Posts Tagged ‘The Vision (Orpheus Scene)

21
Jan
13

Exhibition: ‘Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop’ at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Exhibition dates at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: 11th October 2012 – 27th January 2013

 

Unidentified American artist. 'Two-Headed Man' c. 1855

 

Unidentified American artist
Two-Headed Man
c. 1855
Daguerreotype
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc.

 

 

What a fascinating subject. Having completed multiple exposure work under the black and white enlarger I can attest to how difficult it was to get a print correctly exposed. I was using multiple negatives, moving the piece of photographic paper and printing in grids. Trying to get the alignment right was quite a task but the outcomes were very satisfying. Of course today these skills have mainly been lost to be replaced by other technological skills within the blancmange that is Photoshop. Somehow it’s not the same. My admiration for an artist like Jerry Uelsmann will always remain undimmed for the undiluted joy, beauty and skill of their analogue imagery.

I will post different photographs in this exhibition from the National Gallery of Art hang when I receive them!

Marcus

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Many thankx to the The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

George Washington Wilson. 'Aberdeen Portraits No. 1' 1857

 

George Washington Wilson (Scottish, 1823-1893)
Aberdeen Portraits No. 1
1857
Albumen silver print from glass negative
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Fund, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2011

 

Henry Peach Robinson. 'Fading Away' 1858

 

Henry Peach Robinson (English, 1830-1901)
Fading Away
1858
Albumen silver print from glass negatives
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the National Media Museum, Bradford, United Kingdom

 

Unidentified artist. 'Man Juggling His Own Head' c. 1880

 

Unidentified artist
Man Juggling His Own Head
c. 1880
Albumen silver print from glass negative
Collection of Christophe Goeury

 

Maurice Guibert. 'Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec as Artist and Model' c. 1900

 

Maurice Guibert (French, 1856-1913)
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec as Artist and Model
c. 1900
Gelatin silver print
Philadelphia Museum of Art

 

F. Holland Day. 'The Vision (Orpheus Scene)' 1907

 

F. Holland Day (American, 1864-1933)
The Vision (Orpheus Scene)
1907
Platinum print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the National Media Museum, Bradford, United Kingdom

 

Unidentified American artist. 'Man on Rooftop with Eleven Men in Formation on His Shoulders' c. 1930

 

Unidentified American artist
Man on Rooftop with Eleven Men in Formation on His Shoulders
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print
Collection of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film, Rochester

 

Unidentified American artist. 'Dirigible Docked on Empire State Building, New York' 1930

 

Unidentified American artist
Dirigible Docked on Empire State Building, New York
1930
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2011

 

 

While digital photography and image-editing software have brought about an increased awareness of the degree to which camera images can be manipulated, the practice of doctoring photographs has existed since the medium was invented. Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop at The Metropolitan Museum of Art is the first major exhibition devoted to the history of manipulated photography before the digital age. Featuring some 200 visually captivating photographs created between the 1840s and 1990s in the service of art, politics, news, entertainment, and commerce, the exhibition offers a provocative new perspective on the history of photography as it traces the medium’s complex and changing relationship to visual truth. 

The exhibition is made possible by Adobe Systems Incorporated. 

The photographs in the exhibition were altered using a variety of techniques, including multiple exposure (taking two or more pictures on a single negative), combination printing (producing a single print from elements of two or more 
negatives), photomontage, overpainting, and retouching on the negative or print. 

In every case, the meaning and content of the camera image was significantly transformed in the process of manipulation.

Faking It is divided into seven sections, each focusing on a different set of motivations for manipulating the camera image. “Picture Perfect” explores 19th-century photographers’ efforts to compensate for the new medium’s technical limitations – specifically, its inability to depict the world the way it looks to the naked eye. To augment photography’s monochrome palette, pigments were applied to portraits to make them more vivid and lifelike. Landscape photographers faced a different obstacle: the uneven sensitivity of early emulsions often resulted in blotchy, overexposed skies. To overcome this, many photographers, such as Gustave Le Gray and Carleton E. Watkins, created spectacular landscapes by printing two negatives on a single sheet of paper – one exposed for the land, the other for the sky. This section also explores the challenges involved in the creation of large group portraits, which were often cobbled together from dozens of photographs of individuals. 

