture of the southern Italian metropolis interspersed with social criticism.

As a specialty of Herbert List’s photography, the exhibition presents vintage gelatin silver prints of portraits of contemporary artists, writers, and intellectuals from List’s circle of acquaintances, including Giorgio de Chirico and Giorgio Morandi, Anna Magnani, Wystan H. Auden, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Benedetto Croce, to name just a few of these character studies that are considered among the outstanding achievements of 20th century portrait photography.

Accompanying the exhibition, a publication on Herbert List published by Galerie Karsten Greve is available: HERBERT LIST Italia, text: Matthias Harder, Galerie Karsten Greve, Paris, 2020, 12.00 euros.

Text from the Galerie Karsten Greve website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Herbert List Italia' at Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Herbert List Italia' at Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Herbert List Italia' at Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Herbert List Italia' at Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Herbert List Italia' at Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Herbert List Italia' at Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Herbert List Italia' at Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Herbert List Italia' at Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Herbert List Italia' at Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Herbert List Italia' at Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Herbert List Italia' at Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Herbert List: Italia at Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne

 

 

Born in Hamburg in 1903, the son of Felix List of coffee importers List & Heineken, Herbert List started an apprenticeship with a Heidelberg coffee wholesaler in 1921 while studying art history and literature at Heidelberg University, attending lectures, for instance, given by Friedrich Gundolf, a professor of German philology, Goethe scholar, and member of the George circle. His encounter with photographer Andreas Feininger, who introduced him to the reflex camera (Rolleiflex), inspired Herbert List to take up photography in 1930. Influenced by Surrealism and the Bauhaus, he began shooting still life and portraits. In 1936, he emigrated to London and Paris; most of the time between 1937 and 1941, he spent in Greece. In 1941, to avoid internment, he fled to Munich where the American military government eventually admitted him as a photo reporter after he had been forbidden to officially publish or work in Germany. Being drafted into the Wehrmacht, the German armed forces, in 1944, he served in Norway until the end of the war. After his return to Germany, the American military government eventually admitted him as a photo reporter after he had been forbidden to officially publish or work in Germany.  He became art editor of Heute magazine. In 1952, he joined Magnum, the international photographic cooperative, in Paris and traveled Italy. He completed several book projects. From the mid-1960s, he devoted himself almost entirely to his collection of Italian Old Master drawings. Herbert List died in Munich in 1975.

The artist’s estate, formerly in the care of Max Scheler from 1975 to 2003, is currently managed by Peer-Olaf Richter in Hamburg. Since Herbert List’s first solo exhibition in Paris in 1937, his oeuvre has been shown in numerous international exhibitions and published in internationally renowned magazines. His works are held in notable public collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Museum of Fine Art, Boston, Kunsthaus Zürich, the Photography Museum (now Photography Collection) at Münchner Stadtmuseum, Munich, the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, Museum Ludwig in Cologne, and the Musée Picasso in Paris.

In the 1930s, creating works of homoerotic sensuality in line with classical aesthetics, Herbert List took photographs of vigorous boys worshiping the sun on the beaches and coasts of Liguria, and on the islands of Capri and Ischia. He dealt with age, loneliness, and death in a 1938 picture essay about Casa Verdi, the old-age residence and final destination for many singers and musicians at La Scala in Milan. List’s photographs taken in the catacombs of Palermo’s Capuchin monastery (Le Catacombe dei Cappuccini) with skeletons wrapped in robes whose bizarre facial expressions gain an uncanny presence thanks to close vision and lighting effects, date from 1939. Another grotesque photographic essay shows the monster monuments overgrown with moss and leaves in the Sacro Bosco of Bomarzo (province of Viterbo, Lazio), which is used as a pasture and playground. In the jaws of Orcus, the personified throat of hell, stands a shepherd boy trying to survey his flock of grazing sheep. The ingenious gardens designed by architects Pirro Ligorio and Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola on behalf of the Roman condottiero and patron of the arts Pier Francesco (called Vicinio) Orsini between 1552 and 1585 are unique and full of puzzles.

Herbert List uncovers, and, at the same time, ironically comments on, the monumental character of architecture in Rome, the Eternal city, by juxtaposing it with people or animals: the giant marble hand of the Colossus of Emperor Constantine points its index finger towards Heaven behind a monk’s head; a cat poses under a monumental head of Jupiter. In 1952, the camera artist first used a 35 mm camera (Leica) with a telephoto lens to candidly capture events on the piazza in the Trastevere district for his View from a Window series. For a photo report about Naples, Herbert List went on photographic forays through the city starting in 1957. His sympathy was with the local residents: fishermen, traders, craftsmen, seamstresses, and laundresses, but also nuns and priests, idlers and singers, and, in particular, with the street urchins. A native of Naples, director and actor Vittorio De Sica interviewed the people List portrayed. Their collaboration resulted in Napoli, an illustrated book published in 1962; featuring photographs of authentic everyday occurrences and quotations from the people shown, it provides an overall picture of the southern Italian metropolis interspersed with social criticism.

As a specialty of Herbert List’s photography, the exhibition presents vintage gelatin silver prints of portraits of contemporary artists, writers, and intellectuals from List’s circle of acquaintances, including Giorgio de Chirico and Giorgio Morandi, Anna Magnani, Wystan H. Auden, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Benedetto Croce, to name just a few of these character studies that are considered among the outstanding achievements of 20th century portrait photography.

Text from the Galerie Karsten Greve website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Herbert List Italia' at Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Herbert List: Italia at Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne showing at right, Italian Painter Giorgio de Chirico #4 (1951)

 

Herbert List (German, 1903-1975) 'Italian Painter Giorgio de Chirico #4, Rome, Italy' 1951

 

Herbert List (German, 1903-1975)
Italian Painter Giorgio de Chirico #4, Rome, Italy
1951
Vintage gelatin silver print
30 x 22 .7cm
© Herbert List Estate, Hamburg, Germany
Courtesy Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne Paris St. Moritz

Italian Painter Giorgio di Chirico in his Atelier and Home at Piazza di Spagna

 

Herbert List (German, 1903-1975) 'Girls playing in a Passageway, Naples, Italy' 1959

 

Herbert List (German, 1903-1975)
Girls playing in a Passageway, Naples, Italy
1959
Vintage gelatin silver print
28.9 x 21.6cm
© Herbert List Estate, Hamburg, Germany
Courtesy Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne Paris St. Moritz

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Herbert List Italia' at Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Herbert List: Italia at Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne showing at left, The Enchanted – At the Villa Magica (1949)

 

Herbert List (German, 1903-1975) 'The Enchanted – At the Villa Magica, Rome Italy' 1949

