Posts Tagged ‘the American dream

19
Dec
21

Exhibition: ‘Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978’ at the Phoenix Art Museum

Exhibition dates: 21st July, 2021 – 2nd January, 2022

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Greenwood, Mississippi' 1963

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Greenwood, Mississippi
1963
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

This is the last posting for 2021, the next being 9th January 2022. This year the website had 1,158,000 views and 769,000 visitors. Wow!

 

There is no more time

Time is something that photography has so little of – the snap of the shutter – and yet, paradoxically, so much of. Photographs transcend the time in which they were taken, bringing past time to present and future time. Photographs that were important at the time they were taken and have great “exposure” may loose their relevance over time, only to have their presence reignited in the present future, to have their power and insightfulness understood by a new generation.

This applies to the work of Marion Palfi. I had never heard of this woman artist before and I have been studying photography for over 30 years now. That’s the question that keeps buzzing around my head. Why is this courageous artist and human being not better known – this “social researcher photographer” (her term) that fought the good fight and pictured social injustices in America wherever she saw it.

Born in Germany, Palfi rejected Germany’s radical politics and began to use photography and art to effect social change. In 1934 she opened her own portrait studio in Berlin before fleeing the Nazis and opening a successful portrait studio in Amsterdam in 1936. She then fled Europe for the United States in 1940 after marrying an American soldier.

“Marion Palfi’s work centered around equity, opportunity, and justice for all people. In her photo book There is No More Time: An American Tragedy, Palfi documented racism and segregation in Irwinton, GA, the site of the murder of Caleb Hill, the first reported lynching of 1949.

Palfi’s 1952 book Suffer Little Children focused on the living condition of disadvantaged children across the U.S., including the young inmates of the New York Training School for Girls. Palfi was a contributing photographer to Edward Steichen’s landmark Family of Man exhibition in 1955. During her time traveling across the United States she was bothered by the amount of poverty and racial intolerance she was exposed. She also was confused by Americans lack of acknowledgement of these problems within their communities. Palfi decided to use her camera as a way to document these problems and bring attention to them within the public eye. Using her new perspective on the topic of injustice and racial discrimination she was able to draw attention to these issues by documenting them with her camera.

Palfi’s photography explored the concepts of social injustices in America. She created many photographic studies that focus on racial injustice against African Americans, poverty in cities, and racial discrimination against Native Americans. She originally had trouble getting her photographs displayed or show cased because many Americans refused to address these social justice issues within their own society.”1

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Equality, opportunity and justice for all people. What honourable concepts she was investigating using her camera to affect social change. But for Palfi, it was not enough to simply document. She wanted to know the “why” of a situation, how it affected the people involved – hence the classification of herself as a social researcher photographer.

“Her arrival in New York at a time when America was called “the arsenal of democracy” [1940] unexpectedly confronted her with the fact that the United States was not the ideal society many envisioned. Almost immediately, Palfi became involved in the struggles of minorities for social justice, and soon she was launched upon a career that can only be described as a life-long quest to ameliorate the living conditions of abandoned children, the neglected elderly, black both northern and southern, the abused native American of the Southwest, and finally, the broken lives of prisoners in penitentiaries. To the end of her days, Palfi traveled the country lecturing to whatever groups invited her, whooping hundreds of slides documenting injustices. Her involvement was as impassioned as that of Jacob Riis in the slums of New York, and like the works of Riis, her pictures were used to educate the officials about the need for legislative change.”2

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Imagine if you can being a German arriving in America in 1940, being an alien in a foreign land during the Second World War and then, afterwards, confronting racism head on in her 1949 book There is No More Time: An American Tragedy documenting racism and segregation in Irwinton, GA, the site of the murder of Caleb Hill, the first reported “lynching” of 1949 (the victim was actually shot in the head and body). Don’t forget this is years before Robert Frank, another foreigner, travelled across the country to picture this insular and dysfunctional land in his seminal The Americans (1958). What guts it would have taken!

As noted by Maurice Berger, research professor and the chief curator at the Center for Art Design and Visual Culture at the University of Maryland in his 2015 article “A Meditation on Race, in Shades of White,” on The New York Times website:

“The most significant lesson of “Killers of the Dream,” [by Lillian Smith] one echoed in “There Is No More Time,” was that we must alter our expectations about who was responsible for talking about race. By focusing on the social and cultural mores of white Southerners – and by providing a platform for ordinary people to speak honestly about a difficult and controversial subject – both books exposed the attitudes, fears and rationalisations that underwrote racial prejudice.

They challenged the myth that racism was exceptional, perpetrated only by monstrous or evil people. As Ms. Smith argued, few were spared the “grave illness” of prejudice. “The mother who taught me what I know of tenderness and love and compassion taught me also the bleak rituals of keeping Negroes in their ‘place,'” she observed about the banality and ubiquity of racism.

Similarly and with uncompromising honesty, “There Is No More Time” revealed an enduring secret of American race relations: that ostensibly good people – men and women much like our neighbours, our family and ourselves – could also harbour virulent prejudices. For Ms. Palfi, this revelation was necessary and urgent.”3

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In the photographs from the book in this posting we can see how the banality of evil can fester in a community, for Palfi “was as interested in the discriminator as in the victims of discrimination.” “Obviously, the presence of a photographer in such a community would attract unwanted attention and might have endangered her life. But by a happy stroke of luck, the Vice-President of the Georgia Power Company was interested in her work. Warning her that she must “photograph the South as it really is, not as the North slanders it,” he wanted her to get to meet the “right” people. As it happened, the “right” people turned out to be the very discriminators she wanted to photograph. Left in the protection of the local postmistress, she proceeded to take terms, objective pictures of overseers and white-suited politicians.”4

We only have to look at the countenance of that racist Alexander S. Boone, a certified three-time card carrying member of the Klan with dirty shirt, big fat cigar, painted nails and wig who publishes the local rag, the “official county organ”. Can you imagine him at a lynching? He’d probably be at the front of the queue. Then there is “Baby” Boone, youngest son of “old man” (senior figure, elder statesman) Boone. Behind him on the glass window of his business offering seeds & feeds is a handbill:

Old-fashioned REVIVAL
Mt Pleasant Baptist Church
July 17-22
John L. Mcay

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Old fashioned (one of the meanings of this phrase is: favouring traditional or conservative ideas or customs), and a REVIVAL – Christian revivalism is increased spiritual interest or renewal in the life of a church congregation or society – a church which probably welcomed the Klan card carrying Representative of Wilkinson County in the Georgia Legislature with open arms. And then there is the sheriff of the small community where a young black man had been walked out of a jail cell and shot by two men… when he was innocent of any crime. Nervously fingering his shirt, looking away from the camera. None of this covert racism. A woman explained: “If a white man buys something from a colored man, the colored man may not hand it to the white man.”

Palfi had trouble finding a publisher in America because of the controversial nature of her photographs. No wonder. 1940s American society was not ready to confront the ugly truth staring back at them in the mirror until decades later, and even today, nothing much has changed.

The wife of the victim said, simply, “Caleb was a good man … he believed in his rights and therefore he died.”

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This is a artist and a human being that I would have very much liked to meet. Her photographs are strong, direct, informed, never flinching from the subject matter she was researching and picturing… yet they are also compassionate and caring. As Elizabeth Lindquist-Cock observes, “She fearlessly placed herself in danger again and again, seeing her work as having the possibility of direct influence on a social revolution.”

She placed herself in dangerous situations time and time again – until that particular time (of photographing) has become universal time, until her force majeure, her force of nature and her will for reform, transcends the very time of the photographs creation, bringing us face to face with hidden realities roiling under the surface.

As the protest placard in her photograph Chicago School Boycott (1963-64, below) says and the title of the exhibition opines, “Freedom Must Be Lived” – YES, but freedom must also be fought for! “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good humans to do nothing.”

The battles that Marion Palfi fought have not been won. We are still fighting the same battles all these decades later. There is no more time… change must happen now.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

  1. “Marion Palfi,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 15/12/2021
  2. Elizabeth Lindquist-Cock. “Marion Palfi: An Appreciation,” in The Archive Research Series Number 19, September 1983, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, p. 5.
  3. Maurice Berger. “A Meditation on Race, in Shades of White,” on The New York Times website Sept. 27, 2015 [Online] Cited 27/10/2021
  4. Elizabeth Lindquist-Cock, Op cit.,

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

 

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Chicago School Boycott' 1963-1964

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Chicago School Boycott
1963-1964
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

“We talk about the poverty of the Indian, their port health, their substandard of living – we cry – ! Who is responsible for this? The murder of the American Indian has stopped as such. No more Indian wars, but all kinds of schemes are constantly working to take still their last piece of land (we found oil, uranium, and other valuable minerals and there is fish, timer, etc.) and above all to wipe the image away – erase – “to change the Indian” – Into what? Into a middle class personality with all the ambitions and drives of our society. Competition and exploitation are the most important assets, we think. Foreign to all Indian thinking! What do we actually do? We destroy the Indian completely, mentally, psychologically, and spiritually. You might ask – so what? What is so good not to assimilate with the predominant society? Let me tell you what. Our society destroys lives – with our “know how” destroy all living. We polite the air, the water, poison the plants and animal life. The Indian knew no money, but the Indian knew security, happiness – the Indian was a supreme conserver of nature – of life. The Indian worked with nature not against it.”

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Marion Palfi. “Some Thoughts,” preface to the unpublished manuscript, “My Children, First I liked the Whites, I Gave Them Fruits,” in the possession of Martin Magner, pp. 1-2 quoted in Elizabeth Lindquist-Cock. “Marion Palfi: An Appreciation,” in The Archive Research Series Number 19, September 1983, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, p. 9.

 

“She fearlessly placed herself in danger again and again, seeing her work as having the possibility of direct influence on a social revolution.”

.
Elizabeth Lindquist-Cock. “Marion Palfi: An Appreciation,” in The Archive Research Series Number 19, September 1983, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, p. 8.

 

 

Marion Palfi portraits

 

Unknown photographers
Portraits of Marion Palfi (at left in 1967)

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view and detail of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978 will survey the career of Marion Palfi (1907-1978), who produced an important visual document of 20th-century American injustice.

To tell you about my work. I am developing a new approach to photography… I am photographing only after extensive research, never before. I do not photograph for purely emotional reasons, but only after I became an integral part of the situation, have gained full understanding and knowledge, then I try to ‘write down’ my findings with the camera. My photographs are never editorialized, nor ‘accidents,’ nor posed, but always the ultimate results of thorough research. They must tell the story, so that the words are only needed as commentary or explanation. It goes without saying, I wish my photographs to be artistic achievements, other wise they would be simply a dry documentation and not move the onlooker.

~ Marion Palfi

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With these words Marion Hermine Serita Palfi compressed her intentions as a photographer: to tell a story through photography with a minimum of words; to tell it well, that is, through aesthetically strong images; to tell it knowledgable and patiently – to earn the telling; and to tell it “truthfully” by focusing on the subject, not the technique, personality, or identity of the person holding the camera. With the discipline of a trained dancer, the eye of an artist, and the will of a solitary activist, Marion Palfi never wavered in her commitment to untold stories. She lived a life-in-praxis, connecting belief to action.

Janet Zandy. Unfinished Stories: The Narrative Photography of Hansel Mieth and Marion Palfi. RIT Press, 2013, pp. 71.

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view and detail of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

“Her arrival in New York at a time when America was called “the arsenal of democracy” [1940] unexpectedly confronted her with te fact that the United States was not the ideal society many envisioned. Almost immediately, Palfi became involved in the struggles of minorities for social justice, and soon she was launched upon a career that can only be described as a life-long quest to ameliorate the living conditions of abandoned children, the neglected elderly, black both northern and southern, the abused native American of the Southwest, and finally, the broken lives of prisoners in penitentiaries. To the end of her days, Palfi traveled the country lecturing to whatever groups invited her, whooping hundreds of slides documenting injustices. Her involvement was as impassioned as that of Jacob Riis in the slums of New York, and like the works of Riis, her pictures were used to educate the officials about the need for legislative change.

