Posts Tagged ‘Tina Barney

11
Jan
17

Exhibition: ‘Telling Tales: Contemporary Narrative Photography’ at the McNay Art Museum, San Antonio TX

Exhibition dates: 28th September 2016 – 15th January 2017

Curator: René Paul Barilleaux, Chief Curator/Curator of Contemporary Art at the McNay

 

 

I really, really don’t know what tales I can tell from this disparate group of media images illustrating (and that’s the key word) the exhibition.

Except to say that their stage managed, dead pan style, really, really doesn’t do it for me.

The sensation of loneliness, limited colour palette and total nihilism leaves me as cold as a corpse in a freezer.

The tale that nothing in the world has a real existence, or really matters.

If Norman Rockwell used photographs to compose his painted illustrations, then that is what these are … photographic illustrations.

A perfect example of this composite, stilted painterly overkill is Julie Blackmon’s New Chair (2014, below).

Everything is perfectly posed, poised and positioned in relation to each other: the boy behind the chair; the price on the chair; the pair of legs and two hands lifting the roller door; the children in the background; the blue dress of the child in the forground and her relationship to the horse, baseball, melting icy pole, football and young lad with head wrapped in bubble wrap while another piece lies on the ground. The ramp fills the space delightfully behind these artefacts with the hero splash of colour, the new chair, perched upon its upper reaches.

This, dear friends, is the state of contemporary narrative photography, where “telling tales” – to gossip about or reveal another person’s secrets or wrongdoings – is just this. Gossip about nothing.

Marcus

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

 

 

 

 

Telling Tales: Contemporary Narrative Photography is a survey of work by artists who record stories through pictures, whether real or imagined. Organized by the McNay’s Chief Curator and Curator of Contemporary Art, René Paul Barilleaux, the exhibition includes approximately fifty photographs from the late 1970s to the present by 17 ground-breaking photographers. Telling Tales is the McNay Art Museum’s first large-scale exhibition of photography and is accompanied by an 88-page illustrated book.

The exhibition presents work such as Nan Goldin’s landmark The Ballad of Sexual Dependency demonstrate some artists’ explorations of the politics of the day – in this case, the onset of the AIDS crisis – while other examples, including photographs by Tina Barney, Justine Kurland, and Paul Graham investigate class differences, marginalized communities, and social justice.

While some contemporary artists explore photographic imagery as it is filtered through and mediated by technology and the internet, others exploit photography’s ability to present a momentary, frozen narrative. Images are staged for the camera or highly manipulated through digital processes, yet they often resemble a casual snapshot or movie still. Primarily in color and often large-scale, the photographs reference everything from classical painting and avant-garde cinema, to science fiction illustration and Alfred Hitchcock. The exhibition includes examples of these various approaches to image-making.

Telling Tales: Contemporary Narrative Photography features work by Tina Barney, Julie Blackmon, Gregory Crewdson, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Mitch Epstein, Nan Goldin, Paul Graham, Jessica Todd Harper, Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler, Anna Gaskell, Justine Kurland, Lori Nix, Erwin Olaf, Alex Prager, Alec Soth, and Jeff Wall.

Text from the McNay website

 

Mitch Epstein. 'Massachusetts Turnpike' 1973

 

Mitch Epstein
Massachusetts Turnpike
1973
Dye transfer print
Courtesy of the artist and Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York City
© Black River Productions, Ltd. / Mitch Epstein. Used with permission. All rights reserved

 

Nan Goldin. 'Cookie at Tin Pan Alley, NYC' 1983

 

Nan Goldin
Cookie at Tin Pan Alley, NYC
1983
Cibachrome
Courtesy of the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery, New York City
© Nan Goldin

 

Erwin Olaf. 'Victoria' 2007

 

Erwin Olaf
Victoria
2007
Digital chromogenic print
Courtesy of the artist
© Erwin Olaf

 

Erwin Olaf. 'The Dancing School' 2004

 

Erwin Olaf
The Dancing School
2004
Chromogenic print
Courtesy of the artist
© Erwin Olaf

 

 

“It all began with the drawings of Norman Rockwell. I like that sort of nostalgic feeling. Originally, I wanted to do something really happy, up-beat, after all the depression of my last series, Separation (2003). So the starting point was that everybody was going to be beautiful, and that I would ask the models to act funny. But then it somehow became terrible. I realized this was a world which has vanished. So instead, I radically simplified the images. Now, everybody is just waiting for nothing, it’s the moment after happiness. I suppose after Separation, comes the well of loneliness. It’s also been a difficult process because for the first time, I have worked without purposely using eroticism or any sexual jokes…

Dancing School is a dreary party which no one attends. The evening has been carefully mapped out, right down to the dance-steps printed on paper and placed neatly on the floor. Sheet music is open on the piano. It is just after six in the evening, but despite the party hats, this is an event reserved for eternal wall-flowers. The mood in this room is in sharp contrast to the antique print of dancing damsels at play, hanging on the wall behind the two isolated guests.”

Erwin Olaf quoted in Jonathan Turner. “Erwin Olaf: Rain,” on the M+B website

 

Jessica Todd Harper. 'Self Portrait with Marshall' 2008

 

Jessica Todd Harper
Self Portrait with Marshall
2008
Archival pigment print
Courtesy of the artist and Rick Wester Fine Art, New York City
© Jessica Todd Harper

 

Jessica Todd Harper. 'Self Portrait with Marshall' 2008

 

Jessica Todd Harper
Self Portrait with Marshall
2008
Archival pigment print
Courtesy of the artist and Rick Wester Fine Art, New York City
© Jessica Todd Harper

 

Teresa Hubbard / Alexander Birchler (Swiss/Irish/American, born 1965; Swiss, born 1962) From the series 'Falling Down' 1996

 

Teresa Hubbard / Alexander Birchler (Swiss/Irish/American, born 1965; Swiss, born 1962)
From the series Falling Down
1996
Chromogenic print
Courtesy of the artists; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York City; and Lora Reynolds Gallery, Austin, Texas

 

Teresa Hubbard / Alexander Birchler (Swiss/Irish/American, born 1965; Swiss, born 1962) From the series 'Falling Down' 1996

 

Teresa Hubbard / Alexander Birchler (Swiss/Irish/American, born 1965; Swiss, born 1962)
From the series Falling Down
1996
Chromogenic print
Courtesy of the artists; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York City; and Lora Reynolds Gallery, Austin, Texas

 

Anna Gaskell. 'Untitled #3 (Turns Gravity)' 2010

 

Anna Gaskell
Untitled #3 (Turns Gravity)
2010
Archival pigment print
Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne
© Anna Gaskell

 

 

“Telling Tales: Contemporary Narrative Photography features the work of seventeen artists who interpret stories through pictures, whether real or imagined. Spanning nearly four decades, this survey begins with the art of ground-breaking photographers who emerged during the 1970s and 1980s and continues through today. The images present a wide range of styles and themes – familiar, mysterious, humorous, perplexing – yet they are always compelling to view. Organized by the McNay, the exhibition presents over fifty photographs. Works such as Nan Goldin’s landmark The Ballad of Sexual Dependency demonstrate some artists’ explorations of the politics of the day – in this case, the onset of the AIDS crisis – while other examples, including photographs by Tina Barney, Justine Kurland, and Paul Graham investigate class differences, marginalized communities, and social justice.

“Since 2015 the McNay has focused its contemporary exhibitions on three areas our visitors had not had the opportunity to explore in depth: installation and performance art with Lesley Dill: Performance as Art and now narrative photography with Telling Tales” says René Paul Barilleaux, McNay Art Museum’s Chief Curator/Curator of Contemporary Art and the exhibition’s organizer. “This presentation is the first major contemporary photography exhibition at the McNay as well as the first to examine and expose recent developments in narrative photography.”