 

Herbert List (German, 1903-1975)
The Enchanted – At the Villa Magica, Rome Italy
1949
Vintage gelatin silver print
29.4 x 23.8cm
© Herbert List Estate, Hamburg, Germany
Courtesy Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne Paris St. Moritz

 

Herbert List (German, 1903-1975) 'View from a window: Little Garibaldi – Boy with Italian flag, Rome, Trastevere, Italy' 1953

 

Herbert List (German, 1903-1975)
View from a window: Little Garibaldi – Boy with Italian flag, Rome, Trastevere, Italy
1953
Vintage gelatin silver print
22.5 x 29cm
© Herbert List Estate, Hamburg, Germany
Courtesy Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne Paris St. Moritz

 

Herbert List (German, 1903-1975) 'Finger of God - Capuchin Monk in front of a fragment of the Statua Colossale di Costantino, Italy, Rome' 1949

 

Herbert List (German, 1903-1975)
Finger of God – Capuchin Monk in front of a fragment of the Statua Colossale di Costantino, Italy, Rome
1949
Vintage gelatin silver print
28.8 x 22.2cm
© Herbert List Estate, Hamburg, Germany
Courtesy Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne Paris St. Moritz

 

Herbert List (German, 1903-1975) 'Balloons at the Trevi Fountain, Rome, Italy' 1950

 

Herbert List (German, 1903-1975)
Balloons at the Trevi Fountain, Rome, Italy
1950
Vintage gelatin silver print
28.9 x 23.7cm
© Herbert List Estate, Hamburg, Germany
Courtesy Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne Paris St. Moritz

 

Herbert List (German, 1903-1975) 'Self-Portrait in a Mirror, Rome, Italy' 1955

 

Herbert List (German, 1903-1975)
Self-Portrait in a Mirror, Rome, Italy
1955
Vintage gelatin silver print
15.9 x 21.6cm
© Herbert List Estate, Hamburg, Germany
Courtesy Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne Paris St. Moritz

 

 

Galerie Karsten Greve
Drususgasse 1-5
50667 Cologne
Germany
Phone: +49 (0)221 257 10 12

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Friday 10am – 6.30pm
Saturday 10am – 6pm

Galerie Karsten Greve website

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09
Apr
21

Review: ‘Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’ at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 26th February  –  18th April 2021

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Equal pay demo, Bourke Street Melbourne' 1985

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Equal pay demo, Bourke Street Melbourne
1985
Pigment print from scanned negative
39 x 58cm (image size)
Courtesy of the artist and the Centre for Contemporary Photography

 

 

“One can also pursue politics with art.
Everything that intervenes in the processes of life, and transforms them, is politics.”

.
Hans Richter

 

“I always wanted to document people’s lives – their work, their family, their relationships, their leisure – their pain and pleasure.

“To me, every individual’s life is more wondrous than any fantasy could ever be.”

.
Ruth Maddison

 

 

The Art of a Fellow Traveller

Since the 1970s Australia has been blessed with many talented women photographers… Sue Ford, Carol Jerrems, Joyce Evans, Ponch Hawkes, Micky Allan, Ruth Maddison, Rosemary Laing, Hoda Afshar, Anne Ferran, Katrin Koenning, Robyn Stacey, Janina Green, Bindi Cole, Tracey Moffatt, Polixeni Papapetrou, Pat Brassington, Claire Rae, Claudia Terstappen, Jacqui Stockdale, Siri Hayes, Petrina Hicks, Kim Lawler, Carolyn Lewens, Nicola Loder, Jill Orr, Kim Percy, Patricia Piccinini, Elizabeth Gertsakis, Jane Brown, to name just a few…

 ** Thinking. Australia. For such a small (in population) and isolated (geographically) country, rarely in the history of photography can there have been such an accumulated wealth of talent within the space of 60 years or so. I have suggested to a major public gallery in Melbourne a group exhibition of these artists but it went nowhere. Why? This is world class talent! **

.
Which brings me to the exhibition Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times which occupies all galleries at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne.

What a delight it is to see this artist in full flight in this exceptionally strong exhibition. As pictured in the flow of images, Maddison has carved her name as a social documentary and feminist photographer, her holistic body of work providing a “significant contribution to the documentation of Australian life and society from the 1970s to the present – from her earliest iconic hand-coloured works, the working life of women, Melbourne’s social and cultural life of the 1980s, and Maddison’s documentation of the people and industries of her adopted home of Eden.”

Through direct, frontal mainly black and white / hand coloured photographs, Maddison builds compelling stories in her work, stories which explore the cultures and sub-cultures of Australia: the political upheavals, alternative lifestyles and counter culture, the women’s movement, gay liberation, Vietnam, union, nuclear, anti-fascist and other protests; the fight for equality and equal pay, the fight against discrimination and other actions that fight for fairness, acceptance and respect for all, within Australian society. With compassion and understanding Maddison pictures youth and exuberance, old age and protest, life on the land and sea, and life leaving it for the cities. Her photographs serve a testificatory function – related to BOTH a person who has witnessed these events (the artist) AND an object used as evidence (the photograph).

Maddison’s testimony to such events creates a polyperspectivity – not so much in terms of what the camera sees in individual images, but in what it sees directed by the artist over an entire career, comprising more than 40 years. Of looking, of being present, of being ethical. In her work, “the shadows already become immortal while still alive.”1

This is the crux of the matter. Since the very day that Maddison picked up a camera being ethical when representing the world around her has been a gut reaction. “Ethics is concerned with what is good for individuals and society and is also described as moral philosophy. The term is derived from the Greek word ethos which can mean custom, habit, character or disposition.” Her presentation of the world reflects her character and disposition. Her ethos is embedded in her being and psyche – the human soul, mind AND spirit. You can’t make this stuff up, you either have it or you don’t.

Maddison has this generosity of spirit in spades. The belief in balance, fairness, and equality for all. Yes, her photographs document people’s pleasure and pain, their lives, their existence but only through her own presence and vision. Her photographs are a reflection of her inner being, her spirit. What she believes the world can be, should be. It is this force of nature, her own being, that propels the investigation forwards. Never more so than now, in the midst of a pandemic, the world needs such ethical artists. To remind us for what we fight for.

For example, Netflix have recently announced a new “docu-soap” series “Byron Baes” (babes) to be filmed in the northern NSW beachside town of Byron Bay, which will reveal “hot Instagrammers, living their best lives, being their best selves,” with a cast of “celebrity-adjacent-adjacent influencers.” Who cares about these egotistical non-entities, when in the town drug use is rampant, housing is unaffordable and people cannot get a job! That is the real story, one which an artist such as Maddison would recognise and document with empathy and insight.

