Posts Tagged ‘Underwater Swimmer

15
Nov
20

Exhibition: ‘Photography’s Last Century: The Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Collection’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 10th March – 30th November 2020

Curator: Jeff L. Rosenheim, Joyce Frank Menschel Curator in Charge of the Department of Photographs

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Underwater Swimmer, Esztergom, Hungary' 1917

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Underwater Swimmer, Esztergom, Hungary
1917
Gelatin silver print
1 1/2 in. × 2 in. (3.8 × 5.1cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
© 2020 Estate of André Kertész/Higher Pictures

 

 

This tiny but iconic masterpiece of twentieth-century photography is the second earliest work in the exhibition, and a gem in the Tenenbaum and Lee collection. Made while André Kertész was convalescing from a gunshot wound received while serving in the Austro-Hungarian army during World War I, it prefigures by some fifteen years his renowned mirror distortions produced in Paris. Displaying both Cubist and Surrealist influences, the photograph reveals the artist’s commitment to the spontaneous yet analytic observation of fleeting commonplace occurrences – one of the essential and most idiosyncratic qualities of the medium.

 

 

It’s a mystery

There are some eclectic photographs in this posting, many of which have remained un/seen to me before.

I have never seen the above version of Kertész’s Underwater Swimmer, Esztergom, Hungary (1917), with wall, decoration and water flowing into the pool at left. The usual image crops these features out, focusing on the distortion of the body in the water, and the lengthening of the figure diagonally across the picture frame. That both images are from the same negative can be affirmed if one looks at the patterning of the water. Even as the exhibition of Kertész’s work at Jeu de Paume at the Château de Tours that I saw last year stated that their version was a contact original… this is not possible unless the image has been cropped.

Other images by Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Outerbridge Jr., Eugène Atget, Walker Evans, Pierre Dubreuil, Ilse Bing, Bill Brandt, Dora Maar, Joseph Cornell, Nan Goldin, Laurie Simmons, Robert Gober, Rachel Whiteread, Zanele Muholi have eluded my consciousness until now.

What I can say after viewing them is this.

I am forever amazed at how deep the spirit, and the medium, of photography is… if you give the photograph a chance. A friend asked me the other day whether photographs had any meaning anymore, as people glance for a nano-second at images on Instagram, and pass on. We live in a world of instant gratification was my answer to him. But the choice is yours if you take / time with a photograph, if it possesses the POSSIBILITY of a meditation from its being. If it intrigues or excites, or stimulates, makes you reflect, cry – that is when the photographs pre/essence, its embedded spirit, can make us attest to the experience of its will, its language, its desire. In our presence.

The more I learn about photography, the less I find I know. The lake (archive) is deep – full of serendipity, full of memories, stagings, concepts and realities. Full of nuances and light, crevices and dark passages. To understand photography is a life-long study. To an inquiring mind, even then, you may only – scratch the surface to reveal – a sort of epiphany, a revelation, unknown to others. Every viewing is unique, every interpretation different, every context unknowable (possible).

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

PS. When Minor White was asked, what about photography when he dies? When he is no longer there to influence it? And he simply says – photography will do what it wants to do. This is a magnificent statement, and it shows an egoless freedom on Minor White’s part. It is profound knowledge about photography, about its freedom to change.

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

 

 

This exhibition will celebrate the remarkable ascendancy of photography in the last century, and Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee’s magnificent promised gift of over sixty extraordinary photographs in honour of The Met’s 150th anniversary in 2020. The exhibition will include masterpieces by the medium’s greatest practitioners, including works by Paul Strand, Dora Maar, Man Ray, and László Moholy-Nagy; Edward Weston, Walker Evans, and Joseph Cornell; Diane Arbus, Andy Warhol, Sigmar Polke, and Cindy Sherman.

The collection is particularly notable for its breadth and depth of works by women artists, its sustained interest in the nude, and its focus on artists’ beginnings. Strand’s 1916 view from the viaduct confirms his break with the Pictorialist past and establishes the artist’s way forward as a cutting-edge modernist; Walker Evans’s shadow self-portraits from 1927 mark the first inkling of a young writer’s commitment to visual culture; and Cindy Sherman’s intimate nine-part portrait series from 1976 predates her renowned series of “film stills” and confirms her striking ambition and stunning mastery of the medium at the age of twenty-two.

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946) 'Georgia O'Keeffe' 1918

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946)
Georgia O’Keeffe
1918
Platinum print
9 1/2 × 7 1/2 in. (24.1 × 19.1cm)
Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Collection
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

This photograph marks the beginning of the romantic relationship between Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe, which transformed each of their lives and the story of American art. The two met when Stieglitz included O’Keeffe, a then-unknown painter, in her first group show at his gallery 291 in May 1916. A year later, O’Keeffe had her first solo show at the gallery and exhibited her abstract charcoal No. 15 Special, seen in the background here. In the coming months and years, O’Keeffe collaborated with Stieglitz on some three hundred portrait studies. In its physical scope, primal sensuality, and psychological power, Stieglitz’s serial portrait of O’Keeffe has no equal in American art.

 

Paul Outerbridge Jr. (American, 1896-1958) 'Telephone' 1922

 

Paul Outerbridge Jr. (American, 1896-1958)
Telephone
1922
Platinum print
4 1/2 × 3 3/8 in. (11.4 × 8.5cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

A well-paid advertising photographer working in New York in the 1930s, Paul Outerbridge Jr. was trained as a painter and set designer. Highly influenced by Cubism, he was a devoted advocate of the platinum-print process, which he used to create nearly abstract still lifes of commonplace subjects such as cracker boxes, wine glasses, and men’s collars. With their extended mid-tones and velvety blacks, platinum papers were relatively expensive and primarily used by fine-art photographers like Paul Strand, Edward Steichen, and Alfred Stieglitz. This modernist study of a Western Electric “candlestick” telephone attests to Outerbridge’s talent for transforming banal, utilitarian objects into small, but powerful sculptures with formal rigour and startling beauty.

 

Edward Weston. 'Anita ("Pear-Shaped Nude")' 1925

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Nude
1925, printed 1930s
Gelatin silver print
8 1/2 × 7 1/2 in. (21.6 × 19cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

Edward Weston moved from Los Angeles to Mexico City in 1923 with Tina Modotti, an Italian actress and nascent photographer. They were each influenced by, and in turn helped shape, the larger community of artists among whom they lived and worked, which included Diego Rivera, Jean Charlot, and many other members of the Mexican Renaissance. In fall 1925 Weston made a remarkable series of nudes of the art critic, journalist, and historian Anita Brenner. Depicting her body as a pear-like shape floating in a dark void, the photographs evoke the hermetic simplicity of a sculpture by Constantin Brancusi. Brenner’s form becomes elemental, female and male, embryonic, tightly furled but ready to blossom.

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Boulevard de Strasbourg' 1926

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Boulevard de Strasbourg
1926
Gelatin silver print
8 7/8 in. × 7 in. (22.5 × 17.8 cm)
Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Collection
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Eugène Atget became the darling of the French Surrealists in the mid-1920s courtesy of Man Ray, his neighbour in Paris, who admired the older artist’s seemingly straight forward documentation of the city. Another American photographer, Walker Evans, also credited Atget with inspiring his earliest experiments with the camera. A talented writer, Evans penned a famous critique of his progenitor in 1930: “[Atget’s] general note is a lyrical understanding of the street, trained observation of it, special feeling for patina, eye for revealing detail, over all of which is thrown a poetry which is not ‘the poetry of the street’ or ‘the poetry of Paris,’ but the projection of Atget’s person.”

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Self-portrait, Juan-les-Pins, France, January 1927' 1927

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Self-portrait, Juan-les-Pins, France, January 1927
1927
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Shadow, Self-Portrait (Right Profile, Wearing Hat), Juan-les-Pins, France, January 1927' 1927

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Shadow, Self-Portrait (Right Profile, Wearing Hat), Juan-les-Pins, France, January 1927
1927
Film negative
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Pierre Dubreuil (French, 1872-1944) 'The Woman Driver' 1928

 

Pierre Dubreuil (French, 1872-1944)
The Woman Driver
1928
Bromoil print
9 7/16 × 7 5/8 in. (24 × 19.3cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
© 2019 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

 

Like many other European and American photographers, Pierre Dubreuil was indifferent to the industrialisation of photography that followed the invention and immediate global success of the Kodak camera in the late 1880s. A wealthy member of an international community of photographers loosely known as Pictorialists, he spurned most aspects of modernism. Instead, he advocated painterly effects such as those offered by the bromoil printing process seen here. What makes this photograph exceptional, however, is the modern subject and the work’s title, The Woman Driver. Dubreuil’s wife, Josephine Vanassche, grasps the steering wheel of their open-air car and stares straight ahead, ignoring the attention of her conservative husband and his intrusive camera.

 

Florence Henri (French, born America 1893-1982) 'Windows' 1929

 

Florence Henri (French, born America 1893-1982)
Windows
1929
Gelatin silver print
14 1/2 × 10 1/4 in. (36.8 × 26cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

A peripatetic French American painter and photographer, Florence Henri studied with László Moholy-Nagy at the Bauhaus in Germany in summer 1927. Impressed by her natural talent, he wrote a glowing commentary on the artist for a small Amsterdam journal: “With Florence Henri’s photos, photographic practice enters a new phase, the scope of which would have been unimaginable before today… Reflections and spatial relationships, superposition and intersections are just some of the areas explored from a totally new perspective and viewpoint.” Despite the high regard for her paintings and photographs in the 1920s, Henri remains largely under appreciated.

 

Ilse Bing (German, 1899-1998) '[Rue de Valois, Paris]' 1932

 

Ilse Bing (German, 1899-1998)
[Rue de Valois, Paris]
1932
Gelatin silver print
11 1/8 × 8 3/4 in. (28.3 × 22.2cm)
Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Collection
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

 

Ilse Bing trained as an art historian in Germany and learned photography in 1928 to make illustrations for her dissertation on neoclassical architecture. In 1930 she moved to Paris, supporting herself as a freelance photographer for French and German newspapers and fashion magazines. Known in the early 1930s as the “Queen of the Leica” due to her mastery of the handheld 35 mm camera, Bing found the old cobblestone streets of Paris a rich subject to explore, often from eccentric perspectives as seen here. She moved to New York in 1941 after the German occupation of Paris and remained here until her death at age ninety-eight.

 

Bill Brandt (British, 1904-1983) 'Soho Bedroom' 1932

 

Bill Brandt (British, 1904-1983)
Soho Bedroom
1932
Gelatin silver print
8 7/16 × 7 5/16 in. (21.4 × 18.5cm)
Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Collection
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Bill Brandt challenged the standard tenets of documentary practice by frequently staging scenes for the camera and recruiting family and friends as models. In this intimate study of a couple embracing, the male figure is believed to be either a friend or the artist’s younger brother; the female figure is an acquaintance, “Bird,” known for her beautiful hands. The photograph appears with a different title, Top Floor, along with sixty-three others in Brandt’s second book, A Night in London (1938). After the book’s publication, Brandt changed the work’s title to Soho Bedroom to reference London’s notorious Red Light district and add a hint of salaciousness to the kiss.

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) '[Woman and Child in Window, Barcelona]' 1932-34

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
[Woman and Child in Window, Barcelona]
1932-34
Gelatin silver print
11 1/8 × 8 3/8 in. (28.2 × 21.2cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
© 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

 

When Dora Maar first traveled to Barcelona in 1932 to record the effects of the global economic crisis, she was twenty-five and still finding her footing as a photographer. To sustain her practice, she opened a joint studio with the film designer Pierre Kéfer. Working out of his parents’ villa in a Parisian suburb, he and Maar produced mostly commercial photographs for fashion and advertising – projects that funded Maar’s travel to Spain. With an empathetic eye, she documents a mother and her child peering out of a makeshift shelter. Adapting an avant-garde strategy, she chose a lateral angle to monumentalise her subjects.

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958) 'Nude' 1934

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Nude
1934
Gelatin silver print
3 5/8 in. (9.2cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

The nude as a subject for the camera would occupy Edward Weston’s attention for four decades, and it is a defining characteristic of his achievement and legacy. This physically small but forceful, closely cropped photograph is a study of the writer Charis Wilson. Although presented headless and legless, Wilson tightly crosses her arms in a bold power pose. Weston was so stunned by Wilson when they first met that he ceased writing in his diary the day after he made this photograph: “April 22 [1934], a day to always remember. I knew now what was coming; eyes don’t lie and she wore no mask… I was lost and have been ever since.” Wilson and Weston immediately moved in together and married five years later.

 

 

The exhibition Photography’s Last Century: The Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Collection celebrates the remarkable ascendancy of photography in the last hundred years through the magnificent promised gift to The Met of more than 60 extraordinary photographs from Museum Trustee Ann Tenenbaum and her husband, Thomas H. Lee, in honour of the Museum’s 150th anniversary in 2020. The exhibition will feature masterpieces by a wide range of the medium’s greatest practitioners, including Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, Ilse Bing, Joseph Cornell, Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Andreas Gursky, Helen Levitt, Dora Maar, László Moholy-Nagy, Jack Pierson, Sigmar Polke, Man Ray, Laurie Simmons, Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Cindy Sherman, Andy Warhol, Edward Weston, and Rachel Whiteread.

The exhibition is made possible by Joyce Frank Menschel and the Alfred Stieglitz Society.

Max Hollein, Director of The Met, said, “Ann Tenenbaum brilliantly assembled an outstanding and very personal collection of 20th-century photographs, and this extraordinary gift will bring a hugely important group of works to The Met’s holdings and to the public’s eye. From works by celebrated masters to lesser-known artists, this collection encourages a deeper understanding of the formative years of photography, and significantly enhances our holdings of key works by women, broadening the stories we can tell in our galleries and allowing us to celebrate a whole range of crucial artists at The Met. We are extremely grateful to Ann and Tom for their generosity in making this promised gift to The Met, especially as we celebrate the Museum’s 150th anniversary. It will be an honour to share these remarkable works with our visitors.”

