Posts Tagged ‘surrealist photography

26
Mar
22

Exhibition: ‘The Paris of Brassaï. Photographs of the City Picasso Loved’ at the Museo Picasso Málaga

Exhibition dates: 19th October 2021 – 3rd April 2022

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Steps of Montmartre with a white dog, Paris' 1932

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Steps of Montmartre with a white dog, Paris
1932
Gelatin silver print
30 x 40cm
Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

 

A quick text today as I’m still not well with bronchitis.

I really struggled to get images for this posting, the museum supplying 12 of the 21 photographs while I gathered the rest after seeing an installation image from the exhibition and deciphering further images from the preview to the catalogue of the exhibition on the Amazon website.

If you are interested in the subject matter – photographs of an environment where Picasso was in his element, a volcano at the epicentre of a vibrant, creative city – then I think the catalogue would be the way to go… but at close to $100 for just 152 pages the cost might seem a little excessive.

My favourite images in the posting are the two atmospheric photographs of Picasso’s sculptures in his studios.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'A chair in the Luxembourg Gardens, Paris' 1947

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
A chair in the Luxembourg Gardens, Paris
1947
Gelatin silver print
23 x 17.5cm
Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Luxembourg Gardens basin, Paris' 1930

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Luxembourg Gardens basin, Paris
1930
Gelatin silver print
29.6 x 22.3cm
Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Au Cochon Limousin' 1935

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
‘Au cochon limousin’, rue Lecourbe, Paris
1935
Gelatin silver print, modern copy
29.8 x 22.9cm
Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Fat Claude and her girlfriend at Le Monocle, Paris' c. 1932

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Fat Claude and her girlfriend at Le Monocle, Paris
c. 1932
Gelatin silver print
27.6 x 22.1cm
Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Kiki with her accordion player at the Cabaret des Fleurs, Rue de Montparnasse' c. 1932

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Kiki with her accordion player at the Cabaret des Fleurs, Rue de Montparnasse
c. 1932
Gelatin silver print
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Trapeze artists, Medano Circus' 1932

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Trapeze artists, Medano Circus
1932
Gelatin silver print
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Colonne Morris dans le Brouillard' 1933

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Colonne Morris dans le Brouillard
1933
Gelatin silver print
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Self-portrait, Boulevard Saint-Jacques, Paris' 1930-1932

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Self-portrait, Boulevard Saint-Jacques, Paris
1930-1932
Gelatin silver print
29.6 x 22.9cm
Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

 

  • The exhibition The Paris of Brassaï. Photographs of the City Picasso Loved, presented by Museo Picasso Málaga, shows the work of one of the most famous European photographers of the first half of the 20th century. With his work, Brassaï helped to create the universal public image of Paris, the Eternal City. It is displayed here alongside works by Pablo Picasso, Pierre Bonnard, Georges Braque, Lucien Clergue, Fernand Léger, Dora Maar and Henri Michaux, and with period piece films, posters, sheet music and a large quantity of documentary material.
  • Brassaï’s photographs invite the viewer to wander through Paris, with its river Seine, Notre Dame, its brothels and its markets. His conjured up a superb depiction of society in his many shots of the intellectual, literary, and artistic scene of 1930s and 1940s Paris, ranging from Sartre to Beckett.
  • This exhibition has been organised with sponsorship from Fundación Unicaja and the special collaboration of Estate Brassaï succession, Paris; Institut Français, Seville, and Musée national Picasso-Paris. It sheds light on the professional relationship and friendship between Brassaï and Picasso, who considered Brassaï to be the best photographer of his work.

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Brassaï arrived in Paris from Hungary in 1924. Little by little, he discovered the dynamic nature and the social idiosyncrasies of the great metropolis. While he initially explored the city’s nightlife, over time he began to create a precise X-ray of its architecture and its people. He joined the fascinating intellectual and artistic avant-garde community of which Picasso was a member, becoming one of its finest eyewitness photographers. But Brassaï was not just a photographer, he was also a versatile artist who drew, made sculptures, decorated, and made films.

As a photographer, Brassaï constructed a visual topography of the city of light (and shadows) in the 1930s and 40s, but this exhibition also aims to show him as a prolific creative artist. The Paris of Brassaï. Photographs of the City Picasso Loved features over 300 works, with photographs, drawings and sculptures that come mainly from the Brassaï family archives (Estate Brassaï Succession). Also on display are photographs and artworks by Pablo Picasso, alongside works by Pierre Bonnard, Georges Braque, Lucien Clergue, Fernand Léger, Dora Maar and Henri Michaux.

Films, posters, musical scores, theatre programmes and a large quantity of documentary material from the Paris of that period, make up an exhibition that takes the visitor back to an unforgettable city and time.

The structure of the exhibition comprises four sections that relate to film, the visual arts, literature, and music, based on the photographic work of one of the most famous photographers of the first half of the 20th century. The exhibition layout begins with Who is Brassaï? which displays artistic works whose main feature is their expressive freedom. Paris by Day features scenes from everyday life as if they were being shown for the first time: Paris by Night is a journey through a city of shadows that evokes the melancholy that emanated from the streets and characters. Conversations with Picasso brings together work by the two artists who enjoyed a long-lasting professional and personal relationship.

 

The Eye of Paris

Brassaï was the pseudonym of Gyula Halász (1899-1984), a Hungarian photographer who was best known for his work on Paris, the city where he made his career. When he was three years old, his family moved to the French capital, in the year that his father, a professor of literature, was teaching at the Sorbonne. As a young man, Brassaï studied painting and sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest, before joining the Cavalry of the Austro-Hungarian army during the First World War. In 1920, he went to live in Berlin to work as a journalist and to study at the University of the Arts. In 1924, he moved back to Paris, where he remained for the rest of his life. He soon made friends with writers Henry Miller (who described him in one of his books as “the eye of Paris”), León-Paul Fargue and Jacques Prévert. Inspired by his frequent night-time walks around Paris, Gyula Halász asked to borrow a camera to capture the beauty of the streets and gardens in the rain and fog. He used poetic metaphors in these pictures, leading more than one graphic reporter to describe him as a poet with a camera. He then began to sign his work with the pseudonym Brassaï. It means “the man from Brasso”, his birthplace, which is now part of Romania.

In the 1930s, Paris was by no means a feast. Various events were leaving their mark on a new age, with major financial and political repercussions. The decade began with one of the greatest financial crises the world had ever experienced: the Great Depression. This was to lead to the collapse of the financial system and to poverty for thousands of families. Europe was facing the possibility of new wars and uprisings that would lead to the rise of totalitarianism. Culture and art were not blind to these events, but art dealers and artists were irresistibly drawn to Paris, seeking in the City of Light a new artistic and personal life that matched their ideals, along with the necessary freedom to make them happen.

Brassaï’s photographic work during these years helped to construct the image we have today of the French capital, with its depictions of artistic, social and intellectual life. He took X-ray-like shots of the great city, during the day and at night, from its dark alleyways to it dazzling social and artistic scene. The exhibition The Paris of Brassaï. Photographs of the City Picasso Loved shows the modern, cosmopolitan city par excellence, in a Europe that bore the hallmarks of the great changes brought about by 19th-century industry and by the international exhibitions of the early 20th-century. It was a city that Brassaï loved, as did his colleague and friend, Pablo Picasso.

 

Night Walks

In 1932 he published his first photographic book, “Paris de Nuit”. It contained high-contrast night shots with full bleed and no margins that feature the play of light and shadow, taken on streets, squares, rooftops, street corners, gardens, buildings and monuments. During his nocturnal wanderings, smoking cigarette after cigarette, the gaslights, fog and car headlights lit up a unique Paris, transforming its rigorously classical architecture and capturing the strange beauty of the fleeting shadows. His negatives became black and white photographs with a strong sense of mystery. They are pictures that alter your perception of the familiar. “Paris de Nuit” was a cultural sensation and a well-deserved success that caught the attention of leading art magazines such as Minotaure, one of the most important cultural publications of the time.

Brassaï liked to say that his birthplace was very close to that of Count Dracula, and that, like him, he was a nocturnal creature. For this reason, in several of his unforgettable photobooks he showed an alternative Paris, with scenes in brothels and bars where young gay men, lesbians and transvestites are all seen having fun. They also contain scenes from the city’s social life, high society, and intellectual circles.

 

Portraying the Intellectual Circles

The photographer himself described 1932 and 1933 as the most important years of his life. It was during these years that he met the key figures of Parisian cultural life, many of whom were also foreigners, and he evolved alongside the intellectual milieu and the artistic avant-garde movements that were flourishing in Paris at the time.

His earliest works coincided with the rise of Surrealism in France. The movement believed that photography encouraged a division of the poetic personality simultaneously into subject and object. But although his pictures display the same attraction to the dreamworld expressed by the surrealists, and his series on graffiti indicates his interest in the wonder of random discovery and the primitive world, Brassaï always denied belonging to the movement. His photographs, based on the traditional realist style, are evocative images that condense the atmosphere of a brief moment, without becoming documentary photography.

Brassaï was part of the Paris intellectual circle, as was Picasso, at a time when art was flourishing. He took photographs of artists who were to become the sacred monsters of our age, many of whom were his friends: Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Alberto Giacometti, as well as leading writers of the time such as Jean Genet and Henri Michaux. His portraits reveal his great skill at capturing the personality of his sitters, creating a collective portrait of the intellectual circle.

 

On the Walls of Paris

Brassaï was the first person in the history of modern photography to intuitively consider the camera as a tool with which to dissect urban life. “The eye of Paris”, as Henry Miller dubbed him in one of his essays, also directed his gaze at the drawings, marks and doodles on Paris walls. He came across these popular anonymous signs and imprints on walls during his walks along Parisian alleyways: faces, symbols, animals, handprints, the scratched-on outlines of sketches… They were captivatingly primitive, and he elevated them to the status of “Art Maudit” or Damned Art because, for him, they were more than just ways for people to express themselves.

Over the years, Brassaï compiled a catalogue of the marks that the capital’s inhabitants left on its walls, with photos that no editor would publish, until at last they were collected together in a book, Graffiti (1961), after Edward Steichen declared his admiration for this work and his intention of organising an exhibition at MoMA in New York. When Brassaï immortalised these street pictures, the term graffiti had not yet been coined, and it was not until the 1980s that it finally became classified as Urban or Street Art.

Brassaï was a prolific creative artist who also produced drawings and sculptures, wrote numerous articles and published 17 books. His film Tant qu’il y aura des bêtes won the award for the best original short film at the Cannes Film Festival in 1956, and in 1978 he won France’s Grand Prix National de la Photographie.

 

Brassaï / Picasso. A Friendship

Photography constantly accompanied Picasso, not only as a testimony to his life, but often revealing his personality, work and inner circle. Of all the many relationships he struck up in Paris with writers, essayists, playwrights and visual artists, the Museo Picasso Málaga exhibition focuses on the close and prolific professional relationship between Brassaï and Pablo Picasso.

In December. 1932, the art critic Tériade invited Brassaï to take pictures of Picasso, his studio and his sculptures, to illustrate the first issue of Minotaure. This collaboration led to a long and sincere friendship that was sustained by mutual admiration. Brassaï was fascinated by Picasso’s personality, and Picasso admired the photographer’s unbiased gaze. The two friends were both foreigners in the big city: one of them was to become one of the great photographers of the 20th century, and the other, the great artist who changed the history of art. They shared an extraordinary gift for observation, as well as great curiosity. They both collected strange objects that had been thrown away and found again by chance, and they shared a keen interest in primitive art, art brut, bones, poetry and graffiti. They also had a common dislike of focussing on a single discipline, in their urge to explore other creative fields.

This obvious and very special complicity meant that Brassaï became an exceptional witness to Picasso’s private world: the places where he created art, the works themselves, his family life and his friends. Brassaï was one of the few people Picasso allowed free access to his studios, and he was the first to photograph his sculptures. The Málaga-born artist opened the doors of his studios to him in Boisgeloup, La Boétie and Grands Augustins, successively. Brassaï had a great sense of detail, he knew how to put order into disorder, and he composed his photographs in an almost architectural way, giving a new dimension to the works Picasso created and the objects and materials with which he surrounded himself.

One of the most important books in terms of getting to know Picasso, is Brassaï’s Conversations with Picasso (1964), a fascinating text that is outstanding for the immediacy and detail of a man who wrote in the same way he took pictures. This chronicle, which Brassaï illustrated with over 50 photographs, runs from September 1943 – eleven years after he first met Picasso – to September 1962. It provides us with two decades-worth of the artist’s story and, above all, of an environment where Picasso was the epicentre, while at the same time describing the history of art and the main events of those years. The relationship between Brassaï and Picasso remained intact until the Spaniard’s death in 1973. Brassaï died in the South of France in 1984 and was buried in Montparnasse cemetery, in the city that both he and Picasso loved.

For the occasion, Museo Picasso Málaga and La Fábrica have jointly published the photobook Brassaï (Paris & Picasso), which contains 105 full-page photographs and an excerpt from the text in which Henry Miller dubbed Brassaï “The eye of Paris”. This bi-lingual hardback edition is printed on coated paper, to highlight the photographs’ half-tones and nuances of light and shade. The book is now available to purchase from the Museo Picasso Málaga bookshop and is due to be distributed to Spanish, European and US bookshops.

Press release from the Museo Picasso Málaga

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'The fireplace in Pablo Picasso's studio, Rue La Boétie' 1932

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
The fireplace in Pablo Picasso’s studio, Rue La Boétie
1932
Gelatin silver print
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Pablo Picasso in the studio on Rue la Boétie, in front of the portrait of Yadwigha by Henri Rousseau, Paris' 1932

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Pablo Picasso in the studio on Rue la Boétie, in front of the portrait of Yadwigha by Henri Rousseau, Paris
1932
Gelatin silver print
28.1 x 21.8cm
Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

 

“When I enter the studio, I leave my body at the door… I only allow my spirit to go in there and paint”

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Pablo Picasso

 

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Plaster sculptures in Pablo Picasso's studio, Boisgeloup' December 1932

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Plaster sculptures in Pablo Picasso’s studio, Boisgeloup
December 1932
Gelatin silver print
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

 

In 1930, Picasso acquires a house and land near Gisors, Normandy, with the aim of creating monumental sculptures. Of those he creates there, La femme au vase (Woman with Vase), a piece from 1933, stands out for its great symbolic weight, given that it is placed on the artist’s tomb in the Château of Vauvenargues. But it is above all the busts of Marie-Thérèse Walter, his young secret lover, who both Brassaï and Boris Kochno capture with their respective lenses in attempts to recreate the peculiar atmosphere of that country studio, inhabited by strange creatures. While Kochno’s report is that of an amateur, Brassaï’s is a commission for the first issue of Minotaure art magazine, from 1933, accompanying a text by André Breton, “Picasso dans son élément” (Picasso in his Element), which reveals Picasso as a sculptor, a facet of his work that was completely unknown until then.

Anonymous text from the Museo Picasso website Nd [Online] Cited 11/03/2022

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Weekend, Paris' 1936

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Weekend, Paris
1936
Gelatin silver print
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Man with Ram (1943), Bust of Dora Maar (1941) and Seated Cat (1941-1943) by Pablo Picasso, Paris' 1943

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Man with Ram (1943), Bust of Dora Maar (1941) and Seated Cat (1941-1943) by Pablo Picasso, Paris
1943
Gelatin silver print
30 x 20.7cm
Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles
© Sucesión Pablo Picasso, VEGAP, Málaga, 2021

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Pablo Picasso at the window of his studio on the Rue des Grands Augustins, Paris' 1939

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Pablo Picasso at the window of his studio on the Rue des Grands Augustins, Paris
1939
Gelatin silver print
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Ile de la Cité – vue de Notre-Dame de Paris' Paris, 26 February 1945

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Ile de la Cité – vue de Notre-Dame de Paris
Paris, 26 February 1945
Oil on canvas
80 x 120cm
Museum Ludwig, Cologne
© Rheinisches Bildarchiv Cologne
© Sucesión Pablo Picasso, VEGAP, Málaga, 2021

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Detail of the plaster sculpture Woman with Leaves (Pablo Picasso, 1934) in the studio on the rue des Grands- Augustins, Paris' 1943

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Detail of the plaster sculpture Woman with Leaves (Pablo Picasso, 1934) in the studio on the rue des Grands Augustins, Paris
1943
Gelatin silver print
27.7 x 22.1cm
Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles
© Sucesión Pablo Picasso, VEGAP, Málaga, 2021

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Woman with Leaves, Boisgeloup' 1934

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Woman with Leaves, Boisgeloup
1934
Original plaster varnished
38.5 x 27.5 x 21cm
Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte, Madrid
On temporary loan to the Museo Picasso Málaga
© Sucesión Pablo Picasso, VEGAP, Málaga, 2021

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Circumstantial Magic. Sprouting Potato' 1931

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Circumstantial Magic. Sprouting Potato
1931
Gelatin silver print
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'The Sun King, Paris' 1930-1950

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
The Sun King, Paris
1930-1950
From the Graffiti series
Gelatin silver print
40 x 29.5cm
Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Le Poussin' 1955

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Le Poussin
1955
From the Graffiti series
Gelatin silver print
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

 

Museo Picasso Málaga
Palacio de Buenavista C/ San Agustín, 8
29015 Málaga, Spain

Opening hours:
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Museo Picasso Málaga website

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22
Aug
21

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

Exhibition dates: 3rd June – 29th August 2021

Curator: Ramón Esparza (University of the Basque Country)

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

Bill Brandt: master of photography, master of reinvention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The nudes reveal Brandt’s intimate knowledge of the École de Paris – particularly Man Ray, Picasso, Matisse and Arp – together with his admiration for Henry Moore. He published Perspective of Nudes in 1961. It featured nudes in domestic interiors and studios, and on the beaches of East Sussex and northern and southern France. He used a Superwide Hasselblad for the beach photographs. In 1977-1978 Brandt added further nudes, published in Nudes, 1945-1980.”5

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

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

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

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Four keys

Surrealist beginnings

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

 

Concealment of German heritage

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

 

The portrait

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

 

In Praise of Imperfection

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

Press release from the Fundación Mapfre website

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Bill Brandt

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

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

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

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

Bill Brandt died in London in 1983.

Ramón Esparza, curator

 

Early photographs

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

Upstairs downstairs

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

Portraits

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

The eye of…

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

Landscapes described

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Nudes

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

In Praise of Imperfection

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

Bill Brandt

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

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

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

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

 

The exhibition

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

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

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

 

The early photographs

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

Upstairs, downstairs

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

Portraits

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

Landscape described

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

Nudes

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

In Praise of Imperfection

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

 

The catalogue

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

 

 

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13
Feb
20

Exhibition: ‘Dora Maar’ at Tate Modern, London

Exhibition dates: 20th November 2019 – 15th March 2020

Curators: Dora Maar is curated by Karolina Ziebinska-Lewandowska, Curator, Centre Pompidou, Paris, Damarice Amao, Assistant Curator, Centre Pompidou, Paris and Amanda Maddox, Associate Curator, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles with Emma Lewis, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern. The Tate Modern presentation is curated by Emma Lewis, Assistant Curator with Emma Jones, Curatorial Assistant, Tate Modern.

 

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Untitled (Hand-Shell)' 1934

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Untitled (Hand-Shell)
1934
Gelatin silver print on paper
401 x 289 mm
Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, Paris
Photo © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais
Image Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2019

 

 

What a creative woman. But yet another abused by the ego of a male, that of her lover, Picasso.

Beth Gersh-Nesic observes, “Was Dora Maar’s brilliant career cut short by the typical conflicts facing professional women in the 1930s, and even today? Or was she a victim of Picasso’s psychological abuse, which chipped away at her original confidence? Was she compromised to the point that she only wanted to please the man she loved? According to art historian John Richardson, Dora Maar sacrificed her gifts on the altar of her art god, her idol, Picasso. Based on the early Surrealist photographs we see in her retrospective, one can only wish she hadn’t taken up with Picasso, for it seems she might have achieved far more in her lifetime without him.”

What we can say is that Maar left behind a strong body of photographic work – from fashion and commercial, to restrained, classical formalism with surrealist inflections; from street photography to “the stuff of delirium and nightmare, [which] taps into the unconscious, internalised sublime”, her Portrait of Ubu (1936, below) reminding me strongly of William Blake’s painting The Ghost of a Flea (c. 1819). Ubu is “a ghastly being of indeterminate origin and melancholy aspect… [an idea] something like l’informe, the concept Maar’s lover Georges Bataille coined to describe his fellow-Surrealists’ admiration for all things larval and grotesquely about-to-be.” Ubu is a her dark notion of a street “urchin”.

Her warped photomontages are technical marvels. “”She captures the mysterious,” Caws wrote, “in a combination of the unresolved and the sharply angled. This frequently creates a sense of ambiguity, even menace.” Caws notes that Dora Maar responded to Louis Aragon’s invocation “for each person there is one image to find that will disturb the whole universe.” Maar’s images managed to “disturb and reveal” with a bit of the macabre mixed in.”

