Posts Tagged ‘vernacular photography

26
Feb
17

Exhibition: ‘The Camera Exposed’ at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Exhibition dates: 23rd July 2016 – 5th March 2017

 

There’s not much to say about this exhibition from afar, except to observe it seems pretty standard fare, with no outstanding revelations or insights into the conditions of the camera’s “becoming” in photographic images or an exploration of the limits of the lens’ seeing. As the Centre for Contemporary Photography notes in their current exhibition, An elegy to apertures, “The camera receives and frames the world through the lens. This aperture is a threshold that demarcates the distinction between the scene and its photographic echo. It is both an entrance and a point of departure.”

So what happens to this threshold when we fuse the photographer’s eye with the “oculus artificialis” of the camera? When we examine the way apertures, shadows and ghosts haunt photographic images long after the shutter has closed? If, as the text for this exhibition states, “Voyeurism is a recurring motif in photography, as the practice often involves observing and recording others,” what does this voyeurism say about the recording of the self as subject and the camera together – the self actualised, self-reflexive selfie?

An insightful text on the Based on truth (and lies) website observes of a 1925 self-portrait by photographer Germaine Krull (1897-1985):

“In 1925, Germaine Krull photographed herself in a mirror with a hand-held camera which half-covered her face. The camera is focused on the foreground of the image, such that the lens and the two hands holding the camera are sharp, while the face behind the camera is blurred. This self-portrait has given rise to many a feminist or professionally critical interpretation, ranging from the female domestication “of the masculinity of technical apparatus” through to the analogy of the camera with a weapon used by the photographer to “reduce the person opposite her […] to an impotent object”. However, if we attempt to interpret the photograph not so much in a figurative sense as in a concrete, phenomenal sense, we arrive at a completely opposite conclusion. By selecting the depth of field in such a way that only the camera and the hands are sharp, Germaine Krull has isolated her act of photographing from her subjectivity and individuality as the photographer. It is the technical apparatus, the camera, which is the focal point of the image and behind which the photographer’s face is blurred beyond recognition. We may assume that this physiognomical retreat behind the camera is less a typical feminine gesture of shyness and reticence than the characteristically ideological approach of a modernist photographer. There is one critical point in Krull’s portrait of herself as a photographer which gives us good reason to make this assumption, namely the fusion of the photographer’s eye with the “oculus artificialis” of the camera. The notion that the camera lens could not only replace the human eye as a means of capturing the world visually but also improve upon its ability to penetrate reality to its invisible depths was paradigmatic of the new, basically positivist photographic aesthetic of the 1920s. It is an aesthetic defined by the Bauhaus theorist László Moholy-Nagy in his manifesto “Painting Photography Film” in 1925 and visualized by countless collages, posters and book covers of the 1920s and 1930s depicting the camera lens as a substitute for the human eye. Germaine Krull’s self-portrait wholly identifies with this new photographic aesthetic, too. Indeed, her influential work “Métal”, a photographic eulogy of modern technology published in 1928, is its embodiment.”

The highlight for me is that always transcendent image by Judy Dater, Imogen and Twinka at Yosemite (1974, below). I would hope in the exhibition there would be images by Diane Arbus, Edward Weston, Vivian Maier, Man Ray, Rodchenko and others. But you never know.

Marcus

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

 

In the age of the mobile phone, the camera as a stand-alone device is disappearing from sight. Yet generations of photographers have captured the tools of their trade, sometimes inadvertently as reflections or shadows, and sometimes as objects in their own right.

Throughout the history of photography the camera has often made an appearance in its own image, from the glint of Eugène Atget’s camera in a Parisian shop window from the 1900s, to the camera that serves as an eye in Calum Colvin’s 1980s photograph of a painted assemblage of objects.

Many images of cameras exploit the instrument’s anthropomorphic qualities. Held up to the face, as in Richard Sadler’s portrait of Weegee, it becomes a mask, the lens a mechanical eye. It conceals the photographer’s features yet reinforces his or her identity. Set on a tripod, it can take on human form, appearing like a body supported by legs, and can stand in for the photographer.

Photographs that include cameras often draw attention to the inherent voyeurism of the medium by turning the instrument towards the viewer. Such images confront the viewer’s gaze, returning it with the cool, mechanical look of the lens. The viewer cannot help but be aware not only of seeing, but of being seen.

Text from the V&A website

 

 

Lady Hawarden. 'Clementina Maude, 5 Princes Gardens; Photographic Study' c. 1862-1863

 

Lady Hawarden (Viscountess, born 1822 – died 1865)
Clementina Maude, 5 Princes Gardens; Photographic Study
c. 1862-1863
Albumen print; Sepia photograph mounted on green card
21.6 cm x 23.2 cm
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

Lady Hawarden, a noted amateur photographer  of the 1860s, frequently photographed her children. Here, her second-eldest daughter  Clementina Maude poses next to a mirror, in  which a bulky camera is reflected. The camera  seems to stand in for the photographer, making  this a mother-daughter portrait of sorts.

This photograph gives a good idea of Lady Hawarden’s studio and the way she used it. It was situated on the second floor of her house at 5 Princes Gardens in the South Kensington area of London. Here her daughter Clementina poses beside a mirror. A movable screen has been placed behind it, across the opening into the next room. A side table at the left balances a desk at the right. The figure of the young girl is partially balanced and echoed by the camera reflected in the mirror and the embroidery resting on the table beside it.

Hawarden appears to have worked with seven different cameras. The one seen in the mirror is the largest. Possibly there is a slight suggestion of a hand in the act of removing and/or replacing the lens cap to begin and end the exposure. (Text from the V&A website)

 

Lady Hawarden. 'Clementina Maude, 5 Princes Gardens; Photographic Study' c. 1862-1863 (detail)

 

Lady Hawarden
Clementina Maude, 5 Princes Gardens; Photographic Study (detail)
c. 1862-1863
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Philippe Halsman. '"Rita Hayworth," Harper's Bazaar Studio' 1943

 

Philippe Halsman
“Rita Hayworth,” Harper’s Bazaar Studio
1943
© Philippe Halsman Archive

 

Laelia Goehr. 'Bill Brandt with his Kodak Wide-Angle Camera' 1945

 

Laelia Goehr
Bill Brandt with his Kodak Wide-Angle Camera
1945
© Alexander Goehr

 

 

Laelia Goehr (1908-2020), learned photography from Bill Brandt, who poses for this portrait with his newly-acquired Wide-Angle Kodak. This model was originally used by police to photograph crime scenes – the lens provides 110 degrees angle of view, equating approximately to a 14/15mm lens on a 35mm camera. Brandt experimented with it to produce his series Perspectives on Nudes, the same year as this portrait was taken. Brandt’s camera, which was made of mahogany and brass with removable bellows, was sold by Christie’s in 1997 for £3450. (Text from the V&A website)

 

John French. 'John French and Daphne Abrams in a tailored suit' 1957

 

John French (born 1907 – died 1966)
John French and Daphne Abrams in a tailored suit
1957, printed October 2009; print made by Jerry Jack
Gelatin silver print
27.8 cm x 38 cm
Published in the TV Times, 1957
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

French often left the actual release of the shutter to his assistants. On this occasion however, he inserted himself into the picture, kneeling behind a tripod-mounted Rolleiflex with the shutter release cable in his hand. His crouched, slightly rumpled presence gives a sense of behind-the scenes studio work and contrasts playfully with the polished elegance of the model beside him.

 

Richard Avedon. 'Suzy Parker, dress by Nina Ricci, Champs-Elysée, Paris' 1962

 

Richard Avedon
Suzy Parker, dress by Nina Ricci, Champs-Elysée, Paris
1962
© Richard Avedon Foundation

 

Richard Sadler. "Weegee the Famous" 1963

 

Richard Sadler
“Weegee the Famous”
1963
© Richard Sadler FRPS

 

 

Coventry-based portrait photographer Richard Sadler (b. 1927) photographed the self-proclaimed ‘Weegee the Famous’ in 1963. Weegee was a New York press photographer who gained his nickname – a phonetic spelling of Ouija, the fortune-telling board game – for his reputation for arriving at crime scenes before the police. His fame was international by the time this portrait was taken. Weegee’s visit to Coventry coincided with ‘Russian Camera Week’ at the city’s Owen Owen department store. The camera Weegee holds up to his eye here is the Zenit 3M, a newly-introduced Russian model made by the Krasnogorsk Mechanic Factory between 1962 and 1970.

A few years later Weegee made a comparable self-portrait in which the camera (this time a recent Nikon model) obscures his right eye. (Text from the V&A website)

 

Photographer unknown. 'Camera on black cloth' Date unknown

 

Photographer unknown
Camera on black cloth
Date unknown
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

The camera pictured here is a Super Ikonta C 521/2 camera, produced by the German company Zeiss Ikon from about 1936 to 1960. It has been carefully lit and arranged on a velvet cloth as if it were a still-life subject, by an unknown photographer. (Text from the V&A website)

 

Tim Walker. 'Lily Cole with Giant Camera' 2004

 

Tim Walker (born 1970)
Lily Cole with Giant Camera
2004
© Tim Walker

 

 

British fashion photographer Tim Walker (born 1970) has collaborated with the art director and set designer Simon Costin for over a decade, and Costin’s oversized props feature in many of Walker’s sparkling, magical scenes. Costin based the giant camera on Walker’s 35mm Pentax K1000.Walker found inspiration for this shoot in a 1924 fashion illustration by Vogue artist Benito. Benito depicted girls reading a magazine from which the models appear to be coming alive. (Text from the V&A website)

 

 

Every photograph in this display features at least one camera. From formal portraits to casual snapshots, still-lifes to collages, they appear as reflections or shadows, and sometimes as objects in their own right. This summer the V&A displays of over 120 photographs that explore the camera as subject. People are taking more photographs today than ever before, but as they increasingly rely on smartphones, the traditional device is disappearing from sight.