Many contemporary artists explore photographic imagery as it is filtered through and mediated by technology and the Internet; others exploit photography’s ability to present a momentary, frozen narrative. And even when the images are staged for the camera or are highly manipulated through digital processes, they often resemble a casual snapshot or movie still. Primarily in color and frequently large-scale, references found in this work range from classical painting to avant-garde cinema, from science fiction illustration to the films of Alfred Hitchcock.

Quintessential American storyteller Norman Rockwell employed photographs, created in series, to compose his painted illustrations. He staged elaborate vignettes for the camera using detailed props, live models, and at times even himself. Rockwell used photography in his creative process; he did not present photographs as finished works. Many of the photographs in Telling Tales evoke Rockwell’s spirit, and, not surprisingly, several of the artists identify him as an inspiration.”

Press release from the McNay

 

Lori Nix. 'Flood' 1998

 

Lori Nix
Flood
1998
Archival pigment print
Courtesy of the artist and ClampArt, New York City
© Lori Nix

 

Lori Nix. 'Chinese Take-Out' 2013

 

Lori Nix
Chinese Take-Out
2013
Archival pigment print
Courtesy of the artist and ClampArt, New York City
© Lori Nix

 

Julie Blackmon. 'Time Out' 2005

 

Julie Blackmon
Time Out
2005
Archival pigment print
Courtesy of the artist and Robert Mann Gallery, New York City
© Julie Blackmon

 

Julie Blackmon. 'New Chair' 2014

 

Julie Blackmon
New Chair
2014
Archival pigment print
Courtesy of the artist and Robert Mann Gallery, New York City
© Julie Blackmon

 

Tina Barney. 'Family Commission with Snake' 2007

 

Tina Barney
Family Commission with Snake
2007
Chromogenic print
Courtesy of the artist and Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York City
© Tina Barney

 

Alex Prager. 'Hollywood Park' 2014

 

Alex Prager
Hollywood Park
2014
Archival pigment print
Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York City and Hong Kong
© Alex Prager

 

Alec Soth. 'Charles, Vasa, Minnesota' 2002

 

Alec Soth
Charles, Vasa, Minnesota
2002
Chromogenic print
Courtesy of the artist
© Alec Soth

 

 

McNay Art Museum
6000 N New Braunfels Ave,
San Antonio TX 78209

Opening hours:
Sunday noon – 5 pm
Monday Closed
Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday 10 am – 4 pm
Thursday 10 am – 9 pm
Saturday 10 am – 5 pm

McNay Art Museum website

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24
Dec
13

Exhibition: ‘A Democracy of Images: Photographs from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’ at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC

Exhibition dates: 28th June 2013 – 5th January 2014
1st floor West, American Art Museum (8th and F Streets, N.W.)

Browse the exhibition and related works on the exhibition website

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The next two weeks sees a lot of exhibitions finish their run on the 5th January 2014.

Here is a bumper posting which contains one of my favourite photographs of all time: Danny Lyon’s Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville (1966, below). From a distance, this looks to be a very interesting exhibition on a large topic, delineated for the viewer into four main sections. The task of the curator cannot have been easy, picking 113 images to represent a “democracy” of images out of a collection of over 7,000 images. Of course there can never be a true “democracy” of images as some will always be more valued within our culture than others. There is a meritocracy in this exhibition which features images by masters of the medium but this is balanced by the inclusion of images by anonymous photographers, little known photographers and vernacular and street photography.

What is most impressive is the specially developed website which includes many images from the different sections of the exhibition. These images are of good quality and, along with relevant text, help the viewer place the images in context. Related content is also suggested from the full photographic collection at The Smithsonian which has been placed online with good image quality. This is a far cry from many exhibitions at state galleries in Australia where there are hardly any dedicated exhibition websites. Most of the photographic collection from these galleries is not available online and if it has been scanned, the image quality is generally poor. How many times have I searched a state gallery or library collection and come up with the answer: “Image not available” ?

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

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“More often, though, the moments, places, people and views that have been collected here feel offhand and stumbled upon, telling a fragmentary, incomplete tale. Sometimes it’s literally a glance, as in “Girl Holding Popsicle,” a 1972 image by Mark Cohen, who rarely even looked through his viewfinder. Other times, it’s more like a long stare, as in William Christenberry’s 1979 “China Grove Church – Hale County, Alabama,” a locale that the Washington-based artist and Alabama native returned to again and again. These 113 pictures are, at the same time, quietly telling, revealing bits of America in oblique, prismatic ways.”

Part of Michael O’Sullivan’s review of the exhibition in The Washington Post.

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American Characters

Photographers have captured the texture of everyday life since the medium’s arrival in the United States in 1839. Photographic portraits have made both the iconic and the commonplace serve as stand-ins for all of us, forging a shared language of political and social understanding. In charting the passing parade of history – the faces of the anonymous and the famous; evolving stories of immigration, disenfranchisement, and assimilation; as well as emblematic objects and celebrated landmarks lodged within our collective memory – photographs reveal the complexities of America.

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Unidentified artist. '[Bird in Basin with Thread Spool and Patterned Cloth]' c. 1855

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Unidentified artist
[Bird in Basin with Thread Spool and Patterned Cloth]
c. 1855
Daguerreotype
Plate: 2 3/4 x 3 1/4 in. (6.9 x 8.2 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 1994.91.193

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Larry Sultan (born New York City 1946 - died Greenbrae, CA 2009) 'Portrait of My Father with Newspaper' 1988

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Larry Sultan (born New York City 1946 – died Greenbrae, CA 2009)
Portrait of My Father with Newspaper
1988
Chromogenic print
Image: 28 5/8 x 34 5/8 in. (72.7 x 87.9 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Nan Tucker McEvoy, 1989.58
© 1988, Larry Sultan

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In Portrait of My Father with Newspaper, Irving Sultan reads the Los Angeles Times as light pours in behind him. This carefully composed portrait reveals the artist’s father almost entirely through reflections and shadows. Thin newsprint shields his body from the camera, while only a vague profile of his face is discernible on the right half of the spread. Prompted by the discovery of a box of home movies, Larry Sultan embarked on an eight-year enquiry into his parents’ lives. He stayed in their home for weeks at a time, interviewing them about their marriage and photographing their domestic activities.

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Eugene Richards (born Boston, MA 1944) 'First Communion (Dorchester, Mass.)' 1976

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Eugene Richards (born Boston, MA 1944)
First Communion (Dorchester, Mass.)
1976
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 x 12 in. (20.3 x 30.5 cm) sheet: 11 x 14 in. (27.9 x 35.6 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts, 1983.63.1168
© 1974, Eugene Richards

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Mark Cohen (born Wilkes-Barre, PA 1943) 'Girl Holding Popsicle' 1972, printed 1983

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Mark Cohen (born Wilkes-Barre, PA 1943)
Girl Holding Popsicle
1972, printed 1983
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 14 x 17 in. (35.5 x 43.2 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Dene and Mel Garbow, 1992.73.4
© 1972, Mark Cohen

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In Girl Holding Popsicle a young girl twists shyly as she poses before a graffiti-inscribed brick wall. Mark Cohen took this photograph spontaneously as he passed through a back alley. Cohen does not hesitate to get assertively close to the strangers he meets in his hometown of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Many of his photographs are made without looking through a viewfinder, and so remain a mystery even to Cohen until they are developed.