But her images are more than a bit of this and a bit of that. They possess a utilitarian feeling in the enunciation of their menace, which makes them all the more effective when impinging on our waking dreams. Susan Sontag notes, “Photographs are perhaps the most mysterious of all the objects that make up, and thicken, the environment we recognise as modern” (Sontag, On Photography, p. 2). Thicken is the critical word. Maar’s photographs thicken our atmospheric (and mental) miasma, prescient of our modern world full of dark passages: pitch black sewers, fatbergs, drone strikes, bush fire skies, virus, murder and mayhem. In the back of my head. My eyes. Roll, roll, roll. Skewered. Roasted.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

The most accomplished examples of Maar’s art are the photomontages of 1935 and 1936. There were already many vaults and arches in her Mont-Saint-Michel pictures; now she took the cloistral galleries of the Orangerie at Versailles, upended them so that they looked like sewers, and populated them with cryptic beings engaged in arcane rituals or dramas. In “The Simulator,” [below] a boy from one of her street photographs is bent backward at an obscene angle; Maar has retouched his eyes so that they roll back in his head toward us, like one of those thrashing hysterics photographed in the nineteenth century. In “29 Rue d’Astorg” (below) – of which Maar made several versions, black-and-white and hand-coloured – a human figure with a curtailed, avian head is seated beneath arches that have been subtly warped in the darkroom.

.
Brian Dillon. “The Voraciousness and Oddity of Dora Maar’s Pictures,” on The New Yorker website May 21, 2019 [Online] Cited 23/11/2019

 

 

During the 1930s, Dora Maar’s provocative photomontages became celebrated icons of surrealism.

Her eye for the unusual also translated to her commercial photography, including fashion and advertising, as well as to her social documentary projects. In Europe’s increasingly fraught political climate, Maar signed her name to numerous left-wing manifestos – a radical gesture for a woman at that time.

Her relationship with Pablo Picasso had a profound effect on both their careers. She documented the creation of his most political work, Guernica 1937. He painted her many times, including Weeping Woman 1937. Together they made a series of portraits combining experimental photographic and printmaking techniques.

In middle and later life Maar withdrew from photography. She concentrated on painting and found stimulation and solace in poetry, religion, and philosophy, returning to her darkroom only in her seventies.

This exhibition will explore the breadth of Maar’s long career in the context of work by her contemporaries.

Text from the Tate Modern website

 

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Woman sitting in profile, the bust dressed in a blouse made of tattoo patterns drawn on the photograph' c. 1930

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Woman sitting in profile, the bust dressed in a blouse made of tattoo patterns drawn on the photograph
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print
Private Collection
© Estate of Dora Maar / DACS 2019, All Rights Reserved

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Child with a Beret' c. 1932

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Child with a Beret
c. 1932
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy VEGAP / Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Barcelona, Saleswomen in the Butcher Shop' 1933

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Barcelona, Saleswomen in the Butcher Shop
1933
Silver Gelatin Print
48.7 x 38.8cm
Private Collection
© Adagp, Paris 2019
Photo: © Fotogasull

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Blind Street Peddler, Barcelona' 1933

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Blind Street Peddler, Barcelona
1933
Gelatin silver print
Image: 39.3 x 29.3cm (15 1/2 x 11 9/16 in.)
Gift of David Raymond
The Cleveland Museum of Art
© 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Street Boy on the Corner of the rue de Genets' 1933

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Street Boy on the Corner of the rue de Genets
1933
Gelatin silver print
Harvard Art Museums/ Fogg Museum, Richard and Ronay Menschel Fund for the Acquisition of Photographs
© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2019

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand' 1934

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand
1934
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 24.3 × 18cm (9 9/16 × 7 1/16 in.)
© Dora Maar Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
Gift of David and Marcia Raymond

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Stairwell and Plants in Kew Gardens' 1934

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Stairwell and Plants in Kew Gardens
1934
Gelatin silver print, ferrotyped
Image: 28 x 24cm (11 x 9 7/16 in.)
John L. Severance Fund
The Cleveland Museum of Art
© 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Pearly King collecting money for the Empire Day' 1935

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Pearly King collecting money for the Empire Day
1935
Gelatin silver print
Tate
© Estate of Dora Maar / DACS 2019, All Rights Reserved

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Carousel at Night' 1931-1936

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Carousel at Night
1931-1936
Gelatin silver print, ferrotyped
Image: 25 x 19.8cm (9 13/16 x 7 13/16 in.)
John L. Severance Fund
The Cleveland Museum of Art
© 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dora Maar' at Tate Modern, 2019

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dora Maar' at Tate Modern, 2019

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dora Maar at Tate Modern, 2019 showing, in the bottom image, the photographs Untitled (Nude) 1930s (left) and Untitled (Nude) c. 1938 (right)

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Assia' 1934

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Assia
1934
Gelatin silver print
26.4 x 19.5cm

 

 

This autumn, Tate Modern presents the first UK retrospective of the work of Dora Maar (1907-1997) whose provocative photographs and photomontages became celebrated icons of surrealism. Featuring over 200 works from a career spanning more than six decades, this exhibition shows how Maar’s eye for the unusual also translated to her commercial commissions, social documentary photographs, and paintings – key aspects of her practice which have, until now, remained little known.

Born Henriette Théodora Markovitch, Dora Maar grew up between Argentina and Paris and studied decorative arts and painting before switching her focus to photography. In doing so, Maar became part of a generation of women who seized the new professional opportunities offered by advertising and the illustrated press. Tate Modern’s exhibition will open with the most important examples of these commissioned works. Around 1931, Maar set up a studio with film set designer Pierre Kéfer specialising in portraiture, fashion photography and advertising. Works such as Untitled (Les années vous guettent) c. 1935 – believed to be an advertising project for face cream that Maar made by overlaying two negatives – will reveal Maar’s innovative approach to constructing images through staging, photomontage and collage. Striking nude studies such as that of famed model Assia Granatouroff will also reveal how women photographers like Maar were beginning to infiltrate relatively taboo genres such as erotica and nude photography.

During the 1930s, Maar was active in left-wing revolutionary groups led by artists and intellectuals. Reflecting this, her street photography from this time shot in Barcelona, Paris and London captured the reality of life during Europe’s economic depression. Maar shared these politics with the surrealists, becoming one of the few photographers to be included in the movement’s exhibitions and publications. A major highlight of the show will be outstanding examples of this area of Maar’s practice, including Portrait d’Ubu 1936, an enigmatic image thought to be an armadillo foetus, and the renowned photomontages 29, rue d’Astorg c. 1936 and Le Simulateur 1935. Collages and publications by André Breton, Georges Hugnet, Paul and Nusch Eluard, and Jacqueline Lamba will place Maar’s work in context with that of her inner circle.

In the winter of 1935-1936 Maar met Pablo Picasso and their relationship of around eight years had a profound effect on both their careers. She documented the creation of his most political work Guernica 1937, offering unprecedented insight into his working process. He in turn immortalised her in the motif of the ‘weeping woman’. Together they made a series of portraits that combined experimental photographic and printmaking techniques, anticipating her energetic return to painting in 1936. Featuring rarely seen, privately-owned canvases such as La Conversation 1937 and La Cage 1943, and never-before exhibited negatives from the Dora Maar collection at the Musée National d’art Moderne, the exhibition will shed new light on the dynamic between these two artists during the turbulent wartime years.

After the Second World War, Maar began dividing her time between Paris and the South of France. During this period, she explored diverse subject matter and styles before focusing on gestural, abstract paintings of the landscape surrounding her home. Though these works were exhibited to acclaim in London and Paris into the 1950s, Maar gradually withdrew from artistic circles. As a result, the second half of her life became shrouded in mystery and speculation. The exhibition will reunite over 20 works from this little-known – yet remarkably prolific – period. Dora Maar concludes with a substantial group of camera-less photographs that she made in the 1980s when, four decades after all but abandoning the medium, Maar returned to her darkroom.

Dora Maar is curated by Karolina Ziebinska-Lewandowska, Curator, Centre Pompidou, Paris, Damarice Amao, Assistant Curator, Centre Pompidou, Paris and Amanda Maddox, Associate Curator, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles with Emma Lewis, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern. The Tate Modern presentation is curated by Emma Lewis, Assistant Curator with Emma Jones, Curatorial Assistant, Tate Modern.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalogue jointly published by Tate and the J. Paul Getty Museum and a programme of talks and events in the gallery.

Press release from Tate Britain [Online] Cited 16/11/2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dora Maar' at Tate Modern, 2019

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dora Maar at Tate Modern, 2019 showing at second left, Untitled (Study of Beauty) (c. 1931, below)

 

Dora Maar. 'Untitled (Study of Beauty)' c. 1931

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Untitled (Study of Beauty)
c. 1931
Gelatin silver print
© 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Untitled (Lee Miller)' c. 1933

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Untitled (Lee Miller) (multiple exposure)
c. 1933
Gelatin silver print

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Untitled (Mannequin sitting in profile in dress and evening jacket)' c. 1932-1935

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Untitled (Mannequin sitting in profile in dress and evening jacket)
c. 1932-1935
Gelatin silver print enhanced with colours
29.9 x 23.8cm
Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris, Musée national d’art moderne, Centre de création industrielle
© ADAGP, Paris, 2019

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Untitled (Fashion photograph Model star)' c. 1935

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Untitled (Fashion photograph Model star)
c. 1935
Gelatin silver print
300 x 200 mm
Collection Therond
© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2019

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Model in Swimsuit' 1936

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Model in Swimsuit
1936
Gelatin silver on paper
197 x 167 mm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2019

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Portrait of Lise Deharme, at home in front of her birdcage' 1936

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Portrait of Lise Deharme, chez elle devant sa cage a oiseaux
Portrait of Lise Deharme, at home in front of her birdcage 
1936
Gelatin silver print

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Publicity Study, Pétrole Hahn' 1934-1935

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Publicity Study, Pétrole Hahn
1934-1935
Silver gelatin print on a flexible support in cellulose nitrate
17.6 x 24cm
Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris, Musée national d’art moderne Centre de création industrielle
© Adagp, Paris 2019
Photo: © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / Dist. RMN-GP

 

 

Associated with Pierre Kéfer from 1930 to 1934, she collaborated in 1931 on the photographic illustration of the art historian Germain Bazin’s book Le Mont Saint-Michel (1935). She then shared a studio with Brassaï, after which Emmanuel Sougez, the spokesman for the New Photography movement, became her mentor. Her work met the aesthetic criteria of the time: close-ups of flowers and objects, and photograms in the style of Man Ray. She also took portraits, original publicity shots, and fashion and erotic photographs. In 1934, while traveling alone in Spain, Paris and London, she shot a vast number of urban views (posters, shop windows, ordinary people). Both a passionate lover and committed intellectual, she became the mistress of the filmmaker Louis Chavance and of the writer Georges Bataille, whom she met in a left-wing activist group. She signed the Contre-Attaque manifesto and rubbed shoulders with the agitprop artistic group Octobre. A close friend of Jacqueline Lamba, who became Breton’s wife, she was fully involved in the surrealist group, of whose members she made many portraits. At the height of her creativity in 1935-1936, she composed strange and bold photomontages, the most famous being 29, rue d’Astorg and The Simulator (both below). Some of her compositions verge on eroticism, like the photomontage showing fingers crawling out of a shell and sensually digging into the sand (Untitled, 1933-1934, top). She also used her city photographs as backdrops for unsettling scenes: her Portrait of Ubu (1936, below) – in fact the picture of an armadillo foetus – conforms to the surrealists’ fascination for macabre and deformity.

Anne Reverseau. “Dora Maar,” from the Dictionnaire universel des créatrices on the Archives of Women Artists Research & Exhibitions website [Online] Cited 16/11/2019

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Les yeux' c. 1932-1935

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Les yeux (The eyes)
c. 1932-1935
Silver print on flexible media
29.5 x 23.5cm
© Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais
Image Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, © ADAGP, Paris

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Untitled' 1935

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Untitled
1935
Photomontage
232 x 150 mm
Musée National d’Art Moderne – Centre Pompidou (Paris, France)
© Estate of Dora Maar / DACS 2019, All Rights Reserved

 

 

When Maar began her career, the illustrated press was expanding quickly. This created a growing market for experimental photography. Maar embraced this opportunity, exploring the creative potential of staged images, darkroom experiments, collage and photomontage.

Most of Maar’s work had one thing in common: an uncanny atmosphere. Her connection to the surrealists led her to create fantastical images. This included using photomontage to bring together contrasting images and reflect the workings of the unconscious mind.

Unlike many other photomontage creators of this time, Maar did not use photographs taken from illustrated newspapers or magazines. Instead the images often came from her own work, including both street and landscape photography. This experimentation and obvious construction became a defining feature of Maar’s work.

Anonymous text from “Seven Things to Know: Dora Maar,” on the Tate website [Online] Cited 16/11/2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dora Maar' at Tate Modern, 2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition Dora Maar at Tate Modern, 2019 showing at second left, Arcade (1934, see below)

 

 www.actingoutpolitics.com Dora Maar. 'Arcade' 1934

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Arcade
1934
Photomontage

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Danger' 1936

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Danger
1936
Gelatin silver print

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) '29 rue d'Astorg' c. 1936

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
29 rue d’Astorg
c. 1936
Photograph, hand-coloured gelatin silver print on paper
294 x 244 mm
Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris. Musée national d’art moderne Centre de création industrielle
Photo: © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / P. Migeat / Dist. RMN-GP
© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2019

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'The Simulator' 1936

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
The Simulator
1936
Silver gelatin print printed on a carton
27 x 22.2cm (excluding the margin)
Gift from Marguerite Arp-Hagenbach in 1973
Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris Musée national d’art moderne, Centre de création industrielle
© Adagp, Paris 2019
Photo: © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / P. Migeat / Dist. RMN-GP

 

 

Maar’s early photomontages look almost as modish and styled as her fashion work. From a shell resting on sand, a dummy hand protrudes, with delicate fingers and painted nails, just like Maar’s own (see top image). In a way, the image could be by one of many photographers of the period – Cecil Beaton, say, or Angus McBean – who politely surrealised their pictures, as if the artistic movement were merely a visual style. Except: there is something ominously self-involved about this hybrid thing. The shell and hand recall Bataille’s obsessions with crustaceans, mollusks, and orphaned or butchered body parts. The hand rhymes with similar ones in the photographs of Claude Cahun, where they sometimes have masturbatory implications. And what are we to make of the storm-lit, gothic sky that looms over this auto-curious object?

The most accomplished examples of Maar’s art are the photomontages of 1935 and 1936. There were already many vaults and arches in her Mont-Saint-Michel pictures; now she took the cloistral galleries of the Orangerie at Versailles, upended them so that they looked like sewers, and populated them with cryptic beings engaged in arcane rituals or dramas. In “The Simulator,” (above) a boy from one of her street photographs is bent backward at an obscene angle; Maar has retouched his eyes so that they roll back in his head toward us, like one of those thrashing hysterics photographed in the nineteenth century. In “29 Rue d’Astorg” (above) – of which Maar made several versions, black-and-white and hand-coloured – a human figure with a curtailed, avian head is seated beneath arches that have been subtly warped in the darkroom.

Brian Dillon. “The Voraciousness and Oddity of Dora Maar’s Pictures,” on The New Yorker website May 21, 2019 [Online] Cited 23/11/2019

 

Dora Maar also participated in the Surrealists’ group exhibitions, such as the one at Charles Ratton’s Gallery in 1936, wherein her Portrait of Ubu became the “icon of Surrealism,” according to her biographer Mary Ann Caws in her exceptional book Picasso’s Weeping Woman: The Life and Art of Dora Maar (2000). “She captures the mysterious,” Caws wrote, “in a combination of the unresolved and the sharply angled. This frequently creates a sense of ambiguity, even menace.” (p. 20) Caws notes that Dora Maar responded to Louis Aragon’s invocation “for each person there is one image to find that will disturb the whole universe.” Maar’s images managed to “disturb and reveal” with a bit of the macabre mixed in. (p. 71)

Beth Gersh-Nesic. “Picasso’s Weeping Woman as Artist Instead of Muse: Dora Maar’s Retrospective at Centre Pompidou,” on the Bonjour Paris website July 24, 2019 [Online] Cited 23/11/2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dora Maar' at Tate Modern, 2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition Dora Maar at Tate Modern, 2019 showing Maar’s photographs Portrait of Ubu (1936, left), Untitled (Hand-Shell) (1934, top middle) and Danger (1936, bottom right) Photo: Tate (Andrew Dunkley)

 

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

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Portrait of Ubu
1936
Silver gelatin print
24 x 18cm
Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris, Musée national d’art moderne, Centre de création industrielle
© Adagp, Paris
Photo: © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / P. Migeat / Dist. RMN-GP

 

 

In 1936, at the summit of her celebrity as a photographic artist, Dora Maar showed her picture “Portrait of Ubu” in the International Surrealist Exhibition, at the New Burlington Galleries, London. Named after a scatological, ur-Surrealist play by Alfred Jarry, from 1896, the black-and-white photograph shows a ghastly being of indeterminate origin and melancholy aspect. Maar would never say what the clawed, scaly creature was, nor where she had come across it. Her Ubu has elements of Jarry’s porcine, louse-like original, and, with its doleful eye and drooping ears, it also resembles an ass or an elephant. Scholars generally agree that the monster is in fact an armadillo foetus, preserved in a specimen jar. It is also an idea: something like l’informe, the concept Maar’s lover Georges Bataille coined to describe his fellow-Surrealists’ admiration for all things larval and grotesquely about-to-be.

Brian Dillon. “The Voraciousness and Oddity of Dora Maar’s Pictures,” on The New Yorker website May 21, 2019 [Online] Cited 23/11/2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dora Maar' at Tate Modern, 2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition Dora Maar at Tate Modern, 2019 showing her series of portrait photomontages from the mid-1930s (see below)

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Double Portrait with Hat' c. 1936-37

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Double Portrait with Hat
c. 1936-37
Gelatin silver print, montage with handwork on negative
Image: 29.8 x 23.8cm (11 3/4 x 9 3/8 in.)
Gift of David Raymond
The Cleveland Museum of Art
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

 

To produce this complex image, Maar sandwiched together two negatives of the same model, one frontal and one profile, scavenged from a magazine assignment on springtime hats, and painted the background and hat (or decomposing halo?) onto the negative. Softening the emulsion, she scraped and lifted it off, techniques that involve destruction and suggest disintegration. The face evokes Picasso’s depictions of female faces, especially his 1938 paintings of weeping women for which Maar was the model. Although the divided face is not Maar’s, it is tempting to interpret it as a reflection of her emotional state at the time, torn between her career and independence and Picasso’s demands and potent personality. frontal and one profile, scavenged from a magazine assignment on springtime hats, and painted the background and hat (or decomposing halo?) onto the negative. Softening the emulsion, she scraped and lifted it off, techniques that involve destruction and suggest disintegration. The face evokes Picasso’s depictions of female faces, especially his 1938 paintings of weeping women for which Maar was the model. Although the divided face is not Maar’s, it is tempting to interpret it as a reflection of her emotional state at the time, torn between her career and independence and Picasso’s demands and potent personality.

Text from The Cleveland Museum of Art website [Online] Cited 16/11/2019

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Profile portrait with glasses and hat' 1930-35

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Profile portrait with glasses and hat
1930-1935
Gelatin silver print
© Dora Maar Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Man looking inside a sidewalk inspection door, London' c. 1935

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Man looking inside a sidewalk inspection door, London
c. 1935
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg, New York
Courtesy art2art Circulating Exhibitions
© Estate of Dora Maar / DACS 2019, All Rights Reserved​

 

 

Maar became involved with the surrealists from 1933 and was one of the few artists – and even fewer women – to be included in the surrealists’ exhibitions. She became close to the group because of their shared left-wing politics at a time of social and civil unrest in France.

Maar’s photography and photomontages explore surrealist themes such as eroticism, sleep, the unconscious and the relationship between art and reality. Cropped frames, dramatic angles, unexpected juxtapositions and extreme close-ups are used to create surreal images. Contrasting with the idea of a photograph as a factual record, Maar’s scenes disorientate the viewer and create new worlds altogether.