The Camera Exposed showcases works by over 57 known artists as well as many unidentified amateur photographers. From formal portraits to casual snapshots, and from still-lifes to cityscapes, each work features at least one camera. Portraits of photographers such as Bill Brandt, Paul Strand and Weegee, posed with their cameras, are on display alongside self-portraits by Eve Arnold, Lee Friedlander and André Kertész, in which the camera appears as a reflection or a shadow. Other works depict cameras without their operators. In the earliest photograph included in the display, from 1853, Charles Thurston Thompson captures himself and his camera reflected in a Venetian mirror. The most recent works are a pair of 2014 photomontages by Simon Moretti, created by placing fragments of images on a scanner.

The display showcases several new acquisitions, including a recent gift of nine 20th-century photographs. Amongst these are a Christmas card by portrait photographer Philippe Halsman, an image of photojournalist W. Eugene Smith testing cameras and a self-portrait in the mirror by the French photojournalist Pierre Jahan. On display also is a recently donated collection of 50 20th-century snapshots of people holding cameras or in the act of taking photographs. These anonymous photographs attest to the broad social appeal of the camera.

Many of the photographs in the display highlight the anthropomorphic qualities of the camera. Held up to the face like a mask, as in Richard Sadler’s Weegee the Famous, the lens becomes an artificial eye. In Lady Hawarden’s portrait of her daughter, a mirror reflection of the camera on a tripod takes on a human form, a body supported by legs.

Cameras in photographs can also emphasise the inherent voyeurism of the medium. Judy Dater explores this theme in her well-known image of the fully clothed photographer Imogen Cunningham posed as if about to snap nude model Twinka Thiebaud. In other photographs on display, the camera confronts the viewer with its mechanical gaze, drawing attention to the experience not only of seeing, but of being seen.

Press release from the V&A

 

Charles Thurston. 'Thompson Venetian mirror circa 1700' 1853

 

Charles Thurston Thompson (born 1816 – died 1868)
Venetian mirror circa 1700
1853
Albumen print from wet collodion-on-glass negative
22.8 cm x 16.3 cm
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

As early as 1853, Charles Thurston Thompson (1816-68), the first official photographer to the South Kensington Museum (as the V&A was then called), recorded his reflection, along with that of his camera, in the glass of an ornate Venetian mirror. Loan objects such as the mirror were photographed so that photographic copies could be sold to designers, craftsmen and students, and also filed in the Museum’s library for study. By recording not only the frame’s intricate carvings but also his reflection and that of his box form camera and tripod, Thompson showed the very process by which he made the image. It gives us a vivid glimpse of a photographer at work outdoors in the early days of the Museum and the profession of Museum Photography. (Text from the V&A website)

 

Eugène Atget. 'Shopfront, Quai Bourbon, Paris, France' c. 1900

 

Eugène Atget (born 1857 – died 1927)
Shopfront, Quai Bourbon, Paris, France
c. 1900
Albumen print from gelatin dry plate negative
21 cm x 17.5 cm
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

The reflection of Eugène Atget’s (1857-1927) camera is an appealing detail in this photographic record of Parisian architecture from the turn of the century. Atget’s photographs had a primarily documentary role – this image was purchased by the V&A in 1903 as an illustration of Parisian ironwork. Yet it carries a strangeness which has fascinated 20th-century photographers. His photographs acquired artistic status in the mid-1920s when they were ‘discovered’ by artists associated with Surrealism. (Text from theV&A website)

This photograph is an albumen print, contact printed by Atget from a 24 x 18 glass negative. The dark shapes of two clips which held the negative in place on the right edge of the image are visible. This image was one of many photographs bought by the V&A directly from Atget, in this case, in 1903. This photograph would have been bought as simply an illustration of ironwork in Paris.

The albumen process was almost never used by the early 1900s, so the image can be dated to the 19th century. The use of this developing process also supports the non-art status intended for the photograph. There is, however, an ambiguity in the reading of this image and most strongly in the reflection in the door of the street and Atget with his camera. This is one of a number of Atget images where it is possible to see why his photographs have fascinated 20th-century photographers; it carries, whether intended or not, a strangeness which invests the image with potential meaning beyond its primarily documentary role. (Text from the V&A website)

 

Pierre Jahan. 'Autoportrait à Velo ('Self-portrait on bike') ' 1935

 

Pierre Jahan
Autoportrait à Velo (‘Self-portrait on bike’)
June 1944
Gelatin silver print
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

Here, Jahan seems to have paused while cycling through the streets of Paris to snap himself in a mirror. His dangling cigarette and precarious perch on the bicycle suggest spontaneity, but the design of his camera demanded a deliberate approach. A Reflex-Korelle, manufactured in Dresden, it usually required the operator to hold it at waist level and look down into the viewfinder.

 

Unknown. Vernacular photograph c. 1940s

 

 

Unknown
Vernacular photograph
c. 1940s
Gelatin silver print
71 mm x 98 mm
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

Vernacular portrait photograph of a woman in front of a fence, using a camera held at chest height. Photographer unknown, c.1940s. Gelatin silver print, from the collection of Peter Cohen, given as part of a group of 50 photographs featuring cameras.

 

Elsbeth Juda. 'Mediterranean Fortnight' 1953

 

Elsbeth Juda 
Mediterranean Fortnight
1953
© Siobhan Davies

 

 

Elsbeth Juda (1911-2014) was a British fashion photographer who worked for more than 20 years as photographer and editor on The Ambassador magazine. This image was shot at an archaeological site in Cyprus for a story on British fashion abroad. The model appears to pose for a local tintype photographer with a homemade looking camera. Tintype, also called ferrotype, was an early photographic process which produced an underexposed negative using a thin metal plate. Tintype photography was around 100 years old when Juda took this shot. (Text from the V&A website)

 

Armet Francis. 'Self-portrait in Mirror' 1964

 

Armet Francis
Self-portrait in Mirror
1964
© Armet Francis

 

 

Armet Francis was born in Jamaica in 1945 and moved to London at the age of ten. His photographic career began in his mid-teens when he worked as an assistant for a West End photographic studio. His early photographs show him experimenting with the camera as a technical device and a tool for self-representation. The camera in this self-portrait is a Yashica-Mat LM twin lens reflex, an all-mechanical model introduced in 1958, with an inbuilt light meter. It records his identity as a professional photographer, while the surrounding scene offers an intimate glimpse into his personal life. (Text from the V&A website)

 

Judy Dater. 'Imogen and Twinka at Yosemite' 1974

 

Judy Dater
Imogen and Twinka at Yosemite
1974
© Judy Dater

 

Cameras in photographs can also emphasise the inherent voyeurism of the medium. Judy Dater explores this theme in her well-known image of the fully clothed photographer Imogen Cunningham posed as if about to snap nude model Twinka Thiebaud.

Dater met Imogen Cunningham, a prominent American photographer, in 1964. Cunningham acted as a mentor to Dater, and the two became close friends. This image is from Dater’s larger series addressing the theme of voyeurism, in particular the idea of someone clothed watching someone nude. Voyeurism is a recurring motif in photography, as the practice often involves observing and recording others.

 

 

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09
Feb
16

Text: ‘The multiple singularities of photography’ / Exhibition: ‘Every Photograph is an Enigma’ at Fotomuseum Winterthur, Zurich

Exhibition dates: 24th October 2015 – 14th February 2016

 

The multiple singularities of photography

Photograph, photographer, negative, print

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I have never thought of photography as a “singularity” – the singularity of photography. For me, photography has always been about possibilities, multiplicities rather than singularities.

In Kathrin Yacavone’s text below, the “singularity of photography” is defined as the relationship – the hierarchy – among valuable, perceptual and imaginative relations between the beholder and the image. It is the singularity of the individual and their response at any time to a photograph, but these responses cannot be systematically codified, in the sense that no response can ever be relied upon… certainly, no response to a photograph of a mother could be more singular than the response of a son (as claimed by Barthes Camera Lucida).

In other words, the singularity of photography is how the viewer engages and reads a photograph in a singular way at one point in time, from one “point of view.”

While this point of view is singular, it changes from moment to moment, from context to context, from different points of view. Hence, we have a multiplicity of singularities or, if you like, a multiple singularity of photography. Hasn’t it always seemed false to you in Camera Lucida where Barthes talks about his response to an image (for example, the supposed “lost” image of his mother*), he allows it to freeze in his text? Surely he would feel different later (another singularity). And yet the freezing is necessary for the arguments Barthes makes.