“Early on, Ann recognised the camera as one of the most creative and democratic instruments of contemporary human expression,” said Jeff Rosenheim, Joyce Frank Menschel Curator in Charge of the Department of Photographs. “Her collecting journey through the last century of picture-making has been guided by her versatility and open-mindedness, and the result is a collection that is both personal and dynamic.”

The Tenenbaum Collection is particularly notable for its focus on artists’ beginnings, for a sustained interest in the nude, and for the breadth and depth of works by women artists. Paul Strand’s 1916 view from the viaduct confirms his break with the Pictorialist past and establishes the artist’s way forward as a cutting-edge modernist; Walker Evans’s shadow self-portraits from 1927 mark the first inkling of a young writer’s commitment to visual culture; and Cindy Sherman’s intimate nine-part portrait series from 1976 predates her renowned series of “film stills” and confirms her striking ambition and stunning mastery of the medium at the age of 22.

Ms. Tenenbaum commented, “Photographs are mirrors and windows not only onto the world but also into deeply personal experience. Tom and I are proud to support the Museum’s Department of Photographs and thrilled to be able to share our collection with the public.”

The exhibition will feature a diverse range of styles and photographic practices, combining small-scale and large-format works in both black and white and colour. The presentation will integrate early modernist photographs, including superb examples by avant-garde American and European artists, together with work from the postwar period, the 1960s, and the medium’s boom in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and extend up to the present moment.

Photography’s Last Century: The Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Collection is curated by The Met’s Jeff L. Rosenheim, Joyce Frank Menschel Curator in Charge of the Department of Photographs.

Press release from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972) 'Tamara Toumanova (Daguerreotype-Object)' October 1941

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Tamara Toumanova (Daguerreotype-Object)
October 1941
Construction with photomechanical reproduction, mirror, rhinestones or sequins, and tinted glass in artist’s frame
Dimensions: 5 1/8 × 4 3/16 in. (13 × 10.6 cm)
Frame: 9 3/4 × 8 3/4 × 1 7/8 in. (24.8 × 22.2 × 4.8 cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
© 2020 The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

 

 

Joseph Cornell is celebrated for his meticulously constructed, magical shadow boxes that teem with celestial charts, ballet stars, parrots, mirrors, and marbles. Into these tiny theaters he decanted his dreams, obsessions, and unfulfilled desires. Here, his subject is the Russian prima ballerina Tamara Toumanova. Known for her virtuosity and beauty, the dancer captivated Cornell, who met her backstage at the Metropolitan Opera and thereafter saw her as his personal Snow Queen and muse.

 

Tamara Toumanova (Georgian 2 March 1919 – 29 May 1996) was a Georgian-American prima ballerina and actress. A child of exiles in Paris after the Russian Revolution of 1917, she made her debut at the age of 10 at the children’s ballet of the Paris Opera.

She became known internationally as one of the Baby Ballerinas of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo after being discovered by her fellow émigré, balletmaster and choreographer George Balanchine. She was featured in numerous ballets in Europe. Balanchine featured her in his productions at Ballet Theatre, New York, making her the star of his performances in the United States. While most of Toumanova’s career was dedicated to ballet, she appeared as a ballet dancer in several films, beginning in 1944. She became a naturalised United States citizen in 1943 in Los Angeles, California.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Richard Avedon (American, 1923-2004) 'Noto, Sicily, September 5, 1947' September 5, 1947

 

Richard Avedon (American, 1923-2004)
Noto, Sicily, September 5, 1947
September 5, 1947
Gelatin silver print
6 × 6 in. (15.2 × 15.2 cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Richard Avedon believed this early street portrait of a young boy in Sicily was the genesis of his long fashion and portrait career. On the occasion of The Met’s groundbreaking 2002 exhibition on the artist, curators Maria Morris Hambourg and Mia Fineman described the work as “a kind of projected self-portrait” in which “a boy stands there, pushing forward to the front of the picture. … He is smiling wildly, ready to race into the future. And there, hovering behind him like a mushroom cloud, is the past in the form of a single, strange tree – a reminder of the horror that split the century into a before and after, a symbol of destruction but also of regeneration.”

 

Lee Friedlander (American, b. 1934) 'Philadelphia' 1961

 

Lee Friedlander (American, b. 1934)
Philadelphia
1961
Gelatin silver print
12 1/16 × 17 15/16 in. (30.7 × 45.5cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Philadelphia is the earliest dated photograph from a celebrated series of television sets beaming images into seemingly empty rooms that Lee Friedlander made between 1961 and 1970. The pictures provided a prophetic commentary on the new medium to which Americans had quickly become addicted. Walker Evans published a suite of Friedlander’s TV photographs in Harper’s Bazaar in 1963 and noted: “The pictures on these pages are in effect deft, witty, spanking little poems of hate… Taken out of context as they are here, that baby might be selling skin rash, the careful, good-looking woman might be categorically unselling marriage and the home and total daintiness. Here, then, from an expert-hand, is a pictorial account of what TV-screen light does to rooms and to the things in them.”

 

Edward Ruscha (American, b. 1937) 'Self-Service – Milan, New Mexico' 1962

 

Edward Ruscha (American, b. 1937)
Self-Service – Milan, New Mexico
1962
Gelatin silver print
4 11/16 × 4 11/16 in. (11.9 × 11.9cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
© Ed Ruscha

 

 

This intentionally mundane work by the Los Angeles–based painter and printmaker, Ed Ruscha, appears in Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1963), the first of sixteen landmark photographic books he published between 1963 and 1978. The volume established the artist’s reputation as a conceptual minimalist with a mastery of typography, an appreciation for seriality and documentary practice, and a deadpan sense of humour. Early on, he was influenced by the photographs of Walker Evans. “What I was after,” said Ruscha, “was no-style or a non-statement with a no-style.”

 

Nan Goldin (American, b. 1953) 'Ivy in the Boston Garden: Back' 1973

 

Nan Goldin (American, b. 1953)
Ivy in the Boston Garden: Back
1973
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 20 × 16 in. (50.8 × 40.6 cm)
Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Collection
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery
© Nan Goldin

 

 

While still in college, Nan Goldin spent two years recording performers at the Other Side, a Boston drag bar that hosted beauty pageants on Monday nights. This black-and-white study of Ivy, Goldin’s friend from the bar, walking alone through the Boston Common is one of the artist’s earliest photographs. The portrait evokes the glamorous world of fashion photography and hints at its loneliness. In all of her photographs, Goldin explores the natural twinning of fantasy and reality; it is the source of their pathos and rhythmic emotional beat. A decade after this elegiac photograph, she conceived the first iteration of her 1985 breakthrough colour series, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, which was presented as an ever-changing visual diary using a slide projector and synchronised music.

 

Laurie Simmons (American, b. 1949) 'Woman/Interior' I 1976

 

Laurie Simmons (American, b. 1949)
Woman/Interior I
1976
Gelatin silver print
5 3/4 × 7 1/2 in. (14.6 × 19.1cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
© 2020 Laurie Simmons
Courtesy of the artist and Salon 94, New York

 

 

Laurie Simmons began her career in 1976 with a series of enchantingly melancholic photographs of toy dolls set up in her apartment. The accessible mix of desire and anxiety in these early photographs resonates with, and provides a useful counterpoint to, Cindy Sherman’s contemporaneous “film stills” such as Untitled Film Still #48 seen nearby. Simmons and Sherman were foundational members of one of the most vibrant and productive communities of artists to emerge in the late twentieth century. Although they did not all see themselves as feminists or even as a unified group of “women artists,” each used the camera to examine the prescribed roles of women, especially in the workplace, and in advertising, politics, literature, and film.

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954) 'Untitled Film Still #48' 1979

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled Film Still #48
1979
Gelatin silver print
6 15/16 × 9 3/8 in. (17.6 × 23.8cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

A lone woman on an empty highway peers around the corner of a rocky outcrop. She waits and waits below the dramatic sky. Is it fear or self-reliance that challenges the unnamed traveler? Does she dread the future, the past, or just the present? So thorough and sophisticated is Cindy Sherman’s capacity for filmic detail and nuance that many viewers (encouraged by the titles) mistakenly believe that the photographs in the series are reenactments of films. Rather, they are an unsettling yet deeply satisfying synthesis of film and narrative painting, a shrewdly composed remaking not of the “real” world but of the mediated landscape.

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946 - 1989) 'Coral Sea' 1983

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Coral Sea
1983
Platinum print
23 1/8 × 19 1/2 in. (58.8 × 49.5cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

This study of a Midway-class aircraft carrier shows a massive warship not actually floating on the ocean’s surface but seemingly sunken beneath it. The rather minimal photograph is among the rarest and least representative works by Robert Mapplethorpe, who is known mostly for his uncompromising sexual portraits and saturated flower studies, as well as for his mastery of the photographic print tradition. Here, he chose platinum materials to explore the subtle beauty of the medium’s extended mid-grey tones. By rendering prints using the more tactile platinum process, Mapplethorpe hoped to transcend the medium; as he said it is “no longer a photograph first, [but] firstly a statement that happens to be a photograph.”

 

Robert Gober (American, b. 1954) 'Untitled' 1988 (detail)

 

Robert Gober (American, b. 1954)
Untitled (detail)
1988
Gelatin silver print
6 1/2 × 9 7/16 in. (16.5 × 24cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
© Robert Gober, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery

 

 

Although Robert Gober is not often thought of as a photographer, his conceptual practice has long depended on a camera. From the time of his first solo show in 1984 Gober has documented temporal projects in hundreds of photographs, and today many of his site-specific installations survive as images. His photography resists classification, seeming to split the difference between archival record and independent artwork. Here, across three frames, flimsy white dresses advance and recede into a deserted wood. Gober sewed the garments from fabric printed by the painter Christopher Wool in the course of a related collaboration. Seen together, Gober’s staged photographs record an ephemeral intervention in an unwelcoming, almost fairy-tale landscape.

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, b. 1948) 'Imperial Montreal' 1995

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, b. 1948)
Imperial Montreal
1995
Gelatin silver print
20 × 24 in. (50.8 × 61cm)
Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Collection
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

A self-taught expert on the history of photography and Zen Buddhism, Hiroshi Sugimoto posed a question to himself in 1976: what would be the effect on a single sheet of film if it was exposed to all 172,800 photographic frames in a feature-length movie? To visualise the answer, he hid a large-format camera in the last row of seats at St. Marks Cinema in Manhattan’s East Village and opened the shutter when the film started; an hour and a half later, when the movie ended, he closed it. The series (now forty years in the making) of ethereal photographs of darkened rooms filled with gleaming white screens presents a perfect example of yin and yang, the classic concept of opposites in ancient Chinese philosophy.

 

Andreas Gursky (German, b. 1955) 'Prada II' 1996

 

Andreas Gursky (German, b. 1955)
Prada II
1996
Chromogenic print
65 in. × 10 ft. 4 13/16 in. (165.1 × 317cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
© Andreas Gursky / Courtesy Sprüth Magers / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

To produce this quasi-architectural study of a barren luxury store display, Andreas Gursky used newly available software both to artificially stretch the underlying chemical image and to digitally generate the billboard-size print. At ten feet wide, the work is a Frankensteinian glimpse of what would transform the medium of photography over the next two decades. Gursky seems to have fully understood the Pandora’s box he had opened by using digital tools to manipulate his pictures, which put into question their essential realism: “I have a weakness for paradox. For me… the photogenic allows a picture to develop a life of its own, on a two-dimensional surface, which doesn’t exactly reflect the real object.”

 

Rachel Whiteread (English, b. 1963) 'Watertower Project' 1998

 

Rachel Whiteread (English, b. 1963)
Watertower Project
1998
Screenprint with applied acrylic resin and graphite
20 in. × 15 15/16 in. (50.8 × 40.5cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
© Rachel Whiteread

 

 

How might one solidify water other than by freezing it? In New York in June 1998, a translucent 12 x 9-foot, 4½-ton sculpture created by Rachel Whiteread landed like a UFO atop a roof at the corner of West Broadway and Grand Street. The artist described the work – a resin cast of the interior of one of the city’s landmark wooden water tanks – as a “jewel in the Manhattan skyline.” This print is a poetic trace of the massive sculpture, which was commissioned by the Public Art Fund. The original work of art holds and refracts light just like the acrylic resin applied to the surface of this print.

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962) 'Untitled' 2005

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled
2005
Chromogenic print
57 × 88 in. (144.8 × 223.5cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Gregory Crewdson describes his highly scripted photographs as single-frame movies; to produce them, he engages teams of riggers, grips, lighting specialists, and actors. The story lines in most of his photographs centre on suburban anxiety, disorientation, fear, loss, and longing, but the final meaning almost always remains elusive, the narrative unfinished. In this photograph something terrible has happened, is happening, and will likely happen again. A woman in a nightgown sits in crisis on the edge of her bed with the remains of a rosebush on the sheets beside her. The journey from the garden was not an easy one, as evidenced by the trail of petals, thorns, and dirt. Even so, the protagonist cradles the plant’s roots with tender regard.

