Posts Tagged ‘street photography

27
Jun
21

Exhibition: ‘Friedrich Seidenstücker – Life in the City: Photographs from the 1920s to 1940s’ at the Käthe Kollwitz Museum, Cologne

Exhibition dates: 21st May – 15th August 2021

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Family tandem' 1947

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Family tandem
1947
© Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, München

 

 

Recognising small diversions

A photographer I knew nothing about. Now I do.

The museum supplied me with 15 media images – hardly enough to give an overview of a life’s work – so I have supplemented them with more images, the best I could find, to give a broader idea of this artist’s work. Unfortunately, there are hardly any large photographs of his nudes or his important photographs of the destruction of Berlin directly after the war online.

An anonymous text on the The Wall Street Journal website (see below) observes that Seidenstücker’s pre- and post war photographs of Berlin “can seem a bit like moral disengagement when one recalls that the era saw the Nazis’ rise, World War II and the dismembering of Berlin itself… Even his shots of postwar rubble work hard to avoid the abyss. Kids and picnickers make the best of the ruins, napping amid the broken bricks or heaping them into playful piles.”

This is hardly true from the photographs I have seen. With a twinkle in his eye and a delicious sense of humour, Seidenstücker documents the mass and form of “the hardships and travail, but also of the longings, the small diversions, and the pleasures of life in the city.” Here is hard work and exhaustion, happiness and poverty, beauty and the ungainly. Impoverished Jewish women gather while coal porters trudge… and in the small photographs of his postwar ‘ruins’ work that I have viewed, hardly a picnicker can be observed.

Seidenstücker was a ‘Momentknipser’ (capturer of the moment) who “documents people in the social fabric of the modern metropolis with an attentive eye and keen intuition”. Which poses the question… does every photograph have to be political? Does every photograph have to be reinterpreted many years later for hidden ‘manifestations of will’ in which the artist knowingly or unknowingly made decisions about what, and who, to photograph?

Or can a photograph exist not only in the moment it was taken, but in the extension of that moment into present and future time just as it is? Can we simply accept that the artist captured what he was interested in through a process of Purpose – Aim – Goal – Valuation – Motivation – Intention, in “empathy, that is, the capacity to enter, so to speak, into the skin of others, and by means of intuitive imagination, become aware of the effects our words and acts may produce.”

Photographs are declarative, they make information known. To take a photograph of the world is not to image in reduction, in simplification – everything is political – for this act in itself is a form of interpretive fascism. Thus, we cannot prescribe a way for them to be interpreted much as we cannot prescribe a way for them to be taken.

As he strolls through the city Seidenstücker’s considered urges to action (the taking of photographs) arrive in the form of superconscious “illuminations” of everyday life. Through his intuitions and inspirations he records ostensibly incidental events and occurrences. These incidental events and occurrences, these puddle jumpers, can only be seen if the mind and will of the excursionist (those that run) are attuned and receptive, are empathetic to the wor(l)ds of others.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Stettiner Bahnhof railway station' 1930

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Stettiner Bahnhof railway station
1930
© Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, München

 

 

“Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) is the flaneur among Berlin photographers. As a 22 year-old trained mechanical engineer, he came to the German capital where he worked as an airplane constructor with Zeppelin AG in Potsdam during the First World War. He cultivated his eye for detail in another regard as well, as a precise chronicler with the camera. At 32, he began another course of studies in sculpture, but always kept turning back to his other passion, photography, which he finally made a profession in 1930 upon signing a contract with Ullstein publishing. From then on, he worked for magazines such as Der Querschnitt (The Profile), Illustrierte Zeitung (Illustrated Newspaper), UHU, Die Neue Linie (The New Line), Die Dame (The Lady) and Die Woche (The Weekly). Above all, Seidenstücker became famous for his awareness of every day life, pictures from the Berliner zoo and nude photographs. Similar to Herbert List in Munich, Richard Peter in Dresden or Hermann Claasen in Cologne, he strikingly documented the post-war ruins of Berlin. What interested him overridingly was the unspectacular, the charm of the second glance.”

Dr Boris von Brauchitsch. “Friedrich Seidenstücker,” on the Lumas website [Online] Cited 20/06/2021

 

“Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) didn’t sell his first photograph until he was 46. Trained as a sculptor, he never lost his eye for mass and form. His photographs of Berlin daily life during the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s freeze passersby in poses either accidentally graceful or, more frequently, droll and ungainly. In Shine (1925), four women clamber out of a swimming pool; the title refers to the wet gleam of the fabric on their behinds… Seidenstücker relished confounding man and beast, as in the image of a curious rhino peering at a seemingly captive zookeeper. On a trip to Copenhagen, he snapped a man whose splay-footed waddle evokes nothing so much as a penguin – indeed, he is dragging a box of fish down the sidewalk. But the irony on display … can seem a bit like moral disengagement when one recalls that the era saw the Nazis’ rise, World War II and the dismembering of Berlin itself. ‘This entire period did not agree with me’ was Seidenstücker’s understated explanation – though during the war he sustained a Jewish friend with gifts of food. Even his shots of postwar rubble work hard to avoid the abyss. Kids and picnickers make the best of the ruins, napping amid the broken bricks or heaping them into playful piles.”

Anonymous. “Photo-Op: Zoo View,” on The Wall Street Journal website [Online] Cited 20/06/2021

 

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) is one of the most important chroniclers of everyday life in Berlin during the Weimar Republic. His atmospheric photographs, mostly taken on his strolls through the city, tell of ostensibly incidental events and occurrences: of Sunday fun and everyday work, of children playing in the street and the goings-on at railway stations and in the zoo. Seidenstücker shows – often from a humorous perspective – the people and life in the metropolis. At the same time, his photographs make the hardships of big-city existence visible and, in the background, repeatedly allow the contrasts of social reality in the interwar years to shine through.

The exhibition featuring 100 works from the Ann and Jürgen Wilde Foundation, Bavarian State Painting Collections, Munich, invites you to follow Friedrich Seidenstücker on his walks through Berlin 100 years ago.

 

The art of the moment

With few exceptions, the ‘Momentknipser’ (capturer of the moment), as he called himself, found his motifs outside on the street. As visual metaphors, his famous photographs of ‘Pfützenspringerinnen’ (puddle-leapers) represent metropolitan modernity and urban life. With a portable camera and a light-sensitive lens, he instinctively documented many other scenes and figures – including small tradesmen such as porters, coachmen, and travelling salesmen, as well as nannies, rubbish collection workers, and newspaper vendors – in their daily activities, but also while waiting or resting.

 

“I am an excursionist / I’m a day tripper

Seidenstücker characterised himself thusly and set out to accompany his models to the Wannsee beach or to see the cherry blossoms in Werder. His favourite place, however, was the Berlin Zoological Garden. In his photographs taken here, it is not only the enthusiasm of the zoo visitors that becomes visible – occasionally, the observer and the observed seem to reverse their roles: Are the animals also interested in the people?

Seidenstücker’s photographs from the 1920s to the ’40s are images of everyday life, early street photography that documents people in the social fabric of the modern metropolis with an attentive eye and keen intuition. With a twinkle in his eye, he created images that give us today an idea of the hardships and travail, but also of the longings, the small diversions, and the pleasures of life in the city.

The exhibition was organised in special cooperation and with the scientific support of the Ann and Jürgen Wilde Foundation, Bavarian State Painting Collections, Munich.

Press release from Käthe Kollwitz Museum translated from the German

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Puddle jumpers' 1925

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Puddle jumpers
1925
© Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Bayerische Staatsgemälde, München

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Children in the city' 1928

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Children in the city
1928
© Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, München

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Dog painter' 1928

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Dog painter
1928
© Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, München

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Encounters in the zoo' 1926

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Encounters in the zoo
1926
© Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, München

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Lastenträger' (Load carrier) 1928

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Lastenträger (Load carrier)
1928
© Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, München

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Hotel servant' 1930

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Hotel servant
1930
© Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, München

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Potsdamer Platz' After 1931

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Potsdamer Platz
After 1931
© Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde,
Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, München

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Celebrities snapped, Berlin Zoological Garden' 1930

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Celebrities snapped, Berlin Zoological Garden
1930
© Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, München

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Photo school' 1920-30s

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Photo school, amateur photographers, Berlin
1920-30s
© Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, München

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Berlin Nord im Wedding' 1923

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Berlin Nord im Wedding
1923
© Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, München

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Zebras' 1920-30s

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Zebras
1920-30s
© Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, München

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'In his father's trousers' c. 1950

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
In his father’s trousers
c. 1950
© Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, München

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Self-portrait with camera' c. 1925

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Self-portrait with camera
c. 1925
© Archiv Ann und

 

Seidenstücker poster for the special exhibition

 

Poster for the special exhibition
Design: Michael Krupp
Motif: Friedrich Seidenstücker, family tandem, 1947
© Ann and Jürgen Wilde Foundation, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich

 

 

More photographs

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Untitled (Sch)' 1930

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Untitled (Sch)
1930

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker Untitled, c. 1930

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966)
Untitled
c. 1930
Vintage print
6 15/16 x 5 1/16 in. (17.6 x 12.9cm)
Galerie Berinson, Berlin
Photo: Galerie Berinson, Berlin

 

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) is noted for his atmospheric photographs of everyday life in Berlin during the Weimar Republic. Thanks to his compassionate studies of animals, he has an almost legendary reputation among animal and zoo lovers, and his haunting pictures of Berlin in ruins are a precious source of material for historians. His images seem to be spontaneous, sympathetic examples of the kind of photography that excels at capturing the moment. They are free of any exaggeration or extravagance, and display a sense of humour rarely found in photography. His work is buoyed by a fundamental optimism, yet it does not ignore the harshness, poverty, and suffering that prevailed at that time.

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Potsdamer Bahnhof, Berlin' 1932

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Potsdamer Bahnhof, Berlin
1932

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Alexanderplatz, Berlin' 1928

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Alexanderplatz, Berlin
1928

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Two walruses emerging from water' 1925-1935

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Two walruses emerging from water
1925-1935

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Polar bear, Berlin Zoo' 1929

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Polar bear, Berlin Zoo
1929

 

 

Polar bear perspective: who is actually behind bars here? Photographer Seidenstücker often seemed to have been closer to animals than to humans – this is the impression made by many of his photographs, such as those from 1929 at the Berlin Zoo.