Anonymous text from “Seven Things to Know: Dora Maar,” on the Tate website [Online] Cited 16/11/2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dora Maar' at Tate Modern, 2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition Dora Maar at Tate Modern, 2019 showing Maar’s photographs Portrait of Nusch Éluard (1935, left) and Les années vous guettent (The Years are Waiting for You) (1932, right)

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Portrait of Nusch Éluard' 1935

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Portrait of Nusch Éluard
1935
Gelatin silver print

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Les années vous guettent' (The Years are Waiting for You) 1932

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Les années vous guettent (The Years are Waiting for You)
1932
Gelatin silver print
© Dora Maar Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Untitled' c. 1940

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Untitled
c. 1940
Gelatin silver print

 

Eileen Agar (1899-1991) 'Photograph of Dora Maar and Pablo Picasso on the beach' September 1937

 

Eileen Agar (British-Argentinian, 1899-1991)
Photograph of Dora Maar and Pablo Picasso on the beach
September 1937
Gelatin silver print
68 x 60 mm
Taken in Juan-les-pins, France
Tate Archive
Presented to Tate Archive by Eileen Agar in 1989 and transferred from the photograph collection in 2012

 

Eileen Agar (1899-1991) 'Photograph of Dora Maar, Nusch Éluard, Pablo Picasso and Paul Éluard on the beach' September 1937

 

Eileen Agar (British-Argentinian, 1899-1991)
Photograph of Dora Maar, Nusch Éluard, Pablo Picasso and Paul Éluard on the beach
September 1937
Gelatin silver print
66 x 66 mm
Taken in Juan-les-pins, France
Tate Archive
Presented to Tate Archive by Eileen Agar in 1989 and transferred from the photograph collection in 2012

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Portrait of Picasso, Paris, studio 29, rue d'Astorg' Winter, 1935-35

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Portrait of Picasso, Paris, studio 29, rue d’Astorg
Winter, 1935
Silver gelatin negative on flexible support in cellulose nitrate
12 x 9cm
Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris Musée national d’art moderne Centre de création industrielle
© Adagp, Paris 2019
Photo: © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / Dist. RMN-GP

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Portrait of Pablo Picasso' 1936

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Portrait of Pablo Picasso
1936
Pastel on paper
57.5 x 45cm
Private collection, Yann Panier
Courtesy Galerie Brame and Lorenceau
© Adagp, Paris 2019
© The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Portrait of Dora Maar' 1937

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Portrait of Dora Maar
1937
Musée National Picasso-­Paris
Copyright RMN-Grand Palais, Mathieu Rabeau and Succession Picasso, 2018

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Guernica' May-June, 1937

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Guernica
May-June, 1937
Gelatin silver print
Musée National Picasso-­Paris
Copyright RMN-Grand Palais, Mathieu Rabeau and Succession Picasso, 2018

 

Dora Maar. 'Picasso working on "Guernica"' 1937

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Picasso working on “Guernica”
1937
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy VEGAP / Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia

 

Dora Maar. 'Picasso working on "Guernica"' 1937

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Picasso working on “Guernica”
1937
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy VEGAP / Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dora Maar' at Tate Modern, 2019 showing Maar's painting 'The Conversation' 1937

 

Installation view of the exhibition Dora Maar at Tate Modern, 2019 showing Maar’s painting The Conversation 1937
Photo: Tate (Andrew Dunkley)

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'The Conversation' 1937

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
The Conversation
1937
Oil on canvas
162 x 130cm
Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte, Madrid
© FABA © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2019
Photo: Marc Domage

 

 

“I must dwell apart in the desert,” the artist and surrealist photographer Dora Maar once said. “I want to create an aura of mystery about my work. People must long to see it.

“I’m still too famous as Picasso’s mistress to be accepted as a painter.”

These words form part of a conversation recorded by Maar’s friend, the art writer James Lord, in his memoir “Picasso and Dora.” During the exchange, the French artist also explains how she rationalised the work of her later years, given that she rarely exhibited and was not in demand. …

With its deliberate focus on their art, the exhibition doesn’t address certain troubling questions about the pair’s unequal personal relationship. In her memoirs, Picasso’s later lover, Françoise Gilot, recounted the brutal bullying to which the artist subjected Maar. Picasso once described the time that Maar and a previous lover, Marie-Thérèse Walter, came to blows in his studio as one of his “choicest memories.”

It’s a subject Maar didn’t shy away from in her art, painting herself alongside Walter in “The Conversation,” one of the works on show at the Tate Modern. Maar is depicted facing away while Walter looks directly at the viewer.

During the aforementioned exchange with James Lord, Maar told the writer that Picasso’s portraits of her were “lies.” But the struggle for recognition she went on to describe is more insightful – that she had to survive in the “desert” to be celebrated on her own terms.

Max Ramsay. “Dora Maar is no longer Picasso’s ‘Weeping Woman’,” on the CNN website 20th November 2019 [Online] Cited 23/11/2019

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Dora Maar seated' 1938

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Dora Maar seated
1938
Ink, gouache and oil paint on paper on canvas
Support: 689 x 625 mm
Frame: 925 x 685 x 120 mm
Tate
Purchased 1960

 

 

In late 1935 or early 1936, Maar met Pablo Picasso. They became lovers soon afterwards. She was at the height of her career, while he was emerging from what he described as ‘the worst time of my life’. He had not sculpted or painted for months.

Their relationship had a huge affect on both their careers. Maar documented the creation of Picasso’s most political work, Guernica 1937, encouraged his political awareness and educated him in photography. Specifically, Maar taught Picasso the cliché verre technique – a complex method combining photography and printmaking.

Picasso painted Maar in numerous portraits, including Weeping Woman 1937. However, Maar explained that she felt this wasn’t a portrait of her. Instead it was a metaphor for the tragedy of the Spanish people. Picasso also encouraged Maar to return to painting. The flattened features and bold outlines of the cubist-style portraits Maar made at this time suggest Picasso’s influence. By 1940 her passport listed her profession as ‘photographer-painter’.

Anonymous text from “Seven Things to Know: Dora Maar,” on the Tate website [Online] Cited 16/11/2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dora Maar' at Tate Modern, 2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition Dora Maar at Tate Modern, 2019 showing portraits of the artist by numerous artists, some of which you can see below

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Self-portrait with Fan' 1930

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Self-portrait with Fan
1930
Gelatin silver print

 

Emmanuel Sougez (French, 1889-1972) 'Dora Maar' Paris, 1934

 

Emmanuel Sougez (French, 1889-1972)
Dora Maar
Paris, 1934
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Dora Maar considered the French commercial photographer Emmanuel Sougez (1889-1972) her mentor. Her first commission was a book on Mont-Saint-Michel written by art critic Germain Bazin. She collaborated with the stage-set designer Pierre Kéfer in 1931. From that experience they formed a business partnership, set up at first in his parents’ garden in Neuilly and then moving to their own studio at 9 rue Campagne-Première, lent by the Polish photographer Harry Ossip Meerson (1910-1991), younger brother of the cinema art director Lazare Meerson (1900-1938), who had worked with Kéber at Film Albatros studio in the mid-1920s. Harry Meerson also lent out his darkroom to the Hungarian photographer Brassai (Gyula Halász, 1899-1984), who became Dora Maar’s close friend. Her contact with Brassai brought her into the Surrealist circle.

The Kéfer-Dora Maar studio produced glamorous, innovative images for advertising and portraits, becoming part of the booming industry of commercial photography in glossy magazines. It was a fertile context for Dora Maar’s imagination. Her perspective on the modern women of the 1930s produced models oozing with elegant sensuality. Cool, natural, sometimes athletic, sometimes aristocratic, the Kéfer-Dora Maar female gave off a whiff of eroticise insouciance that emanated from Dora’s own disposition. This conceptualisation of contemporary beauty fed the appetite for luxury and leisure time activities, despite the Great Depression. It was a fantasy for some, a reality for others. During this period of working intensely with Pierre Kéfer, Dora had affairs with the filmmaker Louis Chavance (c. 1932-1933) and the erotically transgressive writer Georges Bataille (late 1933-1934). The Kéfer-Dora Maar studio closed in 1934.

Beth Gersh-Nesic. “Picasso’s Weeping Woman as Artist Instead of Muse: Dora Maar’s Retrospective at Centre Pompidou,” on the Bonjour Paris website July 24, 2019 [Online] Cited 23/11/2019

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Portrait of Dora Maar' 1936

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Portrait of Dora Maar
1936
Gelatin silver print

 

Rogi André (née Rosa Klein) 'Dora Maar, Paris' 1941

 

Rogi André (née Rosa Klein) (French born Hungary, 1900-1970)
Dora Maar, Paris
1941
Gelatin silver print
6 1/2 x 4 1/2 in. (16.5 x 11.4cm)

 

Brassaï (French-Hungarian, 1899-1984) 'Dora Maar in her workshop rue de Savoie' 1943

 

Brassaï (French-Hungarian, 1899-1984)
Dora Maar dans son atelier rue de Savoie (Dora Maar in her workshop rue de Savoie)
1943
Gelatin silver print
© Adagp, Paris 2019 / Estate Brassaï – RMN-Grand Palais

 

Izis (Israel Bidermanas) (Lithuanian-Jewish, 1911-1980) 'Dora Maar' 1946

 

Izis (Israel Bidermanas) (Lithuanian-Jewish, 1911-1980)
Dora Maar
1946
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Israëlis Bidermanas (17 January 1911 in Marijampolė – 16 May 1980 in Paris), who worked under the name of Izis, was a Lithuanian-Jewish photographer who worked in France and is best known for his photographs of French circuses and of Paris.

Upon the liberation of France at the end of World War II, Izis had a series of portraits of maquisards (rural resistance fighters who operated mainly in southern France) published to considerable acclaim. He returned to Paris where he became friends with French poet Jacques Prévert and other artists. Izis became a major figure in the mid-century French movement of humanist photography – also exemplified by Brassaï, Cartier-Bresson, Doisneau, Sabine Weiss and Ronis – with “work that often displayed a wistfully poetic image of the city and its people.”

For his first book, Paris des rêves (Paris of Dreams), Izis asked writers and poets to contribute short texts to accompany his photographs, many of which showed Parisians and others apparently asleep or daydreaming. The book, which Izis designed, was a success. Izis joined Paris Match in 1950 and remained with it for twenty years, during which time he could choose his assignments.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Irving Penn. 'Dora Maar' France 1948

 

Irving Penn (American, 1917-2009)
Dora Maar
France 1948
Gelatin silver print

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Still life' 1941

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Still life
1941
Oil on canvas
© Adagp, Paris, 2019
Photo: © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / P. Migeat / Dist. RMN-GP

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Still Life with Jar and Cup' 1945

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Still Life with Jar and Cup
1945
Oil on canvas
45.5 x 50cm
Private Collection
© Adagp, Paris, 2019
Photo: © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / P. Migeat / Dist. RMN-GP

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Landscape in Lubéron' 1950's

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Landscape in Lubéron
1950’s
Private collection of Nancy B. Negley
© Adagp © Brice Toul

 

 

Although the late works are not as significant contributions to the history of art as her Surrealist photomontages, they inform our knowledge of this Parisian artist’s accomplishments in general and beg the question: Was Dora Maar’s brilliant career cut short by the typical conflicts facing professional women in the 1930s, and even today? Or was she a victim of Picasso’s psychological abuse, which chipped away at her original confidence? Was she compromised to the point that she only wanted to please the man she loved? According to art historian John Richardson, Dora Maar sacrificed her gifts on the altar of her art god, her idol, Picasso. Based on the early Surrealist photographs we see in her retrospective, one can only wish she hadn’t taken up with Picasso, for it seems she might have achieved far more in her lifetime without him.

Beth Gersh-Nesic. “Picasso’s Weeping Woman as Artist Instead of Muse: Dora Maar’s Retrospective at Centre Pompidou,” on the Bonjour Paris website July 24, 2019 [Online] Cited 23/11/2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dora Maar' at Tate Modern, 2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition Dora Maar at Tate Modern, 2019 showing Maar’s paintings and photograms from the 1950s-1980s (see below)

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Untitled' c. 1957

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Untitled
c. 1957
Watercolour
© Adagp, Paris 2019
Photo: © Centre Pompidou

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907 - 1997) 'Untitled' 1980s

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Untitled
1980s
Gelatin silver print
23.5 × 17.4cm (9 1/4 × 6 7/8 in.)
© Dora Maar Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

Abstract photogram

 

 

The 1940s brought a series of traumas. Maar’s father left Paris for Argentina, her mother and best friend Nusch Eluard both died suddenly, her relationship with Picasso ended, and friends went into exile. The difficulty of this time is reflected in some of her work from this period.

Maar was included in many group and solo exhibitions in the 1940s and 1950s. In the mid-1940s she began to spend more time in rural surroundings of Ménerbes in the south of France. Here she regained her confidence as a painter and developed her own style of abstract landscapes. Exhibited across Europe, this work received very positive reviews.

In the 1980s, Maar returned to photography. However, she was no longer interested in photographing life on the street. Instead, Maar was interested in what she could create in the darkroom and experimented with hundreds of photograms (camera-less photographs).

Dora Maar died on July 16, 1997, at 89 years old. Throughout her life she created a vast and varied range of work, much of which was only discovered after her death.

Anonymous text from “Seven Things to Know: Dora Maar,” on the Tate website [Online] Cited 16/11/2019

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Untitled' c. 1980

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Untitled
c. 1980
Gelatin silver print
23.5 × 30cm (9 1/4 × 11 13/16 in.)
© Dora Maar Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Untitled' 1980s

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Untitled
1980s
Silver gelatin print
9 x 6cm
Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris. Musée national d’art moderne Centre de création industrielle
© Adagp, Paris
Photo: © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / P. Migeat / Dist. RMN-GP

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Untitled' c. 1980

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Untitled
c. 1980
Silver gelatin print
9 x 6cm
Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris. Musée national d’art moderne Centre de création industrielle
© Adagp, Paris
Photo: © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / P. Migeat / Dist. RMN-GP

 

 

Tate Modern
Bankside
London SE1 9TG
United Kingdom

Opening hours:
Sunday – Thursday 10.00 – 18.00
Friday – Saturday 10.00 – 22.00

Tate Modern website

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18
Sep
16

Exhibition: ‘The Intimate World of Josef Sudek’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 7th June – 25th September 2016

 

Josef Sudek. 'St. Vitus cathedral, Prague, Czech Republic' c. 1926

 

Josef Sudek (Czech, 1896-1976)
St. Vitus cathedral, Prague, Czech Republic
c. 1926
Silver gelatin print

 

 

A poetry of the everyday

Josef Sudek, a one-armed man lugging around a large format camera, is one of my top ten photographers of all time.

His photographs, sometimes surreal, always sensitive, have a profound sensibility that affect the soul. Melancholy and mysterious by turns, they investigate the inner life of objects which stand as metaphors for the inner life of the artist. A form of healing after his horrific injuries and the loss of his arm during the First World War, the photographs purportedly look outwards upon the world but are actually interior meditations on life, death and the nature of being. Light emerges from the darkness; understanding from tribulation; and Sudek, in Jungian terms, integrates his ego into his soul through the process of (photographic) individuation – whereby the personal and collective unconscious (his hurt and damage) are brought into consciousness (eg. by means of dreams, active imagination, or free association) to be assimilated into the whole personality. It is a completely natural process necessary for the integration of the psyche and, in Sudek’s life, was integral to his healing from the vicissitudes of war.

Using Pictorialism as the starting point for his exploration of the world, Sudek never abandons the creation of “atmosphere” in his photographs, even as the images become modernist, surrealist and offer a new way of seeing the world. Having myself photographed extensively at night, and from the interior of my flat, I can understand Sudek’s fascination with both locations: the quiet of night, the stillness, the clarity of vision and thought; the interior as exterior, the projection of interior thoughts onto an external surface reflected back into the camera lens. “Nature, architecture, streets and objects are magnified by his sensitivity and mastery of the effects of light, contrasting with the impenetrable cloak of darkness.” Except the cloak of darkness is not impenetrable, as light cannot exist without darkness.

Pace, his photographs are breath / taking. They are exhalations of the spirit.

Sudek’s ability to transcend the literal, his ability to transform the objectal quality of photography ranks him as one of the top photographers of all time. He synthesises  a poetry of objects, a poetry of the everyday, and projects the folds of his mind onto the visual field (through “tears” of condensation on the window, through labyrinths of paper and glass, such as in Labyrinth on my table, 1967, below). As a form of self-actualisation – the desire to become everything that one is capable of becoming – Sudek’s photographs interrogate that chthonic darkness that lurks in the heart of everyone of us, our dark night of the soul. In that process of discovery (who am I, what kind of human being am I, how can I heal myself), he finds redemption.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

If you would like to read more about the life and work of Josef Sudek, please read the excellent article by Ashley Booth Klein, “Josef Sudek and The Life of Objects,” Obelisk Vol. 2 Issue 1, Winter 2015 [Online] Cited 18/09/2016

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

 

 

“… [Sudek] referred to photography as meteorology to describe the significance of the atmosphere, and how a photographer must predict the right conditions for photographing and enlarging prints. His work became sharper with richer tones, and his compositions became more illusive. The foregrounds and backgrounds of his photographs, particularly in his “Window” series began to oscillate. These achievements were perhaps made more attainable by his focus on inanimate objects over which he had more control than living things. Most of his cityscapes became deserted, as he directed his camera at statues or replaced what would have been a living subject with such emulative sculptures.

In effect, Sudek’s substitution of the inanimate for the animate brought the objects he photographed to life in his mind. He called the enormous decaying trees in the woods of Bohemia “sleeping giants” and would take portraits of masks and statuary heads, transforming them into frozen, worn grotesqueries. His personification of objects is even more vivid in his studio photography, particularly after 1939, the oncoming of World War II and the Nazi occupation of Prague. As the city was oppressed by German troops, the artist retreated into his studio and insulated himself sentimentally with still lifes. To an interviewer, he explained, “I love the life of objects. When the children go to bed, the objects come to life. I like to tell stories about the life of inanimate objects.” He devoted endless hours to arranging and photographing the everyday – apples, eggs, bread, and shells – and special objects given to him by friends, such as feathers, spectacles, and watches, which he called “remembrances” of that person. A photograph from his series “Remembrances of Architect Rothmayer, Mr. Magician,” for example, portrays objects respectfully placed in a row on a desk, as if artifacts from an archeological site, from which the history of a life or character of a man could be divined.

“Everything around us, dead or alive, in the eyes of a crazy photographer mysteriously takes on many variations,” Sudek said, “so that a seemingly dead object comes to life through light or by its surroundings.” This statement is perhaps telling of Sudek’s relationship to death and life, as a result of the loss of his arm and the manner in which he suffered the loss. In the 1963 film, “Zit Svuj Zivot” (Living Your Life), a documentary portrait of Sudek by Evald Strom, we see a sensitive man describing his efforts to photograph the reality of the objects around him, not as if he were bringing the objects to life, but as if it was his purpose to represent the lives of objects as they truly are. Of the image of a vase of wildflowers, he says “This is a photograph of wildflowers, my attempt to photograph wildflowers,” and of an old lamp, “This is a celebrated lamp; it holds a lot of memories.””

Ashley Booth Klein, “Josef Sudek and The Life of Objects,” Obelisk Vol. 2 Issue 1, Winter 2015 [Online] Cited 18/09/2016

 

 

“I like to tell stories about the life of inanimate objects, to relate something mysterious: the seventh side of a dice,” mused Josef Sudek. “Everything around us, dead or alive, in the eyes of a crazy photographer mysteriously takes on many variations,” he explained, “so that a seemingly dead object comes to life through light or by its surroundings.”

 

 

 

 

On display are works that are the result of Sudek’s photographic experiments carried out within the privacy of his own studio, images of the garden seen from his window, and photographs of adventures further afield. The artist enjoyed meandering through the streets of Prague and its surrounding suburbs, and made frequent excursions to the nearby countryside. Sudek’s enduring fascination with light, and its absence, is at the root of some of the most haunting photographs of the twentieth century. Nature, architecture, streets and objects are magnified by his sensitivity and mastery of the effects of light, contrasting with the impenetrable cloak of darkness.

As a photographer, Sudek was particularly concerned with the quality of the photographic print, an essential component in terms of the expressive potential of an image. His mastery of the pigment printing process enabled him to produce highly atmospheric and evocative images, thereby reaping all of the reflective and descriptive power of the gelatin silver print. The exhibition presents work from Sudek’s early career, but also features photographs from a pivotal period of experimentation and innovation, beginning in the 1940s. Focusing on the technical and formal aspects of the medium of photography, Sudek created pigment prints, halftone prints, puridlos (photographs between two windows) and veteše (photographs inserted into old frames), techniques which allowed him to transform the objectal quality of photography.

The loss of his right arm during the First World War and the difficulties he now encountered in transporting his view camera did not dampen his passion for photography. Sudek’s studio window became an object of abiding fascination – rather like the surface of a canvas – reflecting moments of exquisite tenderness and hope when a flowering branch brushed against its pane, or of poignant melancholy when he observed the world beyond his window transformed by the playful infinity of mist. His room with a view allowed him to capture, on film, his love of Prague. His photographs demonstrate both a precision and a depth of feeling, fitting odes to the rich history and architectural complexity of the Czech capital.

Like many artists of his generation marked by their experience of war, Sudek expresses a particularly acute awareness of the dark and tormented aspects of human existence – feelings that would inspire some of his most melancholy and most moving pictures. A photograph taken at night, through the glass pane of his window, shows a city plunged into darkness during the Occupation of the Second World War, and communicates a sentiment of unspeakable despair – a dramatic illustration of Sudek’s technical ability to transcend the literal.

The first part of the exhibition features images that herald the photographer’s later work, showing his early landscapes, portraits of fellow patients at Invalidovna, the Prague hospice for war invalids like Sudek, his hesitant foray into modernism, and his interior shots of St. Vitus Cathedral. Through images that recount the narrative of his life, the viewer gains access to Sudek’s inner world, and an insight into his immediate environment, the views and objects he loved, his studio and garden. His endless walks in Prague found expression in the views of the city and its surroundings, as well as in photographs of its more sordid “suburbs”, a subject explored by other Prague artists. The eastern and northern areas of Bohemia, the Beskid Mountains and the Mionší forest were other destinations close to the photographer’s heart. The exhibition “The Intimate World of Josef Sudek” provides a fascinating panorama of the work of this unique artist.