She was a person, in other words, whose life made a difference in the lives of perfect strangers. Appreciated by humanitarians like John Collier and Eleanor Roosevelt, Sr., recognized and encouraged by artists like Edward Steichen and Langston Hughes, applauded by Karl Menninger, she has nevertheless received less attention than she deserved. As James Enyeart observed, she has remained “invisible in America,” like so many of her pathetic and neglected subjects. It would seem that her extraordinary selflessness and devotion did not help to write her name large in the histories of photography, as the same activities ensured the fame of Jacob Riis, Lewis Hine, Dorothea Lange, or W. Eugene Smith. That inattention should be rectified, especially now, where there seems to be, once again, a general callousness toward the less fortunate members of our society and a devastating neglect of racial and ethnic minorities. The battles that Marion Palfi fought have not been won. They continue today, with the startling increase in the numbers of older women in poverty. the increasing withdrawal of government support to the American Indians, the hungry children, and the black youths without employment. Photography continues to be a potent medium that needs to be revitalized by spirits like Palfi.”

Elizabeth Lindquist-Cock. “Marion Palfi: An Appreciation,” in The Archive Research Series Number 19, September 1983, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, p. 5.

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view detail of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum showing at left, Girl Scouts Troop (30 Girls, 16 Nationalities) 1944; at top right, Sono Osato – Dancing on the Roof 1944; and at bottom right, Dean Dixon as Guest Conductor at the Juilliard School c. 1944
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

Sono Osato (American, 1919-2018)

Sono Osato (大里 ソノ, Osato Sono, August 29, 1919 – December 26, 2018) was an American dancer and actress.

In 1927, when she was eight, Osato’s mother took her and her sister to Europe for two years; while in Monte Carlo, they attended a performance of Cléopâtre by Sergei Diaghilev’s famous Ballets Russes company, which inspired Osato to start ballet classes when she returned to Chicago in late 1929. She studied with prominent dancers Berenice Holmes and Adolph Bolm.

She performed with ballet companies Ballets Russe de Monte-Carlo and the American Ballet Theatre. As an actress, she starred alongside Frank Sinatra in the film The Kissing Bandit.

Osato began her career at the age of fourteen with Wassily de Basil’s Ballets Russe de Monte-Carlo, which at the time was the world’s most well known ballet company; she was the youngest member of the troupe, their first American dancer and their first dancer of Japanese descent. De Basil tried to persuade Osato to change her name to a Russian name, but she refused to do so. She spent six years touring the United States, Europe, Australia and South America with the company, leaving in 1941 as she felt her career was stagnating. She went to study at the School of American Ballet in New York City for six months, then joined the American Ballet Theatre as a dancer. While at the ABT, she danced roles in such ballets as Kenneth MacMillan’s Sleeping Beauty, Antony Tudor’s Pillar of Fire, and Bronislava Nijinska’s The Beloved.

As a musical theatre performer, her Broadway credits included principal dancer in One Touch of Venus (a performance for which she received a Donaldson Award in 1943), Ivy Smith in the original On the Town, and Cocaine Lil in Ballet Ballads.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Dean Dixon (American, 1915-1976)

Charles Dean Dixon (January 10, 1915 – November 3, 1976) was an American conductor.

Dixon was born in the upper-Manhattan neighbourhood of Harlem in New York City to parents who had earlier migrated from the Caribbean. He studied conducting with Albert Stoessel at the Juilliard School and Columbia University. When early pursuits of conducting engagements were stifled because of racial bias (he was African American), he formed his own orchestra and choral society in 1931. In 1941, he guest-conducted the NBC Symphony Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic during its summer season. He later guest-conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra and Boston Symphony Orchestra. In 1948 he won the Ditson Conductor’s Award.

In 1949, he left the United States for the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, which he directed during its 1950 and 1951 seasons. He was principal conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony in Sweden 1953-60, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in Australia 1964-67, and the hr-Sinfonieorchester in Frankfurt 1961-74. During his time in Europe, Dixon guest-conducted with the WDR Sinfonieorchester in Cologne and the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks in Munich. He also made several recordings with the Prague Symphony Orchestra in 1968-73 for Bärenreiter, including works of Beethoven, Brahms, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Schumann, Wagner, and Weber. For Westminster Records in the 1950s, his recordings included symphonies and incidental music for Rosamunde by Schubert, symphonic poems of Liszt (in London with the Royal Philharmonic), and symphonies of Schumann (in Vienna with the Volksoper Orchester). Dixon also recorded several American works for the American Recording Society in Vienna. Some of his WDR broadcast recordings were issued on Bertelsmann and other labels. Dean Dixon introduced the works of many American composers, such as William Grant Still, to European audiences.

During the 1968 Olympic Games, Dixon conducted the Mexican National Symphony Orchestra.

Dixon returned to the United States for guest-conducting engagements with the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Symphony, Milwaukee Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony, St. Louis Symphony, and San Francisco Symphony in the 1970s. He also served as the conductor of the Brooklyn Philharmonic, where he gained fame for his children’s concerts. He also conducted most of the major symphony orchestras in Africa, Israel, and South America. Dixon’s last appearance in the US was conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra in April 1975.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view detail of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum showing three Untitled 1930s photographs and at bottom right, Dutch Film Director 1937
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Nurse George, Louisville, Georgia' 1946-1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Nurse George, Louisville, Georgia
1946-1949
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'School Patrol, Detroit' 1946-1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
School Patrol, Detroit
1946-1949
Gelatin silver print
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum

 

Installation view of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

In 1945, Ebony was founded by Black businessman John H. Johnson as a sleek monthly illustrated magazine from the African-American market in a time when few major media outlets addressed Black readers and consumers. Intended to emulate the glossy look of Life and Look magazines, it featured photo essays and long-form articles chronicling all aspects of Black American life, including current events in race relations, and the successes of Black artists, athletes, scientists, and celebrities. Marion Palfi contributed photographs to the inaugural issue in November 1945, including the cover image of students at a racially integrated elementary school. Over the next five years she was regular contributor to the magazine, covering subjects ranging from National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and cases in the U.S. Supreme Court, to all aspects of the fight against racial segregation, to famous cultural figures like Langston Hughes and Dean Dixon.

Between 1950 and 1951, Marion Palfi embarked on a cross-country trip for a study on housing integrity. Her photographs charted the distressed living conditions of Black Americans, immigrants, and sharecroppers – the result of redlining [refuse (a loan or insurance) to someone because they live in an area deemed to be a poor financial risk], blockbusting [the practice of persuading owners to sell property cheaply because of the fear of people of another race or class moving into the neighbourhood, and then profiting by reselling at a higher price], urban renewal, white flight [the phenomenon of white people moving out of urban areas, particularly those with significant minority populations, and into suburban areas], and the long legacy of racialised federal, state, and local housing policies. In cities as far apart as Charlottesville, Virginia; Phoenix, Arizona; Waterbury, Connecticut; Chicago, Illinois; and Sledge, Mississippi, Palfi interviewed and photographed people living in unsanitary and crowded conditions in parcelled tenements, boarding houses, and other low-income housing settlements. She trained her camera on the crumbling edifices of buildings and the communities experiencing poverty who lived there. The resulting booklet, In These 10 Cities (1951), co-published by the New York State Committee on Discrimination in Housing and the Public Affairs Committee, featured her photographs and research alongside text by the political activist Alexander L. Crosby, as part of a series of “picture pamphlets” meant to edify New Yorkers on national issues of social concern.

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled, Boston' 1946-1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled, Boston
1946-1949
Gelatin silver print
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Somewhere in the South' 1946-1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Somewhere in the South
1946-1949
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Janet Zandy. 'Unfinished Stories: The Narrative Photography of Hansel Mieth and Marion Palfi'. RIT Press, 2013, pp. 94-95

 

Janet Zandy. Unfinished Stories: The Narrative Photography of Hansel Mieth and Marion Palfi. RIT Press, 2013, pp. 94-95

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view and details of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum showing at top left, Waterbury, Connecticut (from the In These Ten Cities series, 1951) bottom left, In the Shadow of the Capitol, Washington, D.C. 1946-1948; and at bottom right, New York 1946-1949
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Waterbury, Connecticut' 1951

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Waterbury, Connecticut
1951
From the series In These Ten Cities
Gelatin silver print
26.2 x 34.2cm

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Phoenix' 1951

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Phoenix
1951
From the series In These Ten Cities
Gelatin silver print
26.3 x 34.6cm

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Chicago' 1951

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Chicago
1951
From the series In These Ten Cities
Gelatin silver print
31.8 x 26.5cm

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Hudson School for Girls, the Only New York State Training School for Delinquent Girls, Solitary' 1946-49

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Hudson School for Girls, the Only New York State Training School for Delinquent Girls, Solitary
1946-49
From the Suffer Little Children series, 1946-1949
Gelatin silver print
24.0 x 20.2cm

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'In the Shadow of the Capitol, Washington, D.C.' 1946-1948

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
In the Shadow of the Capitol, Washington, D.C.
1946-1948
From the Suffer Little Children series, 1946-1949
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Los Angeles' 1946-1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Los Angeles
1946-1949
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Three children playing behind houses in Boyle Heights' 1946

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Three children playing behind houses in Boyle Heights
1946
Gelatin silver print
UCLA, Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library

 

 

Marion Palfi (1907-1978), an immigrant photographer and member of the New York Photo League, a pivotal organisation in photography and U.S. history, took photographs of girls at the Training School in Hudson, NY. Though she was one of the most under-recognised of the Photo League photographers, Palfi’s images of girls at the New York State Training School for Girls may be the best-known photographs ever taken at the Hudson prison.

Palfi, who called herself a “social research photographer”, was born in Germany and came to America from Amsterdam in 1940 just ahead of Adolf Hitler’s invasion of Europe. Soon thereafter she launched a ‘study’ on minority artists and met Langston Hughes who became an ardent supporter of her work until his death in 1967. In 1946, Palfi received a Rosenwald Fellowship, the second ever granted by the foundation for photography and the only one ever given for photography on race relations. The grant made possible a nation-wide study of children and youth that resulted in an exhibition, “Children in America” and a book, Suffer Little Children, published in 1952. The exhibition opened in January of 1949 at the New York Public Library and subsequently traveled for three years throughout the United States. The photographs in the exhibition and book showed children and youth suffering from everything from poverty and prejudice to prisons and delinquency.

Though reputedly the first white photojournalist to focus specifically on the linkages between racism and poverty, in Suffer Little Children Palfi focused on the diversity of American society, not isolating one ethnic group and their difficulties. She portrayed poverty as a destructive force affecting African Americans, Asian Americans, whites and Latinos alike. She attacked the suffering of children with a particular fury: “Poverty is like the murdering of little angels”, she wrote.

Many of her images for the project comment on the physical limits of the national vision, exploring the very bars, walls, and gestures that separate outsiders from larger society. Palfi presents photographs of white girls at the Training School in Hudson including a 12-year-old white girl in “solitary confinement”.

Of these images she writes: “At the time (of her visit to the NYS Training School for Girls in 1946), 15 girls were in ‘solitary’ in the ‘discipline’ cottage. The first 10 days the girls received bread and milk for two of their three meals. One girl spent 81 days in solitary confinement, aside from periods when she was let out to scrub the floors in the corridor. One of the girls was talking to herself. The matron was very annoyed and said to her through the door: ‘You know you may not talk now – it is rest period.’ Girls were sent to the discipline cottage for running away, breaking other rules or for being too emotionally disturbed.”

Anonymous text. “Suffer Little Children,” on the Prison Public Memory website, October 28, 2014 [Online] Cited 26/10/2021

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled
1949
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

About the exhibition

This retrospective exhibition will survey the career of Marion Palfi (1907-1978), who produced an important visual document of 20th-century American injustice. Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978 features more than 100 photographic prints and numerous archival materials, including photobooks, magazine spreads, research journals, and grant applications, drawn exclusively from the Center for Creative Photography’s vast Marion Palfi Archive. Many of these prints and materials have never before been exhibited or published and will offer an unprecedented opportunity to draw new insights into the work.

Palfi’s philosophy of using photography to influence social change shaped her vision and distinguished her career. A German immigrant to the United States during World War II, Palfi arrived in Los Angeles to find a reality far from the myth of the American Dream. Outraged at the economic, racial, and social inequalities she encountered, she spent more than three decades traveling throughout the United States documenting various communities to expose the links between racism and poverty. As a self-described “social research photographer,” Palfi aspired for her photographs to live in the world and effect social change. Her work was featured in numerous American periodicals, including Ebony and The New York Times. Sponsors for her work included the Council Against Intolerance in America, the NAACP, and the New York State Committee on Discrimination in Housing.

