Posts Tagged ‘The Family of Man

01
Mar
17

Exhibition: ‘Robert Doisneau – Photographs. From Craft to Art’ at Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin

Exhibition dates: 9th December 2016 – 5th March 2017

 

I have waited nearly ten years to do a posting on this artist and his “humanist photography” (he was part of Steichen’s Family of Man exhibition). Of itself, that says enough, that there are so few exhibitions of his work.

I admit that he is not one of my favourites. His photographs, while containing a good dose of humour and occasional irony, seem to lack panache; his simply crafted ‘imperfect of the objective’ never really cuts it against Cartier-Bresson’s ‘imagination, from life’, or the wonder of artists like Walker Evans (from an earlier era) and the incomparable Helen Levitt.

His juggling act – “juggler, tightrope walker, illusionist to achieve even more realism” – leaves most of the work feeling brittle, over controlled with a salutory sense of stage fright.

Marcus

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Many thankx to Martin-Gropius-Bau for allowing me to publish some of the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photograph for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Robert Doisneau. 'Le Baiser de l'Hôtel de Ville' (The Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville) Paris, 1950

 

Robert Doisneau
Le Baiser de l’Hôtel de Ville (The Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville)
Paris, 1950
© Atelier Robert Doisneau, 2016

 

 

“People like my photos because they see in them what they would see if they stopped rushing about and took the time to enjoy the city…”

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Robert Doisneau

 

“Doisneau always approached his work with a little self mockery, perhaps it was his antidote to the anguish of not being a jester, a tight-rope walker, a magician as he was too much of a realist: and here lies the paradox of one who wished to carry out his work like a street artist, with the chaste joy and fun of an artist malgré lui [in spite of himself] ….

There was a real bond between him and Henri Cartier-Bresson; if they were equally childlike in their joking, they were just as ready to consult each other on professional questions. ‘Our friendship is lost in the darkness of time’, wrote Cartier-Bresson in 1995. ‘We will no longer have his laugh, full of compassion, nor his hard-hitting retorts, so funny and profound. Never told twice: each time a surprise. But his deep kindness, his love for all beings and for a simple life will always exist in his work’. They did not have the same conception of photography, given the difficulty of ‘conjugating’ Doisneau’s ‘imperfect of the objective’ (imparfait de l’objectif) with the ‘imagination, from life’ (imaginaire d’après nature) of Cartier-Bresson, who was more inclined to rigour, influenced by painting and drawing and averse to reframing…

Doisneau always took an ironic approach to his work, which for him was only an antidote to the anxiety of not being. Juggler, tightrope walker, illusionist to achieve even more realism: such is the deceptive paradox of someone who wanted to ‘carry off his tricks like the sidewalk artists’, with the modest lucidity of an artist in spite of himself.”

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Text from the BINT PHOTOBOOKS ON INTERNET website

 

 

Robert Doisneau. 'The Melted Car' 1944

 

Robert Doisneau
The Melted Car
1944
© Atelier Robert Doisneau, 2016

 

Robert Doisneau. 'Les 20 ans de Josette' 1947

 

Robert Doisneau
Les 20 ans de Josette (20 years of Josette)
1947
© Atelier Robert Doisneau, 2016

 

Robert Doisneau. 'Les tabliers de la Rue de Rivoli' 1978

 

Robert Doisneau
Les tabliers de la Rue de Rivoli
1978
© Atelier Robert Doisneau, 2016

 

Dustjacket of Robert Doisneau's 'La Banlieue de Paris' (The Suburbs of Paris) 1949

 

Dustjacket of Robert Doisneau’s La Banlieue de Paris (The Suburbs of Paris)
1949

 

Robert Doisneau. 'African Games' 1945

 

Robert Doisneau
African Games
1945
© Atelier Robert Doisneau, 2016

 

Robert Doisneau. 'Mademoiselle Anita' 1951

 

Robert Doisneau
Mademoiselle Anita
1951
© Atelier Robert Doisneau, 2016

 

Robert Doisneau. 'Les frères, rue du Docteur Lecène, Paris' (The brothers, street of Doctor Lecène, Paris) 1934

 

Robert Doisneau
Les frères, rue du Docteur Lecène, Paris (The brothers, street of Doctor Lecène, Paris)
1934
© Atelier Robert Doisneau, 2016

 

Robert Doisneau. 'Le nez au carreau' 1953

 

Robert Doisneau
Le nez au carreau (The nose against the pane)
1953
© Atelier Robert Doisneau, 2016

 

Robert Doisneau. 'Le cadran scolaire, Paris' 1956

 

Robert Doisneau
Le cadran scolaire, Paris (The school clock, Paris)
1956
© Atelier Robert Doisneau, 2016

 

Robert Doisneau. 'La concierge aux lunettes, Rue Jacob' (The concierge with the glasses, Rue Jacob) 1945

 

Robert Doisneau
La concierge aux lunettes, Rue Jacob (The concierge with the glasses, Rue Jacob)
1945
© Atelier Robert Doisneau, 2016

 

Robert Doisneau. 'La mariée chez Gégène' (The bride at Gégène) 1946

 

Robert Doisneau
La mariée chez Gégène (The bride at Gégène)
1946
© Atelier Robert Doisneau, 2016

 

Robert Doisneau. 'Hommages respectueux' (Respectful tribute) 1952

 

Robert Doisneau
Hommages respectueux (Respectful tribute)
1952
© Atelier Robert Doisneau, 2016

 

Robert Doisneau. 'Jacques Prevert au guéridon' (Jacques Prevert and table) 1955

 

Robert Doisneau
Jacques Prevert au guéridon (Jacques Prevert and table)
1955
© Atelier Robert Doisneau, 2016

 

Robert Doisneau. 'La dernière valse du 14 juillet' (The last waltz of 14 July) 1949

 

Robert Doisneau
La dernière valse du 14 juillet (The last waltz of 14 July)
1949
© Atelier Robert Doisneau, 2016

 

 

Very few photographers have become famous through a single picture. “Le Baiser de l’Hôtel de Ville” (The Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville) is such a picture, which Robert Doisneau (1912-1994) took in March 1950 in front of a Parisian street café in the Rue de Rivoli. The image of the couple kissing was a work commissioned by LIFE magazine. Although it was staged, it contains an entire story: It became the symbol of Paris as the “city of love”. It is one of the iconic photographs of the 20th century.

However, Doisneau’s oeuvre is much deeper and more complex. It is comprised of approximately 350,000 photographs, including professionally crafted shots and others which have the force and charisma of an artistic solitaire. He worked as a photojournalist for the major magazines such as Vogue, Paris Match, Le Point and LIFE. His most famous photographs were shot while wandering through the French metropolis. The exhibition provides an inside view of Doisneau’s work with around 100 selected photographs most of them taken during the 1940s and 50s. It shows his fascination for the normal, for the petit bourgeois and for the melancholic and fragile.

During the first half of the 20th century, Paris was one of the leading art metropolises of the world. The French capital attracts artists from all nations as it is multi-faceted and an ideal environment to capture in snapshots. Artists such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Brassaï, André Kertész, Martin Munkácsi, Germaine Krull, Robert Doisneau, use the new technical features of a camera with short exposure time and cultivate a photography of the moment. They focus on people and on a parallel trend, illustrating the increasing invasion of public life into the private sphere and making the private, intimate and personal visually public. Achieving this moment requires new aesthetic value measures. The relegation of the remaining is no longer the focal point of attention but rather the beauty of spontaneity becomes more and more noticeable.

Doisneau’s clients were photo agencies, fashion magazines and revues. They looked for photojournalists whose photographs can convey a momentary event comprehensively and with their own impressions. Doisneau delivered.

He prowled around the centre and outskirts of Paris with his Rolleiflex in his spare time. He was concerned with securing evidence. He did this less systematically than his great role model Eugène Atget (1857-1927), who catalogued street by street with his unwieldy large-format camera. Doisneau, however, was concerned with the atmosphere itself. He photographed building facades, interior rooms, quays, children playing, passers-by, wedding couples and moments that are often condensed into a sentimental story. He befriended intellectuals, journalists and poets like Robert Giraud (1921-1997), Jacques Prévert (1900-1977) and Blaise Cendrars (1887-1961). They took him with them to bars and music halls. In 1949, he published the book “La Banlieue de Paris” (The Suburbs of Paris) with Blaise Cendrars.

Doisneau was born in the suburb in the small village of Gentilly southwest of Paris in 1912. He finished his studies at the École Estienne in Paris in 1928 with a diploma in lithography and engraving. He first worked as an assistant to the “Encyclopédie photographique de l’art” photographer and publisher André Vigneau (1892-1968) in 1931 and then as a factory photographer for the car manufacturer Renault between 1934 and 1939. He stopped working for Renault to become a freelance photojournalist at the renowned Rapho Agency. During the Second World War, he documented daily life in occupied and later liberated Paris. He wanted his work to be understood as an encouragement to life.

To this day, Robert Doisneau stands for what is called “humanist photography”: a photography, which turns to people in their everyday life. The surprising moments of everyday life in the big city of Paris made him one of the most important chroniclers of the 20th century.

Text from the Martin-Gropius-Bau

 

Robert Doisneau. 'Palm Springs' 1960

 

Robert Doisneau
Palm Springs
1960

 

Robert Doisneau. 'Palm Springs' 1960

 

Robert Doisneau
Palm Springs
1960

 

Robert Doisneau. 'Palm Springs' 1960

 

Robert Doisneau
Palm Springs
1960

 

Robert Doisneau. 'Palm Springs' 1960

 

Robert Doisneau
Palm Springs
1960

 

Robert Doisneau. 'Palm Springs' 1960

 

Robert Doisneau
Palm Springs
1960

 

Robert Doisneau. 'Palm Springs' 1960

 

Robert Doisneau
Palm Springs
1960

 

 

Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin
Niederkirchnerstraße 7
Corner Stresemannstr. 110
10963 Berlin
T: +49 (0)30 254 86-0

Opening Hours:
Wednesday to Monday 10 – 19 hrs
Tuesday closed

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30
Nov
16

Exhibition: ‘Louis Faurer’ at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris

Exhibition dates: 9th September – 18th December 2016

Curator: The exhibition has been curated and organized by Agnès Sire, director of the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson in association with the Estate of Louis Faurer in New York, Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York and Deborah Bell Photographs.

 

 

Life, love and loneliness in the big smoke.

Champions and accidents.

Home of the brave, land of the fractured and destitute.

Unemployed and Looking.

Both * eyes * removed
Wounded

I AM TOTALLY BLIND.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“However, with shocking suddenness in 1976 I came to believe that American photography of the moment of mid-century belonged to Louis Faurer.”

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Walter Hopps

 

“I have an intense desire to record life as I see it, as I feel it. As long as I’m amazed and astonished, as long as I feel that events, messages, expressions and movements are all shot through with the miraculous, I’ll feel filled with the certainty I need to keep going. When that day comes, my doubts will vanish.”

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Louis Faurer

 

 

Louis Faurer. 'Accident, New York' 1952

 

Louis Faurer
Accident, New York
1952
© Louis Faurer Estate, Courtesy Deborah Bell

 

Louis Faurer. 'Champion, New York' 1950

 

Louis Faurer
Champion, New York
1950
© Louis Faurer Estate, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Louis Faurer. 'Orchard Street, New York' 1947

 

Louis Faurer
Orchard Street, New York
1947
© Louis Faurer Estate

 

Louis Faurer. 'New York' 1949

 

Louis Faurer
New York
1949
© Louis Faurer Estate, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Louis Faurer. 'Untitled, New York' 1949

 

Louis Faurer
Untitled, New York
1949
© Louis Faurer Estate

 

Louis Faurer. '"Win, Place, and Show", 3rd Avenue El at 53rd Street, New York, New York' c. 1946-1948

 

Louis Faurer
“Win, Place, and Show”, 3rd Avenue El at 53rd Street, New York, New York
c. 1946-1948
© Louis Faurer Estate

 

Louis Faurer. 'Market Street, Philadelphia' 1944

 

Louis Faurer
Market Street, Philadelphia
1944
© Louis Faurer Estate

 

Louis Faurer. 'Untitled, New York' c. 1948-1950

 

Louis Faurer
Untitled, New York
c. 1948-1950
© Louis Faurer Estate

 

Louis Faurer. '42nd Street, New York' c. 1949

 

Louis Faurer
42nd Street, New York
c. 1949
© Louis Faurer Estate

 

Louis Faurer. 'Staten Island Ferry, New York' 1946

 

Louis Faurer
Staten Island Ferry, New York
1946
© Louis Faurer Estate, Courtesy Deborah Bell

 

 

From September 9 to December 18, 2016, The Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson dedicates an exhibition to the American photographer, Louis Faurer. This show is the occasion to discover this artist who has not been the subject of an exhibition in France since 1992. A native of Philadelphia, Louis Faurer moved to New York after the War, as if irresistibly pulled into the life of Times Square, where he homed in, objectively and pitilessly, on loneliness in the crowd. Reporting held little interest for him, and journalism even less; he was drawn – as the captions to his photographs sometimes indicate – to the poetic side: the fragility of things and the unconscious revelation. He carried out much-admired commissions for leading magazines including Flair, Junior Bazaar, Glamour and Mademoiselle. This gave rise to an unfeigned self-contempt and a paradoxical inner division only humor could counter. These assignments earned a living and helped him pursue a more personal work in New York streets.

Profoundly honest, he refused the excessiveness (or obscenity) of violent scenes that might humiliate his subjects, and deliberately projected himself into the people he photographed; and if he often recognized himself in them, this was the whole point. Sometimes he encountered his double, or even appeared in shot as a reflection. Each of his images was “a challenge to silence and indifference” – theirs and his own.

After studying drawing and being noticed by the Disney Studios at the age of thirteen, Louis Faurer started his professional path by creating advertising posters and sketching caricatures in the seaside of Atlantic City. At the age of 21, he bought his first camera and won first prize for “Photo of the Week” in a contest sponsored by the Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger. Market Street would then be the scene of his first shots. In 1947, he left for New York, as Lilian Bassman, art director for Junior Bazaar, hired him as a photographer. He met Robert Frank who was to become a close friend and with who he would share a studio for a while.

In 1968, he abandoned New York, the scene of his most successful work, for personal and financial reasons. Faurer worked briefly in England, and then in Paris where he struggled doing fashion work, with occasional assignments from Elle and French Vogue. Shortly after Faurer returned to New York in 1974 at the age of 58, he found that photography was being embraced by the art world and was soon to become a commodity in the international art market. The art dealer, Harry Lunn brought his work to public attention through an exhibition at Marlborough Gallery in 1997 and resurrected his career, his contribution then began to be acknowledged. In 1984, a car in New York streets hit Faurer, his wounds prevented him to pursue his career as a photographer. He passed away in Manhattan on March 2, 2001.

Deeply concerned with what he saw, he shares his doubts with us as he chooses anonymous figures spotted amid the ordinariness of the sidewalk: figures pulled out of the ambient melancholy, the film noir, the pervasive distress that seem to have been his personal lot. A remarkably gifted printer, Faurer experimented with blur, overlaid negatives and the marked graininess resulting from his fondness for the nocturnal. His touchiness meant frequent problems with clients and people like the numerous photographers who tried to lend a helping hand; among the latter was William Eggleston, who had discerned the unique depth of Faurer’s work. The issue the elegant Japanese photography quarterly déjà vu devoted to him in 1994 speaks of a rediscovery and a style ahead of its time, and quotes Nan Goldin: “Some people believe again that photography can be honest”.

In 1948, Edward Steichen, Head of the Department of Photography of the MoMA, supported Faurer and included him in In and Out of Focus. Steichen wrote: “Louis Faurer, a new comer in the field of documentary reporting, is a lyricist with a camera, a seeker and finder of magic in some of the highways and byways of life.” Afterwards, Steichen presented Faurer photographs in a few other exhibitions and in particular The Family of Man, in 1955. During his lifetime, Faurer did not have the wherewithal to edit his photographs into a book.

Press release from Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson

 

Louis Faurer. 'Market Street, Philadelphia' 1937

 

Louis Faurer
Market Street, Philadelphia
1937
© Louis Faurer Estate

 

Louis Faurer. 'Unemployed and Looking at Rockefeller Center, New York' 1947

 

Louis Faurer
Unemployed and Looking at Rockefeller Center, New York
1947
© Louis Faurer Estate

 

Louis Faurer. 'Eddie, New York' 1948

 

Louis Faurer
Eddie, New York
1948
© Louis Faurer Estate

 

Louis Faurer. 'Deaf Mute, New York' 1950

 

Louis Faurer
Deaf Mute, New York
1950
© Louis Faurer Estate

 

Louis Faurer. 'Union Square from Ohrbach’s Window, New York' c. 1948-1950

 

Louis Faurer
Union Square from Ohrbach’s Window, New York
c. 1948-1950
© Louis Faurer Estate, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

 

Narrative of my career

My earliest experience in art occurred at the Benjamin Rush Public school in Phila., Penna. Miss Duncan, who seemed to float on a rose petal scent, having requested that numbers be written on paper with lead pencil, was shocked when my sheet yielded a drawing of a locomotive. My next surprise, at the age of 13 arrived in the mail. I had submitted my drawings to Walt Disney and he proposed considering me for a position, although he couldn’t guarantee it, if I travelled to California. It seemed unreachable and so I didn’t go.