Text from the Jeu de Paume website

 

Beginnings

Sudek’s first photographic prints – small and largely assembled in albums – were mainly views of the countryside taken along the Elbe River when he travelled from Prague to Kolín to visit his mother between 1916 and 1922.

Using processes such as gelatin silver and bromoil he showed a talent for printing his pictures in a style that favoured soft edges and broad swathes of tone. Here Sudek was not so much studying the effects of light as he was observing the conventions of Pictorialism, a photography movement that straddled the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth century, and was based on a strong Romantic ethos. Pictorialist photographers enhanced atmospheric effects with such processes as carbon and gum bichromate. Sudek began using the carbon process regularly and in a personally expressive manner in the late 1940s.

His Invalidovna and St. Vitus Cathedral series in Prague, begun in the first half of the 1920s, show him exploring interior spaces where light emphasises both the profane and the sacred. The play of bands of sunlight and darkness is a central feature of the composition and, indeed, of the life of the photograph.

 

Josef Sudek. 'Dimanche après-midi à l’île Kolín' c. 1922–1926

 

Josef Sudek (Czech, 1896-1976)
Dimanche après-midi à l’île Kolín [Sunday afternoon at Kolín island]
c. 1922-1926
Gelatin silver print
28.4 × 28.7cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Achat, 2000
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Rue de Prague' 1924

 

Josef Sudek (Czech, 1896-1976)
Rue de Prague
1924
Gelatin silver print
8.3 × 8.2cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Portrait de mon ami Funke' 1924

 

Josef Sudek (Czech, 1896-1976)
Portrait de mon ami Funke [Portrait of my friend Funke]
1924
Gelatin silver print
28.5 × 22.6cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Achat, 1985
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

 

“Josef Sudek: The World at My Window” is the first exhibition in France since 1988 to cover Sudek’s entire career and spotlight the different phases of his work. Coming in the wake of several exhibitions at the Jeu de Paume devoted to Eastern European photographers of the early twentieth century, among them André Kertész and Francois Kollar, this one comprises some 130 vintage prints by the Czech artist. Bringing to bear a vision at once subjective and timeless, Sudek captures the ongoing changes in Prague’s natural world and landscapes.

His early profession as a bookbinder came to an abrupt halt when he was conscripted into the Austro-Hungarian army in Bohemia and sent to the Italian front. After the First World War he came back to Prague wounded; the loss of his right arm meant abandoning bookbinding, and he turned to photography. After revisiting the battlefield in Italy once more he returned, in despair, to Prague: “I found the place,” he recounted, “but my arm wasn’t there. Since then I’ve never gone anywhere. I didn’t find what I was looking for.”

A study grant enabled him to train at the state-run school of graphic arts in Prague, where he mixed with practitioners of Pictorialism, a photographic movement aiming at achieving colour and texture effects similar to those of painting. He started concentrating on architectural details, always waiting until the light was absolutely perfect. Little by little he gave up the Pictorialist ambiences of his views of St Vitus’s cathedral, opting for a pure, straightforward approach which the American photographer Alfred Stieglitz summed up as “maximum detail for maximum simplification”.

During the Second World War Sudek began photographing the window giving onto his garden, the result being the celebrated Window of My Studio series. He then shifted his focus to the accumulated jumble of objects in the studio, producing a further series titled Labyrinths. Light was an inexhaustible theme in his work, orchestrating the seasons, making the invisible visible and transporting us into another world. As if to escape the leaden context of the War and then of Communism, Sudek took refuge in music, especially that of his compatriot Leoš Janáček. A true music lover, he gradually built up a substantial collection of recordings which he played to his friends during improvised concerts in his studio.

The second half of his career saw Sudek abandon photography’s traditional subjects as he explored the outskirts of Prague with his black view camera on his shoulder. Known as “the poet of Prague”, he became an emblematic figure in the Czech capital. Discreet and solitary, he gradually withdrew from the city’s art scene, leaving his studio only to prowl the streets at night with his imagination as his guide.

Sudek’s photographs rarely include people; his focus was more on empty urban and rural spaces. Fascinated by the streets of Prague, the city’s deserted parks and public gardens, and the wooded Bohemian landscapes his mastery of light rendered sublime, he preferred the un-enlarged contact print as a means of preserving all the detail and authenticity of the places he roamed through.  His work moved towards experiments with light. In photographs shot through with simplicity and sensitivity, Sudek foregrounds a kind of poetry of the everyday, using the interplay of light and shade to achieve a kind of fluctuation between interior and exterior.

Text from Jeu de Paume

 

Josef Sudek. 'La Fenêtre de mon atelier' c. 1940–1948

 

Josef Sudek (Czech, 1896-1976)
La Fenêtre de mon atelier [The window of my studio]
c. 1940-1948
Gelatin silver print
17 × 11.2cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek, 'La Fenêtre de mon atelier' c. 1940–1954

 

Josef Sudek (Czech, 1896-1976)
La Fenêtre de mon atelier [The window of my studio]
c. 1940-1954
Gelatin silver print
22.9 × 16.8cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'La Fenêtre de mon atelier' c. 1940–1950

 

Josef Sudek (Czech, 1896-1976)
La Fenêtre de mon atelier [The window of my studio]
c. 1940-1950
Gelatin silver print
28.1 × 22.9cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

 

The world from my window

Sudek was not content with making single, unrelated images. He generally worked in projects or series, creating extended visual explorations of the phenomena and scenes he viewed – often from the closed window of his studio, which separated his private studio-home from the exterior world. In the series From My Window it was the endlessly varying states of transformation of droplets of water that he watched streaming down his windowpane. His images invite us to contemplate, with great fascination, the physical cycles of water and the phenomenon of rivulets coursing down a surface – like human tears. Reminding us even of [Paul] Verlaine’s “There is weeping in my heart like the rain upon the city…” Sometimes the melancholy mood of these images is leavened by a rose in a vase on the windowsill or tendrils of leaves announcing the arrival of spring.

 

There is weeping in my heart
like the rain falling on the town.
What is this languor
that pervades my heart?

Oh the patter of the rain
on the ground and the roofs!
For a heart growing weary
oh the song of the rain!

There is weeping without cause
in this disheartened heart.
What! No betrayal?
There’s no reason for this grief.

Truly the worst pain
is not knowing why,
without love or hatred,
my heart feels so much pain.

Paul Verlaine. “Il pleure dans mon coeur”

 

Josef Sudek. 'Quatre saisons: l’été' c. 1940-1954

 

Josef Sudek (Czech, 1896-1976)
Quatre saisons: l’été [Four seasons: summer]
c. 1940-1954
From the series “La Fenêtre de mon atelier” [The window of my studio]
Gelatin silver print
22.6 × 17.1cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'La Dernière Rose' 1956

 

Josef Sudek (Czech, 1896-1976)
La Dernière Rose [The Last Rose]
1956
Gelatin silver print
28.2 x 23.2cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession Josef Sudek

 

 

Night walks

Sudek’s preoccupation with darkness dates to the Nazi Occupation of Prague from March 1939 until the end of the war. Experiencing his city plunged into nights of enforced darkness Sudek explored the absence of light in his pictures. We know that this was more than a technical exercise, for he wrote “Memories” and “Restless Night” on the verso of one nocturnal photograph dated 1943.

The curfews imposed on citizens at the time made it unlikely that Sudek ventured out into the city after dark during wartime. Neither agile nor inconspicuous with his large-format camera slung over his increasingly hunched back, Sudek would have risked his life had he done so. The small courtyard of his studio on Ujezd street was hidden from the road, however, and one or two lights in neighbouring apartments served as beacons. Well after sundown he would photograph the syncopated play of blurs of light against the wall of impenetrable blackness.

 

The spirit of place

Sudek visited and photographed places that held either personal or spiritual significance for him: the landscape along the Elbe River, Invalidovna, St. Vitus Cathedral, his studio, Prague’s complex streets and open squares, the majestic Prague Castle, the city’s surrounds, and Frenštát pod Radhoštĕm where he spent summers with friends. Hukvaldy, home of Leoš Janaček, the composer whose music he loved, was a particularly favoured haunt. This was true also of the ancient Mionší Forest where he navigated his way through dense brush and forests by way of shortcuts that he created and playfully named. The Beskid Mountains also served as spiritual retreat. Although he was an urbanite in many respects, Sudek’s love of nature and sense of despair for its desecration is strongly expressed in Sad Landscapes, his series of images made in the Most region where industrialisation ravaged the countryside in the 1950s.

 

The life of objects

Sudek collected everything. Today he would be known as a hoarder. But his obsession served him well, for out of the chaos of his small studio and living spaces he carefully selected a variety of these objects to photograph. From delicate feathers to crumpled paper and tinfoil, multi-faceted drinking glasses, flowers, fruit, seashells, envelopes, flasks, frames, prisms, candelabras, string and shoe moulds, the subjects ranged from the mundane to the exotic. Once chosen, the set-up was lovingly composed – often in subtly changed configurations with other objects – and carefully lit before being memorialised in either pigment or gelatin silver prints.

 

Josef Sudek. 'Le Jardin Royal' c. 1940–1946

 

Josef Sudek (Czech, 1896-1976)
Le Jardin Royal [The Royal Garden]
c. 1940-1946
Procédé pigmentaire au papier charbon [Carbon pigment on paper]
16.1 × 11.7cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Prague pendant la nuit [Prague at night]' 1950

 

Josef Sudek (Czech, 1896-1976)
Prague pendant la nuit [Prague at night]
1950
Gelatin silver print
22.8 × 29cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Prague pendant la nuit' c. 1950-1959

 

Josef Sudek (Czech, 1896-1976)
Prague pendant la nuit [Prague at night]
c. 1950-1959
Gelatin silver print
12 × 16.7cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Prague pendant la nuit' c. 1950-1959

 

Josef Sudek (Czech, 1896-1976)
Prague pendant la nuit [Prague at night]
c. 1950-1959
Gelatin silver print
12.2 × 17.3cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Le Jardin de Rothmayer' 1954-1959

 

Josef Sudek (Czech, 1896-1976)
Le Jardin de Rothmayer [The Rothmayer Garden]
1954-1959
Gelatin silver print
16.9 × 22.9cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

 

Entitled “The Intimate World of Josef Sudek”, this exhibition is the first of this scale to revisit the life and work of Josef Sudek (Kolín, 1896 – Prague, 1976) within its socio-geographical and historical context: Prague during the first half of the twentieth century, at a time when the Czech capital was a veritable hub of artistic activity. The exhibition features a selection of 130 works spanning the totality of Sudek’s career, from 1920 to 1976, and allows the public to examine the extent to which his photography was a reflection of his personal relationship to the surrounding world. On display are works that are the result of Sudek’s photographic experiments carried out within the privacy of his own studio, images of the garden seen from his window, and photographs of adventures further afield. The artist enjoyed meandering through the streets of Prague and its surrounding suburbs, and made frequent excursions to the nearby countryside. Sudek’s enduring fascination with light, and its absence, is at the root of some of the most haunting photographs of the twentieth century. Nature, architecture, streets and objects are magnified by his sensitivity and mastery of the effects of light, contrasting with the impenetrable cloak of darkness.

As a photographer, Sudek was particularly concerned with the quality of the photographic print, an essential component in terms of the expressive potential of an image. His mastery of the pigment printing process enabled him to produce highly atmospheric and evocative images, thereby reaping all of the reflective and descriptive power of the gelatin silver print.

The exhibition presents work from Sudek’s early career, but also features photographs from a pivotal period of experimentation and innovation, beginning in the 1940s. Focusing on the technical and formal aspects of the medium of photography, Sudek created pigment prints, halftone prints, puridlos (photographs between two windows) and veteše (photographs inserted into old frames), techniques which allowed him to transform the objectal quality of photography. The loss of his right arm during the First World War and the difficulties he now encountered in transporting his view camera did not dampen his passion for photography.

Sudek’s studio window became an object of abiding fascination – rather like the surface of a canvas – reflecting moments of exquisite tenderness and hope when a flowering branch brushed against its pane, or of poignant melancholy when he observed the world beyond his window transformed by the playful infinity of mist. His room with a view allowed him to capture, on film, his love of Prague. His photographs demonstrate both a precision and a depth of feeling, fitting odes to the rich history and architectural complexity of the Czech capital.

Like many artists of his generation marked by their experience of war, Sudek expresses a particularly acute awareness of the dark and tormented aspects of human existence – feelings that would inspire some of his most melancholy and most moving pictures. A photograph taken at night, through the glass pane of his window, shows a city plunged into darkness during the Occupation of the Second World War, and communicates a sentiment of unspeakable despair – a dramatic illustration of Sudek’s technical ability to transcend the literal.

Through images that recount the narrative of his life, the viewer gains access to Sudek’s inner world, and an insight into his immediate environment, the views and objects he loved, his studio and garden. His endless walks in Prague found expression in the views of the city and its surroundings, as well as in photographs of its more sordid “suburbs”, a subject explored by other Prague artists. The eastern and northern areas of Bohemia, the Beskid Mountains and the Mionší forest were other destinations close to the photographer’s heart.

Text from Jeu de Paume

 

New ways of seeing

Although more influenced by prevailing photographic conventions in the beginning, Sudek came to show an openness to experimenting with new ways of composing and printing his images. In the late 1920s, Sudek photographed objects designed by modernist Ladislav Sutnar, thus creating angled views of furniture with reflective surfaces and ceramics of pure form.

Sudek’s most successful foray into modernism is his experimentation with grotesque (surreal) subjects such as mannequins, decaying sculptures and the accoutrements of the architect Otto Rothmayer’s garden. There is little doubt that in the fragmented figurative sculptures Sudek was recalling some of the human devastation that he witnessed on the battlefields of the First World War.

 

Josef Sudek. 'Statue' c. 1948-1964

 

Josef Sudek (Czech, 1896-1976)
Statue
c. 1948-1964
Gelatin silver print
9 × 14cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Dans le jardin' 1954-1959

 

Josef Sudek (Czech, 1896-1976)
Dans le jardin [In the garden]
1954-1959
Gelatin silver print
17 × 23.3cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Labyrinthe sur ma table' 1967

 

Josef Sudek (Czech, 1896-1976)
Labyrinthe sur ma table [Labyrinth on my table]
1967
Épreuve gélatino-argentique
39 × 22.9cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Labyrinthe de verre' c. 1968-1972

 

Josef Sudek (Czech, 1896-1976)
Labyrinthe de verre [Glass Maze]
vers 1968-1972
Gelatin silver print
39 × 22.9cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Sans titre (Nature morte sur le rebord de la fenêtre)' 1951

 

Josef Sudek (Czech, 1896-1976)
Sans titre (Nature morte sur le rebord de la fenêtre) [Untitled (Still life on the windowsill)]
1951
Montage par le photographe c. 1960.
Two silver gelatin prints, glass plate, lead
48.2 × 39.2cm
Musée des arts décoratifs, Prague.
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

 

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04
Dec
15

Exhibition: ‘Francesca Woodman. On Being an Angel’ at Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Exhibition dates: 5th September 2015 – 6th December 2015

Curator: Anna Tellgren

 

 

Francesca Woodman. 'On Being an Angel', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
On Being an Angel, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

 

Francesca Woodman (1958-1981) achieved more in five years of artistic creativity than many artists achieve in a lifetime.

As a viewer you can read whatever you want into her photographs: feminism, surrealism, psychoanalytical theory, avant-garde, sexuality, gender, identity, sadness, happiness, joy. One of Francesca Woodman’s teachers was Aaron Siskind but you can also feel echoes of Diane Arbus, the conceptual, narrative mystery of Duane Michals, the postmodern generation of Cindy Sherman (1977 onwards) and, someone who nobody mentions as an influence, the darkness of Ralph Eugene Meatyard (family members enacting symbolic dramas in masks, often set in abandoned places). Woodman also places masks on or off of her face. Further, “There are similarities in style to surrealistic photography, such as Woodman’s frequent use of mirrors, doubles, shadows, gloves, hands, swans, fish, eels, masks, and sexual symbols. Photographers such as Hans Bellmer, Claude Cahun, and Man Ray spring to mind.”1

Here, I see the influence of Carl Jung in her work, specifically in Jungian psychology, the shadow or “shadow aspect” of the self (traces and silhouettes) which may refer to an unconscious aspect of the personality which the conscious ego does not identify in itself. This shadow aspect may be positive or negative. “Everyone carries a shadow,” Jung wrote, “and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”2 This shadow aspect can be see in the photograph Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976 (below).

Another element embedded in the work is that of the Mirror stage, which is a concept in the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan. “The mirror stage is based on the belief that infants recognise themselves in a mirror (literal) or other symbolic contraption which induces apperception (the turning of oneself into an object that can be viewed by the child from outside themselves) from the age of about 15 to 18 months… Lacan believed that the mirror stage represented a permanent structure of subjectivity, or as the paradigm of “Imaginary order”.”3 The basis of the Imaginary order is the formation of the ego in the “mirror stage”. “Since the ego is formed by identifying with the counterpart or specular image, “identification” is an important aspect of the imaginary. The relationship whereby the ego is constituted by identification is a locus of “alienation”, which is another feature of the imaginary, and is fundamentally narcissistic.”4 This imaginary order can be seen in photographs such as Self-deceit #1, Rome, Italy, 1978 (below), where the image and even the title alludes to a form of self-alienation.

Riffing on the “highly influential writings of French philosophers and cultural critics such as Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, and Julia Kristeva that were just beginning to be made available in translation. Among these thinkers’ central ideas was that identity was not organic and innate, but manufactured and learned through highly refined social constructions of gender, race, sexuality, and citizenship”5, Woodman’s work can also be seen to embody and ennoble these subjective and surrealist constructions (of self).

The artist is a CHIMERICAL CREATURE. Woodman’s transformations, her interior elements, become part of the wall or the house. She vanishes “from the room, out of the picture, at an given second.” A preoccupation with the body / her own body, and the dichotomy of subject-object, also adds multiple meanings and complexity to Woodman’s work. Her many angel images (and also images of umbrellas – Mary Poppins was released in 1964 when Woodman was growing up) suggest movement and the ability to fly, a fascination that found its ultimate expression when she jumped off a building in lower Manhattan at the age of 22.

We can read of all these things into the image/inary of Francesca Woodman if we want to. But they are not necessary to admire or appreciate her work. All we have to do is look at the photographs themselves; just return to the work. Here was a young artist, a young human being, expressing themselves through photography. She was just going for it and, as Corey Keller (a curator of photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) has noted, her youth was the source of her potency.

“Art students are drawn to the conviction she brought to her work and, in contrast to the cool slickness of the digital, it embraces tactility and decay in a very sensual and seductive way.” Keller sees Woodman’s youth not as a liability, but as the source of her potency, though she admits the issue of her self-portraits continues to be fraught. “They are certainly an expression of selfhood. She’s not interested in images of women in general, for example, and even when the subject of the photograph is not herself physically, one always has the sense it is about her psychically.””6

While she may not have fully understood the layered nuances of French philosophy and Jungian psychology she INTUITIVELY knew what she was doing and what she wanted to achieve and capture in her work. There are lots of other photographers around the world that work in this same idiom, at art school and as mature artists, but none have that special something that Woodman has, something that one cannot quite put your finger on.

It is … a gap we can see across but cannot map.

Woodman is one of the greats. In her few short years as an artist, she achieved immortality through her images.
Her narrative – one of youth and vitality, of self exploration and transformation – is no myth. For she is legend.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

  1. Tellgren, Anna. Francesca Woodman: On Being an Angel (50kb pdf). 2015, pp. 13-14
  2. Shadow (psychology) on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 04/12/2015
  3. Mirror stage on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 04/12/2015
  4. The Imaginary (psychoanalysis) on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 04/12/2015
  5. Eklund, Douglas. “The Pictures Generation,” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History on The Metropolitan Museum of Art website [Online] Cited 04/12/2015
  6. Corey Keller quoted in Cooke, Rachel. “Searching for the real Francesca Woodman,” on The Guardian website, Sunday 31 August 2014 [Online] Cited 04/12/2015

.
Many thankx to the Moderna Museet, Stockholm for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

The American photographer Francesca Woodman (1958-1981) created a body of fascinating photographic works in a few intense years before her premature death. Her oeuvre has been the object of numerous in-depth studies and major exhibitions in recent years, and her photographs have inspired artists all over the world. Francesca Woodman began photographing in her teens and studied at the Rhode Island School of Design from 1975 to 1978. Her output is usually divided into periods, from her early works, her years as a student in Providence, Italy (1977-1978), the Mac Dowell Colony, and, lastly, New York from 1979 until she died. The collection she left behind consists of a few hundred gelatin silver prints, but she also tried other techniques, such as large-format diazotypes, colour photography and video.

Woodman’s photographs explore gender, representation, sexuality and body. Her production includes several self-portraits, using herself and her friends as models. The figures are often placed behind furniture and other interior elements; occasionally, the images are blurred in such a way that their identity is hidden from the viewer. The intimate nature of the subject matter is enhanced by the small formats. Woodman worked in unusual settings such as derelict buildings, using mirrors and glass to evoke surrealist and occasionally claustrophobic moods.