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Unidentified artist. '[Gold Nugget]' c. 1860s

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Unidentified artist
[Gold Nugget]
c. 1860s
Albumen silver print
Image: 2 1/8 x 3 5/8 in. (5.4 x 9.2 cm) sheet: 2 3/8 x 3 7/8 in. (6.1 x 9.8 cm) irregular
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Charles Isaacs and Carol Nigro, 2006.36.1

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Mathew B. Brady (born Lake George, NY 1823 - died New York City 1896) 'Reviewing Stand in Front of the Executive Mansion, Washington, D.C., May, 1865' 1865, printed early 1880s

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Mathew B. Brady (born Lake George, NY 1823 – died New York City 1896)
Reviewing Stand in Front of the Executive Mansion, Washington, D.C., May, 1865
1865, printed early 1880s
Albumen silver print
Sheet and image: 6 1/2 x 9 in. (16.5 x 22.9 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase through the Julia D. Strong Endowment, 2007.6

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Kevin Bubriski (born North Adams, MA 1954) 'World Trade Center Series, New York City' 2001

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Kevin Bubriski (born North Adams, MA 1954)
World Trade Center Series, New York City
2001
Gelatin silver print
Image: 18 x 18 in. (45.7 x 45.7 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of the Consolidated Natural Gas Company Foundation, 2003.65.1
© 2001, Kevin Bubriski

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In the weeks and months following the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001, Kevin Bubriski photographed people who gathered at Ground Zero. Frozen in awe, struck with disbelief, and overcome with loss, people stood before the destroyed building site to confront the horrible tragedy. More than ten years later, Bubriski’s photographs preserve the emotional impact of this infamous day through images of those who witnessed its aftermath first-hand.

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Deborah Luster (born Bend, OR 1951) '01-26 Location. 1800 Leonidas Street (Carrollton) Date(s). July 14, 2009 7:55 a.m. Name(s). Brian Christopher Smith (22) Notes. Face up with multiple gunshot wounds' 2008-2012

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Deborah Luster (born Bend, OR 1951)
01-26 Location. 1800 Leonidas Street (Carrollton) Date(s). July 14, 2009 7:55 a.m. Name(s). Brian Christopher Smith (22) Notes. Face up with multiple gunshot wounds
2008-2012
Gelatin silver print
55 x 55 in. (139.7 x 139.7 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 2013.43, © 2010, Deborah Luster

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This photograph, from a series that documents contemporary and historical homicide sites in New Orleans, presents Deborah Luster’s interpretation of the last view of the crime victim lying face up on the ground. The title is the entry from the New Orleans Police blotter, but the photograph is Luster’s meditation on looking, seeing, and the power of images to haunt our imagination.

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Unidentified artist. '[Two Workmen Polishing a Stove]' c. 1865

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Unidentified artist
[Two Workmen Polishing a Stove]
c. 1865
Albumen silver print
Sheet and image: 14 1/8 x 11 in. (35.9 x 28.0 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 1994.91.220

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Anthony Barboza (born New Bedford, MA 1944) '"Marvelous" Marvin Hagler, boxer' 1981

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Anthony Barboza (born New Bedford, MA 1944)
“Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, boxer
1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 13 7/8 x 13 7/8 in. (35.2 x 35.2 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Kenneth B. Pearl, 1997.118.2, © 1981, Anthony Barboza

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Edward S. Curtis (born Whitewater, WI 1868 - died Los Angeles, CA 1952) 'Girl and Jar - San Ildefonso' 1905

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Edward S. Curtis (born Whitewater, WI 1868 – died Los Angeles, CA 1952)
Girl and Jar – San Ildefonso
1905
Photogravure
Sight 16 5/8 x 12 1/4 in. (12.3 x 31.1 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the United States Marshal Service of the U.S. Department of Justice, 1988.5.18

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Between 1900 and 1930, Edward S. Curtis traveled across the continent photographing more than seventy Native American tribes. The photographs, compiled into twenty volumes, presented daily activities, customs, and religions of a people he called “a vanishing race.” Curtis hoped to preserve the legacy of Native peoples in lasting images. To this end, Curtis often costumed his subjects and set up scenes, mixing tribal artifacts and traditions to match his romantic vision of the people he studied. In this intimate portrait, a young Tewa woman named Povi-Tamu (“Flower Morning”) balances a large jug with help from a hidden fiber ring. She is from the San Ildefonso Pueblo of New Mexico, which is famed for its rich tradition of fine pottery. Curtis associated the serpentine design of the vessel with the serpent cult, which he noted was central to Tewa life.

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Oliver H. Willard (died 1875) 'Portrait of a Young Woman' c. 1857

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Oliver H. Willard (died 1875)
Portrait of a Young Woman
c. 1857
Salted paper print
8 7/8 x 6 3/4 in. (22.5 x 17.1 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase through the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, 1999.29.1

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Spiritual Frontier

The earliest photographs made in America describe an awesome land blessed with such an abundance of natural beauty that it seemed heaven sent. Images of waterfalls, mountains, and vast open spaces conveyed the beauty, the grandeur, the sublimity, and dynamics of a great spiritual endeavor. In the nineteenth century photographers pictured wilderness landscapes that symbolized American greatness. More recently, photographers have described a landscape no less romantic, but now recalibrated to account for the interaction of nature and culture.

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Eadweard Muybridge (born Kingston-upon-Thames, England 1830 - died Kingston-upon-Thames, England 1904) 'Valley of the Yosemite from Union Point' 1872

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Eadweard Muybridge (born Kingston-upon-Thames, England 1830 – died Kingston-upon-Thames, England 1904)
Valley of the Yosemite from Union Point
1872
Albumen silver print
Sheet: 17 x 21 1/2 in. (43.2 x 54.6 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Charles T. Isaacs, 1994.89.1

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Eadweard Muybridge went to great lengths to photograph the best possible views of the West. He chopped down trees if they obstructed his camera, and ventured to “points where his packers refused to follow him.” Muybridge was determined to produce the most comprehensive photographs ever made of Yosemite and the surrounding region. His views were sold widely in both large-format prints and stereograph cards, which are viewed through a device that creates the illusion of three-dimensional space. This allowed Muybridge to transport his audience, if just for a moment, to a faraway place caught on film.

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Robert Frank (born Zurich, Switzerland 1924) 'Butte, Montana' 1956, printed 1973

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Robert Frank (born Zurich, Switzerland 1924)
Butte, Montana
1956, printed 1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 3/4 x 13 in. (22.2 x 33.0 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase, 1974.31.2

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Robert Adams (born Orange, NJ 1937) 'New Housing, Longmont, Colorado' 1973

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Robert Adams (born Orange, NJ 1937)
New Housing, Longmont, Colorado
1973
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 6 x 7 5/8 in. (15.1 x 19.3 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts, 1983.63.9
© 1973, Robert Adams

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As both a photographer and writer, Robert Adams is committed to describing the western American landscape as both awe-inspiring and scarred by man. In New Housing, Longmont Colorado, Adams contrasted the vast space of the distant landscape view with a foreground image of the wall of a newly constructed suburban tract house. Adams invites a consideration of the balance between myth and reality and the land as home as well as scenic backdrop.

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Charles L. Weed (born New York City 1824 - died Oakland, CA 1903) 'Mirror Lake and Reflections, Yosemite Valley, Mariposa County, California' 1865

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Charles L. Weed (born New York City 1824 – died Oakland, CA 1903)
Mirror Lake and Reflections, Yosemite Valley, Mariposa County, California
1865
Albumen silver print
Sheet and image: 15 1/2 x 20 1/4 in. (39.4 x 51.4 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Charles T. Isaacs, 1994.89.5

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Like Carleton Watkins, his better-known competitor, Charles Weed recognized the pictorial dividend to be gained by showing Yosemite’s glorious geological features in duplicate, using the valley’s lakes as reflecting ponds. Weed first traveled to what was then known as “Yo-Semite,” in 1859, but with a relatively small camera; he returned in 1865 with a larger model capable of using what were called mammoth plates. Like Watkins, he sold his prints to buyers eager to own a photograph of majestic natural beauty.

