Posts Tagged ‘urban environments

17
Nov
17

Exhibition: ‘Wayne Sorce: Urban Color’ at Joseph Bellows Gallery, La Jolla, California

Exhibition dates: 21st October – 30th November 2017

 

Wayne Sorce. 'Vinegar Hill, New York' 1985

 

Wayne Sorce
Vinegar Hill, New York
1985
Digital chromogenic print
20 x 24 inches

 

 

These remind me very strongly of the 1970s urban Americana colour work of Stephen Shore. Most of them are successful, well seen, well photographed colour images that evince a certain period in the American cultural landscape.

When they work – as in the formal Vinegar Hill, New York (1985, above) or the more abstract Vinegar Hill, New York (1985, below); the colourful, planar Varick Street, New York (1984); the duo-chromatic L.B. Oil, New York (1984); the magnificently shadowed, geometric Halsted Street, Chicago (1978); and my particular favourite (because of the light), Under the EL, Chicago (1978) – they work superbly. When they don’t work – as in Blankets, New York (1986) or Barbers, New York (1985) – they feel a bit flat.

It’s so hard to put a body of photographs together where each image is strong (but not necessarily the same) as the next and they form a holistic group. Most photographers can put together four images well enough, but the skill is to be able to narrativise a larger body of work, and then do that over a longer period of time. I believe that over the lifetime of a photographic artist, you can count on the fingers of two hands the truly memorable images they will make, if they are lucky. Other images are valuable in their own right…. while others should be quietly singed.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Mike and Joseph Bellows Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Wayne Sorce. 'Vinegar Hil, New York' 1985

 

Wayne Sorce
Vinegar Hill, New York
1985
Digital chromogenic print
20 x 24 inches

 

Wayne Sorce. 'Varick Street, New York' 1984

 

Wayne Sorce
Varick Street, New York
1984
Digital chromogenic print
20 x 24 inches

 

Wayne Sorce. 'Halsted Street, Chicago' 1978

 

Wayne Sorce
Halsted Street, Chicago
1978
Digital chromogenic print
20 x 24 inches

 

Wayne Sorce. 'L.B. Oil, New York' 1984

 

Wayne Sorce
L.B. Oil, New York
1984
Digital chromogenic print
20 x 24 inches

 

Wayne Sorce. 'Spiral Fire Escape, Chicago' 1975

 

Wayne Sorce
Spiral Fire Escape, Chicago
1975
Digital chromogenic print
20 x 24 inches

 

Wayne Sorce. 'No Left, Vinegar Hill' 1988

 

Wayne Sorce
No Left, Vinegar Hill
1988
Digital chromogenic print
20 x 24 inches

 

Wayne Sorce. 'Dave's Restaurant, New York' 1984

 

Wayne Sorce
Dave’s Restaurant, New York
1984
Digital chromogenic print
20 x 24 inches

 

Wayne Sorce. 'El Platform, Chicago' 1978

 

Wayne Sorce
EL Platform, Chicago
1978
Digital chromogenic print
20 x 24 inches

 

Wayne Sorce. 'Bee Gee's, New York' 1984

 

Wayne Sorce
Bee Gee’s, New York
1984
Digital chromogenic print
20 x 24 inches

 

Wayne Sorce. 'Fort Dearborn Coffee, Chicago' 1977

 

Wayne Sorce
Fort Dearborn Coffee, Chicago
1977
Digital chromogenic print
20 x 24 inches

 

Wayne Sorce. 'East Chicago' 1977

 

Wayne Sorce
East Chicago
1977
Digital chromogenic print
20 x 24 inches

 

Wayne Sorce. 'Chock Full of Nuts, New York' 1984

 

Wayne Sorce
Chock Full of Nuts, New York
1984
Digital chromogenic print
20 x 24 inches

 

 

Joseph Bellows Gallery is pleased to announce its upcoming solo exhibition,Wayne Sorce: Urban Color. The exhibition will open on October 21st and continue through November 30th, 2017. In conjunction with Sorce’s exhibition will be a group show relating to the city as subject.

Urban Color will present a remarkable selection Sorce’s large-scale colour photographs of urban environments taken in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s in both Chicago and New York City. His urban landscapes describe with a formal exactitude, the light, structures, and palette of these cities within a certain era. For Sorce, the urban landscape is both still and transitory; people appear in the photographs as both inhabitants of the city, as well as sculptural forms relating to a larger composed scene.