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Pelican, Berlin Zoo' 1928

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Pelican, Berlin Zoo
1928

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Berlin Zoo' 1933

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Berlin Zoo
1933

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Berlin Zoo' 1936

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Berlin Zoo
1936

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Curious goat' 1920-30s

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Curious goat
1920-30s

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Monday morning, Oberbaumbrücke, Berlin' 1930

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Monday morning, Oberbaumbrücke, Berlin
1930

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Posing javelin thrower' 1932-1938

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Posing javelin thrower
1932-1938

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Berlin' 192

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Berlin
1925

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Kleines Mädchen malt mit Kreide auf den Straßenasphalt' (Little girl paints with chalk on the asphalt road) 1925-1930

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Kleines Mädchen malt mit Kreide auf den Straßenasphalt (Little girl paints with chalk on the asphalt road)
1925-1930

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Elderly couple in Berlin' 1929

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Elderly couple in Berlin
1929

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'At the Waterpump' 1927

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
At the Waterpump
1927

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Woman Jumping Puddle, Berlin' 1925

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Woman Jumping Puddle, Berlin
1925

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Puddle Jumper' 1925

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Puddle Jumper
1925

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Puddle Jumpers' 1930

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Puddle Jumpers
1930

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Faschingsfigur' (Carnival figure) 1925

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Faschingsfigur (Carnival figure)
1925

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'The front stairs are scrubbed' 1928

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
The front stairs are scrubbed
1928

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Vor dem Bäckerladen' 1929

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Vor dem Bäckerladen
1929

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Ice cream after school' 1931

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Ice cream after school
1931

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Verarmte Jüdinnnen in de Grenadierstraße' (Impoverished Jewish women in de Grenadierstrasse) c. 1930

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Verarmte Jüdinnnen in de Grenadierstraße (Impoverished Jewish women in de Grenadierstrasse)
c. 1930

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Konzentration vor dem Abschuß des Pfeils' (Concentration before the arrow is fired) 1932

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Konzentration vor dem Abschuß des Pfeils (Concentration before the arrow is fired)
1932

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Stove-fitter' 1930-35

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Stove-fitter
1930-35

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Coal porter' 1930

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Coal porter
1930

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Next to Wertheim' c. 1935

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Next to Wertheim
c. 1935

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Jungfernbrücke an der Friedrichsgracht' (Maiden Bridge on the Friedrichsgracht) 1946

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Jungfernbrücke an der Friedrichsgracht (Maiden Bridge on the Friedrichsgracht)
1946

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Ein rollstuhlfahrer passiert die ruine des stadtschlosses' (A wheelchair user passes the ruins of the city palace) 1947

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966)
Ein rollstuhlfahrer passiert die ruine des stadtschlosses (A wheelchair user passes the ruins of the city palace)
1947

The Hohenzollern residence, located in the eastern sector, bore the legend, “remove war criminals from all positions!!!”

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Untitled (Bismarck)' 1946

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Untitled (Bismark)
1946

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'The Twins, Hilde und Helga Fischer' 1948

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966)
The Twins, Hilde und Helga Fischer
1948

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Aufstieg der Begabten, Berlin' (Rise of the gifted, Berlin) 1950

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Aufstieg der Begabten, Berlin (Rise of the gifted, Berlin)
1950

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Pachyderms: Zoo visitors at the elephant enclosure in Berlin' 1950

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Pachyderms: Zoo visitors at the elephant enclosure in Berlin
1950

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Autumn in the Zoo, African Rhinoceros' c. 1955

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Autumn in the Zoo, African Rhinoceros
c. 1955

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) 'Nude' Nd

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Nude
Nd

 

 Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966) 'Untitled (Self-portrait with dove)' 1952

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (German, 1882-1966)
Untitled (Self-portrait with dove)
1952

 

 

Käthe Kollwitz Museum Köln
Neumarkt 18-24 / Neumarkt Passage
50667 Köln
Phone: +49 (0)221 227 2899
Phone: +49 (0)221 227 2602

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 11am – 6pm

Käthe Kollwitz Museum Cologne website

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13
Jun
21

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

Exhibition dates: 5th June – 5th July 2021

Curators: Michael Kamber and Cynthia Rivera

Artists: James Nachtwey; Jeffrey Stockbridge; Mark Trent

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

Nature ∞ nurture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

.
James Natchwey

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Exhibition curated by Michael Kamber and Cynthia Rivera.

Press release from the Bronx Documentary Center

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

~ Dorothy Onikute

 

 

The Opioid Diaries – James Nachtwey and Paul Moakley

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

Text from the Bronx Documentary Center website

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

~ Chad Colwell

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

~ Cheryl Schmidtchen

 

 

What I Saw

James Natchwey

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

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

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

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

James Natchwey

 

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

 

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

 

 

Kensington Blues – Jeffrey Stockbridge

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

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

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

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

Text from the Bronx Documentary Center website

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Surviving Kensington: behind the photos of ‘Kensington Blues’

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Despair, Love and Loss – Mark E. Trent

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

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

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

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

Text from the Bronx Documentary Center website

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Barbie really was like my big sister.

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

Bronx Documentary Center website

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20
Dec
20

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

For a few brief moments, rebels with a cause

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Press release from the Cleveland Museum of Art

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

Bruce Davidson

Barbara Tannenbaum

Curator of Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cleveland Art, Fall 2020

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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29
Nov
19

Exhibition: ‘Helga Paris, Photographer’ at the Akademie der Künste, Berlin

Exhibition dates: 8th November 2019 – 12th January 2020

Curator: Inka Schube

 

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938) 'Prerow' 1960s

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938)
Prerow
1960s
Gelatin silver print
Photo: © Helga Paris
Source: ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen)

 

 

A couple of years ago I was in Paris, searching for French peasant work clothes of the 1950s in the trendy secondhand shops of the Marais. It took me forever but I eventually found one blue shirt that fitted me… only one. Battered, patched up, but still present after all these years – hard wearing, practical, and tough. But also soft and pliable like a second skin, with its own look and feel, its own distinctive aesthetic. I knew what I wanted, I found it… or it found me. A treasure.

The same could be said of the photographs of Helga Paris. Her photographs picture the tough, hard existence of life in postwar East Germany but there is a fond affection for subject matter in the cameras engagement. Paris approaches her subjects, whether city or people, with directness but it is also a dialogue between the artist and her subjects which “give the viewer an insight into a moment of the everyday lives of an East German resident.”

“Paris opened herself to the worker’s world she found in Prenzlauer Berg, and often took photographs in the immediate surroundings – of friends and neighbours, the area’s old and run-down streets, and the melancholic vitality of the regulars in Berlin’s bars and cafés. The people in her photographs look deeply rooted, as if they had moved to the area with the intention of never going away.”

Misty cobbled corners, people in bars, in clubs, at work, on the street. Much as Ara Güler did for Istanbul (in a more romantic way), Paris captures the essence of an ecosystem, the culture and survival that was the living, behind the Iron Curtain. There is melancholy aplenty, the brooding streets with swooping pigeons and ubiquitous Trabant, all dark in their small sulkiness. There are beautiful boys with Anarchy stencilled on their jumper desiring liberated life, and reflective women deep in their own thoughts. Naira! Naira! Smoking a fag, with drunk-eyed pictures of a child on dirty wall, behind. Oh Naira, of what were you thinking! What brought you to this place?

There is sullenness, compassion, bohemians, students and countercultural intellectuals all pictured with her probing mind. If you could say that a subject finds an artist then this is that aphorism in full technicolor. Engaged and engaging, these essential images stand the test of time – as relevant now in an era of neo-liberal fascism as they ever were in the past.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938) 'No title' 1974 From the series 'Müllfahrer' (Garbage Drivers)

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938)
No title
1974
From the series Müllfahrer (Garbage Drivers)
Gelatin silver print
Photo: © Helga Paris
Source: ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen)

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938) 'Selbst im Spiegel' (Self-Portrait in the Mirror) 1971

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938)
Selbst im Spiegel (Self-Portrait in the Mirror)
1971
Gelatin silver print
Photo: © Helga Paris
Source: ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen)

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938) 'No title' 1975 From the series 'Berliner Kneipen' (Berlin Pubs)

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938)
No title
1975
From the series Berliner Kneipen (Berlin Pubs)
Gelatin silver print
Photo: © Helga Paris
Source: ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen)

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938) 'Hund, Immanuelkirchstr 1970s' (Berlin 1974-1982)

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938)
Hund, Immanuelkirchstr. (Dog, Immanuelkirchstrasse)
1970s
From Berlin 1974-1982
Gelatin silver print
Photo: © Helga Paris
Source: ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen)

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938) 'Winsstraße mit Taube' (Winsstrasse with Pigeon) 1970s

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938)
Winsstraße mit Taube (Winsstrasse with Pigeon)
1970s
From Berlin 1974-1982
Gelatin silver print
Photo: © Helga Paris
Source: ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen)

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938) 'Marienburger Strasse' 1970s (Berlin 1974-1982)

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938)
Marienburger Strasse
1970s
From Berlin 1974-1982
Gelatin silver print
Photo: © Helga Paris
Source: ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen)

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938) 'Jugendweihe René Köstner' (Berlin 1974-1982) WEB

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938)
Jugendweihe René Köstner
1970s
From Berlin 1974-1982
Gelatin silver print
Photo: © Helga Paris
Source: ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen)

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938) 'Meteln (Christa and Gerhard Wolf)' 1977

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938)
Meteln (Christa and Gerhard Wolf)
1977
Gelatin silver print
Photo: © Helga Paris
Source: ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen)

 

 

Helga Paris (born in 1938 in Goleniów, Poland) occupies an outstanding position in German photography. Her oeuvre exhibits the poetry of a Henri Cartier-Bresson as well as the austerity of an August Sander or Renger-Patzsch. Paris, who has lived in Prenzlauer Berg in Berlin since 1966, has chronicled the long history of postwar East Germany. For more than three decades she has directed her gentle yet precise gaze toward the people who live it. Her photographs tell of the melancholy vitality of East Berlin corner pubs and the poetic tristesse of the old streetcars of the seventies. We encounter garbage truck drivers, stubbornly furious or calm teenagers, and proud female textile mill workers. We travel through Georgia and Siebenbürgen, and meander through the central German industrial city of Halle, a “diva in gray.” But these photographs also tell of the end of the postwar era, of the search for images of childhood and their retrieval. (Text from the catalogue to the exhibition)

 

Helga Paris : Fotografie from arts-news on Vimeo

 

 

Fotografie is a retrospective look at the work of German photographer, Helga Paris. Exhibiting a collection of photos taken in East Germany in the postwar period, Paris’s work is considered to be one of the most revealing and compassionate bodies of work reflecting life in Germany at that time. Going beyond a simple ‘social study’, Paris’s technique was simply to engage with her subjects, rather than take on the role of the distant street photographer. In making this connection, the result has been a collection of photos that give the viewer an insight into a moment of the everyday lives of an East German resident.

Starting in the 60s, Helga Paris took an interest in photography and began teaching herself the basics. Paris came from a fashion and art background, but it was her interest in the everyday lives of the East Berlin people, during the postwar period that made her want to capture that on film. (Text from the Vimeo website)

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938) 'Club' 1981

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938)
Club
1981
Gelatin silver print
Photo: © Helga Paris
Source: ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen)

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938) 'Berliner Kneipen' From the series 'Berlin' 1974-1982

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938)
Berliner Kneipen (Berlin pubs)
From the series Berlin 1974-1982
Gelatin silver print
Photo: © Helga Paris
Source: ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen)

 

 

Since 1966 Helga Paris has lived in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg, a traditionally working class district that in the DDR days had become a refuge for bohemians, students and countercultural intellectuals, condoned by the authorities. Here she became a chronicler of post-war East Germany. Paris opened herself to the worker’s world she found in Prenzlauer Berg, and often took photographs in the immediate surroundings – of friends and neighbours, the area’s old and run-down streets, and the melancholic vitality of the regulars in Berlin’s bars and cafés. The people in her photographs look deeply rooted, as if they had moved to the area with the intention of never going away. Their faces express both their exhaustion and their lust for life.