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Ansel Adams (born San Francisco, CA 1902 - died Monterey, CA 1984) 'Monolith: The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite Valley' 1926-1927, printed 1927

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Ansel Adams (born San Francisco, CA 1902 – died Monterey, CA 1984)
Monolith: The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite Valley
1926-1927, printed 1927
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 11 7/8 x 9 7/8 in. (30.2 x 25.1 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase, 1992.101.3, © 2013 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

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At just over 4,700 feet above the valley, Half Dome is the most iconic rock formation in Yosemite National Park. Adams squeezed the monolith into the frame to emphasize the majesty of its scale and the drama of its cliff. As it thrusts out of the brilliant white snow, Half Dome stands as a symbol of the unspoiled western landscape. Ansel Adams made his first trip to the Sierra Nevada mountain range when he was fourteen years old, and he returned every year until the end of his life, often for month-long stretches. Throughout his career Adams traveled widely – from Hawaii to Maine – to photograph the most picturesque vistas in America. After his death in 1984, a section of the Sierra Nevada was named the Ansel Adams Wilderness in his honor.

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John Pfahl (born New York City 1939) 'Goodyear #5, Niagara Falls, New York' 1989

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John Pfahl (born New York City 1939)
Goodyear #5, Niagara Falls, New York
1989
Chromogenic print
Sheet: 20 x 24 in. (50.8 x 61.0 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of the Consolidated Natural Gas Company Foundation, 1991.27.3, © 1989, John Pfahl

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John Pfahl’s photographs embody the conflict between progress and preservation. Throughout the 1980s he focused on oil refineries and power plants. He chose the sites strategically based on their location in picturesque landscapes, where he observed a “transcendental” connection between industry and nature. In Goodyear #5 a nuclear power plant occupies the horizon. The setting sun provides a romantic color palette as light filters through clouds of billowing steam. The landscape is reduced to an abstract composition that celebrates color and texture. Pfahl’s intention with this series, titled Smoke, was to “make photographs whose very ambiguity provokes thought.” This photograph complicates popular notions of power plants by revealing an uncommonly beautiful view of a controversial structure.

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“A Democracy of Images: Photographs from the Smithsonian American Art Museum celebrates the numerous ways in which photography, from early daguerreotypes to contemporary digital works, has captured the American experience. The photographs presented here are selected from the approximately 7,000 images collected since the museum’s photography program began thirty years ago, in 1983. Ranging from daguerreotype to digital, they depict the American experience and are loosely grouped around four ideas: American Characters, Spiritual Frontier, America Inhabited, and Imagination at Work.

The exhibition’s title is inspired by American poet Walt Whitman’s belief that photography provided America with a new, democratic art form that matched the spirit of the young country and his belief that photography was a quintessentially American activity, rooted in everyday people and ordinary things and presented in a straightforward way. Known as the “poet of democracy,” Whitman wrote after visiting a daguerreotype studio in 1846: “You will see more life there – more variety, more human nature, more artistic beauty… than in any spot we know.” At the time of Whitman’s death, in 1892, George Eastman had just introduced mass market photography when he put an affordable box camera into the hands of thousands of Americans. The ability to capture an instant of lasting importance and fundamental truth mesmerized Americans then and continues to inspire photographers working today. Marking the thirtieth anniversary of the establishment of the museum’s pioneering photography collection, the exhibition examines photography’s evolution in the United States from a documentary medium to a full-fledged artistic genre and showcases the numerous ways in which it has distilled our evolving idea of “America.”

The exhibition features 113 photographs selected from the museum’s permanent collection, including works by Edward S. Curtis, Timothy H. O’SullivanBerenice AbbottDiane ArbusRoy DeCaravaWalker Evans,Irving PennTrevor Paglen, among others, as well as vernacular works by unknown artists. A number of recent acquisitions are featured, including works by Ellen CareyMitch EpsteinMuriel HasbunAlfredo Jaar, Annie Leibovitz, Deborah Luster, and Sally Mann. Landscapes, portraits, documentary-style works from the New York Photo League and images from surveying expeditions sent westward after the Civil War are among the images on display, and explore how photographs have been used to record and catalogue, to impart knowledge, to project social commentary, and as instruments of self-expression.

Photography’s arrival in the United States in 1840 allowed ordinary people to make and own images in a way that had not been previously possible. Photographers immediately became engaged with the life of the emerging nation, the activity of new urban centers, and the possibilities of unprecedented access to the vast western frontier. From the nineteenth to the twentieth century, photography not only captured the country’s changing cultural and physical landscape, but also developed its own language and layers of meaning.

A Democracy of Images: Photographs from the Smithsonian American Art Museum is organized around four major themes that defined American photography. “American Characters” examines the ways in which photographs of individuals, places, and objects become a catalogue of our collective memory and have contributed to the ever-evolving idea of the American character. “Spiritual Frontier” investigates early ideas of a vast, inexhaustible wilderness that symbolized American greatness. “America Inhabited” traces the nation’s rapid industrialization and urbanization through images of speed, change, progress, immigration, and contemporary rural, urban, and suburban landscapes. “Imagination at Work” demonstrates how photography’s role of spontaneous witness gradually gave way to contrived arrangement and artistic invention. The exhibition is organized by Merry Foresta, guest curator and independent consultant for the arts. She was the museum’s curator of photography from 1983 to 1999.

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Connecting online
A complementary website designed for viewing on tablets includes photographs on view in the exhibition, an expanded selection of works from the museum’s collection and a timeline of American photography. It is available through tablet stations in the exhibition galleries, online, and on mobile devices.”

Press release from the Smithsonian American Art Museum website

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America Inhabited

Photography’s early presence in America coincided with the rise of an industrial economy, the growth of major urban population centers, and the fulfilling of what some saw as the Manifest Destiny of spanning the continent from sea to sea. Images of progress and industry, as well as of city and suburbs, quickly added themselves to photography’s catalogue of places and people. Some of these images reflect idealistically, and at times nostalgically, on the beauty and humanity of our own backyards. Others stand as social documents that can be seen as critical and ironic, inviting outrage as well as compassion about the way we now live our lives.

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Helen Levitt (born New York City 1913 - died New York City 2009) 'New York' c. 1942, printed later

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Helen Levitt (born New York City 1913 – died New York City 2009)
New York
c. 1942, printed later
Gelatin silver print
Image: 7 1/8 x 10 1/2 in. (18.1 x 26.6 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase, 1984.16.4, © 1981, Helen Levitt

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Caught before they run off into the streets, three masked youngsters pause on their front stoop. Expressive postures and mysterious disguises give this trio a theatrical quality. Helen Levitt, who found poetry in the uninhibited gestures of children, used a right-angle viewfinder to capture boys and girls roaming freely and playing with found objects. Working in New York City during the years surrounding World War II, her photographs show the drama of life that unfolded on the sidewalks of poor and working-class neighborhoods.