Maddison is a fellow traveller2 and I travel with her. She doesn’t follow “the running dog of capitalism” – or as people used to call them, “running dogs”3 – nipping at your heels, constantly harassing you, but these days not even that… just lackadaisical multinational corporations who don’t even care to hide their disdain for the working class, or their ecological disdain for the health of the world. All that matters is money and keeping the shareholders happy. She follows her own path and long may that continue. Looking and documenting is always both personal and political and this is Maddison’s story: “Everything that intervenes in the processes of life, and transforms them, is politics.” Blessings to her.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Joseph Roth, quoted, in translation, from Ulrich Raulff. “Umbrische Figuren,” in Floris M. Neusüss. Fotogramme – die lichtreichen Schatten. Kassel 1983, p. 16.
  2. A person who travels with another; a person who is not a member of a particular group or political party … but who sympathises with the group’s aims and policies.
  3. A servile follower, especially of a political system.

.
Many thankx to the Centre for Contemporary Photography for allowing me to publish the installation photographs at the bottom of the posting. All other iPhone photographs by Marcus Bunyan. Please click on the photographs to view a larger version of the image.

 

 

Gallery One

 

Text from the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Text from the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Text from the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'First roll of film' 1976 (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
From First roll of film (installation view)
1976
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'First roll of film' 1976 (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
From First roll of film (installation view)
1976
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'First roll of film' 1976

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
From First roll of film (installation view)
1976
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne showing at left the series Christmas Holidays with Bob’s Family, Mermaid Beach, Queensland (1979)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne showing the series Christmas Holidays with Bob’s Family, Mermaid Beach, Queensland (1979)
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (born Australia 1945) 'No title (Woman collecting a Christmas present from the car)' 1977-78

 

Ruth Maddison (Australia, b. 1945)
No title (Woman collecting a Christmas present from the car)
1977-78
From the series Christmas Holidays with Bob’s Family, Mermaid Beach, Queensland 1979

 

Ruth Maddison. 'Christmas holiday with Bob's family, Mermaid Beach, Queensland' 1977/78

 

Ruth Maddison (Australia, b. 1945)
From Christmas Holidays with Bob’s family, Mermaid Beach, Queensland
1979

 

Ruth Maddison (Australia, b. 1945) 'Christmas Holidays with Bob's family, Mermaid Beach, Queensland' 1979

 

Ruth Maddison (Australia, b. 1945)
From Christmas Holidays with Bob’s family, Mermaid Beach, Queensland
1979

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the series Christmas Holidays with Bob’s family, Mermaid Beach, Queensland (1979) from the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Untitled #18' 1979

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Untitled #18
1979
From the series Christmas holidays with Bob’s family. Mermaid Beach, Queensland 1979
Pigment print from scan, edition 1/1
10.5 x 16.2cm
Courtesy of the artist and the Centre for Contemporary Photography

 

Text from the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne showing photographs of women workers and single mothers (various dates and series, see above)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne showing images from the series And so we joined the Union (1985)
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Prison Officers, Pentridge' 1985

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Prison Officers, Pentridge
1985
Pigment print from scanned negative (Print by Les Walkling)
50 x 50cm (image size)
Courtesy of the artist and the Centre for Contemporary Photography

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) From the series 'Let's Dance' 1979

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) From the series 'Let's Dance' 1979

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
From the series Let’s Dance (installation views)
1979
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Ruth Maddison photographed the social spaces that had been important to activist communities but which were in the process of passing away. These were mainly commissioned projects for labour and social movements, otherwise these histories would have been lost.

Dancing and entertainment were features of Ruth Maddison’s work throughout the 1980s. These photographs reflected Maddison’s own social life, which often revolved around Melbourne’s pubs and nightclubs. But there was also a classical documentary function to her photographs of trade union dances and the annual women’s dance at St Kilda Town Hall. These pictures reflected social spaces that had been important to activist communities, but which by the mid-1980s were in the process of passing away; as women’s groups began to fragment, and as the membership of labour organisations changed. The photograph shown here of the Vehicle Builders’ Union Ball at Collingwood Town Hall were part of a commission. Like many photographers in this exhibition (including Helen Grace, Sandy Edwards and Ponch Hawkes), political affiliation and professional practice often came together in commissioned projects for labour and social movements.

Text from the Monash Gallery of Art website

 

Ruth Maddison. 'Vehicle Builders' Union Ball, Collingwood Town Hall, Melbourne' 1979

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Vehicle Builders’ Union Ball, Collingwood Town Hall, Melbourne
1979
Gelatin silver print

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Single Mothers and their Children' 1994

 

Installation view of a work from Ruth Maddison’s series Single Mothers and their Children 1994
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Mmaskepe Sejoe and her daughter Nthabelong. Botswana - Melbourne' 1997 (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Mmaskepe Sejoe and her daughter Nthabelong. Botswana – Melbourne (installation view)
1997
From the series Australian Women
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Mary Marcoftsis. Macedonia - Melbourne' 1997 (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Mary Marcoftsis. Macedonia – Melbourne (installation view)
1997
From the series Australian Women
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Nada Jankovic. Serbia - Buli, NSW' 1997 (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Nada Jankovic. Serbia – Buli, NSW (installation view)
1997
From the series Australian Women
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Lia Tata Ruga, Devi Hamid, Anna Dartania and Ita Sulis. Indonesia – Sydney' (installation view) 1997

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Lia Tata Ruga, Devi Hamid, Anna Dartania and Ita Sulis. Indonesia – Sydney (installation view)
1997
From the series Australian Women
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Trade workshop for girls, Preston TAFE' 1984 (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Trade workshop for girls, Preston TAFE (installation view)
1984, printed 2020
Pigment print from scanned negative
18.6 x 28cm
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Trade workshop for girls, Preston TAFE 1984' (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Trade workshop for girls, Preston TAFE (installation view)
1984, printed 2020
Pigment print from scanned negative
18.6 x 28cm
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Women's Dance, St Kilda Hall' 1985, printed 2014 (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Women’s Dance, St Kilda Hall (installation view)
1985, printed 2014
Gelatin silver prints

 

Text from the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Ponch Hawkes, Helen and Alice Garner' 1978-2018

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Ponch Hawkes, Helen and Alice Garner
1978-2018
Pigment print from scanned negative
Image: 22.6 x 15cm
Courtesy of the artist and the Centre for Contemporary Photography

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Jane Clifton and Helen Garner' 1976-2013 (installation view)