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938) 'Sven' 1981-82 From the series 'Berliner Jugendliche' (Berlin Youth)

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938)
Sven
1981-82
From the series Berliner Jugendliche (Berlin Youth)
Gelatin silver print
Photo: © Helga Paris
Source: ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen)

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938) 'Pauer' From the series 'Berlin Youth'

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938)
Pauer
From the series Berlin Youth
1981-1982
Gelatin silver print
Photo: © Helga Paris
Source: ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen)

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938) 'Ramona' 1982

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938)
Ramona
1982
Gelatin silver print
Photo: © Helga Paris
Source: ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen)

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938) 'Ramona, Kollwitzstrasse' 1982

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938)
Ramona, Kollwitzstrasse
1982
Gelatin silver print
Photo: © Helga Paris
Source: ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen)

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938) 'Naira' 1982 From the series 'Georgien' (Georgia)

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938)
Naira
1982
From the series Georgien (Georgia)
Gelatin silver print
Photo: © Helga Paris
Source: ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen)

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938) 'No title' 1983-1985 From the series 'Houses and Faces, Halle' 1983-1985

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938)
No title
1983-1985
From the series Häuser und Gesichter, Halle / Houses and Faces, Halle 1983-1985
Gelatin silver print
Photo: © Helga Paris
Source: ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen)

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938) 'Grosse Klausstrasse Flutgasse' (Häuser und Gesichter Halle 1983-1985)

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938)
Grosse Klausstrasse Flutgasse
1983-1985
From the series Häuser und Gesichter, Halle / Houses and Faces, Halle 1983-1985
Gelatin silver print
Photo: © Helga Paris
Source: ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen)

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938) 'Zwei Frauen' (Häuser und Gesichter Halle 1983-1985)

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938)
Zwei Frauen (Two Women)
1983-1985
From the series Häuser und Gesichter, Halle / Houses and Faces, Halle 1983-1985
Gelatin silver print
Photo: © Helga Paris
Source: ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen)

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938) 'No title' 1983-1985 From the series 'Houses and Faces, Halle'

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938)
No title
1983-1985
From the series Houses and Faces, Halle 1983-1985
Gelatin silver print
Photo: © Helga Paris
Source: ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen)

 

 

From 8 November 2019 to 12 January 2020 at its exhibition halls at Pariser Platz, the Akademie der Künste will present the photographic work of Helga Paris from 1968 to 2011. Featuring 275 works, including many individual images and series that are to be shown for the first time, this will be her most comprehensive exhibition to date and the first retrospective of the artist in her home city of Berlin in 25 years. Excerpts from the extensive Leipzig, Hauptbahnhof (1981), Moskau (1991/92) and Mein Alex (2011) series will be seen for the first time, among others.

In addition to the photographer’s special ability to make ever-changing compressed contemporary history tangible in her images and series over the course of decades, it is her tender, graceful and heavily nuanced black-and-white modulations expressing social empathy that make her work unmistakable.

Helga Paris was born in 1938 in Gollnow, Pomerania (today Polish town of Goleniów), and grew up in Zossen near Berlin. She began her work as a self-taught photographer in the 1960s. She became one of the key chroniclers of life in East Berlin with images of her neighbourhood in the Berlin district of Prenzlauer Berg, pictures of pub-goers, sanitation workers, the women from the VEB Treffmodelle clothing factory, artists, punks, children from Hellersdorf and passers-by from Alexanderplatz. Helga Paris also took photographs in Transylvania (1980), Georgia (1982) and the city of Halle (1983-1985), where she produced her Diva in Grau series that was banned from being shown until 1989/90, as well as in Volgograd (1990), New York (1995) and Poland (1996/97), among others. Helga Paris has been a member of the Film and Media Art Section of the Akademie der Künste since 1996.

The curator of the exhibition is art historian Inka Schube, who has worked with Helga Paris on numerous occasions. Filmmaker Helke Misselwitz will present an installation involving interviews with Helga Paris on the topics of origin, the changing city and her work as a photographer in East Germany and up into the early 21st century.

On the occasion of the exhibition, the Spector Books publishing house, Leipzig has released the photography book Helga Paris. Leipzig Hauptbahnhof, 1981.

An exhibition by the Akademie der Künste in cooperation with the ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen), with the kind support of the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach-Stiftung that allowed the living legacy to be indexed and new prints of three previously unpublished series to be made, as well as the DEFA-Foundation.

Press release from the Akademie der Künste website [Online] Cited 11/11/2019

 

Helga Paris (Polish, b. 1938) 'Self-portraits' 1981-1989

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938)
Self-portraits
1981-1989
Gelatin silver print
Photo: © Helga Paris
Source: ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen)

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938) 'Frauen im Bekleidungswerk Treff-Modelle' 1984

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938)
Frauen im Bekleidungswerk Treff-Modelle
1984
Gelatin silver print
Photo: © Helga Paris
Source: ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen)

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938) 'Frauen im Bekleidungswerk Treff-Modelle' 1984

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938)
Frauen im Bekleidungswerk Treff-Modelle
1984
Gelatin silver print
Photo: © Helga Paris
Source: ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen)

 

 

In the early 1980s the DDR’s Gesellschaft für Fotografie im Kulturbund gave professional photographers commissions that allowed them to work on projects of their own choosing. These commissions not only gave photographers financial security, but also opened doors to places where, under normal circumstances, only media loyal to the regime had been allowed to work. Helga Paris chose to photograph a clothing factory, Treff-Modelle VEB in Berlin, where she herself had had some work experience during her fashion design studies. There she portrayed the factory’s female workers, eliciting a wide variety of subtle reactions from them: from self-confident and open to confrontational and defensive.

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938) 'Frauen im Bekleidungswerk Treff-Modelle' 1984

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938)
No title
1984
Gelatin silver print
From the series Frauen im Bekleidungswerk VEB Treffmodelle Berlin (Women at the Clothing factory VEB Treffmodelle Berlin)
Photo: © Helga Paris
Source: ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen)

 

 

With around 275 photographs from the period of 1968 till 2011 – including numerous single frames and series shown for the first time – the exhibition of Helga Paris at the Akademie der Künste on Pariser Platz is the photographer’s most comprehensive to date. It is the first retrospective of Paris’ work in her home city of Berlin in 25 years.

Having lived in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg district since 1966, Helga Paris (born 1938) began taking photos of people in her neighbourhood in the early 1970s. She found her photographic motifs in flats, pubs, break rooms and factory halls, or on the streets and in train stations. With a background in modernist painting, theatre and poetry as well as early Soviet, Italian and French cinema, the autodidact photographer has spent the last four and a half decades developing an extensive oeuvre of delicate, nuanced black-and-white photography.

But she is not only a chronicler of Prenzlauer Berg. Helga Paris also has taken photos in Halle, Leipzig, Transylvania, Georgia, Moscow, Volgograd and New York. There, as in her local neighbourhood, she constantly explores how it feels “to be in history”, and how the respective circumstances are reflected at the most private level. Helga Paris’s imagery has a particular poetic approachability, in part because it forgoes all ideological interpretations; her gaze suggests profound solidarity.

For the exhibition, the director Helke Misselwitz has designed a documentary film triptych, in which she makes it possible to experience how the life and work of Helga Paris are both interwoven and interdependent. Misselwitz traces a wide arc from the photographer’s childhood to the present; from Prenzlauer Berg to sites around the world; and from Paris’ close-ups to her farsighted vision.

Text from the Akademie der Künste website [Online] Cited 11/11/2019

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938) 'Sohn des Architekten Melnikow' 1991/92

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938)
Sohn des Architekten Melnikow (Son of the architect Melnikov)
1991-92
From the series Moskau 1991-92
Gelatin silver print
Photo: © Helga Paris
Source: ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen)

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938) 'No title' 1991/92 From the series 'Moscow' 1991-92

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938)
No title
1991-92
From the series Moscow 1991-92
Gelatin silver print
Photo: © Helga Paris
Source: ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen)

 

 

As a result of the Cold War, the remarkable oeuvre of the German photographer Helga Paris (1938) was long almost unknown west of the Iron Curtain. While Paris enjoyed widespread popularity in East Germany, her photographs rarely reached a public in the West. Although her work, with its quite intimate glimpses of daily life in East Germany, is strongly linked to the course of her own life, its expressiveness is universal. The empathy of her gaze makes it easy for us to imagine ourselves in the people and places she photographed.

 

Resilience

On one hand Helga Paris’ photographs are about life in the German Democratic Republic (DDR), where the Second World War and the country’s communist regime brought restriction, loss, destruction and decline in their wake. On the other they show the gaze of a photographer who had been born in Pommeren (now in Poland), who grew up close to postwar Berlin, and who faced the world with resilience, curiosity and compassion. In 1966 Paris moved for good to Prenzlauer Berg in East Berlin, a traditionally working-class district that had become a refuge for bohemians, students and countercultural intellectuals, closely watched but condoned by the authorities. Here she became a chronicler of postwar East Germany. She often worked in the immediate surroundings – taking photographs of friends and neighbours, on the street, and in bars and cafés.

 

Hidden tensions

Although in the 1970s and 1980s Helga Paris also photographed in Romania, Poland and Georgia, the accent in the Huis Marseille exhibition is on East Germany before and after the Wende (1989-90). She created the series Berliner Jugendliche (Berlin Youth) in 1980-81, when her own children were teenagers, portraying youngsters who believed in an alternative way of life and who went to the concerts given by independent bands – a sort of East German variant of the Western punk scene. Their anarchic lifestyle did not go unnoticed by the regime, and many of those she portrayed also spent some time in prison. Paris subtly but revealingly captures the hidden tensions of the time in the teenagers’ postures, gestures, and facial expressions. She elicited a similar scale of reactions in the workers she photographed for the series Frauen im Bekleidungswerk VEB Treffmodelle Berlin (Women at the textile factory VEB Models, 1984): from self-confident and open to confrontational and defensive.

 

Run-down

In the same period Helga Paris documented the decline of the old city centre of Halle, interspersing photos of the city’s long-neglected buildings and streets with portraits of its residents – who only allowed themselves to be photographed if they had a say in how their portraits were taken. The impoverishment of Halle was only partly the result of the faltering East German economy; the government was also deliberately allowing the historic centre of Halle and other East German cities to become rundown in order to compel their populations to move into modern flats on urban peripheries. The exhibition Häuser und Gesichter: Halle 1983-85 was banned by the regime in 1987; it was 1990 before the people of Halle could see the photographs for themselves.