Each of the photographer’s four major projects are represented in the exhibition, including her piercing nationwide study of children living in poverty; her decades-long civil rights activism documenting the effects of systemic racism against African Americans; her research on the abject conditions of ageing in New York; and her revelatory pictures, funded by a 1967 Guggenheim Fellowship, of the forced relocation of Indigenous off of reservations in the Southwest. Weaving together more than three decades of work, the exhibition elucidates Palfi’s sustained focus on themes of inequity, solitude, and racial victimisation. Taken as a whole, it elucidates the photographer’s crusade for human rights and presents a cumulative photographic record that resonates with many of the social concerns still plaguing the United States today.

Text from the Phoenix Art Museum website

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Los Angeles, Anti Klan Meeting Where Klan Did Strike' 1946-1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Los Angeles, Anti Klan Meeting Where Klan Did Strike
1946-1949
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum

 

Installation view of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view detail of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum showing at top, Florida 1946-49; and at bottom, Detroit, Paradise Valley 1946-1949
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

This summer, Phoenix Art Museum will present Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, the first major solo exhibition of the photographer’s incisive work since her death in 1978. A self-described “social-research photographer,” Marion Palfi observed and documented victims of discrimination over three decades, exposing the links between racism and poverty in the United States. Organised by Phoenix Art Museum and the Center for Creative Photography (CCP), University of Arizona, and drawing exclusively from CCP’s vast Marion Palfi Archive, Freedom Must Be Lived features more than 80 prints and extensive archival materials, many of which have never before been exhibited or published. Shedding light on Palfi’s career-long focus on themes of inequity, solitude, and racial victimisation, the exhibition provides unprecedented insight into the work of a photographer who created one of the most powerful visual documentations of 20th-century American injustice. Freedom Must Be Lived will be on view July 21, 2021 through January 2, 2022.

“We are delighted to present this timely exhibition of Marion Palfi’s socially conscious photography with Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America,” said Gilbert Vicario, Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs and the Selig Family Chief Curator of Phoenix Art Museum. “This powerful and poignant retrospective highlights an extraordinary photographer whose work has been under-recognised for more than four decades, furthering the Museum’s commitment to showcasing works by diverse artists whose legacies have not yet been fully acknowledged in the canon of art history.”

A German immigrant to the United States who fled during World War II, Palfi arrived in New York to a reality that stood in stark contrast with the myth of the American Dream. Outraged at the economic, racial, and social inequalities she encountered, Palfi spent the next three and a half decades traveling the nation to document various subjects, including the elderly, families of hate-crime victims, abandoned children, residents of the Jim Crow South, Los Angeles-prison inmates, Puerto Rican immigrants in New York, white supremacist groups, and Navajo families who were the victims of government-enforced relocation and “acculturation.” Her work was featured in numerous U.S. periodicals throughout her career, including Ebony and The New York Times, and she received sponsorships from the Council Against Intolerance in America, the NAACP, and the New York State Committee on Discrimination in Housing. Palfi also passed on her political and aesthetic philosophies through her role as an educator, teaching classes on the “social uses of photography” at the Photo League School (1948), The New School for Social Research (1959-1962), UCLA (1965-1966), and other institutions.

“Palfi’s vision and commitment to social justice allowed her to build a visual archive of otherwise ‘invisible’ Americans, reminding us of photography’s ability to influence social change,” said Audrey Sands, PhD, the Norton Family Assistant Curator of Photography at Phoenix Art Museum, a joint appointment with the Center for Creative Photography. “Her trenchant, poetic, and piercing work reflects her compassion behind the lens. She actively confronted the political, racial, and economic injustices that overshadowed her lifetime, so many of which still plague our country today. Given the continued resonance of these topics, now is the perfect moment to rediscover Palfi’s important work.”

Organised to showcase the four major projects of her career, the exhibition presents photographs from Palfi’s piercing nationwide study of disadvantaged children living in poverty, her documentation of systemic racism against Black Americans, her research into the abject living conditions of New York’s ageing population, as well as her revelatory photographs, funded by a 1967 Guggenheim Fellowship, of the forced relocation of Hopi, Navajo, and Papago peoples in the Southwest. The exhibition’s numerous archival materials, including photobooks, magazine spreads, project proposals, and field research notes, provide audiences with additional context about the scope of Palfi’s photographic practice.

Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America is the most recent collaboration between Phoenix Art Museum and the Center for Creative Photography. Over the past 13 years, the two institutions have organised nearly 40 exhibitions that bring outstanding works spanning the history of photography to wider audiences in Arizona and beyond.

Press release from the Phoenix Art Museum

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (Woman in a patterned summer suit)' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (Woman in a patterned summer suit)
1949
From the book There Is No More Time: An American Tragedy
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (Black woman with a white child)' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (Black woman with a white child)
1949
From the book There Is No More Time: An American Tragedy
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

 

“As a photographer, she was as interested in the discriminator as in the victims of discrimination. Long before what we tend to think of as the crux of the civil rights struggle in the 1960s, Palfi went to Georgia at a particularly dangerous time. In 1949, she was drawn to do an in-depth portrait of Irwinton, a small community where a young black man had been torn out of jail and shot by a lynch mob. The tremendous public outcry over this barbaric incident included front-page coverage and editorials by the New York Times. Obviously, the presence of a photographer in such a community would attract unwanted attention and might have endangered her life. But by a happy stroke of luck, the Vice-President of the Georgia Power Company was interested in her work. Warning her that she must “photograph the South as it really is, not as the North slanders it,” he wanted her to get to meet the “right” people. As it happened, the “right” people turned out to be the very discriminators she wanted to photograph. Left in the protection of the local postmistress, she proceeded to take terms, objective pictures of overseers and white-suited politicians.

Even if the press had not indicted Irwinton for its racism, the extreme conservatism and tension were evident in the faces of its citizens. She found a white supremacist group, “The Columbians,” whose insignia was a thunderbolt, the symbol of Hitler’s elite guard. “Mein Kampf was their bible,” she believed. Meanwhile, the wife of the lunch victim said, simply, “Caleb was a good man … he believed in his rights and therefore he died.”

Elizabeth Lindquist-Cock. “Marion Palfi: An Appreciation,” in The Archive Research Series Number 19, September 1983, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, pp. 7-8.

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (Alexander S. Boone)' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (Alexander S. Boone)
1949
From the book There Is No More Time: An American Tragedy
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (Mr. Ralph Culpepper)' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (Mr. Ralph Culpepper)
1949
From the book There Is No More Time: An American Tragedy
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (Baby Boone, youngest son of Old Man Boone)' 1949z

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (Baby Boone, youngest son of Old Man Boone)
1949
From the book There Is No More Time: An American Tragedy
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (I asked, "Are you one of the commissioners?")' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (I asked, “Are you one of the commissioners?”)
1949
From the book There Is No More Time: An American Tragedy
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (Portrait of Mrs. Caleb Hill, widow of a lynching victim)' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (Portrait of Mrs. Caleb Hill, widow of a lynching victim)
1949
From the book There Is No More Time: An American Tragedy
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

 

THE SOUTH: Death of Picky Pie

Monday, June 13, 1949
Time Magazine

 

The crackers sat in the sun, their backs to the decaying summer house and watched the strangers. Irwinton seemed full of strangers, their cars raising clouds of red Georgia dust. Said one resentfully: “We had a white man lay over in a swamp near Big Sandy Creek till the buzzards ate him up, and they found his bones. We didn’t have a single newspaperman look at the bones. But seein’ as Picky Pie is a nigger he makes headlines.” Irwinton was reacting to 1949’s first lynching.

It all started Sunday night, when Sheriff George C. Hatcher was waked by a Negro. He was bleeding across the chest. “Picky Pie Hill done did me over at the New Harlem Club in Mclntyre,” he said. The sheriff jumped into his car and headed for the tin-roofed Negro juke joint four miles away.

Bare bulbs glared through the smoky, crowded room. Caleb (“Picky Pie”) Hill, a husky, 28-year-old Negro, was drunk, but the sheriff got handcuffs on him, and began to question witnesses. Suddenly, the sheriff felt his pistol pulled from the holster, turned to find Picky Pie aiming at his head. Hatcher ducked and the bullet went into the ceiling. In the scuffle, the sheriff’s pistol got lost. The sheriff took his prisoner back to town and put him in a cell with another Negro in the jail on the second floor of the sheriff’s house. Then he went back to get his pistol. It took him 2½ hours.

The Door Was Open. The sheriff explained later: “The trouble was a report had got around that the Negro had killed me. The men were pretty riled up and when they didn’t find me at home, they thought maybe I was dead.”

While he was gone, two men walked into the sheriff’s house. They had no trouble. The keys to the jail were on a cabinet in the living room, where the sheriff had left them, and the front door was open – “if I lock it the lock sticks,” explained the sheriff. The men calmly picked up the keys and went upstairs to the cell. “Come on, Picky Pie, let’s go,” one said. Without a protest, Picky Pie walked out with them. Mrs. Hatcher, asleep downstairs, heard no commotion.

Next morning two young farmers found Hill’s body, face downward in the sandy Georgia roadside, near Big Sandy Creek. He had been shot through the head and body. Roused, Sheriff Hatcher was amazed: “I thought, could it be they’d come and got my prisoner? I ran upstairs and sure enough, Hill was gone.”

No Memory. At the inquest, Tom Carswell, the Negro who had shared Hill’s cell, shook perceptibly as he was questioned. “They were white and there were two of them,” he said. Did he recognise them? “I know just about everybody around here, but I never saw those two before.” Wispy-haired Coroner C. C. Thompson, who is also Mclntyre’s town butcher, asked: “You probably couldn’t identify the men if you saw them again, could you?” “No, suh,” said Carswell eagerly.

Around the square, the loafers settled back and talked it over: “He was a bad nigger, all bad.” Picky Pie had worked in the chalk mines, but mostly he bootlegged liquor. He had been arrested several times before, once for shooting at a white boy just to make him jump. They snorted at the reports that he supported his crippled father and three sisters besides his wife and three children.

But the reporters and all made the coroner nervous. Leaning on his meat counter, he declared: “I am still making a desperate effort to apprehend the guilty party.” Sheriff Hatcher called in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and dug the bullets out of Picky Pie. At week’s end, the G.B.I, arrested two white men on suspicion. They figured there were more, and were still looking for them.

Anonymous text. “THE SOUTH: Death of Picky Pie,” in Time Magazine, Monday, June 13, 1949 on the Time website [Online] Cited 27/10/2021.

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Josie Hill, Wife of a Lynch Victim, Irwinton, Georgia' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Josie Hill, Wife of a Lynch Victim, Irwinton, Georgia
1949
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (And the traveling preacher asked them to pray for: "Salvation...")' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (And the traveling preacher asked them to pray for: “Salvation…”)
1949
From the book There Is No More Time: An American Tragedy
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (A woman explained: "If a white man buys something...")' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (A woman explained: “If a white man buys something…”)
1949
From the book There Is No More Time: An American Tragedy
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (Woman in church holding a fan over her face)' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (Woman in church holding a fan over her face)
1949
Gelatin silver print
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

 

Ms. Palfi set out to document racism and segregation in Irwinton, Ga., the small town where Caleb Hill, in the first reported lynching of 1949, was murdered.

Later that year, Ms. Palfi spent two weeks in Irwinton documenting its residents, both black and white.

Juxtaposing portraits, Ms. Palfi’s written observations and interview excerpts, “There Is No More Time” chronicles the many faces and viewpoints of white supremacy in Irwinton: the obedience to God and family; the religious and pseudoscientific justifications for believing that black people were inherently inferior; the resentment of outside intervention in the South’s racial affairs; and the determination to protect the legal authority of white people.

The book also demonstrates that white racial attitudes were neither uniform nor without ambivalence. Some qualified their prejudices by also voicing disdain for poor whites. Others unconsciously revealed the insecurity and self-doubt that fuelled their bitterness and, by extension, bigotry. Some discreetly criticised the biases of their neighbours, while others attacked them as traitors for doing so.

The town’s African-American residents appear in the book less frequently but to great dramatic effect. Their images make clear the tragic consequences of racial prejudice, their lives compromised and shattered in innumerable ways. This was no more evident than in the haunting portrait of Mr. Hill’s widow (image below) or in the text of an anonymous letter from black prisoners, unceasingly abused and dehumanised by their white jailers. …

The back story of “There Is No More Time” reveals much about Ms. Palfi’s sophisticated and prescient understanding of American race relations. The manuscript met with considerable resistance from publishers. Contending that the subject matter “in these sticky times would not be very well received,” one rejection letter subtly accused her of overstating the problem of segregation.