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Jane Clifton and Helen Garner' 1976-2013 (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Jane Clifton and Helen Garner (installation views)
1976-2013
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Text from the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation view in gallery one of the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne showing at second top left, Keith Haring (1985-2014)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Keith Haring' 1985-2014

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Keith Haring
1985-2014
Pigment print from scanned negative, hand-coloured and digitally enhanced
40 x 40cm
Courtesy of the artist and the Centre for Contemporary Photography

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Monika Behrem, Rochelle Haley and their baby Indigo' 2017 (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Monika Behrem, Rochelle Haley and their baby Indigo (installation view)
2017
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Equal pay demo, Bourke Street Melbourne' 1985 (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Equal pay demo, Bourke Street Melbourne (installation view)
1985
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Gallery two

 

Text from the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation views in gallery two of the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Text from the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Highway 23' 2009 (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Highway 23 (installation view)
2009
Type C print from digital file
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation views showing work from the series Crossing the Monaro (2009) in the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

In Ruth Maddison’s regular trips across the Monaro she stopped frequently to take photographs. She is drawn to the expansiveness of this unencumbered landscape, the way it opens up and seems to encourage something similar in ourselves.

“I drive across the Monaro and look at the sweep of the land and think about what was there and what has gone – time and time again. Stopping at small cemeteries scattered across the Monaro, passing through the dying towns, collecting bird and animal bones scattered all along the way, watching grass seeds blowing across the road. I am conscious of layers of history held beneath the surface of the land. …

History is writ large on this route. Small towns attest to times of brief plenty: the promise of gold, the economy of fleece. They are established at distances determined in an era when horses paced the daily work. Where rail provided a short-lived reprise. They are now towns that compete for use to “Stop Revive Survive” or to which some retire…

This new body of work is a departure from the people-focused documentary / portrait based work that has informed my public practice for 30 years. This departure is the outcome of my social and professional isolation [in Eden], which I sought and have embraced. Yet I consider this work a documentary piece – I am documenting the passage of my life through a place and a time via photography and the problem solving processes it presents to me. I am documenting what it is that makes me want to go on and on with the work.”

Ruth Maddison artist statements 2008-09 quoted in Merryn Gates. “There is a time,” (catalogue essay) from the exhibition There is a time at the Huw Davies Gallery, September 2009 [Online] Cited 05/04/2021

 

Text from the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation view in gallery two of the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Millsy (Jason Mills)' 2000-2002 (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Millsy (Jason Mills) (installation view)
2000-2002
From the series Now a river went out of Eden
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Bounge (Gregory Curtis) and Apple (John McCrory)' 2000-2002 (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Bounge (Gregory Curtis) and Apple (John McCrory) (installation view)
2000-2002
From the series Now a river went out of Eden
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Norm Joiner' 2000-2002 (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Norm Joiner (installation view)
2000-2002
From the series Now a river went out of Eden
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Imlay Street, Eden 1.44 pm 31 December 2019' and 'Walking towards Aslings Beach 7.14 am 31 December 2019' 2019 (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Imlay Street, Eden 1.44 pm 31 December 2019 (installation view)
Walking towards Aslings Beach 7.14 am 31 December 2019
2019
From the series When No Birds Sing 2020
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Volunteers sorting. At the Fishermen's Co-op, Eden. 3.06 pm 18 January 2020' 2020 (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Volunteers sorting. At the Fishermen’s Co-op, Eden. 3.06 pm 18 January 2020 (installation view)
2020
From the series When No Birds Sing 2020
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Julie Ristanovic, canteen supervisor. Chip mill' Nd (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Julie Ristanovic, canteen supervisor. Chip mill (installation view)
Nd
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Gallery three

 

Text from the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Fifty-one selected posters, from the Samuel Goldbloom Collection, Melbourne University Archives, pigment prints

Fifty-one selected posters, from the Samuel Goldbloom Collection, Melbourne University Archives, pigment prints

Fifty-one selected posters, from the Samuel Goldbloom Collection, Melbourne University Archives, pigment prints

Fifty-one selected posters, from the Samuel Goldbloom Collection, Melbourne University Archives, pigment prints

Fifty-one selected posters, from the Samuel Goldbloom Collection, Melbourne University Archives, pigment prints

Fifty-one selected posters, from the Samuel Goldbloom Collection, Melbourne University Archives, pigment prints

Fifty-one selected posters, from the Samuel Goldbloom Collection, Melbourne University Archives, pigment prints

 

Fifty-one selected posters, from the Samuel Goldbloom Collection, Melbourne University Archives, pigment prints
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation views in gallery three of the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne showing on the television The Dustbins of History (1950s / 2020), edited from ASIO footage sourced from the National Archives of Australia
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

The Dustbins of History (1950s), edited from Asio footage sourced from the National Archives of Australia.

 

Still from The Dustbins of History (1950s / 2020), edited from ASIO footage sourced from the National Archives of Australia

 

 

She [Maddison] also discovered reels of surveillance film documenting suspected members of the Communist party as they arrived at a secret meeting in one of Melbourne’s laneways in the 50s. This footage appears in the exhibition as The Dustbins of History, a short film that is comedic in its ambiguity and monotony. All that’s missing is the Keystone Cops.

Alison Stieven-Taylor. “The communist who raised me: photographer Ruth Maddison interrogates her father’s Asio file,” on the Guardian website Thurs 25 February 2021 [Online] Cited 05/04/2021

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation views in gallery three of the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation views in gallery three of the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne showing works from the series My father’s footsteps (1942-2020)
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'To everything there is a turn, turn, turn' 2020

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
To everything there is a turn, turn, turn
2020
From the series My father’s footsteps (1942-2020)
Diptych
Pigment print from ASIO files

 

 

After decades of being denigrated in the press and parliament, in 1990 Goldbloom was awarded an OAM for his service as an activist for peace. Later, a street was named after him in Canberra. Maddison has paired an ASIO image of her father at a peace rally in 1965 with the Goldbloom street sign, evidence she says of “history doing the wheel again”.

Alison Stieven-Taylor. “The communist who raised me: photographer Ruth Maddison interrogates her father’s Asio file,” on the Guardian website Thurs 25 February 2021 [Online] Cited 05/04/2021

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation view in gallery three of the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Hiroshima Day, Melbourne' 1981/2020 (installation view)

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Hiroshima Day, Melbourne' 1981/2020 (installation view detail)

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Hiroshima Day, Melbourne' 1981/2020 (installation view detail)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Hiroshima Day, Melbourne (installation views)
1981/2020
Pigment print from scanned black and white negative. Hand coloured and digitally enhanced
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Herta and Jill Koppel

 

 

I just met the most wonderful lady at the Ruth Maddison exhibition at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne.