Helga Paris was born Helga Steffens in 1938 in Gollnow, Pommeren, now known as Goleniów in Poland. At the end of the war she fled with her family to Zossen, her father’s native city. She first came into contact with photography through an aunt who worked in a photographic laboratory. Between 1956 and 1960 she studied fashion design at the Fachschule für Bekleidung in Berlin. There she met the artist Ronald Paris, to whom she was married between 1961 and 1974, and with whom she had two children.

Via the Arbeiter- und Studententheater in Berlin, for which she made costumes, Paris came into contact with the later documentary maker Peter Voigt, who encouraged her to take more photographs. To improve her techniques, from 1967 to 1968 she worked in the Deutsche Werbeund Anzeigengesellschaft DEWAG photographic laboratory. She took many photographs in the theatre, such as productions of the Volksbühne, as her husband was also its set designer. In later years she would say that this experience had given her a solid foundation for her attitude to space as a street photographer.

Paris’s work was first exhibited in 1978, in the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Dresden. In 1996 she became a member of the Akademie der Künste in Berlin. Her self-portraits were a great success at the Kunst in der DDR exhibition in the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin (2003), and in 2004 Helga Paris was awarded the prestigious Hannah-Höch-Preis for a lifetime of achievement in the arts.

Press release from Huis Marseille for the exhibition Helga Paris / East Germany 1974-1998 Cited 26/11/2019

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938) 'Erinnerung an Z' (Memory of Z) 1994

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938)
Erinnerung an Z (Memory of Z)
1994
Gelatin silver print
Photo: © Helga Paris
Source: ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen)

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938) 'No title' 1998 From the series 'Hellersdorf'

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938)
No title
1998
Gelatin silver print
From the series Hellersdorf
Photo: © Helga Paris
Source: ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen)

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938) 'Hellersdorf #2' 1998

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938)
Hellersdorf #2
1998
Gelatin silver print
From the series Hellersdorf
Photo: © Helga Paris
Source: ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen)

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938) 'Hellersdorf #7' 1998

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938)
Hellersdorf #7
1998
Gelatin silver print
From the series Hellersdorf
Photo: © Helga Paris
Source: ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen)

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938) 'Hellersdorf #8' 1998

 

Helga Paris (German, born Poland, 1938)
Hellersdorf #8
1998
Gelatin silver print
From the series Hellersdorf
Photo: © Helga Paris
Source: ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen)

 

 

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20
Jul
19

Exhibition: ‘Under the Mexican Sky: A Revolution in Modern Photography’ at the Palmer Museum of Art, Pennsylvania State University

Exhibition dates: 1st June – 28th July 2019

 

Edward Weston. 'Dr. Federico Marín, Jean Charlot, and Tina Modotti' 1925

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Dr. Federico Marín, Jean Charlot, and Tina Modotti
1925
Vintage gelatin silver print
7 ½ x 9 ¼ inches

 

Shown with Modotti are Federico Marín, who was Diego Rivera’s brother-in-law and physician, and Jean Charlot, who is here seen making a sketch on Tina’s back.

 

 

If there is one period and two countries that I love more than anything else in the history of medium, it is the avant-garde photography of the interwar years in France and the photography of Mexico in the 1920s and 1930s.

American, French and Italian photographers were drawn like bees to a honey pot to the blossoming artistic scene in Mexico City and the country in general. They soaked up the unique Mexican culture, its atmosphere of work, religion, beauty, death, poverty, and sensuality – its churches, religious icons, sculptures, festivals, pottery, and people – the land, the mountains and the inhabitants all photographed in this dazzling light. They photographed in an “international modernism” style (the supposed revolution in modern photography named in the title), expatriate photographers in a hospitable but impoverished land. But this was not their land, for this was not their country.

While Strand “modified his 5×7 Graflex camera, adding a special prism extension that enabled him to clandestinely shoot a subject at a 90° angle from the front of his camera”, surreptitiously making portraits as he had done in his New York subway portraits; while Weston documents the murals of Mexican culture at a distance, the clay pots as an abstract composition, and the traditional art and craft Tehuana dress as idealised icon; while Modotti comes closer with her political statements and constructed still life; it is only the Mexican artist Manuel Álvarez Bravo that steals my heart.

His work exudes the spirit of the country through its sensitivity and connection to the earth from which he was born. The light and form in Bravo La Siesta de los Peregrinos; the light and form in Retrato de lo Eterno. I have studied his work quite thoroughly. He is the blessed one. Through his music, he captures the light and life of Mexico, the spirit of the eternal, “the sunlight [as] a discreet veil that turns the shadows into velvet.” His work is the art of the People.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Hands in the Water of the Mind

The water of the mind     has filled with forms.
Come, come closer now,    elusive as
an anemone or a jellyfish     a criminal, a saint;

dip your hand in and pull    from the tormented water
angles and profiles,         an incessant music,

the murmur of the sky,     the mouth of the earth,
the crown of the breeze,     the rings of fire,

the bodies of the lynxes,     the wings of the bat,
the glasses and the pillow,     the brightness of hunger.

David Huerta

.
Many thankx to the Palmer 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.

 

In the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution (1910-20), expatriate photographers flocked to the blossoming artistic scene in Mexico City. Los Angelino Edward Weston reinvented his approach to the medium during three years there in the 1920s. In exploring the development of international modernism into the next decades, this exhibition features rare photographs by Italian Tina Modotti, New Yorkers Helen Levitt and Paul Strand, French master Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Mexico’s own Manuel Álvarez Bravo.

 

 

“For six months I worked at still photographs of Mexico, made about sixty platinum prints, completed and mounted them. Among other things I made a series of photographs in the churches, of the Christs and Madonnas, carved out of wood by the Indians. They are among the most extraordinary sculptures I have seen anywhere, and have apparently gone relatively unnoticed. These figures so alive with the intensity of the faith of those who made them. That is what interested me, the faith, even if it is not mine; a form of faith, to be sure, that is passing, that has to go. But the world needs a faith equally intense in something else, something more realistic, as I see it. Hence my impulse to photograph these things, and I think the photographs are pretty swell.”

.
Paul Strand

 

“At first the brilliance of technique is commented on. Laymen say: What reality! How three-dimensional. Photographers say: What texture! What a scale of values! What print quality! This is a first reaction and the least significant one. All this virtuosity is at the service of what Strand has to express, the felt idea behind the photograph.”

.
Leo Hurwitz

 

“Popular Art is the art of the People. A popular painter is an artisan who, as in the Middle Ages, remains anonymous. His work needs no advertisement, as it is done for the people around him. The more pretentious artist craves to become famous, and it is characteristic of his work that it is bought for the name rather than for the work – a name that is built up by propaganda. Before the Conquest all art was of the people, and popular art has never ceased to exist in Mexico.”

.
Manuel Álvarez Bravo

 

 

Charles Betts Waite. 'The Iguana' 1901

 

Charles Betts Waite (American, 1861-1927)
The Iguana
1901
Vintage gelatin silver print
5 x 7 7/8 inches

 

 

In this playful study, the shadows dominate: the bowl of vittles atop the man’s shadow suggest a sombrero shielding a sleeping man’s face during an afternoon siesta.

[Waite] traveled to Mexico City and in May 1897 established a photography studio there, during the Porfirio Díaz government. He became part of Porfirian society, taking photographs of many in the ruler’s circle. He was among a group of expatriate photographers (such as Winfield Scott and fellow San Diegans Ralph Carmichael and Percy S. Cox) working in Mexico in the first decade of the 20th century. Waite traveled throughout Mexico, exploring archaeological sites and the countryside.

[Waite’s life] corresponds with that of adventurers, brave explorers with romantic spirits and materialistic outlooks, who toured the hitherto unknown world, discovering their riches and inventing paradises.” ~ Francisco Montellano, author of C. B. Waite, fotógrafo

His works were published in books, travel magazines, and on post cards, having contracted with the Sonora News Company. He also worked for several Mexican newspapers, and he documented United States scientific expeditions in Mexico. The images often included scenic Mexican images and the country’s native residents. Many of Waite’s photographs depict railroads, parks, archaeological sites, and business enterprises.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Tina Modotti. 'Experiment in Related Form' 1924

 

Tina Modotti (Italian, 1896-1942)
Experiment in Related Form
1924
Vintage gelatin silver print
7 3/8 x 9 3/8 inches

 

 

This is one of only two known photomontages by Modotti, in which a single image of six wine glasses is enlarged and cropped and then superimposed onto itself.

 

Edward Weston. 'Ollas de Oaxaca' 1926

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Ollas de Oaxaca
1926
Vintage palladium print
8 x 10 inches

 

 

An olla is a clay pot or jar. Weston wrote that his first thought of Oaxaca “is always of the market, – and the market means first of all loza – crockery! I bought and bought – dishes, jars, jugettes, – of the dull black or grey-black ware, and of the deep green glaze ware… Very well do these people reproduce, make use of the essential quality of the material, – splendidly do they observe and utilise to advantage the very essence of a form. A race of born sculptors!”

 

Edward Weston. 'Detail of stone frieze, ruins of Mitla, Oaxaca' 1926

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Detail of stone frieze, ruins of Mitla, Oaxaca
1926
Vintage gelatin silver print
7 ½ x 9 ½ inches

 

 

“I was fascinated by the stone mosaics at Mitla, for besides a variation on the Greek fret, there was a unique pattern – oblique lines of dynamic force – flashes of stone lightning, which remain my strongest memory.” ~ Edward Weston, The Daybooks, vol. I.

 

Edward Weston. 'Stone lions in relief, Oaxaca' 1926

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Stone lions in relief, Oaxaca
1926
Vintage gelatin silver print
7 ½ x 9 ½ inches

 

Edward Weston. 'Two clay pitchers' 1926

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Two clay pitchers
1926
Vintage gelatin silver print
7 ½ x 9 ¼ inches

 

 

These studies of pre-Columbian and folk-art statuary and pottery, done for Anita Brenner’s Idols Behind Altars project, taught Weston the art of the table-top still life. As such, they were the direct precursor to the iconic shells, peppers, and cabbages that occupied him immediately upon his return to Los Angeles in December 1926.

 

Edward Weston. 'Tarascan Pottery, Michoacán' 1926

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Tarascan Pottery, Michoacán
1926
Vintage gelatin silver print
7 ½ x 8 ¼ inches

 

 

The Tarascan people flourished from 1100 A.D. to 1530 A.D. After the Spanish Conquest, missionaries organised the Tarascan empire into a series of craft-oriented villages. Their artistic traditions survive today in the Lake Pátzcuaro region.