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Louis Faurer (born Philadelphia, PA 1916 - died New York City 2001) 'Broadway, New York, N.Y.' 1949-1950, printed 1980-1981

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Louis Faurer (born Philadelphia, PA 1916 – died New York City 2001)
Broadway, New York, N.Y.
1949-1950, printed 1980-1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 3/8 x 12 9/16 in. (21.3 x 32 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of David L. Davies and John D. Weeden and museum purchase, 2002.47.6, © Estate of Louis Faurer

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Danny Lyon (born New York City 1942) 'Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville' 1966, printed 1985

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Danny Lyon (born New York City 1942)
Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville
1966, printed 1985
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 3/4 x 12 7/8 in. (22.2 x 32.7 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase made possible by Mrs. Marshall Langhorne, 1988.52.8, Photo courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery and Dektol.wordpress.com

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William Eggleston (born Memphis, TN 1939) 'Tricycle (Memphis)' about 1975, printed 1980

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William Eggleston (born Memphis, TN 1939)
Tricycle (Memphis)
about 1975, printed 1980
Dye transfer print
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Amy Loeserman Klein, 1985.87.12

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An ordinary tricycle is made monumental in this playful color photograph. Taken from below, it suggests a child’s perspective – elevating this rusty tricycle to a symbol of innocence and freedom. The quiet Memphis suburb in the background typifies the safe neighborhoods where children could spend hours playing after school. This print was made with the expensive and exacting dye imbibition process, which was typically used for fashion and advertising at the time. Eggleston began experimenting with color photography in the mid-1960s. Inspired by trips to a commercial photography lab, he developed an approach that imitates the random, imperfect style of amateur snapshots to describe his immediate surroundings combined with a keen interest in the effects of color.

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Tina Barney (born New York City 1945) 'Marina's Room' 1987

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Tina Barney (born New York City 1945)
Marina’s Room
1987
Chromogenic print
Sheet: 48 x 60 in. (121.9 x 52.3 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase, 1989.5, © 1987, Tina Barney, Courtesy Janet Borden, Inc.

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Aaron Siskind (born New York City 1903 - died Providence, RI 1991) 'Untitled' 1937, printed later

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Aaron Siskind (born New York City 1903 – died Providence, RI 1991)
Untitled
1937, printed later
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 10 x 14 in. (25.4 x 35.5 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Tennyson and Fern Schad, courtesy of Light Gallery, 1990.73.4, © 1940, Aaron Siskind

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In this untitled photograph Aaron Siskind focused on the regular grid of boarded-up windows on a derelict tenement building. Once portals into intimate domestic spaces, the windows represent loss in a community plagued by poverty, unemployment, and racial discrimination. Building upon the traditions of social documentary photographers before him, Siskind used his camera to raise public awareness of Harlem’s struggle, even as he created a modernist work of art.

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Walker Evans (born St. Louis, MO 1903 - died New Haven, CT 1975) 'Kitchen Wall, Alabama Farmstead' 1936, printed 1974

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Walker Evans (born St. Louis, MO 1903 – died New Haven, CT 1975)
Kitchen Wall, Alabama Farmstead
1936, printed 1974
Gelatin silver print
Sheet and image: 9 3/8 x 12 in. (23.9 x 30.5 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Lee and Maria Friedlander, 2006.13.1.8

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During the summer of 1936, Walker Evans joined writer James Agee in rural Alabama to work on a magazine assignment on cotton farming. Evans and Agee met with three tenant farm families and documented every detail of their experiences. The result, which the magazine declined to publish, was released as the book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men in 1941. It contains some of the most iconic and contentious photographs to document the Great Depression. Kitchen Wall, Alabama Farmstead reads like a modern novel. Every crack in the wood, every speck of paint tells part of the story. Evans drew special attention to the scarcity of cooking tools at the family’s disposal. These everyday utensils illustrate a metaphor for the struggle to meet basic needs.

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Judy Fiskin (born Chicago, IL 1945) 'Long Beach Pike (broken fence)', from the 'Long Beach, California Documentary Survey Project' 1980

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Judy Fiskin (born Chicago, IL 1945)
Long Beach Pike (broken fence), from the Long Beach, California Documentary Survey Project
1980
Gelatin silver print
Image: 2 1/2 x 2 1/2 in. (6.2 x 6.2 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts, 1983.63.505, © 1980, Judy Fiskin

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For this series, sponsored by the National Endowment of the Art’s Long Beach Documentary Survey Project, Judy Fiskin focused on the Long Beach Pike, an amusement park that was demolished soon after she made the photographs. By printing in high contrast and restricting the scale of her prints, Fiskin reduced form to its bare essentials. Devoid of superfluous detail, these photographs appear more like conjured images than documents of reality. Judy Fiskin systematically catalogues the world of architecture and design in order to study variations of historical styles. Her series carefully investigate esoteric subjects such as military base architecture, “dingbat” style houses in southern California, and the art of flower arranging.

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Berenice Abbott (born Springfield, OH 1898-died Monson, ME 1991) 'Brooklyn Bridge, Water and Dock Streets, Brooklyn' 1936

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Berenice Abbott (born Springfield, OH 1898-died Monson, ME 1991)
Brooklyn Bridge, Water and Dock Streets, Brooklyn
1936
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 18 x 14 3/8 in. (45.7 x 36.6 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the Evander Childs High School, Bronx, New York through the General Services Administration, 1975.83.10

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Berenice Abbott returned home in 1929 after nearly eight years abroad and found herself fascinated by the rapid growth of New York City. She saw the city as bristling with new buildings and structures which seemed to her as solid and as permanent as a mountain range. Aiming to capture “the past jostling the present,” Abbott spent the next five years on a project she called Changing New York. In Brooklyn Bridge, Water and Dock Streets, Brooklyn, Abbott presented a century of history in a single image. The Brooklyn Bridge, once a marvel of modern engineering, seems dark and heavy compared with the skeletal structure beneath it. The construction site at center suggests the never-ending cycle of death and regeneration. And the Manhattan skyline, veiled and weightless, hangs just out of reach, its shape accommodating the ambitious spirit of American modernism.

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Robert Disraeli (born Cologne, Germany 1905 - died 1987) 'Cold Day on Cherry Street' 1932

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Robert Disraeli (born Cologne, Germany 1905 – died 1987)
Cold Day on Cherry Street
1932
Gelatin silver print
Image and sheet: 14 x 11 in. (35.5 x 28.0 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase made possible by Mr. and Mrs. G. Howland Chase, Mrs. James S. Harlan (Adeline M. Noble Collection), Lucie Louise Fery, Berthe Girardet, and Mrs. George M. McClellan, 1990.19.9, © 1932, Robert Disraeli

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Imagination at Work

Nineteenth-century French commentator Alexis de Tocqueville observed that in America, nothing is ever quite what it seems. Yet the idea that “seeing is believing” is deeply ingrained in the American character. By yoking together style and subject under the guise of the real, today’s photographers borrow from photography’s rich past while embracing the conceptual framework of contemporary art. They read reality as something on the surface of a picture or, more complexly, as something located in the mind of its beholder.

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Sonya Noskowiak (born Leipzig, Germany 1900 - died Greenbrae, CA 1975) 'Calla Lily' c. 1930s

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Sonya Noskowiak (born Leipzig, Germany 1900 – died Greenbrae, CA 1975)
Calla Lily
c. 1930s
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 7 3/8 x 9 3/4 in. (18.8 x 24.7 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase made possible through Deaccession Funds, 1986.54

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Ray K. Metzker (born Milwaukee, WI 1931) 'Composites: Philadelphia (Car and Street Lamp)' 1966

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Ray K. Metzker (born Milwaukee, WI 1931)
Composites: Philadelphia (Car and Street Lamp)
1966
Gelatin silver prints
Image: 25 3/8 x 17 3/4 in. (64.5 x 45.0 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase, 1984.57.1, © 1966, Ray K. Metzker

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Ray Metzker’s Composites series, begun in 1964, connected in a dramatic fashion his interests in contrasts of light and shadow, his strong sense of design, and his earlier explorations of the multiple image. Metzker studied at Chicago’s Institute of Design, where a rigorously formal, problem-solving approach to photography was taught. For this series he assembled grids of individual photographs to create complex image-fields. When viewed from a distance, this work reads as an abstract, rhythmic pattern of light and dark. On closer inspection, however, many crisply descriptive images are revealed. The Composites function somewhat like short filmstrips. The mystery of these brief narratives is exaggerated by the repetitive design and provides a unique opportunity, in Metzker’s words, “to deal with complexity of succession and simultaneity, of collected and related moments.”