100 year old Herta Koppel (pictured with her daughter Jill) was as bright as a button. She escaped the Nazis from Vienna with her two sisters in 1939, a few weeks before the war, leaving behind her parents who did not make it.

In the gallery the family were reminiscing on the people they knew in Ruth’s photographs while ‘The Internationale’ played in the background. How fitting.

Marcus

Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Samuel Goldbloom. Four photographs by ASIO 1957/1965/1968/1970 archival pigments prints 2020 (installation view)

Samuel Goldbloom. Four photographs by ASIO 1957/1965/1968/1970 archival pigments prints 2020 (installation view)

 

Samuel Goldbloom. Four photographs by ASIO 1957/1965/1968/1970 archival pigments prints 2020 (installation view)
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) Sam self-portrait, self-redacted Nd (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Sam self-portrait, self-redacted (installation view)
Nd
Pigment print from scanned negative
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) Sam self-portrait, self-redacted Nd (installation view detail)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Sam self-portrait, self-redacted (installation view detail)
Nd
Pigment print from scanned negative
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation views in gallery three of the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Maddison's parents' Nd (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Maddison’s parents (installation view)
Nd
Pigment print from scanned black and white negative
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Last night I had the strangest dream (#1)' 2020 (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Last night I had the strangest dream (#1) (installation view)
2020
Pigment print, hand coloured and digitally enhanced
64 x 70cm
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

From an early age, Ruth Maddison knew her father, Sam Goldbloom, was being watched. “He used to tell us not to worry about the men sitting in the car in front of the house … we were aware the clicks on the phone meant ‘they’ were listening too,” the award-winning Melbourne-born photographer says.

“They” were the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. In the 1940s, Goldbloom’s anti-fascist ideals drew ASIO’s attention. He later joined the Communist party before becoming a major player in the World Peace Council. These associations made him a person of interest for more than 30 years. …

While the spy agency’s prolonged surveillance of her father was not news, Maddison says that when her mother, Rosa, died in 2008, she discovered a much more layered history. As she and her two sisters packed up the family home, Maddison was tasked with clearing out her father’s shed. He had died in 1999 but until then no one had gone through “Sam’s stuff”.

There she found packs of slides, video footage from Goldbloom’s numerous peace missions to communist regimes including the USSR, East Germany and Cuba, as well as home movies, correspondence and other paraphernalia related to his activist work. This discovery became the entry point to The Fellow Traveller, the centrepiece for the first major survey of Maddison’s work, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”.

She [Maddison] uses her camera to explore the influence of politics on everyday life, often focusing on the personal. In The Fellow Traveller she exposes the social and political climate of the postwar years through a very intimate and at times painful lens.

“For my father, politics was number one,” she says. “To see it all laid out in the ASIO files, you know, night after night after night Sam was at meetings, and then this year he’s overseas for one month, and then another year for two months, then three. While I was looking at all of that I realised family wasn’t number one for him.”

While Maddison was not witness to her father’s interactions with world leaders, she imagined him meeting men like Mao and Khrushchev. In a series, “Last night I had the strangest dream” Maddison has inserted Goldbloom into pictures with his political heroes [see Last night I had the strangest dream (#1) below].

“It’s not about reinterpreting history, I am playing with him and his life, and wondering if he ever daydreamed these images like I am now.” These hand-coloured photographs are also visual evidence of the fiction ASIO pursued.

Maddison describes her treatment of the archival materials as “part real, part desire and part imaginary”, which parallels the narrative in the ASIO files. In the endless reams of observational notes, innocuous photographs and informers’ statements lies the hope that Goldbloom was up to something.

After decades of being denigrated in the press and parliament, in 1990 Goldbloom was awarded an OAM for his service as an activist for peace. Later, a street was named after him in Canberra. Maddison has paired an ASIO image of her father at a peace rally in 1965 with the Goldbloom street sign, evidence she says of “history doing the wheel again”. [See the diptych To everything there is a turn, turn, turn 2020 above]

Alison Stieven-Taylor. “The communist who raised me: photographer Ruth Maddison interrogates her father’s Asio file,” on the Guardian website Thurs 25 February 2021 [Online] Cited 05/04/2021

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Last night I had the strangest dream (#1)' 2020

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Last night I had the strangest dream (#1)
2020
Pigment print, hand coloured and digitally enhanced
64 x 70cm
Courtesy of the artist and the Centre for Contemporary Photography

 

 

 

Gallery four

 

Text from the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation views in gallery four of the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times is a significant survey exhibition focusing on Maddison’s social documentary practice from 1976 to the current day. Bringing together key historical works with a major new commission, this exhibition is a timely and focused look at one of Australia’s leading feminist photographers.

The exhibition features several key series, from Maddison’s earliest hand-coloured works Miss Universe (1979); her iconic Christmas Holidays with Bob’s Family, Mermaid Beach, Queensland (1979); a selection of series focusing on women in the workforce (from 1979); The Beginning of Absence (1996) documenting her father’s mortality; photojournalistic works documenting political rallies and activism in Australia (1975-2015); to Maddison’s more recent projects documenting the people and industries of Eden, NSW (2002-2014).

These works are presented alongside Maddison’s documentation of the cultural milieu of Melbourne with a focus on the late 1970s and 1980s. Her portraits of Melbourne’s leading writers, artists, theatre makers and musicians include Helen Garner, Tracey Moffatt, Steven Cummings, Jenny Watson, Mickey Allen, Ponch Hawkes and the founders of Melbourne’s Circus Oz amongst others.

Maddison’s more recent projects documenting Eden’s people and industries illustrate the changing face of regional Australia and the societal pressures that have come to bear. The Eden teens captured in Maddison’s 2002 series have now splintered, with half leaving town for new opportunities and the other remaining. The two industries – fishing and timber – that have underpinned Eden’s economy for decades have been dramatically reduced. While the 2019 bushfires, followed by the COVID-19 pandemic have further economically ravaged a community trying to rebuild itself.

The newly commissioned work The Fellow Traveller (2020) is an immersive photographic installation exploring Maddison’s father’s radical political activities in Australia and overseas from the 1950s-1980s, which were under ASIO scrutiny. Combining archival material, footage and hand-coloured photographs among a sea of revealing and curious images, The Fellow Traveller presents the shifting nature of long held personal and historical truths at a time of increasing social and political urgency.

Delivered through the collaboration of Adam Harding CCP Director, Jack Willet CCP Curator, Ruth Maddison and independent Curator Olivia Poloni, with inceptive curatorial work from Linsey Gosper and Madé Spencer-Castle.