Moderna Museet will present some hundred photographs by Francesca Woodman, with a selection from the series and themes she explored. The exhibition is produced by Moderna Museet in association with Betty and George Woodman and the Estate of Francesca Woodman. Alongside this exhibition, Moderna Museet will present a compilation of photography from the same period from its collection, to show Francesca Woodman in context and expand the perspective on her oeuvre to the public.

 

 

Francesca Woodman. 'On Being an Angel #1', Providence, Rhode Island, 1977

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
On Being an Angel #1, Providence, Rhode Island, 1977
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. From 'Angel' series, Rome, Italy, 1977

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
From Angel series, Rome, Italy, 1977
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. From 'Angel' series, Rome, Italy, 1977-1978

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
From Angel series, Rome, Italy, 1977-1978
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Charlie the Model # 5', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976-77

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
Charlie the Model #5, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976-77
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman From 'Eel' series, Venice, Italy, 1978

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
From Eel series, Venice, Italy, 1978
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'House #4', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
House #4, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. From the 'three kinds of melon in four kinds of light' series, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
From the three kinds of melon in four kinds of light series, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

 

The American photographer Francesca Woodman (1958-1981) created a body of fascinating photographic works in a few intense years before her premature death. Her oeuvre has been shown in number of major exhibitions in recent years, and her photographs have inspired artists all over the world.

Woodman’s photographs explore gender, representation, sexuality and body. The intimate nature of the subject matter is enhanced by the small formats. Her production includes several portraits, using herself and her friends as models. The figures are often placed behind furniture and other interior elements; occasionally, the images are blurred and the models hidden from the viewer. Woodman worked in settings such as derelict buildings, using mirrors and glass, evoking surrealist and at times even claustrophobic moods.

Francesca Woodman began photographing in her teens and studied at the Rhode Island School of Design from 1975 to 1978. Her output is usually divided into periods: the early works, her years as a student in Providence, Italy (1977-78), the Mac Dowell Colony, and, lastly, New York from 1979 until she died. The collection she left behind consists of several hundred gelatin silver prints, but she also tried other techniques, such as large-format diazotypes and video.

Francesca Woodman. On being an angel presents 102 photographs and one video, representing most of the artist’s series and themes. The exhibition is produced by Moderna Museet in association with the Estate of Francesca Woodman. Alongside this exhibition, Moderna Museet presents a compilation of photography from the same period from its collection, to show Francesca Woodman in context and expand the perspective on her oeuvre to the public.

 

Biography

Francesca Woodman was born into a family of artists in Denver, Colorado, on April 3, 1958. Her mother, Betty, was a sculptor, her father, George, a painter and photographer, and her brother, Charlie, was a video artist.

 

Italy

The family often traveled to Italy and lived in Florence for a year between 1965 and 1966. Then they returned home to Boulder, Colorado, and Francesca continued her schooling. In 1968 her parents bought a farmhouse outside of Florence in Antella, and there they would spend their summers. Italy and its language, culture, and art history were frequent sources of inspiration for Francesca Woodman.

 

Providence

Woodman started taking pictures as a teenager and had attended a few art courses before she moved to Providence to study at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in 1975. The college is among the oldest art schools in the United States, and the well-known photographer Aaron Siskind was one of her teachers. While at college, she lived in her studio in an industrial area where many of her pictures from that time were created. Between 1977 and 1978 Francesca Woodman spent a year in Rome as part of the school’s honours program. In the fall of 1978, she earned her BFA and exhibited the series Swan Song (1978) at the graduate show in RISD’s Woods-Gerry Gallery.

 

New York

Months later, in January 1979, Woodman moved to New York, where she lived at various addresses while looking for work. She spent the summer together with her boyfriend, Benjamin Moore, in Stanwood, Washington. Over the course of the next year, she exhibited her work at a number of smaller galleries and experimented with new techniques such as large format diazotypes, and colour images. She was a fellow at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, in the summer of 1980. There, she worked on a series of images exploring the relationship between nature and her body, among other projects. In early 1981, her artist’s book Some Disordered Interior Geometries was published by Synapse Press in Philadelphia. This was one of seven notebooks (including photographs that were glued in) that she worked with from 1976 onwards. Francesca Woodman took her own life on January 19, 1981.

 

Previous exhibitions

The first major retrospective of Francesca Woodman’s work was produced in 1986 by Ann Gabhart in collaboration with Rosalind Krauss for the Wellesley College Museum. It then toured a number of museums at American universities. Her first European exhibition was held in 1992 by Shedhalle in Zurich and the Westfälischer Kunstverein in Münster and was shown in the spring of 1993 at The Finnish Museum of Photography, in the Cable Factory in Helsinki. On its way there, it stopped for two months at Kulturhuset in Stockholm. The critic Lars O Ericsson wrote in Dagens Nyheter that the exhibition may have been the most important one to see in the capital at the time. To date, at least fifty separate exhibitions of Woodman’s photography have been held in Europe and the United States.

 

Photography from the Moderna Museet Collection

In connection to the exhibition with Francesca Woodman, Moderna Museet presents a selection of photographs from the same period from its collection, to show her in context. In Francesca Woodman’s active years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, photography was in a period of transition. Many photographers who had worked with classic black and white photography were experimenting with other forms and were pushing the documentary tradition towards more subjective and surrealist projects.

The United States paved the way in this development, and when many started working more professionally with photography, it was institutionalized. This shift in the field eventually spread to Europe. Major photographic exhibitions were held at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, featuring artists such as Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, and Lee Friedlander, all of whom were influential to many younger photographers.

One of Francesca Woodman’s teachers was Aaron Siskind. His photography is often compared to that of Harry Callahan, since both were active for many years as teachers at the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, and later at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. Another figure in American post-war photography is Minor White, who also had influence as a teacher. White wrote about and taught methods for understanding and interpreting photographs. New Topographics. Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape (1975) was a significant exhibition. It was held at the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House in Rochester and one of the featured artists was Lewis Baltz. Other notable photographers in the new American wave were personalities as diverse as Robert Mapplethorpe, Melissa Shook, and Jerry Uelsmann.

But it was also then, from 1977 forward, that Cindy Sherman started working on her break-out series Untitled Film Stills. Sherman is an artist of the postmodern generation, and it is not known if Woodman had been aware of the so-called Pictures Generation. Duane Michals stood for a more conceptual approach. He was one of the photographers who we know interested Woodman.

 

Diazotype

In the spring of 1980 Francesca Woodman started working on Blueprint for a Temple, where she was recreating the facade of a Greek temple using models draped in tunics similar to caryatids. The series began with a collection of details from bathrooms in New York, reminiscent of classical motifs. From having worked on a smaller scale, she had now moved on to truly large formats, some several meters in size.

These pictures are often categorised as blueprints, referring to a method of reproduction most frequently used for architectural plans. This is a contact print process on photosensitive paper; white lines on a blue background distinguish the finished product. (Other types of paper produced different background colours.)

The technique Woodman used was diazotype: a dry photographic process on paper coated with diazonium compounds, which are sensitive to blue and UV light and developed by ammonia vapour. Woodman experimented with this technique. She created the largest of these images by hanging a long sheet of photosensitive diazo paper on the wall of a darkroom. A photographic slide was projected onto the paper from a slide projector, often for hours. The paper was then developed in a diazo processor at a company that made commercial reproductions of architectural plans. The result was a set of magnificent works in blue, purple, and sepia tones.

Text from the Moderna Museet, Stockholm website

 

Francesca Woodman. 'About Being My Model', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
About Being My Model, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Spring in Providence # 2', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
Spring in Providence #2, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Self-deceit #1', Rome, Italy, 1978

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
Self-deceit #1, Rome, Italy, 1978
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', Providence, Rhode Island, 1975-78

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island, 1975-78
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', Rome, Italy, 1977-78

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
Untitled, Rome, Italy, 1977-78
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', New York, 1979-80

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
Untitled, New York, 1979-80
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', New York, 1979-80

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
Untitled, New York, 1979-80
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

 

Moderna Museet’s first exhibition this autumn features the American photographer Francesca Woodman, whose oeuvre has been the subject of numerous in-depth studies and major exhibitions in recent years. Her photography has inspired generations of artists and photographers around the world. Woodman has been called a prodigy, and those who met her testify to her as a young woman who was always working and looking for themes and material for her photographs. Examining Francesca Woodman’s aesthetic oeuvre is a challenge and an adventure.

Francesca Woodman’s (1958-1981) photographs explore gender, representation and body. Her aesthetic world reveals surrealist influences, with frequent use of mirrors, doubles, shadows, masks, and sexual symbols, bringing to mind the works of photographers such as Hans Bellmer, Claude Cahun and Man Ray. Woodman’s output includes several portraits using herself and her friends as models. The intimate nature of the subject matter is enhanced by the small formats. Transformation emerges as a theme in many of Woodman’s images, for example in one of her strongest and eeriest series, House from 1976, in which she gradually merges with the walls, the torn wallpaper and the open fireplace.

“Francesca Woodman created a body of fascinating photographic works in a few intense years before her premature death. Her images reference history and the history of photography, but they also reflect their time, while unlocking new interpretations. She is deeply personal, and so her themes become universal. All of this is what On Being an Angel is about,” says curator Anna Tellgren.

Francesca Woodman began photographing in her teens and studied at the Rhode Island School of Design from 1975 to 1978. Her output is usually divided into periods, from her early works, her years as a student in Providence, in Italy (1977-78), at the MacDowell Colony, and, lastly, in New York from 1979 until she died. Analyses of her work are often linked to her biography and chronology. During her active years, Woodman produced thousands of images and she also tried other techniques such as large-format diazotypes, colour photography and video. Some eight hundred photographs have been preserved. The words, short sentences, or quotations she scrawled on many of her prints have since given those pieces their titles.

The exhibition Francesca Woodman. On Being an Angel is comprised of 102 photographs and one video by Francesca Woodman, and selections from most of her thematic groups and series are represented, including Polka Dots (1976), the From Angel series (1977), Swan Song (1978), Charlie the Model (1976-77) and her large Caryatid (Study for a Temple Project) (1980). In Woodman’s active years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, photography was in a period of transition. Many photographers who had worked with classic black and white photography were experimenting with other forms, pushing the documentary tradition towards more subjective and surrealist projects. Alongside the exhibition, Moderna Museet will present a selection of photography from the same period from its collection, to show Francesca Woodman in context.

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Space2', Providence, Rhode Island, 1975-1976

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
Space2, Providence, Rhode Island, 1975- 1976
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'From Space2', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
From Space2, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', Providence, Rhode Island, 1975-78

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island, 1975-1976
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', New York, 1979-80

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
Untitled, New York, 1979-80
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', New York, 1979

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
Untitled, New York, 1979
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', New York, 1979

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
Untitled, New York, 1979
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. '(Study for Temple Project)', New York, 1980

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
(Study for Temple Project), New York, 1980
© George and Betty Woodman

 

 

Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Moderna Museet is ten minutes away from Kungsträdgården, and twenty minutes from T-Centralen or Gamla Stan. Walk past Grand Hotel and Nationalmuseum on Blasieholmen, opposite the Royal Palace. After crossing the bridge to Skeppsholmen, continue up the hill. The entrance to Moderna Museet and Arkitekturmuseet is on the left-hand side.

Opening hours:
Tuesday 10-20
Wednesday-Sunday 10-18
Monday closed

Moderna Museet website

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12
Jul
15

Exhibition: ‘Lee Miller’ at the Albertina, Vienna

Exhibition dates: 8th May – 16th August 2015

Curator: Walter Moser

 

 

Lee Miller. 'Floating Head (Mary Taylor), New York Studio, New York, USA' 1933

 

Lee Miller (American, 1907-1977)
Floating Head (Mary Taylor), New York Studio, New York, USA
1933
© Lee Miller Archives England 2015. All Rights Reserved

 

 

Leave artist’s alone

It takes some time to form an opinion as to the merit of Lee Miller’s work, given the amount of photographs available online, including the ones available on the Lee Miller Archives website. It is also difficult to separate the muse / socialite from the artist, the icon from the person.

Certainly there are unforgettable photographs, such as the haunting SS Guard in Canal, Dachau, Germany (1945, below). Once seen, never forgotten. But then there are the usual fashion photographs for Vogue that are no different from anyone else, a lot of pretty average social documentary photographs, some excellent and not so excellent portraits of friends and artists, and some surreal offerings that sometimes hit the mark.

Only so often do her photographs raise themselves above the mundane. This is not the fault of Lee Miller, but the fault of people claiming that someone is more than they are. The fault of people in control of her image. And that all comes down to money and power.

Instead of limiting access to her photographs, if her work was just left to breathe – just letting Lee Miller be nothing, in a Zen sense – just let the work be what it is, then she and the work might attain more credibility than it has at the moment. If Lee Miller was not set up as this icon, if she just is, then the work would be all the better for it. Icon and artist need to be separated. Let’s see more of the work freely available, for only then can we truly understand, believe.

At the moment I have the feeling that this is a rather mediocre photographer being made out to be more than she was.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

Lee Miller (1907-1977) is considered one of the most fascinating artists of the 20th century. In only 16 years, she produced a body of photographic work of a range that remains unparalleled, and that unites the most divergent genres. Miller’s oeuvre extends from surrealistic images to photography in the fields of fashion, travelling, portraiture and even war correspondence; the Albertina presents a survey of the work in its breadth and depth, with the aid of 100 selected pieces.

Lee Miller began her artistic career as a surrealist photographer in the Paris of 1929. She alienated motifs by using narrow image frames and applying experimental techniques like solarisation, so that it would be possible to see paradox reality. Travel photography, in which she translated the landscape into modernistic and ambiguous shapes, originated in Egypt in 1934.

As one of just a handful of female photojournalists, she began to photograph the disastrous consequences of the Second World War back in 1940. Lee Miller photographed the attack on London by the German Luftwaffe (“the Blitz”), as well as the eventual liberation of Paris. Her reporting led her to Vienna via Salzburg in 1945 where she photographed a cityscape destroyed by war, as well as the hardships in the children’s hospitals. In this exhibit, the focus is specifically placed on the vast bulk of this unpublished group of works.

 

 

Lee Miller | Surrealist Photography from Albertina Vienna.

 

 

Lee Miller | War Photography from Albertina Vienna.

 

Man Ray. 'Portrait of Lee Miller, Paris, France' 1929

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Portrait of Lee Miller, Paris, France
1929
© MAN RAY TRUST / ADAGP, Paris / Bildrecht Wien 2015
Courtesy Lee Miller Archives, England 2015. All rights reserved

 

Lee Miller. 'Untitled (Exploding Hand), Paris, France' c. 1930

 

Lee Miller (American, 1907-1977)
Untitled (Exploding Hand), Paris, France
c. 1930
© Lee Miller Archives England 2015. All Rights Reserved

 

Lee Miller. 'Self Portrait, New York Studio, New York, USA' 1932

 

Lee Miller (American, 1907-1977)
Self Portrait, New York Studio, New York, USA
1932
© Lee Miller Archives England 2015. All Rights Reserved

 

Lee Miller. 'Paris' 1944

 

Lee Miller (American, 1907-1977)
Paris
1944
Silver gelatin print
© Lee Miller Archives England 2015. All Rights Reserved

 

Lee Miller. 'Picnic, Ile Sainte Marguerite, France' 1937

 

Lee Miller (American, 1907-1977)
Picnic, Ile Sainte Marguerite, France [Man Ray second from right]
1937
© Lee Miller Archives England 2015. All Rights Reserved

 

Lee Miller. 'Nude bent forward' 1930

 

Lee Miller (American, 1907-1977)
Nude bent forward
1930
© Lee Miller Archives England 2015. All Rights Reserved

 

 

Lee Miller exhibition text

 

Lee Miller exhibition text

 

Lee Miller exhibition text

 

Lee Miller exhibition text

 

Lee Miller exhibition texts

 

Lee Miller. 'Fire Masks, London, England' 1941

 

Lee Miller (American, 1907-1977)
Fire Masks, London, England
1941
© Lee Miller Archives England 2015. All Rights Reserved

 

Lee Miller. 'Irmgard Seefried, Opera Singer, Singing an Aria from Madame Butterfly, Vienna Opera House, Vienna, Austria' 1945

 

Lee Miller (American, 1907-1977)
Irmgard Seefried, Opera Singer, Singing an Aria from Madame Butterfly, Vienna Opera House, Vienna, Austria
1945
© Lee Miller Archives England 2015. All Rights Reserved

 

 

Irmgard Seefried (German, 1919-1988)

Irmgard Seefried (9 October 1919 – 24 November 1988) was a distinguished German soprano who sang opera, sacred music, and lieder.

One of the outstanding singers to emerge immediately after the Second World War, she was noted for her Mozart and Richard Strauss roles. But she also sang in other composers’ operas; the title role in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, Marie in Alban Berg’s Wozzeck, Eva in Meistersinger, Blanche in Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites, and the title role in Janáček’s Káťa Kabanová. She was also a noted lieder singer, and a number of her Salzburg Festival recitals were recorded. She left many recordings of oratorio and sacred music by Bach, Mozart, Haydn (including at least four different renditions of the Archangel Gabriel in Die Schöpfung), Brahms, Fauré, Beethoven, Dvořák, Verdi and Stravinsky.

Although she was a high soprano, she performed, and recorded, both the trouser roles of the Composer and Octavian in Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos and Der Rosenkavalier, respectively. These roles are usually associated with weightier voices, and today are usually sung by mezzo-sopranos.

She often sang with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, who said in interview that Seefried was naturally able to achieve results effortlessly which other singers, including Schwarzkopf herself, had to work hard to produce.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Lee Miller with David E. Scherman. 'Lee Miller in Hitler's Bathtub, Munich, Germany' 1945

 

Lee Miller (American, 1907-1977) with David E. Scherman (American, 1916-1997)
Lee Miller in Hitler’s Bathtub, Munich, Germany
1945
© Lee Miller Archives England 2015. All Rights Reserved

 

Lee Miller. 'Luxembourg' 1944

 

Lee Miller (American, 1907-1977)
Luxembourg
1944
© Lee Miller Archives England 2015. All Rights Reserved

 

Lee Miller. 'SS Guard in Canal, Dachau, Germany' 1945

 

Lee Miller (American, 1907-1977)
SS Guard in Canal, Dachau, Germany
1945
© Lee Miller Archives England 2015. All Rights Reserved

 

Lee Miller. 'Scharnhorst Boy, Vienna, Austria' 1945

 

Lee Miller (American, 1907-1977)
Scharnhorst Boy, Vienna, Austria
1945
© Lee Miller Archives England 2015. All Rights Reserved

 

Lee Miller. 'The latest hat model, Vogue Studios, London, April 1942' 1942

 

Lee Miller (American, 1907-1977)
The latest hat model, Vogue Studios, London, April 1942
1942
© Lee Miller Archives England 2015. All Rights Reserved

 

Man Ray. 'Solarised Portrait of Lee Miller' c. 1929

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Solarised Portrait of Lee Miller
c. 1929
© MAN RAY TRUST / ADAGP, Paris / Bildrecht Wien 2015

 

Lee Miller. 'Solarized Portrait of an unknown model' 1930

 

Lee Miller (American, 1907-1977)
Solarized Portrait of an unknown model
1930
© Lee Miller Archives England 2015. All Rights Reserved

 

Man Ray and Lee Miller. 'Neck (Portrait of Lee Miller), Paris, France' c. 1930

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) and Lee Miller (American, 1907-1977)
Neck (Portrait of Lee Miller), Paris, France
c. 1930
© Lee Miller Archives England 2015. All Rights Reserved
© MAN RAY TRUST / ADAGP, Paris / Bildrecht Wien 2015

 

Albertina
Albertinaplatz 1
1010 Vienna, Austria
Phone: +43 (0)1 534 83-0

Opening hours:
Daily 10 am – 6 pm

Albertina website

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19
Apr
15

Selection of images part 2

April 2015

 

Edward Weston (1886-1958) 'Shipyard detail, Wilmington' 1935

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Shipyard detail, Wilmington
1935
Silver gelatin print

 

 

Another selection of interesting images.

My favourites: the weight of Weston’s Shipyard detail, Wilmington (1935); and the romanticism (Jean-François Millet-esque), sublime beauty of Boubat’s Lella, Bretagne, France (1947).

Marcus

 

 

Cecil Stoughton (1920-2008) 'Pres. John F. Kennedy's Lincoln Continental' 1963

 

Cecil Stoughton (American, 1920-2008)
Pres. John F. Kennedy’s Lincoln Continental
1963
Silver gelatin print

 

Cecil Stoughton (1920-2008) 'Pres. John F. Kennedy's Lincoln Continental' 1963

 

Cecil Stoughton (American, 1920-2008)
Pres. John F. Kennedy’s Lincoln Continental
1963
Silver gelatin print

 

Cecil Stoughton (1920-2008) 'Pres. John F. Kennedy's Lincoln Continental' 1963

 

Cecil Stoughton (American, 1920-2008)
Pres. John F. Kennedy’s Lincoln Continental
1963
Silver gelatin print

 

 

Cecil Stoughton (American, 1920-2008)

Cecil William Stoughton (January 18, 1920 – November 3, 2008) was an American photographer. Born in Oskaloosa, Iowa, Stoughton is best known for being President John F. Kennedy’s photographer during his White House years.

