Posts Tagged ‘staged photographs

05
May
19

Exhibition: ‘Erwin Olaf’ at the Gemeentemuseum den Haag and Fotomuseum Den Haag / the Hague Museum of Photography

Exhibition dates: 16th February – 16th June 2019

Curators: Wim van Sinderen with the assistance of Hanneke Mantel (both of Gemeentemuseum Den Haag and The Hague Museum of Photography)

 

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Joy' 1985

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Squares, Joy
1985
Gelatin silver print

 

 

As a storyteller, Erwin Olaf is a contemporary photographer whose work addresses most current concerns of the world – discrimination, gender, sexuality, taboo, climate change, reality, equality, power, racism, freedom of expression and democracy – through staged studio and outdoor photographs of incredible technical and visual skill.

The key to his work is the twist that he gives his cinematic, perfect worlds – the hidden crack in the facade, the unhinging of the link between reality and representation. These not so perfect worlds are often inspired by stories of the past, whether those stories may be present in the works of Vermeer, the still lives of the Dutch painters of the 16th and 17th century, Caravaggio, the Olympic Games of 1936, Norman Rockwell paintings, film noir, or clothes of the 1950s and 1960s.

The stillness and silence of the photographs subjects let the viewer examine the details of the mise en scène… the perfectly placed Coke bottle and apple, the shredded American flag in Palm Springs, The Kite (2018); the bandaged knee, the dripping ice cream in Rain, The Ice Cream Parlour (2004); and also admire the beautiful textures and lighting of the finished “product”, for Olaf’s aesthetic riffs on subverting theatrical performances and magazine fashion shoots.

Olaf let’s the viewer’s eye move without restraint across the terrain of the photographs, letting them soak up the atmosphere of his hyperreal tableau vivant. Both seductive and disturbing, his photographs challenge us to interrogate our own story – who are we, what do we really believe in, and what can we do to change prejudice and bigotry in a hostile world.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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

 

 

“What I want to show most of all is a perfect world with a crack in it. I want to make the picture seductive enough to draw people into the narrative, and then deal the blow.”

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Erwin Olaf

 

“In 1982, I saw an exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe in Amsterdam that blew me off the socks. I just had a Hasselblad, I was inspired by his craftsmanship and the beautiful prints, and I thought: this is what I want too. In the series ‘Squares’ (1983-93) you clearly see his influence. I started asking people that I knew from the nightlife if they wanted to pose for me in my studio, which I had decorated in a squat of a friend. For example, the boy with the champagne bottle worked in the wardrobe of my favourite disco.”

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Erwin Olaf (excerpt from the book ‘Erwin Olaf – I am’)

 

“My earliest work reflects my life in that time. I was a moth – I really loved the nightlife. In the late seventies, the early eighties was a hedonistic period: Disco and the beginning of the punk, the sexual revolution. I loved watching people play with gender, the theatrical of the nightlife, all the roles they could take.”

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Erwin Olaf

 

“The camera offered me a possibility to enter a world that was not mine. I was able to hide behind the camera, but also be part of what I saw. As a photographer, you can look at people. You’re observing. I wanted to focus my gaze on groups that were outside the ‘normal’ society. One of my first photography assignments for school had as a theme ‘what’s normal?’. I still ask myself that.”

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Erwin Olaf (excerpt from the book ‘Erwin Olaf – I am’)

 

 

Gemeentemuseum Den Haag and The Hague Museum of Photography are to honour one of the Netherlands’ most famous photographers, Erwin Olaf (b. 1959), with a double exhibition. Olaf, whose recent portraits of the royal family drew widespread admiration, will turn sixty this year – a good moment to stage a major retrospective. The Hague Museum of Photography will focus on Olaf’s love of his craft and his transition from analogue photojournalist to digital image-maker and storyteller. Olaf will himself bring together some twenty photographs by famous photographers of the past who have been a vital source of inspiration to him. Gemeente Museum Den Haag will show non-commissioned work by Olaf from 2000 to his most recent series, including the work he produced in Shanghai and his most recent series Palm Springs, on display for the first time. Olaf will be showing his photography in the form of installations, in combination with film, sound and sculpture.