For early art photographers, the ultimate creativity lay not in the act of taking a photograph but in the subsequent transformation of the camera image into a hand-crafted picture.

“Artifice in the Name of Art” begins in the 1850s with elaborate combination prints of narrative and allegorical subjects by Oscar Gustave Rejlander and Henry Peach Robinson. It continues with the revival of Pictorialism at the dawn of the twentieth century in the work of artist-photographers such as Edward Steichen, Anne W. Brigman, and F. Holland Day. 

“Politics and Persuasion” presents photographs that were manipulated for explicitly political or ideological ends. It begins with Ernest Eugene Appert’s faked photographs of the 1871 Paris Commune massacres, and continues with images used to foster patriotism, advance racial ideologies, and support or protest totalitarian regimes. Sequences of photographs published in Stalin-era Soviet Russia from which purged Party officials were erased demonstrate the chilling ease with which the historical record could be falsified. Also featured are composite portraits of criminals by Francis Galton and original paste-ups of John Heartfield’s anti-Nazi photomontages of the 1930s.

“Novelties and Amusements” brings together a broad variety of amateur and commercial photographs intended to astonish, amuse, and entertain. Here, we find popular images of figures holding their own severed heads or appearing doubled or tripled. Also included in this light-hearted section are ghostly images by the spirit photographer William Mumler, “tall-tale” postcards produced in Midwestern farming communities in the 1910s, trick photographs by amateurs, and Weegee’s experimental distortions of the 1940s. 

”Pictures in Print” reveals the ways in which newspapers, magazines, and advertisers have altered, improved, and sometimes fabricated images in their entirety to depict events that never occurred – such as the docking of a zeppelin on the tip of the Empire State Building. Highlights include Erwin Blumenfeld’s famous “Doe Eye” Vogue cover from 1950 and Richard Avedon’s multiple portrait of Audrey Hepburn from 1967.

“Mind’s Eye” features works from the 1920s through 1940s by such artists as Herbert Bayer, Maurice Tabard, Dora Maar, Clarence John Laughlin, and Grete Stern, who have used photography to evoke subjective states of mind, conjuring dreamlike scenarios and surreal imaginary worlds. 

The final section, “Protoshop,” presents photographs from the second half of the 20th century by Yves Klein, John Baldessari, Duane Michals, Jerry Uelsmann, and other artists who have adapted earlier techniques of image manipulation – such as spirit photography or news photo retouching – to create works that self-consciously and often humorously question photography’s presumed objectivity.

Press release from The Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

Maurice Tabard. 'Room with Eye' 1930

 

Maurice Tabard (French, 1897-1984)
Room with Eye
1930
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1962

 

Wanda Wulz. 'Io + gatto (Cat + I)' 1932

 

Wanda Wulz (Italian, 1903-1984)
Io + gatto (Cat + I)
1932
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987
Alinari / Art Resource © Wanda Wulz

 

John Paul Pennebaker. 'Sealed Power Piston Rings' 1933

 

John Paul Pennebaker (American, 1903-1953)
Sealed Power Piston Rings
1933
Gelatin silver print
1934 Art and Industry Exhibition Photograph Collection, Baker Library Historical Collections, Harvard Business School, Boston, Mass.
© John Paul Pennebaker

 

George Platt Lynes. 'The Sleepwalker' 1935

 

George Platt Lynes (American, 1907-1955)
The Sleepwalker
1935
Gelatin silver print with applied media
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987
© The Estate of George Platt Lynes

 

Barbara Morgan. 'Hearst over the People' 1939

 

Barbara Morgan (American, 1900-1992)
Hearst over the People
1939
Collage of gelatin silver prints with applied media
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc.