After graduating the South Phila. High School for Boys, I enrolled in a Commercial Lettering School. After months of hand trembling, I looked at my first sign, it read “FRESH FISH”. From 1934 to 1937 I sketched caricatures on the beach at Atlantic City, N.J. My interest in photography began in 1937. It was greatly intensified when I was awarded first prize in the Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger for the photo of the week contest. Soon, the Farm Security Administration’s early books became my bible. I was especially taken by Walker Evans’ photography. The world of Harper’s Bazaar also fascinated me.

Later, in New York, I was to meet Robert Frank at the Bazaar Studio. Since I was a commuter, he invited me to stay at his loft together with nine cats. He had recently arrived from Switzerland and was alone. New York enchanted and amazed me. Everywhere a new discovery awaited me. Rejection slips from U.S. Camera were transformed into reproduced pages. My work was being accepted, often it seemed unreal. I showed my photographs to Walker Evans. A handsome brass tea kettle in his tiny room in the offices at FORTUNE projected his stability and eloquence. “You wouldn’t photograph fat women, would you?” he asked me. Later he warned me, “don’t become contaminated.” My need to continue photographing was solved by photography for commerce. I worked for periodicals which included Harper’s Bazaar.

1946 to 1951 were important years. I photographed almost daily and the hypnotic dusk light led me to Times Square. Several nights of photographing in that area and developing and printing in Robert Frank’s dark room became a way of life. He would say, “whatta town”, “whatta town”. I was represented in Edward Steichen’s IN AND OUT OF FOCUS exhibit. Then, work, work, and more work. “Boy,” he boomed, “go out and photograph and put the prints on my desk.” This command was synchronized with a pound of his fist on the glass top desk. I thought it miraculous, that the glass did not shatter.

I tasted and accepted the offerings of the 50s and 60s. LIFE, COWLES PUBLICATIONS, HEARST and CONDE NAST, enabled me to continue with my personal photography efforts. Often I would carry a 16mm motion picture camera as I would a Leica and photograph in the New York streets. The results were never shown commercially. The negative has been stored.

In 1968, I needed new places, new faces and change. I tried Europe. I returned in the mid-seventies and was overwhelmed by the change that had occurred here. I took to photographing the new New York with an enthusiasm almost equal to the beginning. After the Lunn purchase, the gallery world. I was brought again to the drawing I first experienced, and as an unexpected bonus, the photographer had become an artist! 1978 found me the recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Grant and the Creative Public Service Grant for photography. The latter is known as (CAPS). My eyes search for people who are grateful for life, people who forgive and whose doubts have been removed, who understand the truth, whose enduring spirit is bathed by such piercing white light as to provide their present and future hope.*

Louis Faurer

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* Reproduced, with editorial revisions, from the artist’s original text. Text published at the occasion of the exhibition Louis Faurer – Photographs from Philadelphia and New York 1937-1973 presented from March 10 to April 23, 1981 at the Art Gallery of University of Maryland. Extracts from the book Louis Faurer published by Steidl, September 2016

 

Louis Faurer. 'Somewhere in West Village, New York' 1948

 

Louis Faurer
Somewhere in West Village, New York
1948
© Louis Faurer estate

 

Louis Faurer. 'Untitled, Philadelphia' Date unknown

 

Louis Faurer
Untitled, Philadelphia
Date unknown
© Louis Faurer estate

 

'Louis Faurer' Steidl Verlag

 

Louis Faurer
Steidl Verlag

Foreword: Agnès Sire. Essay: Susan Kismaric. Original texts: Louis Faurer and Walter Hopps

208 pages
24 x 17.6 cm
100 illustrations
ISBN : 978-3-95829-241-3
September 2016

 

 

Extracts from the book

New York City has been the major center of the Faurer’s work, and that city’s life at mid-century, his great subject. The city is totally Faurer’s natural habitat. He can be at home, at one, with people on its streets, in its rooms. However serene or edgy his encounters, one senses Faurer (if at all) as being the same as the people in his photographs. And since these people are extremely varied, it is a transcendent vision that allows the photographer to be so many “others.” Faurer’s at-oneness with his subjects contrasts with both the mode of working and the results of Evans and Frank. They have proved to be great and wide-ranging explorers and fi nders of their images. Faurer made only one important trip: from Philadelphia (where he made his first, early brilliant photographs) to New York, where he stayed, and where in the course of things his vision consumed, whether ordinary or odd, the all of it.

Walter Hopps

 

Louis Faurer was a “photographer’s photographer”, one whose work was not known to a broad audience, or appreciated by the art world, but was loved by photographers. They saw in his pictures a purity of seeing, akin to what Faurer saw in the work of Walker Evans, the “poetic use of facts”. Faurer distinguished himself within this way of working through his instinct and his uncanny eye for people who radiate a rare and convincing sense of privacy, an inner life. They are people who would be true in any time and place,who are emblematic of human struggle.

For whatever reasons, Faurer did not have the wherewithal to edit his photographs into a book, the most visible and long-lasting expression of a photographer’s work. Yet his pictures are indelible. Their content presages a major shift in subject matter within the rubric of “documentary” American photography that was to come to fruition almost two decades later. In 1967 John Szarkowski identified this radical change when he wrote in his wall text for New Documents, an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, about the work of Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, and Garry Winogrand: “…In the past decade, a new generation of photographers has directed the documentary approach toward more personal ends. Their aim has been not to reform life, but to know it”.

Susan Kismaric

 

Louis Faurer. 'Viva, New York' 1962

 

Louis Faurer
Viva, New York
1962
© Louis Faurer Estate, Courtesy Christophe Lunn

 

 

Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson
2, impasse Lebouis, 75014 Paris

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 1pm – 6.30 pm
Saturday 11am – 6.45 pm
Late night Wednesdays until 8.30 pm
Closed on Mondays

Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson website

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25
Oct
16

Exhibition: ‘Sabine Weiss’ at Jeu de Paume – Château de Tours

Exhibition dates: 18th June – 30th October 2016

 

A photographer I knew very little about before assembling this posting. The undoubted influence of Henri Cartier-Bresson can be seen in many images (such as Vendeurs de pain, Athènes 1958 and Village moderne de pêcheurs 1954, both below), while other images are redolent of Josef Koudelka (Marriage gitan, 1953) and Paul Strand (Jeune mineur, 1955).

Weiss strikes one as a solid photographer in the humanist, Family of Man tradition who doesn’t push the boundaries of the medium or the genre, nor generate a recognisable signature style.

Marcus

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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.

 

Sabine Weiss is the last representative of the French humanist school of photography, which includes photographers like Robert Doisneau, Willy Ronis, Édouard Boubat, Brassaï and Izis.

Still active at over 90 years of age, she has accepted for the first time to present her personal archives, thereby providing a privileged insight into her life and career as a photographer. The exhibition at the Château de Tours will showcase just a few milestones from her long career. Through almost 130 prints, as well as numerous period documents – many of which are being shown for the first time – this exhibition provides visitors with an overview of the multiple facets of this prolific artist, for whom photography was first and foremost, a fascinating occupation.

 

 

 

Sabine Weiss. 'Cheval, Porte de Vanves' Paris, 1952

 

Sabine Weiss
Cheval, Porte de Vanves [Horse, Porte de Vanves]
Paris, 1952
Silver gelatin print
© Sabine Weiss

 

Sabine Weiss. 'Vendeurs de pain' Athènes Grèce, 1958

 

Sabine Weiss
Vendeurs de pain, Athènes [Sellers of bread, Athens]
Grèce, 1958
Silver gelatin print
© Sabine Weiss

 

Sabine Weiss. 'Village moderne de pêcheurs, Olhão, Algarve' Portugal, 1954

 

Sabine Weiss
Village moderne de pêcheurs, Olhão, Algarve [Modern fishing village, Olhão, Algarve]
Portugal, 1954
Silver gelatin print
© Sabine Weiss

 

Sabine Weiss. 'Times Square, New York' États-Unis, 1955

 

Sabine Weiss
Times Square, New York
États-Unis [United States], 1955
Silver gelatin print
© Sabine Weiss

 

Sabine Weiss. 'Feux de Bengale, Naples' Italie, 1955

 

Sabine Weiss
Feux de Bengale, Naples [Fires of Bengal, Naples]
Italie, 1955
Silver gelatin print
© Sabine Weiss

 

Sabine Weiss. 'André Breton chez lui, 42, rue Fontaine' Paris, 1956

 

Sabine Weiss
André Breton chez lui, 42, rue Fontaine [André Breton at home, 42 rue Fontaine]
Paris, 1956
Silver gelatin print
© Sabine Weiss

 

Sabine Weiss. 'Françoise Sagan chez elle, lors de la sortie de son premier roman Bonjour tristesse' Paris, 1954

 

Sabine Weiss
Françoise Sagan chez elle, lors de la sortie de son premier roman Bonjour tristesse
[Françoise Sagan at home, with the release of his first novel Bonjour Tristesse]

Paris, 1954
Silver gelatin print
© Sabine Weiss

 

Sabine Weiss. 'Enfant perdu dans un grand magasin, New York' États-Unis, 1955

 

Sabine Weiss
Enfant perdu dans un grand magasin, New York [Lost child in a department store, New York]
États-Unis [United States], 1955
Silver gelatin print
© Sabine Weiss

 

Sabine Weiss. 'Vieille dame et enfant' Guadeloupe 1990

 

Sabine Weiss
Vieille dame et enfant, Guadeloupe [Old lady and child, Guadeloupe]
1990
Silver gelatin print
© Sabine Weiss

 

Sabine Weiss. 'La Petite Égyptienne' 1983

 

Sabine Weiss
La Petite Égyptienne [Little Egyptian]
1983
Silver gelatin print
© Sabine Weiss

 

 

Sabine Weiss is the last representative of the French humanist school of photography, which includes photographers like Robert Doisneau, Willy Ronis, Édouard Boubat, Brassaï and Izis.
Still active at over 90 years of age, she has accepted for the first time to present her personal archives, thereby providing a privileged insight into her life and career as a photographer. The exhibition at the Château de Tours will showcase just a few milestones from her long career. Through almost 130 prints, as well as numerous period documents – many of which are being shown for the first time – this exhibition provides visitors with an overview of the multiple facets of this prolific artist, for whom photography was first and foremost, a fascinating occupation.

Née Weber in Switzerland in 1924, Sabine Weiss was drawn to photography from a very early age and did her apprenticeship at Paul Boissonnas’ studio, a dynasty of photographers practising in Geneva since the late nineteenth century. In 1946, she left Geneva for Paris and became the assistant of Willy Maywald, a German photographer living in the French capital, specialising in fashion photography and portraits. She married the American painter Hugh Weiss in 1950, and at this time embarked upon a career as an independent photographer. She moved into a small Parisian studio with her husband – where she continues to live today – and socialized in the artistic circles of the post-war period. This allowed her to photograph Georges Braque, Joan Miró, Alberto Giacometti, André Breton and Ossip Zadkine, and later numerous musicians, writers and actors.

Circa 1952, Sabine Weiss joined the Rapho Agency thanks to Robert Doisneau’s recommendation. Her personal work met with immediate critical acclaim in the United States with exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Walker Art Institute in Minneapolis and the Limelight Gallery, New York. Three of her photographs were shown as part of the famous exhibition “The Family of Man”, organized by Edward Steichen in 1955, and Sabine obtained long-lasting contracts with The New York Times Magazine, Life, Newsweek, Vogue, Point de vue-Images du monde, Paris Match, Esquire, and Holiday. From that time and up until the 2000s, Sabine Weiss continued to work for the international illustrated press, as well as for numerous institutions and brands, seamlessly passing from reportage to fashion features, and from advertising to portaits of celebrities or social issues.

In the late 1970s, her work returned to the spotlight thanks to a growing revival of interest in so-called humanist photography on behalf of festivals and institutions. This interest encouraged Sabine to return to black and white photography. At over sixty years of age, she began a new body of personal work, punctuated by her travels in France, Egypt, India, Reunion Island, Bulgaria and Burma, and in which a more sentimental melody may be heard, centred on the pensive and solitary moments of human existence. At the same time, Sabine became the focus of a growing number of tributes, all of which has contributed to her reputation as an independent and dynamic photographer, with a great humanist sensibility and an eye for the detail of everyday life.

Virginie Chardin

 

Sabine Weiss. 'Marchande de frites' Paris, 1952

 

Sabine Weiss
Marchande de frites
Paris, 1952
Silver gelatin print
© Sabine Weiss

 

Sabine Weiss. 'L'homme qui court' Paris 1953

 

Sabine Weiss
L’homme qui court, Paris [The man who runs, Paris]
1953
Silver gelatin print
© Sabine Weiss

 

Sabine Weiss. 'Vitrine, Paris' 1955

 

Sabine Weiss
Vitrine, Paris
1955
Silver gelatin print
© Sabine Weiss

 

Sabine Weiss. 'Prêtre devant une trattoria, Rome' Italie, 1957

 

Sabine Weiss
Prêtre devant une trattoria, Rome [Priest before a trattoria, Roma]
Italie, 1957
Silver gelatin print
© Sabine Weiss

 

Sabine Weiss. 'Terrain vague, Porte de Saint-Cloud' Paris, 1950

 

Sabine Weiss
Terrain vague, Porte de Saint-Cloud [Vacant Land, Porte de Saint-Cloud]
Paris, 1950
Silver gelatin print
© Sabine Weiss

 

Sabine Weiss. 'Enfants prenant de l’eau à la fontaine, rue des Terres-au-Curé' Paris, 1954

 

Sabine Weiss
Enfants prenant de l’eau à la fontaine, rue des Terres-au-Curé
[Children taking water from the fountain, rue des Terres au Curé]

Paris, 1954
Silver gelatin print
© Sabine Weiss

 

Sabine Weiss. 'Mariage gitan' Tarascon, 1953

 

Sabine Weiss
Mariage gitan [Gypsy wedding]
Tarascon, 1953
Silver gelatin print
© Sabine Weiss

 

Sabine Weiss. 'Enfants jouant, rue Edmond-Flamand' [Children playing, rue Edmond-Flamand] Paris, 1952

 

Sabine Weiss
Enfants jouant, rue Edmond-Flamand [Children playing, rue Edmond-Flamand]
Paris, 1952
Silver gelatin print
© Sabine Weiss

 

Sabine Weiss. 'Jeune mineur, Lens' 1955

 

Sabine Weiss
Jeune mineur, Lens [Young minor, Lens]
1955
Silver gelatin print
© Sabine Weiss

 

Sabine Weiss. 'Mendiant, Tolède' Espagne, 1949

 

Sabine Weiss
Mendiant, Tolède [Beggar, Toledo]
Espagne, 1949
Silver gelatin print
© Sabine Weiss

 

Sabine Weiss. 'Portraits multiples, procédé Polyfoto' Genève, 1937

 

Sabine Weiss
Portraits multiples, procédé Polyfoto [multiple portraits, Polyfoto process]
Genève, 1937
Silver gelatin print
© Sabine Weiss

 

Sabine Weiss. 'Chez Dior, Paris' 1958

 

Sabine Weiss
Chez Dior, Paris
1958
© Sabine Weiss

 

Sabine Weiss. 'Anna Karina pour la marque Korrigan' [Anna Karina for the brand Korrigan] 1958

 

Sabine Weiss
Anna Karina pour la marque Korrigan [Anna Karina for the brand Korrigan]
1958
© Sabine Weiss

 

Studio Fllebé. 'Sabine Weiss chez Vogue' Paris 1956

 

Studio Fllebé
Sabine Weiss chez Vogue, Paris
1956
Silver gelatin print
© Studio Fllebé

 

 

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06
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Research paper: ‘Beginnings: The International Photographic Collection at the National Gallery of Victoria’ Dr Marcus Bunyan

May 2015

 

This is a story that has never been told. It is the story of how the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia set up one of the very first photography departments in a museum in the world in 1967, and employed one of the first dedicated curators of photography, only then to fail to purchase classical black and white masterpieces by international artists that were being exhibited in Melbourne and sold at incredibly low prices during the 1970s and early 1980s, before prices started going through the roof.

The NGV had a golden chance to have one of the greatest collections of classical photography in the world if only they had grasped the significance and opportunity presented to them but as we shall see – due to personal, political and financial reasons – they dropped the ball. By the time they realised, prices were already beyond their reach.