 

Erwin Olaf – Palm Springs: behind the scenes

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'First Aids Benefit Club Flora Palace Amsterdam, I' 1983

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
First Aids Benefit Club Flora Palace Amsterdam, I
1983
Gelatin silver print

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'First Aids Benefit Club Flora Palace Amsterdam, II' 1983

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
First Aids Benefit Club Flora Palace Amsterdam, II
1983
Gelatin silver print

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Squares, Pearls' 1986

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Squares, Pearls
1986
Gelatin silver print

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Chessmen, XVII' 1988

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Chessmen, XVII
1988
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

 

“Chessmen was inspired by a chance meeting with my former photography teacher at the School for Journalism. A few years after I graduated there, I met him on the street. When I showed him my work in my studio, he said, “Say, would you like to publish a book?” He had recently taken over a publishing house for a pittance. The only problem was that I didn’t have enough work for a book. “Oh,” he said, “you only need sixty-four pages. And if you leave a page white next to each photo, you will need thirty-two photos. “At home I thought about it while listening to the radio – a chess program was just going on. At one point the presenter said: “This is an attacking game with thirty-two pieces. A war game. “I knew immediately: I’m going to make chess pieces. Those few words on the radio were all I needed; I had a clear picture in mind. Earlier I had been thinking about how I could do something with the theme of power. Power is something weird. Why do people abuse their power? Or why do you want it? Why do some people allow others to exercise power over them? From those questions came the idea of ​​a power game and the people who play it. ”

Erwin Olaf (excerpt from the book Erwin Olaf – I Am)

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Chessmen, XXIV' 1988

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Chessmen, XXIV
1988
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Blacks, Esmeralda' 1990

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Blacks, Esmeralda
1990
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

 

“The Blacks series is largely inspired by Janet Jackson’s album Rhythm Nation 1814. In one song, she sings: “In complete darkness we are all the same / It is only our knowledge and wisdom that separates us / Don’t let your eyes deceive you.” A few years earlier I had been hitchhiking to Paris and southern France, together with a friend with an Indonesian background. I was admitted without problems in all kinds of clubs, but they refused him at the door. At that time I became much more aware of the fact that the amount of pigment in your skin can have serious consequences. So when I heard Janet Jackson sing, I thought: this is my theme. I can create a group of people where everyone is equal.”

Erwin Olaf (excerpt from the book Erwin Olaf – I Am)

 

 

Journalistic training

Erwin Olaf was studying journalism in Utrecht in the 1980s when, having noticed that he was unhappy, one of his lecturers pressed a camera into his hands. ‘I loved the thing right from the word go,’ says Olaf, ‘the weight, the cool metal in my hand. It felt so natural. And when I took my first photographs, I knew I had found my calling.’ Olaf began taking journalistic photographs of theatre performances, worked for progressive magazines and volunteered for COC Nederland (which represents LGBTI interests). In his early work Olaf often depicted the human body quite graphically, breaching the restrictions on sexuality, the body and gender. He describes himself at that time as an angry adolescent, though his taboo-breaking work was highly significant in terms of visual freedom in the Netherlands.

 

Early work at The Hague Museum of Photography

The exhibition at The Hague Museum of Photography will start with his early work. Chessmen (1987-88) was one of Olaf’s first non-commissioned series, which came about when he was given the opportunity to produce a photobook. He had to fill 32 pages and he wanted to focus on the theme of power. He had heard an item on the radio about chess, a game of war consisting of 32 pieces. Olaf portrayed the game in a series of provocative images, featuring visible genitals, small half-naked people with kinky attributes, and extremely fat women in bondage outfits. The series did not go unnoticed. He received criticism for it, but also the Young European Photographers Prize.

 

Skill

Another early series shows the engagement that has remained important throughout Olaf’s career. Blacks (1990) is based on a song by Janet Jackson with the line, ‘In complete darkness we are all the same. It is only our knowledge and wisdom that separates us’. The series reflects Olaf’s battle for equality, and also his technical skill. In these baroque portraits, literally everything is black as coal, yet Olaf managed to give the images a rich tonality, both with his camera and in the developing process. A self-taught photographer, he has shown himself to be a master, not only of old-fashioned darkroom processes, but also of new techniques that have emerged in rapid succession since the digital revolution. He did pioneering work with Photoshop in the famous series Royal Blood (2000). Thanks to this new technique, he is even better able to experiment to his heart’s delight in his staged photography.

 

Sources of inspiration

Besides his own work, at The Hague Museum of Photography Erwin Olaf will be bringing together some twenty photographs by photographers who are his most important sources of inspiration, ranging from a vintage still life with roses by the late nineteenth-century photographer Bernard Eilers to self-portraits by Robert Mapplethorpe and Rineke Dijkstra. The work of these photographers inspired him, made him look in a different way at his own artistic practice, or pushed his photography in a new direction. By showing these pictures alongside his early work, which is imbued with his love of his craft, Olaf will give visitors to the Museum of Photography an idea of what has shaped him as a photographer.