 

Grete Stern. 'Dream No. 1: Electrical Appliances for the Home' 1948

 

Grete Stern (Argentinian, born Germany, 1904-1999)
Dream No. 1: Electrical Appliances for the Home
1948
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2012
Courtesy of Galería Jorge Mara – La Ruche, Buenos Aires

 

Erwin Blumenfeld. '"Doe Eye" Vogue cover' 1950

 

Erwin Blumenfeld (American, born Germany 1897-1969)
“Doe Eye” Vogue cover
1950

 

Yves Klein (French, 1928-1962) Photographed by Harry Shunk (German, 1924-2006) and János (Jean) Kender (Hungarian, 1937-2009) 'Leap into the Void' 1960

 

Yves Klein (French, 1928-1962)
Photographed by Harry Shunk (German, 1924-2006) and János (Jean) Kender (Hungarian, 1937-2009)
Leap into the Void
1960
Gelatin silver print
Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1992
© Yves Klein / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
Photograph Shunk-Kender © Roy Lichtenstein Foundation

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig). 'American, 1899-1968 Draft Johnson for President' c. 1968

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) American, 1899-1968
Draft Johnson for President
c. 1968
Gelatin silver print
International Center of Photography, Bequest of Wilma Wilcox, 1993
Copyright Weegee/International Center of Photography/Getty Images.

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) American, 1899-1968 'Judy Garland' 1960

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) American, 1899-1968
Judy Garland
1960
Silver gelatin photograph
Copyright Weegee/International Center of Photography/Getty Images

 

William Mortensen (American, 1897-1965) 'Obsession' c. 1930

 

William Mortensen  (American, 1897-1965)
Obsession
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print
18.4 x 14.5 cm
The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1975

 

Richard Avedon (American 1923-2004) 'Audrey Hepburn, New York, January 1967' 1967

 

Richard Avedon (American 1923-2004)
Audrey Hepburn, New York, January 1967
1967
Collage of gelatin silver prints, with applied media, mylar overlay with applied media

 

Jerry N. Uelsmann. 'Untitled' 1969

 

Jerry N. Uelsmann (American, born 1934)
Untitled
1969
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2011
© Jerry N. Uelsmann

 

Martha Rosler. 'Red Stripe Kitchen', from the series "House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home" 1967-72

 

Martha Rosler (American, born 1943)
Red Stripe Kitchen
1967-72, printed early 1990s
From the series “House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home”
Chromogenic print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Anonymous Gift, 2002
© Martha Rosler

 

 

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27
Sep
12

Text: ‘The defining of Apollonian and Dionysian ideals in images of the male body’ Dr Marcus Bunyan / Exhibition: ‘Robert Mapplethorpe’ at the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art, Budapest

Exhibition dates: 25th May – 30th September 2012

 

F. Holland Day (American, 1864-1933) 'The Vision (Orpheus Scene)' 1907

 

F. Holland Day (American, 1864-1933)
The Vision (Orpheus Scene)
1907
Platinum print
24.4 x 18.4 cm (9 5/8 x 7 1/4 in.)

 

 

“Perfection means you don’t question anything about the photograph. There are certain pictures I’ve taken in which you really can’t move that leaf or that hand. It’s where it should be, and you can’t say it could have been there. There is nothing to question as in a great painting. I often have trouble with contemporary art because I find it’s not perfect. It doesn’t have to be anatomically correct to be perfect either. A Picasso portrait is perfect. It’s just not questionable. In the best of my pictures, there’s nothing to question – it’s just there.”

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Robert Mapplethorpe

 

 

Written in 1996 (but never published until now), this is one of my earliest pieces of research and writing. While it is somewhat idealistic in many ways, hopefully this piece still has some relevance for the reader for there are important ideas contained within the text.