It continues to haunt me – much as photographs haunt our memory – why Barthes stuck with the singularity of a photograph, when at the same time he was pushing the multiplicity of readings in his other texts eg. S/Z (1970). Are we missing something really basic here? Why should a photograph be frozen and a text not?

In this exhibition, Michel Frizot defines a series of classifications (or themes, see below) that seek to organise the ambiguity and perplexity of vernacular and surprising photography. As Frizot himself puts it, “the photograph is not in its essence a transparency through which we gain access to a known reality but, on the contrary, a source of ambiguity and often, perplexity. The photographic image is a constellation of questions for the eye because it offers viewers forms and signs they have never perceived as such and which conflict with their natural vision”.

Frizot suggests questions for the eye offered through forms and signs that are in conflict with natural vision. Barthes pushes further, suggesting that it is not the forms and signs of the photograph that challenge natural vision, but a shift away from a semiology of photography to a phenomenology of photography. From guided message (forms/signs) to emotive response (imagination). Umberto Eco comments that, “Semiology shows us the universe of ideologies, arranged in codes and sub-codes, within the universe of signs, and these ideologies are reflected in our preconstituted ways of using the language,”1 but Barthes, in works such as S/Z, stresses the multiplicity of a reading (its intertextuality). He contends that there can be no originating anchor of meaning in the possible intentions of the author, and that meaning must be actively created by the reader through a process of textual analysis.

An emotive response to a photograph is an “encounter with the represented other [is] a dialectical relationship between the specific and the general, between the personal and the universal, where the dialectic is seen in the psychologically unsettling potential of photographic images, the status of the photographic referent and the poignancy of the relation between time and image.” Thus the photograph can have a capacity for plurality of meaning which is not restrictive.

This response is based on an individuated, ‘feeling’ viewer whose encounter with the photograph is guided by desire and emotion, grounded in his or her unique experience and life history. It is to engage with the photograph in imaginative, affective, and emotional ways. Here, the codified reading is subsumed? by the emotive reading of an enlightened and fully “conscious” reader in the phenomenology of photography. Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, its being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or about some object – a photograph for example – by the imagination, by thought. Phenomenology requires a bit to grasp – to read a phenomenologial text like Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space as its author intended requires a cultivated mindset – but a prepared reader has many pleasures.

This is one possible response by the viewer to unsettling photographs. But what of the photographer?

Les Walking (my lecturer at RMIT University for many years), used to ask “what are you pointing your camera at?”… so this would permit an imaginative journey on his part as he imagined the subject matter, what he knew of the person, and all possibilities. Sometimes everything happens at once (in photography), and sometimes we recognise the richness of where we are in photography’s ability to generate many singularities within us at rapid fire.

As a photographer we go on an imaginative journey when we take a photograph – we previsualise, snap, extend the “point” of exposure (long time exposure), double expose or do away with the camera altogether. Taking a photograph is a multiplicity before the moment of the pushing of the shutter (decisions, angles, camera, film, light, place etc..), and a multiplicity afterwards… but for that split second it is a singularity, “an encounter with the represented other” as Walter Benjamin puts it…. as though time, history and memory are all focused through the lens (of the camera, of the enlarger, of the scanner) at the object – like a funnel – which then expands afterwards. At the point of “exposure” there is only ever one singularity. Multiple contexts before and after, multiple phenomena if you like, but only one outcome when the negative is exposed. Being aware of all that happens around us leads to that one singularity – the negative. That’s what photographers do, they focus that energy into a singularity.

But the resulting negative is NOT singular!

Of course, there are some things that are forever predetermined in the analogue negative, eg the depth of field, the focus, the grain. Even in the digital negative these determinations apply. But then you think, if I push this film or pull it back in development “other” things may appear. Probably the Leica manual is as good as any for what come after that – they say that when shooting a roll of film with a variety of tonal scales the exposure should be more than the meter indicated, and the development time less. In the Zone System this would be N-1. And a negative like this is what gives the greatest options with graded papers. Multiple options for printing, multiple options for interpreting a negative. I feel these multiple options have been more or less forgotten in the era of the digital print. What you see on the screen is what you aim to see in the print, which negates the multiplicity of the (digital) negative, often leading to bland and underwhelming digital prints. The pre-determination of the screen leads to an over-determination of the print.

While Minor White observed that there was a dragon in the negative that could be reached by careful printing, this locks you into looking for the “one road” in the negative. One person who didn’t was the English photographer Bill Brandt who printed first in a straight documentary style before “unlocking” the surrealist elements of his negs with very contrasty work. He was open to the multiple contexts of the point of exposure of the negative, and it is his later reprinting of his earlier work for which he has become famous.

While it comes down to only several elements when talking about the phenomena of the negative, it is our direct experience of it IN OUR IMAGINATION that, perhaps, gives the negative presence and transcendence. It is the direction of our thought towards the object of our being. And that is what makes us truly human.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

* Of course, the photograph of his mother did exist, it was just necessary for his argument that we never see it, and that he said that it did not exist.

Word count: 1,400.

  1. Eco, U. (1970). “Articulations of the Cinematic Code,” in Cinematics, 1(1), pp. 590-605
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Many thankx to my mentor for his advice and thoughts on this text. Many thankx to the Fotomuseum Winterthur for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Photographs often seem familiar and understandable, a visual common sense intimately related to our daily lives. But they can also provoke a spark of amazement or generate a more sustained perplexity and inquiry. Curated by the renowned French photo historian, Michel Frizot, Every Photograph is an Enigma interrogates this paradox. Drawing exclusively from photographs in his private collection, many of them anonymous, he presents a selection of photographic moments at once ordinary and marvellous. Frizot develops a system of classification that explores the strangeness generated by the camera lens. Taken by family members, lovers, or unheralded professional and amateur photographers, the assembled images amount to nothing less than a phenomenology of photography.

The exhibition and book are divided into eleven themes, such as:

Ambiguous assemblages
The enigma of relationship
The enigma of context
The enigma of attentiveness
Challenging the figurative order
The aesthetic solution
Original configurations
The photographer’s options
The space of the gaze
The spirit of the place

 

 

“Every photograph is an enigma for the gaze: for the enigma is part of the photographic act itself. It ensues from the distance between the natural vision and the camera’s photosensitive capture process. By widening this gap, the modes of capture, the photographer’s intentions, and the reactions and involvement of the “photographer” together create new forms and perceptual requirements specific to photography. It is a question, above all, of understanding how much photographs, by transcending our visual capacities and going beyond our intuitions, also give rise to empathy and the need to project personal concerns. The element of enigma in photography bears witness, in fact, to what it is to “be human”.”

 

“The answer to the Sphinx’s riddle, it should be remembered, is humankind. And looking at a photograph means discovering oneself and the human species. Through the disparity and the dissonance between what it shows and what we experience, photography testifies above all, and at every moment, to what “being human” means. And the riddle, the enigma inherent in looking at a photograph is that of our presence in the world.”

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Michel Frizot

 

 

Photography and Subjectivity

 

Kathrin Yacavone. Benjamin, Barthes and the Singularity of Photography. Bloomsbury Academic, 2012, pp. 123-124

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled' c. 1930

 

Anonymous photographer
Untitled
c. 1930
Silver gelatin print
13 x 18 cm
© Private collection

 

Anonymous. 'Professor Piccards Balloon' c. 1930

 

Anonymous (Keystone)
Professor Piccard’s Balloon Destroyed by Flames
25th May 1937
Silver gelatin print
13.4 x 18.5 cm
© Private collection

 

The stratosphere balloon of Professor Piccard catches fire in the moment of ascending over the area of Brussels, Belgium

 

Anonymous (Press Photo) 'Rock and Mud 'Grand Finale',' California, c. 1930

 

Anonymous (Press Photo)
Rock and Mud ‘Grand Finale’
California, c. 1930
Silver gelatin print
19.7 x 24.7 cm
© Private collection

 

Mr. Brodsky. 'Marchand ties, Paris' 1935

 

Mr. Brodsky
Marchand ties, Paris
1935
Silver gelatin print
© Private collection

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled' c. 1930

 

Anonymous photographer
Untitled
c. 1930
Silver gelatin print
5.9 x 8.1 cm
© Private collection

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled' c. 1950

 

Anonymous
Untitled
c. 1950
Silver gelatin print
6.5 x 9 cm
© Private collection

 

Anonymous photographer. 'The Photographer set on by His "Victim",' Hollywood Press photo 1938

 

Anonymous photographer (Hollywood Press photo)
The Photographer set on by His “Victim”
1938
Silver gelatin photograph
16.9 x 22 cm
© Private collection

 

International News Photos. 'Untitled' Nd

 

Anonymous (International News Photos)
Untitled
Nd
Silver gelatin print
16.5 x 21.5 cm
© Private collection

 

International News Photos. 'Untitled' Nd (detail)

 

Anonymous (International News Photos)
Untitled (detail)
Nd
Silver gelatin print
16.5 x 21.5 cm
© Private collection

 

France-Presse. 'C’est demain mardi-gras', 5 mars 1935

 

France-Presse
C’est demain mardi-gras / Tomorrow is Shrove Tuesday
March 5, 1935
Silver gelatin photograph
© Private collection

 

Interpress. 'Avant l’ouverture du Salon des Surindépendants' Paris, 1952

 

Interpress
Avant l’ouverture du Salon des Surindépendants / Prior to the opening of Superintendent’s Fair
Paris, 1952
Silver gelatin photograph
© Private collection

 

 

Mondial Photo-Presse. 'Réunion de modélistes' c. 1930

 

Mondial Photo-Presse
Réunion de modélistes
c. 1930
Silver gelatin photograph
12.8 × 17.6 cm
© Private collection

 

NYT Photo. 'Wind Tunnel in Chalais Meudon' 1935

 

NYT Photo
Wind Tunnel in Chalais Meudon
1935
Silver gelatin print
18 x 24 cm
© Private collection

 

 

“Photographs often seem familiar and understandable, a visual common sense intimately related to our daily lives. But they can also provoke a spark of amazement or generate a more sustained perplexity and inquiry. Curated by the renowned French photo historian, Michel Frizot, Every Photograph is an Enigma interrogates this paradox. Drawing exclusively from photographs in his private collection, many of them anonymous, he presents a selection of photographic moments at once ordinary and marvellous. Frizot develops a system of classification that explores the strangeness generated by the camera lens. Taken by family members, lovers, or unheralded professional and amateur photographers, the assembled images amount to nothing less than a phenomenology of photography.