Sorce’s photographs are held within the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the George Eastman Museum, the Armand Hammer Museum of Art, National Museum of American Art, at the Smithsonian Institution, and the Museum of Modern Art. Complementing Sorce’s exhibition will be a collection of photographs by his contemporaries that describe the city as subject. Work by Bob Thall, George Tice, Bevan Davies, Grant Mudford, and others will be included.

Press release from the Joseph Bellows Gallery

 

Wayne Sorce. 'Under the EL, Chicago' 1978

 

Wayne Sorce
Under the EL, Chicago
1978
Digital chromogenic print
24 x 20 inches

 

Wayne Sorce. 'Blankets, New York' 1986

 

Wayne Sorce
Blankets, New York
1986
Digital chromogenic print
24 x 20 inches

 

Wayne Sorce. 'Barbers, New York' 1985

 

Wayne Sorce
Barbers, New York
1985
Digital chromogenic print
24 x 20 inches

 

Wayne Sorce. 'Greyhound Station' c. 1970's

 

Wayne Sorce
Greyhound Station
c. 1970’s
Digital chromogenic print
24 x 20 inches

 

 

Joseph Bellows Gallery
7661 Girrard Avenue
La Jolla, California
Phone: 858 456 5620

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Friday, 10am – 5pm, and Saturday by appointment

Joseph Bellows Gallery website

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22
Sep
13

Review: ‘Carol Jerrems: photographic artist’ at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 6th July – 30th September 2013

A National Gallery of Australia exhibition

*PLEASE NOTE THIS POSTING CONTAINS ART PHOTOGRAPHS OF FEMALE NUDITY – IF YOU DO NOT LIKE PLEASE DO NOT LOOK, FAIR WARNING HAS BEEN GIVEN*

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The one and only…

This is a fascinating National Gallery of Australia exhibition about the work of Australian photographer Carol Jerrems at Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill – in part both memorable, intimate, informative, beautiful, uplifting and disappointing. Let me explain what I mean.

The first section of the exhibition is devoted to Jerrems student work, notably her experiments with overlapping bodies, depth of field, movement and the layering of space and time that can be seen in her vibrant photoboooks and concertina books (see installation photographs below), accompanied by her own poems. This early work, which I had never seen, provides a wonderful insight into how the later images came to be: the shooting down hallways into the light, the pairing and tripling of bodies one behind the other, and how she constructed narrative in her later set piece photographs. This is the informative part of the exhibition.

As the exhibition moves on to the main body of Jerrems work there, in all their glory, are the famous images: Evonne Goolagong, Melbourne (1973), Flying dog (1973), Vale Street (1975), Mark and Flappers (1975), Mark Lean: rape game (1975), Mozart Street (1975), Butterfly behind glass [Red Symons from Skyhooks] (1975), Lyn (1976), Lyn and the Buick (1976), Dusan and Esben, Cronulla (1977), the self portraits and the lads with their car down by the river bank. These are memorable, intimate images, at the top of tree in terms of their importance as some of the greatest images taken by any Australian photographer of all time. They are right up there with the very best and there is no denying this. But what else is there? Take away the top dozen images of any photographer and look at the next twenty images. Now, what do you see? In Jerrems case, the results (as evidenced by this exhibition) are a little disappointing. Of course, this is not unusual with any artist.

In her low key, diaristic documentary style, Jerrems focuses on life before her lens. She finds joy, intimacy, love, danger, transgression and rape; she portrays women and gay liberation, youth on the streets, sharpies and the indigenous population. As Christopher Allen notes, sexuality and its darker side was never far from the surface in Jerrems work and there was a “mix of defiance, erotic assertiveness and vulnerability of that time… [an] intimate closeness to the subject and the direct and unmodified transcription of the world before her.”1 Her intelligent imaging of everyday subject matter “produced a body of photographs that symbolized the hopes and aspirations of the counter-culture in Australia in the 1970s,” but this investigation did not produce particularly memorable photographs. Outside the top group of images I am struggling to remember her other images.

But what we must remember is that this Australia was another time and place. Art photography books had only just arrived in Melbourne in 1970 and Jerrems was one of the first women to point her camera at other women (producing the book A Book About Australian Women in 1974) and people of the revolution. These are socially important documents in terms of Australian (photographic) history. I believe that she said to herself – I know who I am, but I want to know what other people are like – and she transcribed how she was thinking about the world to the people around her through her photographs. Building on the legacy of artists like Henri Cartier-Bresson, André Kertész and Robert Frank, her photographs are like an after-image of some other place, some other Australia that is only forty years ago but now seems eons away in time and space.