Justifications for the failure include lack of financial support, the purchasing of non-vintage prints and especially the dilemma of distance, which is often quoted as the main hindrance to purchasing. But as I show in this research essay these masterpieces were already in Australia being shown and sold in commercial photography galleries in Melbourne at around $150, for example, for a Paul Strand photograph. As a partial public institution the NGV needs to take a hard look at this history to understand what went wrong and how they missed amassing one of the best collections of classical photography in the world.

.
Dr Marcus Bunyan
May 2015

Word count: 5,594

 

Download this research paper:

Beginnings: The International Photographic Collection at the National Gallery of Victoria (2.1Mb Word doc)

 

Abstract

This research paper investigates the formation of the international photographic collection at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia.

 

Keywords

Photographs, photography, 19th century photography, early Australian photography, Australian photography, international photography collection, National Gallery of Victoria, National Gallery of Victoria photography department, Art Gallery of New South Wales, National Gallery of Australia, Melbourne, photographic collections, curator.

 

 

Beginnings: The International Photographic Collection at the National Gallery of Victoria

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Introduction

Invented by Louis Daguerre in 1839, the daguerreotype – a plate of copper coated in silver, sensitised to light by being exposed to halogen fumes – was the first publicly announced photographic process and the first to come into widespread use. The first photograph taken in Australia was a daguerreotype, a view of Bridge Street (now lost) taken by a visiting naval captain, Captain Augustin Lucas in 1841.1 The oldest surviving extant photograph in Australia is a daguerreotype portrait of Dr William Bland by George Barron Goodman taken in 1845 (see image below). This daguerreotype is now in the State Library of New South Wales collection.2

After these small beginnings, explored in Gael Newton’s excellent book Shades of Light,3 the Melbourne Public Library (later to become the State Library of Victoria) launched the Museum of Art in 1861 and the Picture Gallery in 1864, later to be unified into the National Gallery in 1870, a repository for all public art collections, the gallery being housed in the same building as the Library.4 The Pictures Collection (including paintings, drawings, prints, cartoons, photographs and sculpture) was started in 1859.5 The collection of photographs by the Library had both moral and educative functions. Photographs of European high culture reminded the colonists of links to the motherland, of aspirations to high ideals, especially in conservative Melbourne.6 Photographs of distant lands, such as Linnaeus Tripe’s Views of Burma, document other ‘Oriental’ cultures.7 Photographs of settlement and the development of Melbourne recorded what was familiar in an unknown landscape. “Documentation of both the familiar and the unknown intersected with the scientific desire for categorisation and classification.”8

It is not the purview of this essay to dwell on the development of photography in Australia during intervening years between the 1860s – 1960s, but suffice it to say that the collecting of photographs at the State Library of Victoria continued the archiving of Australian identity and place through the ability “to define the self, claim the nation and occupy the world.”9 Australian photographic practice followed the development of international movements in photography in these years: art and commerce from the 1860s – 1890s, Pictorialism from the 1900s – 1930s, Modernism in the 1930s – 1940s and documentary photography from the 1940s – 1960s. The development of Australian photography was heavily reliant on the forms of international photography. Analysis of these years can be found in Gael Newton’s book Shades of Light: Photography and Australia 1839 – 198810 and Isobel Crombie’s book Second sight: Australian photography in the National Gallery of Victoria.11

In 1959 the epic The Family of Man exhibition, curated by the renowned photographer Edward Steichen from the Museum of Modern Art, New York, toured Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide to massive crowds. Featuring 503 photographs by 273 famous and unknown photographers from 68 countries this exhibition offered a portrait of the human condition: birth, love, war, famine and the universality of human experience all documented by the camera’s lens.12 In Melbourne the exhibition was shown in a car dealer’s showroom (yes, really!) and was visited by photographers such as Jack Cato, Robert McFarlane, Graham McCarter.13 The photographs in the exhibition, accompanied by text, were printed “onto large panels up to mural size [and] gave The Family of Man works an unprecedented impact, even given the role illustrated magazines had played through most of the century.”14 This loss of the aura of the original, the authenticity of the vintage print, a print produced by the artist around the time of the exposure of the negative, would have important implications for the collection of international photographs in the fledgling National Gallery of Victoria photographic collection (even though Walter Benjamin saw all photography as destroying the authenticity of the original through its ability to reproduce an image ad nauseum).15 As Benjamin observes in his Illuminations,The enlargement of a snapshot does not simply render more precise what in any case was visible though unclear: it reveals entirely new structural formations of the subject.”16 Other ways of looking at the world also arrived in Australia around the same time, namely Robert Frank’s seminal book The Americans,17 a road movie photographic view of American culture full of disparate angles, juke boxes, American flags, car, bikes and diners.18

 

Beginnings

While legislatively the National Gallery had split from the State Library of Victoria in 1944,19 it wasn’t until August, 1968 that the National Gallery of Victoria moved into it’s own building designed by Roy Grounds at 180 St Kilda Road (now known as NGV International).20 In the years leading up to the move the Trustees and Staff went on a massive spending spree:

But although the sources of income from bequests were limited during the year [1967], a somewhat increased Government purchasing grant continued, which, with the allowance made by the Felton Committee, seemed to stimulate Trustees and Staff almost to a prodigality of spending. Perhaps, too, an urge for as full a display as possible at the opening of the new Gallery contributed; for by the end of the year the entire grant for purchase until the end of June 1968 had been consumed, and as well some commitments made for the future. Only donations made from private sources, and through the generosity of the National Gallery society, enabled the rate of acquisition to be maintained.”21

.
Unfortunately, this profligacy did not include spending on photography. This was because the Department of Photography was only formed in April 1967 after the Director at the time, Dr Eric Westbrook, convinced the Trustees of the Gallery “that the time had come to allow photographs into the collection.”22 The impetus for establishing a photography collection “was the growing recognition and promotion of the aesthetics of photography.”23 The Department of Photography at the NGV thus became the first officially recognised curatorial photography department devoted to the collection of photography as an art form in its own right in Australia and one of only a few dedicated specifically to collecting photography in the world.24 While the collecting criteria of the NGV has always emphasised “the primacy of the object as an example of creative expression,”25 the fluid nature of photography was acknowledged in a 1967 report on the establishment of the Department of Photography.26

The new department, however, did not gain momentum until the establishment of a Photographic Subcommittee in October 1969 that consisted of the Director of the Gallery and three notable Melbourne photographers: Athol Shmith, Les Gray and Chairman, Dacre Stubbs, along with the Director of the National Gallery Art School, Lenton Parr. Advising the Committee were honorary representatives Albert Brown (in Adelaide) and Max Dupain (in Sydney).27 The Photographic Subcommittee defined the philosophies of the Department and began acquiring photographs for the collection.28 While the Department was located in the Gallery’s library and had no designated exhibition space at this time,29 Committee members stressed the need to make contacts with the international art world and fact-finding missions were essential in order to establish a curatorial department in Australia as no photography department had ever been established in Australia before. “Members were also concerned to position the new Department in an international context (achieved initially through linking the Gallery to an international exhibitions network and later by purchasing international photography.”30

Financial support and gallery space was slow in materialising and then (as now) “it was enlightened corporate and individual support that would significantly help the NGV to create its photography collection.”31 The first attributable international photograph to enter the collection was the 21.8 x 27.5 cm bromoil photograph Nude (1939) by the Czechoslovakian photographer Frantisek Drtikol in 1971 (Gift of C. Stuart Tompkins),32 an artist of which there remains only one work in the collection, and other early international acquisitions included twenty-seven documentary photographs taken during NASA missions to the moon in the years 1966 – 1969 (presented by Photimport in 1971)33 and work by French photographer M. Lucien Clergue in 1972, founder of the Arles Festival of Photography.34 Early international exhibitions included The Photographers Eye from the Museum of Modern Art in New York (facilitated through Albert Brown’s connections with photography curator John Szarkowski of MoMA).35

The purchasing of the Dritkol nude is understandable as he is an important photographer of people and nudes. “Drtikol made many portraits of very important people and nudes which show development from pictorialism and symbolism to modern composite pictures of the nude body with geometric decorations and thrown shadows, where it is possible to find a number of parallels with the avant-garde works of the period.”36 The acceptance of the set of twenty-seven NASA photographs is understandable but still problematic. Although some of the photographs are breathtakingly beautiful and they would have had some social significance at that time (the first lunar landing was in 1969), their relative ‘value’ as pinnacles of international documentary photography, both aesthetically and compositionally, must be questioned.37 One wonders on what grounds the Photographic Subcommittee recommended their acceptance at the very start of the collection of international photography for the Department of Photography when so many definitive photographs by outstanding masters of photography could have been requested as a donation instead. Similarly, the purchase by the National Gallery of Victoria in 1980 of over 108 space photographs by NASA, Washington, D.C. (manufacturer) for the international collection is equally mystifying when there was a wealth of European and American master photographers work being shown in exhibitions around Melbourne (and sold at very low prices, eg. $150 for a Paul Strand vintage print) that did not enter the collection.

In 1972 Jenny Boddington (with a twenty year background in documentary film)38 was appointed Assistant Curator of Photography. She was selected from fifty-three applicants,39 and was later to become the first full-time curator of photography at the NGV, the first in Australia and perhaps only the third ever full-time photography curator in the world. In 1973, the Melbourne photographer Athol Shmith, who sat on the Photographic Subcommittee, visited major galleries and dealers in London and Paris for five weeks and reserved small selections of non-vintage prints for purchase by Henri Lartigue, Bill Brandt, Paul Strand, Andre Kertesz, Edward Steichen and Margaret Bourke-White40 (non-contemporary ie. vintage work not being generally available at this time). Also in 1973 the corridor beside the Prints and Drawings Department opened as the first photography exhibition space, to be followed in 1975 by the opening of a larger photography gallery on the third floor.41

In 1975 Boddington made a six-week tour of Europe, London and America that included meeting photographers Andre Kertesz and Bill Brandt and the Director of the Museum of Modern Art, John Szarkowski.42 Boddington also spent four weeks viewing photography at the MoMA, time that radically changed her ideas about running the department, including the decision that priority be given to the acquisition of important overseas material. She states:

“My ideas about the running of my department are radically changed … I believe that for some time in the future immediate priority and all possible energy should be given to the acquisition of important overseas material, remembering that ours is the only museum in Australia with a consistent policy of international collecting, and that effort in the initiation and mounting of exhibitions can be saved by showing some of the best work we have already purchased.”43

As Suzanne Tate notes in her Postgraduate Diploma Thesis, Boddington “was also determined to achieve autonomy from the Photographic Subcommittee, and to act on her own judgement, as other curators did.”44 Perhaps this understandable desire for autonomy and the resultant split and aversion (towards the Photographic Subcommittee) can be seen as the beginning of the problems that were to dog the nascent Photography department. In 1976 the Photographic Subcommittee was discontinued although Les Gray (who expressed a very ‘camera club’ aesthetic) continued to act as honorary advisor.45 The Photography department continued to collect both Australian and international photography in equal measure (but of equal value?) and held exhibitions of international photography from overseas institutions (including the early exhibition The Photographer’s Eye in 1968)46 and from the permanent collection (such as an exhibition of work by Andre Kertész, Bill Brandt and Paul Strand)47 in order to educate the public, not only in the history of the medium but how to ‘see’ photography and read ‘good’ photographic images from the mass of consumer images in the public domain.48

 

Paradigms and problems of international photography collecting at the National Gallery of Victoria

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It does not do to be impatient in the business of collecting for an art museum. A public collection is a very permanent thing. It is really necessary to think in terms of the future and how our photographs and our century will appear in that future. We would like those in the future to inherit material that is intelligible both for itself and in relation to the other arts; at the same time there is the need to satisfy the present. A collection cannot be richer than the responses of its artists but it is hoped that it will represent a rich trawl of each historical period.”

.
Jenny Boddington 49

 

The current photography collection at The National Gallery of Victoria consists of over 15,000 photographs of which around 3,000 are by international artists (a ratio of 20% whereas the ratio between Australian/international photographers at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra is 60/40%).50 Dr Isobel Crombie, now Assistant Director, Curatorial and Collection Management and former Senior Curator of Photography at the National Gallery of Victoria, notes in her catalogue introduction “Creating a Collection: International Photography at the National Gallery of Victoria,” from the exhibition Re_View: 170 years of Photography that several factors have affected the collection of international photographs at The National Gallery of Victoria. I have identified what I believe to be the three key factors:

  1. Lack of financial support
  2. The purchasing of non-vintage prints
  3. The dilemma of distance

 

Financial support

When the Department of Photography was set up at The National Gallery of Victoria the lack of adequate funds tempered the Photography Subcommittees purchasing aspirations. This situation continued after the appointment of Jenny Boddington and continues to this day. Athol Shmith noted that there were two options for building a collection: one was to spend substantial funds to acquire the work of a few key photographers, the other option (the one that was adopted) was a policy of acquiring a small number of works by a wide range of practitioners, a paradigm that still continues.51 “A broadly based collecting policy was established to purchase work by Australian and International practitioners from all periods of photographic history.”52

The majority of early acquisitions of the Department were overwhelmingly Australian but this collection policy broadened dramatically after the overseas travel of Athol Shmith and Jenny Boddington.53 Cultural cringe was prevalent with regard to Australian photography and it was rarely, if ever, talked about as art. Australian photography was still in the hands of the camera clubs and magazines and influenced by those aesthetics… but the ability to purchase the desired international work was severely curtailed due, in part, to the low exchange rate of the Australian dollar. In 1976 one Australian dollar was worth approximately US 40 cents. Another reason was the lack of money to purchase international work. In the early 1970s the Department had approximately $3,000 a year to purchase any work (international or Australian) that gradually built up to about $30,000 per annum in the mid 1970s. In 1981-82, this was reduced to almost zero because of the financial crisis and credit squeeze that enveloped Australia. This lack of funds to purchase work was compounded by sky rocketing prices for international photographs by renowned photographers in the early 1980s.

While generous help over eight years from Kodak (Australasia) Pty. Ltd had helped buy Australian works for the collection (a stipulation of the funds),54 money for international acquisitions had been less forthcoming. In a catalogue text from 1983 Boddington notes,

.
“… classic, well-known photographs are now very expensive indeed. One can only look back with sincere appreciation to the days when the department’s purchasing budget was $1000 a year and the trustees agreed to buy 27 Bill Brandts, whilst the National Gallery Society donated a further 13 from ‘Perspective of Nudes’, thus concluding out first major international purchase, happily before Brandt’s prices quintupled in a single blow early in 1975. Photography was then beginning to be a factor in the market place of art and a budget of $1000 a year was no longer adequate – even for the purchase of Australian work! Where funds are limited (as they are) a fairly basic decision has to be made as to the direction a collection will follow. Here in Melbourne we have on the whole focused on the purest uses of straight photography as it reflects broad cultural concerns …”
55

.
By 1976 the Felton Bequest purchased works by Julie Margaret-Cameron (one image!) and the NGV purchased thirty-four André Kertész, evidence that the status of the Photography department was rising. Throughout the remainder of the 1970s and early 1980s, eighty works were acquired by artists such as Imogen Cunningham (five images), Edward Muybridge (two images – the only two in the collection), Lois Conner (three images) and Man Ray (eleven images).56 In 1995 Isobel Crombie revised the collecting policy of the Department and she notes in “Collecting Policy for the Department of Photography, National Gallery of Victoria (Revised October 1995),” Appendix 1 in Suzanne Tate’s Postgraduate Diploma Thesis under the heading ‘International Photography’57 that, “Given our financial resources extremely selective purchases are to be made in this area to fill those gaps in the collection of most concern to students and practicing photographers.”58 Crombie further notes that the contemporary collection is an area that needs much improvement whilst acknowledging the dramatic increases in prices asked and realised for prime photographs and the restricted gallery funds for purchases.59

While today the importance of philanthropy, fund raising and sponsorship is big business within the field of museum art collecting one cannot underestimate the difficulties faced by Boddington in collecting photographs by international artists during the formative years of the collection. As photography was liberated to become an art form in the early 1970s through the establishment of museum departments, through the emergence of photographic schools and commercial photographic galleries (such as the three commercial photography galleries showing Australian and international work in Melbourne: Brummels (Rennie Ellis), Church Street Photographic Centre (Joyce Evans) and The Photographers Gallery (Paul Cox, John Williams, William Heimerman and Ian Lobb), photography was given a place to exist, a place to breathe and become part of the establishment. But my feeling is that the status of photography as an art form, which was constantly having to be fought for, hindered the availability of funding both from within the National Gallery of Victoria itself and externally from corporate and philanthropic institutions and people.