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Irving Penn (born Plainfield, NJ 1917 - died New York City 2009) 'Mud Glove - New York' 1975, printed 1976

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Irving Penn (born Plainfield, NJ 1917 – died New York City 2009)
Mud Glove – New York
1975, printed 1976
Platinum-palladium print
Sheet and image: 29 3/4 x 22 1/4 in. (75.5 x 56.5 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of the artist, 1988.83.39

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Irving Penn was one of the most important and influential photographers of the twentieth century. In a career that spanned almost seventy years, Penn worked across multiple genres, from celebrity portraits to fashion, from still lives to images of native cultures in remote places of the world. Throughout his career Penn also worked on a series of photographs of discarded objects: things that had been lost, neglected, or misused. Printed in platinum, these detailed photographs of objects such as a lost glove found in the gutter, are Penn’s photographic memento mori, offering beauty compromised by age or disuse.

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Edward Weston (born Highland Park, IL 1886 - died Carmel, CA 1958) 'Pepper no. 30' 1930

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Edward Weston (born Highland Park, IL 1886 – died Carmel, CA 1958)
Pepper no. 30
1930
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 9 1/2 x 7 1/2 in. (24.3 x 19.2 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase, 1985.56

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Imogen Cunningham (born Portland, OR 1883 - died San Francisco, CA 1976) 'Auragia' 1953, printed c. 1960s

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Imogen Cunningham (born Portland, OR 1883 – died San Francisco, CA 1976)
Auragia
1953, printed c. 1960s
Gelatin silver print
Sheet and image: 11 1/8 x 8 3/4 in. (28.3 x 22.2 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Charles Isaacs and Carol Nigro, 2007.37.2

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Ellen Carey (born New York City 1952) 'Dings and Shadows' 2012

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Ellen Carey (born New York City 1952)
Dings and Shadows
2012
Chromogenic print
Sheet and image: 40 x 30 in. (101.6 x 76.2 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Linda Cheverton Wick and Walter Wick, 2013.29
© 2012, Ellen Carey

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Ellen Carey created the series she calls Dings and Shadows by exposing photosensitive paper to light projected through primary and complementary color filters. The artist first folds and crushes paper; then after exposing the paper to light from a color enlarger, flattens it out again for processing. In doing so, Carey dissects the process of developing film, and evokes the hand-crafted nature of early photographic techniques.

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Some images from the Timeline on the website

1843

Daguerreotypists Albert S. Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes begin a partnership, establishing Southworth & Hawes as the most highly regarded portrait studio in Boston, Mass. The studio caters to the city’s elite, and is visited by Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, among many other influential people of the time.

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Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes. 'A Bride and Her Bridesmaids' 1851

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Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes
A Bride and Her Bridesmaids
1851
Daguerreotype
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase made possible by Walter Beck, 2000.110

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1853

The New York Daily Tribune estimates that in the United States, three million daguerreotypes are being produced annually.

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Unidentified artist. 'Mother and Son' c. 1855

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Unidentified artist
Mother and Son
c. 1855
Daguerreotype with applied color
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 1994.91.192

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1857

Julian Vannerson and Samuel Cohner make the first systematic photographs of Native American delegations to visit Washington, D.C. They photograph ninety delegates representing thirteen tribes who conduct treaty and other negotiations with government officials.

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Julian Vannerson. 'Shining Metal' 1858

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Julian Vannerson
Shining Metal
1858
Salted paper print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

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1861

American Civil War begins with shots fired on Fort Sumter by Confederate troops. Portrait photographer Mathew Brady is given permission by President Abraham Lincoln to photograph the First Battle of Bull Run, but comes so close to the battle that he narrowly avoids capture. Using paid assistants Alexander Gardner, Timothy O’Sullivan, George N. Barnard, and others, Brady’s studio makes thousands of photos of the sites, material, and people of the war. Civilian free-lance photographer Egbert Guy Fowx sells numerous negatives to Brady’s studio, which publishes and copyrights many of them. Many other images are credited to Fowx, including this group of Union officers.

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Egbert Guy Fowx. 'New York 7th Regiment Officers' c. 1863

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Egbert Guy Fowx
New York 7th Regiment Officers
c. 1863
Salted paper print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 1994.91.53

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1867

Eadweard Muybridge begins trip to photograph in Yosemite Valley. He publishes his photographs under the name “Helios,” which is also the name of his San Francisco studio. An exhibition of more than 300 photographic portraits of Native American delegates to Washington, D.C., opens in the Smithsonian Castle. Clarence R. King begins direction of the U.S. Geological Expedition of the Fortieth Parallel, appointing Timothy O’Sullivan as the official photographer. Photographer Carleton Watkins joins the survey in 1871.

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Timothy H. O'Sullivan. 'Tufa Domes, Pyramid Lake, Nevada' 1867

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Timothy H. O’Sullivan
Tufa Domes, Pyramid Lake, Nevada
1867
Albumen silver print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 1994.91.142

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1869

Andrew J. Russell’s album, The Great West Illustrated in a Series of Photographic Views across the Continent; Taken along the Line of the Union Pacific Railroad from Omaha, Nebraska, Volume I, is published. George M. Wheeler begins direction of the United States Geological Surveys West of the 100th Meridian for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Wheeler makes fourteen trips to the West over the next eight years. Photographer Timothy O’Sullivan accompanies him in 1871, 1873, and 1874.

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Andrew Joseph Russell. 'Sphinx of the Valley' 1869

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Andrew Joseph Russell
Sphinx of the Valley
1869
Albumen silver print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 1994.91.164

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1967

The Friends of Photography is founded in Carmel, California, by Ansel Adams, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall, Brett Weston, and others, with the aim of promoting creative photography and supporting its practitioners. It remains in existence until 2001.

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Brett Weston. 'Untitled (Snow Covered Mountains)' 1973

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Brett Weston
Untitled (Snow Covered Mountains)
1973
Gelatin silver print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts, 1983.63.1659
© 1973, Brett Weston

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1975

New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape opens at the International Museum of Photography in Rochester, N.Y. It includes photographs by Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Joe Deal, Frank Gohlke, Nicholas Nixon, John Schott, Stephen Shore, and Henry Wessel Jr.