 

Gemeentemuseum Den Haag

The exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum will begin, even before the entrance to the galleries, with the life-sized installation Keyhole (2012). The exterior has two long walls with panelling above which framed photographs hang, as in a classic interior. But visitors can watch two films through the keyhole in the doors on either side of the installation. It will be immediately apparent that the Gemeentemuseum is highlighting a new development in the work of Erwin Olaf. Here, he is going one step further, presenting his photography in exciting combinations of film, sound and sculpture.

 

Social engagement

Erwin Olaf’s work has always been highly personal and socially engaged. The clearest influence on the development of his work has been the events surrounding 9/11. Since then, the bombastic, baroque staging of his previous work has made way for more vulnerability and serenity. This has produced images that are very popular with the public: highly stylised film scenes staged perfectly down to the smallest detail, often bathed in light as if they were paintings, with an uncomfortable underlying message. As in the series Rain (2004), which appears to capture the moment between action and reaction after a shocking event. The series Grief (2007), shot in a 1960s setting, is about the first moment of response, the first tear.

Recent events are also reflected in Olaf’s work. He made the Tamed & Anger self-portraits (2015) in response to the Charlie Hebdo attack. In other works he addresses issues like the position of the individual in a globalising world, the exclusion and stereotyping of certain groups of people, and taboos associated with gender and nudity. The exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum will thus afford a glimpse inside Olaf’s turbulent and sometimes dark mind. A visit to the exhibition will be like wandering through his head.

 

Palm Springs: final part of a triptych

Erwin Olaf’s most recent series, Palm Springs (2018), will premiere at the exhibition in the Gemeentemuseum. It is part of a triptych about cities undergoing change, the other two parts being Berlin (2012) and Shanghai (2017). The Berlin series was produced in a period when dark clouds were gathering above Europe. It highlights Olaf’s concerns about freedom of expression and democracy, and the transfer of power from an older to a new generation. Shanghai is a hypermodern metropolis in China with a population of 24 million. The series made in this city explores what happens to the individual in an environment like this. In Palm Springs, Olaf again focuses on topical issues. One of the key themes is climate change, though at the same time the images also recall the America of the 1960s. In a beautiful series of portraits, landscapes – this was the first time Olaf had photographed landscapes – still lifes and filmic scenes he refers to issues like teenage pregnancy, discrimination, religious abuses and polarisation. The series tells the story of people withdrawing into gated communities as reality invades their paradise.

 

Photographs of royal family

A very special addition to the double exhibition will be Erwin Olaf’s photographs of the Dutch royal family. As part of the exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum he will bring together many of the photographs that the Government Information Service commissioned him to take of the royal family. He also took the picture that the family used as a Christmas greeting last December. ‘I’m proud of the royal family,’ says Olaf, ‘because they are a binding factor in a democracy that is sometimes very divided. I’m happy to be able to contribute to that.’

 

Successful artist

The double exhibition will show how Erwin Olaf has developed from angry provocateur to one of the Netherland’s most famous and popular photographers. His work now features in the collections and exhibitions of museums the world over, including China, Russia, The United States of America and Brazil. In 2008 The Hague Museum of Photography showed his Rain, Hope, Grief and Fall series. In 2011 he won the prestigious Johannes Vermeer Prize, and in 2018 the Rijksmuseum purchased almost 500 photographs and videos by Erwin Olaf.

 

Biggest retrospective to date

Together, the exhibitions at the Gemeentemuseum and the Museum of Photography will constitute the biggest retrospective of Olaf’s work ever staged, spanning the period from the early 1980s to his most recent work. In the words of Erwin Olaf: celebrating 40 years of visual freedom.

The double exhibition has been curated by Wim van Sinderen with the assistance of Hanneke Mantel (both of Gemeentemuseum Den Haag and The Hague Museum of Photography), and has come about in close collaboration with Erwin Olaf and his studio.

Press release from the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag [Online] Cited 04/05/2019

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Royal Blood, Di, †1997' 2000

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Royal Blood, Di, †1997
2000
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

 

“I made the Royal Blood series to celebrate Photoshop as the new craft. I wanted to make something that was clearly fiction and would be impossible without Photoshop. A theme that was in the air at the time was that violence was suddenly identified with glamor. I never understood why criminals, even murderers, have fans. People worship them! And every cinema is chock full of people watching violence every week. I wanted to expose the attraction of blood, violence and celebrity – that live fast, that young ideal. Now I could no longer do this type of work. The emotion behind it has disappeared – I have already told that story. But it remains an important part of my legacy.”