What we take for granted, in terms of sexual liberation, freedom of action and speech, she had to fight for. She had to fight for photographic, conceptual and technical knowledge to arm herself as an intelligent women (for that is what she was), so that she could image/imagine the world. She had to fight damn hard for these things – and then she upped the ante and pushed even harder, even further. These are dangerous photos, for women and gay men were vulnerable and threatened, marginalised and they were a target. Even in the act of photographing, her going into these places (brothels for example), she would have been a target. Does this make for memorable photographs?  Not necessarily, and you can see this in the unevenness of the results of her investigation. But socially these are very important images.

The pity is that she died so young for what this exhibition brought home to me was that here was an artist still defining, refining her subject matter. She never had to time to develop a mature style, a mature narrative as an artist (1975-1976 seems to be the high point as far as this exhibition goes). This is the great regret about the work of Carol Jerrems. Yes, there is some mediocre work in this exhibition, stuff that really doesn’t work at all (such as the brothel photographs), experimental work, individual and collective images that really don’t impinge on your consciousness. But there are also the miraculous photographs (and for a young photographer she had a lot of those), the ones that stay with you forever. The right up there, knock you out of the ball park photographs and those you cannot simply take away from the world. They live on in the world forever.

Does Jerrems deserve to be promoted as a legend, a ‘premier’ of Australian photography as some people are doing? Probably not on the evidence of this exhibition but my god, those top dozen or so images are something truly special to behold. Their ‘presence’ alone – their physicality in the world, their impact on you as you stand before them – guarantees that Jerrems will forever remain in the very top echelons of Australian photographers of all time not as a legend, but as a women of incredible strength, intelligence, passion, determination and vision.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to Mark Hislop for his help and Monash Gallery of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Carol Jerrems. 'A poem' 1970

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Carol Jerrems
A poem
1970
Gelatin silver photographs, letterpress, installed at Monash Gallery of Art
Photograph: Katie Tremschnig

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Carol Jerrems. 'A poem' 1970

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Carol Jerrems
A poem
1970
Gelatin silver photographs, letterpress, installed at Monash Gallery of Art
Photograph: Katie Tremschnig

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Carol Jerrems. 'Jim Fields, a portrait' 1970

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Carol Jerrems
Jim Fields, a portrait
1970
Gelatin silver photographs, letterpress, installed at Monash Gallery of Art
Photograph: Katie Tremschnig

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Carol Jerrems 'The Royal Melbourne Show.....1968, an essay' (L) and 'Movement with Zara' (R) 1968

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Carol Jerrems
The Royal Melbourne Show…..1968, an essay (L) and Movement with Zara (R)
1968
Gelatin silver photographs, letterpress, installed at Monash Gallery of Art
Photograph: Katie Tremschnig

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Living in the seventies

Carol Jerrems’s gritty, poetic and elusive images show people trying to find a new way of life and action in the 1970s. Her images have come to define a decade in Australia’s history. In contrast to an earlier generation of internationally renowned magazine photojournalists such as David Moore, the new generation did not seek commissioned commercial or magazine work and took instead a low key intimate approach with a diaristic personal-documentary style of imagery focussed on themselves and their own, mostly urban, environments. Jerrems put her camera where the counter culture suggested; women’s liberation, social inclusiveness for street youths and Indigenous people in the cities who were campaigning for justice and land rights.

Carol Jerrems was the first contemporary Australian woman photographer to have work acquired by a number of museums including the National Gallery of Australia. The National Gallery holds an extensive archive of Jerrems photographs and film work gifted by the artist’s mother Joy Jerrems in 1983. The current exhibition concentrates on prints signed or formally exhibited, by Carol Jerrems in her lifetime dating from 1968-1978. MGA is the only Victorian venue to host the National Gallery of Australia’s major new exhibition Carol Jerrems: photographic artist. This extraordinary exhibition tells the story of Jerrems’ complex and highly influential practice. Drawn from the National Gallery of Australia’s massive holdings of the artist’s work, Carol Jerrems: photographic artist features more than 100 works, most of which have not been seen in Melbourne since Jerrems lived here during the late ’60s and ’70s.

Jerrems was born in Melbourne in 1949 and studied photography at Prahran Technical College under Paul Cox and Athol Shmith. Although she practised as an artist for only a decade, Jerrems has acquired a celebrated place in the annals of Australian photography. Her reputation is based on her intensely compassionate, formally striking pictures, her intimate connection with the people involved in social movements of the day, and her role in the promotion of ‘art photography’ in this country.