Immediately a photograph is taken it generates a distance between what the image reveals and what we have seen for ourselves only seconds before. This observation of disparity is central to the phenomenon of photography, creating a sense of indeterminacy that we might describe as the singularity of the photographic. As Frizot himself puts it, “the photograph is not in its essence a transparency through which we gain access to a known reality but, on the contrary, a source of ambiguity and often, perplexity. The photographic image is a constellation of questions for the eye because it offers viewers forms and signs they have never perceived as such and which conflict with their natural vision”. Every Photograph is an Enigma draws out the full implications of this disparity, everything which constitutes the singularity of the photographic process. This begins with the selection procedure itself: Frizot has collected the photographs over many years, with no predetermined objective, finding scraps and castoffs at flea markets and jumble sales. Abandoned photographs escape traditional standards of classification and judgement and are often the work of anonymous photographers. For Frizot, this artlessness offers ‘an extra touch of photographic naturalness which is not shrouded in conventions’. It is the work of the exhibition to reveal, and the role of the visitor to discover, this photographic supplement.

The exhibition explores the modalities of photographic capture and the out-distancing of the senses that results, above all in the relationship between photographer, subject photographed and the operations of the camera, a technical device. Recording different intensities of light on a photosensitive surface, photography is an index of states of light rather than the reality perceived by the eye. The formal consequences of photographic technique are considerable, whether determined by exposure time, framing, exhaustive detail, or the projection of three-dimensional space onto a two-dimensional surface. At the same time, what are fundamentally physical processes are also determined by the split-second decisions taken by the camera operator. It is precisely this that gives rise to the puzzle of photography: the contradictions between the precision of a physical world and the decision-making of the photographer.

Every Photograph is an Enigma explores other aspects of the riddle of photography, including the complexity of the exchange with the subject of the photograph, embodied by a reciprocal glance. The ability of the camera to record human form and gesture is what lends it its quasi-magical vocation. However, that act of recording is dependent on a vast array of potentialities and constraints, including perhaps the demeanour of the participants. The photographic act transforms emotionally-charged, interpersonal experience into uncertain, interpretable signs, a distillation of affect. At the same time, those signs are also dependent on the astuteness of the eyes that scrutinize the photograph, igniting, perhaps, an empathy with others. A photograph is a fragmentary capture and the gaze of the viewer operates in similarly fragmentary bursts. A viewer’s optical capacities are decisive, interpreting, for example, the photograph’s excess of data. The enigma of photography also emerges from the inadequacies and impasses of the energetic viewer’s scrutiny. These, and many other riddles, are explored across eleven separate chapters in the exhibition, which together provide a method for specifically photographic viewing. They probe the way the photographic device is used to celebrate the subject, or the way that processes unique to photography and the photographer’s command of his or her equipment help determine the final image. A further theme investigates the way that viewers are involved in a perceptual relationship which ordinary vision has not accustomed them to, including a display of stereo images. We encounter the myriad ways that photography overwhelms our senses and the many puzzles it presents.

Every Photograph is an Enigma brings together a remarkable selection of everyday photographs, selected over many years by one of the sharpest eyes in the history photography. It offers us the opportunity of a liberated escape into a ‘pure’ photographic act stripped of artistic pretension or historical portent. As Frizot proposes, there are no hierarchies in photography – it is the activity of the gaze that reveals the richness of the image. For the eye, every photograph is an enigma.

Catalogue

The exhibition is accompanied by the fully-illustrated catalogue Toute photographie fait énigme/Every photography is an enigma, by Michel Frizot, in collaboration with Cédric de Veigy. Published by Éditions Hazan. English/French with a German translation of the main texts. Price 45 CHF.

Credits

The exhibition is curated by Michel Frizot and organised by the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris and the Musée Nicéphore Niépce, Chalon-sur-Saône in collaboration with Fotomuseum Winterthur.”

Text from the Fotomuseum Winterthur website

 

B.W. Kilburn. 'The Surging Sea of Humanity at the Opening of the Columbian Exposition, Chicago' 1893

 

B.W. Kilburn
The Surging Sea of Humanity at the Opening of the Columbian Exposition, Chicago
1893
Stereocard
Albumen photographs
© Private collection

 

B.W. Kilburn. 'The Surging Sea of Humanity at the Opening of the Columbian Exposition, Chicago' 1893 (detail)

 

B.W. Kilburn
The Surging Sea of Humanity at the Opening of the Columbian Exposition, Chicago (detail)
1893
Stereocard
Albumen photograph
© Private collection

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled' c. 1900

 

Anonymous photographer
Untitled
c. 1900
© Private collection

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled' c. 1955

 

Anonymous photographer
Untitled (Flagrants délits / Egregious crimes)
c. 1955
Silver gelatin print
5.5 x 5.5 cm
© Private collection

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled' c. 1970

 

Amateur anonymous photographer
Untitled
Instamatic Kodak
c. 1970
© Private collection

 

Anonymous. 'Children Watching the Apollo 12 Flight on Television' 1969

 

Anonymous photographer
Children Watching the Apollo 12 Flight on Television
1969
Silver gelatin photograph
© Private collection

 

 

For many years, Michel Frizot the historian and theorist has been collecting neglected photographs which have been overlooked because they were taken by anonymous, unknown photographers, unheard-of or non-celebrated artists, throughout the entire history of photography. Avoiding “museumification” and classification, selected first of all for their capacity for surprise, these photographs are no less generous, moving and perhaps “photographic” than others. This exhibition reflects on the element of mystery in all photography.

“Because they are so familiar to us, because they are part of our visual space, photographic images seem to be immediately accessible and understandable. But everyone has experienced that sudden burst of amazement they can set off through suspended movements, the rendering of colours, unexpected coincidences or abruptly frozen expressions. If we pay attention to such features, they provoke the feeling that we are faced at once with something obvious and with a question. When we can look at a photograph as soon as we have “taken” it, we immediately, moreover, sense the distance between what the image tells us and what we have been able to see for ourselves only seconds before. The observation of this disparity, recognisable at every moment, is proper to the photographic phenomenon. We grant each photograph an element of truth but suspect its indeterminacy and sense its contradictions.

The photographic image is a constellation of questions for the eye because it offers viewers forms and signs they have never perceived as such and which conflict with their natural vision.

The enigma, the riddle, the puzzle would thus be fundamental to the photographic act itself.

Inherent in the photographic process, it results from the irreducible distance between the human senses and the camera’s light-sensitive capture: it arises from the split between visual perception and the photographic process.

For the eye, every photograph is an enigma.

Whether they are kept in archives, family albums or agencies, or dumped in the street, photographs are virtual objects which only begin to exist when they find a viewer. The selective collecting process is thus carried out “by eye” and not the eye of the connoisseur or the historian, but the paradoxical eye which goes against the tide of the canonically “good” photograph, it is a slow eye which opens itself to the pleasure of choice. The pursuit of irreplaceable strangeness. A determined eye, in search of what it does not yet know and yet perceives as the baring of the “photographic”, the liberated escape into a “pure” photographic act stripped of its eloquence. By repeating the selections, the eye discovers the unknown properties of the photographic image: it spots the elements of a puzzle to be savoured without anticipation of any solution. As a kind of practical application, when we look closely, these photographs seem more “photographic” than so many other images with more conventional features that quickly lose their interest. They reveal what escapes us in the recognition of the world, what lies beyond its photographic figures repeated over and over again.

The answer to the Sphinx’s riddle, it should be remembered, is humankind. And looking at a photograph means discovering oneself and the human species. Through the disparity and the dissonance between what it shows and what we experience, photography testifies above all, and at every moment, to what “being human” means. And the riddle, the enigma inherent in looking at a photograph is that of our presence in the world.”