In order to make her book more appealing, the photographer offered to collaborate with a well-known author. Although her choice, Lillian Smith, ultimately declined, and Ms. Palfi wrote the text herself, the selection was telling. Five years earlier, Ms. Smith rose to prominence with the publication of her best-selling novel “Strange Fruit,” on the then controversial subject of interracial romance. But it was “Killers of the Dream,” her more recently published analysis of the origins and persistence of racism in the Jim Crow South, that undoubtedly caught Ms. Palfi’s attention.

In contrast to other race books of the period, “Killers of the Dream” examined prejudice not just from the perspective of its victims, but also through the candid autobiographical observations of its Southern white author.

The most significant lesson of “Killers of the Dream,” one echoed in “There Is No More Time,” was that we must alter our expectations about who was responsible for talking about race. By focusing on the social and cultural mores of white Southerners – and by providing a platform for ordinary people to speak honestly about a difficult and controversial subject – both books exposed the attitudes, fears and rationalisations that underwrote racial prejudice.

They challenged the myth that racism was exceptional, perpetrated only by monstrous or evil people. As Ms. Smith argued, few were spared the “grave illness” of prejudice. “The mother who taught me what I know of tenderness and love and compassion taught me also the bleak rituals of keeping Negroes in their ‘place,'” she observed about the banality and ubiquity of racism.

Similarly and with uncompromising honesty, “There Is No More Time” revealed an enduring secret of American race relations: that ostensibly good people – men and women much like our neighbours, our family and ourselves – could also harbour virulent prejudices. For Ms. Palfi, this revelation was necessary and urgent.

“There is no more time, we must act now – the whole world is looking on,” she wrote in the book’s foreword. Sixty-five years later, the problem remains dire and far from resolved as we cling to the belief that it is always, inevitably, the others who hate and discriminate.

Maurice Berger. “A Meditation on Race, in Shades of White,” on The New York Times website Sept. 27, 2015 [Online] Cited 27/10/2021

Maurice Berger is a research professor and the chief curator at the Center for Art Design and Visual Culture at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and a consulting curator at the Jewish Museum in New York.

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Saturday, Louisville, Georgia' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Saturday, Louisville, Georgia
1949
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum

 

Installation view and details of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Case History' 1955-1957

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Case History
1955-1957
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Manhattan State Hospital' c. 1955

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Manhattan State Hospital
c. 1955
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Manhattan State Hospital' c. 1955 (detail)

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Manhattan State Hospital (detail)
c. 1955
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

Born into an aristocratic family in Berlin in 1907, Ms. Palfi began her career as an actress and model. Distressed by Germany’s increasingly reactionary politics, she turned to photography as a form of personal expression and activism. In 1935, she opened a photo studio in Amsterdam. Five years later, having married an American serviceman, she immigrated to New York.

A member of the activist Photo League, Ms. Palfi believed that photographs, beyond merely representing problems, could influence social change.

“A Palfi photograph brings us face to face with hidden realities that its surface only causes us to begin to explore,” wrote the American poet Langston Hughes, a friend and admirer of her work.

Ms. Palfi produced photo essays on a range of pressing social issues, including child abuse and delinquency, the neglect of seniors, Native American displacement, prison inmate rights, and the ways poverty, segregation and racism imperilled democracy. She died in 1978.

Maurice Berger. “A Meditation on Race, in Shades of White,” on The New York Times website Sept. 27, 2015 [Online] Cited 27/10/2021

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Men's Shelter, New York – Your Fortune Must Be Less Thank $2 To Be Acceptable' 1956-58

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Men’s Shelter, New York – Your Fortune Must Be Less Thank $2 To Be Acceptable
1956-58
from the series You Have Never Been Old
Gelatin silver print
23.9 x 34.3cm

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Case History' 1956-58

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Case History
1956-58
from the series You Have Never Been Old
Gelatin silver print
26.3 x 34.3cm

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum

 

Installation view of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum showing at top left, At the Lincoln Memorial, March on Washington 1963; at top right, Chicago School Boycott 1963-1964; at bottom left, Untitled c. 1963; and at bottom right, Cleveland, Ohio 1963-1964
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view of At the Lincoln Memorial, March on Washington 1963 from the exhibition Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021 Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi. 'At the Lincoln Memorial, March on Washington' 1963

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
At the Lincoln Memorial, March on Washington
1963
Gelatin silver print
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view of Chicago School Boycott 1963-1964 from the exhibition Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021 Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view of Untitled c. 1963 from the exhibition Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021 Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view of Cleveland, Ohio 1963-1964 from the exhibition Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021 Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Cleveland, Ohio' 1963-1964

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Cleveland, Ohio
1963-1964
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view and detail of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view and detail of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum showing at top left, Untitled c. 1967; at top right, Untitled c. 1967; at bottom left, A Medicine Man and his Family Live in “Low Cost Housing” 1967-1969; and at bottom right, A Meeting in the Traditional Village of Hotelvilla 1964
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'At Madera, California, the Bureau of Indian Affairs Has a School. "To Change the Indian Is Our Job!" New Arrival' 1967-1969

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
At Madera, California, the Bureau of Indian Affairs Has a School. “To Change the Indian Is Our Job!” New Arrival
1967-1969
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Navajo, Relocation; Leaving Home' 1967-1969

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Navajo, Relocation; Leaving Home
1967-1969
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Navajo Family Life, the Blue Lake Family on the Black Mesa' 1967-69

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Navajo Family Life, the Blue Lake Family on the Black Mesa
1967-69
From the series First I Liked the Whites, l Gave Them Fruits
Gelatin silver print
23.9 x 34.2cm

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled' 1967-69 From the series 'First I Liked the Whites, l Gave Them Fruits'

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled
1967-69
From the series First I Liked the Whites, l Gave Them Fruits
Gelatin silver print
29.7 x 41.9cm

 

 

Biography

Social documentary photographer Marion Palfi (1907-1978) sought equity, opportunity, and justice for all people, using her camera as a tool for that end. Farm Security Administration projects and the Photo League inspired her initial efforts toward reform, but for Palfi, the desire for social change was a lifelong pursuit.

Marion Palfi was born in Berlin in 1907 to a Hungarian father and a Polish mother. Her father, Victor Palfi, came from an aristocratic family and became an important producer-director in the German theatre. Her parents provided her with an upper middle class life that included private schooling in both Berlin and Hamburg, where she learned English. She began studying dance at thirteen and eventually followed her father into a career on the stage. A lucrative modelling career and debut performances in film ensued.

After a short time in the limelight, however, she renounced her status as a privileged member of German society, and left the theater. She acquired a small folding camera and began a two-year apprenticeship at a Berlin portrait studio. By 1932, she opened a commercial portraiture and photojournalism studio. Palfi married a journalist and they traveled across Europe, but by the end of 1935 Palfi had opened a studio in Amsterdam alone. In 1940, just before Hitler’s army entered the Low Countries, she married an American serviceman and emigrated to New York.

Palfi gained employment in 1944, developing and retouching governmental war photographs at Pavelle Laboratories, and devoted evenings and weekends to her own photography. A crucial first project, “Great American Artists of Minority Groups and Democracy at Work,” was sponsored by the Council Against Intolerance in America. Through this assignment, she met Langston Hughes, the American poet, who became an ardent supporter. He would say of her work, “A Palfi photograph brings us face to face with hidden realities that its surface only causes us to begin to explore.” Her close ties with Hughes allowed her to establish a circle of friends that included John Collier, Sr., Eleanor Roosevelt, Edward Steichen, and Lisette Model.

Between 1945 and 1955 Palfi was included in group exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, New York’s Photo League, and in a solo exhibition at the New York Public Library. She received four major awards in her lifetime: a Julius Rosenwald Fellowship (1946), a Taconic Foundation grant (1963), a Guggenheim Fellowship (1967), and a National Endowment for the Arts grant ( 1974). In addition to such sources, she supported her photographic investigations at her own expense; the liberal press and African-American picture magazines also championed her views and images.

Throughout her mature career Palfi produced photographic essays on subjects of social concern, always with the intent of building public awareness that would ultimately lead to better living and working conditions. Unfortunately, the social documentary approach came to be associated with liberal political ideas and the New Deal, and therefore in direct opposition to the conservative policies of Harry Truman’s government of the late 1940s. Some of the issues she addressed include racism, Native American living conditions and relocation, juvenile delinquency, elder housing, the infringement of prison inmate rights, the effects of child neglect and abuse, the rise of gangs, and the persistence of poverty and slums. Throughout her years in America, Palfi eschewed a more lucrative career, producing photojournalistic work that conformed to popular expectations, and chose instead to pursue imagery that challenged notions of the American Dream.

Additional biographical information on Marion Palfi can be found in two Center publications – The Archive number 19 (1983) and Guide Series number 10 (1985). The Center is the largest repository of Palfi material, with over 1,100 fine prints. The archive contains materials from major photographic projects from 1945 to 1978, correspondence between Palfi and friends, photographers, scholars, writers, publishers, and governmental and private institutions on subjects including her philosophy of using photography to influence social change, her sales of photographs, and her mostly unsuccessful efforts to publish her work. Of particular research value are her scrapbooks, research notes, draft manuscripts, and book maquettes.

Text from the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona website [Online] Cited 26/10/2021

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled' 1975 From the series 'Ask Me lf l Got Justice'

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled
1975
From the series Ask Me lf l Got Justice
Gelatin silver print
18.7 x 24.2cm

 

 

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16
Dec
18

Exhibition: ‘Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing’ at Jeu de Paume, Concorde, Paris

Exhibition dates: 16th October 2018 – 27th January 2019

Curators: Drew Heath Johnson, Oakland Museum of California, Alona Pardo and Jilke Golbach, Barbican Art Gallery, Pia Viewing, Jeu de Paume.

 

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California
1936
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland. Gift of Paul S. Taylor

 

 

A further posting on this exhibition, now showing at Jeu de Paume in Paris.

Eleven new media images, two videos, a selection of quotes from Dorothea Lange, and text from the exhibition curator Pia Viewing.

The most interesting of the images is the wide shot Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California (1936, above), part of a series of six that Lange took of Florence Owens Thompson and her children, the last image of which was to become the iconic image (see text below). The story of that image is fascinating and is told in detail in text from Wikipedia and other sources below.

It would seem that Lange was mistaken or made up the story to fill in the blanks; and that the image was at first a curse (ashamed that the world could see how poor they were) and now a source of pride, to the Thompson family. As the text pertinently notes, “The photograph’s fame caused distress for Thompson and her children and raised ethical concerns about turning individuals into symbols.”

Marcus

.
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.

 

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California [with thumb at bottom right removed]
1936
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland. Gift of Paul S. Taylor

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Destitute pea pickers in California' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California [original title, thumb removed; digital file, post-conservation]
1936
Library of Congress

 

Digital file was made from the original nitrate negative for “Migrant Mother” (LC-USF34-009058-C). The negative was retouched in the 1930s to erase the thumb holding a tent pole in lower right hand corner.

The file print made before the thumb was retouched can be seen at http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.12883

Title from caption card for negative. Title on print: “Destitute pea pickers in California. A 32 year old mother of seven children.”

 

 

Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California. In the 1930s, the FSA employed several photographers to document the effects of the Great Depression on Americans. Many of the photographs can also be seen as propaganda images to support the U.S. government’s policy distributing support to the worst affected, poorer areas of the country. Dorothea Lange’s image of a migrant pea picker, Florence Owens Thompson, and her family has become an icon of resilience in the face of adversity. Lange actually took six images that day, the last being the famous “Migrant Mother”. This is a montage of the other five pictures. Persons in picture (left to right) are: Viola (Pete) in rocker, age 14, standing inside tent; Ruby, age 5; Katherine, age 4, seated on box; Florence, age 32, and infant Norma, age 1 year, being held by Florence. Pete has moved inside the tent, and away from Lange, in hopes her photo can not be taken. Katherine stands next to her mother. Florence is talking to Ruby, who is hiding behind her mother, as Lange took the picture. Florence is nursing Norma. Katherine has moved back from her mother as Lange approached to take this shot. Ruby is still hiding behind her mother. Left to right are Florence, Ruby and baby Norma. Florence stopped nursing Norma and Ruby has come out from behind her. This photograph was the one used by the newspapers the following day to report the story of the migrants. Portrait shows Florence Owens Thompson with several of her children in a photograph known as “Migrant Mother”.