Jerrems was one of several Australian women whose work during the 1970s challenged the dominant ideas of what a photographer was and how they worked. She adopted a collaborative approach to making photographs, often featuring friends and associates, and sought a photographic practice that would bring about social change. Her gritty, poetic and elusive images show people trying to find a new way of life in the 1970s. Her images have come to define Melbourne in a decade of great social and political upheaval.

Carol Jerrems: photographic artist pays tribute to this important period in recent Australian history, showing how Jerrems participated in and helped to define Melbourne’s subculture and style in the 1970s. MGA Director Shaune Lakin said Jerrems’ vision would particularly resonate with Melbourne audiences, especially as her vision was revealed across the full breadth of her work. “Carol Jerrems: photographic artist is a perfect story for MGA to tell, as it is also the story of Melbourne in the 1970s. Jerrems captured Melbourne’s sub-cultures – sharpies, mods, hippies, feminists and gay liberationists – with powerful images that engage the viewer intimately with her subjects.”

As Dr Lakin notes, this is a rare chance to see the works Jerrems intended for exhibition: “Carol Jerrems: photographic artist concentrates on prints signed or formally exhibited by Jerrems in her lifetime, most returning to Melbourne for the first time. In addition to many of the images for which Jerrems is rightly famous, visitors to MGA can see Jerrems’ early work, including her extraordinary concertina books and other photobooks,” Lakin said.”

Press release from the Monash Gallery of Art website

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Carol Jerrems. 'Flying dog' 1973

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Carol Jerrems
Flying dog
1973
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1976
© Ken Jerrems and the Estate of Lance Jerrems

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Carol Jerrems. 'Mark and Flappers' 1975

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Carol Jerrems
Mark and Flappers
1975
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
© Ken Jerrems and the Estate of Lance Jerrems

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Carol Jerrems. 'Vale Street' 1975

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Carol Jerrems
Vale Street
1975
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1976
© Ken Jerrems and the Estate of Lance Jerrems

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“From the outset, Jerrems was interested in the expressive possibilities of the photographic medium, declaring that she was ‘an artist whose tool of expression is the camera’. She concentrated on photographing people; her subjects included her students, and her friends and acquaintances. Her first photographs were documentary in style, but by the mid-1970s the scenes she photographed were often contrived. She used a non-exploitative approach, based on the consent of her subjects. For Jerrems, photography had a crucial social role: ‘the society is sick and I must help change it’. Her photographs were a means of ‘bringing people together’ and offered affirmative views of certain aspects of contemporary life. With Virginia Fraser, she published A Book About Australian Women (Melbourne, 1974), to which she contributed the photographs…

Although one critic regarded her work as uneven – ‘she took a casual approach’ – Jerrems’s talents as a photographer were widely recognized. With her camera ‘firmly pointed at the heart of things’, she produced a body of photographs that symbolized the hopes and aspirations of the counter-culture in Australia in the 1970s.”

Helen Ennis, Australian Dictionary of Biography Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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Carol Jerrems. 'Mirror with a memory: motel room' 1977

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Carol Jerrems
Mirror with a memory: motel room
1977
Type C colour photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of Mrs Joy Jerrems 1981
© Ken Jerrems and the Estate of Lance Jerrems

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Carol Jerrems. 'Boys' 1973

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Carol Jerrems
Boys
1973
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
© Ken Jerrems and the Estate of Lance Jerrems

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Carol Jerrems. 'Outback Press Melbourne' 1974

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Carol Jerrems
Outback Press Melbourne
1974
left to right: Colin Talbot (writer), Alfred Milgrom (publisher), Morry Schwartz (entrepreneur, publisher, now publisher of The Monthly), Mark Gillespie (singer/songwriter)
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of Mrs Joy Jerrems 1981
© Ken Jerrems and the Estate of Lance Jerrems

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Carol Jerrems. 'Carol Jerrems, self-portrait with Esben Storm' c.1975

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Carol Jerrems
Carol Jerrems, self-portrait with Esben Storm
c.1975
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of Mrs Joy Jerrems 1981
© Ken Jerrems and the Estate of Lance Jerrems

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Carol Jerrems. 'Dusan and Esben, Cronulla' 1977

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Carol Jerrems
Dusan and Esben, Cronulla
1977
Gelatin silver photograph
20.1 x 30.3 cm image
© Ken Jerrems and the Estate of Lance Jerrems