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961) 'Football Landscape #8 (Crenshaw vs. Jefferson, Los Angeles, CA)' 2007

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961)
Football Landscape #8 (Crenshaw vs. Jefferson, Los Angeles, CA)
2007
Chromogenic print
48 × 64 in. (121.9 × 162.6cm)
Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Collection
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

High school football is not a conventional subject for contemporary artists in any medium. Neither are freeways nor surfers, each of which are series by the artist Catherine Opie. A professor of photography at the University of California, Los Angeles, Opie spent several years traveling across the United States making close-up portraits of adolescent gladiators as well as seductive, large-scale landscape views of the game itself. Poignant studies of group behaviour and American masculinity on the cusp of adulthood, the photographs can be seen as an extension of the artist’s diverse body of work related to gender performance in the queer communities in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972) 'Vukani II (Paris)' 2014

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Vukani II (Paris)
2014
Gelatin silver print
23 1/2 in. × 13 in. (59.7 × 33cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

The South African photographer Zanele Muholi is a self-described visual activist and cultural archivist. In the artist’s hands, the camera is a potent tool of self-representation and self-definition for communities at risk of violence. Muholi has chosen the nearly archaic black-and-white process for most of their portraits “to create a sense of timelessness – a sense that we’ve been here before, but we’re looking at human beings who have never before had an opportunity to be seen.” Challenging the immateriality of our digital age, Muholi has restated the importance of the physical print and connected their work to that of their progenitors. In this recent self-portrait, Muholi sits on a bed, sharing a quiet moment of reflection and self-observation. The title, in the artist’s native Zulu, translates loosely as “wake up.”

 

 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street
New York, New York 10028-0198
Phone: 212-535-7710

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Thursday: 9.30am – 5.30pm*
Friday – Saturday: 9.30am – 9.00pm*
Sunday: 9.30am – 5.30pm*
Closed Monday (except Met Holiday Mondays**), Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day

The Metropolitan Museum of Art website

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01
May
17

Exhibition: ‘The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection’ at Tate Modern, London

Exhibition dates: 10th November 2016 – 7th May 2017

 

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

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see one of the world’s greatest private collections of photography, drawn from the classic modernist period of the 1920s-50s. An incredible group of Man Ray portraits are exhibited together for the first time, having been brought together by Sir Elton John over the past twenty-five years, including portraits of Matisse, Picasso, and Breton. With over 70 artists and nearly 150 rare vintage prints on show from seminal figures including Brassai, Imogen Cunningham, André Kertész, Dorothea Lange, Tina Modotti, and Aleksandr Rodchenko, this is a chance to take a peek inside Elton John’s home and delight in seeing such masterpieces of photography.”

Text from the Tate Modern website

 

Paul Strand. 'Wall Street, New York' 1915

 

Paul Strand
Wall Street, New York
1915
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection

 

 

Tate Modern presents a major new exhibition, The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection, drawn from one of the world’s greatest private collections of photography. This unrivalled selection of classic modernist images from the 1920s to the 1950s features almost 200 works from more than 60 artists, including seminal figures such as Berenice Abbott, André Kertész, Man Ray, Alexandr Rodchenko and Edward Steichen among many others. The exhibition consists entirely of rare vintage prints, all created by the artists themselves, offering a unique opportunity to see remarkable works up close. The quality and depth of the collection allows the exhibition to tell the story of modernist photography in this way for the first time in the UK. It also marks the beginning of a long term relationship between Tate and The Sir Elton John Collection, as part of which Sir Elton and David Furnish have agreed to give important works to the nation.

The Radical Eye introduces a crucial moment in the history of photography – an exciting rupture often referred to as the ‘coming of age’ of the medium, when artists used photography as a tool through which they could redefine and transform visions of the modern world. Technological advancements gave artists the freedom to experiment and test the limits of the medium and present the world through a new, distinctly modern visual language. This exhibition reveals how the timeless genres of the portrait, nude and still life were reimagined through the camera during this period, also exploring photography’s unique ability to capture street life and architecture from a new perspective.

Featuring portraits of great cultural figures of the 20th century, including Georgia O’Keeffe by Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston by Tina Modotti, Jean Cocteau by Berenice Abbott and Igor Stravinsky by Edward Weston, the exhibition gives insight into the relationships and inner circles of the avant-garde. An incredible group of Man Ray portraits are exhibited together for the first time, having been brought together by Sir Elton John over the past twenty-five years, depicting key surrealist figures such as Andre Breton and Max Ernst alongside artists including Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Dora Maar. Ground-breaking experimentation both in the darkroom and on the surface of the print, such as Herbert Bayer’s photomontage and Maurice Tabard’s solarisation, examine how artists pushed the accepted conventions of portraiture.

As life underwent rapid changes in the 20th century, photography offered a new means to communicate and represent the world. Alexandr Rodchenko, László Moholy-Nagy and Margaret Bourke-White employed the ‘worm’s eye’ and ‘bird’s eye’ views to create new perspectives of the modern metropolis – techniques associated with constructivism and the Bauhaus. The move towards abstraction is also explored, from isolated architectural elements to camera-less photography such as Man Ray’s rayographs and Harry Callahan’s light abstractions.

A dedicated section of the exhibition looks at the new approaches that emerged in capturing the human form, highlighted in rare masterpieces such as André Kertész’s Underwater Swimmer, Hungary 1917, while Imogen Cunningham’s Magnolia Blossom, Tower of Jewels 1925 and Tina Modotti’s Bandelier, Corn and Sickle 1927 feature in a large presentation dedicated to the Still Life. The important role of documentary photography as a tool of mass communication is demonstrated in Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother 1936 and Walker Evans’ Floyde Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama 1936, from the Farm Security Administration project.

The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection is at Tate Modern from 10 November 2016 until 7 May 2017. It is curated by Shoair Mavlian with Simon Baker and Newell Harbin, Director of The Sir Elton John Photography Collection. The exhibition is accompanied by an exclusive audio tour of the exhibition featuring commentary from Sir Elton John, and a major new catalogue from Tate Publishing including an interview with Sir Elton John by Jane Jackson.

Press release from Tate Modern

 

Edward Weston. 'White Door, Hornitos, California' 1940

 

Edward Weston
White Door, Hornitos, California
1940
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection

 

 

“We possess an extraordinary instrument for reproduction. But photography is much more than that. Today it is … bringing something entirely new into the world.”

.
László Moholy-Nagy, 1932

 

 

Artists in the modernist period explored what the camera could do that the human eye alone could not, and how this could be harnessed to present a new modern perspective on the world. Artist and theorist László Moholy-Nagy proclaimed that photography could radically change not just what, but how we see. He called this the ‘new vision’. Rather than emulating other art forms, photography began to embrace qualities unique to itself, from its ability to reproduce the world in sharp detail to its capacity to create new realities through the manipulation of light, chemicals and paper.

This re-evaluation of photography coincided with a period of upheaval. War, revolution and economic depression led to mass movements of people and great social change. The idea of the avant-garde took hold and dada and surrealism emerged, challenging both the art and social norms that had come before. At the same time, new art schools such as the Bauhaus in Germany and Vkhutemas in Russia fostered the role of the professional artist and challenged divisions between art and design.

The Radical Eye is arranged thematically and charts a changing emphasis from the subject of an image to the visual qualities of the photograph itself, irrespective of what it represents. The many vintage prints in this exhibition – made soon after the photographs were taken – give a rare insight into the artists’ processes and creative decisions, and foreground the photograph as a physical object. All works are shown in the frames in which they are displayed in the home of Sir Elton John and David Furnish.

Together, the works in this exhibition show how photography pushed the boundaries of the possible, changing the world through the ways in which it was seen and understood. ‘Knowledge of photography is just as important as that of the alphabet. The illiterates of the future will be ignorant of the use of camera and pen alike,’ wrote Moholy-Nagy in 1927, foreseeing the cultural dominance of the photographic image. This extraordinary period still impacts how we, the photo-literate future, read and create images today.

 

Max Dupain. 'Sunbaker' 1937

 

Max Dupain
Sunbaker
1937
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection

 

 

“They collect themselves. Carefully, as if tying a cravat, they compose their features. Insolent, serious and conscious of their looks they turn around to face the world.”

.
From ‘Men before the Mirror’, published alongside portraits by Man Ray, 1934

 

 

Portraits

Modernist portraiture harnessed photography’s capacity to render an accurate likeness in clear, sharp focus and detail. But at the same time, artists and sitters pushed the conventions of portraiture with innovations in pose, composition and cropping.

Many of the portraits in this room are of artists, writers and musicians, giving a cross section of key cultural players of the time. Issues of control and collaboration arise particularly when the subject is an artist, raising the question of who is responsible for conveying the sitter’s persona. The modernist period also saw a boom of the illustrated press. Magazines reproduced photographic portraits of well-known figures which were instrumental in shaping their public images.

 

Alfred Stieglitz. 'Georgia O'Keeffe' 1922

 

Alfred Stieglitz
Georgia O’Keeffe
1922
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection

 

Man Ray. 'Nusch Éluard' 1928

 

Man Ray
Nusch Éluard
1928
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016

 

 

Nusch Éluard (born Maria Benz; June 21, 1906 – November 28, 1946) was a French performer, model and surrealist artist…

Nusch arrived in France as a stage performer, variously described as a small-time actress, a traveling acrobat, and a “hypnotist’s stooge”. She met Paul Éluard in 1930 working as a model, married him in 1934, produced surrealist photomontage and other work, and is the subject of “Facile,” a collection of Éluard’s poetry published as a photogravure book, illustrated with Man Ray’s nude photographs of her.

She was also the subject of several cubist portraits and sketches by Pablo Picasso in the late 1930s, and is said to have had an affair with him. Nusch worked for the French Resistance during the Nazi occupation of France during World War II. She died in 1946 in Paris, collapsing in the street due to a massive stroke.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23) 'Actress Gloria Swanson' 1924

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23)
Actress Gloria Swanson
1924
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

 

Adolph de Meyer. 'For Elizabeth Arden (The Wax Head)' 1931

 

Adolph de Meyer
For Elizabeth Arden (The Wax Head)
1931
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

Edward Weston. 'Igor Stravinsky' 1935

 

Edward Weston
Igor Stravinsky
1935
Silver gelatin print
© 1981 Center for Creative Photography

 

George Platt Lynes. 'A Forgotten Model' c. 1937

 

George Platt Lynes
A Forgotten Model
c. 1937
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

Man Ray. 'Juliet and Margaret Nieman in Papier-Mâché Masks' c. 1945

 

Man Ray
Juliet and Margaret Nieman in Papier-Mâché Masks
c. 1945
Gelatin silver print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: © Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016

 

Irving Penn. 'Salvador Dali in New York' 1947

 

Irving Penn
Salvador Dali in New York
1947
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: The Irving Penn Foundation

 

 

“The enemy of photography is convention, the fixed rules ‘how to do’. The salvation of photography comes from the experiment.”

.
László Moholy-Nagy, c. 1940

 

 

Experiments

This was not a period of discovery but of rediscovery. Artists were rewriting the preceding century’s rules of photographic technique, harnessing ‘mistakes’ such as distortions and double exposures, or physically manipulating the printed image, cutting, marking and recombining photographs. These interventions could occur at any point in the process, from taking the image to the final print.

Used in portraiture, such experiments allowed for more psychologically charged representations. However, the transformative power of a particular technique often becomes much more important than the particular subject of the image. Above all, the rich creative possibilities of the photographic process come to the fore. While artists were seriously investigating the medium, the results are often surprising and playful.

 

Herbert Bayer. 'Self-Portrait' 1932

 

Herbert Bayer
Self-Portrait
1932
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection
© DACS 2016

 

Otto Umbehr. "Katz" - Cat 1927

 

Otto Umbehr
“Katz” – Cat
1927
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection
© Phyllis Umbehr/Galerie Kicken Berlin/DACS 2016

 

Josef Breitenbach. 'Patricia, New York' c. 1942

 

Josef Breitenbach
Patricia, New York
c. 1942
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: Josef and Yaye Breitenbach Charitable Foundation, Courtesy Gitterman Gallery

 

 

“The camera should be used for a recording of life, for rendering the very substance and quintessence of the thing itself, whether it be polished steel or palpitating flesh.”

.
Edward Weston, 1924

 

 

Bodies

Experimental approaches to shooting, cropping and framing could transform the human body into something unfamiliar. Photographers started to focus on individual parts of the body, their unconventional crops drawing attention to shape and form, accentuating curves and angles. Fragmented limbs and flesh were depersonalised and could be treated like a landscape or still life, dissolving distinctions between different genres. Thanks to faster shutter speeds and new celluloid roll film, photographers could also freeze the body in motion outside of the studio for the first time, capturing dancers and swimmers with a clarity impossible for the naked eye.

 

André Kertész. 'Underwater Swimmer, Esztergom, Hungary, 30 June 1917' 1917

 

André Kertész
Underwater Swimmer, Esztergom, Hungary, 30 June 1917
1917
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
© Estate of André Kertész/Higher Pictures

 

Rudolph Koppitz. 'Movement Study' 1925

 

Rudolph Koppitz
Movement Study
1925
Gelatin silver print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: ADAGP, Paris and DACS London 2016

 

Man Ray. 'Noire et Blanche' 1926

 

Man Ray
Noire et Blanche
1926
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016

 

Man Ray (1890-1976) 'Glass Tears (Les Larmes)' 1932

 

Man Ray (1890-1976)
Glass Tears (Les Larmes)
1932
Gelatin silver print on paper
229 x 298 mm
Collection Elton John
© Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016

 

Edward Weston. 'Nude' 1936

 

Edward Weston
Nude
1936
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: 1981 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Man Ray. 'Dora Maar' 1936

 

Man Ray
Dora Maar
1936
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016

 

Nino Migliori. 'Il Tuffatore' (The Diver) 1951

 

Nino Migliori
‘Il Tuffatore’ (The Diver)
1951
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

 

“The documentary photographer is trying to speak to you in terms of everyone’s experience.”

.
Dorothea Lange, 1934

 

 

Documents

During the 1930s, photographers refined the formula for what we now know as social documentary. To compel the public to look at less palatable aspects of contemporary society they married creative manipulation with an appeal to viewers’ trust in the photograph as an objective visual record. This combination proved itself uniquely capable of eliciting empathy but is fraught with artistic and ethical complexity. These works highlight the vexed position of documentary photographs: historical evidence, instruments of propaganda and, latterly, works of art.