Michel Frizot
Extract from the book Toute photographie fait énigme  / Every photograph is an enigma, Hazan, 2014

“Every Photograph is an enigma,” on the Musée Nicéphore Niépce website

 

Marius, Paris. 'Photomontage' c. 1865

 

Marius, Paris
Photomontage
c. 1865
Albumen print
© Private collection

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled' c. 1910

 

Anonymous photographer
Untitled
c. 1910
© Private collection

 

Photomontage, photographic postcard, c. 1920

 

Anonymous photographer
Photomontage (photographic postcard)
c. 1920
Silver gelatin print
© Private collection

 

Anonymous. 'Studio Portrait' (Photographic postcard), c. 1910

 

Anonymous photographer
Studio Portrait (Photographic postcard)
c. 1910
Silver gelatin print
9 x 14 cm
© Private collection

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled' c. 1930

 

Anonymous photographer
Untitled
c. 1930
Silver gelatin print
© Private collection

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Transcendental photography with faces of ectoplasm' 1939

 

Anonymous photographer
Photographie transcendetale avec visages d’ectoplasms / Transcendental photography with faces of ectoplasm
1939
Silver gelatin print
© Private collection

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled' c. 1935

 

Anonymous photographer
Untitled (Surimpression)
c. 1935
Silver gelatin photograph
8.2 × 5.4 cm
© Private collection

 

L. Olivier. 'Recherches sur l'appareil tégumentaire des racines Marsilea Quadrifolia' (Photomicrographic plate), 1881

 

L. Olivier 
Recherches sur l’appareil tégumentaire des racines Marsilea Quadrifolia 
(Photomicrographic plate)
1881
© Private collection

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Patriot Missile Warheads Promoters' 1991

 

Anonymous photographer (Press photo)
Patriot Missile Warheads Promoters
1991
Gelatin silver print
25.3 x 20.2 cm
© Private collection

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Dans un local désaffecté de Budapest, les corps de patriotes hongrois voisinent avec une statue déboulonnée à la gloire du sport soviétique', Budapest. 1956

 

Anonymous photographer
Dans un local désaffecté de Budapest, les corps de patriotes hongrois voisinent avec une statue déboulonnée à la gloire du sport soviétique /
In some abandoned premises in Budapest, the bodies of Hungarian patriots lie beside a statue removed from its base [dedicated] to the glory of Soviet sports

Budapest, 1956
Gelatin silver print
29.8 × 22.6 cm
© Private collection

 

Victims of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 brutally put down by the Russians.

 

 

“The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 or the Hungarian Uprising of 1956 (Hungarian: 1956-os forradalom or felkelés) was a nationwide revolt against the government of the Hungarian People’s Republic and its Soviet-imposed policies, lasting from 23 October until 10 November 1956. Though leaderless when it first began, it was the first major threat to Soviet control since the USSR’s forces drove out Nazi Germany from its territory at the end of World War II and broke into Central and Eastern Europe.

The revolt began as a student demonstration, which attracted thousands as they marched through central Budapest to the Parliament building, calling out on the streets using a van with loudspeakers via Radio Free Europe. A student delegation, entering the radio building to try to broadcast the students’ demands, was detained. When the delegation’s release was demanded by the demonstrators outside, they were fired upon by the State Security Police (ÁVH) from within the building. One student died and was wrapped in a flag and held above the crowd. This was the start of the revolution. As the news spread, disorder and violence erupted throughout the capital.

The revolt spread quickly across Hungary and the government collapsed. Thousands organised into militias, battling the ÁVH and Soviet troops. Pro-Soviet communists and ÁVH members were often executed or imprisoned and former political prisoners were released and armed. Radical impromptu workers’ councils wrested municipal control from the ruling Hungarian Working People’s Party and demanded political changes. A new government formally disbanded the ÁVH, declared its intention to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact, and pledged to re-establish free elections. By the end of October, fighting had almost stopped and a sense of normality began to return.

After announcing a willingness to negotiate a withdrawal of Soviet forces, the Politburo changed its mind and moved to crush the revolution. On 4 November, a large Soviet force invaded Budapest and other regions of the country. The Hungarian resistance continued until 10 November. Over 2,500 Hungarians and 700 Soviet troops were killed in the conflict, and 200,000 Hungarians fled as refugees. Mass arrests and denunciations continued for months thereafter. By January 1957, the new Soviet-installed government had suppressed all public opposition. These Soviet actions, while strengthening control over the Eastern Bloc, alienated many Western Marxists, leading to splits and/or considerable losses of membership for Communist Parties in the West.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

International Newsreel Photo. 'Governor of Alabama Arrested for Breaking Prohibition Laws' 24 november 1926

 

International Newsreel Photo
Governor of Alabama Arrested for Breaking Prohibition Laws
24th November 1926
Gelatin silver print
20 x 15 cm
© Private collection

 

Amateur photographer. 'Untitled' c. 1950

 

Amateur photographer
Untitled
c. 1950
Gelatin silver print
7 x 4.5 cm
© Private collection

 

 

Fotomuseum Winterthur
Grüzenstrasse 44 + 45
CH-8400
Winterthur (Zürich)

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Sunday 11 am – 6 pm
Wednesday 11 am – 8 pm
Closed on Mondays

Fotomuseum Winterthur website

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01
Apr
15

Japanese photographic album c.1920-30s Part 2

April 2015

 

After the blockbuster Tattoo posting, here is a rather more still, quiet posting. Another nine images rescued from the dustbin of history…

I bought an anonymous Japanese family photographic album from Daylesford in country Victoria recently for $25 (US$35). There were many images missing, but the thirty that were present are just stunning. I have been scanning them and gently digitally cleaning them since, and this is the second of three postings on the images. I love their immediacy, their vernacular language and intimate feel and the irregular shape and cut of the prints. Some of the photographs are very small in size.

The serenity, the beauty and the attention to the form of the hair is quite captivating. They have me entranced. Just delightful.

Marcus

.
Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled' from a Japanese family photography album c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous
Untitled
from a Japanese family photography album
c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled' from a Japanese family photography album c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous
Untitled
from a Japanese family photography album
c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled' from a Japanese family photography album c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous
Untitled
from a Japanese family photography album
c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled' from a Japanese family photography album c. 1920-30s (detail)

 

Anonymous
Untitled (detail)
from a Japanese family photography album
c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled' from a Japanese family photography album c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous
Untitled
from a Japanese family photography album
c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled' from a Japanese family photography album c. 1920-30s (detail)

 

Anonymous
Untitled (detail)
from a Japanese family photography album
c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled' from a Japanese family photography album c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous
Untitled
from a Japanese family photography album
c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled' from a Japanese family photography album c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous
Untitled
from a Japanese family photography album
c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled' from a Japanese family photography album c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous
Untitled (detail)
from a Japanese family photography album
c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled [Four women in traditional Japanese dress]' from a Japanese family photography album c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous
Untitled [Four women in traditional Japanese dress]
from a Japanese family photography album
c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled' from a Japanese family photography album c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous
Untitled
from a Japanese family photography album
c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled' from a Japanese family photography album c. 1920-30s (detail)

 

Anonymous
Untitled (detail)
from a Japanese family photography album
c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled' from a Japanese family photography album c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous
Untitled
from a Japanese family photography album
c. 1920-30s

 

 

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19
Nov
14

Japanese photographic album c.1920-30s Part 1

November 2014

 

I bought an anonymous Japanese family photographic album from Daylesford in country Victoria recently for $25 (US$20). There were many images missing, but the thirty that were present are just stunning. I have been scanning them and gently digitally cleaning them since, and this is the first of three postings on the images. I love their immediacy, their vernacular language and intimate feel and the irregular shape and cut of the prints. Some of the photographs are very small in size.

The serenity, the beauty and the attention to the form of the hair is quite captivating. They have me entranced. Just delightful…

Marcus

 

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled' from a Japanese family photography album c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous
Untitled
from a Japanese family photography album
c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled [City scene]' from a Japanese family photography album c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous
Untitled [City scene]
from a Japanese family photography album
c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled' from a Japanese family photography album c. 1920-30s (detail)

 

Anonymous
Untitled [City scene] (detail)
from a Japanese family photography album
c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled' from a Japanese family photography album c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous
Untitled
from a Japanese family photography album
c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled [Father with his daughter]' from a Japanese family photography album c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous
Untitled [Father with his daughter]
from a Japanese family photography album
c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous Untitled [Father with his daughter] from a Japanese family photography album c. 1920-30s (detail)

 

Anonymous
Untitled [Father with his daughter] (detail)
from a Japanese family photography album
c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled' from a Japanese family photography album c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous
Untitled
from a Japanese family photography album
c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled' from a Japanese family photography album c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous
Untitled
from a Japanese family photography album
c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled' from a Japanese family photography album c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous
Untitled
from a Japanese family photography album
c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled' from a Japanese family photography album c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous
Untitled
from a Japanese family photography album
c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled [Three women and an umbrella]' (restored) from a Japanese family photography album c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous
Untitled [Three women and an umbrella] (restored)
from a Japanese family photography album
c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled [Three women and an umbrella]' (umrestored) from a Japanese family photography album c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous
Untitled [Three women and an umbrella] (unrestored)
from a Japanese family photography album
c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled' from a Japanese family photography album c. 1920-30s

 

Anonymous
Untitled
from a Japanese family photography album
c. 1920-30s

 

 

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05
Nov
14

Exhibition / text: ‘From Steam to Diesel’ at the Portobello Library, Edinburgh

Exhibition dates: 20th October – 7th November 2014

 

This is a great project. The photographs are wonderful. At one time they could have almost been made here in Victoria, Australia.