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Carol Jerrems. 'Butterfly behind glass [Red Symons from Skyhooks]' 1975

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Carol Jerrems
Butterfly behind glass [Red Symons from Skyhooks]
1975
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of Mrs Joy Jerrems 1981
© Ken Jerrems and the Estate of Lance Jerrems

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Carol Jerrems. 'Jane Oehr, “Womenvision”, Filmaker's Co-Op' 1973

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Carol Jerrems
Jane Oehr, “Womenvision”, Filmaker’s Co-Op
1973
From A Book about Australian Women (Outback Press, 1974)
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of Mrs Joy Jerrems 1981
© Ken Jerrems and the Estate of Lance Jerrems

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Carol Jerrems. 'Performers on stage,' Hair', Metro Theatre Kings Cross, Sydney, January 1970 [Jim Sharman Director cast included Reg Livermore]' 1970

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Carol Jerrems
Performers on stage, ‘Hair’, Metro Theatre Kings Cross, Sydney, January 1970
[Jim Sharman Director cast included Reg Livermore]
1970
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of Mrs Joy Jerrems 1981
© Ken Jerrems and the Estate of Lance Jerrems

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Carol Jerrems. 'Peggy Selinski' 1968

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Carol Jerrems
Peggy Selinski
1968
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of Mrs Joy Jerrems 1981
© Ken Jerrems and the Estate of Lance Jerrems

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Carol Jerrems. 'Lynn' 1976

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Carol Jerrems
Lynn
1976
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
© Ken Jerrems and the Estate of Lance Jerrems

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1. Allen, Christopher. “Between suburbia and radicalism,” in The Australian newspaper, October 20th, 2012.

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Monash Gallery of Art
860 Ferntree Gully Road, Wheelers Hill
Victoria 3150 Australia
T: + 61 3 8544 0500

Opening hours:
Tue – Fri: 10am – 5pm
Sat – Sun: 12pm – 5pm
Mon/public holidays: closed

Monash Gallery of Art website

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24
Apr
12

Exhibition: ‘Berenice Abbott (1898-1991), Photographs’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 21st February – 29th April 2012

 

Berenice Abbott. 'New York Stock Exchange, New York City' 1933

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
New York Stock Exchange, New York City
1933
Gelatin silver print
24 x 19cm
Ronald Kurtz / Commerce Graphics
© Berenice Abbott / Commerce Graphics Ltd, Inc.

 

 

It is not her portraits or the road trip photographs, nor her scientific work for which Berenice Abbott will be remembered. Firstly, she will always be remembered as the person who photographed Eugene Atget in 1927 just before he died and who bought the remainder of his negatives (after the French government had bought over 2,000 in 1920 and another 2,000 had been sold after his death). She then tirelessly promoted Atget’s work helping him gain international recognition until her sale of the archive to the Museum of Modern Art in 1968. Secondly, she is remembered for her magnificent photographs of New York City and its urban environs, photographs that show the influence of Atget in their attention to detail and understanding of the placement of the camera, and imaging of old and new parts of the city (much as Atget had photographed old Paris before it was destroyed). However, these photographs are uniquely her own, with their modernist New Vision aesthetic, bold perspectives and use of deep chiaroscuro to enhance form within the photograph. Abbott’s best known project, Changing New York (1935-39) eventually consisted of 305 photographs that document the buildings of Manhattan, some of which are now destroyed. As the text on Wikipedia insightfully notes:

“Abbott’s project was primarily a sociological study imbedded within modernist aesthetic practices. She sought to create a broadly inclusive collection of photographs that together suggest a vital interaction between three aspects of urban life: the diverse people of the city; the places they live, work and play; and their daily activities. It was intended to empower people by making them realise that their environment was a consequence of their collective behaviour (and vice versa). Moreover, she avoided the merely pretty in favour of what she described as “fantastic” contrasts between the old and the new, and chose her camera angles and lenses to create compositions that either stabilised a subject (if she approved of it), or destabilised it (if she scorned it).”

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In the text below Gaëlle Morel observes, “Rather than the kind of nostalgic approach often brought to bear on a city’s landmarks and typical sites, this ensemble offers an exploration of the nature of modernity and focuses on the ways in which the past and future are temporarily linked together. Seeking to reinvent the forms and functions of photography in relation to the practice of documentary, Abbott sets out to capture the “disappearance of the moment” by juxtaposing motifs from a city subject to an unprecedented process of demolition and reconstruction.”