 

Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden (1856-1931), Germany 'Two nude men standing in a forest' Taormina, Sicily, 1899

 

Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden (1856-1931)
Two nude men standing in a forest
Taormina, Sicily, 1899
Albumen print

 

 

The defining of Apollonian and Dionysian ideals in images of the male body

Photography has portrayed the Apollonian and Dionysian ideals of the body throughout its history, but has never fully explored the theoretical implications and consequences of this pairing. Our presentation of the body says precise things about the society in which we live, the degree of our integration within that society and the controls which society exerts over the innerman.1 My research concentrated on how images of the male body, as a representation of the Self/Other split, have been affected by these ideals.

We can clearly define the Apollonian (beauty, perfection, obsession, narcissism, voyeurism, idols, fascism, frigid, constraint, oppression, the defined, the personalised, an aggression of the eye linked to greed and desire) and Dionysian (ecstasy, eroticism, hysteria, energy, anarchy, promiscuity, death, emotion, bodily substances and the universal). In reality the boundaries between these ideals are more ambiguous.

For example, in the work of the American photographer Fred Holland Day we see allegorical myths portrayed by beautiful youths, many of which to modern eyes have a powerful homoerotic quality.

“In close proximity to eroticism associated with homosocial bonding and sexuality, these pictures were infused with desire and anxiety, repulsion and attraction … Day’s male nudes possess the aesthetic trappings of refined art and high culture … but also contain a frisson of impending sexual release and bodily pleasure, to say nothing of their sado-erotic inflection and paedophilic associations.”2

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According to some critics,3 societies acceptance of photographs of Apollonian or Orphic (Dionysian) youths [see 2 different critical views]4 in that era (the fin de siecle of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth century), was based on what was seen as their chaste, idyllic nature. They represented ‘ephebes’ – males who were between boy and man – who posed no threat to the patriarchal status quo. To other critics5 these ‘ephebes’ present a challenge to the construction of heterosexual / homosexual identity along gender lines, echoing Foucault’s thoughts on the imprisoning nature of categories of sexual identity.6

For Day, physical beauty was the testimony of a transcendent spirit.7 His portraits tried to uncover the true spirit of his subjects, revealing what was hidden behind the mask of e(x)ternal beauty. But what was being revealed? Was it the subject’s own spiritual integrity, his true self, or a false self as directed by the photographer whose instructions he was enacting? Was it F. Holland Day’s erotic fantasies the subject was acting out, or was it a perception of his own identity or a combination of both? These works show Day as both director and collaborator, his idols equally unattainable and available, resilient and vulnerable. In portraying this beauty, was Day embracing a seductive utopia in which this Apollonian beauty leads away from the very Dionysian spirit he was trying to engage with?

At around the same time a Prussian named Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden was also taking photographs of scantily clad local peasant youths, based on Arcadian themes. “In von Gloeden’s perception of the world human figures are not in themselves merely erotic, but become aesthetic objects … a setting in which beautiful things are the content of the image.”8

While this may be true, the focus of the images is always on what Von Gloeden desired, his full frontal nudes drawing our eyes to the locus of sexual desire, the penis. Von Gloeden’s “transformation of ordinary working class boys into the very image of antique legend,”9 the conjunction of the Apollonian and the Dionysian, blurs the distinctions between the two. Both Day and Von Gloeden were wealthy, educated, influential men who had a desire for working class boys. Did they help create an erotic tension across class lines and effect a particular Camp taste when society at that time (the first decade of the 20th century) was beginning to define areas of sexual categorisation that would label gay men perverts and degenerates? Even today, comparing contemporary critical analysis of Von Gloeden’s photographs can produce vastly differing conceptualisations as to the evidence of sexual overtones:

“The distinction between form and sexual attractiveness is tenuously maintained and the expression of the subjects’ face suggests a lofty remoteness rather than sexual availability or provocativeness.”10

“Von Gloeden’s pictures are fairly specific in depicting erotically based encounters between Mediterranean males. In many of them, the gazes shared between young men or the suggestive relationships of figure to figure hint at activities that might take place beyond the cameras range.”11