Stoughton took the only photograph ever published showing John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe together. Stoughton was present at the motorcade at which Kennedy was assassinated, and was subsequently the only photographer on board Air Force One when Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as the next President. Stoughton’s famous photograph of this event depicts Johnson raising his hand in oath as he stood between his wife Lady Bird Johnson and a still blood-spattered Jacqueline Kennedy.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Max Yavno (1911-1985) 'Garage Doors, San Francisco' 1947

 

Max Yavno (American, 1911-1985)
Garage Doors, San Francisco
1947
Silver gelatin print

 

 

Max Yavno (American, 1911-1985)

Max Yavno (1911-1985) was a photographer who specialised in street scenes, especially in Los Angeles and San Francisco, California.

He did photography for the Works Progress Administration from 1936 to 1942. He was president of the Photo League in 1938 and 1939. Yavno was in the U.S. Army Air Corps from 1942 to 1945, after which he moved to San Francisco and began specialising in urban-landscape photography. Photographer Edward Steichen selected twenty of Yavno’s prints for the permanent collection at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1950, and the next year Yavno won a Guggenheim fellowship.

History professor Constance B. Schulz said of him:

For financial reasons he worked as a commercial advertising photographer for the next twenty years (1954-75), creating finely crafted still lifes that appeared in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. He returned to artistic landscape photography in the 1970s, when his introspective approach found a more appreciative audience.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Paul Strand (1890-1976) 'Bombed Area, Gaeta, Italy' 1952

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Bombed Area, Gaeta, Italy
1952
Silver gelatin print

 

Ralph Steiner (1899-1986) 'American Rural Baroque' 1929

 

Ralph Steiner (American, 1899-1986)
American Rural Baroque
1929
Silver gelatin print

 

 

Ralph Steiner (American, 1899-1986)

Ralph Steiner (February 8, 1899 – July 13, 1986) was an American photographer, pioneer documentarian and a key figure among avant-garde filmmakers in the 1930s.

Born in Cleveland, Steiner studied chemistry at Dartmouth, but in 1921 entered the Clarence H. White School of Modern Photography. White helped Steiner in finding a job at the Manhattan Photogravure Company, and Steiner worked on making photogravure plates of scenes from Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North. Not long after, Steiner’s work as a freelance photographer in New York began, working mostly in advertising and for publications like Ladies’ Home Journal. Through the encouragement of fellow photographer Paul Strand, Steiner joined the left-of-centre Film and Photo League around 1927. He was also to influence the photography of Walker Evans, giving him guidance, technical assistance, and one of his view cameras.

In 1929, Steiner made his first film, H2O, a poetic evocation of water that captured the abstract patterns generated by waves. Although it was not the only film of its kind at the time – Joris Ivens made Regen (Rain) that same year, and Henwar Rodekiewicz worked on his similar film Portrait of a Young Man (1931) through this whole period – it made a significant impression in its day and since has become recognised as a classic: H2O was added to theNational Film Registry in December 2005. Among Steiner’s other early films, Surf and Seaweed (1931) expands on the concept of H2O as Steiner turns his camera to the shoreline; Mechanical Principles (1933) was an abstraction based on gears and machinery.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Wilson A. Bentley (1865-1931) 'Snowflake' c. 1920

 

Wilson A. Bentley (American, 1865-1931)
Snowflake
c. 1920
Gold-chloride toned microphotographs from glass plate negatives

 

Andre de Dienes (1913-1985) 'Erotic Nude' 1950s

 

Andre de Dienes (Hungarian, 1913-1985)
Erotic Nude
1950s
Silver gelatin print

 

 

Andre de Dienes (Hungarian, 1913-1985)

Andre de Dienes (born Andor György Ikafalvi-Dienes) (December 18, 1913 – April 11, 1985) was a Hungarian-American photographer, noted for his work with Marilyn Monroe and his nude photography.

Dienes was born in Transylvania, Austria-Hungary, on December 18, 1913, and left home at 15 after the suicide of his mother. Dienes travelled across Europe mostly on foot, until his arrival in Tunisia. In Tunisia he purchased his first camera, a 35mm Retina. Returning to Europe he arrived in Paris in 1933 to study art, and bought a Rolleiflex shortly after.

Dienes began work as a professional photographer for the Communist newspaper L’Humanité, and was employed by the Associated Press until 1936, when the Parisian couturier Captain Molyneux noted his work and urged him to become a fashion photographer. In 1938 the editor of Esquire, Arnold Gingrich offered him work in New York City, and helped fund Dienes’ passage to the United States. Once in the United States Dienes worked for Vogue and Life magazines as well as Esquire.

When not working as a fashion photographer Dienes travelled the USA photographing Native American culture, including the Apache, Hopi, and Navajo reservations and their inhabitants. Dissatisfied with his life as a fashion photographer in New York, Dienes moved to California in 1944, where he began to specialise in nudes and landscapes.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

George A. Tice (1938- ) 'Porch, Monhegan Island, Maine' 1971

 

George A. Tice (American, b. 1938)
Porch, Monhegan Island, Maine
1971
Selenium-toned silver print

 

 

George A. Tice (American, b. 1938)

George Tice (b. 1938) is an American photographer best known for his large-format black-and-white photographs of New Jersey, New York, and the Amish. Tice was born in Newark, New Jersey, and self-trained as a photographer. His work is included in major museum collections around the world and he has published many books of photographs, including Fields of Peace: A Pennsylvania German Album (1970), Paterson, New Jersey (1972), Seacoast Maine: People and Places (1973), Urban Landscapes: A New Jersey Portrait (1975), “Lincoln” (1984), Hometowns: An American Pilgrimage (1988), Urban Landscapes (2002), Paterson II (2006), Urban Romantic (1982), and George Tice: Selected Photographs 1953-1999 (2001).

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Auguste Salzmann (1824-1872) 'Jerusalem, Sainte Sepulchre, Colonne du Parvis' 1854

 

Auguste Salzmann (French, 1824-1872)
Jerusalem, Sainte Sepulchre, Colonne du Parvis
1854
Blanquart-Evrard salted paper print from a paper negative

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig). 'Billie Dauscha and Mabel Sidney, Bowery Entertainers' December 4, 1944

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, 1899-1968)
Billie Dauscha and Mabel Sidney, Bowery Entertainers
December 4, 1944
Silver gelatin print

 

Winston O. Link (1914-2001) 'Luray Crossing, Luray, Virginia' 1956

 

Winston O. Link (American, 1914-2001)
Luray Crossing, Luray, Virginia
1956
Silver gelatin print

 

Paul J. Woolf (1899-1985) 'Looking down on Grand Central Station' 1935

 

Paul J. Woolf (American, 1899-1985)
Looking down on Grand Central Station
1935
Silver gelatin print

 

 

Paul J. Woolf began his photographic career in London, taking pictures as a child. He attended the University of California, Berkeley and the Clarence White School of Photography. By 1942 he was established as a professional photographer who specialised in design and night-time photography. Woolf also maintained a practice as a clinical social worker while continuing his work as a photographer.

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) 'Alicante' 1933

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908-2004)
Alicante
1933
Silver gelatin print

 

Joel-Peter Witkin (1939- ) 'Leda' 1986

 

Joel-Peter Witkin (American, b. 1939)
Leda
1986
Silver gelatin print

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Father taking his son to the first day of cheder' 1937-1938

 

Roman Vishniac (Russian-American, 1897-1990)
Father taking his son to the first day of cheder
1937-1938
Silver gelatin print

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879) 'James Rogers' 1867

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, 1815-1879)
James Rogers
1867
Albumen print

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879) 'The Dream' 1869

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, 1815-1879)
The Dream
1869
Albumen print

 

Lewis W. Hine. 'An Albanian Woman from Italy at Ellis Island' 1905

 

Lewis W. Hine (American, 1874-1940)
An Albanian Woman from Italy at Ellis Island
1905
Silver gelatin print

 

Lewis W. Hine (1874-1940) 'Italian laborer, Ellis Island' 1905-12

 

Lewis W. Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Italian laborer, Ellis Island
1905-12
Silver gelatin print

 

Laure Albin-Guillot (1879-1962) 'Opale' c. 1930

 

Laure Albin-Guillot (French, 1879-1962)
Opale
c. 1930
Silver gelatin print

 

Cecil Beaton. 'Virginia Cherrill' 1930s

 

Cecil Beaton (British, 1904-1980)
Virginia Cherrill
1930s
Silver gelatin print

 

Édouard Boubat (1923-1999) 'Lella, Bretagne, France' 1947

 

Édouard Boubat (French, 1923-1999)
Lella, Bretagne, France
1947
Silver gelatin print

 

 

Édouard Boubat (French, 1923-1999)

Édouard Boubat (1923-1999) was a French photojournalist and art photographer.

Boubat was born in Montmartre, Paris. He studied typography and graphic arts at the École Estienne and worked for a printing company before becoming a photographer. In 1943 he was subjected to service du travail obligatoire, forced labour of French people in Nazi Germany, and witnessed the horrors of World War II. He took his first photograph after the war in 1946 and was awarded the Kodak Prize the following year. He travelled the world for the French magazine Réalités and later worked as a freelance photographer. French poet Jacques Prévert called him a “peace correspondent” as he was apolitical and photographed uplifting subjects.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

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12
Apr
15

Exhibition: ‘Modern Photographs from the Thomas Walther Collection, 1909-1949’ at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 13th December 2014 – 19th April 2015

Exhibition coincides with the culmination of the Thomas Walther Collection Project, a four-year research collaboration between MoMA’s curatorial and conservation staff

The Edward Steichen Photography Galleries, third floor

 

 

Unknown photographer. 'British 'Chute Jumpers' 1937

 

Unknown photographer
British ‘Chute Jumpers
1937
Gelatin silver print
5 15/16 x 6 15/16″ (15.1 x 17.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

OMG, OMG, OMG if we had tele-transportation to travel around the world, I would be at this exhibition in an instant. Please MoMA, fly me to New York so that I can do a proper review of the exhibition!

Not only are there photographs from well known artists that I have never seen before – for example, the brooding mass of Boat, San Francisco (1925) by Edward Weston with the name of the boat… wait for it… ‘DAYLIGHT’ – there are also outstanding photographs from artists that I have never heard of before.

There is so much to like in this monster posting, from the glorious choreography of British ‘Chute Jumpers (1937) to the muscular symmetry and abstraction of Rodchenko’s Dive (1934); from the absolutely stunning light and movement of Riefenstahl’s Nocturnal Start of Decathlon 1,500m Race (August 1936) to the ecstatic, ghost-like swimming in mud apparitions of Kate Steinitz’s Backstroke (1930) – an artist who I knew nothing about (Kate Steinitz was a German-American artist and art historian affiliated with the European Bauhaus and Dadaist movements in the early 20th century. She is best known for her collaborative work with the artist Kurt Schwitters, and, in later life, her scholarship on Leonardo da Vinci). Another artist to flee Germany in the mid-1930s to evade the persecution of the Nazis.

In fact, when you look through the checklist for this exhibition I look at the country of origin of the artist, and the date of their death. There are a lot of artists from Germany and France. Either they lived through the maelstrom of the Second World War and survived, escaped to America or England, or died during the war and their archive was lost (such as the artist Robert Petschow (German, 1888-1945). For some artists surviving the war was not enough either… trapped behind the Iron Curtain after repatriation, artists such as Edmund Kesting went unacknowledged in their lifetime. What a tough time it must have been. To have created this wonderful avant-garde art and then to have seen it dashed against the rocks of violence, prejudice and bigotry – firstly degenerate, then non-conforming to Communist ideals.

Out of the six sections of the exhibition (The Modern World, Purisms, Reinventing Photography, The Artist’s Life, Between Surrealism and Magic Realism, and Dynamics of the City) it would seem that the section ‘Reinventing Photography’ is the weakest – going from the checklist – with a lack of really memorable images for this section, hence only illustrated in this posting by one image. But this is a minor quibble. When you have images such as Anne W. Brigman’s A Study in Radiation (1924) or Edmund Kesting’s magnificent Glance to the Sun (Blick zur Sonne) (1928) who cares! I just want to see them all and soak up their atmosphere.

Marcus

PS. There is an excellent website titled Object: Photo to accompany the exhibition. It contains sections that map and compare photographs, connect and map artists’ lives along with many more images from the collection, conservation analysis and essays about the works. Well worth a look.

.
Many thankx to the MoMA for allowing me to publish the photographs and text in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All images © The Museum of Modern Art

Note: Images below correspond to their sections in the exhibition.

 

 

Gustav Klutsis. 'Postcard for the All Union Spartakiada Sporting Event' 1928

 

Gustav Klutsis (Latvian, 1895-1938)
Postcard for the All Union Spartakiada Sporting Event
1928
Offset lithograph
5 3/4 x 4 1/8″ (14.1 x 10.5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Gustav Klutsis. 'Postcard for the All Union Spartakiada Sporting Event' 1928

 

Gustav Klutsis (Latvian, 1895-1938)
Postcard for the All Union Spartakiada Sporting Event
1928
Offset lithograph
5 3/4 x 4 1/8″ (14.1 x 10.5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Gustav Klutsis. 'Postcard for the All Union Spartakiada Sporting Event' 1928

 

Gustav Klutsis (Latvian, 1895-1938)
Postcard for the All Union Spartakiada Sporting Event
1928
Offset lithograph
5 3/4 x 4 1/8″ (14.1 x 10.5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

Gustav Klutsis (Latvian, 1895-1938)

Latvian painter, sculptor, graphic artist, designer and teacher, active in Russia. He was an important exponent of Russian Constructivism. He studied in Riga and Petrograd (now St Petersburg), but in the 1917 October Revolution joined the Latvian Rifle Regiment to defend the Bolshevik government; his sketches of Lenin and his fellow soldiers show Cubist influence. In 1918 he designed posters and decorations for the May Day celebrations and he entered the Free Art Studios (Svomas) in Moscow, where he studied with Malevich and Antoine Pevsner. Dynamic City (1919; Athens, George Costakis priv. col., see Rudenstine, no. 339) illustrates his adoption of the Suprematist style. In 1920 Klucis exhibited with Pevsner and Naum Gabo on Tver’skoy Boulevard in Moscow; in the same year Klucis joined the Communist Party. In 1920-21 he started experimenting with materials, making constructions from wood and paper that combined the geometry of Suprematism with a more Constructivist concern with actual volumes in space. In 1922 Klucis applied these experiments to utilitarian ends when he designed a series of agitprop stands based on various combinations of loudspeakers, speakers’ platforms, display units, film projectors and screens. He taught a course on colour in the Woodwork and Metalwork Faculty of the Vkhutemas (Higher Artistic and Technical Workshops) from 1924 to 1930, and in 1925 helped to organize the Soviet section at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris. During the 1920s he became increasingly interested in photomontage, using it in such agitprop posters as ‘We will repay the coal debt to the country’ (1928; e.g. New York, MOMA). During the 1930s he worked on graphic and typographical design for periodicals and official publications. He was arrested and died during the purges in World War II.

From Grove Art Online
© 2009 Oxford University Press

 

Gustav Klutsis. 'Postcard for the All Union Spartakiada Sporting Event' 1928

 

Gustav Klutsis (Latvian, 1895-1938)
Postcard for the All Union Spartakiada Sporting Event
1928
Offset lithograph
5 3/4 x 4 1/8″ (14.1 x 10.5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

Modern Photographs from the Thomas Walther Collection, 1909-1949, on view from December 13, 2014, to April 19, 2015, explores photography between the First and Second World Wars, when creative possibilities were never richer or more varied, and when photographers approached figuration, abstraction, and architecture with unmatched imaginative fervour. This vital moment is dramatically captured in the photographs that constitute the Thomas Walther Collection, a remarkable group of works presented together for the first time through nearly 300 photographs. Made on the street and in the studio, intended for avant-garde exhibitions or the printed page, these objects provide unique insight into the radical intentions of their creators. Iconic works by such towering figures as Berenice Abbott, Karl Blossfeldt, Alvin Langdon Coburn, El Lissitzky, Lucia Moholy, László Moholy-Nagy, Aleksandr Rodchenko, and Paul Strand are featured alongside lesser-known treasures by more than 100 other practitioners. The exhibition is organised by Quentin Bajac, the Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz Chief Curator of Photography, and Sarah Hermanson Meister, Curator, Department of Photography, MoMA.

The exhibition coincides with Object: Photo. Modern Photographs: The Thomas Walther Collection 1909-1949, the result of a four-year collaborative project between the Museum’s departments of Photography and Conservation, with the participation of over two dozen leading international photography scholars and conservators, making it the most extensive effort to integrate conservation, curatorial, and scholarly research efforts on photography to date. That project is composed of multiple parts including a website that features a suite of digital-visualisation research tools that allow visitors to explore the collection, a hard-bound paper catalogue of the entire Thomas Walther collection, and an interdisciplinary symposium focusing on ways in which the digital age is changing our engagement with historic photographs.

Modern Photographs from the Thomas Walther Collection, 1909-1949, is organised thematically into six sections, suggesting networks between artists, regions, and objects, and highlighting the figures whose work Walther collected in depth, including André Kertész, Germaine Krull, Franz Roh, Willi Ruge, Maurice Tabard, Umbo, and Edward Weston. Enriched by key works in other mediums from MoMA’s collection, this exhibition presents the exhilarating story of a landmark chapter in photography’s history.”

Press release from the MoMA website

 

The Collection

In the 1920s and ’30s photography underwent a period of exploration, experimentation, technical innovation, and graphic discovery so dramatic that it generated repeated claims that the true age of discovery was not when photography was invented but when it came of age, in this era, as a dynamic, infinitely flexible, and easily transmissible medium. The Thomas Walther Collection concentrates on that second moment of growth. The Walther Collection’s 341 photographs by almost 150 artists, most of them European, together convey a period of collective innovation that is now celebrated as one of the major episodes of modern art.

 

The Project

Our research is based on the premise that photographs of this period were not born as disembodied images; they are physical things – discrete objects made by certain individuals at particular moments using specific techniques and materials. Shaped by its origin and creation, the photographic print harbours clues to its maker and making, to the causes it may have served, and to the treatment it has received, and these bits of information, gathered through close examination of the print, offer fresh perspectives on the history of the era. “Object: Photo” – the title of this study – reflects this approach.

In 2010, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation gave the Museum a grant to encourage deep scholarly study of the Walther Collection and to support publication of the results. Led by the Museum’s Departments of Photography and Conservation, the project elicited productive collaborations among scholars, curators, conservators, and scientists, who investigated all of the factors involved in the making, appearance, condition, and history of each of the 341 photographs in the collection. The broadening of narrow specialisations and the cross-fertilisation between fields heightened appreciation of the singularity of each object and of its position within the history of its moment. Creating new standards for the consideration of photographs as original objects and of photography as an art form of unusually rich historical dimensions, the project affords both experts and those less familiar with its history new avenues for the appreciation of the medium. The results of the project are presented in multiple parts: on the website, in a hard-bound paper catalogue of the entire Thomas Walther Collection (also titled Object: Photo), and through an interdisciplinary symposium focusing on the ways in which the digital age is changing our engagement with historic photographs.

 

Historical Context

The Walther Collection is particularly suited to such a study because its photographs are so various in technique, geography, genre, and materials as to make it a mine of diverse data. The revolutions in technology that made the photography of this period so flexible and responsive to the impulse of the operator threw open the field to all comers. The introduction of the handheld Leica
 in 1925 (a small camera using strips of 35mm motion-picture film), of enlargers to make positive prints from the Leica’s little negatives, and of easy-to-use photographic papers – each of these was respectively a watershed event. Immediately sensing the potential of these tools, artists began to explore the medium; without any specialised training, painters such as László Moholy-Nagy and Aleksandr Rodchenko could become photographers and teachers almost overnight. Excitedly and with an open sense of possibility, they freely experimented in the darkroom and in the studio, producing negative prints, collages and photomontages, photograms, solarisations, and combinations of these. Legions of serious amateurs also began to photograph, and manufacturers produced more types of cameras with different dimensions and capacities: besides the Leica, there was the Ermanox, which could function in low light, motion-picture cameras that could follow and stop action, and many varieties of medium- and larger-format cameras that could be adapted for easy transport. The industry responded to the expanding range of users and equipment with a bonanza of photographic papers in an assortment of textures, colours, and sizes. Multiple purposes also generated many kinds of prints: best for reproduction in books or newspapers were slick, ferrotyped glossies, unmounted and small enough to mail, while photographs for exhibition were generally larger and mounted to stiff boards. Made by practitioners ranging from amateurs to professional portraitists, journalists, illustrators, designers, critics, and artists of all stripes, the pictures in the Walther Collection are a true representation of the kaleidoscopic multiplicity of photography in this period of diversification.