To an extent I believe that this bunker mentally hindered the development of the photographic collection at the National Gallery of Victoria until much more recent times. Instead of photography being seen as just art and then going out and buying that art, the battle to define itself AS art and defend that position has had to be replayed again and again within the NGV, especially during the late 1970s-1980s and into the early 1990s.60 This is very strange position to be in, considering that the NGV had the prescience to set up one of the first ever photography departments in a museum in the world. Then to not support it fully or fund it, or to really understand what was needed to support an emergent art form within a museum setting so that the masterpieces vital for the collection could to be purchased, is perplexing to say the least. I also wonder whether more could not have been done to attract philanthropy and funds from personal and big business enterprises to support international acquisitions. I also wonder about the nature of some of the international purchases for the Department of Photography (the choice of photographer or photographs purchased) and the politics of how those works were acquired.

 

The purchasing of non-vintage prints

The paradigm for collecting international photographs early in the history of the Department of Photography was set by Athol Shmith in 1973 on his visit to Paris and London.

“Typically for the times, Shmith did not choose to acquire vintage prints, that is, photographs made shortly after the negative was taken. While vintage prints are most favoured by collectors today, in the 1970s vintage prints supervised by the artists were considered perfectly acceptable and are still regarded as a viable, if less impressive option now.”61

.
This assertion is debatable. While many museums including the NGV preferred to acquire portfolios of modern reprints as a speedy way of establishing a group of key images, Crombie notes in the catalogue essay to 2nd Sight: Australian Photography at the National Gallery of Victoria that the reason for preferring the vintage over the modern print “is evident when confronted with modern and original prints: differences in paper, scale and printing styles make the original preferable.”62 Crombie’s text postulates that this sensibility, the consciousness of these differences slowly evolved in the photographic world and, for most, the distinctions were not a matter of concern even though the quality of the original photograph was not always maintained.63 I believe that this statement is only a partial truth. While modern prints may have been acceptable there has always been a premium placed on the vintage print, a known value above and beyond that of modern prints, even at the very dawn of photography collecting in museums. I believe that price (which is never mentioned in this discussion) is the major reason for the purchase of non-vintage prints. In Crombie’s “Collecting Policy for the Department of Photography, National Gallery of Victoria (Revised October 1995),” she notes under the heading ‘Past Collecting Policy’ Point 1 that “Many non-vintage photographs have been collected … Purchase of non-vintage prints should not continue though we may we accept such photographs as gifts on occasion.”64

I vividly remember seeing a retrospective of the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson at the Dean Gallery in Edinburgh in 2005. One room consisted of small, jewel-like vintage prints that were amazing in their clarity of vision and intensity of the resolution of the print. In the other three rooms there were large blown-up photographs of the originals, authorised by the artist. Seen at mural size the images fell apart, the tension within the picture plane vanished and the meaning of the image was irrevocably changed. Even as the artist’s intentions change over time, even as the artist reprints the work at a later stage, the photograph is not an autonomous object – it becomes a post-structuralist textual site where the artist and curator (and writers, conservators, historians and viewers) become the editors of the document and where little appeal can be made to the original intentions of the author (if they are known).65 While change, alteration, editing, revision and restoration represent the true life of objects66 (and noting that the same re-inscription also happens with vintage photographs), the purchase of non-vintage prints eliminates the original intention of the artist. This is not to say that the modern printing, such as Bill Brandt’s high contrast version of People sheltering in the Tube; Elephant and Castle, underground station (1940 printed 1976, below) cannot become the famous version of the image, but that some acknowledgement of the history of the image must be made. Ignoring the negative/print split is problematic to say the least, especially if the original was printed with one intention and the modern print with an entirely different feeling. This is not a matter of refinement of the image but a total reinterpretation (as in the case of the Brandt). While all artists do this, a failure to acknowledge the original vision for a work of art and the context in which it was taken and printed – in Brandt’s case he was asked by the War Office to record the Blitz, in which Londoners sheltered from German air raids in Underground stations – can undermine the reconceptualisation of the modern print.

 

Bill Brandt. 'People sheltering in the Tube; Elephant and Castle, underground station' 1940

 

Bill Brandt
People sheltering in the Tube; Elephant and Castle, underground station
1940
Silver gelatin print
© Bill Brandt Archive © IWM Non-Commercial License
Photograph used under conditions of “fair use” for the purpose of academic research

 

Civilians sheltering in Elephant and Castle London Underground Station during an air raid in November 1940. Elephant and Castle London Underground Station Shelter: People sleeping on the crowded platform of Elephant and Castle tube station while taking shelter from German air raids during the London Blitz.

 

Bill Brandt. 'People sheltering in the Tube; Elephant and Castle, underground station' 1940 printed 1976

 

Bill Brandt
People sheltering in the Tube; Elephant and Castle, underground station
1940 printed 1976
Silver gelatin print
34.4 x 29.3 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1974

© Bill Brandt Archive
Photograph used under conditions of “fair use” for the purpose of academic research

NB. Note the removal of the man sitting up at right in mid-foreground

 

 

The dilemma of distance

While the dilemma of distance is cited as an obstacle to the collection of international photographs by the Department of Photography in the early 1970s by Isobel Crombie,67 this observation becomes less applicable by the middle of the decade. Master prints from major international photographers were available for purchase in Australia by The National Gallery of Australia in Canberra (which had been collecting photography since the early 1970s),68 The Art Gallery of New South Wales (which established a Department of Photography in 1974),69 and The National Gallery of Victoria, through exhibitions at newly opened commercial galleries in both Melbourne and Sydney. Public touring exhibitions were held of the work of international photographers, most notably British Council exhibition of Bill Brandt in 1971, and the French Foreign Ministry’s major exhibition of Cartier-Bresson in 1974.70

In Melbourne commercial galleries specialising in photography and photographer run galleries had emerged, namely Brummels established by Rennie Ellis in 1972, The Photographers Gallery and Workshop founded by Paul Cox, Ingeborg Tyssen, John F. Williams and Rod McNicoll in 1973 (the Gallery was taken over in late 1974 by Ian Lobb, his first exhibition as director being at the beginning of 1975; Bill Heimerman joined as joint director at the beginning of 1976), and Church Street Gallery established by Joyce Evans in 1977.71 At the commercial galleries the main influence was overwhelmingly American:

“The impact of exhibitions held by the NGV was reinforced by exhibitions of the work of Ralph Gibson, William Clift, Paul Caponigro, Duane Michals and Harry Callahan at The Photographers Gallery and by the series of lectures and workshops that the artists conducted during those exhibitions. Joyce Evans also organised important exhibitions during this period but again the focus was American with work by Minor White, Jerry Uelsmann, Les Krims and others.”72

Shows of American photography, many of which toured extensively, became relatively commonplace and it was the first time Australian photographers and the general public had access to such a concentration of international photography in a variety of styles.73 Ian Lobb, who took over the running of the Photographers Gallery in late 1974 with Bill Heimerman), notes that the first exhibition of international photography at the gallery was that of Paul Caponigro in 1975.74

“We sold 22 prints which he told us was the second highest sale he had made to that point. With the success of the Caponigro show, we closed the gallery for a few months while the gallery was rebuilt. I took Bill as a business partner, and he made a trip to the USA to set-up some shows. From 1975, every second show was an international show.”75

Lobb observes that,

“The initial philosophy was simply to let people see the physical difference between the production of prints overseas and locally. After a while this moved from the Fine Print to other concerns both aesthetic and conceptual. The gallery at best, just paid for itself. During international shows the attendance at the gallery was high. During Australian shows the attendance was low.”76

.
From 1975 – 1981 The Photographers Gallery held exhibitions of August Sander (German – arranged by Bill Heimerman), Edouard Boubat (France), Emmet Gowin (USA – twice), Paul Caponigro (USA – twice), Ralph Gibson (UK – twice, once of his colour work), William Eggelston (USA), Eliot Porter (USA), Wynn Bullock (USA), William Clift (USA), Harry Callahan (USA), Aaron Siskind (USA – twice, once with a show hung at Ohnetitel) Jerry Uelsmann (USA), Brett Weston (USA). There was also an exhibition of Japanese artist Eikoh Hosoe (Japan) and his Ordeal by Roses series in 1986. These exhibitions comprise approximately 60% of all international exhibitions at The Photographers Gallery during this time, others being lost to the vagaries of memory and the mists of time. Prices ranged from $100 per print (yes, only $100 for these masterpieces!!) in the early years rising to $1500 for a print by Wyn Bullock towards the end of the decade.77 At Church Street Photographic Centre the focus was predominantly on Australian and American artists, with some British influence. Artists exhibited other than those noted above included Athol Shmith, Rennie Ellis, Wes Placek, Fiona Hall, Herbert Ponting, Julia Margaret Cameron, Eugène Atget, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Jack Cato, Norman Deck, Jan Saudek, Robert Frank, Edouard Boubat, Jerry Uelsmann and Albert Renger-Patzsch to name just a few.78

The purchasing of vintage prints by major international artists from these galleries by the National Gallery of Victoria was not helped by the allegedly strained relationships that Boddington had with the directors of these galleries. The feeling I get from undertaking the research is that one of the problems with Boddington’s desire to achieve autonomy and make her own decisions about what to purchase for the Photography Department (being strong willed) was that she ignored opportunities that we right here in Melbourne – because of the aforesaid relationships and lack of money (a lack of support from the hierarchy of the National Gallery of Victoria).

 

Conclusion

It would be a great pity if the oral history of the early exhibition of international photographers in Melbourne was lost, for it is a subject worthy of additional research. It would also be interesting to undertake further research in order to cross-reference the purchases of the Department of Photography at the National Gallery of Victoria in the years 1975-1981 with the independent international exhibitions that were taking place at commercial galleries in Melbourne during this time. What international photographs were purchased from local galleries, what choices were made to purchase or not purchase works, what works were actually purchased for the collection and what were the politics of these decisions?

For example, during 1976 nine photographs by the Italian photographer Mario Giacomelli (1925-2000) entered the collection as well as nineteen photographs by German photographer Hedda Morrison; in 1977 twelve photographs entered the collection by a photographer name Helmut Schmidt (a photographer whose name doesn’t even appear when doing a Google search). Under what circumstances did these photographs come into the collection? While these people might be good artists they are not in the same league as the stellar names listed above that exhibited at The Photographers Gallery and Church Street Photographic Centre. Questions need to be asked about the Department of Photography acquisitions policy and the independent choices of the curator Jennie Boddington, especially as the international prints were here in Melbourne, on our doorstep and not liable to the tyranny of distance.

Dr Isobel Crombie notes that the acquisitions policies were altered so that there was no major duplication between collections within Australia79 but it seems strange that, with so many holes in so many collections around the nation at this early stage, major opportunities that existed to purchase world class masterpieces during the period 1975-81 were missed by the Department of Photography at the NGV.

While Crombie acknowledges the preponderance of American works in the collection over European and Asian works she also notes that major 20th century photographers that you would expect to be in the collection are not, and blames this lack “on the massive increases in prices for international photography that began in the 1980s and which largely excluded the NGV from the market at this critical time.”80 Crombie further observes that major contemporary photographers work can cost over a million dollars a print and the cost of vintage historical prints are also prohibitively high,81 so the ability to fill gaps in the collection is negligible, especially since the photography acquisitions budget is approximately 0.5-1 million dollars a year.82

Crombie’s time scale seems a little late for as we have seen in this essay, opportunities existed locally to purchase world class prints from master international photographers before prices rose to an exorbitant level. Put simply, the NGV passed up the opportunity to purchase these masterworks at reasonable prices for a variety of reasons (personal, political and financial) before the huge price rises of the early 1980s. They simply missed the boat.

I believe that this subject is worthy of further in-depth research undertaken without fear nor favour. While it is understandable that the NGV would want to protect it’s established reputation, the NGV is a partial public institution that should not be afraid to open up to public scrutiny the formative period in the history of the international collection of photography, in order to better understand the decisions, processes and photographic prints now held in it’s care.

.
Dr Marcus Bunyan
May 2015

Word count: 5,594

 

Bibliography

Benjamin, Walter. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. 1936

Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations: Essays and Reflections. Shocken, 1969

Boddington, Jennie. International Photography: 100 images from the Collection of the National Gallery of Victoria. Adelaide: The Art Gallery of South Australia, 1983

Boddington, Jennie. Overseas Travel by Assistant Curator of Photography. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 1976

Boddington, Jennie. Modern Australian Photographs. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 1976

Cox, Leonard B. The National Gallery of Victoria, 1861-1968: The Search for a Collection. Melbourne: The National Gallery of Victoria; Brown Prior Anderson Pty Ltd, 1971

Crombie, Isobel. Re_View: 170 years of Photography. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2009

Crombie, Isobel. Second sight: Australian photography in the National Gallery of Victoria. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2002

Downer, Christine. “Photographs,” in Galbally, Ann [et al]. The first collections: the Public Library and the National Gallery of Victoria in the 1850s and the 1860s. Parkville, Vic.,: The University of Melbourne Museum of Art, 1992, pp. 73-79

Frank, Robert. The Americans. Washington: Steidl/National Gallery of Art, Revised edition, May 30, 2008

Newton, Gael. Shades of Light: Photography and Australia 1839-1988. Canberra: Australian National Gallery, Collins, 1988

Tate, Suzanne. Photographic Collections in Victoria: Waverley City Gallery, Horsham Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Victoria: An Analysis of Past History and Future Directions. The University of Melbourne: Postgraduate Diploma Thesis, 1998

 

 

George Baron Goodman, d. 1851. [Dr William Bland, ca. 1845 - portrait] c. 1845

 

George Baron Goodman, d. 1851
[Dr William Bland]
c. 1845
Daguerreotype (ninth plate daguerreotype in Wharton case)
7.5 x 6.3 cm
© State Library of New South Wales collection
Photograph used under conditions of “fair use” for the purpose of academic research

 

This daguerreotype is the earliest known surviving photograph taken in Australia. It is probably that mentioned in the Sydney Morning Herald 14/1/1845, page 2, top column 5… It would appear to be a product of Goodman’s new studio at 49 Hunter Street, Sydney (see SMH 5/8/1844), before the introduction of hand colouring (see SMH 9/1/1845) and before the introduction of decorative backgrounds (see SMH 25/4/1846). It was probably produced between November 1844 and early January 1845 – Alan Davies, Curator of Photographs, State Library of NSW, 1993. (Image used for research under fair use conditions).

 

Front cover of John Szarkowski's book 'The Photographers Eye'

 

Front cover of John Szarkowski’s book The Photographers Eye, originally published by The Museum of Modern Art in 1966

 

André Kertész. 'A Bistro at Les Halles, Paris' 1927

 

André Kertész
A Bistro at Les Halles, Paris
1927
Gelatin silver photograph
17.7 x 24.7 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1976
Photograph used under conditions of “fair use” for the purpose of academic research

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Mrs Herbert Duckworth, her son George, Florence Fisher and H. A. L. Fisher' c. 1871

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Mrs Herbert Duckworth, her son George, Florence Fisher and H. A. L. Fisher
c. 1871
Albumen silver photograph
31.0 x 22.7 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of the Herald & Weekly Times Limited, Fellow, 1979
Photograph used under conditions of “fair use” for the purpose of academic research

 

Imogen Cunningham. 'Leaf pattern' c. 1929; printed 1979

 

Imogen Cunningham
Leaf pattern
c. 1929; printed 1979
Gelatin silver photograph
33.0 x 26.1 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased 1979
Photograph used under conditions of “fair use” for the purpose of academic research

 

NASA, Washington, D.C. (manufacturer) 'Instrument called Gnomon to determine size and distance of objects on moon' 1969

 

NASA, Washington, D.C. (manufacturer)
Instrument called Gnomon to determine size and distance of objects on moon
1969
Gelatin silver photograph on aluminium
49.0 x 39.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented by Photimport, 1971
Photograph used under conditions of “fair use” for the purpose of academic research

 

Neil Armstrong. 'Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot, walks on the surface of the Moon near the leg of the Lunar Module (LM)' 1969

 

Neil Armstrong / NASA, Washington, D.C. (manufacturer)
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot, walks on the surface of the Moon near the leg of the Lunar Module (LM)
1969
Colour transparency
50.8 x 40.6 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased 1980
Photograph used under conditions of “fair use” for the purpose of academic research

 

 