Erwin Olaf (excerpt from the book Erwin Olaf – I am)

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Rain, The Ice Cream Parlour' 2004

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Rain, The Ice Cream Parlour
2004
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Hope, The Hallway' 2005

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Hope, The Hallway
2005
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Berlin, Freimaurer Loge Dahlem, 22nd of April, 2012' 2012

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Berlin, Freimaurer Loge Dahlem, 22nd of April, 2012 [Masonic Lodge Dahlem]
2012
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Keyhole #6' 2012

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Keyhole #6
2012
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Shanghai, Huai Hai 116, Portrait #2' 2017

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Shanghai, Huai Hai 116, Portrait #2
2017
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Palm Springs, The Kite' 2018

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Palm Springs, The Kite
2018
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York
© Erwin Olaf

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Palm Springs, The Family Visit - Portrait I' 2018

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Palm Springs, The Family Visit – Portrait I
2018
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

 

Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
Stadhouderslaan 41, 2517 HV Den Haag

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 10.00 – 17:00

Gemeentemuseum Den Haag website

Fotomuseum Den Haag
Stadhouderslaan 43
2517 HV Den Haag

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 11.00 – 17.00
The museum is closed on Mondays

Fotomuseum Den Haag website

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01
Feb
12

Exhibition: ‘What’s in a face? aspects of portrait photography’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Exhibition dates: 24th September 2011 – 5th February 2012

 

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

 

 

Glaister studio (Australia 1855-1870) 'Untitled (portrait of a man and three girls)' 1855-1870

 

Glaister studio (Australia 1855-1870)
Untitled (portrait of a man and three girls)
1855-1870
Ambrotype, colour dyes
6.5 x 9 cm sight; 9.3 x 11.9 cm case
Purchased 1989

 

 

This charming ambrotype was thought to have been produced by one of Australia’s most important early photographers, Thomas Glaister, owning to the presence of the Glaister stamp on the case. However, superb varnish was one of Glaister’s hallmarks and this ambrotype is not varnished. In addition, the hand-colouring is not considered to be to Glaister’s standard. As such, it is possible that the ambrotype was inserted into this case at a later date, not least because there is no form of blackening behind the image. This was standard practice to prevent the viewer seeing through to the inside of the case. The Eichmeyer ‘book’ case, patented in 1855 by Henry A Eichmeyer of Philadelphia, were made of fine leather and beautifully put together. Glaister certainly used these but the ambrotype is probably not his specifically and could have been made by one of his sons in the 1860s when they worked as travelling photographers. Regardless of who took the image, it is a charming colonial portrait which in size is typical of the period – it can easily be held in the hand.

Ambrotypes were developed in the 1850s. They were faster and cheaper to make than daguerreotypes, yet were still unique objects.

1. 1989, ‘Masterpieces of Australian photography’, Josef Lebovic Gallery, Sydney p. 25

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind' c. 1939

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911-2003)
Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
33.2 x 30.0 cm image/sheet
Purchased with funds provided by John Armati 2006
Art Gallery of NSW Collection

 

 

Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind appears to have been the only print Cotton made of this image. It was found in the late 1990s and has been shown only once, in an exhibition at the AGNSW in 2000 where it was also used on the catalogue cover. It was unusual for Cotton to print so large, yet it is entirely fitting that this monumental head and shoulder shot of a beautiful young woman should be presented in this way. The subject was a model on a fashion shoot at which Cotton was probably assisting. Cotton often took her own photographs while on such shoots and used them for her private portfolio. The photograph transcends portraiture, fashion and time to become a remarkable image of harmony with the elements.

Cotton took the title for this photograph from an 1895 poem by English poet Laurence Binyon, ‘O summer sun’:

O summer sun, O moving trees!
O cheerful human noise, O busy glittering street!
What hour shall Fate in all the future find,
Or what delights, ever to equal these:
Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind,
Only to be alive, and feel that life is sweet?1

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A photographer whose work straddles pictorialism, modernism and documentary, Cotton maintained an independent vision throughout her working life, based on the close observation of nature. Her understanding of the medium of photography was not to do with capture, but rather ‘drawing with light’.

1. 1915, ‘Poems of today’, English Association, London p. 96.