Archie Foley who found the 500 or so railway related negatives taken by, at this stage, an anonymous British Railways engine driver was quite taken aback to get an email from half way around the world asking for some press images – but this is what this blog does, promote eclectic exhibitions of interesting photography from around the world, no matter how small they are.

I have always loved trains and the photographs of them (including the ones by Winston O. Link). Once I saw the images I think I shed a tear at the beauty of them. Archie informs me that the negatives are a mixture of 127; 6cm square and a larger 6cm x 8cm. There are notes of the cameras the photographer used and his favourite appears to have been an Isolette 11 (see below). However he also used Ikonta; Suprima; Isola and Super Isolette. These cameras have reasonable optical quality (not as good as a Rollei twin lens for example) with the advantage that they have a large negative and can be folded up and put in a jacket pocket, to be taken out when needed.

As a good friend of mine Ian observed,
.

I nearly said 6×8 cm last night – I know its difficult to believe after the event, and the Isolette has the same basic shape as the Voigtlander I suspected. The Voigtlander was like some of the Rolleis and you could put in a metal mask that would allow 6 x 8, 6 x 6, 6 x 4.5 as well the full 6 x 9. I suspect the Voigtlander was a bit upmarket from the Isolette: the Agfa cameras at the time of these pictures were good cameras and (obviously) with German lenses. I don’t know if they had those masks but I am guessing you could do the same with the Isolette. One claim I have seen is that the lenses were more matched to emulsions of the 50’s and were contrasty with later emulsions. I would have to know a lot more to verify that. The pictures look optically good to me. There were some extraordinary European films in 120 stock – I caught the end of them – 12 ISO and wooden spools – and  SENSATIONAL tonal scales. 

Of all cameras (even 35mm), the drop front cameras like the Isolette had the best connection to the people you were photographing. I don’t mean through the  viewfinder – I mean that the viewfinder was just for checking the composition – you really had to do a lot of looking over the camera. Probably the old Stieglitz Graflex was just as communicative. With the bellows extension there would be a scale on the focussing track that would tell you the distance the camera was focussed to – no other way to check!

As a kid I played with Marklin toy trains and they published a book that I still have called “The Marklin Miniature Railway and its Prototype”. It is old  and faded now, but there were sections on how to do signalling etc. on your train set so that it matched the real thing etc…

 

What interests me most about these stunning images is the use of space by the photographer. These railway photographs with their beautiful but naive space have an almost mythic quality to them. I know a little about photography and from my knowledge I cannot think of anyone else that handles space like this in a photograph (save for perhaps Thomas Struth and the space around the people in his museum photographs or his group portraits of people in Japan, and even then he blocks the exit for the eye behind his tableaux vivant).

I have been racking my brains but these are really unique, especially the square format portrait shots. Look at the first photograph Four men with loco 55210 (below) and notice the expanse of platform and line of the train that leads the eye into the depiction of the four men. The light that falls on them is superlative but notice how the photographer keeps a respectful distance for this is not portrait photography which attempts to capture a fleeting, revealing moment or expression. The photographer places them as though to “encourage contemplation and investigation, inviting the viewer to reflect upon the limits of his or her knowledge of other people.” The eye scans the image for clues, giving the viewer pause to take in the scene: and low and behold what opens up behind the four men is this most magnificent space with the curve of the platform, the girders and the silence of the dark train in the distance.

As in Thomas Struth’s photographs of architectural East Berlin these photographs bring about ‘a move to investigative viewing’ which is also a ‘call to interact’. But these photographs don’t possess the base objectivity of Struth for they are a little too engaging of their space (their antithesis being the photographs by Alec Soth from his series Niagara).

Further evidence of the sophistication of the composition of these images can be found in the two photographs Shotts Iron Work’s Signalbox and Man on platform in front of signal array (below). In the first photograph the man is embedded in the landscape, his weight shifting slightly to his right foot as his shadow falls on the fence beside him, the fence line and train tracks lead the eye into the image and off into an amorphous, infinite distance. Again, in the second photograph the figure is not front and centre but part of an ensemble as the eye is led this time by a massive horizontal plane into the image. He stands on the platform as if on the deck of an aircraft carrier. And then there are the two close up portraits, Jackie Collett at Beattock and A smiling fireman (below) where the photographer has climbed up into the intimate space of the drivers cab and got them to be comfortable enough to reveal themselves to the camera -in that light! -with those backgrounds!

.
The use of lenses today is proof of how difficult it is to think and feel space while taking a picture. These days everyone has a zoom lens but it is nearly always used by people to fill the frame with the main subject. But with a zoom there are infinite relationships between foreground and background if the photographer is free to move in relation to the main subject… and sometimes we are. Or to put it another way, we are able to control the degree of flattening of space with a zoom lens infinitely. If we have 2 fixed lenses we have 2 controls of space. This anonymous photographer and the German photographer Thomas Struth in particular seem to have the ability to think about this space control, and resolve it in different ways. Sometimes for Struth the quality of the space in the city streets or in a museum announces these places as pictures.

Struth is someone who has an affinity with the railway group photographs for his photographs, like these, resist immediate consumption. They make the viewer pause and think. “Discussing Struth’s work, the critic Richard Sennett has written: ‘We relate to these images as we might appreciate strangers in a crowd; we feel their presence without the need to transgress boundaries by demanding intimacy or revelation … people guard their separateness even as they present themselves directly to us.’ (Sennett p. 94.) Struth’s portraits encourage contemplation and investigation, inviting the viewer to reflect upon the limits of his or her knowledge of other people.”1 And, sotto voce, so do these photographs… The speaker gives the impression of uttering a truth which may surprise and delight.

As Archie has noted in his correspondence with me, the exhibition has been done on a shoestring budget but from small beginnings – and acorns – mighty oaks grow. All power to both Archie Foley and Peter Ross for arranging it. A book and larger exhibition would be a wonderful representation of this work. All I can say is this: that I hope this posting helps that process along for these photographs have a magnificent soul. Simply put, they are great.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

 

Footnotes

1. Richard Sennett, Thomas Struth: Strangers and Friends, exhibition catalogue, Institute of Contemporary Art, London 1994 quoted in “Thomas Struth: The Shimada Family, Yamaguchi, Japan 1986” Text summary on the Tate website [Online] Cited 04/11/2014

.
Many thankx to Archie Foley and Peter Ross for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All images © Archie Foley and Peter Ross and may not be used without permission.

Acknowledgement: Thank you to John of Print Vision (0131 661 8855) for his advice during the preparation and for producing such excellent prints.

 

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Four men with loco 55210' mid-1950s to the early 1960s

 

Anonymous photographer
Four men with loco 55210
mid-1950s to the early 1960s
© Archie Foley and Peter Ross

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Women workers in front of posters' mid-1950s to the early 1960s

 

Anonymous photographer
Women workers in front of posters
mid-1950s to the early 1960s
© Archie Foley and Peter Ross

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Shotts Iron Work’s Signalbox' mid-1950s to the early 1960s

 

Anonymous photographer
Shotts Iron Work’s Signalbox
mid-1950s to the early 1960s
© Archie Foley and Peter Ross

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Man on platform in front of signal array' mid-1950s to the early 1960s

 

Anonymous photographer
Man on platform in front of signal array
mid-1950s to the early 1960s
© Archie Foley and Peter Ross

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Jackie Collett at Beattock' mid-1950s to the early 1960s

 

Anonymous photographer
Jackie Collett at Beattock
mid-1950s to the early 1960s
© Archie Foley and Peter Ross

 

Anonymous photographer. 'A smiling fireman' mid-1950s to the early 1960s

 

Anonymous photographer
A smiling fireman
mid-1950s to the early 1960s
© Archie Foley and Peter Ross

 

 

“This exhibition has been compiled from a collection of photo negatives found by Archie Foley in a collector’s fair in Portobello. As he went through the collection he was able to extract 100s of railway related negatives dating from the mid-1950s to the early 1960s that showed that the photographer must have been a British Railways engine driver. A chance meeting and conversation with local photographer and video producer, Peter E. Ross, on a bus going into Edinburgh led to the decision to mount an exhibition of photographs made from selected negatives.

As a colleague the driver/photographer was able to snap drivers, shunters, platelayers, signalmen, cleaners and others at work in locations in and around Edinburgh and, occasionally, a bit further afield. The photographs are a unique behind the scenes record of the men and women who worked on the railway and how it looked before diesel power finally replaced steam in 1968.

This is the first time that the photographs have been on public show and Archie and Peter feel privileged to be able to display, and pay tribute to, the dedication and skill of the, as yet unidentified, photographer. Neither Archie nor Peter is an expert on railways and invite visitors to use the Visitors’ Book to suggest possible locations for photographs where these are not given. Please also suggest amendments if you believe any of the captions are incorrect.

The exhibition is at Portobello Library, Rosefield Avenue from Monday, 20th October to Friday, 7th November.