 

Tina Modotti. 'Jean Charlot' 1923

 

Tina Modotti (Italian, 1896-1942)
Jean Charlot
1923
Vintage gelatin silver print
9 ½ x 7 ½ inches

 

 

Anita Brenner and Tina Modotti remained friendly rivals in Mexico City’s close-knit artistic expatriate community throughout the 1920s. Their intertwined social life revolved around the French-Mexican painter Jean Charlot, who had been a principal assistant to Rivera. Charlot was Weston’s closest friend in Mexico as well as Brenner’s paramour and professional collaborator. In a diary entry in 1927, Brenner made a three-column table captioned “Actively Friends; Actively Enemies; and Actively Both.” Modotti’s name appears in the third column.

This sensitive Modotti portrait is inscribed by Charlot to Brenner, “You are bad tempered / I am worst tempered / Does that explain the sweet / Hours we passed together”

 

Tina Modotti. 'Elisa Kneeling' 1924

 

Tina Modotti (Italian, 1896-1942)
Elisa Kneeling
1924
Vintage palladium print
8 7/8 x 6 5/8 inches

 

 

The power of Modotti’s portrait of her young chambermaid is due to the contrast between her beatific face and her coiled hands, which suggest a lifetime of hard manual labor.

 

Edward Weston. 'Anita ("Pear-Shaped Nude")' 1925

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Anita (“Pear-Shaped Nude”)
1925
Vintage gelatin silver print
8 5/8 x 7 3/8 inches

 

 

“I was shaving when A[nita] came, hardly expecting her on such a gloomy, drizzling day. I made excuses, having no desire, no ‘inspiration’ to work … but she took no hints, undressing while I reluctantly prepared my camera…. And then appeared to me the most exquisite lines, forms, volumes – and I accepted, – working easily, rapidly, surely…

Reviewing the new prints, I am seldom so happy as I am with the pear-like nude of A[nita]. I turn to it again and again. I could hug the print in sheer joy. It is one of my most perfect photographs.” ~ Edward Weston, The Daybooks, vol. I

 

Edward Weston. 'Excusado' 1926

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Excusado
1926
Gelatin silver print, 1930s
10 x 8 inches

 

 

“‘Form follows function.’ Who said this I don’t know, but the writer spoke well! I have been photographing our toilet, that glossy enamelled receptacle of extraordinary beauty. It might be suspicioned that I am in a cynical mood to approach such subject matter… My excitement was absolute aesthetic response to form… I was thrilled! – here was every sensuous curve of the ‘human form divine’ but minus imperfections.” ~ Edward Weston, The Daybooks, vol. I

Weston was particularly amused when his chambermaid placed a bouquet of flowers in the bowl, in a well-meaning effort to create a more fitting subject for her employer’s lens.

 

Edward Weston. 'Casa de Vecindad' 1926

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Casa de Vecindad
1926
Vintage gelatin silver print
7 3/8 x 9 ½ inches

 

 

A casa de vecindad or “neighborhood house” was a community home or tenement. This one had once been “a fine old convent,” wrote Weston. “The light was made perfect by the collective noise of cats and dogs, children laughing and crying, women gabbling and vendors calling.”

 

Edward Weston. 'Arches, Oaxaca' 1926

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Arches, Oaxaca
1926
Vintage gelatin silver print
9 ½ x 7 ½ inches

 

Edward Weston. 'Guadalajara, Barranca de los Oblatos: Rocky Trail' 1925

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Guadalajara, Barranca de los Oblatos: Rocky Trail
1925
Vintage palladium print
10 x 8 inches

 

 

Mexico City in the 1920s-30s was the scene of one of the great artistic flowerings of the twentieth century. Like Paris in the aftermath of World War I, Mexico City after the decade-long Mexican Revolution served as a magnet for international artists and photographers. Foremost among the expatriate photographers was the Los Angelino, Edward Weston, who embedded himself in the artistic milieu surrounding the muralist painters Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros. Weston reinvented his approach to picture-making during his three years in Mexico, 1923-26. The soft-focus painterliness that had characterised his studio portraiture in the ‘teens melted away under the brilliant Mexican sun, to be replaced by crystalline landscapes as well as evocative still life that prefigured his later shells and peppers. Meanwhile his paramour and protégée, the Italian silent film star Tina Modotti, created photographs that would place her in the pantheon of great photographers of the era. This exhibition features rare vintage Mexican masterworks by both Weston and Modotti from the 1920s, as well as stellar photographs from the 1930s by the New Yorker Paul Strand, the Frenchman Henri Cartier-Bresson, and by Mexico’s own self-taught master of the camera, Manuel Álvarez Bravo.

Already in the first two decades of the 20th century, immigrant photographers had played an outsize role in Mexican photography. German-born Hugo Brehme published picturesque views of Mexican life and landscape in local and international tourist magazines, including National Geographic. Brehme’s fellow German émigré, Carl Wilhelm (Guillermo) Kahlo, meticulously photographed Mexico’s colonial architecture; his daughter Frida would marry Diego Rivera and become a legendary painter and personality. A third talented immigrant photographer was the Californian C.B. Waite, who moved to Mexico City in 1897 and opened a photo studio. At their best, as in The Iguana from 1901, seen here, Waite’s genre studies prefigure by a quarter century the exotic Surrealism that would characterise the work of Modotti, Álvarez Bravo, and Cartier-Bresson.

In 1923, C.B. Waite left Mexico and retired to Glendale, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. Coincidentally, within a few months, Glendale’s leading photographer, Edward Weston, would make that same journey in the opposite direction. Weston sought to escape from the personal and professional distractions that he felt were deterring him from an aesthetic breakthrough. His love affair with Tina Modotti made him realise that he would never be a conventional husband. In August, 1923, Weston left the port of Los Angeles and sailed to Mexico on the S.S. Colima, accompanied by Modotti, who agreed to run his studio in exchange for photography lessons.

The Weston-Modotti home in Mexico City became a gathering place for writers, painters and photographers. This was the time of the Mexican Renaissance, a cultural movement that celebrated the country’s modern artists as well as its popular and indigenous arts. Under the presidency of Álvaro Obregón, the education minister José Vasconcelos sponsored an ambitious program of progressive public art, most notably the mural movement which was led by Diego Rivera, who was in all ways a larger-than-life character.

While Weston never second-guessed his decision to give up the steady income from studio portraiture, he and Tina faced constant money problems during their three years together in Mexico. Financial salvation came in the unlikely guise of a brash 19-year-old anthropology student, Anita Brenner. Born to a mercantile family with roots in both Texas and Mexico, Brenner befriended Weston and Modotti in Mexico City and hired them to furnish 400 photographs for her book, Idols Behind Altars. This was to be the first serious art-historical treatise on pre-Columbian art, Spanish Colonial architecture, and contemporary Mexican folk art. Weston and Modotti rose to the task with gusto, criss-crossing southern Mexico from Oaxaca to Guadalajara in search of prime examples of these genres.

Weston was first introduced to pulquerías, or working-class bars, by Diego Rivera, who was writing an article on pulquería mural painting for Mexican Folkways magazine. Weston was impressed by the vitality of these anonymous murals, writing:

“The aspiring young painters of Mexico should study the unaspiring paintings – popular themes – popular art – which adorn the humble pulquería… brave matadores at the kill – white veiled ladies, pensive beside moonlit waters – an exquisitely tender group of Indians … and all the pictured thoughts, nearest and dearest to the heart of the people.”

When Modotti left Mexico in 1930, she gifted her large-format view cameras to her close friend and protégé, Manuel Álvarez Bravo. With a seven-decade career, he is considered Mexico’s greatest photographer. “I was born in the city of Mexico, behind the Cathedral, in the place where the temples of the ancient Mexican gods must have been built, February fourth, 1902,” he wrote, invoking the magical realism that infuses his most iconic photographs. As a teenager he studied painting at the Academia San Carlos, the same art school that Rivera and Orozco had attended. “Interested since always in art, I committed the common error of believing that photography would be the easiest,” he confessed. In addition to Modotti, another important early mentor was the painter Rufino Tamayo, who counselled Álvarez Bravo against the “surface nationalism” of political art, such as that of Rivera, Orozco, or indeed Modotti herself: “Art is a way of expression that has to be understood by everybody, everywhere. It grows out of the earth, the texture of our lives and our experiences.” Tamayo’s words became Álvarez Bravo’s touchstones.

In 1934, Álvarez Bravo befriended the young painter-turned-photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, who had come to Mexico to spend the year photographing in the brilliant natural light not often found in his native Paris. At a technical level their approach to photography diverged: Álvarez Bravo, like Weston and Modotti, favoured traditional large-format view cameras, while Cartier-Bresson, the progenitor of the “decisive moment,” was an early proponent of the hand-held 35mm Leica camera. Yet their common interest in capturing the “accidental theater of the street” outweighed these differences. “Cartier-Bresson and I did not photograph together but we walked the same streets and photographed many of the same things,” Álvarez Bravo recalled. They exhibited together in 1935 in a show entitled Documentary and Anti-Graphic Photographs, first at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and then at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York. This seminal exhibit was the first time that “street photography” had been placed in a serious fine art setting. Reviewing that show, poet Langston Hughes wrote: “In a photograph by Cartier-Bresson, as in modern music, there is a clash of sunlight and shadow, while in Bravo, the sunlight is a discreet veil that turns the shadows into velvet.”

Text from the Palmer Museum of Art

 

Edward Weston. 'Los Changos Vaciladores (Playful Monkeys), pulquería mural' 1926

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Los Changos Vaciladores (Playful Monkeys), pulquería mural
1926
Vintage gelatin silver print
7 ½ x 9 ½ inches

 

Edward Weston. 'Charrito, pulquería mural' 1926

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Charrito, pulquería mural
1926
Vintage gelatin silver print
7 ½ x 9 ½ inches

 

Edward Weston. 'Two children with pulquería mural' 1926

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Two children with pulquería mural
1926
Vintage gelatin silver print
9 3/8 x 6 ¾ inches

 

Edward Weston. 'Ceiling of the Church of Santiago, Tupátaro' 1926

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Ceiling of the Church of Santiago, Tupátaro
1926
Vintage gelatin silver print
7 ½ x 9 ½ inches

 

 

“Few had seen this church of Tupátaro, far from tourist tracks. The ceiling was entirely lacquered, even the beams – a notable achievement in colour, design and craftsmanship. That was a hard day of work. Exposures were prolonged to even fifteen minutes with additional flash light, the while I must remain quite still upon a rickety balcony for fear of jarring the camera, which was real torture with more fleas biting and crawling than I ever knew could jump from a few square feet of space.” ~ Edward Weston, The Daybooks, vol. I

 

Brett Weston. 'Tin roofs, Mexico' 1926

 

Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993)
Tin roofs, Mexico
1926
Vintage gelatin silver print
7 1/8 x 9 ½ inches

 

 

Edward Weston’s son Brett joined him in his final year in Mexico. Brett was himself a child prodigy photographer, as evidenced by this sensitively balanced and exquisitely printed abstract masterwork, taken when he was fourteen years old.

Theodore Brett Weston (December 16, 1911, Los Angeles – January 22, 1993, Hawaii) was an American photographer. Van Deren Coke described Brett Weston as the “child genius of American photography.” He was the second of the four sons of photographer Edward Weston and Flora Chandler.