While Abbott’s photographs are definitely modernist in nature I believe that today they can also be seen as deeply nostalgic, emerging as they do in the period after the Great Depression when the economy was on the move again, a peaceful time before the oncoming armageddon of the Second World War, closely followed by the fear of nuclear annihilation and the threat of communist indoctrination. They are timeless portraits of a de/reconstructed city. The images seem to float in the air, breathe in the shadows. This is the disappearance of the moment into the enigma of past, present, future – where the photograph becomes eternal, where the best work of both Atget and Abbott resides.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

Berenice Abbott. 'Treasury Building, New York City' 1933

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Treasury Building, New York City
1933
Gelatin silver print
51 x 40.5cm
Ronald Kurtz / Commerce Graphics
© Berenice Abbott / Commerce Graphics Ltd, Inc.

 

 

Architecture

“The tempo of the city is not that of eternity, nor that of time, but that of the ephemeral. That is why recording it is so important, in both documentary and artistic terms.”

“All the photographs of New York took a long time to make, because the camera had to be carefully positioned. There is nothing fortuitous about these photographs.”

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The exhibition features a substantial collection from Abbott’s best known project, Changing New York (1935-39). Commissioned by the Roosevelt administration as part of its response to the nationwide economic crisis, Abbott saw this piece of work as both a way of documenting the City and as a personal work of art. Eighty of the 305 photographs taken by Abbott are on show here, along with various documents providing insight into the background of this major photographic undertaking, including posters and views of the exhibition organised by the Museum of the City of New York in 1937, sketches and historical notes made by the team of journalists working with Abbott on the project, and proofs and dummies of the layout made by the photographer before she started work.

Abbott homes in on the contrasts between old and new elements in the City’s structure. Her images alternate between a New Vision aesthetic, characterised by an emphasis on details and bold perspectives, and a more documentary style that is frontal and neutral. Rather than the kind of nostalgic approach often brought to bear on a city’s landmarks and typical sites, this ensemble offers an exploration of the nature of modernity and focuses on the ways in which the past and future are temporarily linked together. Seeking to reinvent the forms and functions of photography in relation to the practice of documentary, Abbott sets out to capture the “disappearance of the moment” by juxtaposing motifs from a city subject to an unprecedented process of demolition and reconstruction.

In 1938, hoping to take advantage of the fifty million visitors expected at the New York World’s Fair of 1939, the publisher, E.P. Dutton, offered to bring out a selection of one hundred images from the project accompanied by a text by the renowned art critic Elizabeth McCausland, who also happened to be Abbott’s companion and staunch supporter. Going against the women’s original ideas for an art book, Dutton produced a more standard tourist guide, breaking the City down into a series of tours, from south to north and from the centre outwards. The text, too, was shorn of its poetic and pedagogical dimensions, leaving only informative entries about the buildings in the pictures.

In the exhibition, this set of architectural photographs is rounded out by a selection of pictures of vernacular architecture taken by Abbott during a journey in the southern states of the US in the 1930s and when she was travelling along Route 1 in the 1950s. Here, portraits of farmers and wooden houses alternate with pictures of streets and local events.

 

Berenice Abbott. 'Triborough Bridge, East 125th Street Approach, New York City, June 29, 1937'

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Triborough Bridge, East 125th Street Approach, New York City, June 29, 1937
1937
Gelatin silver print
24.5 x 19cm
Museum of the City of New York. Gift of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
© Berenice Abbott / Commerce Graphics Ltd, Inc.

 

Berenice Abbott. 'Broadway to the Battery, New York City, May 4, 1938' 1938

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Broadway to the Battery, New York City, May 4, 1938
1938 
Gelatin silver print
17.5 x 24cm
Museum of the City of New York
Museum Purchase with funds from the Mrs. Elon Hooker Acquisition Fund
© Berenice Abbott / Commerce Graphics Ltd, Inc.

 

Berenice Abbott. 'Flat Iron Building, Broadway and Fifth Avenue, New York City' 1938

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Flat Iron Building, Broadway and Fifth Avenue, New York City
1938
Gelatin silver print
101.5 x 76 cm
Ronald Kurtz / Commerce Graphics
© Berenice Abbott / Commerce Graphics Ltd, Inc.