The development of new technology – particularly the portable camera and roll film – allowed photographers to capture spontaneous moments unfolding in the everyday world. Taking viewers into neighbourhoods where they might never set foot, street photography and documentary opened up new perspectives socially as much as visually.

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Migrant Mother' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange
Migrant Mother
1936
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection

 

Walker Evans. 'Floyde Burroughs, a cotton sharecropper, Hale County, Alabama' 1936

 

Walker Evans
Floyde Burroughs, a cotton sharecropper, Hale County, Alabama
1936
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

Dorothea Lange. 'A young girl living in a shack town near Oklahoma City, Oklahoma' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange
A young girl living in a shack town near Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
1936
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

Walker Evans. 'Christ or Chaos?' 1946

 

Walker Evans
Christ or Chaos?
1946
Gelatin silver print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: Walker Evans Archives, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

“Contradictions of perspective. Contrasts of light. Contrasts of form. Points of view impossible to achieve in drawing and painting.”

.
Aleksandr Rodchenko, 1920s

 

 

Objects, Perspectives, Abstractions

The subjects and approaches of modernist photography vary widely, but are united by a fascination with the medium itself. Every image asks what photography is capable of and how it can be pushed further. This final room brings together three interlinked approaches. It shows the still life genre reimagined by photographers who used the technical capabilities of the camera to reveal the beauty of everyday things. Objects captured at unconventional angles or extreme close-up become strange, even unrecognisable.

A similar effect of defamiliarisation was accomplished by taking photographs from radically new perspectives, positioning a camera at the point of view of the ‘worm’s eye’ or ‘bird’s eye’. This created extreme foreshortening that transformed photographs from descriptive images of things into energetic compositions hovering between abstraction and representation.

Abstraction pushes against photography’s innate ability to record objectively. Radical techniques such as cameraless image-making simplified the medium to the point of capturing the play of light on photosensitive paper. By stripping it back to its most basic components, artists celebrated photography, not as a tool for reproduction, but as a creative medium capable of producing new imagery.

 

Alexander Rodchenko. 'Shukov Tower' 1920

 

Alexander Rodchenko
Shukov Tower
1920
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection
© A. Rodchenko & V. Stepanova Archive, DACS, RAO 2016

 

Edward Steichen. 'A Bee on a Sunflower' c. 1920

 

Edward Steichen
A Bee on a Sunflower
c. 1920
Gelatin silver print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

Man Ray. "Rayograph" 1923

 

Man Ray
“Rayograph”
1923
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016

 

André Kertész. 'Mondrian's Glasses and Pipe' 1926

 

André Kertész
Mondrian’s Glasses and Pipe
1926
Gelatin silver print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
© Estate of André Kertész/Higher Pictures

 

Tina Modotti. 'Bandelier, Corn and Sickle' 1927

 

Tina Modotti
Bandelier, Corn and Sickle
1927
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection

 

Werner Mantz. 'Staircase Ursuliner Lyzeum Cologne 1928'

 

Werner Mantz
Staircase Ursuliner Lyzeum Cologne 1928
1928
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

Margaret Bourke-White. 'George Washington Bridge' 1933

 

Margaret Bourke-White
George Washington Bridge
1933
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

 

László Moholy-Nagy
View from the Berlin tower
1928
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection

 

Margaret de Patta. 'Ice Cube Tray with Marbles and Rice' 1939

 

Margaret de Patta
Ice Cube Tray with Marbles and Rice
1939
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection
© Estate of Margaret de Patta

 

 

Tate Modern
Bankside
London SE1 9TG
United Kingdom

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

Tate Modern website

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12
Jul
16

Review: ‘Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain’ at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 31st May – 24th July 2016

National Gallery of Australia touring exhibition

Curator: Shaune Lakin

 

 

An independent vision

 

Pictorialism, Surrealism and Modernism: Light, geometry and atmosphere

This is the quintessential hung “on the line” exhibition from the National Gallery of Australia which features the work of two well respected Australian photographers, Max Dupain and Olive Cotton, showing over three gallery spaces at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne. Of its type, it is a superb exhibition which rewards repeated viewing and contemplation of the many superb photographs it contains.

While Dupain may be the more illustrious of the two featured artists – notable for taking the most famous photograph in Australian photographic history (Sunbaker, 1937, below); for being the first Australian photographer to embrace Modernism; and for bringing a distinctly Australian style to photography (sun, sea, sand) – it is the artist Olive Cotton’s work that steals almost every facet of this exhibition through her atmospheric images.

Dupain’s importance in the history of Australian photography cannot be underestimated. He dragged Australian photography from Pictorialism to Modernism in a few short years and met fierce resistance from the conservative camera clubs, stuck in the age of Pictorialism, because of it. He was the first to understand what Modernism meant for the medium in Australia, and how photographers would in future picture the country. He wanted to see the world through ‘modern’ eyes. As he observed, ‘(photography) belongs to the new age … it is part and parcel of the terrific and thrilling panorama opening out before us today – of clean concrete buildings, steel radio masts, and the wings of the air line. But its beauty is only for those who themselves are aware of the ‘zeitgeist’ – who belong consciously and proudly to this age, and have not their eyes forever wistfully fixed on the past.’ Dupain’s awareness of the ‘zeitgeist’ of modernity was coupled with a keen eye for composition, light and form (what Dupain later termed ‘passing movement and changing form’), and an understanding of photography’s expressive potential. Over the next 50 years he captured many memorable images, some of the most famous images ever taken of this sun burnt country.

Dupain started to hit his straps with his early cross-over images which contained elements of both Pictorialism and Modernism. His 1930s series of three photographs of Fire Stairs at Bond Street Studio (one of which is feature in the exhibition), and images such as Design – suburbia (1933, below) and Still life (1935, below) still possess that soft, raking light that was so beloved by Pictorialists, coupled with an implicit understanding of form, geometry and light. As fellow photographer David Moore observes, by the time of photographs such as Pyrmont silos (1935, below) and Through the Windscreen (1935), ‘any return to sentimental Pictorialism was precluded’. That sense of the European avant-garde, the aesthetics of contemporary European photography, the strength of industrial forms, imbues Dupain’s photographs with a crisp, clean decisiveness, that ‘symphony of forms and textures’. Whether it be the monumentalism of silos, or the monumentalism of bodies (such as in the classic Bondi, 1939), Dupain relished the opportunity to merge aesthetics with representation, pushing the boundaries of what was thought possible within the medium, believing that both representation and aesthetics could exist within the same frame. Evidence of this merging of can be seen in photographs such as Untitled [Factory chimney stacks] (1940, below) and Backyard, Forster, New South Wales (1940, below). These images are silent in their formalism… they are very quiet, and still, and rather haunting, beautiful in their tonality (with lots of yellow in the 8 x 10 and perhaps even small prints).

Dupain and Cotton both revel “in photography’s great capacity to make sense of the relations of light, texture and form as they exist in the present,” and evidence “a modernist concern with line, form and space; documentary photography’s interest in realism and ‘the living moment’; and the pictorial and formal attributes of commercial photography.” But as the press release insightfully observes, “Comparisons articulate and make apparent Dupain’s more structured – even abstracted – approach to art and to the world; similarly, comparisons highlight Cotton’s more immersive relationship to place, with a particularly deep and instinctual love of light and its ephemeral effects.” And this is where the photographs of Olive Cotton are so much more engaging, and alive, than those of Max Dupain.

While Dupain was busy running a commercial studio (with Cotton his assistant and for a couple of years his wife), Olive seems to have had more freedom to experiment, to express herself in a less structured way than her erstwhile husband. Walking around this exhibition my initial thoughts were wow, Olive Cotton, you are an absolute star. Photographs such as The way through the trees (1938, below), while not possessing the technical brilliance of a Dupain, possess something inherently more appealing – a sensitivity and feeling for subject that nearly overwhelms the senses. Truly here is a symphony of texture, light and form. The composition is a subtle paean, a song of praise to the natural and modern world – a world of geometry, textures, light and form. The rendition of this image, a performance of interpretation, is simply magnificent in its sensitivity to subject matter. The print is also glorious in its delicacy and colour. For me, this is what is so appealing about the work of Olive Cotton, an innate sensitivity that all of her photographs seem to possess – in composition, in proportion, in printing and in colour. Cotton maintained an independent vision forged out of experimentation, creating spaces for erotic imaginings, spaces for action and spaces for quiet contemplation. Her use of light and shade, of body and shadow, of classical and modernist motifs …. is superlative. While Dupain’s photographs are more structured and more dazzling in a technical sense, Cotton’s photographs possess more “atmosphere”, a complex and insightful way of seeing and imaging the world which has few equals in the annals of Australian photography.

Below is a short transcription of a voice memo I made on my phone as I toured around the exhibition for the third time:

“What a great show this is, the photographs of Max Dupain and Olive Cotton. But it is the photographs of Olive Cotton that are the wonder of this exhibition. Photographs such as Orchestration in light (1937, below), Sky submerged (c. 1937) and especially The way through the trees (1938, below) are just masterpieces of complex seeing. A sort of… mmmm … an intimate previsualisation where there are hints of Pictorialism – dappled light, moss on the trees – and yet there is a geometric form to the composition that marks it as definitively Modernist. As the wall text states, “this exceptional landscape appears at first glance like a classic Pictorialist view of the Australian bush but typical of Cotton’s best pictures, this landscape merges Pictorialism’s stylistic and formal codes  with those of a cosmopolitan modernist sensibility. Cotton pays particular attention to the similarly angled tree trunks, as well as the all over pattern of the spotted gums and the dapples of light, not bound or hemmed in dogma, Cotton created a view of being completely immersed in the landscape.” The colour of the print, there are hints of pinks and greens and beiges. When was it taken and printed, it must have been an early one, 1938 … and then again the beautiful tonality of it. Wow!

As with all of her best work Cotton is constructing her environment – through music, through geometry, through light. Over the city (1940, below), the light over the city, the shadow of the city, the silhouette of the city in outline, followed by Grass at sundown (1939, below) shooting contre jour, into the light. In Max after surfing (1937, below) there is evidence of Cotton’s understanding of the play of form, of light, of shadow and the composition of the pictorial plane into triangles, horizontals and verticals. This creates a sense of mystery within the four walls of the photograph. As art historian Tim Bonyhady observes, it ‘is not just one of the most erotic Australian photographs, but possibly the first sexually charged Australian photograph by a woman of a man’. The sensuality and atmosphere of the Cotton’s are just gorgeous. Olive Cotton just has such a marvellous grasp of the construction of the picture plane using form, texture and shadow… and feeling. If had a choice I would take away most of the Cotton’s (laughs), because I think they are just amazing…”

There are so many great images in this exhibition, from both Cotton and Dupain, that is hard to know where to start. I haven’t even mentioned images such as Dupain’s sensual but commercial Jean with wire mesh (c. 1935, below), his seminal Street at Central (1939, below) with its raking light and abstraction, or Cotton’s most famous image Teacup ballet (1935, below). I could go on and on. The only disappointment with the exhibition is that, for the uninitiated, there is little to place both photographers works in the context of their time and place, other than a few The Home magazines in a couple of display cases and the wall text. There is little sense of what a tumultuous period this was in Australian history – between two world wars, during a depression, with the advent of modernity, freedom of movement through cars, White Australia policy in full swing, meat and four veg on the table, women’s place in the home, the rise of vitalism and the cult of the bronzed Aussie body and the worship of nature and the outdoors, mateship and the beach as a place of socialisation. But that is the nature of such a classic, hung “on the line” exhibition. It would have been great to see some large photographs, floor to ceiling, of the environment from which all these nearly contextless (as in a particular time and place) images emerged but this is a minor quibble. In the end, I restate that this is a stunning exhibition that is a must see for any aficionado of great Australian photography. Go see it before it closes.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

Word count: 1,685

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

 

 

“I like few people … to go into a room of strangers is a chore for me … I can effect a relationship, but afterwards, I think: was it worth it?”

.
Max Dupain

 

“Looking at the work of these two great Australian photographers together is enlightening; they were often shooting the same subjects, or pursuing subjects and pictorial effects in similar ways. Rarely do we get to see two great Australian artists working side-by-side in this way. And while Max Dupain’s reputation might now stand well above most other Australian photographers, this exhibition shows that Olive Cotton had a significant role to play in his development as a photographer, and was in many ways his equal.”

.
Shaune Lakin

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Gallery one

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

installation-g

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

At left, Max Dupain’s Bawley Point landscape (1938) and middle, Dupain’s Untitled [Factory chimney stacks], 1940

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Max Dupain’s famous Sunbaker (1937) is second from the right

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Olive Cotton’s most famous image, Teacup ballet (1935) at left

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Max Dupain’s Jean with wire mesh (c. 1935) at right

Gallery two

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Cabinet with view of The Home magazine (April 1st 1933 right) which feature the photographs of Max Dupain

Gallery three

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Max Dupain’s Street at Central (1939) left, followed by his Thin man (1936) and Olive Cotton’s Fashion shot, Cronulla sandhills (Max Dupain photographing model) (1937) at right

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne
All images © Marcus Bunyan, The National Gallery of Australia and The Ian Potter Museum of Art

 

 

Olive Cotton (1911-2003) and Max Dupain OBE (1911-1992) were pioneering modernist photographers. Cotton’s lifelong obsession with photography began at age eleven with the gift of a Kodak Box Brownie. She was a childhood friend of Dupain’s and in 1934 she joined his fledgling photographic studio, where she made her best-known work, Teacup Ballet, in about 1935. Throughout the 1930s, Dupain established his reputation with portraiture and advertising work and gained exposure in the lifestyle magazine The Home. Between 1939 and 1941, Dupain and Cotton were married and she photographed him often; her Max After Surfing is frequently cited as one of the most sensuous Australian portrait photographs. While Dupain was on service during World War II Cotton ran his studio, one of very few professional women photographers in Australia. Cotton remarried in 1944 and moved to her husband’s property near Cowra, New South Wales. Although busy with a farm, a family, and a teaching position at the local high school, Cotton continued to take photographs and opened a studio in Cowra in 1964. In the 1950s, Dupain turned increasingly to architectural photography, collaborating with architects and recording projects such as the construction of the Sydney Opera House. Dupain continued to operate his studio on Sydney’s Lower North Shore until he died at the age of 81. Cotton was in her seventies when her work again became the subject of attention. In 1983, she was awarded a Visual Arts Board grant to reprint negatives that she had taken over a period of forty years or more. The resulting retrospective exhibition in Sydney in 1985 drew critical acclaim and has since assured her reputation.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery website

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind' c. 1939

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind
c. 1939
Gelatin silver photograph

PHOTOGRAPH NOT IN EXHIBITION

 

 

Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind appears to have been the only print Cotton made of this image. It was found in the late 1990s and has been shown only once, in an exhibition at the AGNSW in 2000 where it was also used on the catalogue cover. It was unusual for Cotton to print so large, yet it is entirely fitting that this monumental head and shoulder shot of a beautiful young woman should be presented in this way. The subject was a model on a fashion shoot at which Cotton was probably assisting. Cotton often took her own photographs while on such shoots and used them for her private portfolio. The photograph transcends portraiture, fashion and time to become a remarkable image of harmony with the elements.