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku / Erub, Australia b. 1957) 'Portrait: Janet Burchill & Jennifer McCamley, Artists' 1998

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku / Erub, Australia b. 1957)
Portrait: Janet Burchill & Jennifer McCamley, Artists
1998
Colour bubble jet print from Polaroid photograph
57.9 x 71 cm
Purchased 1998
© Destiny Deacon. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

 

Deacon is widely recognised for her staged photographs which employ various props, including souvenirs and kitsch, in satirical tableaus that critique notions of Aboriginality. Initially, in 1991, she employed dolls and since then they have become a signature motif. This use of non-living models informed her practice when she began to photograph people. As Deacon states, ‘I’ve never been one for “live action” shots…I’ve got to rule the roost. It’s no different dealing with inanimate objects or people, except with people I’m more terrified.’1

This method can be seen in Deacon’s Portrait: Janet Burchill & Jennifer McCamley, artists 1998. Burchill and McCamley, Melbourne and Mildura based collaborative artists, have been arranged in a re-enactment of Henri Matisse’s Conversation 1908-12. The photograph echoes the deep blue background of the original painting. The two artists hold the stiff positions of Matisse and his seated wife gazing across at each other. This is one of a number of Deacon’s works that feature Australian writers, artists and other notable figures re-enacting iconic paintings. Other examples include artist Fiona Hall in a 2004 retake of Grace Cossington-Smith’s The sock knitter 1915 and a portrait of Gary Foley inspired by William Dobell’s The boy at the basin 1932.

1. Destiny Deacon, ‘Interview with Virginia Fraser’ in Destiny Deacon: walk & don’t look blak, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 2004, p. 109.

 

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

 

Ilse Bing (United States of America, Germany 1899-1998)
Self portrait with Leica
1931 printed 1941
Gelatin silver photograph
26.7 x 31.2 cm
Alistair McAlpine Photography Fund 2005
© Ilse Bing Estate. Courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

 

Self portrait with Leica is a complex image in which the artist has photographed herself and her trademark Leica in one mirror, while the profile of both is reflected in another. The large button on her cuff disturbs the play between full face and profile, while the objects at the bottom of the frame lend a certain informality to an otherwise highly contrived set-up. The soft velvety curtain behind introduces a further element of rich tactility. The play between black, white and shades of grey softens and enriches the overall image.

Although Bing avoided becoming part of any specific movement of the 1920s or 1930s – for example, constructivism, the Bauhaus or surrealism, describing herself as being ‘on the edge of the periphery of the Bauhaus’ only – she was fully cognisant of the range of experimentation which was taking place across Europe. She forged her own path, combining an abiding belief in the importance of intuition and poetry with rigorous composition and superb technical skills.

Inspired by the work of Florence Henri, and with increasing confidence in her ability to marry naturalism with geometric formalism, Bing worked extensively as a press, fashion, portrait and documentary photographer in Paris until she was interned as an enemy alien in 1940. Late in her life Bing wrote:

‘I didn’t choose photography; it chose me. I didn’t know it at the time. An artist doesn’t think first and then do it, he [sic] is driven. Now over fifty years later, I can look back and explain it. In a way, it was the trend of the time; it was the time when you started to see differently … And the camera, that was, in a way, the beginning of the mechanical device penetrating into the field of art.’1

1. Barrett N C 1985, Ilse Bing: three decades of photography, New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans pp. 13-14.

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Robert Rooney (Australia, b. 1937) 'Portrait of Maria Kozic and Philip Brophy II' 1981

 

Robert Rooney (Australia, b. 1937)
Portrait of Maria Kozic and Philip Brophy II
1981
Cibachrome photograph
20.1 x 30 cm image/sheet
Purchased 1996
© Robert Rooney

 

 

The four portraits in the Art Gallery of New South Wales collection reflect a particular period in Australian art, when the now established artists were beginning their careers. They depict members of the contemporary art scene of the late 1970s to mid 1980s associated with Art + Text, an Australian art magazine published from 1981-2000.