Endnotes

  • 1. Anon. “Photography in Australia,” on Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 01/08/2014.
  • 2. “Daguerreotype Portrait of Dr William Bland circa 1845,” on the State Library of New South Wales website [Online] Cited 27/07/2014.
  • 3. Newton, Gael. Shades of Light: Photography and Australia 1839-1988. Canberra: Australian National Gallery, Collins, 1988 [Online] Cited 02/06/2014.
  • 4. Fennessy, Kathleen. “For ‘Love of Art’: The Museum of Art and Picture Gallery at the Melbourne Public library 1860 – 1870,” in The La Trobe Journal 75, Autumn, 2005, p. 5 [Online] Cited 27/07/2014.
  • 5. Anon. “Pictures,” on the State Library of Victoria website [Online] Cited 02/09/2010. No longer available.
  • 6. Fox, Paul. “Stretching the Australian Imagination: Melbourne as a Conservative City,” in The La Trobe Journal 80, Spring, 2007, p. 124 [Online] Cited 27/07/2014.
  • 7. Tsara, Olga. “Linnaeus Tripe’s ‘Views of Burma’,” in The La Trobe Journal 79, Autumn, 2007, p. 55 [Online] Cited 27/07/2014.
  • 8. Crombie, Isobel. “Likenesses as if by magic: The early years 1840s – 1850s,” in Second sight: Australian photography in the National Gallery of Victoria. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2002, p. 15.
  • 9. Fox, Paul Op. cit., p. 124.
  • 10. Newton, Gael. Shades of Light: Photography and Australia 1839-1988. Canberra: Australian National Gallery, Collins, 1988 [Online] Cited 02/07/2014. Chapter 11 “Live in the Year 1929” and Chapter 12 “Commerce and Commitment.”
  • 11. Crombie, Isobel. Second sight: Australian photography in the National Gallery of Victoria. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2002. See chapters “In a new light: Pictorialist photography 1900s – 1930s” (p.38), “New Photography: Modernism in Australia 1930s – 1940s” (p.50) and “Clear statements of actuality: Documentary photography 1940s – 1960s” (p.64).
  • 12. Anon. “The Family of Man,” on Wikipedia [Online] Cited 02/09/2014
  • 13. Newton, Gael. Shades of Light: Photography and Australia 1839-1988. Canberra: Australian National Gallery, Collins, 1988 [Online] Cited 02/06/2010. Chapter 13 “Photographic Illustrators: The Family of Man and the 1960s – an end and a beginning” and Footnote 13.
  • 14. Ibid., See also the layout and size of the photographic murals on the Musuem THE FAMILY OF MAN, Chateau de Clervaux / Luxembourg website, the only permanent display of the exhibition left in the world. [Online] Cited 02/09/2014.
  • 15. “Benjamin’s work balances, often with paradoxical results, tensions between aspects of experience: the experiences simultaneously of being too late and too early (too soon) in the temporal dimension (c.f. Hamlet’s “the time is out of joint”) and being both distant and close (in the spatial dimension), and anyway of being both temporal and spatial. The concept of “aura,” which is one of Benjamin’s most influential contributions, is best understood in terms of these tensions or oscillations. He says that “aura” is a “strange web of space and time” or “a distance as close as it can be.” The main idea is of something inaccessible and elusive, something highly valued but which is deceptive and out of reach. Aura, in this sense, is associated with the nineteenth century notions of the artwork and is thus lost, Benjamin argues, with the onset of photography. At first photographs attempted to imitate painting but very quickly and because of the nature of the technology photography took its own direction contributing to the destruction of all traditional notions of the fine arts.”
    Phillips, John. On Walter Benjamin. [Online] Cited 02/06/2014.
    “One might generalize by saying: the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition. By making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence.”
    Benjamin, Walter. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. 1936, Section 2. [Online] Cited 02/06/2014.
  • 16. Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations: Essays and Reflections. Shocken, 1969, p. 236.
  • 17. Frank, Robert. The Americans. Washington: Steidl/National Gallery of Art, Revised edition, May 30, 2008.
  • 18. Newton, op.cit., Chapter 13.
  • 19. Anon. “A chronology of events in the history of the State Library of Victoria,” on the State Library of Victoria website. [Online] Cited 03/06/2010. No longer available.
  • 20. See Cox, Leonard B. The National Gallery of Victoria, 1861 – 1968: The Search for a Collection. Melbourne: The National Gallery of Victoria; Brown Prior Anderson Pty Ltd, 1971.
  • 21. Ibid., p. 378.
  • 22. Crombie, Isobel. op cit., Introduction p. 7.
  • 23. Crombie, Isobel. op cit., Introduction p. 7.
  • 24. Westbrook, Eric. “Minutes of the Photographic Subcommittee” 22/07/1970 quoted in Tate, Suzanne. Photographic Collections in Victoria: Waverley City Gallery, Horsham Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Victoria: An Analysis of Past History and Future Directions. The University of Melbourne: Postgraduate Diploma Thesis, Chapter One, 1998, pp. 12-13. Other institutions included the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, Berlin Kunstgewerbemuseum, Berlin, The Victoria and Albert Museum, London and the Art Institute of Chicago.
  • 25. Crombie, Isobel. op. cit., Introduction p. 6.
  • 26. Westbrook, Eric and Brown, Albert. “Establishment of Photography at the Victorian Arts Centre,” in Minutes of Trustees Reports, NGV, 4th April, 1967, p. 886 quoted in Crombie, Isobel. op cit., Introduction p. 6. Footnote 2.
  • 27. See Crombie, Isobel. op cit., Introduction p. 8 and Tate, Suzanne. op cit., Chapter 2: The Photography Department of the National Gallery of Victoria. pp. 14-15.
  • 28. NGV Trustees. National Gallery of Victoria Annual Report 1969 – 70. Melbourne, 1970, np quoted in Tate, Suzanne. op cit., Chapter 2: The Photography Department of the National Gallery of Victoria. pp. 14-15.
  • 29. NGV Photographic Subcommittee. Report. Melbourne, 1970, p. 2 quoted in Tate, Suzanne. op cit., Chapter 2: The Photography Department of the National Gallery of Victoria. p. 16.
  • 30. Crombie, Isobel. op cit., Introduction p. 8.
  • 31. Crombie, Isobel. “Creating a Collection: International Photography at the National Gallery of Victoria,” in Re_View: 170 years of Photography. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2009, p. 7.
  • 32. Ibid.,
  • 33. NGV Trustees. National Gallery of Victoria Annual Report 1971-72. Melbourne, 1970, np quoted in Tate, Suzanne. op cit., Chapter 2: The Photography Department of the National Gallery of Victoria. p. 16.
  • 34. NGV Trustees. National Gallery of Victoria Annual Report 1972-73. Melbourne, 1970, np quoted in Tate, Suzanne. op cit., Chapter 2: The Photography Department of the National Gallery of Victoria. p. 16.
  • 35. NGV Trustees. National Gallery of Victoria Annual Report 1969-70. Melbourne, 1970, np quoted in Tate, Suzanne. op cit., Chapter 2: The Photography Department of the National Gallery of Victoria. p. 16.
  • 36. Anon. “Frantisek Drtikol,” on Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 06/10/2014.
  • 37. Some of these images have been shown for the first time in over twenty years in the 2009 exhibition Light Years: Photography and Space in the third floor photography gallery at NGV International.
  • 38. “After Eureka Stockade Boddington went to work at Film Australia and in 1950 worked for the GPO Film Unit. With the introduction of television she went to work at the ABC as an editor. She and her second husband cameraman Adrian Boddington would then set up their own company Zanthus Films. After his death she became the curator of photography at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1971.”
    Allen, J. “Australian Visions. The films of Dahl and Geoffrey Collings,” in Eras Journal Edition 4, December 2002, Footnote 33 [Online] Cited 14/10/2014
  • 39. Minutes of the NGV Photographic Subcommittee. Melbourne, 16/05/1972 quoted in Tate, Suzanne. op cit., Chapter 2: The Photography Department of the National Gallery of Victoria. pp. 17-18.
  • 40. Crombie, Isobel. “Creating a Collection: International Photography at the National Gallery of Victoria,” in Re_View: 170 years of Photography. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2009, p. 9.
  • 41. NGV Trustees. National Gallery of Victoria Annual Report 1974-75. Melbourne, 1975, p. 24 quoted in Tate, Suzanne. op cit., Chapter 2: The Photography Department of the National Gallery of Victoria. pp. 17-18.
  • 42. Boddington, J. Overseas Travel by Assistant Curator of Photography. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 1976, pp. 1-3 quoted in Tate, Suzanne. op cit., Chapter 2: The Photography Department of the National Gallery of Victoria. pp. 18-19.
  • 43. Boddington, J. quoted in Crombie, Isobel. “Creating a Collection: International Photography at the National Gallery of Victoria,” in Re_View: 170 years of Photography. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2009, p. 9.
    See also Boddington, J. quoted in quoted in Tate, Suzanne. op cit., Chapter 2: The Photography Department of the National Gallery of Victoria. pp. 18-19.
  • 44. Boddington, J. Overseas Travel by Assistant Curator of Photography. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 1976, pp. 1-3 quoted in Tate, Suzanne. op cit., Chapter 2: The Photography Department of the National Gallery of Victoria. pp. 18-19.
  • 45. NGV Trustees. National Gallery of Victoria Annual Report 1975-76. Melbourne, 1976, p. 26 quoted in Tate, Suzanne. op cit., Chapter 2: The Photography Department of the National Gallery of Victoria. pp. 18-19.
  • 46. See Crombie, Isobel. “Creating a Collection: International Photography at the National Gallery of Victoria,” in Re_View: 170 years of Photography. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2009, p. 9.
  • 47. NGV Trustees. National Gallery of Victoria Annual Report 1975-76. Melbourne, 1976, p. 27 quoted in Tate, Suzanne. op cit., Chapter 2: The Photography Department of the National Gallery of Victoria. pp. 18-19.
  • 48. See Crombie, Op. cit., p. 9.
  • 49. Boddington, Jenny. Modern Australian Photographs. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 1976. Catalogue essay.
  • 50. See Crombie, Op. cit., p. 7.
    “The first formulation of policy in the Gallery’s annual report of 1976/77 stated the aim was to ‘develop a department of photography which will include both Australian and overseas works. The Australian collection will be historically comprehensive, while the collection of overseas photographers will aim to represent the work of the major artists in the history of photography’. Since that statement of intent thirty years ago, the collection has grown to include over 16,000 works. There are approximately sixty per cent Australian to forty per cent international photographs, a ratio that has remained constant over the years.”
    O’Hehir, Anne. “VIP: very important photographs from the European, American and Australian photography collection 1840s – 1940s” exhibition 26 May – 19 August 2007 on the National Gallery of Australia website [Online] Cited 12/10/2014.
  • 51. See Crombie, Op. cit., p. 9.
  • 52. Crombie, Isobel. “Collecting Policy for the Department of Photography, National Gallery of Victoria (Revised October 1995),” in Tate, Suzanne. Photographic Collections in Victoria: Waverley City Gallery, Horsham Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Victoria: An Analysis of Past History and Future Directions. The University of Melbourne: Postgraduate Diploma Thesis, 1998, p. 73. Appendix 1
  • 53. Crombie, Isobel. Second sight: Australian photography in the National Gallery of Victoria. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2002, p. 9
  • 54. Boddington, Jennie. Modern Australian Photographs. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 1976. Catalogue essay.
  • 55. Boddington, Jennie. International Photography: 100 images from the Collection of the National Gallery of Victoria. Adelaide: The Art Gallery of South Australia, 1983. Catalogue essay.
    Here we must acknowledge the contradiction between the quotations at footnotes 52 and 55, where the former proposes a broad based collecting policy from all eras both internationally and locally and, a few years later, the other proposes a focus on the purest uses of straight photography (in other words pure documentary photography) as it reflects broad cultural concerns.
  • 56. Tate, Suzanne. Photographic Collections in Victoria: Waverley City Gallery, Horsham Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Victoria: An Analysis of Past History and Future Directions. The University of Melbourne: Postgraduate Diploma Thesis, 1998, pp. 19-20
  • 57. Crombie, Isobel. “Collecting Policy for the Department of Photography, National Gallery of Victoria (Revised October 1995),” cited in Tate, Suzanne. Ibid., Appendix 1 ‘International Photography’ Point 2, 1900 – 1980,  p. 73
  • 58. Ibid.,
  • 59. Ibid.,
  • 60. This battle is still being fought even in 2014. See Jones, Jonathan. “The $6.5m canyon: it’s the most expensive photograph ever – but it’s like a hackneyed poster in a posh hotel,” on The Guardian website 11/12/2014 [Online] Cited 15/11/2014
  • 61. Crombie, Isobel. “Creating a Collection: International Photography at the National Gallery of Victoria,” in Re_View: 170 years of Photography. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2009, p. 9
  • 62. Crombie, Isobel. Second sight: Australian photography in the National Gallery of Victoria. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2002, p. 10
  • 63. Ibid., p. 10
  • 64. Crombie, Isobel. “Collecting Policy for the Department of Photography, National Gallery of Victoria (Revised October 1995),” in Tate, Suzanne. Photographic Collections in Victoria: Waverley City Gallery, Horsham Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Victoria: An Analysis of Past History and Future Directions. The University of Melbourne: Postgraduate Diploma Thesis, 1998, p. 73. Appendix 1
  • 65. McCaughy, Patrick. Review of ‘Securing the Past: Conservation in Art, Architecture and Literature’ by Paul Eggert on The Australian newspaper website [Online] December 2nd, 2009. Cited 01/01/2015
  • 66. Ibid.,
  • 67. Crombie, Isobel. “Creating a Collection: International Photography at the National Gallery of Victoria,” in Re_View: 170 years of Photography. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2009, p. 9
  • 68. O’Hehir, Anne. op.cit.
  • 69. Dean, Robert. “Foreign Influences in Australian Photography 1930 – 80.” Lecture delivered at Australian Photographic Society Conference (APSCON), Canberra, 2000, p. 10. [Online] Cited 01/01/2015 Download the lecture (40kb pdf)
  • 70. Ibid.,
  • 71. Ibid., See also footnote 28
  • 72. Ibid., p. 11
  • 73. Ibid.,
  • 74. Lobb, Ian. Text from an email to the author, 20th May, 2014
  • 75. Ibid.,
  • 76. Ibid.,
  • 77. Ibid.,
  • 78. Evans, Joyce. Text from an email to the author, 6th September 2014
  • 79. Crombie, op. cit., p. 10
  • 80. Ibid.,
  • 81. Ibid.,
  • 82. Vaughan, Gerard. Lecture to Master of Art Curatorship students by the Director of the National Gallery of Victoria. Melbourne, 30/03/2010.

 

 

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10
Jan
15

Text/Exhibition: ‘Wynn Bullock: Revelations’ at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta

Exhibition dates: 14th June 2014 – 18th January 2015

 

Being and Becoming in the work of Wynn Bullock

.
It’s strange how some artists become famous while others wane in relative obscurity. For 50 years after his death, J. S. Bach’s reputation as a composer declined, his work regarded as old-fashioned compared to the new style of the day. Just look at him now.

Wynn Bullock, contemporary of Edward Weston, Minor White, Harry Callahan, Aaron Siskind, Imogen Cunningham, Frederick Sommer and Ansel Adams, is not yet as well known as any of them. He should be. As the press release states, “Despite early acclaim, the true breadth and depth of Bullock’s career has remained largely in the shadows.” This first retrospective of his work in 40 years will hopefully start to change that perception. In my estimation he is up there in the pantheon of photographic stars. There are photographers… and there are master photographers. Bullock is one of the latter, in my top ten classical black and white analogue photographers of all time.

Bullock began pursuing “straight” photography after meeting Edward Weston in 1948. Work from the early 1950s has an essential, humanist flavour as can be seen in photographs such as Child in Forest (1951) and Let There Be Light (1951), both images appearing in Edward Steichen’s seminal exhibition The Family of Man at the Museum of Modern Art in 1955, printed at large scale. By the mid-50s Bullock was really hitting his straps and the work starts to become less didactic and more open to multiple interpretations and possibilities.

As Bullock says, the mysteries lie all around us waiting only to be perceived. But it’s more than that… it’s more than “what if”. Bullock claims the existence of these things while at the same time acknowledging that they are not generally accessible within the Western canon. That he expresses their existence is his gift to the world.

Take, for example, that most complex of images, Point Lobos Tide Pool (1957). Once seen, never forgotten. I remember seeing this image in my first year studying photography at university and it being seared into my brain. How could you get such an image! It encompasses every feeling and emotion about our place in the cosmos that I could ever think of. And then you hear the story (one that I recently confirmed with his daughter Barbara), which I recount here and which appeared in the book Darkroom edited by Eleanor Lewis, published in 1976 by Lustrum Press, and dedicated to Bullock’s memory.

Bullock was only able to make ONE exposure.

“The first photograph I want to discuss is the POINT LOBOS TIDE POOL. This is a contact print from an 8 x 10 negative. The picture was taken at sunset and the light was dim. The sun was striking only the edges of the rocks in the upper-left-hand corner. The tide pool itself was especially dull, and the light was disappearing so fast I had to make a quick exposure. The negative is very soft because in my hurry to capture the picture, I forgot to underexpose the film so that I could expand the contrast by overdeveloping. The tide pool, a critical part of the image, is especially soft.

“For the final print, I used Brovira No. 5 paper, Amidol developer, and developed it for three minutes to keep the dull parts from going flat. As soon as you use high contrast papers, everything gets more critical. A second or two variation in exposure in high contrast areas can mean the difference between seeing what I want to see, and not seeing anything but black or white paper.