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For Day and Von Gloeden the need to possess something beautiful, something that was taboo, compensated both photographers for something they had lost – their youth. This transfers their death onto the object of their possession; the beautiful youths ‘captured’ in their photographs. Georges Bataille links eroticism to the inner life of man, the true self, and the eroticism of these photographs opens the way to a viewing of death and allows the photographer the power to look death in the face. According to Bataille, possession of something beautiful negates our need to die because we have objectified our need in someone else.12

What we know and understand about the world is partially built on images that are recorded, interpreted and imprinted in our brains as the result of the experiences we encounter throughout our lives. Our memory is forever fragmenting our remembered reality. It provides us with a point of view of the reality of the world in which we live and on which our identities are formed. When we look at a photograph we (sub)consciously bring all of our social encultration, our hates, our desires and our spirit to bear on the definition of that photograph at the time of viewing (an each viewing can be different!). Inherently embedded in any photograph then, are all these Dionysian stirrings – of desire, of eroticism, of death and of memory. Even if the photograph is entirely Apollonian in content the definition of that photograph can be open to any possibility, by any body.

One photographer who sought to access, and have connection to, fundamental truths was the American photographer Minor White. Studying Zen Buddhism, Gurdjieff and astrology, White believed in the photographs’ connection to the subject he was photographing and the subject’s connection back via the camera to the photographer forming a holistic circle.13 When, in meditation, this connection was open he would then expose the negative in the camera hopeful of a “revelation” of spirit in the subsequent photograph. White feared public exposure as a homosexual and struggled for years to resist the shame and disgust he felt over his sexual desires. Very few of his male portraits were exhibited during his lifetime, his Dionysian urgings difficult to reconcile with or assimilate into his images of peace and serenity, images that urged unity of self and spirit, of yin and yang. In the East yin / yang is both / and, being transformable and interpenetrating whilst in the West black / white is either/or not both, being exclusive and non-interactive. But who is to say what is ugly or what is beautiful? What is black or what is white?

In the work of the American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, we can see the formalised classical aesthetic of beauty combined with content which many people are repelled by (pornography, sexuality, violence, power) creating work which is both Apollonian and Dionysian.14 Peoples’ disgust at the content of some of Mapplethorpe’s images is an Apollonian response, an aesthetic judgement, a backing away from a connection to ‘nature’, meaning ‘that which is born’. Mapplethorpe said, “I’ve done everything I show in my photographs,”15 revealing a connection to an inner self, regardless of whether he intended to shock. Those seeking suppression of Mapplethorpe’s photographs, mainly conservative elements of society, cite the denigration of moral values as the main reason for their attacks. However Mapplethorpe’s S&M photographs sought to re-present the identity of a small subculture of the gay community that exists within the general community and by naming this subculture he sought to document and validate its existence. The photograph can and does lie but here was the ‘truth’ of these Dionysian experiences, which conservative bigots could not deny – that they exist.

In the NEA/Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center controversy surrounding Mapplethorpe16 his work was defended on aesthetic grounds, not on the grounds of homoerotic content, of freedom of expression or artistic freedom. The classical Apollonian form of his images was emphasised. As one juror put it, “Going in, I would never have said the pictures have artistic value. Learning as we did about art, I and everyone else thought they did have some value. We are learning about something ugly and harsh in society.”17 Ugly and harsh. To some people in the world S&M scenes are perfectly natural and beautiful and can lead to the most transcendent experience that a human being can ever have in their life. Who is to decide for the individual his or her freedom to choose?

This Apollonian fear of the Dionysian ‘Other’, the emotional chaotic self, was found to involve fear of that which is potentially the ‘same as’ – two sides of the same coin. This fear of ‘the same’, or of the proximity of the same, or of the threat of the same, can lead to violence, homophobia, racism and bigotry. Mapping out sexual identities’ toleration of difference, which is ‘the same as’, recognises that there are many different ways of being, and many truths in the world.