Weston began taking photographs in 1925, while living in Mexico with Tina Modotti and his father. He began showing his photographs with Edward Weston in 1927, was featured at the international exhibition at Film und Foto in Germany at age 17, and mounted his first one-man museum retrospective at age 21 at the De Young Museum in San Francisco in January, 1932.

Weston’s earliest images from the 1920s reflect his intuitive sophisticated sense of abstraction. He often flattened the plane, engaging in layered space, an artistic style more commonly seen among the Abstract Expressionists and more modern painters like David Hockney than other photographers. He began photographing the dunes at Oceano, California, in the early 1930s. This eventually became a favourite location of his father Edward and later shared with Brett’s third wife Dody Weston Thompson. Brett preferred the high gloss papers and ensuing sharp clarity of the gelatin silver photographic materials of the f64 Group rather than the platinum matte photographic papers common in the 1920s and encouraged Edward Weston to explore the new silver papers in his own work. Brett Weston was credited by photography historian Beaumont Newhall as the first photographer to make negative space the subject of a photograph. Donald Ross, a photographer close to both Westons, said that Brett never came after anyone. He was a true photographic equal and colleague to his father and “one should not be considered without the other.”

“Brett and I are always seeing the same kinds of things to do – we have the same kind of vision. Brett didn’t like this; naturally enough, he felt that even when he had done the thing first, the public would not know and he would be blamed for imitating me.” Edward Weston – Daybooks – May 24, 1930.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Edward Weston. 'Rosa Covarrubias in Tehuana dress' 1926

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Rosa Covarrubias in Tehuana dress
1926
Vintage gelatin silver print
9 3/8 x 7 ½ inches

 

 

Rosa and Miguel Covarrubias were early promoters of traditional Mexican art and craft; their extensive collection now resides at San Francisco’s Mexican Museum. This striking portrait of Rosa in traditional Zapotec dress was appropriated by Diego Rivera for his painting Tehuana Woman, 1929.

Born in Los Angeles, Rosa Rolanda was a dancer with the Marion Morgan dance troupe and the Ziegfeld Follies. She married the Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias, who was the leading caricaturist of the jazz age. While Rosa and Miguel were accompanying Edward and Tina on one of their trips for Anita Brenner, they taught Rosa the basics of photography. Later, Man Ray would teach her his technique of cameraless photograms. With such tutelage, it is no surprise that Rosa became a gifted photographer in her own right.

 

Edward Weston. 'Rosa Covarrubias' 1926

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Rosa Covarrubias
1926
Vintage gelatin silver print
9 x 6 3/4 inches

 

Edward Weston. 'Palma Bendita' 1926

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Palma Bendita
1926
Vintage gelatin silver print
9 ½ x 7 3/8 inches

 

 

The branches of the palma bendita, or “blessed palm,” were believed to have been strewn on the road before Christ during his entry into Jerusalem and are blessed on Palm Sunday, an important Mexican holiday.

 

Tina Modotti. 'Campesinos (Workers' Parade)' 1926

 

Tina Modotti (Italian, 1896-1942)
Campesinos (Workers’ Parade)
1926
Vintage palladium print
8 3/8 x 7 ½ inches

 

 

Modotti’s iconic Campesinos has the same formal structure – circular forms filling the picture frame – as Weston’s Olla Pots of Oaxaca made the same year. But Modotti’s picture adds a political dimension that Weston would by nature recoil from. Modotti’s increasingly fervent politicisation contributed to the dissolution of her relationship with Weston, who was fundamentally apolitical. Weston returned to Los Angeles at the end of 1926; Modotti would remain in Mexico another four years.

 

Tina Modotti. 'Bandolier, Corn, Sickle' 1927

 

Tina Modotti (Italian, 1896-1942)
Bandolier, Corn, Sickle
1927
Vintage gelatin silver print
8 ¾ x 7 ½ inches

 

 

This politically-charged still life, and its companion piece Bandolier, Corn and Guitar, were made the year Modotti formally joined Mexico’s Communist Party. At the time she was modelling for Diego Rivera, a fellow traveler. Modotti’s likeness appears in several of Rivera’s most famous Revolutionary murals; she would also be blamed for the break-up of his marriage to Lupe Marín.

 

Tina Modotti. 'Bandolier, Corn and Guitar' 1927

 

Tina Modotti (Italian, 1896-1942)
Bandolier, Corn and Guitar
1927
Vintage gelatin silver print
9 ½ x 7 ½ inches

 

Tina Modotti. 'Women of Tehuantepec' 1929

 

Tina Modotti (Italian, 1896-1942)
Women of Tehuantepec
1929
Vintage gelatin silver print
9 x 7 ¼ inches

 

 

This is one of Modotti’s final masterworks. The following year she would be expelled from Mexico for sedition, due to her work on behalf of the Communist Party. She settled in Russia, giving up photography for relief work with International Red Aid. When the Spanish Civil War erupted in 1936, she joined the fray. She returned to Mexico under a pseudonym in 1939, and died of a heart attack three years later, at age 45, her life the stuff of legend.

 

Manuel Álvarez. 'La Siesta de los Peregrinos' (the siesta of the migrants) 1930s

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
La Siesta de los Peregrinos (the siesta of the migrants)
1930s
Vintage gelatin silver print
6 7/8 x 9 3/8 inches

 

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (February 4, 1902 – October 19, 2002) was a Mexican artistic photographer and one of the most important figures in 20th century Latin American photography. He was born and raised in Mexico City. While he took art classes at the Academy of San Carlos, his photography is self-taught. His career spanned from the late 1920s to the 1990s with its artistic peak between the 1920s and 1950s. His hallmark as a photographer was to capture images of the ordinary but in ironic or Surrealistic ways. His early work was based on European influences, but he was soon influenced by the Mexican muralism movement and the general cultural and political push at the time to redefine Mexican identity. He rejected the picturesque, employing elements to avoid stereotyping. He had numerous exhibitions of his work, worked in the Mexican cinema and established Fondo Editorial de la Plástica Mexicana publishing house. He won numerous awards for his work, mostly after 1970. …

Álvarez Bravo’s photography career spanned from the late 1920s to the 1990s. It formed in the decades after the Mexican Revolution (1920s to 1950s) when there was significant creative output in the country, much of it sponsored by the government wanting to promote a new Mexican identity based on both modernity and the country’s indigenous past.

Although he was photographing in the late 1920s, he became a freelance photographer full-time in 1930, quitting his government job. That same year, Tina Modotti was deported from Mexico for political activities and she left Alvarez Bravo her camera and her job at Mexican Folkways magazine. For this publication, Alvarez Bravo began photographing the work of the Mexican muralists and other painters. During the rest of the 1930s, he established his career. He met photographer Paul Strand in 1933 on the set of the film “Redes”, and worked with him briefly. In 1938, he met French Surrealist artist André Breton, who promoted Alvaréz Bravo’s work in France, exhibiting it there. Later, Breton asked for a photograph for the cover of catalog for an exhibition in Mexico. Alvarez Bravo created “La buena fama durmiendo” (The good reputation sleeping), which Mexican censors rejected due to nudity. The photograph would be reproduced many times after that however.

Alvarez Bravo trained most of the next generation of photographers including Nacho López, Héctor García and Graciela Iturbide. From 1938 to 1939, he taught photography at the Escuela Central de Artes Plásticas, now the National School of Arts (UNAM). In the latter half of the 1960s he taught at the Centro Universitario de Estudios Cinematográficos.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo. 'Retrato de lo Eterno' (Portrait of the Eternal) 1935

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
Retrato de lo Eterno (Portrait of the Eternal)
1935
Vintage gelatin silver print
9 ½ x 7 3/8 inches

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'The Spider of Love, Mexico City' 1934

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908-2004)
The Spider of Love, Mexico City
1934
Gelatin silver print c. 1960
6 ½ x 9 ¾ inches

 

 

“I was very lucky. I had only to push the door open. It was so voluptuous, so sensual. I couldn’t see their faces. It was miraculous – physical love in all its fullness. Tonio grabbed a lamp, and I took several shots. There was nothing obscene about it. I could never have got them to pose – a matter of decency.” ~ Cartier-Bresson

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Calle Cuauhtemoctzin (two prostitutes), Mexico City' 1934

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908-2004)
Calle Cuauhtemoctzin (two prostitutes), Mexico City
1934
Gelatin silver print c. 1960
9 1/8 x 13 ¾ inches

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo. 'Niña con Leña' (Girl with Firewood) 1930s

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
Niña con Leña (Girl with Firewood)
1930s
Vintage gelatin silver print
7 x 9 5/8 inches

 

 

Helen Levitt’s photographs of Mexico City, taken in 1941, are a notable exception to her otherwise exclusive focus on New York City during her long career (1930s through 1970s). But the principal subject matter of Levitt’s work was the same in both metropolises: the lives of children in working-class neighbourhoods. In this evocative image, the children’s play is undeterred by their poverty, which is evidenced by their bare feet, the dirt road, and the dilapidated buildings. Levitt studied with the noted photographer Walker Evans; her work was also influenced by the other artists in the present exhibition: like Cartier-Bresson, she favoured the hand-held Leica camera; like Paul Strand, she used a secret sideways lens that enabled her to photograph surreptitiously.

Levitt printed her Mexican photographs only after returning to New York, where they added to her blossoming reputation. Her first one-woman show at the Museum of Modern Art included sixteen photographs from Mexico, including a variant of this image (below).

 

Helen Levitt. 'Mexico City' 1941

 

Helen Levitt (American, 1913-2009)
Mexico City
1941
Vintage gelatin silver print
7 ¼ x 9 5/8 inches

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Mexico' 1963

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908-2004)
Mexico
1963
Vintage gelatin silver print
9 ¾ x 6 ½ inches

 

 

Paul Strand

Paul Strand achieved early recognition as a protégé of Alfred Stieglitz, the New York photographer and gallerist. In 1917 Stieglitz devoted the final two issues of his Camera Work magazine to Strand’s high modernist photography, which was heavily influenced by avant garde artists such as Paul Cezanne and Pablo Picasso. Stieglitz praised Strand’s work as “brutally direct” and “devoid of all flim-flam.”

By 1932, when Strand drove his Model A Ford from Taos to Mexico, his style had evolved dramatically. Abstraction had given way to humanism, reflecting the influence of his high school photography teacher, the eminent social documentarian Lewis Hine. Strand was now concerned with how people lived, and especially with those aspects of life that “make a place what it is.” Mexico was a logical destination for Strand, whose political concern for the common man intersected with the proletarian goals of the Mexican Revolution.

Over the next several months Strand photographed people and places in rural small towns across southern Mexico, from Michoacán in the West to Oaxaca in the East, unconsciously retracing Edward Weston and Tina Modotti’s footsteps from the 1920s. Strand’s work in Mexico set the tone for the photographic journeys to out-of-the-way destinations in Europe and Africa that would occupy the rest of his long career.