 

 

Berenice Abbott Petit Journal

With over 120 photographs, plus a selection of books and documents never shown before, this is the first exhibition in France to cover the many different facets of the American photographer Berenice Abbott (1898-1991), who is also famous for her international advocacy of Eugène Atget. She came to Paris in 1921 where she learnt her craft from Man Ray before opening her own studio and embarking on a successful career as a portraitist. Returning to New York City in 1929, she conceived what remains her best‑known project, Changing New York (1935-39). This was financed by the Works Progress Administration as part of its response to the economic crisis sweeping the country. The photographs she took in 1954 when travelling along the US East Coast on Route 1 (the exhibition presents a previously unseen selection of these images) reflect her ambition to represent the whole of what she called the “American scene.” Furthermore, in the 1950s, she also worked on a set of images for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) designed to illustrate the principles of mechanics and light for educational purposes.

A committed member of the avant‑garde from the early 1920s, and a staunch opponent of Pictorialism and the school of Alfred Stieglitz, Abbott spent the whole of her career exploring the limits and nature of documentary photography and photographic realism. This exhibition shows the rich array of her interests and conveys both the unity and diversity of her work.

 

Portraits

Berenice Abbott moved to New York City in the early 1920s and went about becoming a sculptor. Mixing in the bohemian circles of Greenwich Village, she met writers and artists such as Djuna Barnes, Sadakichi Hartmann and Marcel Duchamp. She also posed for Man Ray. Economic hardship at home and the allure of what then seemed the cultural Eldorado of Europe impelled several of these artists to try their luck in Paris, and Abbott herself joined this group of American expatriates in 1921.

In 1923 she became the assistant of Man Ray, who had opened a portrait studio shortly after his arrival in France in 1921. While a fair portion of the studio’s clients were American tourists, Abbott found herself at the heart of the avant-garde scene – especially that of the Surrealists. Between 1923 and 1926 she thus learnt about darkroom techniques and portrait photography while at the same time picking up a broader intellectual and artistic education. She produced her portraits in Man Ray’s studio before opening her own in 1926. Success soon followed. Her clientele was a mixture of French cultural figures and American expatriates, of bourgeois, bohemians and literary types. Her portraits were on occasion manifestly influenced by Surrealism, and more generally show an interest in masquerade, play and disguise, but sometimes even in their use of overprinting and distortion.

The female models express a kind of sexual ambiguity, notably by their masculine haircut or clothes, deliberately exuding a sense of uncertainty with regard to their identity. In composing her portraits, Abbott developed a distinctive aesthetic, far removed from the usual commercial conventions. The absence of a set, with the background usually no more than a plain wall, helped to focus on the sitter and their posture, the position of their body and their facial expression. The use of a tripod and long-focus lenses placed at eye-height allowed her to avoid distortions and thus heighten the physical presence of the models. In early 1929 Abbott left Paris for New York City. Back in America she continued with the same activities, opening a new portrait studio and taking part in exhibitions of modernist photography, while also promoting the work of Eugène Atget, having bought part of his estate in 1928.

 

New York City

In the early 1930s, Abbott set about her project for a great documentary portrait of the City of New York, but had no luck when she approached institutions such as the Museum of the City of New York and the New York Historical Society for funding. She assembled her first efforts in an album (eight pages of which are exhibited here) in order to convey the scale of her ambitious undertaking, and in 1934 exhibited her photographs of the City at the Museum of the City of New York in the hope of attracting sponsors. In 1935, support was at last forthcoming from the Federal Art Project, a programme set up to aid artists by the Works Progress Administration as part of the New Deal; she now had the support of a team of researchers who produced an information pack with text and drawings to accompany each image. Entitled Changing New York, she conceived this commission as both a vast documentary record of the City and a personal work of art. Eighty of the 305 photographs constituting this project have been selected for the exhibition. These are accompanied by documents – a poster, exhibition views, sketches and historical notes, proofs, pages from the preparatory album and original editions – that help to convey the concerns and ambitions behind this major photographic undertaking.

Abbott focused on the contrasts and links between old and new in the City’s structure. Her images alternate between a New Vision aesthetic, characterised by an emphasis on details and bold perspectives, and a more documentary style that is frontal and neutral. Rather than the kind of nostalgic approach often brought to bear on a city’s landmarks and typical sites, this ensemble offers an exploration of the nature of modernity and focuses on the ways in which the past and future are temporarily linked together. Seeking to reinvent the forms and functions of photography in relation to the practice of documentary, Abbott sets out to capture the “vanishing instant” by juxtaposing motifs from a city subject to an unprecedented process of demolition and reconstruction.