 

Biography

Ruth Maddison (b. Melbourne, 1945, lives and works in Eden) is one of Australia’s foremost senior feminist photographers. Best known for her hand-coloured series, Christmas Holidays with Bob’s Family, Mermaid Beach, Queensland (1977-78), for over 40 years Maddison has been exploring ideas surrounding relationships, working lives, and communities through portraiture and social documentary photography.

An entirely self-taught practitioner, Maddison shot her first roll of film in 1976 under the encouragement of longtime friend Ponch Hawkes, and has hardly put down a camera since. Maddison’s work is represented in major public collections, including the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Victoria, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the National Library and the State Libraries of Victoria and New South Wales.

Text from the CCP website [Online] Cited 28/03/2021

 

Gallery one

Documentation photography J Forsyth

 

’Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, installation view Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2021. Documentation photography J Forsyth.

’Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, installation view Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2021. Documentation photography J Forsyth.

’Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, installation view Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2021. Documentation photography J Forsyth.

’Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, installation view Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2021. Documentation photography J Forsyth.

’Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, installation view Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2021. Documentation photography J Forsyth.

’Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, installation view Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2021. Documentation photography J Forsyth.

’Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, installation view Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2021. Documentation photography J Forsyth.

’Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, installation view Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2021. Documentation photography J Forsyth.

’Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, installation view Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2021. Documentation photography J Forsyth.

 

Gallery two

 

’Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, installation view Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2021. Documentation photography J Forsyth.

’Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, installation view Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2021. Documentation photography J Forsyth.

’Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, installation view Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2021. Documentation photography J Forsyth.

 

Gallery three

 

’Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, installation view Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2021. Documentation photography J Forsyth.

’Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, installation view Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2021. Documentation photography J Forsyth.

’Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, installation view Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2021. Documentation photography J Forsyth.

 

Gallery four

 

’Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, installation view Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2021. Documentation photography J Forsyth.

’Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, installation view Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2021. Documentation photography J Forsyth.

 

Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, installation views Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2021.
Documentation photography J Forsyth

 

 

Centre for Contemporary Photography
404 George St, Fitzroy
Victoria 3065, Australia
Phone: + 61 3 9417 1549

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Sunday 11am – 5pm

Centre for Contemporary Photography website

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13
Mar
21

Exhibition: ‘Gary Krueger’s City of Angels, 1971-1980’ at the Joseph Bellows Gallery, La Jolla, California

Exhibition dates: 18th January – 2nd April, 2021

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Los Angeles, 1975' 1975

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Los Angeles, 1975
1975
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

 

Fallen Angels

Love these.

Krueger’s street photography inverts the normal meaning of bathos… in that a silly or very ordinary subject suddenly changes to a beautiful or important one.

For no reason that we can see, a clown stands in sunlight next to a tree on a street in Los Angeles. What is he doing there? How did he get there? The incongruity of the scene takes on an importance and pathos that is hard to decipher. A pair of 76’s; a snarling dog in a Mustang; the legs of a man on a contraption doing god knows what; and a “majorette” captured mid-air: was she pushed, did she trip, will she fall or recover from this impossible angle, this suspended aerobatic display silently watched by the camera lens and two parked School Buses.

There is black humour aplenty in these photographs, as they picture the idiotic underbelly and anachronisms of a major American city. They make me think, they make me laugh in that small, tight way when you are not sure you should be laughing at all. The banana on roller skates, the hairy jacket and the man covered in Band Aids, his head wrapped in bandages. What the hell!

Remember what was happening in 1971-80 in Los Angeles. A 6.6-magnitude earthquake centred in Sylmar causes 65 deaths and $505 million in damage; an oil tanker explodes in Los Angeles Harbor killing five people and injuring 50; Los Angeles passes its gay and lesbian civil rights bill; Eula Love, a 39-year-old African-American mother was shot and killed on January 3, 1979 by Los Angeles Police Department (nothing changes!); the Skid Row Stabber (who has never been found) kills 11 homeless people; Los Angeles experiences severe flooding and mudslides; and in 1981 the first case of AIDS appears in Los Angeles County. The man with the Band AIDS seems rather prescient now.

“Through the 20th century, immigrants were attracted by a promised paradise: endless orange groves, a temperate climate and money to be made, as described by aggressively promoted booster campaigns. Families were told to leave the cold, increasingly crowded cities of the east and midwest far behind – the City of Angels was portrayed as a heaven on Earth.” While Neil Simon once described Los Angeles as “like paradise with a lobotomy,” Krueger’s bizarre photographs depict ‘the City of Angels’ as everything and anything but, a utopian paradise.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to Joseph Bellows Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs and the text (reproduced with permission) in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“It’s not what I put into a photo;

it’s what I take out of a photo.”

.
Gary Krueger

 

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Los Angeles, 1976' 1976

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Los Angeles, 1976
1976
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Los Angeles, 1973' 1973

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Los Angeles, 1973
1973
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Los Angeles, 1973' 1973

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Los Angeles, 1973
1973
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Hollywood, 1971' 1971

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Hollywood, 1971
1971
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Los Angeles, 1971' 1971

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Los Angeles, 1971
1971
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Los Angeles, 1973' 1973

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Los Angeles, 1973
1973
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Los Angeles, 1974' 1974

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Los Angeles, 1974
1974
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

 

Joseph Bellows Gallery is pleased to present Gary Krueger’s City of Angels, 1971-1980, a collection of sometimes frenetic and often bizarre photographs of Los Angeles, California. Krueger’s curiosity and instincts helped to create a remarkable body of street photography that he describes as “split-second juxtapositions in life.” After graduating High School in 1963, Gary Krueger (1945- ) drove his 1954 Ford west from Cleveland, Ohio, to study graphic design and photography at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles from 1964 to 1967. Later Cal Arts, Chouinard was a professional art school founded in 1921 by Nelbert Murphy Chouinard. In 1961, Walt and Roy Disney guided the merger of Chouinard and the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music to establish the California Institute of the Arts. Notable alumni include Ed Ruscha, Larry Bell, Robert Irwin, Joe Goode, and Allen Ruppersberg, with whom Krueger collaborated on Ruppersberg’s narrative photo works, including 23 Pieces (1969) and 24 Pieces (1970). Upon graduation from Chouinard, Krueger was hired by WED, Disney’s “Imagineering” Division to photograph the Park and its events. He eventually left WED to pursue a successful career as a commercial and editorial photographer.