  1. Persons in picture (left to right) are: Viola (Pete) in rocker, age 14; standing inside tent, Ruby, age 5; Katherine, age 4; seated on box, Florence, age 32, and infant Norma, age 1 year, being held by Florence
  2. Viola has moved inside the tent. Katherine stands next to her mother. Florence is talking to Ruby, who is behind her mother
  3. Florence is nursing Norma. Katherine has moved back from her mother. Ruby is still behind her mother
  4. Left to right are Florence, Ruby and baby Norma
  5. Florence stopped nursing Norma. Ruby is still next to her mother. This photograph was the one used by the newspapers the following day to report the story of the starving migrants

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California' 1936

 

“We do not know the order in which these photographs were taken, since they are 4″ x 5” individual negatives rather than 35mm film strips, which provide a record of the sequence of continuous exposures. However, Lange indicates in the above statement she moved closer as she continued to photograph. If that is true, then we have a good idea of the general order. We do know that one was selected, likely as a joint decision between Lange and representatives of the Resettlement Administration.

While “Migrant Mother” is well known, what is far less known is that Lange took six or seven pictures, five of which still exist. Lange posed Ms. Florence Thompson in different positions and used some of her seven children to create a series of compelling images. She asked Thompson to shift the position of the child in her arms to get the greatest emotional effect. Linda Gordon’s biography of Lange describes this as follows:

Lange asked the mother and children to move into several different positions. She began with a mid-distance shot. Then she backed up for one shot, then came closer for others. She moved aside a pile of dirty clothes (she would never embarrass her subjects). She then moved closer yet, focusing on three younger children and sidelining the teenage daughter out of the later pictures altogether… she offered the photographs to the press. The San Francisco News published two of them on March 10, 1936. In response, contributions of $200,000 poured in for the destitute farmworkers stuck in Nipomo. (Gordon, 2009, p. 237)

One was eventually selected to represent this scene to the nation.”

Anonymous. “The Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and the New Deal,” on the Annenberg Learner website [Online] Cited 16/12/2018

 

 

Iconic photo

In March 1936, after picking beets in the Imperial Valley, Florence and her family were traveling on U.S. Highway 101 towards Watsonville “where they had hoped to find work in the lettuce fields of the Pajaro Valley.” On the road, the car’s timing chain snapped and they coasted to a stop just inside a pea-pickers‘ camp on Nipomo Mesa. They were shocked to find so many people camping there – as many as 2,500 to 3,500. A notice had been sent out for pickers, but the crops had been destroyed by freezing rain, leaving them without work or pay. Years later Florence told an interviewer that when she cooked food for her children that day little children appeared from the pea pickers’ camp asking, “Can I have a bite?”

While Jim Hill, her husband, and two of Florence’s sons went into town to get the car’s damaged radiator repaired, Florence and some of the children set up a temporary camp. As Florence waited, photographer Dorothea Lange, working for the Resettlement Administration, drove up and started taking photos of Florence and her family. She took six images in the course of ten minutes.

Lange’s field notes of the images read:

Seven hungry children. Father is native Californian. Destitute in pea pickers’ camp … because of failure of the early pea crop. These people had just sold their tires to buy food.

Lange later wrote of the encounter with Thompson:

I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was 32. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food.

Thompson claimed that Lange never asked her any questions and got many of the details incorrect. Troy Owens recounted:

There’s no way we sold our tires, because we didn’t have any to sell. The only ones we had were on the Hudson and we drove off in them. I don’t believe Dorothea Lange was lying, I just think she had one story mixed up with another. Or she was borrowing to fill in what she didn’t have.

In many ways, Migrant Mother is not typical of Lange’s careful method of interacting with her subject. Exhausted after a long road-trip, she did not talk much to the migrant woman, Florence Thompson, and didn’t record her information accurately. Although Thompson became a famous symbol of White motherhood, her heritage is Native American. The photograph’s fame caused distress for Thompson and her children and raised ethical concerns about turning individuals into symbols.

According to Thompson, Lange promised the photos would never be published, but Lange sent them to the San Francisco News as well as to the Resettlement Administration in Washington, D.C. The News ran the pictures almost immediately and reported that 2,500 to 3,500 migrant workers were starving in Nipomo, California. Within days, the pea-picker camp received 20,000 pounds (9,100 kg) of food from the federal government. Thompson and her family had moved on by the time the food arrived and were working near Watsonville, California.

While Thompson’s identity was not known for over 40 years after the photos were taken, the images became famous. The sixth image, especially, which later became known as Migrant Mother, “has achieved near mythical status, symbolising, if not defining, an entire era in United States history.” Roy Stryker called Migrant Mother the “ultimate” photo of the Depression Era: “[Lange] never surpassed it. To me, it was the picture … . The others were marvellous, but that was special … . She is immortal.” As a whole, the photographs taken for the Resettlement Administration “have been widely heralded as the epitome of documentary photography.” Edward Steichen described them as “the most remarkable human documents ever rendered in pictures.”

Thompson’s identity was discovered in the late 1970s. In 1978, acting on a tip, Modesto Bee reporter Emmett Corrigan located Thompson at her mobile home in Space 24 of the Modesto Mobile Village and recognised her from the 40-year-old photograph. A letter Thompson wrote was published in The Modesto Bee and the Associated Press distributed a story headlined “Woman Fighting Mad Over Famous Depression Photo.” Florence was quoted as saying “I wish she [Lange] hadn’t taken my picture. I can’t get a penny out of it. She didn’t ask my name. She said she wouldn’t sell the pictures. She said she’d send me a copy. She never did.”

Lange was funded by the federal government when she took the picture, so the image was in the public domain and Lange never directly received any royalties. However, the picture did help make Lange a celebrity and earned her “respect from her colleagues.”

In a 2008 interview with CNN, Thompson’s daughter Katherine McIntosh recalled how her mother was a “very strong lady”, and “the backbone of our family”. She said: “We never had a lot, but she always made sure we had something. She didn’t eat sometimes, but she made sure us children ate. That’s one thing she did do.”

 

Later life, death, and aftermath

Though Thompson’s 10 children bought her a house in Modesto, California, in the 1970s, Thompson found she preferred living in a mobile home and moved back into one.

Thompson was hospitalised and her family appealed for financial help in late August 1983. By September, the family had collected $35,000 in donations to pay for her medical care. Florence died of “stroke, cancer and heart problems” at Scotts Valley, California, on September 16, 1983. She was buried in Lakewood Memorial Park, in Hughson, California, and her gravestone reads: “FLORENCE LEONA THOMPSON Migrant Mother – A Legend of the Strength of American Motherhood.”

Daughter Katherine McIntosh told CNN that the photo’s fame had made the family feel both ashamed and determined never to be as poor again. Son Troy Owens said that more than 2,000 letters received along with donations for his mother’s medical fund led to a re-appraisal of the photo: “For Mama and us, the photo had always been a bit of [a] curse. After all those letters came in, I think it gave us a sense of pride.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Cars on the Road' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Cars on the Road
1936
Library of Congress
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Near Eutah, Alabama' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Near Eutah, Alabama
1936
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland. Gift of Paul S. Taylor

 

Dorothea Lange (United States 1895-1965) 'Ditched, stalled and stranded, San Joaquin Valley, California' 1935, printed c. 1975

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Ditched, Stalled, and Stranded, San Joaquin Valley, California
1936
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

 

Quotes from Dorothea Lange

“One should really use the camera as though tomorrow you’d be stricken blind. To live a visual life is an enormous undertaking, practically unattainable, but when the great photographs are produced, it will be down that road. I have only touched it, just touched it.”

“On the Bowery I knew how to step over drunken men … I knew how to keep an expression of face that would draw no attention, so no one would look at me. I have used that my whole life in photographing.”

Interview with Lange, in Dorothea Lange, Part II : The Closer For Me, film produced by KQED for National Educational Television (NET), USA, 1965

 

“I never steal a photograph. Never. All photographs are made in collaboration, as part of their thinking as well as mine.”

“Often it’s just sticking around and being there, remaining there, not swopping in and swopping out in a cloud of dust; sitting down on the ground with people, letting the children look at your camera with their dirty, grimy little hands, and putting their fingers on the lens, and you let them, because you know that if you will behave in a generous manner, you’re very apt to receive it.”

Anne Whiston, Spirn, Daring to Look, p. 23-24

 

“My own approach is based upon three considerations. First – hands off! Whatever I photograph I do not molest or tamper with or arrange. Second – a sense of place. Whatever I photograph, I try to picture as part of its surroundings, as having roots. Third – a sense of time. Whatever I photograph, I try to show as having its position in the past or in the present.”

Beaumont and Nancy Newhall, Masters Of Photography, New York Castle Books, 1958, p. 140

 

“The good photograph is not the object, the consequences of the photograph are the objects.”

“I believe that the camera is a powerful medium for communication and I believe that the camera is a valuable tool for social research which has not been developed to its capacity.”

Dorothea Lange, quoted in Karen Tsujimoto, Dorothea Lange : Archive of an Artist, Oakland, Oakland Museum, 1995, p. 23

 

“Everything is propaganda for what you believe in, actually, isn’t it? … I don’t see that it could be otherwise. The harder and the more deeply you believe in anything, the more in a sense you’re a propagandist. Conviction, propaganda, faith. I don’t know, I never have been able to come to the conclusion that that’s a bad word […] But at any rate, that’s what the Office of War Information work was.”

“There is a sharp difference, a gulf. The woman’s position is immeasurably more complicated. There are not very many first class woman producers, not many. That is, producers of outside things. They produce in other ways. Where they can do both, it’s a conflict. I would like to try. I would like to have one year. I’d like to take one year, almost ask it of myself, ‘Could I have one year?’ Just one, when I would not have to take into account anything but my own inner demands. Maybe everybody would like that … but I can’t.”

Suzanne Riess, “Dorothea Lange: The Making of a documentary Photographer,” October 1960-August 1961, p. 181; 219-220

 

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Drought-abandoned house on the edge of the Great Plains near Hollis, Oklahoma' 1938

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Drought-abandoned house on the edge of the Great Plains near Hollis, Oklahoma
1938
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

Dorothea Lange (United States 1895-1965) 'Towards Los Angeles, California' 1936, printed c. 1975

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Toward Los Angeles, California
1937
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Family on the road, Oklahoma' 1938

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Family on the road, Oklahoma
1938
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Ancienne esclave à la longue mémoire, Alabama' 'Former slave with a long memory, Alabama' 1938

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Ancienne esclave à la longue mémoire, Alabama
Former slave with a long memory, Alabama
1938
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

 

The Politics of Seeing features major works by the world famous American photographer Dorothea Lange (1895, Hoboken, New Jersey-1966, San Francisco, California), some of which have never before been exhibited in France. The exhibition focuses on the extraordinary emotional power of Dorothea Lange’s work and on the context of her documentary practice. It features five specific series: the Depression period (1933-1934), a selection of works from the Farm Security Administration (1935-1939), the Japanese American internment (1942), the Richmond shipyards (1942-1944) and a series on a Public defender (1955-1957). Over one hundred splendid vintage prints taken between 1933 and 1957 are enhanced by the presence of documents and screenings broadening the scope of an oeuvre often familiar to the public through images such as White Angel Breadline (1933) and Migrant Mother (1936), which are icons of photographic history. The majority of prints in this exhibition belong to the Oakland Museum of California, where Lange’s considerable archive, donated to the museum after her death by her husband Paul Shuster Taylor, is conserved.

Like John Steinbeck’s famous novel The Grapes of Wrath, Dorothea Lange’s oeuvre has helped shape our conception of the interwar years in America and contributed to our knowledge of this period. However, this exhibition also introduces other aspects of Dorothea Lange’s practice, which she herself considered archival. By placing the photographic work in the context of her anthropological approach, it enables viewers to appreciate how its power also lies in her capacity to interact with her subjects, evident in her captions to the images. She thereby considerably enriched the informative quality of the visual archive and produced a form of oral history for future generations.

In 1932, during the Great Depression that began in 1929, Lange observed the unemployed homeless people in the streets of San Francisco and decided to drop her studio portrait work because she felt that it was no longer adequate. During a two-year period that marked a turning point in her life, she took photographs of urban situations that portrayed the social impact of the recession. This new work became known in artistic circles and attracted the attention of Paul Schuster Taylor, professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley. Taylor was a specialist in agricultural conflicts of the 1930s, and in particular Mexican migrant workers. He began using Lange’s photographs to illustrate his articles and in 1935 they started working together for the government agencies of the New Deal. Their collaboration lasted for over thirty years.