The upshot of all this work was the publication of a book, Changing New York, in 1939. But there was considerable tension between the publisher, whose concerns were commercial, and the photographer, with her artistic ambitions. In 1938, hoping to take advantage of the fifty million visitors expected at the New York World’s Fair of 1939, the publishing house E.P. Dutton proposed to bring out a selection of one hundred images from the project accompanied by a text from the renowned art critic Elizabeth McCausland, who also happened to be Abbott’s companion and unfailing supporter. Straying far from the project originally envisaged by the two women, Dutton changed the presentation of the photographs and produced what was a standard tourist guide, breaking the City down into a series of tours, from south to north and from the centre outwards. The text, too, was shorn of its poetic and pedagogical dimensions, leaving only information about the buildings in the pictures.

 

The “American scene”

This set of architectural images is completed by a selection of vernacular photographs. In the summer of 1935, Berenice Abbott went on a road trip down to the Southern US in order to create a portrait of a rural world in crisis. Choosing the kind of documentary style that would be the hallmark of the photographic survey launched by the Farm Security Administration (FSA) that same year, she focused on the modest wooden houses and the farmers. Driving around these states with Elizabeth McCausland, Abbott took some two hundred photographs which the two women saw as part of an ambitious photographic portrait of America in book form, although in the end this was never published. A similar fate befell Abbott’s piece on the small towns and villages along Route 1, which she travelled in 1954. Covering approximately 6,500  kilometres as she followed this road along the East Coast of the US, she took some 2,400 photographs, taking in stalls, shops, portraits of farmers, diners and bars and dance halls. Her photography alternated between the documentary aesthetic and Street Photography. With Route 1, Abbott continued to pursue her ambition of representing the whole of the “American scene.”

 

Science

Abbott started photographing scientific phenomena in 1939. In 1944 she was recruited by the journal Science Illustrated, where she published some of her own pictures, as head of its photography department. Abbott took a committed, pedagogical approach, seeing her images as a vital bridge between modern science and the general public. In 1957, as a result of the anxiety about national science stirred by the Soviet launch of the Sputnik into outer space, at the height of the Cold War, the National Science Foundation set up a Physical Science Study Committee at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Its role was to develop new textbooks for the teaching of science in schools and to use innovative photographs to illustrate the principles of quantum mechanics. Abbott was hired by MIT to produce photographs for the popularisation and teaching of the sciences. Using abstract forms to visually express complex mechanical concepts and invisible mechanical laws, she used black grounds to reveal principles such as gravity and light waves. The exhibition features a score of Abbott’s scientific and experimental images, as well as some of the books for which they were used. Harking back to the experiments of the avant-gardes, and in particular the Rayogram technique, she was able to produce visually attractive and surprising images that were also rich in discovery, thus combining documentary information with a sense of wonder.”

Text by Gaëlle Morel, curator of the exhibition, on the Jeu de Paume website

 

Berenice Abbott. 'Blossom Restaurant, 103 Bowery, New York City, October 24, 1935' 1935

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Blossom Restaurant, 103 Bowery, New York City, October 24, 1935
1935
Gelatin silver print
19 x 24.5cm
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
© Berenice Abbott / Commerce Graphics Ltd, Inc.

 

Berenice Abbott. 'Sunoco Station, Trenton, New Jersey' 1954

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Sunoco Station, Trenton, New Jersey
1954
Gelatin silver print
19 x 24.5cm
Ronald Kurtz / Commerce Graphics
© Berenice Abbott / Commerce Graphics Ltd, Inc.

 

Berenice Abbott. 'Gunsmith and Police Department Headquarters, 6 Centre Market Place and 240 Centre Street, New York City, February 4, 1937' 1937

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Gunsmith and Police Department Headquarters, 6 Centre Market Place and 240 Centre Street, New York City, February 4, 1937
1937 
Gelatin silver print
19 x 24.5cm
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
© Berenice Abbott / Commerce Graphics Ltd, Inc.

 

Berenice Abbott. 'Happy's Refreshment Stand, Daytona Beach, Florida' 1954

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Happy’s Refreshment Stand, Daytona Beach, Florida
1954
Gelatin silver print
29.5 x 28cm
Ronald Kurtz / Commerce Graphics
© Berenice Abbott / Commerce Graphics Ltd, Inc.

 

Berenice Abbott. 'Miner, Greenview, West Virginia' 1935

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Miner, Greenview, West Virginia
1935
Gelatin silver print
25 x 19 cm
Ronald Kurtz / Commerce Graphics
© Berenice Abbott / Commerce Graphics Ltd, Inc.

 

 

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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: ‘Padlocks/People’ 1994-96

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