Cotton took the title for this photograph from an 1895 poem by English poet Laurence Binyon, ‘O summer sun’:

O summer sun, O moving trees!
O cheerful human noise, O busy glittering street!
What hour shall Fate in all the future find,
Or what delights, ever to equal these:
Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind,
Only to be alive, and feel that life is sweet?1

A photographer whose work straddles pictorialism, modernism and documentary, Cotton maintained an independent vision throughout her working life, based on the close observation of nature. Her understanding of the medium of photography was not to do with capture, but rather ‘drawing with light’.

1. 1915, ‘Poems of today’, English Association, London p 96

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Max' c. 1935

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Max
c. 1935
gelatin silver photograph
14.8 x 14.5 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1998

 

 

In this highly abstracted portrait, Cotton seems to present Dupain as an athlete – perhaps, with his strangely extended arms, a hammer thrower, in an image that predates by at least two years Dupain’s own photographs of athletes outdoors. It is likely that Cotton photographed her friend in this way because of the graphic pictorial effect she wished to achieve. Cotton exploits the shape of the Rolleiflex camera’s square-format film: Dupain’s body cuts across the right-hand corner of the picture, from which his overstretched forearms (the shape and tone of which were the result of much dodging and burning in the darkroom) create a diagonal oblique angle that is classically modernist. A similar conflation of diagonal lines, which was common to the ways that modern life in Australia at the time was represented in advertising and architectural photography, can also be seen in pictures such as Surf’s edge and Teacup ballet.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

“Max Dupain put his lack of clannishness down to a temperament which inclined to the stoic and an early life as an only child. He relished the solitude of his darkroom, familiar places and routines and the early morning calm of Sydney Harbour, where he rowed his scull until prevented by ill health in the early 1990s. He was not a joiner or follower of teams; he was republican in politics and agnostic. Philosophically, Dupain mixed rationalism and a less defined alliance with the passionate exhortation to live directly in one’s environment, body and heart. This philosophy was espoused by poets and writers such as D.H Lawrence, from the movement known in the 1920s and 1930s as Vitalism.

Although he acknowledged that he was a bit of a loner by temperament, portraiture was a significant part of Max Dupain’s personal and professional work. He included some dozen or so portraits in his selection for his 1948 monograph, fifty plates showing ‘my best work since 1935’. Dupain’s images, including many portraits especially of the 1930s to 1960s, have stamped the public image of this era of rapid progress and increasing cultural sophistication in Australia. Portraiture was at the top stratum of Dupain’s first three decades of work but volume decreased markedly from the 1960s, when Max Dupain and Associates, his business, began to specialise in architectural and industrial commissions.”

‘Vintage Max’ by Gael Newton, 1 June 2003

 

Max Dupain. 'Sunbaker' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Sunbaker
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
37.7 x 43.2 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of the Philip Morris Arts Grant 1982

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'The photographer's shadow (Olive Cotton and Max Dupain)' c. 1935

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
The photographer’s shadow (Olive Cotton and Max Dupain)
c. 1935
Gelatin silver photograph
16.6 x 15.2 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'The sleeper' 1939

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
The sleeper
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
29.2 h x 25.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1987

 

The sleeper 1939, Olive Cotton’s graceful study of her friend Olga Sharp resting while on a bush picnic, made around the same time as Max Dupain’s Sunbaker, presents a different take upon the enjoyment of life in Australia. The woman is relaxed, nestled within the environment. The mood is one of secluded reverie.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Untitled [Olive Cotton in Wheat Fields]' Nd (probably late 1930s)

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Untitled [Olive Cotton in Wheat Fields]
Nd (probably late 1930s)
Gelatin silver photograph

PHOTOGRAPH NOT IN EXHIBITION

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Max' 1939

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Max
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

Cotton shot this portrait of fellow Australian photographer, Max Dupain during their brief marriage at their home in Longueville on Sydney’s lower north shore. Dupain is captured affectionately in the portrait, represented as at once casual through pose and, as industrious on account of his rolled up sleeves and the Rolleiflex TLR camera which hangs from his neck. It is indicative of the combination of a working and personal relationship Cotton and Dupain shared during the late 1930s when they operated a commercial studio together. The couple separated in 1941 but Cotton went on to manage the Dupain Studio while Max was away serving as a camouflage officer during the Second World War 1.

1. Ennis H 2005, ‘Olive Cotton: photographer’, National Library of Australia, p. 6

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Max after surfing' 1937

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Max after surfing
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 2006

 

 

This intimate study of Dupain, who Cotton was romantically involved with at the time, first appeared in the mid-1990s; Cotton did not include it in her reassessment of her oeuvre in the mid-1980s that involved making prints of her best images. For many commentators, this remains a radical image in the history of Australian photography. For the art historian Tim Bonyhady, it ‘is not just one of the most erotic Australian photographs, but possibly the first sexually charged Australian photograph by a woman of a man’. This is the only known vintage print of the image, which inexplicably carries the signature and a message from the fashion photographer George Hoyningen‑Huene, who visited Sydney in December 1937 and spent time with Dupain. It suggests perhaps that Hoyningen-Huene was present when Cotton made the print.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max after surfing is a portrait of Dupain taken in 1939, around the time of their brief marriage. While the photograph was taken indoors, the sharply delineated contrast and the dramatic interplay between light and shade evoke harsh sunlight. The work is loaded with suggestion and emotional intimacy. As art historian and curator Helen Ennis noted in 2000, the close vantage point and the tension between visible form and dense shadow ‘creates a space for erotic imaginings’.

A photographer whose work straddles pictorialism, modernism and documentary, Cotton maintained an independent vision throughout her working life, based on the close observation of nature. Her understanding of the medium of photography was not to do with capture, but rather ‘drawing with light’.

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Jean with wire mesh' c. 1935

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Jean with wire mesh
c. 1935
Gelatin silver photograph
46.0 h x 34.5 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 2006

 

 

This portrait of Jean Lorraine, a close friend of Cotton, was one of many taken of her by Cotton and Dupain. This photograph is notable for its technical virtuosity – Dupain’s control of the variegated light across Jean’s body, beautifully lyrical and sensuous, is masterful. It also reflects Dupain’s active interest in the work of Man Ray, whose earlier Shadow patterns on Lee Miller’s torso (1930) was no doubt an influence. Like Man Ray’s image of his lover, Dupain’s portrait of Jean is also notable for its eroticism. While Dupain might have argued that this photograph was a study of light falling on surfaces, the light and shade take particular pleasure in the form of Jean’s naked torso. This eroticism has been underplayed throughout the history of the picture, not surprising given the nature of the relationships involved: when it was published in The Home in February 1936, Jean with wire mesh was known simply as a Photographic study. Dupain printed at least two versions of this shot, another with Jean’s eyes open.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Girl with mirror' 1938

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Girl with mirror
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 31.7 h x 29.9 w cm sheet 32.6 h x 30.6 w cm
Purchased 1987

 

 

The photographs Cotton took while attending Dupain’s fashion shoots often focussed on the graphic effects created by light rather than fashion or the dynamics of the shoot itself. Cotton’s role as assistant left her free to explore personal interests, without the imperative of getting a shot for the assignment. This image of a model attending to her make-up, seemingly absorbed in her own image, is primarily concerned with the patterns created by light falling on sand dunes and the way they contrast with the decorative print of her clothing. It is notable that the image we see in the mirror is not the model’s face, but the patterns created by light hitting the sand. As Cotton later remembered, ‘I took it mostly because I really liked the pattern in the sand and the contrasting pattern in the left-hand corner’, which includes a series of diagonal shadows cast by Dupain’s tripod.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'The floater' 1939

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
The floater
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia
Purchased 1976

 

 

Two versions of this image of a woman floating in water were printed by Dupain, so like Sunbaker it held particular interest for him. It acknowledges one of the great moments in avant-garde photography, André Kertész’s iconic study of underwater distortion Underwater swimmer (1917). As with Kertész, Dupain’s interest was with the visual effects created by light hitting the water and the impact of this on the contours of the swimmer. In his personal copy of the anthology Modern Photography (1931), Dupain highlighted the writer G.H. Saxon Mills’ claim that photography’s value existed in both its capacity to record the world and the optical effects it found or created – ‘its … symphony of forms and textures.’ (Wall text)

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Fashion shot, Cronulla sandhills (Max Dupain photographing model)' 1937

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Fashion shot, Cronulla sandhills (Max Dupain photographing model)
1937
Cronulla, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 30.4 h x 38.5 w cm sheet 40.2 h x 48.7 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1988

 

As the studio assistant, Cotton accompanied Dupain on fashion shoots to attend to models, doing their make-up and helping with costume changes. She often used these opportunities to take her own photographs, including this wonderful image of Dupain photographing the model Noreen Hallard for David Jones. As well as producing a striking image of Dupain and Hallard at work, Cotton was interested in the landscape in which they operated, paying particular attention to the pattern created by their footsteps in the sand.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

“Olive Cotton and Max Dupain are key figures in Australian visual culture. They shared a long and close personal and professional relationship. This exhibition looks at their work made between 1934 and 1945, the period of their professional association; this was an exciting period of experimentation and growth in Australian photography, and Cotton and Dupain were at the centre of these developments.

This is the first exhibition to look at the work of these two photographers as they shared their lives, studio and professional practice. Looking at their work together is instructive; they were often shooting the same subjects, or pursuing subjects and pictorial effects in similar ways. Comparisons articulate and make apparent Dupain’s more structured – even abstracted – approach to art and to the world; similarly, comparisons highlight Cotton’s more immersive relationship to place, with a particularly deep and instinctual love of light and its ephemeral effects.

This exhibition focuses on the key period in each of their careers, when they made many of their most memorable images. Keenly aware of international developments in photography, Cotton and Dupain experimented with the forms and strategies of modernist photography, especially Surrealism and the Bauhaus, and drew upon the sophisticated lighting and compositions of contemporary advertising and Hollywood glamour photography.

They brought to these influences their own, close association with the rich context of Australian life and culture during the 1930s and ’40s. Their achievement can be characterised, borrowing terms they used in discussions of their work, as the development of a ‘contemporary Australian photography’: a modern photographic practice that reflected their own, very particular relationships to the world and to each other.

Lives

Cotton and Dupain’s friendship stretched back to childhood summers spent at Newport Beach, NSW, where their families spent summer holidays. They were both given their first cameras – Kodak Box Brownies – by relatives as young teenagers, and spent days together wandering around taking photographs. They shared a similar commitment to photography as teenagers and young adults: both made and published or exhibited photographs while at school, and in 1929 they became members of the Photographic Society of New South Wales. But their approach to achieving the ‘professional life’ of a photographer took different paths: Dupain undertook a formal apprenticeship with the pictorialist master Cecil Bostock between 1930-33, while Cotton studied arts at Sydney University with the idea of becoming a teacher and photographed after hours.

Cotton and Dupain became romantically involved in 1928 and married in 1939; they separated in 1941 and eventually divorced in 1944. In spite of these personal vicissitudes, Cotton and Dupain remained professionally connected. Cotton managed the Dupain studio from late 1941-45, while he worked with the Department of Home Security’s Camouflage Unit during the Second World War. On his return, Cotton left Sydney and spent the rest of her life in relative isolation near Cowra, NSW, where she raised her family of two with husband Ross McInerney and, between 1964 and 1983, operated a small studio. And while Dupain returned from the war to develop his reputation and significance as Australia’s most recognised twentieth-century photographer, his work was deeply affected by his experience of the war and took on a completely different complexion to his work from the previous decade.

Studio

In 1934, Dupain opened a studio in a rented room at 24 Bond Street, Sydney; Cotton joined him as his assistant soon after. By 1936, the Dupain studio’s business had expanded to the extent that it moved into larger premises in the same building, before relocating in early 1941 to a whole floor of a building at 49 Clarence Street.

Their positions at the Dupain studio were clearly defined – he was the photographer, she the studio assistant. Even so, Cotton and Dupain each maintained distinct but in some ways closely aligned practices, both in and out of the studio. Cotton did not tend to take photographs commercially until after she took over the management of the Dupain studio in late 1941, when photographs were circulated in her name. Before then, she made use of the studio’s equipment afterhours, including Dupain’s large Thornton Pickard camera; her work was exhibited and published on occasion, both locally and internationally.

At the same time, Dupain’s photographs became increasingly widely-seen and influential. Sydney Ure Smith’s iconic monthly magazine The Home regularly published Dupain’s portraits, documentary work, social photographs (often actually taken by Cotton), and fashion and product photographs made for clients such as David Jones. When Dupain went to war, the studio continued to operate successfully under Cotton’s management. While some long-standing clients such as David Jones took their business elsewhere, Cotton took some of her most important pictures in the early 1940s, and her increasing confidence at this time can be identified across images of the city, industry and labour.