“I could think of the negative-making process as one in which I would make a technically perfect negative. But the technically perfect negative doesn’t always give me what I want… By not always reaching for the easily printed negative, I get luminosity I wouldn’t otherwise have.

In the tide pool print, it’s always been a touchy problem to get the brilliance in the pool itself, where the negative is soft. Unless carefully controlled, that part goes muddy. The rest of the photograph is secondary, but requires some burning and dodging to get tonal balance.

“These are problems I’ve been living with. In doing so, I’ve developed printing skills. It’s a way of life with me. In printing, I don’t want to distort the reality of the image, but I don’t want to distort the reality of my feelings for it either. The two go hand in hand. I have no qualms about altering the image by burning and dodging. I’m not a purist in that way. I am a purist in that I don’t want the manipulation to show. As soon as it does, the magic is destroyed.”

As his daughter Barbara notes, “Point Lobos Tide Pool, 1957 is another serendipitous image that took place on the [Point Lobos State] Reserve. The day this photograph was made, Dad was hauling his heavy field camera along the South Shore Trail when he happened upon a tide pool with a galaxy in its midst. He set up his equipment as quickly as he could and made his first exposure. Normally, he liked to bracket his exposures, but before he could make a second one, a gust of wind swept across the pool and the complex pattern of microscopic organisms vanished.

Fortunately, one exposure was good enough. Whenever he told the story, Dad would laugh and say, “I was just damn lucky that day!” What he often left unexpressed was the lasting impression of the experience that exemplified for him the continual being-and-becoming nature of the universe as well as the kinship of its microcosmic and macrocosmic dimensions. The image remained a personal favorite for the rest of his life.” (Barbara Bullock-Wilson. “Point Lobos Tide Pool, 1957” Commentary © 2013/2015 Barbara Bullock-Wilson. All rights reserved.)

.
It is as if the universe stood still for the length of time that it took Bullock to expose his plate, as though the universe was giving him permission for his previsualisation … … … before it moved on, in a gust of wind. But that is not the end of it, no! Because of the thin negative Bullock had to print on grade 5 paper, the most contrasty paper that you can get. And because the area of the tide pool was especially thin, the exposure time is absolutely critical for this print, to get the luminosity in the pool that the artist required. In the whole scheme of things there is a tiny window of opportunity with the exposure of this negative to get a glorious print. This is far from a straight print, and what makes the story even more remarkable is that Bullock had to delve into his scientific knowledge, had to experiment with his feelings (his exposure time), with the magic of the analogue print, to make this apparition appear!

The whole story is quite thrilling really. As my mentor observes, “Point Lobos is several km of coast if you measured into every bay – but there aren’t that many spots where you can photograph the actual tide zone – probably 7 or 8 inlets – some smaller than a basketball court. The spot that Minor White talks about as Weston cove is about basketball court size from memory. You can walk around above it a few metres in the air and see it all. Only someone with a specific aim would scramble down to be amongst what could already be clearly seen. There are just as many spots where you can’t get down like Weston’s sparkle on the sea shot. Weston cove feels amazing; full of ghosts. Bullock would have been very familiar with what would be likely to come around again and what would not.”

Close your eyes and just imagine dragging an 8 x 10 camera down there and finding that image.

.
Readers, you know that I am a passionate person, that I am passionate about photography. As I relatively young man what these great artists seemed to me to be doing were noble artistic things; I still feel that. You cannot talk about photography like other mediums that define themselves – not in a modernist sense of materials – Rothko can only be talked about by referring to Rothko, Beethoven, Mozart, etc… Much as Bullock says that light “permits the same freedom of expression as paint for the painter, words for the writer, numbers for the mathematician, or sound for the composer,” photography is of a different order. You are comparing a system of making using the hand with a system using a photo-mechanical eye. Making great images is of necessity much more difficult within this process (as can be see in the millions of meaningless images that flood the world today).

I believe that inherent to any photograph is the ability to transcend the medium – whether that is in vernacular photography (by chance) or through astute observation and meditation (MW and WB). Whether the person then recognises these images as such is another matter, but it only happens on limited occasions. But when you get something, the magic just works. In his Point Lobos Tide Pool (1957), Navigation without Numbers (1957), Under Monterey Wharf (1969) and Erosion (1959), Bullock is like a mystical time traveller – of both the body and the landscape. You only have to look at the timbre of the prints and the layering of tones. These images can’t be judged on any terms other than the terms the image itself lays down. They are beyond serious: and it shows how difficult photography really is – and how rare the good photograph is – that most photographers don’t really have a count that gets into double figures for a decade’s work. It doesn’t add up to much of a crop for a lifetimes work but does Bullock care… hell no!

As he says, “You really have to give of yourself to make good pictures… The fact that good pictures are rare, however, has never slowed me down. Just going out and looking at things and using a camera is therapeutic. I deeply love the whole process.”

.
A deep love of the whole process, a deep love of being and becoming.

.
The ability of the photographer is that they can massage the medium – through imagination, surrealism, reality, space/time etc… that ENACTS a difference that painters, musicians can only dream of – through a manipulation of reality, through a form of hyper-reality. In Bullock’s case it is the recognition of the mysteries that lie all around us in which the images take on a symbiotic relationship with an observation of the human mind THROUGH photography.

Openly talking in a clear language from a lifetime of meditation.

A clear language where words don’t quite equal the meanings normally attached to them.

From another dimension.

 

“In streams of light I clearly saw
The dust you seldom see,
Out of which the Nameless makes
A Name for one like me.

I’ll try to say a little more:
Love went on and on
Until it reached an open door –
Then Love Itself
Love Itself was gone.

All busy in the sunlight
The flecks did float and dance,
And I was tumbled up with them
In formless circumstance.

I’ll try to say a little more:
Love went on and on
Until it reached an open door –
Then Love Itself
Love Itself was gone.”

(from “Love Itself” lyrics by Leonard Cohen)

 

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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

 

 

“Mysteries lie all around us, even in the most familiar of things, waiting only to be perceived.”

.
“Light to me is perhaps the most profound truth in the universe… [It] permits the same freedom of expression as paint for the painter, words for the writer, numbers for the mathematician, or sound for the composer.”

.
“You really have to give of yourself to make good pictures. Well, that giving takes a lot out of you, and you simply can’t operate at that intense level all the time. Neither can you predetermine what happens outside you.

The fact that good pictures are rare, however, has never slowed me down. Just going out and looking at things and using a camera is therapeutic. I deeply love the whole process.”

.
Wynn Bullock

 

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Point Lobos Tide Pool' 1957

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Point Lobos Tide Pool
1957
Gelatin silver print
7 9/16 x 9 ½ in.
Collection Center for Creative Photography
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Point Lobos Tide Pool appears simultaneously to resemble both a galaxy and a bacterial growth across a petri dish, when in fact it is neither so large nor so small a subject, but rather a pool arrayed with microorganisms along the Carmel coast, transformed into a picture of astounding beauty.

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975) 'Erosion' 1959

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Erosion
1959
Gelatin silver print
Collection Center for Creative Photography
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Bullock found this scene along a California roadway and was drawn to the insight it provides into what goes on in spaces that normally lie beyond our perception. The eroded embankment reveals the slow evolution of the world across centuries, with organic and inorganic elements coexisting together at different stages of growth and decay. Stripped of its skin and flayed by the corrosive power of water, the hill in Bullock’s picture reveals a powerfully foreign world as real and as beautiful as anything on the surface of the earth. Bullock’s efforts were decidedly pointed toward making the ordinary profound and in revealing a complexity beyond the surface of things.

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Under Monterey Wharf' 1969

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Under Monterey Wharf
1969
Gelatin silver print
Collection Center for Creative Photography
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975) 'Navigation without Numbers' 1957

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Navigation without Numbers
1957
Gelatin silver print
6 13/16 x 8 15/16 in.,
Collection Center for Creative Photography
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Del Monte Forest' 1969

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Del Monte Forest
1969
Gelatin silver print
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, promised gift of Barbara and Gene Bullock-Wilson
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Nude by Sandy's Window' 1956

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Nude by Sandy’s Window
1956
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

In this picture, a brightly lit window occupies the bulk of Bullock’s composition, hovering over a woman who appears to be asleep; light shines in through the glass with a blinding intensity that obscures a clear view of the exterior while alluding to the existence of a world of indefinite proportions beyond.

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Lynne, Point Lobos' 1956

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Lynne, Point Lobos
1956
Gelatin silver print
7 1/2 x 9 7/16 in.
Collection Center for Creative Photography
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

 

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.

He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”

.
Albert Einstein, quoted by Wynn Bullock

 

“In June 2014, the High Museum of Art will become the first major museum in nearly 40 years to mount a retrospective of work by Wynn Bullock (1902-1975) with the exhibition Wynn Bullock: Revelations, organized by the High in collaboration with the Center for Creative Photography.

One of the most significant photographers of the mid-20th century, Bullock worked in the American modernist tradition alongside Edward Weston, Harry Callahan and Ansel Adams. More than 100 black-and-white and color works by Bullock will come together for the exhibition, which will coincide with a major gift to the High from the Bullock Estate of a large collection of vintage photographs, making the Museum one of the most significant repositories of Bullock’s work in the U.S.

The High is home to the most robust photography program in the American Southeast with particularly distinct holdings in the classic modernist tradition. Wynn Bullock: Revelations offers an unprecedentedly holistic look at Bullock’s innovative career, beginning with his early light abstractions and moving through his landscapes, figure studies, color work, negative images and late abstractions. The exhibition will be on view June 14, 2014 through Jan. 18, 2015.

A close friend of influential West Coast artists Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, and a contemporary of Minor White, Harry Callahan, Aaron Siskind, Imogen Cunningham and Frederick Sommer, Bullock created a body of work marked by a distinct interest in experimentation, abstraction and philosophical exploration. His images Let There Be Light and Child in Forest (both of which will be included in the High’s exhibition) became icons in the history of photography following their prominent inclusion in Edward Steichen’s landmark 1955 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, The Family of Man.

Bullock’s photography received early recognition in 1941, when the Los Angeles County Museum of Art staged his first solo exhibition. His mature work appeared in one-man shows at the Bibliotèque Nationale, Paris; the Royal Photographic Society, London; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and the Art Institute of Chicago; among other prestigious venues. His archive was a foundational collection for the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Ariz., which is recognized as one of the most important photographic resources in the world.

Despite early acclaim, the true breadth and depth of Bullock’s career has remained largely in the shadows. Wynn Bullock: Revelations offers the most comprehensive assessment of the photographer’s extraordinary career in nearly 40 years. This retrospective traces Bullock’s evolution from his early experimental work of the 1940s, through the mysterious black-and-white imagery of the 1950s and color light abstractions of the 1960s, to his late metaphysical photographs of the 1970s.

“Bullock’s arresting work was integral to codifying what we now think of as quintessential mid-century style, which in turn paved the way for every stage of photography that has followed,” said Brett Abbott, curator of photography and head of collections at the High. “Presenting this exhibition and acquiring this generous body of work from Bullock’s estate will allow us to play a role in bringing him back into the popular consciousness. Our photography department has expanded greatly over the last few years, in terms of the work we own and the exhibitions we mount, giving us the ability to position this pivotal body of work as part of the nearly two-century-long story of the development of photography.”

Wynn Bullock: Revelations will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue to be produced by the High in collaboration with the University of Texas Press. The book presents 110 images, including some from the Bullock Estate that have never been published before. An essay by Abbott explores the nuances of Bullock’s approach to photography and its fascinating relationship to the history of science and philosophy. The volume also includes an illustrated chronology, bibliography, selected collections, exhibitions history, plate list and notes.

 

About Wynn Bullock

Wynn Bullock was born on April 18, 1902, in Chicago, Ill. After graduating from high school, Bullock worked as a professional singer in New York City and across Europe. In 1938 he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a law degree but soon dropped out of school to become a photography student at Art Center School, where he became deeply involved in exploring alternative processes such as solarization and bas relief and began building a career in commercial photography. Bullock went on to serve in the military and then to build a successful private photography business, where he developed a way to control the line effect of solarization, a discovery for which he was awarded patents. Bullock began pursuing “straight” photography after meeting Edward Weston in 1948. Throughout the 1950s he explored the natural world from his own unique perspective in photography and came into the public spotlight through exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. In the 1960s he created an innovative body of abstract color images. He later returned to experimental black and white, on which he continued to focus until his death in 1975. Bullock’s work is part of the collections of more than 90 major institutions throughout the world.”

Press release from the High Museum of Art website

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Color Light Abstraction 1076' 1963

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Color Light Abstraction 1076
1963
Inkjet print
14 x 21 in.
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, promised gift of Barbara and Gene Bullock-Wilson
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Color Light Abstraction 1075' 1963

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Color Light Abstraction 1075
1963
Inkjet print
14 x 21 in.
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, promised gift of Barbara and Gene Bullock-Wilson
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Entrance Mural with glimpses of Galleries 1 and 3

Gallery 1

Gallery 2

Gallery 3

 

Wynn Bullock: Revelations installation at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta
Entrance mural with glimpses of Galleries 1 and 3 (top), Galleries 1, 2 and 3 (bottom)

 

 

“Love Itself”

The light came through the window,
Straight from the sun above,
And so inside my little room
There plunged the rays of Love.

In streams of light I clearly saw
The dust you seldom see,
Out of which the Nameless makes
A Name for one like me.

I’ll try to say a little more:
Love went on and on
Until it reached an open door –
Then Love Itself
Love Itself was gone.

All busy in the sunlight
The flecks did float and dance,
And I was tumbled up with them
In formless circumstance.

I’ll try to say a little more:
Love went on and on
Until it reached an open door –
Then Love Itself
Love Itself was gone.

Then I came back from where I’d been.
My room, it looked the same –
But there was nothing left between
The Nameless and the Name.

All busy in the sunlight
The flecks did float and dance,
And I was tumbled up with them
In formless circumstance.

I’ll try to say a little more:
Love went on and on
Until it reached an open door –
Then Love itself,
Love Itself was gone.
Love Itself was gone.

 

Lyrics by Leonard Cohen

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Child in Forest' 1951

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Child in Forest
1951
Gelatin silver print
7 7/16 x 9 3/8 in.
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchase, 1978.62
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Stark Tree' 1956

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Stark Tree
1956
Gelatin silver print
7 5/8 x 9 1/16 in.
Collection Center for Creative Photography
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Let There Be Light' 1954

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Let There Be Light
1954
Gelatin silver print
7 3/8 x 9 7/16 in.
Collection Center for Creative Photography
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Old Typewriter' 1951

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Old Typewriter
1951
Gelatin silver print
7 1/16 × 9 7/16 in.
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Gift of Lucinda W. Bunnen for the Bunnen Collection, 2012.594
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'The Shore' 1966

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
The Shore
1966
Gelatin silver print
9 1/4 x 13 5/8 in.
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, promised gift of Barbara and Gene Bullock-Wilson
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Sea Palms' 1968

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Sea Palms
1968
Gelatin silver print
7 1/2 x 9 ¼ in.
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, promised gift of Barbara and Gene Bullock-Wilson
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Driftwood' 1951

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Driftwood
1951
Gelatin silver print
7 1/2 x 9 ½ in.
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, promised gift of Barbara and Gene Bullock-Wilson
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Point Lobos Tide Pools' 1972

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Point Lobos Tide Pools
1972
Gelatin silver print
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975), 'Early Solarization' 1940

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Early Solarization
1940
Gelatin silver print
6 1/4 x 8 in.
Collection of Barbara and Gene Bullock-Wilson
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Edna' 1956

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Edna
1956
Gelatin silver print
7 1/2 x 7 ½ in.
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, promised gift of Barbara and Gene Bullock-Wilson
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Portrait of Edna, Cannery Row' 1955

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Portrait of Edna, Cannery Row
1955
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 x 7 ½ in.
Collection of Barbara and Gene Bullock-Wilson
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Barbara through Window' 1956

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Barbara through Window
1956
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 x 7 ½ in.
Collection Center for Creative Photography
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Nude Torso in Forest' 1958

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Nude Torso in Forest
1958
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 x 6 1/4in.
Collection of Barbara and Gene Bullock-Wilson
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock. 'Child on Forest Road' 1958

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Child on Forest Road
1958
Gelatin silver print
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Fallen Tree Trunk' 1972

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Fallen Tree Trunk
1972
Gelatin silver print
8 5/8 x 7 ½ in.
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, promised gift of Barbara and Gene Bullock-Wilson
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Tree Trunk' 1971

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Tree Trunk
1971
Gelatin silver print
Promised Gift of Lynne Harrington-Bullock
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

To create this image, Bullock reversed the positive and negative values of his rendering of a tree trunk, and then turned the composition upside down. In so doing, he disrupts a habitual reading of the natural world, creates an experience of disorientation, and allows the forms pictured to engage the eye in freshly invigorating ways.