Text from the MoMA website

 

Willi Ruge. 'Photo of Myself at the Moment of My Jump' (Selbstfoto im Moment des Abspringens) 1931

 

Willi Ruge (German, 1882-1961)
Photo of Myself at the Moment of My Jump (Selbstfoto im Moment des Abspringens)
1931
Gelatin silver print
5 9/16 × 8 1/16″ (14.2 × 20.4cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

Willi Ruge. 'With My Head Hanging Down before the Parachute Opened . . .' (Mit dem Kopf nach unten hängend, bei ungeöffnetem Fallschirm . . .) 1931

 

Willi Ruge (German, 1882-1961)
With My Head Hanging Down before the Parachute Opened . . .
(Mit dem Kopf nach unten hängend, bei ungeöffnetem Fallschirm . . .)
1931
Gelatin silver print
5 1/2 × 8″ (14 × 20.3cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

Willi Ruge. 'Seconds before Landing' (Sekunden vor der Landung) 1931

 

Willi Ruge (German, 1882-1961)
Seconds before Landing (Sekunden vor der Landung)
From the series I Photograph Myself during a Parachute Jump (Ich fotografiere mich beim Absturz mit dem Fallschirm)
1931
Gelatin silver print
8 1/16 × 5 9/16″ (20.4 × 14.1cm) (irreg.)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

Willi Ruge. 'Seconds before Landing' (Sekunden vor der Landung) 1931 (detail)

 

Willi Ruge (German, 1882-1961)
Seconds before Landing (Sekunden vor der Landung) (detail)
From the series I Photograph Myself during a Parachute Jump (Ich fotografiere mich beim Absturz mit dem Fallschirm)
1931
Gelatin silver print
8 1/16 × 5 9/16″ (20.4 × 14.1cm) (irreg.)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

Robert Petschow. 'Lines of Modern Industry: Cooling Tower' (Linien der modernen Industrie: Kühlturmanlage) 1920-29

 

Robert Petschow (German, 1888-1945)
Lines of Modern Industry: Cooling Tower (Linien der modernen Industrie: Kühlturmanlage)
1920-29
Gelatin silver print
3 3/8 × 4 1/2″ (8.5 × 11.5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Albert Renger-Patzsch, by exchange

 

Robert Petschow. 'The Course of the Mulde with Sand Deposits in the Curves' (Der Lauf der Mulde mit Versandungen in den Windungen) 1920-33

 

Robert Petschow (German, 1888-1945)
The Course of the Mulde with Sand Deposits in the Curves (Der Lauf der Mulde mit Versandungen in den Windungen)
1920-33
Gelatin silver print
3 3/8 × 4 1/2″ (8.5 × 11.5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Albert Renger-Patzsch, by exchange

 

 

Robert Petschow (German, 1888-1945)

Robert Petschow was studying in Danzig as a free balloon pilot in the West Prussian air force. During the First World War Petschow was a balloon observer with the rank of lieutenant in Poland, France and Belgium. Maybe it was the work of a balloon observer which led him to photography, in which he was worked freelance from 1920. His images appeared in the prestigious photographic yearbook The German photograph in which he was presented with photographers such as Karl Blossfeldt, Albert Renger-Patzsch Chargesheimer and Erich Salomon. The book Land of the Germans, which was published in 1931 by Robert Diesel and includes many photographs of Petschow went on to be published in four editions. In 1931 he journeyed with the airship LZ 127, the “Graf Zeppelin” to Egypt. He participated as an unofficial member of the crew to document the trip photographically. In 1936, at the age of 48 years, Petschow joined the rank of captain in the Air Force and ended his work as a senior editor at the daily newspaper The West, a position he held from 1930. For the following years, there is no information to Petschow.

Robert Petschow died at the age of 57 years on 17 October 1945 in Haldensleben after he had to leave his apartment in Berlin-Steglitz due to the war. He left there a picture archive with about 30,000 aerial photographs, which fell victim of the war. His contemporaries describe Petschow as a humorous person and a great raconteur.

Translated from the German Wikipedia website

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko. 'Dive' (Pryzhok v vodu) 1934

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Dive (Pryzhok v vodu)
1934
Gelatin silver print
11 11/16 x 9 3/8″ (29.7 x 23.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko. 'Dive' (Pryzhok v vodu) 1934

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Dive (Pryzhok v vodu)
1934
Gelatin silver print
11 3/4 × 9 5/16″ (29.9 × 23.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange

 

Leni Riefenstahl. 'Nocturnal Start of Decathlon 1,500m Race' (Nächtlicher Start zum 1500-m-Lauf des Zehnkampfes) August 1936

 

Leni Riefenstahl (German, 1902-2003)
Nocturnal Start of Decathlon 1,500m Race
(Nächtlicher Start zum 1500-m-Lauf des Zehnkampfes)

August 1936
Gelatin silver print 9 5/16 x 11 3/4″ (23.7 x 29.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Abbott-Levy Collection funds, by exchange

 

Leni Riefenstahl. 'Untitled' 1936

 

Leni Riefenstahl (German, 1902-2003)
Untitled
1936
Gelatin silver print
9 3/16 x 11 5/8″ (23.4 x 29.5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Abbott-Levy Collection funds, by exchange

 

Kate Steinitz 'Backstroke' (Rückenschwimmerinnen) 1930

 

Kate Steinitz (American, born Germany 1889-1975)
Backstroke (Rückenschwimmerinnen)
1930
Gelatin silver print
10 1/2 × 13 7/16″ (26.6 × 34.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

The Modern World

Even before the introduction of the handheld Leica camera in 1925, photographers were avidly exploring fresh perspectives, shaped by the unique experience of capturing the world through a lens and ideally suited to express the tenor of modern life in the wake of World War I. Looking up and down, these photographers found unfamiliar points of view that suggested a new, dynamic visual language freed from convention. Improvements in the light sensitivity of photographic films and papers meant that photographers could capture motion as never before. At the same time, technological advances in printing resulted in an explosion of opportunities for photographers to present their work to ever-widening audiences. From inexpensive weekly magazines to extravagantly produced journals, periodicals exploited the potential of photographs and imaginative layouts, not text, to tell stories. Among the photographers on view in this section are Martin Munkácsi (American, born Hungary, 1896-1963), Leni Riefenstahl (German, 1902-2003), Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956), and Willi Ruge (German, 1882-1961).

 

Anne W. Brigman (American, born Hawaii 1869-1950) 'A Study in Radiation' 1924

 

Anne W. Brigman (American, born Hawaii 1869-1950)
A Study in Radiation
1924
Gelatin silver print
7 11/16 × 9 3/4″ (19.6 × 24.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Mrs. B. S. Sexton and Mina Turner, by exchange

 

Bernard Shea Horne. 'Untitled' 1916-17

 

Bernard Shea Horne (American, 1867-1933)
Untitled
1916-17
Platinum print
8 1/16 × 6 1/8″ (20.5 × 15.5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

Bernard Shea Horne. 'Design' 1916-17

 

Bernard Shea Horne (American, 1867-1933)
Design
1916-17
Platinum print
7 15/16 x 6 1/8″ (20.2 x 15.5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

Bernard Shea Horne (American, 1867-1933)

Bernard Shea Horne was the son of Joseph Horne, who built a legendary department store in Pittsburgh. The younger Horne retired from the family business when he was in his thirties and moved to northern Virginia to pursue his interests in golf and photography. In 1916 he enrolled at the Clarence H. White School of Photography, in New York, and became friends with one of its teachers, the avant-garde painter Max Weber. Horne produced numerous Weber-inspired design exercises, which he compiled into albums of twenty Platinum prints each. The four prints in the Thomas Walther Collection belonged to an album that he gave to Weber.

In 1917 Horne was elected president of the White School’s alumni association, a post he retained until 1925. In 1918 instructor Paul L. Anderson left the school, and Horne took his place as teacher of the technique class, a job he held until 1926. That a middle-aged man of independent means commuted to the school several days a week from Princeton, New Jersey, where he then lived with his two sons, suggests Horne’s devotion to White and his Pictorialist aims. During these years, Horne played a major role in the White School’s activities. In 1920 he was given a one-person show in the exhibition room of the school’s new building, a show that the alumni bulletin described as “interesting and varied in subject and technique, rich in bromoils, strong in design.” Supportive of the practical applications of artistic photography, in 1920 White joined his school to other institutions, including the American Institute of Graphic Arts and the Art Directors Club, to form The Art Center in New York. In 1926 Horne was given a one-person show at The Art Center, which marked the end of his active association with the school.

Abbaspour, Mitra, Lee Ann Daffner, and Maria Morris Hambourg

 

Jarislav Rössler. 'Untitled' 1924

 

Jarislav Rössler (Czech, 1902-1990)
Untitled
1924
Pigment print
9 1/16 × 9 1/16″ (23 × 23 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel

 

 

Jarislav Rössler (Czech, 1902-1990)

Jaroslav Rössler (1902-1990) was one of the Czech avant-garde photographers of the first half of the twentieth century whose work has only recently become known outside Eastern Europe. Czech photography in the twenties and thirties produced radical modernist works that incorporated principles of abstract art and constructivism; Jaroslav Rossler was one of the most important and distinctive artists of the period. He became known for his fusing of different styles, bringing together elements of Symbolism, Pictorialism, Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism, Constructivism, New Objectivity, and abstract art. His photographs often reduced images to elementary lines and shapes that seemed to form a new reality; he would photograph simple objects against a stark background of black and white, or use long exposures to picture hazy cones and spheres of light. From 1927 to 1935 he lived and worked in Paris, producing work influenced by constructivism and new objectivity. He used the photographic techniques and compositional approaches of the avant-garde, including photograms, large details, diagonal composition, photomontage, and double exposures, and experimented with colour advertising photographs and still lifes produced with the carbro print process. After his return to Prague, he was relatively inactive until the late 1950s, when he reconnected with Czech artistic and photographic trends of that period, including informalism. This book documents each stage of Rossler’s career with a generous selection of duotone images, some of which have never been published before. The photographs are accompanied by texts by Vladimir Birgus, Jan Mlcoch, Robert Silverio, Karel Srp, and Matthew Witkovsky.

Text from the Amazon website

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo. 'A Fish Called Sierra' (Un pez que llaman sierra) 1944

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
A Fish Called Sierra (Un pez que llaman sierra)
1944
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 x 7 1/4″ (24.1 x 18.4cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection
Edward Steichen Estate and gift of Mrs. Flora S. Straus, by exchange

 

Manuel Alvarez Bravo. 'Somewhat Gay and Graceful' (Un poco alegre y graciosa) 1942

 

Manuel Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
Somewhat Gay and Graceful (Un poco alegre y graciosa)
1942
Gelatin silver print
6 5/8 × 9 1/2″ (16.9 × 24.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Grace M. Mayer Fund

 

Manuel Alvarez Bravo. 'Day of Glory' (Día de gloria) 1940s

 

Manuel Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
Day of Glory (Día de gloria)
1940s
Gelatin silver print
6 3/4 × 9 1/2″ (17.2 × 24.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Grace M. Mayer Fund

 

Edward Weston. 'Steel: Armco, Middletown, Ohio' October 1922

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Steel: Armco, Middletown, Ohio
October 1922
Palladium print
9 1/16 × 6 7/8″ (23 × 17.4cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

In Edward Weston’s journals, which he began on his trip to Ohio and New York in fall 1922, the artist wrote of the exhilaration he felt while photographing the “great plant and giant stacks of the American Rolling Mill Company” in Middletown, Ohio. He then went to see the great photographer and tastemaker Alfred Stieglitz. Were he still publishing the magazine Camera Work, Stieglitz told him, he would have reproduced some of Weston’s recent images in it, including, in particular, one of his smokestacks. The photograph’s clarity and the photographer’s frank awe at the beauty of the brute industrial subject seemed clear signs of advanced modernist tendencies.

In moving away from the soft focus and geometric stylisation of his recent images, such as Attic of 1921 (MoMA 1902.2001), Weston was discovering a more straightforward approach, one of considered confrontation with the facts of the larger world much like that of his close friend Johan Hagemeyer, who was photographing such modern subjects as smokestacks, telephone wires, and advertisements. Shortly before his trip east, Weston had met R. M. Schindler, the Austrian architect, and had been excited by his unapologetically spare, modern house and its implications for art and design. Weston was also reading avant-garde European art magazines full of images and essays extolling machines and construction. Stimulated by these currents, Weston saw that by the time he got to Ohio he was “ripe to change, was changing, yes changed.”

The visit to Armco was the critical pivot, the hinge between Weston’s Pictorialist past and his modernist future. It marked a clear leave-taking from his bohemian circle in Los Angeles and the first step toward the cosmopolitan connections he made in New York and in Mexico City, where he moved a few months later to live with the Italian actress and artist Tina Modotti. The Armco photographs went with him and became talismans of the sea change, emblematic works that decorated his studio in Mexico, along with a Japanese print and a print by Picasso. When he sent a representation of his best work to the Film und Foto exhibition in Stuttgart in 1929, one of the smokestacks was included.

In the midst of such transformation, Weston maintained tried-and-true darkroom procedures. He had used an enlarger in earlier years but had abandoned the technique because he felt that too much information was lost in the projection. Instead he increasingly favoured contact printing. To make the smokestack print, Weston enlarged his 3 ¼ by 4 ¼ inch (8.3 by 10.8 centimeter) original negative onto an 8 by 10 inch (20.3 by 25.4 centimeter) interpositive transparency, which he contact printed to a second sheet of film in the usual way, creating the final 8 by 10 inch negative. Weston was frugal; he was known to economise by purchasing platinum and palladium paper by the roll from Willis and Clements in England and trimming it to size. He exposed a sheet of palladium paper to the sun through the negative and, after processing the print, finished it by applying aqueous retouching media to any flaws. The fragile balance of the photograph’s chemistry, however, is evinced in a bubble-shaped area of cooler tonality hovering over the central stacks. The print was in Modotti’s possession at the time of her death in Mexico City, in 1942.

Lee Ann Daffner, Maria Morris Hambourg

 

Edward Weston. 'Boat, San Francisco' 1925

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Boat, San Francisco
1925
Gelatin silver print
9 5/16 x 7 9/16″ (23.7 x 19.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Grace M. Mayer Fund

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958) 'Tina' January 30, 1924

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Tina
January 30, 1924
Gelatin silver print
9 1/16 x 6 7/8″ (23 x 17.5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Grace M. Mayer Fund and The Fellows of Photography Fund, by exchange

 

Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932) 'Acanthus mollis' (Acanthus mollis [Akanthus, Bärenklau. Deckblätter, die Blüten sind entfernt, in 4facher Vergrößerung]) 1898-1928

 

Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932)
Acanthus mollis (Acanthus mollis [Akanthus, Bärenklau. Deckblätter, die Blüten sind entfernt, in 4facher Vergrößerung])
1898-1928
Gelatin silver print
11 3/4 × 9 3/8″ (29.8 × 23.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

Purisms

The question of whether photography ought to be considered a fine art was hotly contested from its invention in 1839 into the 20th century. Beginning in the 1890s, in an attempt to distinguish their efforts from hoards of Kodak-wielding amateurs and masses of professionals, “artistic” photographers referred to themselves as Pictorialists. They embraced soft focus and painstakingly wrought prints so as to emulate contemporary prints and drawings, and chose subjects that underscored the ethereal effects of their methods. Before long, however, most avant-garde photographers had come to celebrate precise and distinctly photographic qualities as virtues. On both sides of the Atlantic, photographers were making this transition from Pictorialism to modernism, while occasionally blurring the distinction. Exhibition prints could be made with precious platinum or palladium, or matte surfaces that mimicked those materials. Perhaps nowhere is this variety more clearly evidenced than in the work of Edward Weston, whose suite of prints in this section suggests the range of appearances achievable with unadulterated contact prints from his large-format negatives. Other photographers on view include Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932), Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002), Jaromír Funke (Czech, 1896-1945), Bernard Shea Horne (American, 1867-1933), and Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946).

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (American, 1882-1966) 'Vortograph' 1916-17

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (American, 1882-1966)
Vortograph
1916-17
Gelatin silver print
11 1/8 x 8 3/8″ (28.2 x 21.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Grace M. Mayer Fund

 

 

Vortograph

The intricate patterns of light and line in this photograph, and the cascading tiers of crystalline shapes, were generated through the use of a kaleidoscopic contraption invented by the American / British photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn, a member of London’s Vorticist group. To refute the idea that photography, in its helplessly accurate capture of scenes in the real world, was antithetical to abstraction, Coburn devised for his camera lens an attachment made up of three mirrors, clamped together in a triangle, through which he photographed a variety of surfaces to produce the results in these images. The poet and Vorticist Ezra Pound coined the term “vortographs” to describe Coburn’s experiments. Although Pound went on to criticise these images as lesser expressions than Vorticist paintings, Coburn’s work would remain influential.

 

Reinventing Photography – Here Comes New Photographer 

In 1925, László Moholy-Nagy articulated an idea that became central to the New Vision movement: although photography had been invented 100 years earlier, it was only now being discovered by the avant-garde circles for all its aesthetic possibilities. As products of technological culture, with short histories and no connection to the old fine-art disciplines – which many contemporary artists considered discredited – photography and cinema were seen as truly modern instruments that offered the greatest potential for transforming visual habits. From the photogram to solarisation, from negative prints to double exposures, the New Vision photographers explored the medium in countless ways, rediscovering known techniques and inventing new ones. Echoing the cinematic experiments of the same period, this emerging photographic vocabulary was rapidly adopted by the advertising industry, which appreciated the visual efficiency of its bold simplicity. Florence Henri (Swiss, born America, 1893-1982), Edward Quigley (American, 1898-1977), Franz Roh (German, 1890-1965), Franciszka Themerson and Stefan Themerson (British, born Poland, 1907-1988 and 1910-1988), and František Vobecký (Czech, 1902-1991) are among the numerous photographers represented here.

 

André Kertész. 'Magda, Mme Beöthy, M. Beöthy, and Unknown Guest, Paris' 1926-29

 

André Kertész (American, born Hungary 1894-1985)
Magda, Mme Beöthy, M. Beöthy, and Unknown Guest, Paris
1926-29
Gelatin silver print
3 1/8 × 3 7/8″ (7.9 × 9.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

André Kertész. 'Mondrian's Glasses and Pipe' 1926

 

André Kertész (American, born Hungary 1894-1985)
Mondrian’s Glasses and Pipe
1926
Gelatin silver print
3 1/8 × 3 11/16″ (7.9 × 9.3cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Grace M. Mayer Fund

 

Unknown Photographer. 'White Party, Dessau' (Weißes Fest, Dessau) March 20, 1926

 

Unknown Photographer
White Party, Dessau (Weißes Fest, Dessau)
March 20, 1926
Gelatin silver print
3 x 1 15/16″ (7.6 x 5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Acquired through the generosity of Howard Stein

 

Iwao Yamawaki. 'Lunch (12-2 p.m.)' (Mittagessen [12-2 Uhr]) 1931

 

Iwao Yamawaki (Japanese, 1898-1987)
Lunch (12-2 p.m.) (Mittagessen [12-2 Uhr])
1931
Gelatin silver print
6 7/16 × 4 5/8″ (16.3 × 11.7cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Abbott-Levy Collection funds, by exchange

 

Gertrud Arndt. 'At the Masters' Houses' (An den Meisterhäusern) 1929-30

 

Gertrud Arndt (German, 1903-2000)
At the Masters’ Houses (An den Meisterhäusern)
1929-30
Gelatin silver print
8 7/8 x 6 1/4″ (22.6 x 15.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

Gertrud Arndt (German, 1903-2000)

Gertrud Arndt (née Hantschk; 20 September 1903 – 10 July 2000) was a photographer associated with the Bauhaus movement. She is remembered for her pioneering series of self-portraits from around 1930.

Arndt’s photography, forgotten until the 1980s, has been compared to that of her contemporaries Marta Astfalck-Vietz and Claude Cahun. Over the five years when she took an active interest in photography, she captured herself and her friends in various styles, costumes and settings in the series known as Masked Portraits. Writing for Berlin Art Link, Angela Connor describes the images as “ranging from severe to absurd to playful.” Today Arndt is considered to be a pioneer of female self-portraiture, long predating Cindy Sherman and Sophie Calle.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Iwao Yamawaki (Japanese, 1898-1987) 'Untitled' 1931

 

Iwao Yamawaki (Japanese, 1898-1987)
Untitled
1931
Gelatin silver print
8 11/16 x 6 1/2″ (22 x 16.5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Abbott-Levy Collection funds, by exchange

 

Hajo Rose. 'Untitled (Self-Portrait)' 1931

 

Hajo Rose (German, 1910-1989)
Untitled (Self-Portrait)
1931
Gelatin silver print
9 7/16 × 7 1/16″ (23.9 × 17.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

Hajo Rose (German, 1910-1989)

‘Finally – a house made of steel and glass!’ This was the enthusiastic reaction of Hajo Rose (1910-1989) to the Bauhaus building in Dessau when he began his studies there in 1930. Rose promoted the methods of the Bauhaus throughout his lifetime: as a lecturer at universities in Amsterdam, Dresden and Leipzig, and also as an artist and photographer.

Hajo Rose experimented with a wide variety of materials and techniques. The photomontage of his self-portrait combined with the Dessau Bauhaus building (c. 1930), the surrealism of his photograph Seemannsbraut (Sailor’s Bride, 1934), and the textile print designs that he created with a typewriter (1932) are examples of the extraordinary creativity of this artist. He also contributed to an advertising campaign for the Jena Glass Company: the first heat-resistant household glassware stood for modern product design and is still regarded as a kitchen classic today.