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Frank Gohlke. 'Grain Elevator, Dumas, Texas, 1973' 1973, printed 1994

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Frank Gohlke
Grain Elevator, Dumas, Texas, 1973
1973, printed 1994
Gelatin silver print
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 2010.15.3
© 1973, Frank Gohlke

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Smithsonian American Art Museum
8th and F Streets, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20004

Opening hours:
11.30 am – 7.00 pm daily

Smithsonian American Art Museum website

A Democracy of Images website

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22
Jan
11

Exhibition: ‘Portraits and Power: People, Politics and Structures’ at Centro di Cultura Contemporanea Strozzina – Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, Florence

Exhibition dates: 1st October 2010 – 23rd January 2011

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Many thankx to the Centro di Cultura Contemporanea Strozzina for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Martin Parr
‘France. Paris. Haute Couture’
2007
from the series ‘Luxury’
Pigment print
© Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

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Tina Barney
‘The Ancestor’
2001
C-print
Courtesy the artist and Janet Borden Inc., New York

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Tina Barney
‘The Brocade Walls’
2004
C-print
Courtesy the artist and Janet Borden Inc., New York

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Tina Barney installation view

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The characters Tina Barney portrays are the representatives of a social class that normally exercises careful control over the circulation of pictures of its members, whether in the form of family photographs or official portraits, which are often published on the pages of glossy magazines. She is one of the first photographers to have made artistic use of this kind of representation. Hers is not merely the gaze of an onlooker, but that of a trusted person, who has personal relationships with her subjects. What she is interested in is not so much the idea of displaying the wealth of these families, but that of analysing social and family dynamics – such as the ambivalent relationship between children and parents. Her work is conceived as a means to improve self-understanding.
The people portrayed all come from families educated in the awareness of their own social role: discipline, self-control and rigour are features to be observed in all the subjects photographed, and they share the same high level of composure. For the series entitled The Europeans, which was produced over a period of about eight years, the author was introduced by one circle of friends to another, and thus given the opportunity to portray Italian nobles, Austrian bankers and landowners, proud representatives of the wealthy Spanish bourgeoisie, and English gentlemen in their sophisticated dwellings. Neither the formal way of dressing nor the furnishings can be traced back to any particular fashion: Tina Barney seeks to produce timeless pictures that at first sight will appear closer to traditional painting than to contemporary photography. Tina Barney creates her portraits through a careful observation of people in their everyday lives; to capture transient moments she asks her subjects to repeat something in front of the camera in such a way as to fix them. Her work tool is a fixed, large-size camera; an extended time exposure and high resolution enable her to render the details of each setting in detail. The figures portrayed have a rigid and formal countenance, which makes them appear markedly detached from one another, even though it is often brothers and sisters or parents and children who are photographed together: “this is the best that we can do. This inability to show physical affection is in our heritage”.
Tina Barney’s photographs give a sense of the fleetingness of their relationships behind the mask of self-controlled bearing. The artist thus unveils the game of social roles and attitudes conducted by her subjects, a veritable Theater of Manners (to quote the title of one of her most famous series) which demands enough sensitivity on the viewers’ part for them to focus on those details in the pictures that render hidden and non-immediately obvious features visible.

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Tina Barney
‘The Granddaughter’
2004
C-print
Courtesy the artist and Janet Borden Inc., New York

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Jim Dow
‘Library Metropolitan Club, New York’
1999 / 2010
Chromogenic color print
Courtesy the artist, Janet Borden, Inc., New York

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By taking shots that are as objective as possible and completely devoid of any human presence, Dow gives a concentrated and authentic view of the architecture, furnishings and frameworks of these backdrops of life. “My interest in photography centres on its capacity for exact description. I use photography to try to record the manifestations of human ingenuity and spirit still remaining in our country’s everyday landscape.” For one of his most recent series, Dow has been able to make his way into some of the most exclusive private circles of New York City. He selected circles that are still active and have a long and significant history behind, such as the renowned Metropolitan Club, which was founded in 1891 by John Pierpont Morgan, and once listed James Roosevelt and William K. Vanderbilt among its most illustrious members. Most of these circles require strict adherence to rules consolidated by tradition. Only those introduced to the club by one of its members can join it, a practice that contributes to keep it a kind of network; a specific commission will then consider whether the candidate is fit for acceptance. Though there are over twenty circles of this kind in New York, outsiders will rarely notice their presence. While they no longer exercise the kind of political influence they used to as seats of power and decisionmaking bodies, these clubs are now undergoing a new renaissance. An increasing number of politicians and businessmen are choosing to meet in their secluded rooms, which public opinion often perceives as places of intrigue and the setting for secret appointments of various kinds. With his descriptive and comparative photographs, Dow is giving a face to these exclusive meeting places, inviting viewers to join him in admiring the timeless opulence of their rooms. Architecture is the “primary and most powerful form of mass-communication”; at the same time, it is a mirror for power and its strategies, for the consolidation of authority and its effects on those who exercise it. “Architecture is power. The powerful build precisely because they are powerful. Yet architecture is also an expression of the capability and resoluteness – as well as resolve – of the powerful. Politicians intentionally exploit architecture to seduce, impress, and intimidate.” (Deyan Sudjic, The Edifice Complex: How the Rich and Powerful Shape the World, 2006).

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Clegg & Guttmann (Michael Clegg and Martin Guttmann)
‘Grand Master’
1985
Cibachrome
Courtesy Galerie Christian Nagel, Cologne, Berlin, Antwerp

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“The CCCS – Centro di Cultura Contemporanea Strozzina – Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, will be staging an exhibition entitled Portraits and Power: People, Politics and Structures, from 1 October 2010 to 23 January 2011, which will run concurrently with the retrospective devoted to Bronzino, the undisputed master of the Mannerist portrait, on Palazzo Strozzi’s piano nobile.

The exhibition, based on an original project by the CCCS in consultation with Peter Funnell (curator and director of research programmes at the National Portrait Gallery in London), Walter Guadagnini (chairman of the “UniCredit & Art” project’s scientific committee) and Roberta Valtorta (director of the Cinisello Balsamo Museum of Contemporary Photography) and coordinated by Franziska Nori (director of the CCCS), will show the work of international artists and collectives such as Tina Barney, Christoph Brech, Bureau d’études, Fabio Cifariello Ciardi, Clegg & Guttmann, Nick Danziger, Rineke Dijkstra, Jim Dow, Francesco Jodice, Annie Leibovitz, Helmut Newton, Trevor Paglen, Martin Parr, Wang Qingsong, Daniela Rossell, Jules Spinatsch, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and The Yes Men – who have all proved capable of developing a critical analysis of the portrayal and depiction of political, economic and social power in the media.

The exhibition explores its theme from two main standpoints: it analyses power as an expression of the charisma of those individuals who have become icons or symbols of their age; and it probes the power of institutions and social models that either represent themselves or are represented in a critical light.

The role played by images has grown to such an extent that it has led to the predominant emergence of their value not only in terms of portrayal but also of the successful establishment of power. The works of art on display bear witness not only to the self-referential strategies of power, but also to the different approaches artists adopt in deconstructing or chipping away at the images that represent social, economic and political power in a way that can not only bolster a leadership but that can also undermine its authority.

The National Portrait Gallery in London will be contributing works by three famous international photographers that explore the image of political authority. The series devoted to Queen Elizabeth II by Annie Leibovitz evinces a celebrated contemporary artist’s dialogue with the great tradition of official portraiture, and the cycle entitled Blair at War by Nick Danziger gives an extraordinary vision of Tony Blair’s daily life in the days immediately preceding the outbreak of the war in Iraq. The portrait of Margaret Thatcher by Helmut Newton keeps alive the iconic role of one of the most influential politicians of recent decades despite the fact that her authority had waned.

Clegg & Guttmann show the photographs of three managing directors of the Deutsche Bank. These images, while based on the official portraiture genre, provide the opportunity for a conceptual reflection on the theme of the public presentation of individuals who are at the same time both subject and patron of the work. Christoph Brech portrays a modern patron of the arts in a video that dwells on a detail of the hull of his yacht, Sea Force One, a floating museum filmed from a distance in Venetian waters.

The role of the image not only as representation but also as a tool for the construction or exploration of power is analysed by artists such as Hiroshi Sugimoto, whose Portraits bring to life wax effigies of historical or contemporary political figures through the evocative power of photography, and Rineke Dijkstra whose series of images of a soldier with the French Foreign Legion prompts a reflection on what remains of the individual when he becomes the representative of a military authority. Francesco Jodice, in his video entitled Dubai Citytellers, analyses the development and the social impact of one of the new centres of global economic power.