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Photogram' 1970

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Photogram
1970
Gelatin silver print
9 1/8 x 7 3/8 in.
Collection of Barbara and Gene Bullock-Wilson
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Rock' 1973

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Rock
1973
Gelatin silver print
8 5/8 x 6 ¾ in.
Collection of Barbara and Gene Bullock-Wilson
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

 

High Museum of Art
1280 Peachtree Street,
N.E. Atlanta, GA 30309

Opening hours:
Monday Closed
Tuesday 10 am to 5 pm
Wednesday  10 am to 5 pm
Thursday 10 am to 5 pm
Friday  10 am to 9 pm† (Half-Price after 4 pm!)
Saturday 10 am to 5 pm
Sunday 12 noon to 5 pm

High Museum of Art website

Wynn Bullock Photography website
Wynn Bullock Photography web page dedicated to the exhibition

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11
May
14

Text / exhibition: ‘Australian vernacular photography’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Sydney

Exhibition dates: 8th February – 18th May 2014

 

Australian vernacular photography. Such a large subject. Such a small exhibition.

With only 27 photographs from various artists (18 of which are shown in this posting), this exhibition can only ever be seen as the runt of the litter. I would have thought such a large area of photographic investigation needed a more expansive exposition than is offered here. There are no photobook, photo booth, Aboriginal, anonymous, authorless, family, gay or marginalised cultural photographs / snapshots. There are no light leaks, blur, fingers obstructing lenses, double exposures – all examples of serendipity and happenstance which could enter into an aesthetic arena.

Vernacular photography1 can be defined as the “creation of photographs, usually by amateur or unknown photographers both professional and amateur, who take everyday life and common things as subjects… Examples of vernacular photographs include travel and vacation photos, family snapshots, photos of friends, class portraits, identification photographs, and photo-booth images. Vernacular photographs are types of accidental art, in that they often are unintentionally artistic.”2 ‘Found photography’ is the recovery of a lost, unclaimed, or discarded vernacular photograph or snapshot.

While all of the photographs in the exhibition are unique images, some are definitely not vernacular in their construction – they are planned and staged photographs, what I would call planned happenstance (after John Krumboltz’s theory of career development). A perfect example of this are the photographs by Sue Ford (Sue Pike, 1963, printed 1988, below), Anne Zahalka (The girls #2, Cronulla beach, 2007, below) and Fiona Hall (Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia, October 1975, below) which have an air of ceremonial seriousness that belies their classification as part of this exhibition. My favourites are the fantastic images by Glen Sloggett – witty, colourful, humorous with the photographer “acutely aware of the photographer and photograph’s role in pointedly constructing a narrative around Australian identity and history” – they are nevertheless self-deprecating enough that this does not impact on their innate “found” quality, as though the artist had just wandered along and captured the shot.

The route that the AGNSW has taken is similar to that of MoMA. Residing in the collection and shot by artists, these “vernacular” photographs are placed in a high art context. Their status as amateur or “authorless” photographs is undermined. This exhibit does not present vernacular photographs as just that. As the article on the One Street blog notes, what is being exhibited is as much about what has been collected by the AGNSW, its methodical and historicising classification, as it is about vernacular photographic form: chance, mistake and miscalculation. It is about creating a cliché from which to describe an ideal Australian identity, be it the beach, larrikinism, or the ANZAC / sporting “warrior”, and not about a true emotional resonance in the image that is created by, or come upon by, chance.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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

 

1. “Vernacular photography,” on One Way Street blog 20th October 2007 [Online] Cited 11/05/2014

“What is vernacular photography? Too broad to be understood as a genre per se, it can encompass anonymous snapshots, industrial photography, scientific photography, “authorless” photography, advertising, smut, as well as work that might be perceived as “other” than any of this random list. It could be understood as an oppositional photography – outside technical or artistic histories, yet, especially with the snapshot, it could also be entirely conventionalized, a manifestation of visual banalities, or an image so enigmatic that its meaning or genesis is entirely obscured. It is mistakes & failures as much as it may not be. & how we understand the images may or may not be separate from their initial intents. Is this a category we are making up?
The idea of the vernacular in photography is also an indication of photography as a medium informing the everyday, prevalent, “naturalized.””

2. Szarkowski, John. “INTERVIEW: “Eyes Wide Open: Interview with John Szarkowski” (2006)” by Mark Durden, Art in America, May, 2006, cited in “Vernacular photography,” on Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 11/05/2014

 

Words and Photos: Geoffrey Batchen’s Writing About Vernacular Photography

“At first, I was simply interested in bringing attention to a diverse range of photographic objects and practices that had not been much written about. But I soon recognized that these objects represented a significant challenge to the predominant history of photography. This history, dominated by the values ​​and tropes of art history, was not well-equipped to talk about photographs that were openly commercial, hybrid and mundane. Ie: the history of photography ignores most types of photography. My interest, therefore, has become more methodological and theoretical, in an effort to establish new ways to think of photography that could address the medium as a whole. I suggest that any substantial inclusion of vernacular photographs into a general history of photography will require a total transformation of the character of that history…

I suggest that any inclusion of vernacular photography in the larger story, will require a complete transformation of the character of that story; it will require a new kind of history altogether. My writings may have encouraged this idea, but I am just one of many scholars who have been pursuing this goal. Indeed, I would say that this idea is now the norm. The next step is to look beyond this and engage other parts of the history of photography that have been similarly neglected. For example, there are many researchers at the moment that are examining the photographs produced outside Europe and the United States, such as China, Indonesia, and Africa…

Snapshots are complicated objects. They are unique to each maker and almost always completely generic. They happily adopt the visual economy that mediates most photographic practices: same but different. You might say that every snapshot is an authentic copy of a prescribed set of middle-class values and familiar pictorial clichés. That does not make them any less fascinating, especially for people who treasure them. But it does make them difficult to write about…

It is certainly possible to recognize the existence of regional practices of photography. I wrote, for example, about the making of fotoescultura in Mexico, and about a specific form of ambrotype in Japan. No doubt one could claim to see some regional aspects of snapshots made in the United States that distinguish them from ones made in Australia or, say, Indonesia. But the more challenging task is to talk about those things that can’t be seen. For example, snapshots made in Australia and China may look exactly the same to my eye, but it stands to reason that they don’t mean the same thing (after all, access to the camera for personal photos is a fairly recent phenomenon in China). We must learn how to write these kind of differences.”

Interview by LG. “Words and Photos: Geoffrey Batchen’s Writing About Vernacular Photography,” on the LesPHOTOGRAPHES.com website Nd (translated from the French) [Online] Cited 04/05/2014

 

Ed Douglas (United States of America, Australia 06 May 1943 - ) 'City-spaces #28, (John Williams), Sydney' 1976 printed 2012

 

Ed Douglas (United States of America, Australia 06 May 1943 – )
City-spaces #28, (John Williams), Sydney
1976 printed 2012
From the series City-spaces 1975-78
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2012
© Ed Douglas

 

After relocating from USA to Australia in 1973, Ed Douglas spent a few years living in the country prior to taking on a teaching position at Sydney College for the Arts in 1976. The series City-spaces was commenced in Sydney and then developed further when Douglas moved to Adelaide in 1977. Having been schooled in the formal traditions of American documentary photography, Douglas’s images appear like notations of an urban explorer attempting to locate himself in a new country. Seemingly fragmentary, they look at the specificities of the mundane and the ordinary. Close acquaintances such as photographers Ingeborg Tyssen and John F. Williams appear in City spaces #29 and City spaces #28, indicating the personal nature of the series.

Intimately scaled and tonally rich, the black and white images exalt the formal beauty which can be found in the random textures of daily existence. They are also permeated with gentle humour and a sense of quiet drama that unfolds in the strangely misplaced confluences of objects, figures and spaces. Douglas’s interest in the formal and emotional qualities of topography was emblematic of new approaches in documentary photography of the time. His 1983 series of colour photographs depicting the gypsum mine on Kangaroo Island (collection of AGNSW) developed this trajectory further by fusing the aesthetics of abstraction and objective documentation.

 

Ed Douglas (United States of America, Australia 06 May 1943 - ) 'City-spaces #40, Sydney' 1976 printed 2012

 

Ed Douglas (United States of America, Australia 06 May 1943 – )
City-spaces #40, Sydney
1976 printed 2012
From the series City-spaces 1975-78
Gelatin silver photograph
23.6 x 30.7 cm image
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2012
© Ed Douglas

 

Gerrit Fokkema (Papua New Guinea, Australia 1954 - ) 'Woman hosing, Canberra' 1979

 

Gerrit Fokkema (Papua New Guinea, Australia 1954 – )
Woman hosing, Canberra
1979
Gelatin silver photograph
34.9 x 46.5 cm image
© Gerrit Fokkema

 

Gerrit Fokkema’s photographs of everyday Sydney and Canberra in the early 1980s are examples of Australian photography becoming more self-aware. These decisive snapshots of suburban life reveal an irony and conjure Fokkema’s own history growing up in Queanbeyan. Though captured in seemingly banal settings, the images intrigue, pointing to issues beyond what is represented in the frame. The housewife watering the road and a young tattooed man in front of a car are both depicted alone within a sprawling suburban landscape, suggesting the isolation and boredom in the Australian dream of home ownership. The sense of strangeness in these images is consciously sought by Fokkema, aided by his embrace of the glaring and unforgiving ‘natural’ Australian light.

Gerrit Fokkema’s Woman hosing, Canberra is an affectionate and gently ironic portrait of suburban life in Canberra. Fokkema was familiar with his subject matter, raised as he was in the nearby township of Queanbeyan. After studying photography at Canberra Technical College 1974-77 he became the staff photographer for the Canberra Times in 1975. He held his first exhibition in the same year at the Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney. His career as a photo-journalist lead him to work with the Sydney Morning Herald in 1980 and participation with several international Day in the life of…. projects between 1986 and 1989.

Fokkema uses the ‘decisive moment’ of photo-journalism to reveal the incidental quirks of ordinary life in this image. The bland uniformity of the streetscape, with its identical archways and mundanely shuttered doors, is punctuated by the absurd proposition of a woman watering the street rather than the adjacent grass. Her presence is the only sign of life in an otherwise inanimate scene, and her actions suggest a kind of strangeness that lies within the normality of suburbia. Many of Fokkema’s images play with such chance incidences and odd juxtapositions, revealing his interest in surrealism and the notion of automatism. Indeed, the repeated archways and the lone figure inhabiting otherwise empty urban space of Woman hosing, Canberra recall the proto-typical surrealist painting, Mystery and melancholy of a street 1914, by Giorgio de Chirico. Fokkema’s image is, however, very much a product of Australia – of its bright ‘available’ light and of the dream of home-ownership. Fokkema has continued to document the Australian way of life. In 1986 he left newspapers to freelance as a commercial photographer and published Wilcannia, portrait of an Australian town. He has since exhibited works based on tender observations of his family members and of family life.

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

 

Gerrit Fokkema (Papua New Guinea, Australia 1954 - ) 'Blacktown man' 1983

 

Gerrit Fokkema (Papua New Guinea, Australia 1954 – )
Blacktown man
1983
Gelatin silver photograph
30.6 x 40.6 cm image
© Gerrit Fokkema

 

The work of Gerrit Fokkema exhibits a particular sensitivity to the uneasiness of people in Australian landscapes, both urban and rural. Fokkema was born in New Guinea in 1954, but raised in Canberra and worked as a press photographer before freelancing from 1986. Although his photographs demonstrate an interest in the formal qualities of landscape, the sense of rhythm his compositions generate also evoke the monotony of Australian space – sweeping terracotta roofs and long straight paths. This monotony is only interrupted by the presence of the human figure, usually isolated, alone and awkwardly out of place. In Blacktown Man 1983, the flat image of the man appears dramatically superimposed on the land and sky of the suburban street. By reminding us of our sometimes uncomfortable relationship with the spaces we inhabit, Fokkema’s work rejects any attempt to romanticise Australian life.

 

John F Williams. 'The Rocks, Sydney' 1973

 

John F Williams
The Rocks, Sydney
1973
Gelatin silver photograph
22.6 x 34.1cm
Purchased 1989
© John F Williams

 

Trent Parke. 'Backyard swing set, QLD' 2003

 

Trent Parke
Backyard swing set, QLD
2003
From the series Minutes to midnight
Type C photograph
109.9 x 164cm
Gift of Albie Thoms in memory of Linda Slutzkin, former Head of Public Programmes, Art Gallery of New South Wales 2006
© Trent Parke

 

 

Australian vernacular photography traces developments in photographic practice from the postwar period through to the present day, with images ranging from documentary or ‘straight’ photography (where the subjects are usually unaware of the camera), through to those that look self-reflexively at the constructed nature of the medium.

The increasing role of photography in the latter part of the 20th century attests to the rising need Australians felt to apprehend the nation, personal identity and society through images. Many of these photographs offer frank perspectives on Australian culture without the romanticising tendencies of earlier photographers. Photographing the everyday became a way of understanding how Australia saw (and sees) itself, with recurrent themes such as beach culture, suburbia, race relations, protest and the role of women among the central concerns of image-makers then and now.

By the 1960s Australian photographers were comparing their work with international peers, thanks to photographic publications and the watershed 1959 tour of The family of man exhibition organised by the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Institutional support for photography didn’t come until the 1970s; however those committed to the medium forged on, intent on capturing their visions of Australia photographically. The family of man exhibition toured Australia in 1959 and was enormously influential, with its themes of birth, love and death common to all humanity. However, possibilities for Australian photographers to be noticed were rare until the 1970s due to the lack of institutional support. Nonetheless, photographers from David Moore and Robert McFarlane to the young Sue Ford forged on, trying to find their own vision of Australian life and how it could be represented photographically. This exhibition looks at some of the photographers from then as well as those working more recently – such as Anne Zahalka, Trent Parke and Glenn Sloggett – to consider their various approaches to the depiction of modern Australian life.

In the Australian Photography Annual of 1947, photographer and director of the Art Gallery of NSW Hal Missingham wrote: “In a country supposedly occupied by people indulging in a vigorous outdoor life, where are the [photographic] records of beach and sport… where are the photographs of the four millions of people who live and work in our cities? What are they like – what do they do – what do they wear, and think?”

Text from the AGNSW website

 

Jeff Carter (Australia 05 Aug 1928 - Oct 2010) 'The Sunbather' 1966

 

Jeff Carter (Australia 05 Aug 1928 – Oct 2010)
The Sunbather
1966
Gelatin silver photograph
39.1 x 27.6 cm image
© Jeff Carter

 

“I don’t regard photography as an art form, although I know it can be for others… To me the camera is simply an unrivalled reporter’s tool. It is an aid to getting the story “properly true,”” Jeff Carter said in 2006. Working mainly as a photojournalist, Carter wanted to make images that depicted social reality. He aimed to show the ‘unknown’, those people who are rarely seen. His approach resulted in frank, arguably even unflattering, images of Australian life, such as this of a beach-goer in the 1960s, heralding the changing social mores of the time.

 

John F. Williams (Australia 1933 - ) 'Sydney' 1964, printed later

 

John F Williams (Australia 1933 – )
Sydney
1964, printed later
Gelatin silver photograph
24.3 x 24.3 cm image
© John F Williams

 

Sydney photographer, lecturer and historian John F. Williams has a long and personal interest in the ramifications of the Allies’ commitment to and sacrifice in the First World War which he later explored in his 1985 series From the flatlands. Williams became an amateur street photographer, inspired by Henri Cartier-Bresson and the photojournalist W. Eugene Smith. He read The family of man catalogue and saw the exhibition in 1959 but he rejected its “saccharine humanism and deliberate ahistoricism” choosing instead to socially document the raw character of Australia.1

When interviewed in 1994 Williams said: “After the [First World War] you had a range of societies which were pretty much exhausted, and they tended to turn inwards. In a society like Australia which had a poorly formed image of itself, where there was no intellectual underpinning, the image of the soldier replaced everything else as a national identity.”2

Sydney expresses the ‘Anzac spirit’ born in the battlefields of Gallipoli, the Somme and Flanders, a character study of an independent, introspective soldier. With an air of grit, determinedly smoking and wearing his badge, ribbons and rosemary as remembrance, Sydney stands apart from the crowd, not marching with his regiment. Williams embraced the ‘element of chance’ or the ‘decisive moment’ as he documented the soldier in a public place observing the procession. Taken from a low angle and very close up the man is unaware of the photographer at the moment the shot was taken, apparently lost in his own memories. The old soldier represents a generation now lost to history but portraits such as these continue to reinforce the myth of national identity.