“Gary Krueger’s plain ol’ photographs (unless I’m missing a point) – small, tough, and sharp – are good, granite reportage. Baldessari’s “Fables” and Krueger’s no-nonsense photos cut like a hot ripsaw through the cool, marshmallow quality of both exhibitions.” – Peter Plagens, from a 1973 ARTFORUM review of the exhibition, Southern California: Attitudes 1972, at the Pasadena Art Museum.

Krueger’s work is represented in The Minneapolis Institute of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Center for Creative Photography, Tucson, AZ, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

Press release from the Joseph Bellows Gallery [Online] Cited 28/02/2021

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Los Angeles, 1972' 1972

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Los Angeles, 1972
1972
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Los Angeles, 1970' 1970

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Los Angeles, 1970
1970
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Los Angeles, 1974
1974
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Los Angeles, 1971' 1971

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Los Angeles, 1971
1971
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Los Angeles, 1971' 1971

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Los Angeles, 1971
1971
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Hollywood, CA, 1971
1971
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Los Angeles, 1973' 1973

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Los Angeles, 1973
1973
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Los Angeles, 1976' 1976

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Los Angeles, 1976
1976
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Los Angeles, 1979' 1979

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Los Angeles, 1979
1979
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Los Angeles Zoo, 1971' 1971

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Los Angeles Zoo, 1971
1971
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Los Angeles, 1980' 1980

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Los Angeles, 1980
1980
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Hollywood, 1971' 1971

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Hollywood, 1971
1971
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Los Angeles, 1980' 1980

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Los Angeles, 1980
1980
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Los Angeles, 1975' 1975

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Los Angeles, 1975
1975
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

 

Joseph Bellows Gallery
7661 Girrard Avenue
La Jolla, California
Phone: 858 456 5620

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Friday, 10am – 5pm, and Saturday by appointment

Joseph Bellows Gallery website

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07
Mar
21

Exhibition: ‘Dawoud Bey: An American Project’ at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta

Exhibition dates: 7th November 2020 – 14th March 2021

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Man in a Bowler Hat, Harlem, NY, 1976' 1976

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Man in a Bowler Hat, Harlem, NY, 1976
1976
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Early in his career, Bey realised the importance of collaborating with his subjects to make a picture that would also serve as a dialogue between artist and subject: “I wanted to photograph this man in the bowler hat who was talking to a group of three friends and I had no idea how to interrupt their conversation in order to do so. This is when I first realised that it wasn’t just about the photograph; it was also about establishing a relationship out of which comes the photograph.”

 

 

I have always admired artists who have a social conscience, who investigate their subject matter with intelligence, empathy and insight.

I have always admired artist who examine their subject matter from different perspectives, turning the diamond of the world in light, to probe the moral and existential questions of existence.

I have always admired artists who develop their practice, never repeating for the sake of it the same constructs over and over – from a lack of imagination, to be successful, or to follow the money trail.

One such artist is Dawoud Bey.

From formal to informal portraiture, through conceptual “bodies”, Bey’s work visualises Black American history in the present moment, not by using the trope of reusing colonial photographs or memorabilia, but by presenting afresh the history of injustice enacted on a people and a culture, picturing their ongoing pain and disenfranchisement – in the here and now – through powerful and deeply political photographs. As the press release observes, Bey “has used his camera to create poignant meditations on visibility, race, place, and American history.”

“His art is grounded in the concept of citizenship, community and belonging, and especially in centring the experiences and histories of Black Americans at the forefront of our culture. His photographs actively work to provide space, voice and visibility for communities who have long been excluded from dominant narratives, especially in institutions like museums.”

From his early street photographs through the later large format Polaroid work and on to the conceptual series, Bey’s photographs have an engaging directness and candour to them. There are no photographic or subjective histrionics here, just immensely rich social documentary photographs that speak truth to subject. The subjects stare directly at the camera and reveal themselves with a poignant honesty.

The series that affected me most deeply was The Birmingham Project.

“On September 15, 1963, the Ku Klux Klan dynamited the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, murdering four African American girls inside. Two Black boys were also killed later that same day in the violence that ensued. Bey’s series The Birmingham Project commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of this horrific event, rendering it painfully immediate. Bey made formal portraits of Birmingham children the same ages as the victims and adults fifty years older – the ages the victims would have been had they lived. He then paired the photographs in diptychs that both honour the community’s unthinkable loss and make tangible the continued impact of racism, violence, and trauma in the present.”

All the suffering, all the ongoing pain and misery of an unfair world was, to me, wrapped up in these unforgettable images. The violence against other human beings, against people of difference 50 years ago brought into the present. Thinking about what these people could have achieved in the world, what life they would have led, what they would have looked like. Photography transcending time and space, Bey intelligently bringing past into present future. As Bey says, “I wanted to give those young people a more tangible, less-mythic, palpable presence… I wanted to figure out how to show the passage of time and the tragic loss of possibility.”

In my imagination I try to construct this tragic loss of possibility through the agency of Bey’s photographs. They produce sadness, anger, and empathy in me. They bring the possibility of change to the forefront of my mind, and an acknowledgment that we can all do better, that the world must do better. And that experience is a powerful thing.

Dr Marcus Bunyan.

.
Many thankx to the High 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.

 

 

“I’ve come to believe that the best works tend to result not from the imposition of an idea on a situation, but to be responsive to what’s going on once you get there.”

“How can one visualise African American history and make that history resonate in the contemporary moment?”

.
Dawoud Bey

 

“Dreams are spaces that do not yet exist, except by escape through an unknown night.”

.
Anna Mirzayan

 

“I Never Had White Folks That Was Good To Me, EVER… We all worked jest like dogs and had about half enough to eat and got whupped for everything. Our days was a constant misery to us… My old Master was Dave Giles, the meanest man that ever lived. He didn’t have many slaves, my mammy, and me, and my sister, Uncle Bill, and Truman. He had owned my grandma but he give her a bad whupping and she never did git over it and died. We all done as much work as a dozen niggers – we knowed we had to. I seen old Master git mad at Truman and he buckled him down across a barrel and whupped him till he cut the blood out of him and then he rubbed salt and pepper in the raw places. It looked like Truman would die it hurt so bad. I know that don’t sound reasonable that a white man in a Christian community would do such a thing but you can’t realise how heartless he was. People didn’t know about it and we dassent tell for we knowed he’d kill us if we did. You must remember he owned us body and soul and they wasn’t anything we could do about it. Old Mistress and her three girls was mean to us too. One time me and my sister was spinning and old Mistress went to the well-house and she found a chicken snake and killed it. She brought it back and she throwed it around my sister’s neck. She jest laughed and laughed about it. She thought it was a big joke. Old Master stayed drunk all the time. I reckon that is the reason he was so fetched mean. My, how we hated him! He finally killed hisself drinking and I remember Old Mistress called us in to look at him in his coffin. We all marched by him slow like and I jest happened to look up and caught my sister’s eye and we both jest natchelly laughed – Why shouldn’t we? We was glad he was dead. It’s a good thing we had our laugh fer old Mistress took us out and whupped us with a broomstick. She didn’t make us sorry though.”