Dialogue

Cotton and Dupain were active members of Sydney’s network of young artists and photographers, of which the Dupain studio was a centre. Along with their contemporaries, including figures like Geoffrey Powell, Damien Parer and Lawrence Le Guay, they staked a claim for photography as a vital part of contemporary culture, exhibiting photographs alongside other artworks at venues like Sydney’s David Jones Gallery.

Their networks included members of Sydney’s progressive architectural, design, publishing and advertising communities, with whom they often collaborated. The threads of influence within this complex network of making, exhibiting, publishing and commissions were intricate. It is possible, for example, to see Dupain’s strong visual style affect those around him. His interest in surrealist style, which really took hold in 1935, can be identified in work by other, often lesser photographers working at the time, and indeed in the design of The Home, which published his work in editorial and advertisements. There were also times when Cotton indicated certain directions for Dupain. For example, her images of bodies outdoors, which cleverly pulled together classical and modernist motifs, predate similar images by Dupain.

It is clear also that Cotton and Dupain were engaging in dialogue within their own work. Their shared interest in photographing form, texture and shadow is seen across many pictures throughout the mid- to late 1930s. Their pictures also engage critically with photography as a medium, in images that draw attention to the photograph as a double of its subject, and in pictures that seem to play with photograph’s stillness. As Dupain later remembered, together they ‘shared the problems of photography’.

Contemporary Australian Photography

What were ‘the problems of photography’ that Dupain and Cotton sought to settle? In the most straightforward sense, they involved the assumption that Australian photographers were yet to completely embrace or realise the medium’s potential, which rested in careful attention to its aesthetic possibilities, recognition of its mechanical origins, and negotiation of the particular way the medium engaged notions of objectivity and subjectivity. Their solution to these problems involved a progressive photographic practice that intended to release photography from the shackles of history and orthodoxy, and to revel in photography’s great capacity to make sense of the relations of light, texture and form as they exist in the present.

Cotton’s and Dupain’s solution to ‘the problems of photography’ was to make work that made a feature of the medium’s modernity, and the strange way that mechanics, physics and aesthetics come together in modern photography to look at the world and to find beauty in it. They did this in a way that remained firmly footed in their own, very particular place in the world and history. In terms of style, their solution integrated legacies of Pictorialism – especially its interest in the atmospheric effects found in landscape – with a range of other, often competing modes and styles: a modernist concern with line, form and space; documentary photography’s interest in realism and ‘the living moment’; and the pictorial and formal attributes of commercial photography.

It is possible that, for the first time, Australian photography found in the work of Cotton and Dupain a contemporary expression: a photographic practice that emerged from, responded to and expressed the mood, ambitions and sensibility of its time.”

Press release from The Ian Potter Museum of Art

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Street at Central' 1939

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Street at Central
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
45.6 x 37.5 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Street at Central' 1939

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Street at Central
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
45.6 x 37.5 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

Two different versions of this photograph. Notice the different cropping and colour of each image, and how it adds emphasis to the light and to the shadows of the people.

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Teacup ballet' 1935

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Teacup ballet
1935
Gelatin silver photograph
37.5 x 29.5 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1983

 

‘This picture evolved after I had bought some inexpensive cups and saucers from Woolworths for our studio coffee breaks to replace our rather worn old mugs. The angular handles reminded me of arms akimbo, and that led to the idea of making a photograph to express a dance theme.

When the day’s work was over I tried several arrangements of the cups and saucers to convey this idea, without success, until I used a spotlight and realised how important the shadows were. Using the studio camera, which had a 6 ½ x 4 ½ inch ground glass focusing screen, I moved the cups about until they and their shadows made a ballet-like composition and then photographed them on a cut film negative. The title of the photograph suggested itself.

This was my first photograph to be shown overseas, being exhibited, to my delight, in the London Salon of Photography in 1935.’ Olive Cotton 1995 1

Olive Cotton and Max Dupain were childhood friends and, although she graduated in English and mathematics from the University of Sydney in 1934, her interest in photography led her to work in Dupain’s studio from this year. Cotton was employed as a photographer’s assistant in the studio, however she worked assiduously on her own work and continued to exhibit in photography salon exhibitions. Tea cup ballet is one of Cotton’s most well-known photographs and yet it is somewhat eccentric to her main practice, being at first glance typically modernist with its dramatic lighting and angular shapes. Her longstanding interest in organic forms provides a deeper reading. The abstraction of form by the lighting and the placement of the cups and saucers enables the relationship to dancers on a stage to become clear.

1. Ennis H 1995, ‘Olive Cotton: photographer’, National Library of Australia, Canberra p. 25

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Among Cotton’s most famous photographs, Teacup ballet has very humble origins. It was taken after hours in the Dupain studio and used a set of cheap cups and saucers Cotton had earlier bought from a Woolworths store for use around the studio. As she later recounted: ‘Their angular handles suggested to me the position of “arms akimbo” and that led to the idea of a dance pattern’. The picture uses a range of formal devices that became common to Cotton’s work, especially the strong backlighting used to create dramatic tonal contrasts and shadows. The picture achieved instant success, and was selected for exhibition in the London Salon of Photography for 1935.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Shasta daisies' 1937

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Shasta daisies
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1987

 

 

Celebrated Australian photographer Olive Cotton was given her first Box Brownie by her family for her eleventh birthday (1922) and continued to experiment with taking and developing pictures throughout the 1920s. By the early 1930s Cotton had mastered the Pictorialist style so popular at the time and was on her way to establishing her own approach which also incorporated Modernist principles. The recurrent themes of landscape and plant-life are important to the photographer’s approach, which photography scholar Helen Ennis describes as Cotton’s concern for the ‘potential for pattern-making’.

Shasta daisies is an interesting and rare combination of natural form and a highly-constructed scenario, the flowers having been photographed in Cotton’s studio and carefully arranged for the camera. Cotton, in the 1995 book, wrote of the photograph: “I chose to photograph these in the studio because out of doors I would have had less control of the lighting and background. I examined the composition very carefully through the studio camera’s large ground glass focussing screen and – the view from the camera’s position being slightly different to my own – made as many rearrangements to the flowers as seemed necessary. I then used (apart from a background light) one source of light to try and convey a feeling of outdoors.” Shasta daisies is important within Cotton’s oeuvre for uniting her interest in plants in their natural ‘outdoors’ environment with her enquiry into photographic form and space.

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Homage to D.H. Lawrence' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Homage to D.H. Lawrence
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
45.8 x 33.9 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

Dupain admired vitalist philosophies, which argued that modern identity had become fragmented and asserted the importance of the integration of body and emotion, of sensual and emotional experience. He was attracted to the work of British writer D.H. Lawrence, especially his insistence on the ‘thingness’ of things as a way of embodying a properly integrated mind and body. This photograph uses surrealist juxtaposition to draw together a copy of Lawrence’s Selected poems, a flywheel (representing the modern world) and a classical bust, recalling the idealised relationship of natural and sensual worlds in ancient Greece and Rome. Other images incorporating classical busts appeared in the pages of the Modern Photography annuals, but Dupain makes them his own, lifted above mere pastiche.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Orchestration in light' 1937

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Orchestration in light
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 24.1 h x 27.4 w cm sheet 25.4 h x 28.2 w cm
Purchased with assistance from the Helen Ennis Fund
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

Cotton took this landscape early one morning at Wullumbi Gorge in the New England tablelands, during a camping trip with Dupain. It is remarkable for both the way the light transforms the landscape into quivering energy and the way Cotton makes sense of that enigmatic experience in pictorial form. As its title suggests, the photograph recalled for Cotton – who trained as a musician as a girl – a musical composition, particularly ‘the beautiful graduation in tone going from a bass tone to a high treble at the top of the picture’.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'The patterned road' 1938

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
The patterned road
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
24.6 h x 28.8 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1983

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Bawley Point landscape' 1938

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Bawley Point landscape
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
29 x 26.6 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

This landscape, one of many taken by Dupain on the south coast of New South Wales, was made in the same year as Cotton’s similar study of shadow and landscape, The patterned road (above). These two landscapes share an interest in what Dupain later termed ‘passing movement and changing form’. Although Dupain rarely published or circulated his landscapes at this time, pictures such as Bawley Point landscape certainly relate to a broad range of other images, perhaps most notably still lifes and nudes, that articulated an Australian modernist photography through the interplay of light passing through openings. These images find monumental stillness in movement and strong shadows, which quite literally ‘double’ their subject.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Over the city' 1940

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Over the city
1940
Gelatin silver photograph
32.2 h x 30.3 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1987

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Grass at sundown' 1939

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Grass at sundown
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
Primary Insc: Signed and dated l.l. pencil, “Olive Cotton ’39”. Titled l.r. pencil, “Grass at sundown”.
Printed image 28.9 h x 30.8 w cm sheet 30.0 h x 31.6 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of the artist 1987

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911 - 1992) 'Design - suburbia' 1933

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911 – 1992)
Design – suburbia
1933
Gelatin silver photograph
29.4 h x 23.6 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

This early image proudly displays the influence of the work of pictorialist photographers that Dupain knew well, most notably the Sydney-based photographer, Harold Cazneaux. At the time Dupain made this image, he was serving an apprenticeship in the commercial studio of Cecil Bostock, a Pictorialist and founding member with Cazneaux of the Sydney Camera Circle in 1916. Dupain’s interest in the pictorial effects created by light passing through apertures (here, the posts and beams of a suburban fence) seems to remember similar images of light streaming through blinds and pergolas by Cazneaux, who Dupain called ‘the father of modern Australian photography’. The fascination with capturing light as it passes through openings will stay with Dupain throughout his life, though the focus will sharpen as he moves away from the diffused effects favoured by art photographers in the early decades of the century.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911 - 1992) 'Still life' 1935

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911 – 1992)
Still life
1935
Gelatin silver photograph
29.0 h x 20.8 w cm
Purchased 1982

 

 

While the subject of this photograph seems to be a simple, lidded pail (which featured in a number of Dupain’s still lifes) seen in morning light, it is actually an exercise in abstraction. Of most interest to Dupain is the complex network of diagonal lines created by light, shadow and timber boards. The picture reflects the pleasure Dupain took in the pictorial effects created by light (he was fond of quoting the Belgian photographer Léonard Misonne’s dictum, ‘the subject is nothing, light is everything’), and at the same time expresses the fundamental principle upon which his photographic practice was always based. While the image of light passing through apertures is an analogy for the way the camera operates, the still life also embodies photography’s expressive potential. As Dupain later stated, ‘with still-life you can arrange or rearrange or do what you like, it becomes a very, very personal exercise that you have total control over’.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max Dupain. 'Pyrmont silos' 1933, printed later

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Pyrmont silos
1935
Gelatin silver photograph
Printed image 25.2 h x 19.2 w cm sheet 31.2 h x 26.2 w cm mount 42.4 h x 32.0 w
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

 

Max Dupain was the first Australian photographer to embrace Modernism, and took a number of photographs of Pyrmont silos in the 1930s. There were no skyscrapers in Sydney until the late 1930s so the silos, Walter Burley Griffin’s incinerators and the Sydney Harbour Bridge were the major points of reference for those interested in depicting modern expressions of engineering and industrial power. Olive Cotton’s Drainpipes 1937 shows the precisely formed circles and curves of the pipes, interspersed with slivers of light and long shadows.

In almost text-book fashion, this image reflects Dupain’s assimilation of the aesthetics of contemporary European photography, which he encountered in publications such as the Das Deutsche Lichtbild [The German photograph] and Modern Photography annuals, the 1932 edition of which was edited by Man Ray. While Dupain’s relationship to the contemporary world was complicated, he nonetheless advocated for the latest photographic trends out of Europe and America, and for photographing modern, industrial subjects; as he asserted in 1938, ‘great art has always been contemporary in spirit’. Writing in 1975 about this image for Dupain’s retrospective at the Australian Centre for Photography, fellow photographer David Moore, who had worked with Dupain in the late 1940s, saw it as a turning point in Dupain’s career, believing that here ‘his awareness of the strength of industrial forms was confirmed with confident authority … From this moment any return to sentimental Pictorialism was precluded’.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Pyrmont silos is one of a number of photographs that Dupain took of these constructions in the 1930s. In all cases Dupain examined the silos from a modernist perspective, emphasising their monumentality from low viewpoints under a bright cloudless sky. Additionally, his use of strong shadows to emphasise the forms of the silos and the lack of human figures celebrates the built structure as well as providing no sense of scale. Another photograph by Dupain in the AGNSW collection was taken through a car windscreen so that the machinery of transport merges explicitly with industrialisation into a complex hard-edge image of views and mirror reflections. There were no skyscrapers in Sydney until the late 1930s so the silos, Walter Burley Griffin’s incinerators and the Sydney Harbour Bridge were the major points of reference for those interested in depicting modern expressions of engineering and industrial power.