During the Second World War, Lange continued to practise photography and to document the major issues of the day, including the internment of Japanese-American families during the war; the economic and social development due to industries engaged in the war effort; and the criminal justice system through the work of a county public defence lawyer.

Dorothea Lange’s iconic images of the Great Depression are well known, but her photographs of Japanese-Americans interned during the Second World War were only published in 2006. Shown here for the first time in France, they illustrate perfectly how Dorothea Lange created intimate and poignant images throughout her career in order to denounce injustices and change public opinion. In addition to the prints, a selection of personal items, including contact sheets, field notes and publications allow the public to situate her work within the context of this troubled period.

The exhibition at the Jeu de Paume offers a new perspective on the work of this renowned American artist, whose legacy continues to be felt today. Highlighting the artistic qualities and the strength of the artist’s political convictions, this exhibition encourages the public to rediscover the importance of Dorothea Lange’s work as a landmark in the history of documentary photography.

Press release from Jeu de Paume

 

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Unemployed lumber worker goes with his wife to the bean harvest. Note social security number tattooed on his arm, Oregon' 1939

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Unemployed lumber worker goes with his wife to the bean harvest. Note social security number tattooed on his arm, Oregon
1939
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Manzanar Relocation Center' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Manzanar Relocation Center, Manzanar, California
1942
© Collection of the Oakland Museum of California, gift of Paul S. Taylor

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Japanese Children with Tags, Hayward, California, May 8 1942'

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Japanese Children with Tags, Hayward, California, May 8 1942
1942
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Jour de lessive, quarante-huit heures avant l’évacuation des personnes d’ascendance japonaise de ce village agricole du comté de Santa Clara, San Lorenzo, Californie' 'Laundry day, forty-eight hours before the evacuation of people of Japanese descent from this farming village of Santa Clara County, San Lorenzo, California' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Jour de lessive, quarante-huit heures avant l’évacuation des personnes d’ascendance japonaise de ce village agricole du comté de Santa Clara, San Lorenzo, Californie
Laundry day, forty-eight hours before the evacuation of people of Japanese descent from this farming village of Santa Clara County, San Lorenzo, California
1942
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Oakland, California, March 1942' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Oakland, California, March 1942
1942
Library of Congress
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

 

A large sign reading “I am an American” placed in the window of a store, at 401-403 Eight and Franklin streets, on December 8, the day after Pearl Harbor. The store was closed following orders to persons of Japanese descent to evacuate from certain West Coast areas. The owner, a University of California graduate, will be housed with hundreds of evacuees in War Relocation Authority centers for the duration of the war.

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Shipyard Worker, Richmond California' c. 1943

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Shipyard Worker, Richmond California
c. 1943
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland. Gift of Paul S. Taylor

 

 

Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing

Dorothea Nutzhorn (1895–1965), who took up photography at the age of eighteen, was born in Hoboken, New Jersey. The daughter of second-generation German immigrants, she adopted her mother’s maiden name, Lange, when she opened a portrait studio in San Francisco in 1918. In 1932, during the Great Depression, Lange shifted her focus from studio portraits to scenes showing the impact of the recession and the social unrest in the streets of San Francisco. This two-year period marked a turning point in her life. Paul Schuster Taylor, professor of economics at the University of California, and a specialist in agricultural conflicts, who later became her second husband, began using her photographs to illustrate his articles in 1934. They worked together for over thirty years. Co-authors of the famous book An American Exodus (1939), they were active in circulating images about social conditions in rural states.

Lange created some of the iconic images of the Great Depression, but this exhibition presents other aspects of her practice, which she herself considered archival. By placing her photographic work in the context of her anthropological approach, it reveals how her images were also rooted in her ability to connect with her subjects, evident in her captions to the images. She thus considerably enriched the informative quality of the visual archive and produced a form of oral history for future generations. Her work for government institutions and the publication of her images in the illustrated press enabled her to denounce injustice and change public opinion.

Her efforts to connect with her subjects can be seen in the five specific series featured in this exhibition: the Depression period (1932–1934), a selection of works from the Farm Security Administration (1935-1941), the Richmond shipyards (1942-1944), the Japanese American internment (1942) and a series on a public defender (1955-1957). By introducing contextual information and important archive material, the Jeu de Paume’s exhibition Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing endeavours to situate her majestic works within the social documentary context specific to the 1930s and 1940s, highlighting the artistic qualities of her work and the strength of her political convictions.

 

1. “The people that my life touched”, 1932-1934

In 1929 America’s urban and rural populations were hard hit by the Great Depression. Leading up to the stock market crash there had been a boom in agricultural production. However, by the late 1920s production was exceeding consumption, causing a drop in prices that had severe consequences for farmers. The textile and coal industries suffered sharp declines in wages and employment. In the 1930s, the oil, transportation and construction sectors declined at an even faster rate than agriculture, causing urban unemployment to rise above that of the rural states. In March 1933, in the midst of this crisis, Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president.

This context of considerable social unrest prompted a change in direction in Lange’s engagement with photography. From 1932 to 1934, she captured demonstrations and homeless people in the streets of San Francisco. Urban portraits like White Angel Breadline (1933) later became iconic images of the period. Her work from this period was recognised in artistic circles and Paul Shuster Taylor used one of her photographs of the May Day demonstrations to illustrate his article about the longest, largest maritime strike in the history of the USA, which was published in the progressive social welfare journal Survey Graphic in September 1934.

 

2. The documentary survey – the narration of migration, 1935-1941

In 1935, Lange accompanied Taylor on several field trips to study people migrating to rural California from the Midwest. Taylor used Lange’s images to illustrate the articles as well as his federal reports. Such was the impact of Lange’s powerful images that the authorities built the first migrant camps for agricultural workers as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal policy. The latter consisted of numerous programmes intended to combat the devastating effects of the Depression in all areas of life across the country. One such programme was the Farm Security Administration (FSA), which led to the creation of the largest American photographic archive ever, containing over 130,000 negatives documenting how the New Deal helped to relieve poverty in rural areas.

Lange, who worked in twenty-two different states, was given two contracts, one running from 1935 to 1937 and the other from 1938 to the closure of the programme in January 1941. Her photographs highlighted the plight of people who were caught up in the complex economic web of industrial farming, victims of the failure of the American dream. The images and the transcriptions of oral testimonies that Lange made were personal and intimate recollections of a history that became a cause of significant public concern in the late 1930s.
3. “A two-ocean war” – Kaiser Shipyards, Richmond, 1942-1944

During the early 1940s, Lange was interested in a new form of internal migration caused by the rapid expansion of industries, naval training programmes and military defence organisations in the Bay Area, California. Here part of the once scorned and rejected “Okie” population (migrant farm workers) moved to urban districts, where they proudly contributed to the war effort. In 1944, Lange was commissioned by Fortune magazine to photograph the Kaiser Shipyard in Richmond. This young corporation, established to help with the war effort, employed nearly 100,000 unskilled workers thanks to new techniques of manufacture and assembly. Lange captured the changing of shifts and the intensity of the shipyard’s activity, the diversity of the workforce, intimate details of their living conditions, and the isolation and loneliness of the newcomers, and in particular African Americans, who were excluded from the local community. She was also interested in the unions’ unsuccessful efforts to cope with this large, diverse workforce and in women’s new status in the industrial sector.

 

4. The internment of American citizens of Japanese descent, 1942

Lange’s various series reflect many aspects of America’s cultural geography. Her desire to portray the dignity of people enduring hardship and the complexity of their situations, coupled with the need to produce a historical document, enabled Lange to produce work of universal scope.

In March 1942, in the wake of the Japanese attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on 7 December 1941, the US government ordered the internment of over 110,000 Americans of Japanese descent from the Pacific Coast military zones, crowning a century of racism against Asian immigrants. Executive Order 9066 targeted three generations of Japanese Americans, who were “relocated” to ten remote and intemperate camps in California, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Colorado, Arkansas and Wyoming.

Lange was commissioned by the War Relocation Authority to cover the procedure from March to July 1942. Her sensitivity to the identity of cultural minorities was already evident in her photographs for the FSA commission. A decade later she captured the evacuation and incarceration of Japanese Americans, which lasted for over 18 months. These images belonged to a “military record” and were only released for publication in 2006.

 

5. The public defender, 1955-1957

A system of public defence for persons in need of legal support in court cases began in California in 1914 and by the 1950s had been introduced in many states throughout the country. Lange supported the idea of justice for all and was given an assignment by Life magazine to cover the subject at the Alameda County Court house, Oakland, to be published in May 1956 to mark Law Day. Lange was given permission to photograph in prison cells, as well as in and around the law court, taking over 450 images. She worked in conjunction with Martin Pulich, an American lawyer of Yugoslav descent, who recognised in Lange’s approach a social and political stance that mirrored his own commitment as a public defender. In this photographic essay she was able to pinpoint issues concerning racial prejudice that were omnipresent in the Bay Area at the time. The assignment did not appear in Life, but it was published in many newspapers, even internationally, and was also used by the national Legal Aid Society of New York to develop public services in the legal system.

Pia Viewing
Curator of the exhibition

 

Paul S. Taylor. 'Dorothea Lange in Texas on the Plains' c. 1935

 

Paul S. Taylor
Dorothea Lange on the Plains of Texas
c. 1935
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland. Gift of Paul S. Taylor

 

 

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20
Oct
12

Review: ‘Gregory Crewdson: In A Lonely Place’ at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Fitzroy, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 28th September – 11th November 2012

 

Installation photographs the series 'Beneath the Roses' (2003-2008) from the exhibition 'Gregory Crewdson: In A Lonely Place' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Fitzroy, Melbourne

 

Installation photographs the series 'Beneath the Roses' (2003-2008) from the exhibition 'Gregory Crewdson: In A Lonely Place' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Fitzroy, Melbourne

 

Installation photographs of the series Beneath the Roses (2003-2008) from the exhibition Gregory Crewdson: In A Lonely Place at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Fitzroy, Melbourne (Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan)

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'Untitled (Blue Period)' 2003-2005

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled (Blue Period)
2003-2005
© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

 

 

 

 

Details of one of Gregory Crewdson’s works from the series Beneath the Roses (2003-2008) (Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan)

 

 

“The American middle-class nightmare: nothing is clean, orderly, idyllic, or romantic. In his perfectly staged, hyperrealistic tableaux, photographer Gregory Crewdson reveals the claustrophobic limbo and abyss of spiritual repression that is the typical suburb. Here, hushed-up violence, alienation, isolation, and emptiness are nothing new or unfamiliar, but rather part of the everyday neighbourhood experience.”

.
Gregory Crewdson, ‘In a Lonely Place’, Abrams Publishing, New York, 2011

 

“I have always been fascinated by the poetic condition of twilight. By its transformative quality. Its power of turning the ordinary into something magical and otherworldly. My wish is for the narrative in the pictures to work within that circumstance. It is that sense of in-between-ness that interests me.”

.
Gregory Crewdson

 

 

Downfall of a dream: (n)framing the enigma in Gregory Crewdson’s

Beneath the Roses

After the excoriating, unreasonably subjective diatribe by Robert Nelson in The Age newspaper (“Unreal stills, unmoving images” Wednesday October 17 2012) I hope this piece of writing will offer greater insight into the work of this internationally renowned artist. With some reservations, I like Crewsdon’s work, I like it a lot – as do the crowds of people flocking to the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Fitzroy to see the exhibition. Never have I seen so many people at the CCP looking at contemporary photography before and that can only be a good thing.

Let’s get the basics out of the way first. The early series Fireflies are small silver gelatin photographs that capture “the tiny insects’ transient moments of light as they illuminate the summer night.” These are minor works that fail to transcend the ephemeral nature of photography, fail to light the imagination of the viewer when looking at these scenes of dusky desire and discontinuous lives. The series of beautiful photographs titled Sanctuary (2010) evidence the “ruin of the legendary Cinecittà studios, which was founded by Mussolini in the 1930s and is associated with the great Italian film director Federico Fellini.” Wonderful photographs of doorways, temples, dilapidated stage sets with excellent use of soft miasmic light creating an atmosphere of de/generation (as though a half-remembered version of Rome had passed down through the generations) interfaced with contemporary Rome as backdrop. The digital prints show no strong specular highlights, no deep blacks but a series of transmutable grey and mid tones that add to the overall feeling of romantic ruin. It is a pity that these photographs are not printed as silver gelatin photographs, for they would have had much more depth of feeling than they presently possess. They just feel a little “thin” to me to sustain the weight of atmosphere required of them.