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In conclusion I have determined that the definition of Apollonian and Dionysian ideals in images of the male body are at best ambiguous and open to redefinition and reinterpretation. The multiplicity of readings that can be attached to images of the male body, in different eras, by different people illustrates the very problematic theoretical area these images inhabit. As we seek to ‘name’, to categorise, to nullify the ‘Other’ as a Dionysian connection to earth and nature, it may cause an alienated ‘Self’ to revolt against Apollonian powers of control in order to break down the lived distance that divides people. This creates situations / encounters / experiences that are regarded as transgressive and a threat to the hegemonic fabric of society.

But do these experiences offer an alternative path for the evolution of the human race? Not the replacing of one patriarchal, capitalist system with another based on ecstatic spiritual consciousness but perhaps a more level playing field, one based on a horizontal consciousness (a balance between Apollonian and Dionysian), a ‘knowing’ and understanding, a respect for our self and others. My claim as an’Other’ is that these perceived transgressions, not just the binary either / or, may ultimately free human beings and allow them to experience life and grow. Where nothing is named, everything is possible.

Marcus Bunyan 1996

 

  1. Blain, Robert. The Decorated Body. London: Thames & Hudson, 1979, p. 5, Introduction
  2. Crump, James. F. Holland Day – Suffering the Ideal. Santa Fe: Twin Palms, 1995, p. 11
  3. Foster, Alasdair. Behold The Man – The Male Nude In Photography. Edinburgh: Stills, 1989, p. 9
  4. Jussim, Estelle. Slave To Beauty – The Eccentric Life And Controversial Career of F. Holland Day, Photographer, Publisher, Aesthete. Boston: Godine, 1981, pp. 175-176; Ellenzweig, Allan. The Homoerotic Photograph. New York: Columbia University, 1992, p. 59
  5. Ellenzweig, p. 59
  6. Weeks, Jeffrey. Against Nature:  Essays on history, sexuality and identity. London: Rivers Osram Press, 1991, p. 164
  7. Day, F. Holland. “Is Photography An Art?” p. 8, quoted in Crump, James. F. Holland Day – Suffering The Ideal. Santa Fe: Twin Palms, 1995, p. 20
  8. Ellenzweig, p. 39
  9. Leslie, Charles. Wilhelm von Gloeden, Photographer. New York: Soho Photographic, 1997, p. 86
  10. Dutton, Kenneth R. The Perfectible Body. London: Cassell, 1995, p. 95
  11. Ellenzweig, p. 43
  12. Bataille, Georges. Death And Sensuality. New York: Walker And Company, 1962, p. 24
  13. Bateson, Gregory. Steps To An Ecology Of Mind – Collected Essays On Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution And Epistemology. St. Albans: Paladin, 1973
  14. Danto, Arthur C. Mapplethorpe – Playing With The Edge. Essay. London: Jonathon Cape, 1992, p. 331
  15. Interview with Robert Mapplethorpe quoted in Cooper, Emmanuel. The Sexual Perspective. London: Routledge, 1986, p. 286
  16. Ellenzweig, p. 205, Footnote 1
  17. Cembalest, Robin. “The Obscenity Trial: How They Voted To Acquit,” in Art News December 1990 89 (10), p. 141 quoted in Ellenzweig, p. 208

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

 

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Arches of the Dodd Building (Southwest Front Avenue and Ankeny Street)' 1938

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Arches of the Dodd Building (Southwest Front Avenue and Ankeny Street)
1938
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Tom Murphy (San Francisco)
1948
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Self Portrait
1975
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

 

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Derrick Cross
1983
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

 

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Thomas
1987
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

 

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Two Tulips
1984
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

 

 

A renowned figure of contemporary photography, Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989) was in his element in a domain defined by conventions and revolt, classicism and non-conformist cultures, where each picture serves as a document of hard-fought identities, as well as inciting and recording social and artistic debates. The Ludwig Museum Budapest features nearly two hundred works by Robert Mapplethorpe, from his early Polaroid photos to pieces from his final years. Realised in collaboration with the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation New York, this large-scale exhibition is presented to a Hungarian audience for the first time.