Philip Brophy formed the experimental group Tsk Tsk Tsk in 1977. The group produced experimental music, films, videos, and live theatrical performances. Brophy involved his friends in the group, including partner Maria Kozic on synthesiser. Kozic was also producing her own multimedia work. In this photograph, Kozic and Brophy are standing in a suburban backyard complete with Hills Hoist. This is reflective of Tsk Tsk Tsk’s suburban beginnings, based as it was at Clifton Hill’s Community Music Centre. After the group’s dissolution in the early 1980s, Brophy made several experimental films and curated numerous programs for the Melbourne international film festival as well as exhibitions such as Tezuka: the marvel of manga for the National Gallery of Victoria. Kozic moved to New York where she continued her artistic career. Her work has been exhibited widely throughout Australia and overseas and been collected by many museums including the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

 

Loretta Lux (Germany b. 1969) 'The waiting girl' 2006

 

Loretta Lux (Germany, b. 1969)
The waiting girl
2006
Ilfochrome photograph
38 × 53 cm
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2007
© Loretta Lux/Bild-Kunst. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

 

Lux’s portraits are by no means traditional, ‘I call them imaginary portraits. They are not really about the children that I photographed’, commented the artist in interview with Wim van Sinderen (Loretta Lux: new work 2004). In relation to The waiting girl, Lux has said: ‘It’s a picture about time, and timelessness. For me they are sitting on the sofa as if they are waiting for eternity.’ (The Guardian 23 November 06)

Through subtle digital manipulation of the body and facial features of her subjects, Lux creates eerie doll-like creatures with glazed eyes, porcelain smooth skin and subtly ill-proportioned forms. The resulting portraits contain an uncanny blend of mute childish innocence and the self-contained stoicism of adulthood.

Lux’s images of children recall those of the old masters, such as Veláquez, Runge and Bronzino whom she cites as main inspirations alongside German photographer August Sander. Lux has stated in an interview with Louise Baring for the Telegraph (UK) that she uses children ‘as a metaphor for a lost paradise’. Dressing her young models in past fashions (often of the era of her own childhood) suggests the child’s game of ‘dress ups’ in order to be an adult yet somehow played out in reverse. That is, Lux’s children do not seem like children at all, but rather like serious world-weary adults manifested in childish forms.

 

 

Spanning over a century, What’s in a face? aspects of portrait photography is an exhibition of 45 photographs from the Art Gallery of NSW collection. The exhibition focuses on crucial points in the history of photographic depictions of the human face ranging from studio portraiture in the late 19th century to contemporary practices today.

Works by Australian photographers, such as Paul Foelsche, Olive Cotton, Max Dupain, Carol Jerrems, Destiny Deacon, Patrina Hicks, Darren Sylvester and others, are placed in an international context, represented by Man Ray, Edward Weston, Iwao Yamawaki, Nan Goldin, Ben Cauchi and Loretta Lux, amongst others.

All portraits reveal something of the sitter, the photographer and also of us as viewers, but none reveal a whole and complete being. This is part of the enduring fascination with the photographic portrait which purports to be an exact likeness but operates more accurately as a metaphor for the self and how that self might exist in the world at a particular point in time.

Judy Annear, senior curator photographs, Art Gallery of NSW

.
Using photography to depict the face and figure was initially a time-consuming and expensive business. However, the drive to document all things in the world, and rapid technological advances, meant that by the 1880s most people, willing or not and regardless of the photographer’s or their own desires, were documented in some way.

Spurious 19th century ideas to do with what a face could represent exploded in the early 20th century when identity came to be seen as a psychological rather than social phenomenon. Theatricality and performing for the camera, which had existed in photography since its inception, also became much more evident in this period.

In the post-WWII era representations of the face and the body quickly acquired a political and socially aware edge. More recently the face has tended to stand less as an expression of personal experience and more a statement that may signify a set of ideas, whether about the individual, the group or the society at large. Many of these highly constructed images acknowledge and play upon the problematics of the photographic portrait.”

Text from the AGNSW website

 

Petrina Hicks (Australian, b. 1972) 'Shenae and Jade' 2005

 

Petrina Hicks (Australian, b. 1972)
Shenae and Jade
2005
From the series Untitled 2005
Lightjet print
85.5 x 80.0 cm
Courtesy the artist and Michael Reid Gallery

 

 

Shenae and Jade is typical of Hicks’ unconventional portraits. The young model holds the budgie’s head in her mouth. It’s the kind of slightly dangerous behaviour which can be unnerving to observe. The freckled nose of the model is in tension with her smooth pale temples, heavily lashed closed eyes and soft white top. The luminescent background and generally pale colouration throw the headless body of the brightly coloured budgie into high relief.