Archie Foley and Peter Ross

 

Anonymous photographer. 'The game's a bogie' mid-1950s to the early 1960s

 

Anonymous photographer
The game’s a bogie
mid-1950s to the early 1960s
© Archie Foley and Peter Ross

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Duchess of Buccleuch on turntable' mid-1950s to the early 1960s

 

Anonymous photographer
Duchess of Buccleuch on turntable
mid-1950s to the early 1960s
© Archie Foley and Peter Ross

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Duchess of Buccleuch bearing "Royal Scot" headboard' mid-1950s to the early 1960s

 

Anonymous photographer
Duchess of Buccleuch bearing “Royal Scot” headboard
mid-1950s to the early 1960s
© Archie Foley and Peter Ross

 

The two photographs above were obviously taken at the same time as each other (look at the tall trees in the background). I love how the photographer has moved across the tracks from the distance shot onto an oblique angle with the twin arches of the bridge in the background for the closer photograph. You can seen some unevenness in the development of the film in the foreground of both images but no matter, these imaegs give real insight into how this artist was operating, what his thinking was when photographing their behemoths.

 

Anonymous photographer. 'The photographer in working clothes' mid-1950s to the early 1960s

 

Anonymous photographer
The photographer in working clothes
mid-1950s to the early 1960s
© Archie Foley and Peter Ross

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Six cleaners, one man and three buckets' mid-1950s to the early 1960s

 

Anonymous photographer
Six cleaners, one man and three buckets
mid-1950s to the early 1960s
© Archie Foley and Peter Ross

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Colinton Station with guard on loco' mid-1950s to the early 1960s

 

Anonymous photographer
Colinton Station with guard on loco
mid-1950s to the early 1960s
© Archie Foley and Peter Ross

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Diesel unit with guard' mid-1950s to the early 1960s

 

Anonymous photographer
Diesel unit with guard
mid-1950s to the early 1960s
© Archie Foley and Peter Ross

 

Agfa Isolette II camera 1960s

 

Agfa Isolette II (1950-60), showing the characteristic wide raised centre of its top housing. The thick knurled disc on the right (of the picture) is a film-type reminder dial.

 

Isolette II

The Isolette II (1950-60) was sold alongside the ‘I’; it is an alternative model offering higher specification than the ‘I’, not a successor to it. The camera was available (for at least some time) with coated 85 mm f/4.5 Agnar or Apotar or 75 mm f/3.5 Solinar lenses; however, most examples seen have the Apotar. McKeown gives a very wide range of shutters (Vario, Pronto, Prontor-S and SV, Compur Rapid and Synchro-Compur). This reflects changes in the specification over the period the camera was made (i.e. not all of these shutters were available at the same time): for example, a user’s manual (of unknown date) only lists the Pronto and Prontor SVS. The range of shutter speeds is therefore variable between examples. Some of the shutters have a delayed action. Most are synchronised (some have switchable M and X-synchronisation). On some examples of the camera, there is a shutter locking lever on the back of the top housing, to provide ‘T’ shutter by locking the release button down, where the shutter itself does not have a ‘T’ setting.

Unlike the Isolette I and all the preceding models, the film advance knob is on the right. The camera still has a swing-out spool-holder on the supply side of the film chamber.
There is a double-exposure prevention interlock; this engages after releasing the shutter, and is disengaged by advancing the film. It has a red (locked) or silver (unlocked) indicator in a hole in the top-plate, next to the advance knob. Like the ‘T’ lock, this interlock acts on the body release button, so if the lock engages accidentally, or a double exposure is desired, it is still possible to release the shutter by pressing the linkage on the shutter itself (or with a cable release, on versions of the camera on which the cable attaches directly to the shutter, not the body release; they vary in this respect).

Like the Isolette I, early versions of the II have a disc-type depth-of-field indicator on the left of the top plate.[6] On later cameras this is replaced with a film-type reminder, and the DOF scale, if any, is on the shutter face-plate. (Text from the Camera-wiki.org website)

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'From Steam to Diesel' at the Portobello Library, Edinburgh

 

Installation photograph of one half of the exhibition From Steam to Diesel at the Portobello Library, Edinburgh. The other half of the exhibition is off camera to the right.

 

 

Portobello Library
14 Rosefield Avenue, Edinburgh,
Midlothian, EH15 1AU

Opening hours
Monday 10.00 – 20.00
Tuesday 10.00 – 20.00
Wednesday 10.00 – 20.00
Thursday 10.00 – 20.00
Friday 10.00 – 17.00
Saturday 09.00 – 17.00
Sunday 13.00 – 17.00

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24
May
14

Review: ‘The Rennie Ellis Show’ at Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 3rd April – 8th June 2014

 

We Are Family

This is FAB, one of the best experiences I have had this year at an exhibition in Melbourne. You know you are having a good time when you laugh out loud at so many photographs, sharing the experience of the artist as though you had been there. As indeed I had, for in many cases the clubs pictured in Rennie Ellis’ photographs are the ones I went to.

I remember: Wednesday nights at Inflation in the late 80s, where to satisfy licensing restrictions you had to be served a “meal” so that you could drink alcohol (Dining Out, Inflation, 1980 below). The famous Razor Club (1986 – 1992), based at the Light Car Club of Australia’s clubrooms on the corner of Queens Road and Roy Street, opposite the Albert Park Lake and golf course. “It was Melbourne’s version of Studio 54, the hedonistic, off-the-wall New York disco of the late ’70s – both places notoriously hard to get into but once inside a wonderland of celebrities, freaks, transvestites and fantastic music free from the tyranny of genre.” Once on a big party night the gang of us tried to get in but the queue was so long it was impossible – so I went down the side, climbed up the drain pipes past the ladies loo, and up to the first floor balcony where someone pulled me over – completely off my face, just to get my friends in. Zu Zu’s, Cadillac Bar, 397, Commerce Club, Tasty, Freakazoid, Dome, Baseline, Hardware Club, The Peel and so many parties you could poke a stick at – what a time we had!

There to capture it all – affectionately, non-judgementally – was Rennie Ellis. He wasn’t like Diane Arbus, who thrust her camera as an outsider at people, waiting for a reaction. He was always part of the action because he was part of the family. He was a humanist photographer in the true sense of the word, for he loved photographing human beings, their social relations and their habitats, whatever that might be – sunning, partying, boozing, smoking, picking up. He referred to himself as a “people perv.”

Ellis had an eloquently clumsy eye, and for the type of baroque photographs he took this is a great thing. No perfect framing, no perfect tension points within the image, no regular alignment of horizontals, verticals or diagonals – just instinctual images taken in a split second, with his own particular brand of humour embedded in them. And always with this slight eccentricity in his vision. Look at the image of Dancing People, Razor Club (1991, below) and notice the odd hand poking in at the left hand side and the attitude of the dancers, or Fully equipped, Albert Park Beach (c. 1981, below), with the angle of the three cigarettes, the drink and the bottle of sun tan lotion strapped to the hip – FIERCE!

But he was not averse to understanding the structure of his images either, as can be seen by my comparison between the tight, formal structure of Paul Strand’s The Family, Luzzara, Italy (1953, below) and the looser, more natural gathering in Ellis’ The Gang, Windsor (1976, below); or the influence of other artists on his work, for example Norman Lindsay in his My Bare Lady, The Ritz, St Kilda (1977, below). Ellis also liked to push and pull at the pictorial plane; he liked to use pairs of people; he was not afraid of out of focus elements in the foreground of his images; he used chiaroscuro; and his use of light is always excellent. Above all, there is a consistency to his vision that never falters – a concatenation of images that is his style?

This is not just nostalgia. These are bloody good images, and Ellis takes these insightful type of images over and over again – the excesses of hedonism, the influences of wealth, the see-and-be-seen syndrome, things erotic and bizarre and, most importantly, enduring friendships. He photographs what he sees with a love and affection for his subject matter. None of this “staged” vernacular photography that I recently featured in an exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. This is the real deal. A friend said to me recently, “Ah, but you know, he never did in depth photo-essays like Mary Ellen Mark did of the circus, for example.” To which I have a one word reply: BULLSHIT. His whole oeuvre is a huge photo-essay on the human race, specifically the construction of Australian identity as evidenced in sections like portraits, gangs, sharpies, Aboriginals, Kings Cross, Social Documentary, Decadence, Graffiti, Life’s a Parade, Life’s a Beach etc…

When you look at his photography it would seem to me that his images dissolve the barriers between image/subject/viewer. It’s a strange phenomena to feel so connected to a person’s work. It’s the journey that he takes us on, that we went on too – not so much the destination but the rejoicing in this journey… of company, of environment, friends, places – the joy of being human. He was allowed entry into these public/private spaces because he earned our trust. He lived with the people, and they allowed him to take a bit of their life with him – as a photographic memory, to be retold and relived in the present, allowing us all to relive those times and places. It’s the love, trust, humour and anticipation of the journey that make Ellis’ images truly unique in the history of Australian photography.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

 

Many thankx to Manuela Furci, Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive and the 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.

 

 

Ponch Hawkes. 'Rennie Ellis photographing at the Gay Liberation march, Elizabeth Street, Melbourne, 1973' 1973

 

Ponch Hawkes
Rennie Ellis photographing at the Gay Liberation march, Elizabeth Street, Melbourne, 1973
1973
Silver gelatin photograph
© Ponch Hawkes

 

In researching photographs for the upcoming exhibition Out of the closets, onto the streets: Gay Liberation photography 1971-73 I came across this photograph taken by Ponch Hawkes of the Gay Liberation march that was part of Gay Pride week in 1973. Ponch had never seen this image before until I scanned the negative. And there, front and centre as always, is Rennie Ellis capturing the action… What a special find and a wonderful photograph by Ponch!