But it is the series Beneath the Roses (2003-2008) that has made Crewdson truly famous. Shot using a large format camera, Crewdson makes large-scale photographs of elaborate and meticulously staged tableaux, which have been described as “micro-epics” that probe the dark corners of the psyche. Working in the manner of a film director, he leads a production crew, which includes a director of photography, special effects and lighting teams, casting director and actors. He typically makes several exposures that he later digitally combines to produce the final image. Photographs in the series of “brief encounters” include external dioramas (shot in a down at heel Western Massachusetts town), where Crewdson shuts down streets and lights the whole scene; to interior dialogues where houses are built on sound stages and the artist can control every detail of the production. Influences on these works include, but are not limited to:

David Lynch (Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks), Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo), Steven Spielberg (Close Encounters), the paintings of Edward Hopper, Diane Arbus (the detritus of her photographic interiors), film noir, psychoanalysis, American suburbia, the American dream, the photographs of Walker Evans, Cindy Sherman and surrealism. Concepts that you could link to the work include loneliness, alienation, apathy, resignation, mystery, contemplation and confusion, identity, desire, memory and imagination.

.
Now to the nuts and bolts of the matter.

Another major influence that I will add is that of the great Italian director Federico Fellini (La Dolce Vita – The Sweet Life) who shot most of that film on the sets at Cinecittà studios in Rome. It is perhaps no coincidence that Crewdson, on his first overseas film shoot, shot the series Sanctuary at the very same location. Crewdson’s photographs in the series Beneath the Roses are an American form of  “The Sweet Life.” In 1961, the New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther praised Fellini’s “brilliantly graphic estimation of a whole swath of society in sad decay and, eventually, a withering commentary on the tragedy of the over-civilized… Fellini is nothing if not fertile, fierce and urbane in calculating the social scene around him and packing it onto the screen. He has an uncanny eye for finding the offbeat and grotesque incident, the gross and bizarre occurrence that exposes a glaring irony. He has, too, a splendid sense of balance and a deliciously sardonic wit that not only guided his cameras but also affected the writing of the script. In sum, it is an awesome picture, licentious in content but moral and vastly sophisticated in its attitude and what it says.”1 The same could equally be said of the Crewdson and his masterpieces in Beneath the Roses. Crewdson is in love with Fellini’s gesture – of the uplifting of the characters and their simultaneous descent into “sweet” hedonism, debauchery and decadence using the metaphor of downfall (downfall links each scene in La Dolce Vita, that of a “downward spiral that Marcello sets in motion when descending the first of several staircases (including ladders) that open and close each major episode.”)2 Crewdson’s “spectacular apocalypses of social enervation”3 mimic Fellini’s gestural flourishes becoming Crewdson’s theme of America’s downfall, America as a moral wasteland. Crewdson’s is “an aesthetic of disparity” that builds up a cumulative impression on the viewer that finds resolution in an “overpowering sense of the disparity between what life has been or could be, and what it actually is.”4

Crewdson’s cinematic encounters are vast and pin sharp when seen in the flesh. No reproduction on the web can do their physical presence justice; it is the details that delight in these productions. You have to get up close and personal with the work. His dystopic landscapes are not narratives as such, not stills taken from a movie (for that implies an ongoing story) but open-ended constructions that allow the viewer to imagine the story for themselves. They do not so much evoke a narrative as invite the viewer to create one for themselves – they are an “invitation” to a narrative, one that explores the anxiety of the (American) imagination, an invitation to empathise with the dramas at play within contemporary environments. For me, Crewdson’s extra ordinary photographs are a form of enigma (a puzzling or inexplicable occurrence or situation), the picture as master puzzle (where all the pieces fit perfectly together in stillness) that contains a riddle or hidden meaning. Clues to this reading can be found in one of the photographs from the series (Blue Period, see detail image, above) where Crewdson deliberately leaves the door of a bedside cupboard open to reveal a “Perfect PICTURE PUZZLE” box inside. The viewer has to really look into the image and understand the significance of this artefact.

Another reading that I have formulated is of the transience of space and time within Crewdson’s series. In the disquieting, anonymous townscapes people look out from their porches (or the verandas are lit and empty), they abandon their cars or walk down desolate streets hardly ever looking directly out at the viewer. The photographs become sites of mystery and wonder hardly anchored (still precisely anchored?) in time and space. This disparity is emphasised in the interior dialogues. The viewer (exterior) looks at a framed doorway or window (exterior) looking into an scene (interior) where the walls are usually covered with floral wallpaper (interior / exterior) upon which hangs a framed image of a Monet-like landscape (exterior) (see detail image, above). Exterior, exterior, interior, interior / exterior, exterior. The trees of the landscape invade the home but are framed; exterior/framed, interior/mind. There is something mysterious going on here, some reflection of an inner state of mind.

In his visual mosaics Crewdson engages our relationship with time and space to challenge the trace of experience. His tableaux act as a kind of threshold or hinge of experience – between interior and exterior, viewer and photograph. His photographs are a form of monism in which two forces (interior / exterior) try to absorb each other but ultimately lead to a state of equilibrium. It is through this “play” that the context of the photographs and their relationship to each other and the viewer are “framed.” This device emphasises the aesthetic as much as information and encourages the viewer to think about the relationship between the body, the world of which it is part and the dream-reason of time.5 This intertextual (n)framing (n meaning unspecified number in mathematics) encourages the viewer to explore the inbetween spaces in the non-narrative / meta-narrative,”and by leaps (intuitive leaps, poetic leaps, leaps of faith)”6 encourage escapism in the imagination of the viewer. It is up to us as viewers to seek the multiple, disparate significances of what is concealed in each photograph as “felt knowledge” (Walter Benjamin), recalling to mind the sensory data placed before our eyes, something that can be experienced but cannot be explained by man: “the single moment of the present amidst the transience of life and searching for some kind of eternal truth.”7

Finally, in a more adverse reading of the photographs from the series Beneath the Roses, I must acknowledge the physically (not mentally) static nature of the images where every detail of the mise-en-scène is fully articulated and locked down: from the perfect trickle of blood running from the woman’s vagina in Blue Period, to the reflections in mirrors, the detritus of living scattered on the bedroom floor, the dirty telephone, packed suitcases and keys in locks to the desolate looks of the participants that never engage with the viewer. Despite allusions of despair, in their efficacy (their static and certain world order), there is no real chthonic madness here, no real messiness of the capture of death, murder and the wastage of human life (famine, AIDS, cancer or the blood running over the pavement in one of Weegee’s murder scenes for example). This is Fellini’s gross and bizarre LITE. Americurbana “is being addressed with the same reserve and elegance that ensures that the institution – artistic, political, what you will – is upheld and never threatened. It is pre-eminently legible, it elicits guilt but not so much as to cause offence.”8 I must also acknowledge the male-orientated viewpoint of the photographs, where men are seated, clothed, lazy or absent and all too often women are doing the washing or cooking, are naked and vulnerable. In their portrayal of (usually) half dressed or naked females the photographs evidence a particularly male view of the world, one that his little empathy or understanding of how a female actually lives in the world. For me this portrait of the feminine simply does not work. The male photographer maintains control (and power) by remaining resolutely (in)visible.

Overall this is a outstanding exhibition that thoroughly deserves that accolades it is receiving. Sitting in the gallery space for an hour and a half and soaking up the atmosphere of these magnificent works has been for me one of the art experiences of 2012. Make sure that you do not miss these mesmerising prophecies.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

 

  1. Crowther’s review first published in The New York Times, April 20, 1961. In Fava and Vigano, 105 quoted in Anon. “La Dolce Vita,” on Wikipedia Footnote 30 [Online] Cited 20/10/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Dolce_Vita
  2. Anon. “La Dolce Vita,” on Wikipedia Footnote 30 [Online] Cited 20/10/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Dolce_Vita
  3. Sultanik, Aaron. Film, a Modern Art. Cranbury, N.J: Cornwall Books, 1986, p. 408
  4. Richardson, Robert. “Waste Lands: The Breakdown of Order,” in Bondanella (ed.), Federico Fellini: Essays in Criticism, p. 111 quoted in Anon. “La Dolce Vita,” on Wikipedia Footnote 30 [Online] Cited 20/10/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Dolce_Vita
  5. Bacon, Julie Louise. “Liquid Archive: On Ambivalence,” in Liquid Archive. Melbourne: Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), 2012, p. 119
  6. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara. “The Museum – A Refuge for Utopian Thought,” in Rüsen, Jörn; Fehr Michael, and Ramsbrock, Annelie (eds.). Die Unruhe der Kultur: Potentiale des Utopischen. Velbrück Wissenschaft, 2004. In German.
  7. Kataoka, Mami commenting on the work of Allan Kaprow. “Transient Encounters,” in Broadsheet: Criticism, Theory, Art Vol 41.3, September 2012, p. 174
  8. Geczy, Adam. “A dish served lukewarm,” in Broadsheet: Criticism, Theory, Art Vol 41.3, September 2012, p. 177

 

Many thankx to the artist, Gagosian Gallery and the Centre for Contemporary Photography for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Special thankx to Director of the CCP Naomi Cass and Ms. James McKee from Gagosian Gallery for facilitating the availability of the media images. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

All photographs © Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.

Installation and detail photographs © Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'Untitled (Maple Street)' 2003-2005

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled (Maple Street)’ 2003-2005
© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'Untitled (Shane)' 2006

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled (Shane)
2006
© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'Untitled (Brief Encounter)' 2006

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled (Brief Encounter)
2006
© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'Untitled (Railway Children)' 2003-05

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled (Railway Children)
2003-05
© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

 

 

In a Lonely Place presents selections from three major series by Gregory Crewdson, Fireflies (1996), Beneath the Roses (2003-2008), Sanctuary (2010) and, presented for the first time, the video Field Notes (2009). The exhibition title comes from Nicholas Ray’s 1950s film noir of the same name, one of many films that inspired Crewdson. In a Lonely Place is evocative of an underlying mood-a quiet feeling of alienation and loneliness that links the three series selected by curators Estelle Af Malmborg, Jens Erdman Rasmussen and Felix Hoffmann. In a Lonely Place presents the first comprehensive exhibition of Crewdson’s work in Australia.

In Beneath the Roses, anonymous townscapes, forest clearings and broad, desolate streets are revealed as sites of mystery and wonder; similarly, ostensibly banal interiors become the staging grounds for strange human scenarios. Crewdson’s scenes are tangibly atmospheric: visually alluring and often deeply disquieting. Never anchored precisely in time or place, these and the other narratives of Beneath the Roses are located in the dystopic landscape of the anxious American imagination. Crewdson explores the American psyche and the dramas at play within quotidian environments.

In his most recent series, Sanctuary (2010), Crewdson has taken a new direction, shooting for the first time outside the US. During a trip to Rome, he visited the legendary Cinecittà studios, which was founded by Mussolini in the 1930s and is associated with the great Italian film director Federico Fellini. Crewdson discovered fragments of a past glory, with occasional unexpected views of the surrounding contemporary Roman suburbia. Cinecittà is a lonely place deserted by the film crews who once used the site to recreate settings of ancient Rome, medieval Italy and nineteenth-century New York.

In the intimate photographs of Fireflies, Crewdson portrays the mating ritual of fireflies at dusk, capturing the tiny insects’ transient moments of light as they illuminate the summer night. Unlike the theatrical scale of the Beneath the Roses and Sanctuary series, Fireflies is a quiet meditation on the nature of light and desire, as the images reflect not only upon the fleeting movements of the insects in their intricate mating ritual, but upon the notion of photography itself, in capturing a single ephemeral moment.

Gregory Crewdson received a BA from the State University of New York, Purchase, New York in 1985 and an MFA in Photography from Yale School of Art, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut in 1988. He has exhibited widely in the United States and Europe. He is Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in Photography at the Yale School of Art, Yale University. Gregory Crewdson is represented by Gagosian Gallery and White Cube Gallery.