 

Darren Sylvester (Australia, b. 1974) 'They return to you in song' 2001

 

Darren Sylvester (Australia, b. 1974)
They return to you in song
2001
Lambda print
100.0 x 100.0cm image/sheet
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2002
© Darren Sylvester

 

 

Informed by the slick stylistic conventions of high-end consumer images, Darren Sylvester’s body of work suggests the existential dilemma of living in an overtly consumerist society – one that promises fulfilment but fails to truly satisfy even the most ardent consumer. Perpetually tantalised with glossy images of affluence, ‘must-have’ products and brochure living, our ‘real’ lives can at times seem unfulfilling by comparison, sometimes painful and often a little pathetic. Sylvester’s work seems to suggest that even in our most personal heartfelt moments, our lives are just like everybody else’s, not so special or unique. Our lives could equally be a series of advertising moments.

Yet the nature of this work is resolutely ambiguous, alternately offering intimacy and emotion with cool detachment. Photo-shopped clean of incidental detail and anomaly, and featuring youthful agency models, Sylvester’s evenly lit, tightly focused images still tap a nerve despite their polished finish. Perhaps this is because they are precisely ‘generic’ (and emotive) experiences to which we can all relate. The same principles underpin a good pop song and in Sylvester’s work this is no coincidence – he strives to produce images that carry the same directness and lasting impact. Commenting on the music of the Carpenters, ‘their lyrics were always sad and about emotional relationships but sealed beneath glossy west coast melodies’, Sylvester reveals the pop-music strategies he employs in his work.1

Based on short stories written by the artist prior to composing the scene, his images carry their own inherent narrative. Yet we don’t need to read Sylvester’s story to understand the drama, nor do we need to hear the tune to recognise the song – it’s an old one, and a shared one, that each of us remembers well.

1. Colless E 2006, ‘Darren Sylvester: the right stuff’, Australian Art Collector, no 36, Apr-Jun p. 102.

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Hans Hasenpflug (Australia, Germany 1907-1977) 'Untitled (head of a woman)' 1940-1941

 

Hans Hasenpflug (Australia, Germany 1907-1977)
Untitled (head of a woman)
1940-1941
Gelatin silver photograph
28.8 x 24.3cm image
Gift of Mr Christopher Hamilton, the artist’s son 1984

 

 

Hans Hasenpflug arrived in Australia in 1927 aged 20. He had been born into an educated Stuttgart family but it does not appear that he became involved in photography until 1932 when he was employed by Leica Photo Service, Sydney. Hasenpflug went on to work for prominent photographer Russell Roberts from 1935 to 1937 before moving to Melbourne and working with Athol Shmith and other Melbourne studios from 1937 to 1942. As an enemy alien Hasenpflug was not allowed to work on industrial assignments during World War Two but he was not interned and was naturalised in 1945. Hasenpflug exhibited in photography salons in the 1930s and his work appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, Australian Woman’s Weekly and the Sunday Telegraph.

Hasenpflug was a versatile advertising photographer. He specialised in fashion and product advertising and some portraiture. Despite his apparent lack of photographic training until the 1930s, he seems to be have been strongly influenced by the European avant-garde. Many of his photographs, regardless of genre or subject matter, depend on diagonals through the picture plane and on raking light.

This is true of Untitled. Strong light has created deep shadows across the subject, a closely cropped image of a woman’s face. This, combined with the oblique camera angle, creates a vivid and disconcerting image. The woman is staring directly into the camera, yet a band of strong shadow across the centre of the image creates a blank eyed effect. The pupil free eyes seem inhuman; mask-like or alien. This is in stark contrast to the woman’s open smile that dominates the bottom of the work. The strong, full light on this area highlights her lips, gums and teeth to an almost hyper real extent. These contradictions create an image that on the surface seems friendly and intimate, yet contains an undertone of threat. The inherent strangeness of the image makes it unlikely that this was a commissioned photograph, but rather the artist’s experiment with his medium, and indeed is probably a portrait of his fiancee, Elizabeth Hamilton Crouch.

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1956) 'Guadalupe de Rivera, Mexico' 1924

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1956)
Guadalupe de Rivera, Mexico
1924, printed later
Gelatin silver photograph
20.7 × 17.8 cm
Gift of Patsy W. Asch 2000
© Centre for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

Edward Weston’s Mexican years were of great importance to him and allowed for the maturing of his vision in relation to photography. Accompanied by Tina Modotti, whose own work developed at this time, Weston experimented with pure form through monumental portraits (of which Guadalupe de Rivera, Mexico is a classic example), images of landscapes and buildings, still-lifes and nudes.

Weston’s portraits of those he encountered in Mexico are uniformly compelling. Often taken with a hand-held camera against a plain background and with strong lighting, these images emphasise individuality, modernity and dynamism.