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Dancing People, Razor Club' 1991

 

Rennie Ellis
Dancing People, Razor Club
1991
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print
26.7 x 40.7 cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Robyn Dean. 'Marcus dancing at an unknown club, Melbourne' c. 1991-92

 

Robyn Dean
Marcus dancing at an unknown club, Melbourne
c. 1991-92

 

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Dining Out, Inflation' 1980

 

Rennie Ellis
Dining Out, Inflation
1980
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print
26.7 x 40.7 cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Fitzroy extrovert' 1974

 

Rennie Ellis
Fitzroy extrovert
1974
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print
40.5 x 50.8 cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Dino Ferrari, Toorak Road' 1976

 

Rennie Ellis
Dino Ferrari, Toorak Road
1976
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print
26.7 x 40.7 cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Bon Scott and Angus Young, Atlanta, Georgia' 1978

 

Rennie Ellis
Bon Scott and Angus Young, Atlanta, Georgia
1978
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print
26.7 x 40.7 cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Ronald Belford “Bon” Scott (9 July 1946 – 19 February 1980) was a Scottish-born Australian rock musician, best known for being the lead singer and lyricist of Australian hard rock band AC/DC from 1974 until his death in 1980.

Angus McKinnon Young (born 31 March 1955) is a Scottish-born Australian guitarist best known as a co-founder, lead guitarist, and songwriter of the Australian hard rock band, AC/DC. Known for his energetic performances, schoolboy-uniform stage outfits, and popularisation of Chuck Berry’s duckwalk, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Young as the 24th greatest guitarist of all time.

AC/DC’s popularity grew throughout the 1970s, initially in Australia, and then internationally. Their 1979 album Highway to Hell reached the top twenty in the United States, and the band seemed on the verge of a commercial breakthrough. However, on 19 February 1980, Scott died after a night out in London. AC/DC briefly considered disbanding, but the group quickly recruited vocalist Brian Johnsonof the British glam rock band Geordie. AC/DC’s subsequent album, Back in Black, was released only five months later, and was a tribute to Scott. (Text from Wikipedia)

 

 

Rennie Ellis. 'At the Pub, Brisbane' 1982

 

Rennie Ellis
At the Pub, Brisbane
1982
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print
26.7 x 40.7 cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Rennie Ellis. 'The Gang, Windsor' 1976

 

Rennie Ellis
The Gang, Windsor
1976
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print
26.7 x 40.7 cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Paul Strand. 'The Family, Luzzara, Italy' 1953

 

Paul Strand
The Family, Luzzara, Italy
1953
Silver gelatin photograph

 

 

“The photographer Rennie Ellis (1940-2003) is a key figure in Australian visual culture. Ellis is best remembered for his effervescent observations of Australian life during the 1970s-90s, including his now iconic book Life is a beach. Although invariably inflected with his own personality and wit, the thousands of social documentary photographs taken by Ellis during this period now form an important historical record.

The Rennie Ellis Show highlights some of the defining images of Australian life from the 1970S and ’80S. This is the period of Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser, Paul Keating and Bob Hawke; AC/DC and punk rock; cheap petrol and coconut oil; Hare Krishnas and Hookers and Deviant balls.

This exhibition of over 100 photographs provides a personal account of what Ellis termed ‘a great period of change’. Photographs explore the cultures and subcultures of the period, and provide a strong sense of a place that now seems worlds away, a world free of risk, of affordable inner city housing, of social protest, of disco and pub rock, of youth and exuberance.”

Text from the MGA website

 

Rennie Ellis. 'My son Josh learns to swim' 1972

 

Rennie Ellis
My son Josh learns to swim
1972
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print
26.7 x 40.7 cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Rennie Ellis. 'My Bare Lady, The Ritz, St Kilda' 1977

 

Rennie Ellis
My Bare Lady, The Ritz, St Kilda
1977
Digital C Type photograph
Fuji Crystal Archive print
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Norman Lindsay. 'The Olympians' Nd

 

Norman Lindsay
The Olympians
Nd
Oil on canvas
Collection of Hamilton Art Gallery

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Richmond fans, Grand Final, MCG' 1974

 

Rennie Ellis
Richmond fans, Grand Final, MCG
1974
Chromogenic print
40.5 x 50.8 cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Interesting to note that Ellis must have been shooting both black and white and colour film during the VFL Grand Final of 1974. He must have had two cameras with him (this is more likely than swapping between films in the same 35mm camera) to shoot the photograph above in colour and the black and white image of Robbie McGhie (1974, below).

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Mr Muscleman, Albert Park Beach' c. 1986

 

Rennie Ellis
Mr Muscleman, Albert Park Beach
c. 1986
Chromogenic print
26.7 x 40.7 cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Fully-equipped-Albert-Park-Beach-c.1981-WEB

 

Rennie Ellis
Fully equipped, Albert Park Beach
c. 1981
Digital C Type photograph
Fuji Crystal Archive print
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Don and Patrizia, St Kilda Beach' 1985

 

Rennie Ellis
Don and Patrizia, St Kilda Beach
1985
Chromogenic print
40.5 x 50.8 cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Berlin Party, Inflation, Melbourne' 1980

 

Rennie Ellis
Berlin Party, Inflation, Melbourne
1980
Digital C Type photograph
Fuji Crystal Archive print
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Rennie Ellis book covers: 'Decade, 1970-1980' (left) and 'Decadent, 1980-2000' (right)

 

Rennie Ellis book covers: Decade: 1970-1980 (left) and Decadent: 1980-2000 (right)

 

Decade: 1970-1980 is a photography book showcasing Rennie Ellis’ (1940-2003) contribution to photography and social history. With an introduction by film maker and Rennie contemporary Paul Cox and an essay by academic Susan Van Wyk, Decade highlights Ellis as one of Australia’s most important chroniclers of the 1970s. The photographs, predominantly black and white, are drawn from a core selection originally made by Rennie from his own unpublished book, supplemented by other significant and iconic images from 1970 to 1980 drawn from the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive and the State Library of Victoria Rennie Ellis collection. Many of the photographs are accompanied by extended captions written by Rennie himself, published here for the first time. Decade explores the cultures and sub-cultures of the seventies: the political upheavals, alternative lifestyles and counter culture, the women’s movement, gay liberation, the new religions and cults, pop festivals, Vietnam and other protests, massage parlours, the disco scene, the blossoming of Australia’s film industry, the new sexual freedom, Aboriginal rights, street festivals, the new theatre, fashion, drugs and the emergence of a decadent and hedonistic society that would later characterise the 1980s.

Decadent: 1980-2000 is a photography book showcasing Rennie Ellis’ (1940-2003) contribution to photography and social history. It is a fascinating snapshot of the wild, opulent, sometimes tacky and always decadent 1980s in Australia by a true original. With an introduction by photographer and Rennie contemporary William Yang and an essay by photographer and art critic Robert McFarlane, Decadent highlights Ellis as one of Australia’s most important chroniclers of the 1980s. The photographs, both colour and black and white, are drawn from the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive and the State Library of Victoria Rennie Ellis collection. Decadent explores the rise of the hedonism that we now associate with the 1980s. Ellis’ boundary-pushing, racy and sometimes voyeuristic works capture a society that seems to be revelling in its abandonment of the politically charged 1970s documented in Decade.

.
About the Author

No other photographer has documented – in such depth – the life and times in Australia, throughout the 1970s until his death in 2003, with such insight into the human condition as Rennie Ellis. His non-judgmental approach was his ‘access-to-all-areas’ pass. Ellis used his camera as a key to open the doors to the social arenas of the rich and famous and to enter the underbelly of the nightclubs, bearing witness to the indulgences and excesses. In today’s post-Henson era, these captured moments offer an intimate access to an Australia tantalisingly, but sadly, now almost out of reach.

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Robert McGhie, Grand Final, MCG' 1974

 

Rennie Ellis
Robert McGhie, Grand Final, MCG
1974
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print
50.8 x 40.5 cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Robert ‘Robbie’ McGhie is a former Australian rules football player who played in the VFL between 1969 and 1972 and again in 1979 for the Footscray Football Club, from 1973 to 1978 for the Richmond Football Club and in 1980 and 1981 for the South Melbourne Football Club. His height was 192 cm and he weighed 85.5 kg. He played 46 games for Footscray, 80 games for Richmond and 16 games for South Melbourne. He was a Richmond Premiership Player 1973, 1974 (the year this photograph by Rennie Ellis was taken at the Grand Final).

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Property of Hells Angels, Kings Cross' 1970-71

 

Rennie Ellis
Property of Hells Angels, Kings Cross
1970-71
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print
50.8 x 40.5 cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

invite-web-final-WEB

 

Invitation to The Rennie Ellis Show at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

 

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

Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

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11
May
14

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

Exhibition dates: 8th February – 18th May 2014

 

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

John F Williams. 'The Rocks, Sydney' 1973

 

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

 

Trent Parke. 'Backyard swing set, QLD' 2003

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

Text from the AGNSW website

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press release from the AGNSW

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 - ) 'Empty' 2000

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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