1. Jolly, M. “Faith sustained,” in Art Monthly, September 1989, pp. 18-19
2. “John Williams – photographer and historian: profile,” in Sirius, winter, Macquarie University, Sydney, 1994, p. 5

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

 

Robert McFarlane (Australia 1942 – ) 'Happening Centennial Park, Sydney' c. 1968

 

Robert McFarlane (Australia 1942 – )
Happening Centennial Park, Sydney
c. 1968
Gelatin silver photograph
25.9 x 17.6 cm image
© Robert McFarlane

 

Hal Missingham (Australia 08 Dec 1906 – 07 Apr 1994) 'Surf carnival, Cronulla' 1968, printed 1978

 

Hal Missingham (Australia 08 Dec 1906 – 07 Apr 1994)
Surf carnival, Cronulla
1968, printed 1978
Media category
Gelatin silver photograph
38.1 x 26.3 cm image
© Hal Missingham Estate

 

Photographer and former Art Gallery of NSW director, Hal Missingham wrote in the 1947 Australian Photography annual: “In a country supposedly occupied by people indulging in a vigorous outdoor life, where are the [photographic] records of beach and sport…? Where are the photographs of the four millions of people who live and work in our cities? What are they like – What do they do – What do they wear, and think?” This image points to Missingham’s own attempts to answer that question. An interesting counterpoint to the images taken at Cronulla around 40 years later, here Missingham shows a group of young women standing behind a fence watching as young men train to be lifesavers.

Hal Missingham often holidayed at his beach house at Garie in the Royal National Park south of Sydney, not far from Cronulla. In 1970 he published Close focus a book of photographic details of rocks, pools, sand and driftwood. As a beachcomber and observer of beach culture Missingham delighted in his immediate environment. Surf carnival, Cronulla is a quintessential Australian scene, one that frames an important aspect of national identity and culture. As passive observers, the 1960s was a time when many girls were still ‘minding the towels’ for the boys who surfed or competed in carnivals. Barricaded from the beach and its male activity the young women in bikinis are oblivious to the photographer who has foregrounded their relaxed tanned bodies behind the wire as they in turn observe and discuss the surf lifesavers in formation at the water’s edge. Although a beach is accessible for the majority of Australians and is now an accepted egalitarian space where women bodysurf, ride surfboards and compete along with beachgoers from diverse ethnic backgrounds, Surf carnival, Cronulla suggests a specific demography.

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

 

Fiona Hall (Australia 1953 - ) 'Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia, October 1975' 1975

 

Fiona Hall (Australia 1953 – )
Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia, October 1975
1975
Gelatin silver photograph
28.2 x 27.9 cm image
Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund 1987
© Fiona Hall

 

 

Australian vernacular photography considers how photographers have used their cameras to depict Australian life, and how ideas of the nation have been constructed through photographic images.

Sixteen Australian photographers are represented by some 27 photographs taken from the 1960s to the 2000s. The photographs range from the more conventionally photo-documentary through to later works by photographers positioned more consciously in an art context. A selection of photography books of the period are also on display.

Artists include: Jeff Carter, Ed Douglas, Peter Elliston, Gerrit Fokkema, Sue Ford, Fiona Hall, Robert McFarlane, Hal Missingham, David Moore, Trent Parke, Roger Scott, Glenn Sloggett, Ingeborg Tyssen, John F Williams, William Yang and Anne Zahalka. Each of these artists in their own way interweave personal, documentary and fictional aspects through their images.

The works in Australian vernacular photography expose the sense of humour or larrikinism often seen as typical to Australia through showing aspects of beach and urban culture that hadn’t been imaged so bluntly before the 1960s. The characters that emerge range from leathery sunbathers, beer-drinking blokes and hippies, to beach babes, student protesters and suburban housewives, shedding light on the sense of liberation and self-recognition that arose during this period.

As photography struggled to gain recognition as an art form in the mid 20th century, the influence of exhibitions such as the Museum of Modern Art, New York’s Family of Man, which toured Australia in 1959, was vital in allowing Australian photographers to compare their work to that of their international peers.

Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, photographers such as Jeff Carter, Sue Ford, David Moore, Roger Scott and John F Williams worked in a photo-documentary mode that was less about staging a shot or creating formal harmony within the frame than about capturing a moment of lived reality. To this end, such photographs involved minimal intervention from the photographer, both before and after the shutter release. Subjects were often unaware of being photographed and extensive darkroom manipulation was frowned upon, the rawness of prints was supposed to signal authenticity.

This approach resulted in images that seemed to offer a frank perspective on Australian culture, without the romanticising tendencies of earlier photography, which had sought to construct ideals rather than document what was actually there. As artists began to realise what they could do with the camera, so too did the images evolve. By the 1980s and ’90s photographers were making images that showed the subject’s awareness of being photographed, as with Gerrit Fokkema, or presented a harsh, even aggressive perspective on the depicted situations by removing people altogether, as with Peter Elliston. This signalled the increasingly self-conscious role of photographers themselves in the equation, suggesting the influence of post-modern theories of subjectivity and their effect on the images produced.

By the time we reach the 2000s, artists such as William Yang, Anne Zahalka and Trent Parke are acutely aware of the photographer and photograph’s role in pointedly constructing a narrative around Australian identity and history. The exhibition maps out this history and offers unexpected insight into the construction of a particularly Australian vernacular within photographic practice.”

Press release from the AGNSW

 

 

Sue Ford (Australia 1943 - 06 Nov 2009) 'Sue Pike' 1963, printed 1988

 

Sue Ford (Australia 1943 – 06 Nov 2009)
Sue Pike
1963, printed 1988
Media category
Gelatin silver photograph
34.2 x 34.2 cm image
Gift of Tim Storrier 1989
© Estate of Sue Ford

 

Sue Ford’s photograph of her friend Sue Pike blow-drying her hair in the kitchen captures the young woman preparing for a night out. Ford often photographed those close to her as well as continually making self-portraits throughout her career. The photograph is domestic and intimate, showing a common aspect of life for young women in the 1960s. It suggests the procedure of preening necessary to go out and find ‘marriage and children’, while the alcohol and cigarette indicates the emerging movement for women’s liberation.

“My earliest “studio portraits” … were of my friends from school … These photo sessions were approached with a ceremonial seriousness, My friends usually brought different clothes with them and during the sessions we would change clothes and hairstyles.” Sue Ford 1987 1

Sue Ford took the majority of her photographs at this time with the camera set on a 1/60th of a second at f/11, a ‘recipe’ she wrote which had more chance of success. Poetic, fragmentary text relating to Ford’s 1961 photo-essay in “A sixtieth of a second: portraits of women 1961–1981” identify the young women’s recipe for flirtatious endeavour – ‘gossamer hairspray’, ‘peroxide’, ‘plucked eyebrows’, ‘big hair rollers to achieve “La Bouffant”‘, ‘Saturday nite’ and ‘Jive’. Sue Pike exemplifies the era of girls preparing for a night out with the boys in their ‘FJ Holdens and Hot Rods’. Staged in the kitchen, probably on a Saturday afternoon, Sue Pike, in a padded brunch coat with hair in rollers plugged into a portable hair dryer, will be a part of the action, the gossip and camaraderie. A further portrait taken in the same year shows Sue Pike metamorphosed as a beautiful bride, carefully coifed ash blonde hair under a white net veil, eyes momentarily shut, traditionally decorated with pearls and posy. Ford suggests in her prose and portraits that there are choices to be made – ‘marriage and children’ or mini-skirts and the Pill, as her old school friends go in different directions.

1. Ford. S. “A sixtieth of a second: portraits of women 1961-1981,” Experimental Art Foundation, Adelaide, 1987, p. 4

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

 

Anne Zahalka (Australia 14 May 1957 – ) 'The girls #2, Cronulla beach' 2007

 

Anne Zahalka (Australia 14 May 1957 – )
The girls #2, Cronulla beach
2007
Type C photograph
72.5 x 89.5 cm image
Gift of the artist 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Anne Zahalka. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

As part of a generation of Australian women artists who came to the fore in the early 1980s, Anne Zahalka’s practice has always been concerned with questioning dominant myths and cultural constructs. The broad sweep of Zahalka’s oeuvre has often been underpinned by a common strategy: the world in her images appears as theatre where place, gender and national identity are questioned.

Many of Zahalka’s more recent works are located outside the studio though the natural environment can be seen to be equally constructed. In The girls #2, Cronulla beach, the photographer has returned to the seaside, which was the setting for one of her most iconic series, Bondi: playground of the Pacific 1989. The girls was made as a response to the Cronulla riots and after an introduction to Aheda Zanetti, the designer of the burqini. Zahalka “also knew of a documentary film being made following the recruiting of Lebanese men and women into the lifesaving club. It seemed like there was change adrift on the beachfront.”1 The permutations and post-modern anxiety about what constitutes Australian identity seen in the Bondi… series, have spilled out into the real world. But the image of these young Muslim women lifeguards seems to celebrate the potential to transgress accepted value systems.

Anne Zahalka said in 1995: “I am primarily concerned with… representations to do with place, identity and culture. Through the appropriation and reworking of familiar icons and styles I seek to question (and understand) their influence, meaning and value.” Twelve years later, Zahalka continues this line of inquiry with the series Scenes from the Shire. In this image, three Muslim girls wearing Burqinis (swimwear made for Muslim women conceived by Lebanese-Australian designer Aheda Zanetti) are standing cross-armed on Cronulla beach, a lifesaving raft is in the background. Zahalka made this work in response to the Cronulla riots of 2005. The image juxtaposes Muslim tradition with the Australian icon of the lifesaver, suggesting cultural overlap and changing national identity.

1. A. Zahalka et al, “Hall of mirrors: Anne Zahalka portraits 1987-2007,” Australian centre of photography, Sydney 2007, p. 43

 

William Yang (Australia 1943 – ) 'Ruby's kitchen Enngonia' 2000, printed 2002

 

William Yang (Australia 1943 – )
Ruby’s kitchen Enngonia
2000, printed 2002
From the series miscellaneous obsessions
Type C photograph
35.5 x 53.5 cm image
© William Yang

 

William Yang was born in North Queensland, a third generation Chinese-Australian. He is known both as a photographer and for his monologues with slides which he has presented around the world to great acclaim. One of these, Sadness 1992, was adapted for the screen by Tony Ayres and won AWGIEs amongst other awards. A major retrospective of Yang’s work, Diaries, was held at the State Library of NSW in 1998. Through April 24 – June 1, 2003 Yang presented all his monologues at Belvoir St Theatre, Sydney.

Yang has documented various subcultures over the last 30 years and this is reflected in his photographs as well as his monologues. A remarkable storyteller with a unique style, his current work is a synthesis of his ongoing concerns. While these concerns spring very much from his experiences growing up with a Chinese background in far north Queensland, through to his exploration of the gay community in Sydney, the work transcends the personal and becomes a meditation on the subtleties of the ordinary and everyday.

This series of images reflects Yang’s current life of travel and contact with his far flung friends and extended family. Though the subject, at its most superficial, is food, where, when and who is there at the time is of equal importance. Consequently each photograph in the series presents a web of connections and is underpinned with similar intentions to Yang’s other work, regardless of the subject.

“I don’t think I have a great technical attitude but I am interested in people,” William Yang said in 1998. Yang is known for his candid photographs of friends and situations he encounters. The images are usually accompanied by a story about his life, sometimes handwritten on the print itself, sometimes spoken aloud in performative contexts. He uses narrative as a way of locating his images in a particular moment in his personal history as well as social history at large. Yang explores themes around Australian and gay identity in a way that is frank and sometimes confronting. In this work, from a series about food, a chunk of kangaroo meat sits casually atop a laminate bench; other Australian icons such as Wonder White and Weet-Bix are also visible. The work allows for a multiplicity of signs to coexist: the slaughtered Australian mascot, the drab generic kitchen, the processed ‘white’ bread, with the Chinese-Australian photographer observing it all.

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 - ) 'Cheaper & deeper' 1996

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 – )
Cheaper & deeper
1996
From the series Cheaper & deeper
Type C photograph
80.0 x 79.9 cm image
Gift of Amanda Love 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Glenn Sloggett

 

Based in Melbourne, Glen Sloggett has exhibited extensively across Australia, including a touring exhibition with the Australian Centre for Photography, New Australiana 2001. Internationally, his work was included in the 11th Asian Art Biennale in Bangladesh, 2004 and the 9th Mois de la Photo ‘Image and Imagination’ in Montreal 2005.

Sloggett’s work depicts scenes from Australian suburbia with a startling mix of warmth and melancholy. Devoid of people, his photographs reflect the isolation and abandonment that afflicts the fringes of Australian urban centres. His images don’t flinch from the ugly, kitsch, and bleak. Sloggett says, “No matter where I go, I always find places and environments that are in the process of falling down. These are the images of Australia that resonate most strongly for me as an artist. I want to capture the last signs of optimism before inevitable disrepair.” (Glen Sloggett, quoted in A. Foster. Cheaper and deeper, ex. Bro. ACP 2005) His images of disrepair are infused with black humour and at the same time, affection for Australian suburbia.

From dumpy derelict flats to pavements graffitied with the words ‘mum killers’, Sloggett’s photographs capture an atmosphere of neglect. One classic image depicts a pink hearse, with the slogan Budget burials cheaper & deeper!! stencilled in vinyl on the side window. Another image shows an industrial barrel, on which is scrawled the evocative word ‘Empty’. In a third image, a dog rests on the pavement outside ‘Kong’s 1 hour dry cleaning’ – the bold red and yellow lettering on its window in stark contrast to the cracked paint of the exterior wall, and half-clean sheet that forms a makeshift curtain. These images have a profundity that is at once touching and surprising; as Alasdair Foster has commented, “In a world of rabid materialism and shallow sentiment, Sloggett’s photographs show us that life really is much cheaper and deeper.”

These five works by Glenn Sloggett serve as forms of photographic black humour. Devoid of people and always in colour, his photographs often take mundane elements from the world and make us notice their tragicomedy. This group is rooted in a play with text, where the tension between what is written and what we see is paramount. Sloggett makes comment on Australian life and culture, showing how the fringes of towns and the paraphernalia of the everyday give insight into the Australian psyche.

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 - ) 'Hope Street' 2000

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 – )
Hope Street
2000
From the series Cheaper & deeper
Type C photograph
80.4 x 80.6 cm image
Gift of Amanda Love 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Glenn Sloggett

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 - ) 'Empty' 2000

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 – )
Empty
2000
From the series Cheaper & deeper
Type C photograph
80.4 x 80.6 cm image
Gift of Amanda Love 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Glenn Sloggett

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 - ) 'Kong's 1 hour dry cleaning' 1998

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 – )
Kong’s 1 hour dry cleaning
1998
From the series Cheaper & deeper
Type C photograph
80.2 x 80.0 cm image
Gift of Amanda Love 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Glenn Sloggett

 

 

Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road, The Domain
Sydney NSW 2000, Australia

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Nov
13

Vale Saul Leiter: the world will be less colour-full, less abstract, less sensual without him

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“Seeing is a neglected enterprise,” Mr. Leiter often said

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“I am not immersed in self-admiration,” he said. “When I am listening to Vivaldi or Japanese music or making spaghetti at 3 in the morning and realize that I don’t have the proper sauce for it, fame is of no use.”

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“He broke all the rules when it came to composing a photograph,” said Mr. Leiter’s assistant, Margit Erb, who confirmed his death, at his home. “He put things into the abstract, he paid attention to color, he threw foregrounds out of focus, which made the photographs feel very voyeuristic. He applied a painterly mentality that the photography world had not seen.”

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His art was enough.

Marcus

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Saul Leiter. 'Taxi' 1956

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Saul Leiter
Taxi
1956

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“”In order to build a career and to be successful, one has to be determined,” Mr. Leiter said in an interview for a monograph published in Germany in 2008. “One has to be ambitious. I much prefer to drink coffee, listen to music and to paint when I feel like it.” …

Unplanned and unstaged, Mr. Leiter’s photographs are slices fleetingly glimpsed by a walker in the city. People are often in soft focus, shown only in part or absent altogether, though their presence is keenly implied. Sensitive to the city’s found geometry, he shot by design around the edges of things: vistas are often seen through rain, snow or misted windows.

“A window covered with raindrops interests me more than a photograph of a famous person,” Mr. Leiter says in [the film] “In No Great Hurry.””

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Read the obituary of this wonderful artist at “Saul Leiter, Photographer Who Captured New York’s Palette, Dies at 89” on the New York Times website, November 27, 2013

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Saul Leiter. 'Foot on El' 1954

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Saul Leiter
Foot on El
1954

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More images

Exhibition: ‘Saul Leiter’ at Kunst Haus Wien, Vienna, January – May 2013
Exhibition: ‘Saul Leiter Retrospective’ at The House of Photography at Deichtorhallen Hamburg, February – April 2012
Exhibition: ‘Saul Leiter: New York Reflections’ at the Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam, October 2011 – March 2012

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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