Dupain was the first Australian photographer to embrace modernism. One of his photographs of the silos was roundly criticised when shown to the New South Wales Photographic Society but Dupain forged on regardless with his reading, thinking and experimentation. Some Australian painting and writing had embraced modernist principles in the 1920s, but as late as 1938 Dupain was writing to the Sydney Morning Herald:

“Great art has always been contemporary in spirit. Today we feel the surge of aesthetic exploration along abstract lines, the social economic order impinging itself on art, the repudiation of the ‘truth to nature criterion’ … We sadly need the creative courage of Man Ray, the original thought of Moholy-Nagy, and the dynamic realism of Edouard [sic] Steichen.”1

1. Dupain, M 1938, “Letter to the editor,” in Sydney Morning Herald, 30 March

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Backyard, Forster, New South Wales' 1940

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Backyard, Forster, New South Wales
1940
Gelatin silver photograph
30.5 h x 30.5 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1983

 

 

This highly formal view of the backyard of a hotel in the coastal town of Forster embodies Dupain’s sense of Australian modernist photography. The picture’s frontalism and overriding use of horizontals and verticals acknowledge that the camera faced its subject face-to-face and that the view has been consciously framed. But as the title of the photograph makes clear, it is also a record of a particular place. In his personal copy of G.H. Saxon Mills’ essay ‘Modern photography’, which greatly assisted Dupain to conceptualise his own sense of a contemporary photographic practice, Dupain highlighted and annotated with a question mark the following statement: ‘”modern” photography means photography whose aim is partly or wholly aesthetic, as opposed to photography which is merely documentary or representational.’ Dupain believed that both were possible within the same frame.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) '(Factory chimney stacks)' 1940

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
[Factory chimney stacks]
1940
Gelatin silver photograph
49.0 h x 38.4 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1983

 

 

Dupain highlighted the writer G.H. Saxon Mills’ claim that photography’s value existed in both its capacity to record the world and the optical effects it found or created – ‘its … symphony of forms and textures.’

These factory chimney stacks are reduced to their most simple and direct form, which is shown free of any distraction. As Dupain noted, borrowing from the great American architectural historian Lewis Mumford, the ‘mission of the photograph is to clarify the subject’. The choice of subject matter was influenced by an essay by the English journalist, G.H. Saxon Mills, written in 1931 and read by Dupain soon after: ‘(photography) belongs to the new age … it is part and parcel of the terrific and thrilling panorama opening out before us today – of clean concrete buildings, steel radio masts, and the wings of the air line. But its beauty is only for those who themselves are aware of the ‘zeitgeist’ – who belong consciously and proudly to this age, and have not their eyes forever wistfully fixed on the past.’

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'The way through the trees' 1938

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
The way through the trees
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
29.6 h x 29.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of the artist 1987

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'An old country homestead, Western Australia' 1946

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
An old country homestead, Western Australia
1946
Gelatin silver photograph

PHOTOGRAPH NOT IN EXHIBITION

 

 

The Ian Potter Museum of Art
The University of Melbourne,
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Parkville, Melbourne, Victoria
Tel: +61 3 8344 5148

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08
Mar
15

Exhibition: ‘In Focus: Play’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 23rd December 2014 – 10th May 2015

 

The J. Paul Getty Museum always puts on the most interesting photography exhibitions. This looks to be no exception.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the J. Paul Getty Museum for allowing me to publish some of the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Platt D. Babbitt. '[Scene at Niagara Falls]' c. 1855

 

Platt D. Babbitt (American, 1823-1879, active Niagara Falls, New York 1853-1870)
[Scene at Niagara Falls]
c. 1855
Whole plate daguerreotype
The J. Paul Getty Museum
CC This work is in the public domain

 

In the 1800s Prospect Point at Niagara Falls was a popular destination for travelers in search of a transcendent encounter with nature. The falls were revered as a sacred place that was recognized by the Catholic Church in 1861 as a “pilgrim shrine,” where the faithful could contemplate the landscape as an example of divine majesty. Two well-dressed couples are seen from behind as they stand on the shore downstream from the falls, gazing at its majestic splendor. The silhouetted forms – women wearing full skirts and bonnets and carrying umbrellas and men in stovepipe hats – are sharply outlined against the patch of shore and expansive, white foam. Platt D. Babbitt would customarily set up his camera in an open-sided pavilion and photograph groups of tourists admiring the falls without their knowledge, as he appears to have done here. Later he would sell the unsuspecting subjects their daguerreotype likenesses alongside the natural wonder.

 

Roger Fenton. 'The Billiard Room, Mentmore' c. 1858

 

Roger Fenton (English, 1819-1869)
The Billiard Room, Mentmore
c. 1858
Albumen silver print
Height: 303 mm (11.93 in). Width: 306 mm (12.05 in).
The J. Paul Getty Museum
CC This work is in the public domain

 

A group of fashionable men and women enjoy a game of billiards in a richly furnished salon. The recently completed billiards room, which was designed as a conservatory, is flooded with sunlight, illuminating the lavish interior and creating a dramatic pattern of light and shadows. Indoor photography was rare in the mid-1800s, but the abundance of light and Fenton’s skill with the wet-collodion process created a remarkably detailed portrait of the space and its inhabitants. Behind the woman standing in the doorway at the very far end of the salon, a marble bust, mantelpiece, and mirror can be seen in an adjacent room.

Mentmore House was a country residence of the wealthy Rothschild family, but little is known as to how Fenton came to photograph its interior or who the depicted individuals might be. Fenton accepted commissions to document several other country homes, and his surviving photographs of Mentmore House-both interior and exterior views-may have formed part of a commissioned album. Like Fenton’s Orientalist scenes, this image reveals a high degree of staging. Only one figure actually holds a cue stick, and several of the women wear hats that seem unusual for the indoor setting.

 

Camille Silvy. 'Group of their Royal Highnesses the Princess Clementine de Saxe Cobourg Gotha, her Sons and Daughter, the Duke d'Aumale, the Count d'Eu, the Duke d'Alencon, and the Duke de Penthievre [in England]' 1864

 

Camille Silvy (French, 1834-1910, active in London)
Group of their Royal Highnesses the Princess Clementine de Saxe Cobourg Gotha, her Sons and Daughter, the Duke d’Aumale, the Count d’Eu, the Duke d’Alencon, and the Duke de Penthievre [in England]
1864
Albumen silver print
10.2 x 17 cm (4 x 6 11/16 in.)

 

Camille Silvy. 'Group of their Royal Highnesses the Princess Clementine de Saxe Cobourg Gotha, her Sons and Daughter, the Duke d'Aumale, the Count d'Eu, the Duke d'Alencon, and the Duke de Penthievre [in England]' 1864

 

Camille Silvy (French, 1834-1910, active in London)
Group of their Royal Highnesses the Princess Clementine de Saxe Cobourg Gotha, her Sons and Daughter, the Duke d’Aumale, the Count d’Eu, the Duke d’Alencon, and the Duke de Penthievre [in England] (detail)
1864
Albumen silver print
10.2 x 17 cm (4 x 6 11/16 in.)

 

Herman F. Nielson. 'View of Niagara Falls in Winter' c. 1885

 

Herman F. Nielson (American, active Niagara Falls, New York 1883 – early 1900s)
View of Niagara Falls in Winter
c. 1885
Gelatin silver print
19.1 x 24.3 cm (7 1/2 x 9 9/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Man Ray. '[Marcel Duchamp and Raoul de Roussy de Sales Playing Chess]' 1925

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
[Marcel Duchamp and Raoul de Roussy de Sales Playing Chess]
1925
Gelatin silver print
16.7 x 22.5 cm (6 9/16 x 8 7/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Man Ray Trust ARS-ADAGP

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig). '[Summer, The Lower East Side, New York City]' Summer 1937

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, born Austria, 1899-1968)
[Summer, The Lower East Side, New York City]
Summer 1937
Gelatin silver print 26.5 x 33.3 cm (10 7/16 x 13 1/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© International Center of Photography

 

André Kertész. '[Underwater Swimmer]' Negative 1917; print 1970s

 

André Kertész (American, born Hungary, 1894-1985)
[Underwater Swimmer]
Negative 1917; print 1970s
Gelatin silver print 17 x 24.7 cm (6 11/16 x 9 3/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Estate of André Kertész

 

 

“In Focus: Play, on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center from December 23, 2014 through May 10, 2015, presents photographs that explore how notions of leisure and play have been represented over the course of the medium’s history. The nearly thirty works from the Museum’s permanent collection highlight a wide range of amusing activities, from quiet games like chess to more boisterous forms of recreation like skateboarding and visits to amusement parks and circuses. All of the photographs included in the exhibition illustrate the many ways people have chosen to spend their free time. The images also demonstrate inventive and improvised approaches, like unusual vantage points and jarring juxtapositions that photographers have employed to help capture the spontaneity of playfulness.

Organized by assistant curator Arpad Kovacs in the Department of Photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum, this exhibition spans almost 175 years of the medium’s history and features the work of a variety of well-known and lesser-known photographers, including Diane Arbus, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Imogene Cunningham, Larry Fink, T. Lux Feininger, Roger Fenton, Andre Kertész, Man Ray, Alexander Rodchenko, Masato Seto, Camille Silvy, and Weegee, among others.

“Capturing our everyday lives has been one of photography’s central themes ever since its invention in the mid-nineteenth century,” says Timothy Potts, Director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “So it is no surprise that images of people playing games and having fun is a rich seam within the history of photography that this exhibition and accompanying book bring to life brilliantly. This is photography at its entertaining and uplifting best.”

The introduction of photography in 1839 coincided with a bourgeoning culture of leisure. Changes in working and living conditions brought on by the Industrial Revolution created an unprecedented amount of free time for large numbers of people in Europe and the United States. In the 1850s, photographic studios began to capitalize on the development and growth of the tourism industry, promoting recreation as a photographic subject. Technological advancements in film and camera equipment during the early twentieth century facilitated the recording of dynamic activities such as sports and visits to amusement parks. Domestic and public spaces alike became sites where people performed for the camera and documented a break from daily routines.

During the nineteenth century, the eminent photographer Roger Fenton, who was widely recognized for visually documenting the Crimean War (1853-56), also photographed intimate scenes that reflected casual pastimes. Included in the exhibition is his photograph from 1858 entitled, The Billiard Room, Mentmore House, in which a group of six people act out a scene of domestic amusement in a billiard room lined with a row of large windows.

The desire for pictures of everyday life flourished during the early twentieth-century. The illustrated press, which had grown in popularity in the United States and Europe since the 1920s, was especially interested in photographs of recreation and leisure. Photojournalists often searched for high-impact images that could tell compelling or amusing stories. Weegee (Arthur Fellig), a well-known tabloid photographer, kept his camera focused on New York City’s neighborhoods. In the photograph Summer, Lower East Side, New York City, 1937, he recorded the ecstatic faces of boys and girls cooling off in the water from an open fire hydrant as they briefly co-opted a street for their own delight.

Tourist destinations with sweeping vistas, like Niagara Falls and Yosemite Valley, had been attracting photographers continuously since the 1850s. In a 1980 photograph from his Sightseer series, Roger Minick comments on the phenomenon of taking in the sights through visual juxtaposition. A tourist, seen from behind, obstructs the famous view of Yosemite Valley from Inspiration Point, a spot that is practically synonymous with photography. The woman wears a souvenir headscarf illustrated with views of the valley, underscoring the commodification of nature that pervades modern life.

In the 1990s, the photographer Lauren Greenfield began an ambitious project documenting various subcultures in Los Angeles. These works examine the social pecking order and rites of passage associated with youth culture. In her photograph “Free Sex” Party Crew Party, East Los Angeles, 1993, one gets a glimpse into the potential dangers associated with these wild demonstrations of unrestricted freedom and machismo.

“The photographs chosen for this exhibition demonstrate the wide range of approaches photographers have employed to capture people at play, along with a variety of sites that have traditionally signaled leisure and entertainment,” said Kovacs. “Visiting a museum would be included on that list of leisure-time activities. I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon.”

In Focus: Play is on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center beginning December 23, 2014, through May 10, 2015.”

Press release from the J. Paul Getty Museum

 

Unknown photographer. '[Barnum and Bailey Circus Tent in Paris, France]' 1901-1902

 

Unknown photographer
[Barnum and Bailey Circus Tent in Paris, France]
1901-1902
Gelatin silver print
22.2 x 58.1 cm (8 3/4 x 22 7/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Max Yavno. 'Card Players, Los Angeles, California' 1949

 

Max Yavno (American, 1911-1985)
Card Players, Los Angeles, California
1949
Gelatin silver print
26.5 x 27.9 cm
© 1988 Center for Creative Photography, The University of Arizona Foundation

 

Joe Schwartz. 'East L.A. Skateboarders' 1950s

 

Joe Schwartz (American, 1913-2013)
East L.A. Skateboarders
1950s
Toned gelatin silver print
30.2 x 39 cm (11 7/8 x 15 3/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Joe Schwartz

 

Bill Owens (American, born 1938) 'Untitled (Swimming Pool)' 1973 or before

 

Bill Owens (American, born 1938)
Untitled (Swimming Pool)
1973 or before
Gelatin silver print
17.1 x 21.5 cm (6 3/4 x 8 7/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Robert Harshorn Shimshak and Marion Brenner
© Bill Owens

 

Hiromi Tsuchida (Japanese, born 1939) 'Counting Grains of Sand, Tsuruga' Negative 1985; print May 15, 1990

 

Hiromi Tsuchida (Japanese, born 1939)
Counting Grains of Sand, Tsuruga
Negative 1985; print May 15, 1990
Gelatin silver print
28.1 x 42.5 cm (11 1/16 x 16 3/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Hiromi Tsuchida

 

Roger Minick (American, born 1944) 'Woman with Scarf at Inspiration Point, Yosemite National Park' 1980

 

Roger Minick (American, born 1944)
Woman with Scarf at Inspiration Point, Yosemite National Park
1980
Chromogenic print
38.1 x 43.5 cm (15 x 17 1/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Roger Minick

 

Lauren Greenfield (American, born 1966) '"Free Sex" Party Crew Party, East Los Angeles' 1993

 

Lauren Greenfield (American, born 1966)
“Free Sex” Party Crew Party, East Los Angeles
1993
Dye destruction print
32.4 x 48.9 cm (12 3/4 x 19 1/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Allison Amon & Lisa Mehling
© Lauren Greenfield/INSTITUTE

 

 

Masato Seto. 'picnic #32' 2005

 

Masato Seto (Japanese, born Thailand, 1953)
picnic #32
2005
From the series picnic
Silver-dye bleach print
43.2 x 55 cm
© Masato Seto

 

Photographer Masato Seto’s series picnic, produced between 1996 and 2005, takes a particularly intimate approach. Seto’s photographs get inside Tokyo’s private pockets of outdoor space, a highly coveted respite from the busy thrum of the Japanese urban lifestyle. They give us a glimpse of the hard-won leisure of local couples escaping the cramped quarters of high-rise living for the scarce green space of public parks.