Initially, Mapplethorpe had no intention of becoming a photographer. His early collages and altar-like installations incorporated found elements including photos from magazines. Seeking to give these works a more personal and perfect touch, he decided to shoot the photos himself. His major subjects were his immediate environment and personal desires: the alternative circles of the New York art scene, his identity as a homosexual, non-traditional forms of sexuality, and the communities organised around them. The New York of the seventies was a great melting pot of contiguous subcultures, sexual freedom, post-Pop and rock’n’roll. Mapplethorpe’s environment included Andy Warhol and his entourage from the Factory, the superstars of his films as well as the inhabitants of the legendary Chelsea Hotel, who inspired his art and became part of his audience.

His portraits of famous individuals and those longing for fame also positioned their photographer within their circle. He was a renowned artist seeking to establish relationships with people who stand out, one way or another, from the rest of society, without submitting himself to them. Posing for his camera were film stars, musicians, writers and visual artists, the celebrities and central figures of New York in the seventies and eighties, including pornographic film stars and body builders. He made engaging and elegant portraits attesting to his intense attention, humour, and ambition toward a sense of the monumental.

Mapplethorpe developed an increasingly committed and professional attitude to photography. His quest for the perfect image led him to classical compositions and subjects. While precision of forms and a quality of reserve were combined in his works, his intense attention to his models remained unchanged; he photographed torsos and floral still-lifes with the same cool professionalism. His nudes evoke classical Greek statues and Renaissance masterpieces, with their arrangement and sculptural approach to the body dating back to traditions that have existed for several hundred years. Such an incarnation of classical formalism, however, was juxtaposed with shocking new subjects and stark sexual fetishes, resulting in radical re-creations of the approach to tradition.

The perfect image called for the perfect body: his shots of black men, female body-builders and austere flowers seem to articulate his one and only vision, again and again. He almost always worked in the studio, most often in black and white, using increasingly defined tones. With unified backgrounds and balance of forms, his photos remove the subjects from their own realities to relocate them in the timeless, frozen space of the photograph. In terms of their statue-like beauty and rigorous composition of every detail, his pictures continue and renew the classical photographic tradition all at once. Such classical virtues, however, did not make these photos exempt from criticism: both his subject matter and their manner of presentation sparked controversy. Their sexual themes aroused unease, and criticism of the work failed to make a distinction between the statue-like beauty of body parts and torsos, the sexual stereotypes associated with black male bodies, and the objectification of the bodies.

Mapplethorpe’s works created a place for homosexual and S&M identities in the domain of high art, subverting conventions, transgressing unspoken social agreements and revealing prejudices, in line with the artist’s personal desires and self-definition. In the United States, during the eighties, in the first moments of horror in the face of AIDS, the condemnation of homosexuality and the undefined dread of the disease became entwined. Such developments stirred up the already intense controversies around Mapplethorpe’s photos, adding a new overtone to the voice of conservative protesters. (Mapplethorpe was diagnosed with AIDS in 1986, and he died in the spring of 1989 due to complications related to the disease).

The cultural-political debates of the so-called Culture Wars in the late 1980s and 1990s in the United States, fuelled the decision of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to cancel its leg of the travelling exhibition “The Perfect Moment,” which included several thought-provoking photos that the conservative right-wing had denounced as obscene and arrogant assaults on public taste. A long and heated debate was to follow, including both hysterical and absurd commentaries, triggering police actions and a trial against a subsequent venue, the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati as well as its director. Though the museum and its director were eventually cleared of all charges, the case continued to shape the cultural-political landscape in the US, which partly concluded in a revision of the public funding of artworks and is still referred to today as an outstanding example of the methodology of censorship.

Press release from the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art website

 

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Ken Moody and Robert Sherman
1984
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

 

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Untitled
c. 1973
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

 

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Lisa Lyon
1982
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

 

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Ajitto
1981
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

 

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Self Portrait
1988
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

 

 

Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art
1095 Budapest  Komor Marcell Street 1
Hungary 06 1 555-3444

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 10.00 – 20.00
Closed on Mondays

Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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

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