Shortly before the Bauhaus was closed, Hajo Rose was one of the last students to receive his diploma. Subsequent periods in various cities shaped his biography, which is a special example of the migratory experience shared by many Bauhaus members after 1933. After one year as an assistant in the Berlin office of László Moholy-Nagy, Hajo Rose immigrated to The Netherlands together with Paul Guermonprez, a Bauhaus colleague, in 1934. He worked there as a commercial artist and taught at the Nieuwe Kunstschool in Amsterdam. At the 1937 World Exposition in Paris, he won an award for his poster ‘Amsterdam’. After the Second World War, Rose worked as a graphic designer, photographer and teacher in Dresden and Leipzig. He continued to advocate Bauhaus ideas in the GDR, even though the Bauhaus was regarded in East Germany as bourgeois and formalistic well into the 1960s. Rose resigned from the Socialist Unity Party (SED) – in spite of the loss of his teaching position as a consequence. From that time, he worked as one of the few freelance graphic designers in the GDR. Hajo Rose died at the age of 79 – shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

 

Edward Steichen (American, born Luxembourg 1879-1973) 'Gertrude Lawrence' 1928

 

Edward Steichen (American, born Luxembourg 1879-1973)
Gertrude Lawrence
1928
Gelatin silver print
9 7/16 × 7 9/16″ (24 × 19.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Edward Steichen Estate and gift of Mrs. Flora S. Straus, by exchange

 

 

The Artist’s Life

Photography is particularly well suited to capturing the distinctive nuances of the human face, and photographers delighted in and pushed the boundaries of portraiture throughout the 20th century. The Thomas Walther Collection features a great number of portraits of artists and self-portraits as varied as the individuals portrayed. Additionally, the collection conveys a free-spirited sense of community and daily life, highlighted here with photographs made by André Kertész and by students and faculty at the Bauhaus. When the Hungarian-born Kertész moved to Paris in 1925, he couldn’t afford to purchase photographic paper, so he would print on less expensive postcard stock. These prints, whose small scale requires that the viewer engage with them intimately, function as miniature windows into the lives of Kertész’s bohemian circle of friends. The group of photographs made at the Bauhaus in the mid-1920s, before the medium was formally integrated into the school’s curriculum, similarly expresses friendships and everyday life captured and printed in an informal manner. Portraits by Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954), Lotte Jacobi (American, born Germany, 1896-1990), Lucia Moholy (British, born Czechoslovakia, 1894-1989), Man Ray (American, 1890-1976), August Sander (German, 1876-1964) and Edward Steichen (American, born Luxembourg, 1879-1973) are among the highlights of this gallery.

 

Aenne Biermann. 'Summer Swimming' (Sommerbad) 1925-30

 

Aenne Biermann (German, 1898-1933)
Summer Swimming (Sommerbad)
1925-30
Gelatin silver print
7 x 7 7/8″ (17.8 x 20cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Bequest of Ilse Bing, by exchange

 

 

Aenne Biermann (German, 1898-1933)

Aenne Biermann (March 8, 1898 – January 14, 1933), born Anna Sibilla Sternfeld, was a German photographer of Ashkenazi origin. She was one of the major proponents of New Objectivity, a significant art movement that developed in Germany in the 1920s.

Biermann was a self-taught photographer. Her first subjects were her two children, Helga and Gershon. The majority of Biermann’s photographs were shot between 1925 and 1933. Gradually she became one of the major proponents of New Objectivity, an important art movement in the Weimar Republic. Her work became internationally known in the late 1920s, when it was part of every major exhibition of German photography.

Major exhibitions of her work include the Munich Kunstkabinett, the Deutscher Werkbund and the exhibition of Folkwang Museum in 1929. Other important exhibitions include the exhibition entitled Das Lichtbild held in Munich in 1930 and the 1931 exhibition at the Palace of Fine Arts (French: Palais des Beaux Arts) in Brussels. Since 1992 the Museum of Gera has held an annual contest for the Aenne Biermann Prize for Contemporary German Photography, which is one of the most important events of its kind in Germany.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Helmar Lerski. 'Metamorphosis 601' (Metamorphose 601) 1936

 

Helmar Lerski (Swiss, born Germany 1871-1956)
Metamorphosis 601 (Metamorphose 601)
1936
Gelatin silver print
11 7/16 × 9 1/16″ (29 × 23cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. The Family of Man Fund

 

 

Helmar Lerski (Swiss, born Germany 1871-1956)

There can hardly be another name in the international history of photography whose work has been so frequently misunderstood and so controversially evaluated as that of Helmar Lerski (1871-1956). “In every human being there is everything; the question is only what the light falls on”. Guided by this conviction, Lerski took portraits that did not primarily strive for likeness but which left scope for the viewer’s imagination, thus laying himself open to the criticism of betraying the veracity of the photographic image.

… Lerski’s pictures were only partly in line with the maxims of the New Photography, and they questioned the validity of pure objectivity. The distinguishing characteristics of his portraits included a theatrical-expressionistic, sometimes dramatic use of lighting inspired by the silent film. Although his close-up photographs captured the essential features of a face – eyes, nose and mouth –, his primary concern was not individual appearance or superficial likeness but the deeper inner potential: he emphasised the changeability, the different faces of an individual. Lerski, who sympathised with the political left wing, thereby infiltrated the photography of types that was practised  (and not infrequently misused for racist purposes) by many of Lerski’s contemporaries.

… Helmar Lerski’s attitude was at its most radical in his work entitled Metamorphosis. This was completed within a few months at the beginning of 1936 in Palestine, to where Lerski and his second wife Anneliese had immigrated in 1932. In Verwandlungen durch Licht (this is the second title for this work), Lerski carried his theatrical talent to extremes. With the help of up to 16 mirrors and filters, he directed the natural light of the sun in constant new variations and refractions onto his model, the Bernese-born, at the time out-of-work structural draughtsman and light athlete Leo Uschatz. Thus he achieved, in a series of over 140 close-ups “hundreds of different faces, including that of a hero, a prophet, a peasant, a dying soldier, an old woman and a monk from one single original face” (Siegfried Kracauer). According to Lerski, these pictures were intended to provide proof “that the lens does not have to be objective, that the photographer can, with the help of light, work freely, characterise freely, according to his inner face.” Contrary to the conventional idea of the portrait as an expression of human identity, Lerski used the human face as a projection surface for the figures of his imagination. We are only just becoming aware of the modernity of this provocative series of photographs.

Peter Pfrunder
Fotostiftung Schweiz

 

Max Burchartz. 'Lotte (Eye)' (Lotte [Auge]) 1928

 

Max Burchartz (German, 1887-1961)
Lotte (Eye) (Lotte [Auge])
1928
Gelatin silver print
11 7/8 x 15 3/4″ (30.2 x 40cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Acquired through the generosity of Peter Norton

 

Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz. 'Anna Oderfeld, Zakopane' 1911-12

 

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (Polish, 1885-1939)
Anna Oderfeld, Zakopane
1911-12
Gelatin silver print 6 11/16 × 4 3/4″ (17 × 12.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Mrs. Willard Helburn, by exchange

 

Edmund Kesting. 'Glance to the Sun' (Blick zur Sonne) 1928

 

Edmund Kesting (German, 1892-1970)
Glance to the Sun (Blick zur Sonne)
1928
Gelatin silver print
13 1/16 x 14 1/2″ (33.2 x 36.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

Edmund Kesting (German, 1892-1970)

Edmund Kesting (27 July 1892, Dresden – 21 October 1970, Birkenwerder) was a German photographer, painter and art professor. He studied until 1916 at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts before participating as a soldier in the First World War, upon returning his painting teachers were Richard Müller and Otto Gussmann and in 1919 he began to teach as a professor at the private school Der Weg. In 1923 he had his first exposition in the gallery Der Sturm in which he showed photograms. When Der Weg opened a new academy in Berlin in 1927, he moved to the capital.

He formed relations with other vanguardists in Berlin and practiced various experimental techniques such as solarisation, multiple images and photograms, for which reason twelve of his works were considered degenerate art by the Nazi regime and were prohibited. Among the artists with whom he interacted are Kurt Schwitters, László Moholy-Nagy, El Lissitzky and Alexander Archipenko. At the end of World War II he formed part of a Dresden artistic group known as Künstlergruppe der ruf – befreite Kunst (Call to an art in freedom) along with Karl von Appen, Helmut Schmidt-Kirstein and Christoph Hans, among others. In this city he made an experimental report named Dresdner Totentanz (Dance of death in Dresden) as a condemnation of the bombing of the city. In 1946 he was named a member of the Academy of Art in the city.

He participated in the controversy between socialist realism and formalism that took place in the German Democratic Republic, therefore his work was not realist and could not be shown in the country between 1949 and 1959. In 1955 he began to experiment with chemical painting, making photographs without the use of a camera and only with the use of chemical products such as the developer and the fixer and photographic paper, for which he made exposures to light using masks and templates. Between 1956 and 1967 he was a professor at the Academy of Cinema and Television of Potsdam.

His artistic work was not recognised by the authorities of the German Democratic Republic until 1980, ten years after his death.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Maurice Tabard. 'Am I Beautiful?' (Suis-je belle?) 1929

 

Maurice Tabard (French, 1897-1984)
Am I Beautiful? (Suis-je belle?)
1929
Gelatin silver print
9 5/16 × 6 15/16″ (23.6 × 17.7cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange

 

 

Between Surrealism and Magic Realism

In the mid-1920s, European artistic movements ranging from Surrealism to New Objectivity moved away from a realist approach by highlighting the strange in the familiar or trying to reconcile dreams and reality. Echoes of these concerns, centred on the human figure, can be found in this gallery. Some photographers used anti-naturalistic methods – capturing hyperreal, close-up details; playing with scale; and rendering the body as landscape – to challenge the viewer’s perception. Others, in line with Sigmund Freud’s definition of “the uncanny” as an effect that results from the blurring of distinctions between the real and the fantastic, offered visual plays on life and the lifeless, the animate and the inanimate, confronting the human body with surrogates in the form of dolls, mannequins, and masks. Photographers influenced by Surrealism, such as Maurice Tabard, subjected the human figure to distortions and transformations by experimenting with photographic techniques either while capturing the image or while developing it in the darkroom. Additional photographers on view include Aenne Biermann (German, 1898-1933), Jacques-André Boiffard (French, 1902-1961), Max Burchartz (German, 1887-1961), Helmar Lerski (Swiss, 1871-1956), and Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (Polish, 1885-1939)

 

Berenice Abbott. 'Daily News Building, 220 East 42nd Street, Manhattan' November 21, 1935

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Daily News Building, 220 East 42nd Street, Manhattan
November 21, 1935
Gelatin silver print
9 5/8 × 7 1/2″ (24.4 × 19.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Abbott-Levy Collection funds, by exchange

 

Marjorie Content. 'Steamship Pipes, Paris' Winter 1931

 

Marjorie Content (American, 1895-1984)
Steamship Pipes, Paris
Winter 1931
Gelatin silver print
3 13/16 × 2 11/16″ (9.7 × 6.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Andreas Feininger, by exchange

 

 

Marjorie Content (American, 1895-1984)

Marjorie Content (1895-1984) was an American photographer active in modernist social and artistic circles. Her photographs were rarely published and never exhibited in her lifetime, but have become of interest to collectors and art historians. Her work has been collected by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Chrysler Museum of Art; it has been the subject of several solo exhibitions. (Wikipedia)

Marjorie Content (1895-1984) was a modest and unpretentious photographer who kept her work largely to herself, never published or exhibited. Overshadowed by such close friends as Georgia O’Keefe and Alfred Stieglitz, she was more comfortable as a muse and source of encouragement for others, including her fourth husband, poet Jean Toomer. This text presents her beautiful, varied photographs and provides a glimpse into her life. Her pictures portray a variety of images including: New York’s frenetic cityscape distilled to essential patterns and rhythms; the Southwestern light and heat along with the strength and dignity of the Taos pueblo culture; and cigarettes and other everyday items arranged in jewel-like compositions. The discovery of the quality and extent of her work is proof that an artist’s determination can surmount a lack of recognition in her lifetime.

Text from the Amazon website

 

Walker Evans. 'Votive Candles, New York City' 1929-30

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Votive Candles, New York City
1929-30
Gelatin silver print
8 1/2 x 6 15/16″ (21.6 x 17.7cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Willard Van Dyke and Mr. and Mrs. Alfred H. Barr, Jr., by exchange

 

Georgii Zimin. 'Untitled' 1926

 

Georgii Zimin (Russian, 1900-1985)
Untitled
1926
Gelatin silver print
3 11/16 x 3 1/4″ (9.4 x 8.3cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

Georgii Zimin (Russian, 1900-1985)

Georgii Zimin was born in Moscow in 1900, where he lived and worked for his entire life. Before the Russian Revolution he enrolled as a student at the Artistic-Industrial Stroganov Institute, known after 1918 as SVOMAS (Free state art studios). Zimin continued his studies at VKhUTEMAS (Higher state artistic and technical studios), which replaced SVOMAS in 1920. It was during his time at the school that he published the portfolio Skrjabin in Lukins Tanz (Scriabin in Lukin’s dance), in an edition of one hundred. This set of Cubo-Futurist lithographs from 1922 features costumed dancers in erotic poses, complementing a ballet choreographed by Lev Lukin. This work garnered Zimin acknowledgment by the Academy of Arts and Sciences and marked his affiliation with the Russian Art of Movement group. Throughout the 1920s he showed regularly at Art of Movement exhibitions at GAKhN (State academy for artistic sciences), in Moscow. Zimin also experimented with photography in the late 1920s and early 1930s, producing photograms akin to those made by László Moholy-Nagy and others at the time. Later in life, he served as Art Director of Exhibitions at the Department of Trade and held a post at the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition.

~ Ksenia Nouril

 

Umbo (Otto Umbehr) 'Mystery of the Street' (Mysterium der Strasse) 1928

 

Umbo (Otto Umbehr) (German, 1902-1980)
Mystery of the Street (Mysterium der Strasse)
1928
Gelatin silver print
11 7/16 x 9 1/4″ (29 x 23.5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange

 

 

Umbo (Otto Umbehr) (German, 1902-1980)

Trained at the Bauhaus under Johannes Itten, a master of expressivity, Berlin-based photographer Umbo (born Otto Umbehr) believed that intuition was the source of creativity. To this belief, he added Constructivist structural strategies absorbed from Theo Van Doesburg, El Lissitzky, and others in Berlin in the early twenties. Their influence is evident in this picture’s diagonal, abstract construction and its spatial disorientation. It is also classic Umbo, encapsulating his intuitive vision of the world as a resource of poetic, often funny, ironic, or dark bulletins from the social unconscious.

After he left the Bauhaus, Umbo worked as assistant to Walther Ruttmann on his film Berlin, Symphony of a Great City 1926. In 1928, photographing from his window either very early or very late in the day and either waiting for his “actors” to achieve a balanced composition or, perhaps, positioning them as a movie director would, Umbo exposed three negatives. He had an old 5 by 7 inch (12.7 by 17.8 centimeter) stand camera and a 9 by 12 centimeter (3 9/16 by 4 ¾ inch) Deckrullo Contessa-Nettle camera, but which he used for these overhead views is not known, as he lost all his prints and most negatives in the 1943 bombing of Berlin. The resulting images present a world in which the shadows take the active role. Umbo made the insubstantial rule the corporeal and the dark dominate the light through a simple but inspired inversion: he mounted the pictures upside down (note the signature in ink in the lower right).

In 1928-29, Umbo was a founding photographer at Dephot (Deutscher Photodienst), a seminal photography agency in Berlin dedicated to creating socially relevant and visually fascinating photoessays, an idea originated by Erich Solomon. Simon Guttmann, who directed the business, hired creative nonconformists, foremost among them the bohemian Umbo, who slept in the darkroom; Umbo in turn drew the brothers Lore Feininger and Lyonel Feininger to the agency, which soon also boasted Robert Capa and Felix H. Man. Dephot hired Dott, the best printer in Berlin, and it was he who made the large exhibition prints, such as this one, ordered by New York gallerist Julien Levy when he visited the agency in 1931. Umbo showed thirty-nine works, perhaps also printed by Dott, in the 1929 exhibition Film und Foto, and he put Guttmann in touch with the Berlin organizer of the show; accordingly, Dephot was the source for some images in the accompanying book, Es kommt der neue Fotograf! (Here comes the new photographer!). Levy introduced Umbo’s photographs to New York in Surréalisme (January 1932) and showcased them again at the Julien Levy Gallery, together with images by Herbert Bayer, Jacques-André Boiffard, Roger Parry, and Maurice Tabard, in his 1932 exhibition Modern European Photography.

Maria Morris Hambourg, Hanako Murata

 

Umbo (Otto Umbehr). 'Six at the Beach' (Sechs am Strand) 1930

 

Umbo (Otto Umbehr) (German, 1902-1980)
Six at the Beach (Sechs am Strand)
1930
Gelatin silver print
9 3/8 × 7 1/8″ (23.8 × 18.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn. 'The Octopus' 1909

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (American, 1882-1966)
The Octopus
1909
Gelatin silver print
22 1/8 × 16 3/4″
(56.2 × 42.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

Dynamics of the City – Symphony of a Great City 

In his 1928 manifesto “The Paths of Contemporary Photography,” Aleksandr Rodchenko advocated for a new photographic vocabulary that would be more in step with the pace of modern urban life and the changes in perception it implied. Rodchenko was not alone in this quest: most of the avant-garde photographers of the 1920s and 1930s were city dwellers, striving to translate the novel and shocking experience of everyday life into photographic images. Equipped with newly invented handheld cameras, they used unusual vantage points and took photos as they moved, struggling to re-create the constant flux of images that confronted the pedestrian. Reflections in windows and vitrines, blurry images of quick motions, double exposures, and fragmentary views portray the visual cacophony of the metropolis. The work of Berenice Abbott (American, 1898- 1991), Alvin Langdon Coburn (American, 1882-1966), Germanie Krull (Dutch, born Germany, 1897-1985), Alexander Hackenschmied (Czech, 1907-2004), Umbo (German, 1902-1980), and Imre Kinszki (Hungarian, 1901-1945) is featured in this final gallery.

 

 

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04
Jan
15

Exhibition: ‘Forbidden Games: Surrealist and Modernist Photography’ at the Cleveland Museum of Art

Exhibition dates: 19th October 2014 – 11th January 2015

The Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Foundation Exhibition Hall

 

 

Anton Stankowski (German, 1906-1998) 'Photo Eye' (Foto-Auge) 1927, printed 1938-40

 

Anton Stankowski (German, 1906-1998)
Photo Eye (Foto-Auge)
1927, printed 1938-40
Gelatin silver print, montage, from negatives with handwork
10.9 x 14.5cm
The Cleveland Museum of Art, John L. Severance Fund
© Stankowski-Stiftung

 

 

Love this period in photographic history and this type of work, love them all. Dora Maar your a star!

Marcus

.
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.

 

 

“Often wild and recalcitrant, the images presented in Forbidden Games have been somewhat bridled by the curators who present them in broadly structured theme-based spaces. These categories include Advertising and the Picture Magazine, Collage, City, Natural World, Body, Mannequin, Night Life, and Abstraction. The curatorial rubrics guide the visitor through the exhibition and ease the appreciation of “the eye in its wild state” (l’oeil à l’état sauvage), the museum’s declared leitmotif for the show. Three additional spaces highlight the work of individual artists Marcel Lefranq (1916-1974), Georges Hugnet (1906-1974), and Dora Maar (1907-1997) …

It is not difficult to engage in a personal way with a number of photographs in this exhibition. In sharp contrast to the monumental scale of many late twentieth-century and millennial museum photographs, which often seem designed to engulf and visually overwhelm the viewer, these comparatively ‘small scale’ works radiate a quiet integrity often lacking in the former. The photographs on view are powerful, yet neither dominate the room nor repel the viewer. Instead, and refreshingly so, they are the whispered testimonial of artists who practiced unhurried looking and seeing. These images must be approached without haste; only then, do they yield their subtle beauty and secrets.”

.
Julie Nero, from her excellent review “Forbidden Games: Surrealist and Modern Photography” on the ArtHopper website [Online] Cited 02/01/2015. No longer available online

 

 

Jacques-Henri Lartigue (French, 1894-1986) 'The Crystal Ball' (La Boule de Verre) 1931

 

Jacques-Henri Lartigue (French, 1894-1986)
The Crystal Ball (La Boule de Verre)
1931
Gelatin silver print, toned
23.7 x 29.9cm
The Cleveland Museum of Art, John L. Severance Fund
© Ministère de la Culture – France / AAJHL

 

Raoul Ubac (Belgian, 1910-1985) 'The Battle of the Penthesilea' (Le Combat des Penthésiliées) 1937

 

Raoul Ubac (Belgian, 1910-1985)
The Battle of the Penthesilea (Le Combat des Penthésiliées)
1937
Gelatin silver print
16.9 x 22.8cm
The Cleveland Museum of Art, John L. Severance Fund
© 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

 

Man Ray
Emak Bakia
1926