Press release from the Gagosian Gallery website

 

Installation photographs the series 'Sanctuary' (2010) from the exhibition 'Gregory Crewdson: In A Lonely Place' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Fitzroy, Melbourne

 

Installation photographs the series 'Sanctuary' (2010) from the exhibition 'Gregory Crewdson: In A Lonely Place' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Fitzroy, Melbourne

 

Installation photographs the series Sanctuary (2010) from the exhibition Gregory Crewdson: In A Lonely Place at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Fitzroy, Melbourne (Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan)

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'Untitled (1)' 2009

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled (1)
2009
© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'Untitled (17)' 2009

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled (17)
2009
© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'Untitled (8)' 2009

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled (8)
2009
© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'Untitled (2)' 2009

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled (2)
2009
© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'Untitled' 1996

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled
1996
© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

 

 

 

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08
Mar
09

Exhibition: ‘Looking In: Robert Frank’s The Americans’ at The National Gallery of Art, Washington

Exhibition dates: National Gallery of Art, January 18 – April 26, 2009; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, May 16 – August 23, 2009; Metropolitan Museum of Art, September 22 – December 27, 2009

 

Robert Frank 'The Americans' New York: Grove Press 1959 front cover

Robert Frank 'The Americans' New York: Grove Press 1959 back cover

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
The Americans
New York: Grove Press
1959

 

 

One of the seminal photography books of the twentieth century, Robert Frank’s The Americans changed photography forever, changed how America saw itself and became a cult classic. Like Eugene Atget’s positioning of the camera in an earlier generation Frank’s use of camera position is unique; his grainy and contrasty images add to his outsider vision of a bleak America; his sequencing of the images, like the cadences of the greatest music, masterful. One of the easiest things for an artist to do is to create one memorable image, perhaps even a group of 4 or 5 images that ‘hang’ together – but to create a narrative of 83 images that radically alter the landscape of both photography and country is, undoubtedly, a magnificent achievement.

The photographs in the posting appear by number order that they appear in the book.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

Released at the height of the Cold War, The Americans was initially reviled, even decried as anti-American. Yet during the 1960s, many of the issues that Frank had addressed – racism, dissatisfaction with political leaders, skepticism about a rising consumer culture – erupted into the collective consciousness. The book came to be regarded as both prescient and revolutionary and soon was embraced with a cult-like following.

First published in France in 1958 and in the United States in 1959, Robert Frank’s The Americans is widely celebrated as the most important photography book since World War II. Including 83 photographs made largely in 1955 and 1956 while Frank (b. 1924) traveled around the United States, the book looked beneath the surface of American life to reveal a profound sense of alienation, angst, and loneliness. With these prophetic photographs, Frank redefined the icons of America, noting that cars, jukeboxes, gas stations, diners, and even the road itself were telling symbols of contemporary life. Frank’s style – seemingly loose, casual compositions, with often rough, blurred, out-of-focus foregrounds and tilted horizons – was just as controversial and influential as his subject matter. The exhibition celebrates the 50th anniversary of the book’s publication by presenting all 83 photographs from The Americans in the order established by the book, and by providing a detailed examination of the book’s roots in Frank’s earlier work, its construction, and its impact on his later art.

Text from The National Gallery of Art website [Online] Cited 06/03/2009 (no longer available online)

 

 

Robert Frank Americans 1 'Parade - Hoboken, New Jersey' 1955

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 1
Parade – Hoboken, New Jersey
1955
Gelatin silver print
Image: 21.3 x 32.4 cm (8 3/8 x 12 3/4 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

Robert Frank. 'City Fathers - Hoboken, New Jersey'

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 2
City fathers – Hoboken, New Jersey
1955
Gelatin silver print
Image: 41.9 x 57.8 cm (16 1/2 x 22 3/4 in.)
Susan and Peter MacGill
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

Robert Frank. Americans 3. 'Political Rally - Chicago' 1956

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 3
Political Rally – Chicago
1956
Gelatin silver print
Image and sheet: 57.8 x 39.4 cm (22 3/4 x 15 1/2 in.)
Susan and Peter MacGill
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

Robert Frank. 'Funeral, St. Helena, South Carolina' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 4
Funeral – St. Helena, South Carolina
1955
Gelatin silver print
Image and sheet: 39.7 x 58.1 cm (15 5/8 x 22 7/8 in.)
Susan and Peter MacGill
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

 

“The photos revealed a bleaker, more dislocated view of America than Americans were used to (at least in photography). Frank’s “in-between moments” demonstrated that disequilibrium can seem more revealing, seeming to catch reality off-guard. In doing so the collection also announced to the world that photos with a completely objective reference/referent could be subjective, lyrical, reveal a state-of-mind. Looser framing, more forced or odd juxtapositions, “drive-by” photos and other elements offer a sense of the process that has produced the photos”

Lloyd Spencer on Discussing The Americans in Hardcore Street Photography

I couldn’t have put it better myself!

 

Robert Frank. 'Charleston, South Carolina' 1955

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 13
Charleston, South Carolina
1955
Gelatin silver print
Image: 41.3 x 59.1 cm (16 1/4 x 23 1/4 in.)
Susan and Peter MacGill
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

Robert Frank. 'Ranch Market, Hollywood' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 14
Ranch Market – Hollywood
1956
Gelatin silver print
Image: 31.4 x 48.3 cm (12 3/8 x 19 in.)
Danielle and David Ganek
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

Robert Frank. 'Butte, Montana' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 15
Butte, Montana
1956
elatin silver print
Overall: 20 x 30.2 cm (7 7/8 x 11 7/8 in.)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Acquired through the generosity of the Young family in honour of Robert B. Menschel, 2003
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

Robert Frank. 'Trolley - New Orleans' 1955

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 18
Trolley – New Orleans
1955
gelatin silver print
Image: 40.6 x 57.8 cm (16 x 22 3/4 in.)
Susan and Peter MacGill
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

Robert Frank. Contact sheets for 'The Americans'

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Contact sheets for The Americans
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

“Frank’s contact sheets take us back to the moment he made the photographs for The Americans. They show us what he saw as he traveled around The United States and how he responded to it. These sheets are not carefully crafted objects; in his eagerness to see what he had captured, Frank did not bother to order his film strips numerically or even to orientate them all in the same direction.”

 

Robert Frank. Sequencing of 'The Americans' numbers 32- 36

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Sequencing of
The Americans numbers 32- 36
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

“Almost halfway through the book Frank created a sequence united by the visual repetition of the car and the suggestion of its movement.”

 

Robert Frank. Americans 32 'U.S. 91, Leaving Blackfoot, Idaho' 1956

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 32
U.S. 91, Leaving Blackfoot, Idaho
1956
Gelatin silver print
Image: 28.9 x 42.2 cm (11 3/8 x 16 5/8 in.)
Collection of Barbara and Eugene Schwartz
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924) Americans 33 'St. Petersburg, Florida' 1955

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 33
St. Petersburg, Florida
1955
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 22.2 x 33.7 cm (8 3/4 x 13 1/4 in.)
Collection of Barbara and Eugene Schwartz
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

Robert Frank Americans 34 'Covered Car - Long Beach, California' 1956

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 34
Covered Car – Long Beach, California
1956
Gelatin silver print
Image: 21.4 x 32.7 cm (8 7/16 x 12 7/8 in.)
Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gilman Collection, Purchase, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Gift, 2005
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

Robert Frank. 'Car accident, US 66 between Winslow and Flagstaff, Arizona' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 35
Car accident, US 66 between Winslow and Flagstaff, Arizona
1955-56
Gelatin silver print
Image: 31 x 47.5 cm (12 3/16 x 18 11/16 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Promised gift of Susan and Peter MacGill in honour of Anne d’Harnoncourt
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

Robert Frank. 'U.S. 285, New Mexico' 1955

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 36
U.S. 285, New Mexico
1955
Gelatin silver print
Image: 33.7 x 21.9 cm (13 1/4 x 8 5/8 in.)
Mark Kelman, New York
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

Robert Frank. 'Bar, Detroit' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 37
Bar – Detroit
1955
Gelatin silver print
Overall: 39.4 x 57.8 cm (15 1/2 x 22 3/4 in.)
Sherry and Alan Koppel
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

 

The 50th anniversary of a groundbreaking publication will be celebrated in the nation’s capital with the exhibition Looking In: Robert Frank’s The Americans, premiering January 18 through April 26, 2009, in the National Gallery of Art’s West Building ground floor galleries. In 1955 and 1956, the Swiss-born American photographer Robert Frank (b. 1924) traveled across the United States to photograph, as he wrote, “the kind of civilisation born here and spreading elsewhere.” The result of his journey was The Americans, a book that looked beneath the surface of American life to reveal a culture on the brink of massive social upheaval and one that changed the course of 20th-century photography.

First published in France in 1958 and in the United States in 1959, The Americans remains the single most important book of photographs published since World War II. The exhibition will examine both Frank’s process in creating the photographs and the book by presenting 150 photographs, including all of the images from The Americans, as well as 17 books, 15 manuscripts, and 28 contact sheets. In honour of the exhibition, Frank has created a film and participated in selecting and assembling three large collages. The exhibition will travel to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art from May 17 through August 23, 2009, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art from September 22 through December 27, 2009.

The Americans is as powerful and provocative today as it was 50 years ago,” said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. “We are immensely grateful to Robert Frank and his wife, June Leaf, for their enthusiastic participation and assistance in all aspects of this exhibition and its equally ambitious catalogue. We also wish to thank Robert Frank for his donation of archival material related to The Americans, in addition to gifts of his photographs and other exhibition prints to the National Gallery of Art in 1990, 1994, and 1996, all of which formed the foundation of the project.”

Press release from the National Gallery of Art

 

Robert Frank. 'Elevator - Miami Beach' 1955

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 44
Elevator – Miami Beach
1955
Gelatin silver print
Image: 31.4 x 47.8 cm (12 3/8 x 18 13/16 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with funds contributed by Dorothy Norman, 1969
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

Robert Frank. 'Assembly line, Detroit' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 50
Assembly line – Detroit
1955
Gelatin silver print
21.4 x 32.1 cm (8 7/16 x 12 5/8 in.)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Purchase, 1959
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

Robert Frank. 'Convention hall, Chicago' 1956

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 51
Convention hall – Chicago
1956
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.5 x 34.1 cm (8 7/8 x 13 7/16 in.)
Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Museum Purchase
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

Robert Frank. 'Beaufort, South Carolina' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 55
Beaufort, South Carolina
1955
Gelatin silver print
Image and sheet: 31.1 x 47.6 cm (12 1/4 x 18 3/4 in.)
Private collection
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 58
Political rally – Chicago
1956
Gelatin silver print
Image: 59.1 x 36.5 cm (23 1/4 x 14 3/8 in.)
Betsy Karel
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

Robert Frank. 'Coffee Shop Railway Station' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 70
Coffee shop, railway station – Indianapolis
1956
Gelatin silver print
Overall (image): 22.9 x 34.6 cm (9 x 13 5/8 in.)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Acquired through the generosity of Carol and David Appel, 2003
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

Robert Frank. 'Chattanooga, Tennessee' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 71
Chattanooga, Tennessee
1955
Gelatin silver print
Image: 20.8 x 29.5 cm (8 3/16 x 11 5/8 in.)
Private collection
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

 

“It’s hard to stress how different The Americans was. Over the course of those 83 pictures – shot from Detroit to San Francisco to Chattanooga, Tennessee – Frank captured the country in images that were intentionally unglamorous. On a technical level, he brazenly tossed out an adherence to traditional ideas of composition, framing, focus, and exposure.”

Sarah Greenough, Senior Curator of Photography at the National Gallery of Art in Washington

 

Robert Frank. 'Belle Isle, Detroit' 1955

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 73
Belle Isle – Detroit
1955
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 29.2 x 42.5 cm (11 1/2 x 16 3/4 in.)
Collection of Barbara and Eugene Schwartz
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

Robert Frank. 'City Hall, Reno, Nevada' 1956

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 81
City Hall – Reno, Nevada
1956
Gelatin silver print
Image: 20.3 x 32.4 cm (8 x 12 3/4 in.)
Private collection
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

Robert Frank. 'US 90 on route to Del Rio, Texas' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Americans 83
U.S. 90, en route to Del Rio, Texas
1955
Gelatin silver print
Image (and board): 47.6 x 31.1 cm (18 3/4 x 12 1/4 in.)
Private collection, courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London
Photograph © Robert Frank, from The Americans

 

 

National Gallery of Art
National Mall between 3rd and 7th Streets
Constitution Avenue NW, Washington

Opening hours:
Monday – Saturday 1000 am – 5.00 pm
Sunday 11.00 am – 6.00 pm

National Gallery of Art website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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

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