For these Mexican portraits, Strand modified his 5×7 Graflex camera, adding a special prism extension that enabled him to clandestinely shoot a subject at a 90° angle from the front of his camera. The subjects of these portraits, absorbedly watching the Yankee photographer at work, were unaware that he was actually aiming his camera at them. Strand had pioneered this technique as a young photographer on the streets of New York.

Strand originally printed his Mexican photographs as platinum prints. The prints shown here are hand-pulled photogravures created for a 1940 portfolio Photographs of Mexico. In his introduction to the portfolio, Strand describes the prints as “a step forward in the art of reproduction processes,” attributing their quality to the production team’s combined two centuries of experience.

 

Paul Strand. 'Near Saltillo' 1932

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Near Saltillo
1932
Vintage photogravure
5 x 6 3/8 inches

 

 

“When you leave the Texas border for about 70 miles – flat desert, it could still be Texas. Then suddenly appear the mountains of the North around Monterrey and Saltillo – amazing mountains. They are a continuation of the American spur – our Rockies I suppose – but how different – utterly fantastic shapes, like mountains in fairy books. And I never saw the forms within each individual mountain – defined – come right at you as those in the North.” ~ Paul Strand to painter John Marin

 

Paul Strand. 'Gateway - Hidalgo' 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Gateway – Hidalgo
1933
Vintage photogravure
10 1/8 x 8 inches

 

 

“What have come to be known as ‘Strand clouds’ – heavy, lowering shapes holding rain and threat of storm – appear in a great many of his photographs. A friend of Strand’s remembers him cursing under his breath whenever fluffy, cottony cloud formations, which he referred to as ‘Johnson & Johnson,’ took over the sky; they never appear in his prints.” ~ Calvin Tomkins

 

Paul Strand. 'Boy - Hidalgo' 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Boy – Hidalgo
1933
Vintage photogravure
6 3/8 x 5 inches

 

Paul Strand. 'Man with Hoe - Los Remedios' 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Man with Hoe – Los Remedios
1933
Vintage photogravure
6 ¼ x 5 inches

 

Paul Strand. 'Plaza - State of Puebla' 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Plaza – State of Puebla
1933
Vintage photogravure
5 x 6 3/8 inches

 

Paul Strand. 'Church, Cuapiaxtla' 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Church, Cuapiaxtla
1933
Vintage photogravure
6 3/8 x 5 inches

 

Paul Strand. 'Man - Tenancingo' 1933 

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Man – Tenancingo
1933
Vintage photogravure
6 ½ x 5 1/8 inches

 

Paul Strand. 'Girl and Child - Toluca' 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Girl and Child – Toluca
1933
Vintage photogravure
6 ½ x 5 1/8 inches

 

Paul Strand. 'Boy - Uruapan' 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Boy – Uruapan
1933
Vintage photogravure
10 1/8 x 8 1/8 inches

 

Paul Strand. 'Cristo - Oaxaca' 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Cristo – Oaxaca
1933
Vintage photogravure
10 x 8 inches

 

Paul Strand. 'Cristo with Thorns - Huexotla' 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Cristo with Thorns – Huexotla
1933
Vintage photogravure
10 ¼ x 8 1/8 inches

 

Paul Strand. 'Cristo - Tlacochoaya - Oaxaca' 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Cristo – Tlacochoaya – Oaxaca
1933
Vintage photogravure
10 ¼ x 8 inches

 

Paul Strand. 'Virgin - San Felipe - Oaxaca' 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Virgin – San Felipe – Oaxaca
1933
Vintage photogravure
10 ¼ x 8 1/8 inches

 

 

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09
Feb
19

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

Wondrous, glorious images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

 

Interview with curator Maya Benton

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

.
Maya Benton, ICP Adjunct Curator

 

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

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

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

.
Maya Benton, ICP Adjunct Curator

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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Maya Benton, ICP Adjunct Curator

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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Maya Benton, ICP Adjunct Curator

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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Maya Benton, ICP Adjunct Curator

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press release from The Photographers’ Gallery

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

 

The Photographers’ Gallery
16-18 Ramillies Street
London
W1F 7LW

Opening hours:
Monday – Saturday: 10.00 – 18.00
Thursday: 10.00 – 20.00 during exhibitions
Sunday: 11.00 – 18.00

 

The Jewish Museum
Raymond Burton House, 129-131 Albert Street,
London NW1 7NB
Phone: +44 (0)20 7284 7384

Opening hours:
Daily 10am – 5pm (Friday 10am – 2pm)

 

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02
Feb
18

Exhibition: ‘Walker Evans’ at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)

Exhibition dates: 30th September 2017 – 4th February 2018

Curator: Clément Chéroux

 

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Self-Portrait' 1927

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Self-Portrait
1927
Gelatin silver print
Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

 

I have posted on this exhibition before, when it was at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, but this iteration at SFMOMA is the exclusive United States venue for the Walker Evans retrospective exhibition – and the new posting contains fresh media images not available previously.

I can never get enough of Walker Evans. This perspicacious artist had a ready understanding of the contexts and conditions of the subject matter he was photographing. His photographs seem easy, unpretentious, and allow his sometimes “generally unaware” subjects (subway riders, labor workers) to speak for themselves. Does it matter that he was an outsider, rearranging furniture in workers homes while they were out in the fields: not at all. Photography has always falsified truth since the beginning of the medium and, in any case, there is never a singular truth but many truths told from many perspectives, many different points of view. For example, who is to say that the story of America proposed by Robert Frank in The Americans, from the point of view of an outsider, is any less valuable than that of Helen Levitt’s view of the streets of New York? For different reasons, both are as valuable as each other.

Evans’ photographs for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) documenting the effects of the Great Depression on American life are iconic because they are cracking good photographs, not because he was an insider or outsider. He was paid to document, to enquire, and that is what he did, by getting the best shot he could. It is fascinating to compare Floyd and Lucille Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama (1936, below) with Alabama Tenant Farmer Floyd Bourroughs (1936, below). In the first photograph the strong diagonal element of the composition is reinforced by the parallel placement of the three feet, the ‘Z’ shape of Lucille Burroughs leg then leading into her upright body, which is complemented by the two vertical door jams, Floyd’s head silhouetted by the darkness beyond. There is something pensive about the clasping of his hands, and something wistful and sad, an energy emanating from the eyes. If you look at the close up of his face, you can see that it is “soft” and out of focus, either because he moved and/or the low depth of field. Notice that the left door jam is also out of focus, that it is just the hands of both Floyd and Lucille and her face that are in focus. Does this low depth of field and lack of focus bother Evans? Not one bit, for he knows when he has captured something magical.

A few second later, he moves closer to Floyd Burroughs. You can almost hear him saying to Floyd, “Stop, don’t move a thing, I’m just going to move the camera closer.” And in the second photograph you notice the same wood grain to the right of Floyd as in the first photograph, but this time the head is tilted slightly more, the pensive look replaced by a steely gaze directed straight into the camera, the reflection of the photographer and the world beyond captured on the surface of the eye. Walker Evans is the master of recognising the extra/ordinary. “The street was an inexhaustible source of poetic finds,” describes Chéroux. In his creation of visual portfolios of everyday life, his “notions of realism, of the spectator’s role, and of the poetic resonance of ordinary subjects,” help Evans created a mythology of American life: a clear vision of the present as the past, walking into the future.

With the contemporary decline of small towns and blue collar communities across the globe Evans’ concerns, for the place of ordinary people and objects in the world, are all the more relevant today. As the text from the Metropolitan Museum observes, it is the individuals and social institutions that are the sites and relics that constitute the tangible expressions of American desires, despairs, and traditions. And not just of American people, of all people… for it is community that binds us together.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art for allowing me to publish the text and photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Walker Evans is one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century. His elegant, crystal-clear photographs and articulate publications have inspired several generations of artists, from Helen Levitt and Robert Frank to Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, and Bernd and Hilla Becher. The progenitor of the documentary tradition in American photography, Evans had the extraordinary ability to see the present as if it were already the past, and to translate that knowledge and historically inflected vision into an enduring art. His principal subject was the vernacular – the indigenous expressions of a people found in roadside stands, cheap cafés, advertisements, simple bedrooms, and small-town main streets. For fifty years, from the late 1920s to the early 1970s, Evans recorded the American scene with the nuance of a poet and the precision of a surgeon, creating an encyclopaedic visual catalogue of modern America in the making. …

Most of Evans’ early photographs reveal the influence of European modernism, specifically its formalism and emphasis on dynamic graphic structures. But he gradually moved away from this highly aestheticized style to develop his own evocative but more reticent notions of realism, of the spectator’s role, and of the poetic resonance of ordinary subjects. …

In September 1938, the Museum of Modern Art opened American Photographs, a retrospective of Evans’ first decade of photography. The museum simultaneously published American Photographs – still for many artists the benchmark against which all photographic monographs are judged. The book begins with a portrait of American society through its individuals – cotton farmers, Appalachian miners, war veterans – and social institutions – fast food, barber shops, car culture. It closes with a survey of factory towns, hand-painted signs, country churches, and simple houses – the sites and relics that constitute the tangible expressions of American desires, despairs, and traditions.

Between 1938 and 1941, Evans produced a remarkable series of portraits in the New York City subway. They remained unpublished for twenty-five years, until 1966, when Houghton Mifflin released Many Are Called, a book of eighty-nine photographs, with an introduction by James Agee written in 1940. With a 35mm Contax camera strapped to his chest, its lens peeking out between two buttons of his winter coat, Evans was able to photograph his fellow passengers surreptitiously, and at close range. Although the setting was public, he found that his subjects, unposed and lost in their own thoughts, displayed a constantly shifting medley of moods and expressions – by turns curious, bored, amused, despondent, dreamy, and dyspeptic. “The guard is down and the mask is off,” he remarked. “Even more than in lone bedrooms (where there are mirrors), people’s faces are in naked repose down in the subway.”

Extract from Department of Photographs. “Walker Evans (1903-1975),” in Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000- (October 2004)

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Truck and Sign' 1928-1930

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Truck and Sign
1928-30
Gelatin silver print
Private collection, San Francisco
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Floyd and Lucille Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama' 1936

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Floyd and Lucille Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama
1936
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Floyd and Lucille Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama' 1936 (detail)

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Floyd and Lucille Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama (detail)
1936
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Alabama Tenant Farmer Floyd Bourroughs' 1936

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Alabama Tenant Farmer Floyd Bourroughs
1936
Gelatin silver print
22.9 x 18.4 cm
Collection particulière, San Francisco
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo: © Fernando Maquieira, Cromotex

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Allie Mae Burroughs, Wife of a Cotton Sharecropper, Hale Country, Alabama' 1936

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Allie Mae Burroughs, Wife of a Cotton Sharecropper, Hale County, Alabama
1936
Gelatin silver print; private collection
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

 

“These are not photographs like those of Walker Evans who in James Agee’s account in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men took his pictures of the bare floors and iron bedsteads of the American mid-western sharecroppers while they were out tending their failing crops, and who even, as the evidence of his negatives proves, rearranged the furniture for a ‘better shot’. The best shot that Heilig could take was one that showed things as they were and as they should not be. …

To call these ‘socially-conscious documentary’ photographs is to acknowledge the class from which the photographer [Heilig] comes, not to see them as the result of a benign visit by a more privileged individual [Evans], however well-intentioned.”