Guadalupe de Rivera was Diego Rivera’s wife at the time and both were among the group of people Weston and Modotti associated with. Weston described Guadalupe in his ‘Daybooks’ as ‘tall, proud of bearing, almost haughty; her walk like a panther’s, her complexion almost green, with eyes to match’.1 As he worked on the portrait, Weston wrote: ‘I am finishing the portrait of Lupe. It is a heroic head, the best I have done in Mexico; with the Graflex, in direct sunlight I caught her, mouth open, talking, and what could be more characteristic of Lupe! Singing or talking I must always remember her’.2

This later print by Weston emphasises, through the dramatic effect of light and shade, the strong lines of the face. The shape of the open mouth is echoed by the shadowed eye above and the jawline below. The diagonal of jaw to ear which runs in parallel to the nose also adds to the dynamism of this image. Outdoors, with the sun shining on her hair, this is a portrait of a remarkable woman.

1. Newhall N ed 1981, ‘The daybooks of Edward Weston 1 Mexico’, Aperture, New York p. 26.
2. Ibid p. 42.

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Carol Jerrems. 'Vale Street' 1975

 

Carol Jerrems (Australian, 1949-1980)
Vale Street
1975
Gelatin silver print
20.1 x 30.4 cm
Purchased 1979
© Ken and Lance Jerrems

 

 

A quintessential image of the 1970s, Vale Street has lost none of its capacity to enchant and disturb in the intervening years. In one sense it can be read as a sociological document; in another as a wholly subjective work of art. Like the mediumistic spirit-photographs of the nineteenth century, Jerrems’s photo seems to disclose the very souls of its subjects. As they respond, each in their individual fashion, to the regarding presence of the camera lens, the figures compose themselves, without theatrics, into telling attitudes. The prominence and bodily confidence of the open-faced young woman is set against the reticence of her boyish companions. As a portrait of relationships as well as individuals, Vale Street speaks of gender relations, adolescent sexuality, suburban mores and the photographer’s own subtly partisan demeanour in regard to these themes.

Art Gallery Handbook, 1999

 

Carol Jerrems. 'Juliet Holding Vale Street' 1976

 

Carol Jerrems (Australian, 1949-1980)
Juliet Holding Vale Street
1976
Gelatin silver print
30.4 x 20.1 cm
Purchased 1979
© Ken and Lance Jerrems

 

Carol Jerrems. 'Lynn Gailey' 1976

 

Carol Jerrems (Australian, 1949-1980)
Lynn Gailey
1976
Gelatin silver print
30.3 x 20.1 cm
Purchased 1979
© Ken and Lance Jerrems

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-1992) 'Untitled (self portrait)' 1930s

 

Max Dupain (Australia, 1911-1992)
Untitled (self portrait)
1930s
Gelatin silver photograph
19.3 x 14 cm
Art Gallery of NSW Collection

 

 

This engaging self-portrait by Max Dupain was kept by the artist in an album of photographs from the 1930s. The album was possibly a workbook which would enable Dupain and his clients to review his career as a young modernist photographer. Dupain had opened his own studio in 1934 at the age of 23 having previously been apprenticed to Cecil Bostock and studying painting and drawing at the Julian Ashton Art School in Sydney. In his teens, through the Photographic Society of New South Wales, Dupain had also had contact with Harold Cazneaux whom he later described as ‘the father of modern Australian photography’.1 Both Cazneaux and Bostock provided Dupain with a solid technical and aesthetic base from which to work.

The young working photographer has chosen to depict himself in Untitled (self portrait) with rolled-up sleeves and a furrowed brow. The image is bisected into light in the upper half and dark below with the photographer’s right hand pressing the cable release. Looking away, in three-quarter profile, Dupain is engaged with something out of the frame. The dynamism of the image is further enhanced by the bent arms and the strong shadow of Dupain’s profile.

The 1930s was a period of intense experimentation for Dupain as he applied the lessons learned from Bostock and Cazneaux and absorbed the material in international publications. He mastered solarisation, montage, portraiture, interiors and advertising photography. His interest in form and composition matured. His dedication to his work is manifested in this image.

1. Dupain M 1978, Cazneaux: photographs by Harold Cazneaux 1878-1953, National Library of Australia, Canberra p. xi.

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

 

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Sleep/Wound’ 1995-96


Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: 'Sleep/Wound' 1995-96 *PLEASE NOTE THIS POSTING CONTAINS PHOTOGRAPHS OF MALE NUDITY - IF YOU DO NOT LIKE PLEASE DO NOT LOOK, FAIR WARNING HAS BEEN GIVEN*

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