The couples’ reactions to the camera’s intrusion range from shielding their faces to outright defiance, to simple staring curiosity. We feel like we’ve caught them in the act of doing something that we shouldn’t see. Representing one family, couple, or individual at a time, Seto situates his subjects in a detached reality of their own. He creates what critic Hiro Koike referred to as “invisible rooms” – plots of grass often defined by the customary plastic sheet – in which intimate moments have been openly displayed and captured.

Melissa Abraham, “An Intimate View of Tokyo,” on The Getty Iris blog, August 5, 2014 [Online] Cited 03/03/2015

 

T. Lux Feininger (American, born Germany 1910-2011) 'Am Strand (On the Beach)' c. 1929

 

T. Lux Feininger (American, born Germany 1910-2011)
Am Strand (On the Beach)
c. 1929
Gelatin silver print 23.8 x 17.8 cm (9 3/8 x 7 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Estate of T. Lux Feininger

 

Brassaï. 'Kiss on the Swing' 1935-37

 

Brassaï (French, born Hungary, 1899 – 1984)
Kiss on the Swing
1935-37
Gelatin silver print
29.7 x 23.3 cm
© Estate Brassaï-RMN

 

Imogen Cunningham. 'Self-Portrait with Grandchildren in Funhouse' 1955

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Self-Portrait with Grandchildren in Funhouse
1955
Gelatin silver print
22.2 x 18.5 cm (8 3/4 x 7 5/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

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1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles, California 90049

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04
Feb
11

Exhibition: ‘André Kertész’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 28th September 2010 – 6th February 2011

 

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

 

 

André Kertész. 'Underwater Swimmer, Esztergom' 1917

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Underwater Swimmer, Esztergom
1917, printed in the 1980s
Gelatin silver print
Bibliothèque Nationale de France

 

André Kertész. 'Tisza Szalka' 1924

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Tisza Szalka
1924
Vintage gelatin silver contact print
Salgo Trust for Education, New York

 

André Kertész. 'Distortion n° 41' 1933

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Distortion n° 41
1933
[with André Kertész selportrait]
Gelatin silver print, later print
Collection of the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris

 

 

Twenty-five years after his death, André Kertész (1894-1985) is today a world-famous photographer who produced images that will be familiar to everyone, but he has yet to receive full recognition for his personal contribution to the language of photography in the 20th century. His career spanning more than seventy years was chaotic, and his longevity was matched by an unwavering creative acuity that rendered difficult an immediate or retrospective understanding of his work.

This exhibition attempts to provide for the first time a broad and balanced view of Kertéz’s work, presenting new elements and bringing together, for the first time also, a large number of period prints (two thirds of the 300 photographs on show). Both the exhibition and the accompanying catalogue were produced in collaboration with The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation (New York) and the Médiathèque de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine (Paris), which holds Kertész’s donation to the ministère de la Culture.

An initial investigation was undertaken during his lifetime as part of preparations for the first retrospective in 1985. The book Ma France (1990) paid tribute to his French donation and celebrated his Parisian periods (1925-1936 and after 1963), and the recent catalogue for the exhibition at the National Gallery of Art (2005), Washington, provided lots of circumstantial information and new analyses. With this retrospective exhibition, which draws extensively on archive documents, we have attempted to present Kertész’s work as a whole in its homogeneity and its continuity, as he himself conceived it, reflecting closely the course of his life.

Adopting a chronological and linear exhibition layout reflecting the various periods of his creative life, punctuated by self-portraits at the entrance to each space, we have created thematic groups in the form of “cells” highlighting the unique aspects of his output: his personal photography (the photographic postcards, the Distortions), his involvement in publishing (the book Paris vu par Kertész, 1934), his recurrent creative experiments (shadows, chimneys), and the more diffuse expression of emotions (solitude). The exhibition sheds light on the importance of previously neglected or unexplored periods (his time as a soldier between 1914 and 1918, the New York period and the Polaroids of his last years). In particular, it highlights the beginnings of photojournalism in Paris in 1928, and the dissemination of his photographs in the press, which had become a professional activity for him. Thus numerous copies of magazines are presented (Vu, Art et Médecine, Paris Magazine), as are the various publications of his photo essay on the Trappist monastery in Soligny, with Kertész’s original shots.

Press release from the Jeu de Paume website

 

André Kertész. 'The Eiffel Tower, Paris' 1933

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
The Eiffel Tower, Paris
1933
Vintage gelatin silver print
Courtesy Stephen Daiter Gallery

 

André Kertész. 'Place de la Concorde' Paris 1928

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Place de la Concorde
Paris, 1928, printed in the 1970s
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Robert Gurbo

 

 

A Small Journal

André Kertész (1894-1985) is today famous for his extraordinary contribution to the language of photography in the 20th century. This retrospective, which will be traveling to Winterthur, Berlin, and Budapest, marshals a large number of prints and original documents that highlight the exceptional creative acuity of this photographer, from his beginnings in Hungary, his homeland, to Paris, where between 1925 and 1936 he was one of the leading figures in avant-garde photography, to New York, where he lived for nearly fifty years without encountering the success that he expected and deserved. It pays tribute to a photographer whom Cartier-Bresson regarded as one of his masters, and reveals, despite an apparent diversity of periods and situations, themes and styles, the coherence of Kertész’s approach. It emphasises his originality and poetic uniqueness, drawing on new elements to present his oeuvre as the photographer himself conceived it, reflecting as closely as possible the course of his life. It makes full use of archive documents, focusing in particular on an area of his work that is little known (the beginnings of photo-reportage in Paris and the publication of his images in the press and books), and it analyses the circumstances surrounding his late resurgence. By exploring the recurring preoccupations and themes of Kertész’s work, it sheds light on the complex output of this unclassifiable photographer, who defined himself as an “amateur,” and in connection with whom Roland Barthes talked of a photography “that makes us think.”

 

Hungary 1894-1925: from Andor to André

Kertész’s youth left him with an enduring love of the countryside, animals, leisurely walks, and down-to-earth people. His sentimental nature led him to treat photography as “a little notebook, a sketchbook,” whose principal subjects were his friends, his family, his fiancée Elizabeth, and above all his younger brother, Jenö, with whom he carried out most of his early experiments in photography. Called up during the war, he continued to take photographs, capturing for the most part trivial events in the lives of the soldiers, whose situation he shared, for in spite of the context photography remained for him a way of expressing emotions. André Kertész was very independent at this time – his work diverged radically from the prevailing pictorialism of the time – and he was laying the foundations for a unique innovative photographic language. In 1914, he began photographing at night; in 1917, he took an astonishing photo of an underwater swimmer, and captured his brother “as a scherzo” in 1919. The two persons watching the Circus (1920) and The Blind Musician (1921) immediately emerged as modernist images. André Kertész’s photography was distinguished at this time by its freedom and diversity of approach, as well as its reliance on feelings and emotional bonds for inspiration.

 

France, 1925-1936: The Garden of André Kertész

Hard up and speaking only Hungarian, André Kertész lived in Paris amid a circle of fellow Hungarian émigrés. It was in the studio of one of them, Étienne Beöthy, that the dancer Magda Förstner, mimicking one of the artist’s sculptures, instigated the famous photograph Satiric Dancer in 1926. In the same year, when taking photographs at Mondrian’s studio, the photographer emerged as the master of a new type of unorthodox “portrait in absence.” Kertész evokes more than he shows, giving life to the inanimate, and creating a poetic language of allusive signs, both poetic and visual. During the early years of his life in Paris, he printed a large number of his images on photographic paper in postcard format (this inexpensive practice occupied a notable place in his work, because he resorted to it so persistently and with such inventiveness).

The street also provided the photographer with micro-events, fleeting associations and multiple signs that became metaphors. The leading representative, along with Man Ray, of international modernity in Paris, he worked for the press, initiating photo-reportage; he took part in several important exhibitions, including “Film und Foto” in Stuttgart in 1929. Kertész nevertheless insisted on retaining his independence, keeping artistic movements, in particular Surrealism, at arm’s length. Nourished by his emotions, surprises, and personal associations, his work, with its mirrored images, reflections, shadows, and doubles, established him as a leading exponent of avant-garde photography. But he nevertheless avoided conventional doctrines and styles. The Fork (1928), for example, a perfect application of the modernist creed that held sway at the time, reveals another distinguishing feature of Kertész’s work: his interest in shadows cast by objects or people. In The Hands of Paul Arma (1928) and the extraordinary Self-Portrait (1927), these play subtly on the alternation between absence and presence, doubling and disappearance.

André Kertész always sought to take advantage of innovations that would enable him to reconfigure reality through unusual images. He very quickly became interested in the optical distortions produced by waves (The Swimmer, 1917), or by the polished surfaces of such objects as silver balls or by car headlights. In 1930, when the magazine VU commissioned him to take a portrait of its new editor, Carlo Rim, Kertész took him to the funhouse at Luna Park to pose in front of the distorting mirrors. Then, in 1933, at the request of the editor of a girlie magazine, Le Sourire, he produced an extraordinary series of female nudes, known as Distortions. He used two models, who posed with two distorting mirrors that, depending on the vantage point chosen, produced grotesque elongations, monstrous protuberances, or the complete disintegration of the body. Following his move to the United States, Kertész hoped to make use of this technique by adapting it to advertising, but he was met with incomprehension (it was not until 1976 that a book devoted to the Distortions was published in American and French editions).

 

United States, 1936-1962: A Lost Cloud

The offer of a contract from the Keystone agency (which would be broken after one year) prompted Kertész’s to move to New York in October 1936. His reservations about fashion photography, the rejection of his photo essays that “talked too much” according to the editorial board of Life, and the incomprehension that greeted the Distortions series gradually plunged Kertész into depression. The war and the curtailment of the “foreign” photographer’s freedom merely added to his difficulties. In 1947, in order to have a regular income, Kertész was forced to accept a contract from the magazine House & Garden. In 1952, he moved into an apartment overlooking Washington Square, which prompted a change of direction in Kertész’s work. He now watched and witnessed what was taking place on the surrounding terraces and in the square. He used telephoto lenses and zooms to create whimsical series, such as the one featuring chimneys.

André Kertész lived in New York from 1936 to 1985 and he never stopped photographing “in” the city, rather than the city itself. He did not record the life of its neighbourhoods, the picturesque aspects of its various trades, and its often paradoxical architectural environments. For him, New York was a sound box for his thoughts, which the city echoed back to him in the form of photographs. He sought everywhere an antidote to the city’s regularity, in the dilapidated brick walls and the inextricable tangle of shadows, beams, and external staircases, and it is sometimes impossible to recognise specific places in these broken geometries: Kertész’s New York is highly fragmented, but a single photo could reveal the imaginary city.

He remained true to his intuitive, allusive personal style, and used his work to give voice to the sadness that undoubtedly permeated his entire life in New York, rendered most explicitly in The Lost Cloud (1937). Right up until the end of his life, he sought images of solitude, sometimes incorporating pigeons into them. On January 1, 1972, during a trip to Martinique, he caught the fleeting, pensive profile of a man behind a pane of frosted glass: this nebulous vision of a solitary man before the immensity of the sea was the last image in his retrospective collection, Sixty Years of Photography, 1912-1972, providing a very provisional conclusion to his career.

 

Returns and Renewal, 1963-1985

After his retirement in 1961, Kertész developed a new appetite for life and photography. Following a request from the magazine Camera for a portfolio, he made a sort of inventory of his available work. In 1963 he had one-man exhibitions at the Venice Photography Biennale and the Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris, the latter enabling him to stay in a city that, on an emotional level, he had never left. In addition, he located and took possession of several boxes of negatives that had been entrusted to a friend in 1936, at the time of his departure, which prompted a review of his entire oeuvre and led to new prints, with fresh croppings. These various episodes, which can be seen as part of a general reassessment of the value of photography and its history, had a rejuvenating effect on Kertész (who was seventy at the time). The traveling exhibition “The Concerned Photographer” even presented him as a pioneer of photojournalism.

Kertész continued his never-ending search for images, both in the cities that he visited and from the window of his apartment. His two books J’aime Paris (1974) and Of New York … (1976) express his sense of being torn between two cultures. The death of his wife Elizabeth in 1977, shortly before his one-man show at the Centre Georges Pompidou, led him to develop an interest in Polaroids, which enabled him to adopt a more introspective approach. As always, emotion was the driving force behind his work. Of the fifty-three Polaroids brought together in the small book From My Window, dedicated to Elizabeth, Kertész, always curious about new technology, was in reality capturing the light of his recollections and the distortions of his memory.”

Michel Frizot and Annie-Laure Wanaverbecq, curators of the exhibition

 

André Kertész. 'Satiric Dancer' 1926

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Satiric Dancer
1926, printed in the 1950s
Gelatin silver print
Bibliothèque nationale de France

 

André Kertész. 'Melancholic Tulip' New York, 1939

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Melancholic Tulip
New York, 1939, printed c. 1980
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy Bruce Silverstein Gallery

 

André Kertész. 'Lost Cloud, New York' 1937

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Lost Cloud, New York
1937, printed in the 1970s
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy Sarah Morthland Gallery, New York

 

 

Jeu de Paume
1, place de la Concorde
75008 Paris
métro Concorde
information: 01 47 03 12 50

Opening hours:
Tuesday: 11am – 9pm
Wednesday – Sunday: 11am – 7pm
Closed Monday (including public holidays)

Jeu de Paume 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: ‘Dogs, chickens, cattle’ 1994-95

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