In the photo triptych Past, Present and Future, Wang Qingsong portrays himself as a bystander, bearing witness to fighters in poses mimicking celebrative and monumental Socialist sculptures, reflecting upon the contradictory nature of the actual power of masses in contemporary China.

Tina Barney records the life and domestic environment of the beau monde, combining the spontaneous feel of a private snapshot with a sophisticated aesthetic approach strongly echoing the world of art and traditional photography. The provocative photo series Ricas y Famosas by Daniela Rossell portrays the taste and excesses of the new super wealthy social oligarchy in Mexico, while Martin Parr’s series entitled Luxury, which is devoted to fashion shows, horse-racing and art fairs in the world’s major capitals, probes the lifestyle of the upper class in a globalized Western world. The pictures of Jim Dow portray the luxurious rooms of the great private social clubs of New York City’s elite, fashionable places that are inaccessible to the general public.

A different critical approach to the theme of power is offered by the French collective Bureau d’études with its project involving mapping the links between political and economic power. The CIA’s secret missions and operations, on the other hand, provide the focus for the work of Trevor Paglen who reconstructs top secret movements and connections. Jules Spinatsch presents a new work taken from his Temporary Discomfort video-photographic series, denouncing the controversial transformation of a place such as the island of La Maddalena in Sardinia into the venue for the G8 summit that never took place. Also on view is the antagonistic activism of The Yes Men, a collective who will be presenting their spectacular media initiative that rocked the image and power of the multinational corporation responsible for the Bhopal environmental catastrophe in India.

Finally, the composer Fabio Cifariello Ciardi uses famous politicians’ public speeches as his raw material for the creation of electroacoustic music that will underline their rhetorical techniques of persuasion.

The exhibition catalogue, published in Italian and English, contains a series of essays by authors from different countries, backgrounds and disciplines, offering the visitor a chance to explore in greater depth the themes addressed by the exhibition.”

Press release from the Strozzina website

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Rineke Dijkstra
‘Olivier’
Quartier Vienot,
Marseille, France, July 21, 2000
On loan from The Bank of America Merrill Lynch Collection

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Rineke Dijkstra
‘Olivier’
Quartier Monclar,
Djibouti, July 13, 2003
On loan from The Bank of America Merrill Lynch Collection

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A crucial feature of Dijkstra’s photography is her desire to show the true personality of her subjects, as opposed to any simulated one. Up against the contemporary mystifying quality of the Internet and digital manipulation, her images illustrate in a very convincing way how photography is still capable of transcending the surface of subjects to grasp their deeper and constantly evolving identities. Her series feature, for instance, young bullfighters immediately after a bullfight, young mothers with babies born only a few minutes before, and portraits of boys and girls from various parts of the world at the beach. Her work method, whereby subjects are given very few directions and are usually portrayed frontally, leads to the creation of bare and detached pictures in which people display an inevitably fragile and vulnerable air. The Olivier Silva project, which the artist has developed over the course of more than three years, centres on the figure of a young man who in July 2000 voluntarily enrolled in the French Foreign Legion. Dijkstra portrays crucial moments of his intense training in France and Africa – from the day of his enrolment, in Aubagne, near Marseille, to the missions he was sent to fulfil in various parts of the world (Gabon, Ivory Coast and Gibuti) in 2003. The photographs clearly illustrate the metamorphoses the young man underwent over the course of the years: the innocent looking boy becomes an energetic and professional elite soldier enlisted in one of the world’s toughest and most controversial army corps. The centrepiece of the work is the artist’s interest in Olivier as an individual whose personality evolves in the course of his training, as is clearly revealed by his attitude and the look in his eyes, as well as by the very way in which his facial features change. The training imparted in military units of this kind is aimed at annulling the recruit’s personality in order to then recreate it according to new parameters: the youngster draws closer and closer to the prototype of the soldier as we progress from one photograph to the next. Just as all new recruits of the Foreign Legion are assigned a new name and identity, after three years Olivier no longer looks (even physically) like the same person as before. Like an accelerated film sequence, this series shows the dissolution of the original identity of a man subjected to the conditions dictated by an apparatus of power. Every soldier is at the service of the country he fights for and becomes one of its official public representations, embodying its military power. The same power he now wields is that which in a few years has conditioned him – or even produced him, one may say. Through her aesthetically minimalist photographs, Rineke Dijkstra illustrates the paradox of opposition between individual values and those of the community, between identity and conformity.

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Jim Dow
‘Dining Room, Morgan Library, New York’
1999 / 2010
Chromogenic color print
Courtesy the artist, Janet Borden, Inc., New York

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Martin Parr
‘England. Epsom. The Derby’
2004
from the series ‘Luxury’
Pigment print
© Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

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Martin Parr
‘Russia. Moscow. Fashion Week’
2004
from the series ‘Luxury’
Pigment print
© Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

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Unlike most of his colleagues, Parr has little interest in the great themes of photographic reporting, such as the documenting of war and poverty. Working around the world, he finds his motifs in everyday life. At the beginning of his career, he focused in particular on the observation of people from lower middle class backgrounds engaged in different activities, in the context of themes such as consumption, communication and leisure. He has left it ambiguous as to whether these pictures of his are charged with critical overtones or intended to serve as a mere means of social documentation. Through this approach to his work, Parr has developed a highly distinctive and almost unmistakable style marked by dazzling colours obtained by the use of flash on top of natural light. Parr takes his camera near people and their social milieus, creating images that appear grotesque or exaggerated at first. Their motifs, which often coincide with moments of everyday life, are shot from unusual perspectives.
The feeling these pictures convey is that of being spontaneous photos, similar to snapshots. Only under closer scrutiny you understand they have been skillfully construed and arranged. While always highly charged and taking widespread social stereotypes as their starting point, Parr’s images are never banal. The perspective they convey stands out for the way in which it takes viewers by surprise and for the ironic detachment with which the photographer turns to his subjects.
According to Parr, his photographs never fail to elicit extreme emotions because they always show some truths: “We are so used to digesting pictures that are pure propaganda, that people are surprised when someone like me shows them images that are closely tied to reality. I, at least, don’t lie”. The photographer’s gaze takes the viewer into his confidence, leading him through the pictures to discover the absurdity of what we deem normal. Gathered in large series regularly published in volumes, these shots transcend the irony of individual images to concentrate on the analysis of a given social milieu.
The Luxury series portrays personages from the international jet set, photographed in different settings around the world – from the Miami Art Fair to horse races in Durban, from polo tournaments in Dubai to the Beijing Auto Show. With these images, Parr has intentionally moved away from his previous subjects to focus on the life of the upper classes: for, as he himself has noted, the main problem the world is facing is not poverty but wealth – excessive development and prosperity. These photographs offer the perspective of an external, noninvolved observer, whose gaze is drawn towards minor details that usually find no place in the common representations of these events.
The centrepieces of these photos are the superficial clichés that the people participating in the events adopt as tokens of their upper-class identity. The pictures fix moments in which this enactment reveals itself to be so fragile or so exaggerated that the people involved become extras in a comedy – one that the photographer’s eye has fallen upon, finding interest not in individuals as such, but in their belonging to a given social system with all its rules and values.

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Nick Danziger
‘Helicopter Flight from RAF Lyneham to Battersea, 3 April 2003’

Bromide print
Courtesy National Portrait Gallery, London
© Nick Danziger

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Centre for Contemporary Culture Strozzina
Palazzo Strozzi, Piazza Strozzi, Firenze

Opening hours:
Tuesday-Sunday 10.00 am – 8.00 pm
Special free Thursday 6.00 – 11.00 pm
Monday closed (open on 1/11, 6/12, 27/12)

Strozinna website

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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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