Extract from James McCardle. “Weapon,” on the On This Day In Photography website [Online] Cited 29/01/2018

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Sidewalk and Shopfront, New Orleans' 1935

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Sidewalk and Shopfront, New Orleans
1935
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, gift of Willard Van Dyke
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Fish Market near Birmingham, Alabama' 1936

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Roadside Stand Near Birmingham/Roadside Store Between Tuscaloosa and Greensboro, Alabama
1936
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Penny Picture Display, Savannah' 1936

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Penny Picture Display, Savannah
1936
Gelatin silver print
Pilara Foundation Collection
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Subway Portrait' January 1941

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Subway Portrait
1938-41
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans. 'Subway Passengers, New York' 1938

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Subway Portrait
1938-41
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans. 'Subway Passengers, New York' 1938

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Subway Portrait
1938-41
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans (American, St. Louis, Missouri 1903–1975 New Haven, Connecticut) '[Subway Passengers, New York City]' 1938

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Subway Portrait
1938-41
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Subway Portraits' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Subway Portraits
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

 

Exhibition Displays Over 400 Photographs, Paintings, Graphic Ephemera and Objects from the Artist’s Personal Collection

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) will be the exclusive United States venue for the retrospective exhibition Walker Evans, on view September 30, 2017, through February 4, 2018. As one of the preeminent photographers of the 20th century, Walker Evans’ 50-year body of work documents and distills the essence of life in America, leaving a legacy that continues to influence generations of contemporary photographers and artists. The exhibition will encompass all galleries in the museum’s Pritzker Center for Photography, the largest space dedicated to the exhibition, study and interpretation of photography at any art museum in the United States.

“Conceived as a complete retrospective of Evans’ work, this exhibition highlights the photographer’s fascination with American popular culture, or vernacular,” explains Clément Chéroux, senior curator of photography at SFMOMA. “Evans was intrigued by the vernacular as both a subject and a method. By elevating it to the rank of art, he created a unique body of work celebrating the beauty of everyday life.”

Using examples from Evans’ most notable photographs – including iconic images from his work for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) documenting the effects of the Great Depression on American life; early visits to Cuba; street photography and portraits made on the New York City subway; layouts and portfolios from his more than 20-year collaboration with Fortune magazine and 1970s Polaroids – Walker Evans explores Evans’ passionate search for the fundamental characteristics of American vernacular culture: the familiar, quotidian street language and symbols through which a society tells its own story. Decidedly popular and more linked to the masses than the cultural elite, vernacular culture is perceived as the antithesis of fine art.

While many previous exhibitions of Evans’ work have drawn from single collections, Walker Evans will feature over 300 vintage prints from the 1920s to the 1970s on loan from the important collections at major museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Getty Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., the National Gallery of Canada, the Musée du Quai Branly and SFMOMA’s own collection, as well as prints from private collections from around the world. More than 100 additional objects and documents, including examples of the artist’s paintings; items providing visual inspiration sourced from Evans’ personal collections of postcards, graphic arts, enamelled plates, cut images and signage; as well as his personal scrapbooks and ephemera will be on display. The exhibition is curated by the museum’s new senior curator of photography, Clément Chéroux, who joined SFMOMA in 2017 from the Musée National d’Art Moderne of the Centre Pompidou, Paris, organizer of the exhibition.

While most exhibitions devoted to Walker Evans are presented chronologically, Walker Evans‘ presentation is thematic. The show begins with an introductory gallery displaying Evans’ early modernist work whose style he quickly rejected in favour of focusing on the visual portfolio of everyday life. The exhibition then examines Evans’ captivation with the vernacular in two thematic contexts. The first half of the exhibition will focus on many of the subjects that preoccupied Evans throughout his career, including text-based images such as signage, shop windows, roadside stands, billboards and other examples of typography. Iconic images of the Great Depression, workers and stevedores, street photography made surreptitiously on New York City’s subways and avenues and classic documentary images of life in America complete this section. By presenting this work thematically, the exhibition links work separated by time and place and highlights Evans’ preoccupation with certain subjects and recurrent themes. The objects that moved him were ordinary, mass-produced and intended for everyday use. The same applied to the people he photographed – the ordinary human faces of office workers, labourers and people on the street.

“The street was an inexhaustible source of poetic finds,” describes Chéroux.

The second half of the exhibition explores Evans’ fascination with the methodology of vernacular photography, or styles of applied photography that are considered useful, domestic and popular. Examples include architecture, catalog and postcard photography as well as studio portraiture, and the exhibition juxtaposes this work with key source materials from the artist’s personal collections of 10,000 postcards, hand-painted signage and graphic ephemera (tickets, flyers, logos and brochures). Here Evans elevates vernacular photography to art, despite his disinclination to create fine art photographs. Rounding out this section are three of Evans’ paintings using vernacular architecture as inspiration. The exhibition concludes with Evans’ look at photography itself, with a gallery of photographs that unite Evans’ use of the vernacular as both a subject and a method.

 

About Walker Evans

Born in St. Louis, Walker Evans (1903-1975) was educated at East Coast boarding schools, Williams College, the Sorbonne and College de France before landing in New York in the late 1920s. Surrounded by an influential circle of artists, poets and writers, it was there that he gradually redirected his passion for writing into a career as a photographer, publishing his first photograph in the short-lived avant-garde magazine Alhambra. The first significant exhibition of his work was in 1938, when the Museum of Modern Art, New York presented Walker Evans: American Photographs, the first major solo exhibition at the museum devoted to a photographer.

In the 50 years that followed, Evans produced some of the most iconic images of his time, contributing immensely to the visibility of American culture in the 20th century and the documentary tradition in American photography. Evans’ best known photographs arose from his work for the Farm Security Administration (FSA), in which he documented the hardships and poverty of Depression-era America using a large-format, 8 x 10-inch camera. These photographs, along with his photojournalism projects from the 1940s and 1950s, his iconic visual cataloguing of the common American and his definition of the “documentary style,” have served as a monumental influence to generations of photographers and artists.

Press release from SFMOMA

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Resort Photographer at Work' 1941

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Resort Photographer at Work
1941, printed later
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Untitled [Street scene]' 1950s

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Untitled [Street scene]
1950s
Gouache on paper
Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Street Debris, New York City' 1968

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Street Debris, New York City
1968
Gelatin silver print
Private collection, San Francisco
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) '"Labor Anonymous,” Fortune 34, no. 5, November 1946' 1946

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
“Labor Anonymous,” Fortune 34, no. 5, November 1946
1946
Offset lithography
Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, Paris, Bibliothèque Kandinsky, Collection of David Campany
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) '"The Pitch Direct. The Sidewalk Is the Last Stand of Unsophisticated Display," Fortune 58, no. 4, October 1958' 1958

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
“The Pitch Direct. The Sidewalk Is the Last Stand of Unsophisticated Display,” Fortune 58, no. 4, October 1958
1958
Offset lithography
Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, Paris, Bibliothèque Kandinsky, Collection of David Campany
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Collage with Thirty-Six Ticket Stubs' 1975

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Collage with Thirty-Six Ticket Stubs
1975
Cut and pasted photomechanical prints on paper
Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Walker Evans Archive
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Unidentified Sign Painter. 'Coca-Cola Thermometer' 1930-70

 

Unidentified Sign Painter
Coca-Cola Thermometer
1930-70
Enamel on ferrous metal
Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Walker Evans Archive
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Chain-Nose Pliers' 1955

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Chain-Nose Pliers
1955
Gelatin silver print
The Bluff Collection
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

John T. Hill. 'Interior of Walker Evans's House, Fireplace with Painting of Car' 1975, printed 2017

 

John T. Hill
Interior of Walker Evans’s House, Fireplace with Painting of Car
1975, printed 2017
Inkjet print
Private collection
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Lenoir Book Co., 'Main Street, Showing Confederate Monument, Lenoir, North Carolina' 1900-40

 

Lenoir Book Co.,
Main Street, Showing Confederate Monument, Lenoir, North Carolina
1900-40
Offset lithography
Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Walker Evans Archive
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

 

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
151 Third Street
San Francisco, CA 94103

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Open late Thursdays, until 8.45 pm

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art website

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25
Feb
16

Exhibition: ‘1932: Rare Photographs by George Grosz’ at the Akim Monet Side by Side Gallery, Berlin

Exhibition dates: 15th January – 19th March 2016

 

George Grosz. 'Zeitvertreib an Bord der "New York" / Pastime on board the "New York"' New York, 1932

 

George Grosz (German, 1893-1959)
Zeitvertreib an Bord der “New York”
Pastime on board the “New York”
New York, 1932
© George Grosz Estate

 

 

While the photographs of the bridge, rigging and pastimes aboard the twin-screw turbine steamer New York are the most avant-garde and successful (in terms of composition, light and pictorial space) in this posting, it is very interesting to observe how a German immigrant artist viewed New York through the lens of a Leica camera upon his arrival.

These photographs could be seen as typical tourist snapshots but there is a certain vivacity (don’t you just love that word, vivacity – viva/city) and angular disposition about them that raises them above the status of snapshots. Grosz captures the spatial abstractness, intensity and excitement of the metropolis in displaced beats and accents – the sense of the buildings closing in looking uptown on 42nd street, or the flashing of bodies frozen in perpetual motion.

These images are precursors to the work of other great immigrant photographers who made the journey to America – the Hungarian André Kertész in 1936 and, later, the Swiss Robert Frank in 1947. Even though these latter photographers have a completely different style to Grosz, all three artists cast their dispassionate eye over American culture. They view it from the standpoint of an outsider, reinterpreting what they see from a different point of view.

Marcus

Please note: I have added the postcard of the steamer SS New York, the photograph of the boxer Max Schmeling and the paintings by George Grosz to give some social, historical and artistic context to the photographs in the exhibition. These works are NOT included in the exhibition.

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Many thankx to the Akim Monet Side by Side Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

“After his emigration to the USA in 1933, Grosz “sharply rejected [his] previous work, and caricature in general.” In place of his earlier corrosive vision of the city, he now painted conventional nudes and many landscape watercolours. More acerbic works, such as Cain, or Hitler in Hell (1944), were the exception. In his autobiography, he wrote: “A great deal that had become frozen within me in Germany melted here in America and I rediscovered my old yearning for painting. I carefully and deliberately destroyed a part of my past.” Although a softening of his style had been apparent since the late 1920s, Grosz’s work assumed a more sentimental tone in America, a change generally seen as a decline.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

George Grosz. 'Sendemast und Takelage der "New York" / Transmitter and rigging of the "New York"' New York, 1932</