.
Annie Hawkins, formerly enslaved Afrikan who was sold from Georgia to Texas. This interview was done in Colbert, Oklahoma where her and her family moved after emancipation. Interview, conducted Spring, 1937 with a date stamp of August 16, 1937. Ms. Hawkins was 90 years old at the time of the interview and what she relates occurred in Texas. Source: Library of Congress

 

 

Since the beginning of his career in the 1970s, Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) has used his camera to create poignant meditations on visibility, race, place, and American history. From early street portraits made in Harlem to a recent series imagining an escape from slavery on the Underground Railroad, Bey explores photography’s potential to reveal communities and stories that have been underrepresented or even unseen. Both a form of personal expression and an act of political responsibility, Bey’s art insists on the power of photography to transform stereotypes, convene communities, and create dialogue.

Dawoud Bey: An American Project traces these through lines across the forty-five years of Bey’s career and his profound engagement with the young Black subject and African American history. The title intentionally inserts his photographs into a long-running conversation about what it means to represent America with a camera. The questions of who is considered an American photographer, or simply an American, and whose story is an American story are particularly urgent today. Bey’s work offers a potent corrective to the gaps in our picture of American society and history – and an emphatic reminder of the ongoing impact of those omissions.

 

 

Dawoud Bey on visualising history

Photographer Dawoud Bey’s work grapples with history. The artist asks, “How can one visualise African American history and make that history resonate in the contemporary moment?” Here he discusses several series, sited from Harlem to Birmingham to the Underground Railroad routes of northeastern Ohio, each of which works to make histories visible.

 

 

Dawoud Bey: An American Project – Part 1

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Boy in Front of the Loew's 125th Street Movie Theater, Harlem, NY, 1976' 1976

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Boy in Front of the Loew’s 125th Street Movie Theater, Harlem, NY, 1976
1976
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

The Street

Bey’s landmark black-and-white 1975-78 series “Harlem, USA” documents portraits and street scenes with locals of the historic neighbourhood in New York. As a young man growing up in Queens, Bey was intrigued by his family’s history in Harlem, where his parents met and where he visited family and friends throughout childhood. The series premiered at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1979, when Bey was just 26.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Woman at Convent Avenue Baptist Church, Harlem, NY, 1977' 1977

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Woman at Convent Avenue Baptist Church, Harlem, NY, 1977
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches
Image courtesy of the artist and Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

In his hands, portraiture conveys contradiction – diffident joy, resistant sorrow – and tells the truth.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Three Women at a Parade, Harlem, NY, 1978' 1978

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Three Women at a Parade, Harlem, NY, 1978
1978
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

“His art is grounded in the concept of citizenship, community and belonging, and especially in centring the experiences and histories of Black Americans at the forefront of our culture. His photographs actively work to provide space, voice and visibility for communities who have long been excluded from dominant narratives, especially in institutions like museums.”

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Two Boys at a Handball Court, Syracuse, NY, 1985' 1985

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Two Boys at a Handball Court, Syracuse, NY, 1985
1985
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Throughout the 1980s, Bey continued to use a handheld 35 mm camera. This lightweight apparatus allowed him to respond intuitively and quickly to whatever captivated his eye, and his photographs during this time reflect his knowledge of contemporary street photography and his growing interest in capturing flux, movement, and the play of light and shadow. Although he continued to photograph people, he moved away from formal portraiture, instead endeavouring to capture individuals in more spontaneous ways.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Clothes Drying on the Line, Syracuse, NY, 1985' 1985

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Clothes Drying on the Line, Syracuse, NY, 1985
1985
Gelatin silver print
20 x 24 inches
Image courtesy of the artist and Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Combing Hair, Syracuse, NY, 1986' 1986

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Combing Hair, Syracuse, NY, 1986
1986
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

In 1985, during a residency at Light Work, a photography nonprofit affiliated with Syracuse University, New York, Bey photographed the city’s African American community. For him, it was both a political and aesthetic choice: “By then I felt that was part of my agenda: to make the African American subject a visible and resonant presence through my photographs […] it was as much about making a certain kind of photograph, and operating within a certain tradition, as it was a deliberate choice to foreground the black subject […] giving them a place … on the wall of galleries and museums.”

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Woman at Fulton Street and Washington Avenue, Brooklyn, NY, 1988' 1988

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Woman at Fulton Street and Washington Avenue, Brooklyn, NY, 1988
1988
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

By the end of the 1980s, Bey had thoroughly digested the lessons of working spontaneously with a small camera and desired to work in a way that would allow him to engage more directly with his subjects. He began to make formal “street portraits” with a large-format (4- × 5-inch) camera and Polaroid Type 55 film, which produced both instant pictures that he gave to the sitters and negatives that he used to make large-scale, highly detailed prints that could be enlarged to create monumental portraits. Bey was increasingly ambivalent about the ethics of traditional documentary photography and sought more equitable, reciprocal relationships with his sitters. He began to approach the strangers he wished to portray openly and deliberately, giving, as he writes, “the black subjects [a space] to assert themselves and their presence in the world, with their gaze meeting the viewer’s on equal footing.”

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Young Man Resting on an Exercise Bike, Amityville, NY, 1988' 1988

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Young Man Resting on an Exercise Bike, Amityville, NY, 1988
1988
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Young Girl Striking A Pose, Brooklyn, NY, 1988' 1988

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Young Girl Striking A Pose, Brooklyn, NY, 1988
1988
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Young Man with Buttons Brooklyn NY 1988' 1988

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Young Man with Buttons Brooklyn NY 1988
1988
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Young Woman Coming from the Store, Rochester, NY 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Young Woman Coming from the Store, Rochester, NY 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Young Man with His Hair Brush, Rochester, NY 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Young Man with His Hair Brush, Rochester, NY 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Alfonso, Washington, DC, 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Alfonso, Washington, DC, 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Woman Wearing Denim, Rochester, NY 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Woman Wearing Denim, Rochester, NY 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Man with a Towel, Brooklyn, NY 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Man with a Towel, Brooklyn, NY 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Poppy Brooklyn, NY, 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Poppy, Brooklyn, NY, 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Girl Holding a Hotdog and Gum, Brooklyn, NY, 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Girl Holding a Hotdog and Gum, Brooklyn, NY, 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey