Posts Tagged ‘Walker Evans

17
Jul
16

Exhibition: ‘Crime Stories: Photography and Foul Play’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 7th March – 31st July 2016

 

One wrong does not a life make

A very large posting on a fascinating subject, for an exhibition that examines “the numerous ways that photography has influenced that favorite human activity, speculating about crimes and the people who commit them.” As the press release notes, “Since the earliest days of the medium, photographs have been used for criminal investigation and evidence gathering, to record crime scenes, to identify suspects and abet their capture, and to report events to the public. This exhibition explores the multifaceted intersections between photography and crime…” And all this history displayed in just two gallery spaces!

Of course, what the press release fails to note is that it is often the very people in power (the police, judiciary, and even the photographer) who name and shame those whose likenesses are captured by the camera. In other words, the people in these photographs are already labelled – deviant, lifter, wife poisoner, forger, sneak thief; cracksman, pickpocket, burglar, highwayman; murderer, counterfeiter, abortionist – before their photograph is ever taken. They have already been dressed for the part. This verdict is further reinforced when images, such as those by Weggee, appear in newspapers and, using Walker Evans phrase, the “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury” confirm what has been fed to them. As noted in the text in the posting about the photographs of Samuel G. Szabó, “Would the serious young man in the overcoat and silk top hat appear roguish without the caption “John McNauth alias Keely alias little hucks / Pick Pocket” below his portrait?” I think not (which is what the viewer does when confronted with the veracity of the photograph and the text supplied by those in a position of power)… therefore I am.

What strikes me about the “mugshot” photographs of Samuel G. Szabó and Alphonse Bertillon is the ordinariness of the people he captured – tailor, printer, accountant, photographer, seamstress – and how they have forever been labelled “anarchists”. Nothing is known of the rest of their lives and a search on the internet reveals nothing about them, except those people indelibly printed onto the fabric of history: Ravachol, murderer and anarchist who was bent on improving the conditions of the poor (no name or age under his photograph); and Félix Fénéon – head and eyes directed away from the camera whereas most others stare straight into the camera (upon direction) – all haughty superiority, as though the process of being photographed as an “anarchist” was beneath the witty critique (no name or age under his photograph as well). Only by this is it recorded that they are morally suspicious and this is done at the behest of the authorities. Whatever else they did in their life counts as if for nothing.

What also strikes me about the “en situ” photographs of the habitats of the murdered victims and the places where they were found, is again the mundanity of the interiors and places of execution. In the photographs that document the Assassination of Monsieur V. Lecomte, 74 Rue des Martyrs, 1902 we note the ephemera of human existence – the photographs standing on three-tiered wooden shelves, the open box on the table, the body on the floor – photographed from both directions, once with the camera pointing towards the windows, the other from 180 degrees, with the camera pointing into the room. And then we notice the mantlepiece photographed from another direction, with the open box on the table. And the bound and gagged man on the floor is still on the floor out of frame. And then another place of murder, that of the ending of a life, marked out in Bertillon’s photograph “Place where the corpse was found” by two pieces of wood laying on the ground and two pieces of wood propped at 45 degrees against the wall. As though this is all that is left of the existence of Mademoiselle Mercier along a street (Rue de l’Yvette) that still exists in Paris to this day … a photograph of pieces of wood and an empty space. Pace HEAD by Weggee.

It’s all about the stories, or the lack of them, that these photographs tell/sell. Weggee’s photographs of a sixteen-year old child killer, Frank Pape, are brutal in their exposure of this adolescent man. The way the horizontal negative has been cropped over and over again, to gain best effect, best value for the tabloid dollar, gives an idea of the pejorative pronunciation of guilt upon this individual before trial. What happened to Frank Pape? I’ve been digging, trying to find out… but nothing. Did he live, was he executed? What led him to that point and what happened to the rest of his life? This is the great unknown after the click of the shutter, the key in the lock, the silence of history. Here I am not advocating for the celebrity of the criminal, as in Richard Avedon’s photographs of the murderer Dick Hickock, but an acknowledgement that one wrong does not a life make.

But then again, for the victim, in shootings like that of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy – the pain of the photograph and the look in his eyes says it all. Here he is a victim, twice over (the victim of the assassin and the camera), and is to remain a victim for eternity, as long as people look at this photograph. This is such a sad and painful photograph. I remember the day it happened. I was ten years old at the time, and it’s one of those events that you will always remember the rest of you life, where you were, who you were with – like the moon landings or 9/11. I was in a car outside a small shop and the news came on the radio. Robert F. Kennedy had been shot – first aural, then visual on the black and white tv that night, then textual in the newspapers and then visual again with this photograph. The pain of the loss of those heady days of hope lessen not. Today we live in a police state where surveillance and recognition are everything, where those in power seek to control and regulate ever more the freedom of the people, and the people are lost to anonymity and time.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

Word count: 1,046

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

 

 

“Crime Stories: Photography and Foul Play,” an exhibit currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, proposes to examine the numerous ways that photography has influenced that favorite human activity, speculating about crimes and the people who commit them. This would be an ambitious undertaking for a ten-room show; this one is limited to only two. The result is something of a hodgepodge, hemmed in by a vague set of constraints. The bulk of the photos were taken in the United States between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, none after the seventies, and all are in black and white, as if to emphasize their historical remove from our own filtered times. But the aesthetic and ethical questions the exhibit raises – about the American attraction to criminal glamour, and our queasy, not always critical fascination with looking at violence – are the right ones to ask during the current vogue for “true crime,” that funny phrase we use for stories told in public about terrible things others suffer privately.

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Alexandra Schwartz. “The Long Collusion of Photography and Crime,” on The New Yorker website

 

 

“Since the earliest days of the medium, photographs have been used for criminal investigation and evidence gathering, to record crime scenes, to identify suspects and abet their capture, and to report events to the public. This exhibition explores the multifaceted intersections between photography and crime, from 19th-century “rogues’ galleries” to work by contemporary artists inspired by criminal transgression. The installation will feature some 70 works, drawn entirely from The Met collection, ranging from the 1850s to the present.

Among the highlights of the installation is Alexander Gardner’s documentation of the events following the assassination of President Lincoln, as well as rare forensic photographs by Alphonse Bertillon, the French criminologist who created the system of criminal identification that gave rise to the modern mug shot. Also on display is a vivid selection of vintage news photographs related to cases both obscure and notorious, such as a study of John Dillinger’s feet in a Chicago morgue in 1934; Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald in 1963; and Patty Hearst captured by bank surveillance cameras in 1974. In addition to exploring photography’s evidentiary uses, the exhibition will feature work by artists who have drawn inspiration from the criminal underworld, including Richard Avedon, Larry Clark, Walker Evans, John Gutmann, Andy Warhol, and Weegee.”

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

 

Unknown (American) '[John Dillinger's Feet, Chicago Morgue]' 1934

 

Unknown (American)
[John Dillinger’s Feet, Chicago Morgue]
1934
Gelatin silver print
4 11/16 x 7 13/16 in. (11.9 x 19.8 cm)
Purchase, The Marks Family Foundation Gift, 2001
© Bettmann / CORBIS

 

 

This press photo of John Dillinger, the celebrity gangster from Chicago shot down at age 31, morbidly embodies the twentieth-century’s obsession with fame and hunger for physical contact with media personae. As the Depression era’s most successful bank robber, Dillinger had become a folk hero for his brash, cocky manner and disregard for authority. This unflinching view of Dillinger laid out on a slab in the Chicago morgue not only bares the facts but ironically recalls Mantegna’s The Lamentation Over the Dead Christ (c. 1490).

 

 

Unknown (American) [Jeff Briggs, Robert Sims, Otis Hall, and Peter Pamphlet; Full-Length Mugshot from the Chicago Police Department] 1936

 

Unknown (American)
[Jeff Briggs, Robert Sims, Otis Hall, and Peter Pamphlet; Full-Length Mugshot from the Chicago Police Department]
1936
Gelatin silver prints
Image: 5 15/16 × 9 1/8 in. (15.1 × 23.1 cm) Sheet: 6 1/8 × 9 5/16 in. (15.6 × 23.6 cm)
Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2014

 

Unknown (American) [Jeff Briggs, Robert Sims, Otis Hall, and Peter Pamphlet; Full-Length Mugshot from the Chicago Police Department] 1936

 

Unknown (American)
[Jeff Briggs, Robert Sims, Otis Hall, and Peter Pamphlet; Full-Length Mugshot from the Chicago Police Department]
1936
Gelatin silver prints
Image: 5 15/16 × 9 1/8 in. (15.1 × 23.1 cm) Sheet: 6 1/8 × 9 5/16 in. (15.6 × 23.6 cm)
Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2014

 

 

The Chicago Police Department likely made these discarded file photographs when arrested suspects entered the precinct for booking. Each is accompanied by a typewritten caption recording the subjects’ names, vital statistics, and, in some cases, the crimes for which they were arrested (carrying concealed weapons, assault and robbery at gunpoint). With their subjects lined up theatrically against a dark velvet curtain, the images vividly evoke an era and milieu familiar to fans of film noir and hard-boiled detective fiction of the 1930s and 1940s.

A similar defiant dignity is evident in two booking photographs taken by the Chicago Police Department, part of a series made between 1936 and 1946. In the first, four black men in suits line up in front of what seems to be a theatre curtain. In the second, they strike the same pose, now in longer coats and with hats, as if auditioning for different parts in the same play. One of the men smiles affably, a flash of personality in a process meant to cloak it. The others look out evenly, returning the camera’s gaze and reminding whoever is behind the shutter that they, too, have the power to see.

 

Walker Evans (American, St. Louis, Missouri 1903–1975 New Haven, Connecticut) '[Subway Passengers, New York City]' 1938

 

Walker Evans (American, St. Louis, Missouri 1903 – 1975 New Haven, Connecticut)
[Subway Passengers, New York City]
1938
Gelatin silver print
12.2 x 15.0 cm (4 13/16 x 5 15/16 in.)
Gift of Arnold H. Crane, 1971
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” Evans called his unwitting subjects. In this example, a smirking, vaguely menacing young man is engrossed in his copy of the Daily News. PAL TELLS HOW GUNGIRL KILLS, reads the headline. An obese woman, obviously not an acquaintance, sits miserably beside him.

During the winter months between 1938 and 1941, Evans strapped a camera to his midsection, cloaked it with his overcoat, and snaked a cable release down his suit sleeve to photograph New York City subway passengers unawares. In his book of these unposed portraits, Many Are Called (1966), the artist referred to his quarry as “the ladies and gentlemen of the jury.” What he was after stylistically, though, was more in keeping with the criminal mug shot: frontal and without emotional inflection. In this photograph, the tabloid headline “PAL TELLS HOW GUNGIRL KILLED” across the newspaper nods to Evans’s interest in vernacular source material.

Inspired by the incisive realism of Honoré Daumier’s Third-Class Carriage, Walker Evans sought to avoid the vanity, sentimentality, and artifice of conventional studio portraiture. The subway series, he later said, was “my idea of what a portrait ought to be: anonymous and documentary and a straightforward picture of mankind.”

 

 

Weegee (American, born Ukraine (Austria), Złoczów (Zolochiv) 1899 - 1968 New York) 'A Bunch of Cops' 1940s

 

Weegee (American, born Ukraine (Austria), Złoczów (Zolochiv) 1899 – 1968 New York)
A Bunch of Cops
1940s
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Bruce A. Kirstein, in memory of Marc S. Kirstein, 1978
© Weegee / International Center of Photography

 

 

Richard Avedon (American, New York 1923 - 2004 San Antonio, Texas) 'Dick Hickock, Murderer, Garden City, Kansas' April 1960

 

Richard Avedon (American, New York 1923 – 2004 San Antonio, Texas)
Dick Hickock, Murderer, Garden City, Kansas
April 1960
Gelatin silver print
Image: 50.8 x 50.8 cm (20 x 20 in.)
Frame: 59.7 x 59.7 cm (23 1/2 x 23 1/2 in.)
Gift of the artist, 2002
© Richard Avedon

 

 

In April 1960 Avedon traveled to Garden City, Kansas, to photograph the individuals connected with the savage murder of the four-member Clutter family in their remote farmhouse. He came at the request of his friend Truman Capote, who was there gathering material for his groundbreaking true-crime novel In Cold Blood (1966). Working with a handheld Rolleiflex camera, Avedon made this striking photograph of one of the killers, Richard “Dick” Hickcock, while he was in jail awaiting trial. The mug shot-like portrait captures Hickock’s sullen, lopsided face with mesmerizing clarity, as if searching for physiognomic clues to his criminal pathology.

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“One of the show’s most striking pictures is a Richard Avedon portrait of Dick Hickock, one of the two murderers immortalized in Truman Capote’s true-crime touchstone “In Cold Blood.” Hickock and Perry Smith, both ex-convicts out on parole, had set out to rob the home of Herbert Clutter, a farmer in Holcomb, Kansas; when they didn’t find the safe they’d been looking for, they killed Clutter, his wife, and his two children. Looking at Hickock’s mug shot, Capote writes, the wife of the case’s investigator is reminded “of a bobcat she’d once seen caught in a trap, and of how, though she’d wanted to release it, the cat’s eyes, radiant with pain and hatred, had drained her of pity and filled her with terror.” Here, Hickock gets the soft-focus celebrity treatment, the line between notoriety and fame as blurred as ever. Hickock, according to Capote, had always been self-conscious about his long, lopsided face. His nose juts out at a Picasso angle, and while his right eye meets Avedon’s lens straight on, his smaller left one seems to look inward. The result is a double portrait, part persona, part awkward, vulnerable self, both haunted by Capote’s own verbal portrait of Hickock’s victims, the Clutter family, at their funeral: “The head of each was completely encased in cotton, a swollen cocoon twice the size of an ordinary blown-up balloon, and the cotton, because it had been sprayed with a glossy substance, twinkled like Christmas-tree snow.”

Alexandra Schwartz. “The Long Collusion of Photography and Crime,” on The New Yorker website April 9 2016 [Online] Cited 15/07/2016

 

Richard Avedon (American, New York 1923 - 2004 San Antonio, Texas) 'Dick Hickock, Murderer, Garden City, Kansas' April 1960

 

Richard Avedon (American, New York 1923 – 2004 San Antonio, Texas)
Dick Hickock, Murderer, Garden City, Kansas
April 1960
Gelatin silver print
Image: 50.8 x 50.8 cm (20 x 20 in.)
Frame: 59.7 x 59.7 cm (23 1/2 x 23 1/2 in.)
Gift of the artist, 2002
© Richard Avedon

 

 

“Richard Avedon is represented by his 1960 portrait of Dick Hickock, the Kansas murderer who was one of the subjects of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. In his typical style, Avedon presents a large-scale investigation of Hickock’s face: the black greased pompadour combed just so, the slightly fleshy nose, the disturbingly engaging eyes, all of it ever so slightly skewed by the impression of Hickock’s inscrutable lopsided grievance. (Hickock had suffered a brain injury in an automobile accident when he was nineteen.) As with Gardner’s 1865 portrait of Lewis Powell (who was also executed by hanging for his crime), you sense how seriously Hickock takes being photographed, his wish to give something of himself, to influence, if not control, the emanations of his image and how he is being portrayed.”

Michael Greenberg. “Caught in the Act,” on The New York Review of Books website, April 7, 2016 [Online] Cited 22/06/2016

 

Robert H. Jackson (American, born 1934) 'FATAL BULLET HITS OSWALD. Jack Ruby fires bullet point blank into the body of Lee Harvey Oswald at Dallas Police Station. Oswald grimaces in agony' November 24, 1963

 

Robert H. Jackson (American, born 1934)
FATAL BULLET HITS OSWALD. Jack Ruby fires bullet point blank into the body of Lee Harvey Oswald at Dallas Police Station. Oswald grimaces in agony
November 24, 1963
Gelatin silver print
Image: 16.8 x 19.5 cm (6 5/8 x 7 11/16 in.) Sheet: 20.5 x 20.1 cm (8 1/16 x 7 15/16 in.)
Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2011

 

 

Before today’s fast-paced twenty-four hour news cycle, an eager American public followed the development of criminal investigations through the gray tones of press photographs. News outlets used a wire service to send images via in-house or portable transmitters, converting black-and-white tones into electrical pulses that were instantaneously received and printed using the same technology. Mundane courtroom proceedings, such as arraignments and evidence display, became newsworthy through the immediacy of reportage. Every small detail was devoured by a public impatient for news about notorious bank robbers and murderers – some of whom, like John Dillinger, were elevated to the status of folk heroes. In other instances, such as the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald, newspapers and television brought the drama and intensity of firsthand observation into people’s homes.

 

Boris Yaro/Los Angeles Times. 'The assassination of Robert F. Kennedy' 1968

 

Boris Yaro (American, born 1938)
LOS ANGELES. KENNEDY MOMENTS AFTER SHOOTING. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy Lies Gravely Wounded on the floor at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles shortly after midnight today, moments after he was shot during a celebration of his victory in yesterday’s California primary election
June 5, 1968
Gelatin silver print
17.2 x 21.1 cm (6 3/4 x 8 5/16 in.)
Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2010

 

 

June 5, 1968: “Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy lies on the floor at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles moments after he was shot in the head. He had just finished his victory speech upon winning the California primary. Times photographer Boris Yaro was standing 3 feet from Kennedy when the shooting began. “The gunman started firing at point-blank range. Sen. Kennedy didn’t have a chance,” Yaro recounted in a June 6, 1968, story for The Times. The Democratic senator, 42, was alive for more than 24 hours and was declared dead on the morning of June 6. The shooter was later identified as Sirhan B. Sirhan, who was found guilty of Kennedy’s assassination on April 17, 1969. His motives remain a mystery and controversy to this day.”

1964 Pulitzer Prize, Photography, Robert Jackson, Dallas Times Herald November 22, 1963

 

Andy Warhol (American, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 1928 - 1987 New York) 'Electric Chair' 1971

 

Andy Warhol (American, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 1928 – 1987 New York)
Electric Chair
1971
Printer: Silkprint Kettner, Zurich
Publisher: Bruno Bischofberger
Portfolio of ten screenprints
35 1/2 x 48 inches (90.2 x 121.9 cm)
Gift of Robert Meltzer, 1972

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) '[Album of Paris Crime Scenes]' 1901-8

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) '[Album of Paris Crime Scenes]' 1901-8

 

Assassination of Monsieur V. Lecomte, 74 Rue des Martyrs, 1902 (and detail)

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) '[Album of Paris Crime Scenes]' 1901-8

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) '[Album of Paris Crime Scenes]' 1901-8

 

Assassination of Monsieur V. Lecomte, 74 Rue des Martyrs, 1902 (and detail)

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) '[Album of Paris Crime Scenes]' 1901-8

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) '[Album of Paris Crime Scenes]' 1901-8

 

Assassination of Monsieur V. Lecomte, 74 Rue des Martyrs, 1902 (and detail)

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) '[Album of Paris Crime Scenes]' 1901-8

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) '[Album of Paris Crime Scenes]' 1901-8

 

Assassination of Monsieur V. Lecomte, 74 Rue des Martyrs, 1902 (and detail)

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) '[Album of Paris Crime Scenes]' 1901-8

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) '[Album of Paris Crime Scenes]' 1901-8

 

Murder of Madame Veuve Bol, Projection on a Vertical Plane (and detail)

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) '[Album of Paris Crime Scenes]' 1901-8

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) '[Album of Paris Crime Scenes]' 1901-8

 

1st November 1902. Assassination of Mademoiselle Mercier, Rue de l’Yvette á Bouvry la Reine. Photograph of the corpse.

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) '[Album of Paris Crime Scenes]' 1901-8

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) '[Album of Paris Crime Scenes]' 1901-8

 

Place where the corpse was found (and detail)

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) '[Album of Paris Crime Scenes]' 1901-8

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) '[Album of Paris Crime Scenes]' 1901-8

 

House of the victim (and detail)

 

Attributed to Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914)
[Album of Paris Crime Scenes]
1901-8
Gelatin silver prints
Overall: 24.3 x 31cm (9 9/16 x 12 3/16in.)
Page: 23 x 29 cm (9 1/16 x 11 7/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Howard Gilman Foundation Gift, 2001

 

 

Alphonse Bertillon, the chief of criminal identification for the Paris police department, developed the mug shot format and other photographic procedures used by police to register criminals. Although the images in this extraordinary album of forensic photographs were made by or under the direction of Bertillon, it was probably assembled by a private investigator or secretary who worked at the Paris prefecture. Photographs of the pale bodies of murder victims are assembled with views of the rooms where the murders took place, close-ups of objects that served as clues, and mug shots of criminals and suspects. Made as part of an archive rather than as art, these postmortem portraits, recorded in the deadpan style of a police report, nonetheless retain an unsettling potency.

 

Samuel G. Szabó (Hungarian, active America c. 1854 - 61) 'Rogues, a Study of Characters' c. 1860

Samuel G. Szabó (Hungarian, active America c. 1854 - 61) 'Rogues, a Study of Characters' c. 1860

Samuel G. Szabó (Hungarian, active America c. 1854 - 61) 'Rogues, a Study of Characters' c. 1860

Samuel G. Szabó (Hungarian, active America c. 1854 - 61) 'Rogues, a Study of Characters' c. 1860

Samuel G. Szabó (Hungarian, active America c. 1854 - 61) 'Rogues, a Study of Characters' c. 1860

 

Samuel G. Szabó (Hungarian, active America c. 1854 – 61)
Rogues, a Study of Characters
c. 1860
Salted paper prints from glass negatives
From 8.8 x 6.6 cm (3 7/16 x 2 5/8 in.) to 11.5 x 8.8 cm (4 1/2 x 3 7/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Gift, 2005
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Lifter, wife poisoner, forger, sneak thief; cracksman, pickpocket, burglar, highwayman; murderer, counterfeiter, abortionist – each found a place in this gallery of rogues. Photography was first put to service for the identification and apprehension of criminals in the late 1850s. In New York, for example, 450 photographs of known criminals could be viewed by the public in a real rogues’ gallery at police headquarters, the portraits arranged by category, such as “Leading pickpockets, who work one, two, or three together, and are mostly English.”

Little is known of Samuel G. Szabó, his methods or his intentions. He appears to have left his native Hungary in the early or mid-1850s by necessity, but the reason for his exile remains a mystery.

In the United States Szabó moved frequently. Between May 1857 and his return to Europe in July 1861 he traveled to New Orleans, Cincinnati, Chicago, Saint Louis, Philadelphia, and New York, settling for a brief period in Baltimore, where he was listed in the city directory as a daguerreotypist. His whereabouts when he made this album are unknown. One may speculate that Szabó made these portraits while working for, or with the cooperation of, the police, and some of the 218 prints in the album appear to be copy prints made from other photographic portraits.

But this is more than a collection of mug shots; it is a study of characters by a “photogr[aphic] artist,” as Szabó signed the title page of this album. Just as Mathew Brady believed that portraits of America’s great men and women held clues to the nobility of their character and could serve as moral and political exemplars to those who contemplated them, others attempted to discern in photographs such as Szabó’s physical characteristics of the criminal psyche. Yet, as in Hugh Diamond’s portraits of the insane (no. 30), the reading of individual portraits is not always self-evident. Would the serious young man in the overcoat and silk top hat appear roguish without the caption “John McNauth alias Keely alias little hucks / Pick Pocket” below his portrait?

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) Tableau synoptic des traits physionomiques: pour servir a l'étude du "portrait parlé" c. 1909

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) Tableau synoptic des traits physionomiques: pour servir a l'étude du "portrait parlé" c. 1909 (detail)

 

Eyebrows, eyelids, globes, orbits, wrinkles

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) Tableau synoptic des traits physionomiques: pour servir a l'étude du "portrait parlé" c. 1909 (detail)

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) Tableau synoptic des traits physionomiques: pour servir a l'étude du "portrait parlé" c. 1909 (detail)

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914)
Tableau synoptic des traits physionomiques: pour servir a l’étude du “portrait parlé” (and details)
c. 1909
Gelatin silver print
39.4 x 29.5 cm (15 1/2 x 11 5/8 in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2009

 

 

Nineteenth-century police headquarters were host to disorganized “rogues’ galleries” swollen with photographic portraits of criminals, which turned even the simplest of searches into a Sisyphean labor. As a response, police clerk Alphonse Bertillon introduced a rigorous system of classification, or signalment, to help organize archives, a process that included not only quantitative anthropometric measurements of the head, body, and extremities but also qualitative descriptions of the face. Photography’s potential for exactitude made it a crucial tool for Bertillon’s system, and his portrait parlé – the basis for today’s mugshot – posited a powerful analogy between a photographic likeness and the ink fingerprint.

Akin to a cheat-sheet for police clerks, this composite photograph illustrates how the mugshot could yield a series of classifications, dividing the male criminal’s face into discrete units of information. Such points of identification include the precise differentiation between left ear and right, the angle of inclination of the chin, and the pattern of the folds on the brow. Although intended merely as a filing aide, this image of the human face in all its striations of repetition and difference renders surveillance as a terrifying manifestation of the modern sublime.

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“Bertillon’s other major legacy in the field of forensics was his invention of the mug shot. In the mid-nineteenth century, criminal photography focussed on identifying types of offenders; the exhibit’s earliest images are from an album of “rogues,” taken around 1860 in the United States by the photographer Samuel G. Szabó, who sought to distinguish the physiognomy of a counterfeiter from that of a “sneak thief,” a burglar, and a pickpocket. (Whatever revealing differences Szabó may have discerned, his subjects all look mad as hell to be stuck in his perp pictures.) Bertillon countered this hypothetical typology with empirical method, taking “anthropometric” measurements – determining the length of a convict’s middle finger, for example – as well as making elaborate verbal descriptions of a subject’s physical aspect, covering everything from his wrinkles to his eyelids, and two standardized photographs of his face, one from the front, one in profile.”

Alexandra Schwartz. “The Long Collusion of Photography and Crime,” on The New Yorker website April 9 2016 [Online] Cited 15/07/2016

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) 'Véret. 0ctave-Jean. 19 ans, né à Paris XXe. Photographe. Anarchiste. 2/3/94.' 1894

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914)
Véret. 0ctave-Jean. 19 ans, né à Paris XXe. Photographe. Anarchiste. 2/3/94
1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative
10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) 'Beaulieu. Henri, Félix, Camille. 23 ans, né le 30/11/70 à Paris Ve. Comptable. Anarchiste. 23/5/94.' 1894

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914)
Beaulieu. Henri, Félix, Camille. 23 ans, né le 30/11/70 à Paris Ve. Comptable. Anarchiste. 23/5/94
1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative
10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) 'Soubrier. Annette (femme Chericotti). 28 ans, nŽe ˆ Paris Ille. Coutire. Anarchiste. 25/3/94' 1894

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914)
Soubrier. Annette (femme Chericotti). 28 ans, nŽe ˆ Paris Ille. Coutire. Anarchiste. 25/3/94
1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative
10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) 'SchulŽ. Armand. 21 ans, nŽ le 28/2/73 ˆ Choisy-le-Roi. Comptable. Anarchiste. 2/7/94' 1894

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914)
SchulŽ. Armand. 21 ans, nŽ le 28/2/73 ˆ Choisy-le-Roi. Comptable. Anarchiste. 2/7/94
1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative
10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) 'Roobin. Joseph. 40 ans, nŽ ˆ Bourgneuf (Loire-InfŽrieure). Terrassier. Anarchiste. 2/3/94' 1894

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914)
Roobin. Joseph. 40 ans, nŽ ˆ Bourgneuf (Loire-InfŽrieure). Terrassier. Anarchiste. 2/3/94
1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative
10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) 'Robillard. Guillaume, Joseph. 24 ans, nŽ le 17/11/68 ˆVaucresson. Fondeur en cuivre. Anarchiste. 2/7/94' 1894

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914)
Robillard. Guillaume, Joseph. 24 ans, nŽ le 17/11/68 ˆ Vaucresson. Fondeur en cuivre. Anarchiste. 2/7/94
1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative
10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) 'Ravachol. Franois Claudius Kœnigstein. 33 ans, nŽ ˆ St-Chamond (Loire). CondamnŽ le 27/4/92' 1892

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914)
Ravachol. Franois Claudius Kœnigstein. 33 ans, nŽ ˆ St-Chamond (Loire). CondamnŽ le 27/4/92
1892
Albumen silver print from glass negative
10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

 

Condemned 27/04/1892

 

 

“François Claudius Koenigstein, known as Ravachol (1859-1892), was a French anarchist. He was born on 14 October 1859, at Saint-Chamond, Loire and died guillotined on 11 July 1892, at Montbrison.

François Koenigstein was born in Saint-Chamond, Loire as the eldest child of a Dutch father (Jean Adam Koenigstein) and a French mother (Marie Ravachol). As an adult, he adopted his mother’s maiden name as his surname, following years of struggle after his father abandoned the family when François was only 8 years old. From that time on he had to support his mother, sister, and brother; he also looked after his nephew. He eventually found work as a dyer’s assistant, a job which he later lost. He was very poor throughout his life. For additional income he played accordion at society balls on Sundays at Saint-Étienne.

Ravachol became politically active. He joined the anarchists as well as groups organizing to improve working conditions. Labor unrest resulted in fierce reprisals by police. On 1 May 1891, at Fourmies, a workers demonstration took place for the eight-hour day; confrontations with the police followed. The Police opened fire on the crowd, resulting in nine deaths amongst the demonstrators. The same day, at Clichy, serious incidents erupted in a procession in which anarchists were taking part. Three men were arrested and taken to the commissariat of police. There they were interrogated (and brutalised with beatings, resulting in injuries). A trial (the Clichy Affair (fr)) ensued, in which two of the three anarchists were sentenced to prison terms (despite their abuse in jail.

In addition to these events, authorities kept up repression of the communards, which had continued from the time of the insurrection of the Paris Commune of 1871. Ravachol was aroused to take action in 1892 against members of the judiciary. He placed bombs in the living quarters of the Advocate General, Léon Bulot (executive of the Public Ministry), and Edmond Benoît, the councillor who had presided over the Assises Court during the Clichy Affair.

An informant told of his actions, and Ravachol was arrested on 30 March 1892 for his bombings at the Restaurant Véry. The day before the trial, anarchists bombed the restaurant where the informant worked. Ravachol was tried at the Assises Court of Seine on 26 April. He was convicted and condemned to prison for life. On 23 June, Ravachol was condemned to death in a second trial at the Assises Court of Loire for three murders. His participation in two of them is disputed (he confessed only to the murder of the hermit of Montbrison, claiming it was due to his own poverty). On 11 July 1892, Ravachol was publicly guillotined.” (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Cover page of "Le Petit Journal" illustrating the arrest of French anarchist and assassin Ravachol

 

Cover page of “Le Petit Journal” illustrating the arrest of French anarchist and assassin Ravachol (1859-1892)
Bibliothèque nationale de France

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) 'Rampin. Pierre. 3/7/94' 1894

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914)
Rampin. Pierre. 3/7/94
1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative
10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) 'Peticolin. Henri. 23 ans, nŽ le 8/6/71 ˆGoersdorf (Bas-Rhin). Vernisseur. Anarchiste. 2/7/94' 1894

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) 'Peticolin. Henri. 23 ans, nŽ le 8/6/71 ˆGoersdorf (Bas-Rhin). Vernisseur. Anarchiste. 2/7/94' 1894 (verso)

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914)
Peticolin. Henri. 23 ans, nŽ le 8/6/71 ˆ Goersdorf (Bas-Rhin). Vernisseur. Anarchiste. 2/7/94
1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative
10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

 

Varnisher. Anarchist.

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) 'Olguéni Gustave. 24 ans, né à Sala (Suède) le 24-5-69. Artiste-peintre. Anarchiste. 14-3-94' 1894

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914)
Olguéni Gustave. 24 ans, né à Sala (Suède) le 24-5-69. Artiste-peintre. Anarchiste. 14-3-94
1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative
10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) 'Adnet. Clotilde. 19 ans, née en décembre 74 à Argentant (Orne). Brodeuse. Anarchiste. Fichée le 7/1/94' 1894

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914)
Adnet. Clotilde. 19 ans, née en décembre 74 à Argentant (Orne). Brodeuse. Anarchiste. Fichée le 7/1/94
1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative
10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

 

Embroiderer. Anarchist.

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) 'Nic. Celestin. 20 ans, nŽ ˆ Conflans-St-Honorine (Seine & Oise). Emballeur. 26/2/94' 1894

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914)
Nic. Celestin. 20 ans, nŽ ˆ Conflans-St-Honorine (Seine & Oise). Emballeur. 26/2/94
1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative
10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) 'Mocquet. Georges, Gustave. 17 ans, nŽ le 17/5/76 ˆ Paris IXe. Tapissier. Anarchiste. 6/1/94' 1894

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914)
Mocquet. Georges, Gustave. 17 ans, nŽ le 17/5/76 ˆ Paris IXe. Tapissier. Anarchiste. 6/1/94
1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative
10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) 'Feneon. Felix. Clerk of the Galerie Berheim Jeune' 1894-85

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914)
Feneon. Felix. Clerk of the Galerie Berheim Jeune
1894-85
Albumen silver print from glass negative
10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

 

 

Félix Fénéon (22 June 1861, Turin, Italy – 29 February 1944, Châtenay-Malabry) was a Parisian anarchist and art critic during the late 19th century. He coined the term “Neo-Impressionism” in 1886 to identify a group of artists led by Georges Seurat, and ardently promoted them.

Felix Fénéon was a prominent literary stylist, art critic, and anarchist born in Turin, Italy in 1861. He was later raised in Burgundy, presumably because his father was a travelling salesman. After placing first in the competitive exams for jobs, Fénéon moved to Paris to work for the War Office where he achieved the rank of chief clerk. During his time in the war office he edited many works, including those of Rimbaud and Lautréamont, as well as helped to advance the fledgling pointillist movement under Georges Seurat. He was also a regular at Mallarmé’s salons on Tuesday evenings as well as active in anarchist circles.

Fénéon, ironically, worked 13 years at the War Office while remaining heavily active in supporting anarchist circles and movements. In March 1892 French police talked about Fénéon as an ‘active Anarchist’, and they had him shadowed. In 1894 Fénéon was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy because of an anarchist bombing of the Foyot restaurant, a popular haunt of politicians. He was also suspected of connection with the assassination of the French President, Sadi Carnot, by an Italian anarchist. He and twenty-nine others were arrested under charges of conspiracy in what became known as the “Trial of Thirty”. Fénéon was acquitted with many of the original thirty. However, the trial was a high point in publicity for Fénéon, normally behind the scenes, as he championed his wit to the amusement of the jury. Of the courtroom scene, Julian Barnes writes, “When the presiding judge put it to him that he had been spotted talking to a known anarchist behind a gas lamp, he replied coolly: Can you tell me, Monsieur le Président, which side of a gas lamp is its behind?”

After the trial, Fénéon became even more elusive. In 1890, the Neo-Impressionist Paul Signac asked to produce a portrait of the lauded critic. Fénéon refused several times before agreeing, on the condition that Signac produced a full face effigy. Signac naturally refused, painting instead a famous profile of Fénéon with his characteristic goatee, a picture that largely became a symbol of the movement, spawning many variations. Fénéon, though displeased, hung the picture on his wall until Signac’s death 45 years later. Aside from Novels in Three Lines that first appeared as clippings in the Parisian Le Matins in 1906 and later as a collection, only because his mistress Camille Pateel had collected them in an album, Fénéon published only a 43-page monograph in Les Impressionists (1886). When asked to produce Les Nouvelles en Trois Lignes as a collection, Fénéon famously replied with an angry “I aspire only to silence”. As Luc Sante points out, Fénéon, one might say, is invisibly famous, having affected so much without being recognizable to many.” (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) 'Dupuis. Augustin. 53 ans, nŽ le 24/6/41 ˆ Dourdan (Seine &Oise). Charron, forgeron. Anarchiste. 3/7/94' 1894

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914)
Dupuis. Augustin. 53 ans, nŽ le 24/6/41 ˆ Dourdan (Seine &Oise). Charron, forgeron. Anarchiste. 3/7/94
1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative
10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

 

Wheelwright, blacksmith. Anarchist.

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) 'CharriŽ. Cyprien. 26 ans, nŽ le 7/10/67 ˆ Paris XVIlle. Imprimeur. Anarchiste 2/7/94' 1894

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914)
CharriŽ. Cyprien. 26 ans, nŽ le 7/10/67 ˆ Paris XVIlle. Imprimeur. Anarchiste 2/7/94
1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative
10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) 'Bellemans. Eugène (ou Michel). 23 ans, né à Gand (Belgique). Tailleur d'habits. Anarchiste. 9/3/94' 1894

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914)
Bellemans. Eugène (ou Michel). 23 ans, né à Gand (Belgique). Tailleur d’habits. Anarchiste. 9/3/94
1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative
10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

 

 

Born into a distinguished family of scientists and statisticians, Bertillon began his career as a clerk in the Identification Bureau of the Paris Prefecture of Police in 1879. Tasked with maintaining reliable police records of offenders, he developed the first modern system of criminal identification. The system, which became known as Bertillonage, had three components: anthropometric measurement, precise verbal description of the prisoner’s physical characteristics, and standardized photographs of the face.

In the early 1890s Paris was subject to a wave of bombings and assassination attempts carried out by anarchist proponents of “propaganda of the deed.” One of Bertillon’s greatest successes came in March 1892, when his system of criminal identification led to the arrest of an anarchist bomber and career criminal who went by the name Ravachol. The publicity surrounding the case earned Bertillon the Legion of Honor and encouraged police departments around the world to adopt his anthropometric system.

 

Unknown (American) '[Broadside for the Capture of John Wilkes Booth, John Surratt, and David Herold]' 1865

 

Unknown (American)
[Broadside for the Capture of John Wilkes Booth, John Surratt, and David Herold]
Artist: Alexander Gardner (American, Glasgow, Scotland 1821 – 1882 Washington, D.C.)
Photography Studio: Silsbee, Case & Company (American, active Boston)
Photography Studio: Unknown
April 20, 1865
Ink on paper with three albumen silver prints from glass negatives
Sheet: 60.5 x 31.3 cm (23 13/16 x 12 5/16 in.) Each photograph: 8.6 x 5.4 cm (3 3/8 x 2 1/8 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2005

 

 

On the night of April 14, 1865, just five days after Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox, John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln at the Ford Theatre in Washington, D.C. Within twenty-four hours, Secret Service director Colonel Lafayette Baker had already acquired photographs of Booth and two of his accomplices. Booth’s photograph was secured by a standard police search of the actor’s room at the National Hotel; a photograph of John Surratt, a suspect in the plot to kill Secretary of State William Seward, was obtained from his mother, Mary (soon to be indicted as a fellow conspirator), and David Herold’s photograph was found in a search of his mother’s carte-de-visite album. The three photographs were taken to Alexander Gardner’s studio for immediate reproduction. This bill was issued on April 20, the first such broadside in America illustrated with photographs tipped onto the sheet.

The descriptions of the alleged conspirators combined with their photographic portraits proved invaluable to the militia. Six days after the poster was released Booth and Herold were recognized by a division of the 16th New York Cavalry. The commanding officer, Lieutenant Edward Doherty, demanded their unconditional surrender when he cornered the two men in a barn near Port Royal, Virginia. Herold complied; Booth refused. Two Secret Service detectives accompanying the cavalry, then set fire to the barn. Booth was shot as he attempted to escape; he died three hours later. After a military trial Herold was hanged on July 7 at the Old Arsenal Prison in Washington, D.C.

Surratt escaped to England via Canada, eventually settling in Rome. Two years later a former schoolmate from Maryland recognized Surratt, then a member of the Papal Guard, and he was returned to Washington to stand trial. In September 1868 the charges against him were nol-prossed after the trial ended in a hung jury. Surratt retired to Maryland, worked as a clerk, and lived until 1916.

 

 

Alexander Gardner (American, Glasgow, Scotland 1821 - 1882 Washington, D.C.) 'Lewis Powell [alias Lewis Payne]' April 27, 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (American, Glasgow, Scotland 1821 – 1882 Washington, D.C.)
Lewis Powell [alias Lewis Payne]
April 27, 1865
Albumen silver print from glass negative
22.4 × 17.4 cm (8 13/16 × 6 7/8 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2005

 

 

Alexander Gardner’s 1865 portrait of Lewis Powell, a conspirator with John Wilkes Booth. At roughly the same time that John Wilkes Booth shot President Lincoln, Lewis Paine attempted unsuccessfully to murder Secretary of State William Seward. The son of a Baptist minister from Alabama, Paine (alias Wood, alias Hall, alias Powell) was one of at least five conspirators who planned with Booth the simultaneous assassinations of Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Seward. A tall, powerful man, Paine broke into the secretary’s house, struck his son Frederick with the butt of his jammed pistol, brutally stabbed the bedridden politician, and then escaped after stabbing Seward’s other son, Augustus.

Four days later, Paine was caught in a sophisticated police dragnet and arrested at the H Street boarding house of fellow conspirator Mary Surratt. Detained aboard two iron-clad monitors docked together on the Potomac, Paine and seven other presumed conspirators were photographed by Alexander Gardner on April 27. Gardner made full-length, profile, and full-face portraits of each of the men, presaging the pictorial formula later adopted by law-enforcement photographers. Of the ten known photographs of Paine, six show him against a canvas awning on the monitor’s deck, the others against the dented gun turret. In this portrait, Paine, towering more than a head above the deck officer, appears menacingly free of handcuffs. He was twenty years old.

 

Alexander Gardner (American, Glasgow, Scotland 1821 - 1882 Washington, D.C.) 'Execution of the Conspirators' July 7, 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (American, Glasgow, Scotland 1821 – 1882 Washington, D.C.)
Execution of the Conspirators
July 7, 1865
Albumen silver print from glass negative
16.8 x 24.2 cm (6 5/8 x 9 1/2 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2005

 

 

Alexander Gardner’s intimate involvement in the events following President Lincoln’s assassination would have challenged even the most experienced twentieth-century photojournalist. In just short of four months, Gardner documented in hundreds of portraits and views one of the most complex national news stories in American history. The U.S. Secret Service provided Gardner unlimited access to individuals and places unavailable to any other photographer. Free to retain all but one of his negatives-a portrait of Booth’s corpse-Gardner attempted to sell carte-de-visite and large-format prints of the whole picture story. America, still wounded from the four-year war, was less than interested.

The photographs of the execution of Mary Surratt, Lewis Paine, David Herold, and George Atzerodt on July 7, 1865, were, however, highly sought after by early collectors of Civil War ephemera beginning in the 1880s. This photograph shows the final preparations on the scaffolding in the yard of the Old Arsenal Prison. The day was extremely hot and a parasol shades Mary Surratt, seated at the far left of the stage. (She would become the first woman in America to be hanged.) Two soldiers stationed beneath the stage grasp the narrow beams that hold up the gallows trapdoors. The soldier on the left would later admit he had just vomited, from heat and tension. Only one noose is visible, slightly to the left of Surratt; the other three nooses moved during the exposure and are registered by the camera only as faint blurs. Members of the clergy crowd the stage and provide final counsel to the conspirators. A private audience of invited guests stands at the lower left. Minutes after Gardner’s exposure, the conspirators were tied and blindfolded and the order was given to knock out the support beams.

 

Unknown. 'Policeman Posing with Four "Collared" Thugs' c. 1875

 

Unknown
Policeman Posing with Four “Collared” Thugs
c. 1875
Tintype
Image: 4 5/8 × 3 9/16 in. (11.7 × 9 cm), visible Plate: 5 7/16 × 4 1/16 in. (13.8 × 10.3 cm), approx.
Gift of Stanley B. Burns, MD and The Burns Archive, in honor of Elizabeth A. Burns, 2016

 

This rare narrative tintype of a policeman posing with four criminals handcuffed to one another may be viewed as an occupational portrait of sorts. The officer’s police cap and gleaming badge indicate his profession, while his pose and central placement emphasize his authority.

 

Unknown. '[Five Members of the Wild Bunch]' c. 1892

 

Unknown
[Five Members of the Wild Bunch]
c. 1892
Tintype
Image: 8.4 x 6.2 cm (3 5/16 x 2 7/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation, 2005

 

 

The Wild Bunch was the largest and most notorious band of outlaws in the American West. Led by two gunmen better known by their aliases, Butch Cassidy (Robert LeRoy Parker) and Kid Curry (Harvey Logan), the Wild Bunch was an informal trust of thieves and rustlers that preyed upon stagecoaches, small banks, and especially railroads from the late 1880s to the first decade of the twentieth century.

This crudely constructed tintype portrait of five members of the gang dressed in bowler hats and city clothes shows, clockwise, from the top left, Kid Curry, Bill McCarty, Bill (Tod) Carver, Ben Kilpatrick, and Tom O’Day. Without their six shooters and cowboy hats the outlaws appear quite civilized and could easily be mistaken for the sheriffs and Pinkerton agents who pursued them in a “Wild West” already much tamed by the probable date of this photograph. Gone was the open range – instead, homesteads and farms dotted the landscape and barbed-wire fences frustrated the cattleman’s drive to market. Gone too was the anonymity associated with distance, as the camera and the telegraph conspired to identify criminals. Bank and train robbery were still lucrative, but the outlaw’s chances for escape gradually shifted in favor of the sheriff’s chances for arrest and conviction.

By 1903 the Wild Bunch had disbanded. A few members of the gang followed Butch Cassidy to South America, while the majority remained in the West, trying to avoid capture. McCarty was shot dead in 1893, in a street in Delta, Colorado, after a bank robbery; Carver died in prison; Kilpatrick was killed during a train robbery in 1912; Tom O’Day was captured by a Casper, Wyoming, sheriff in 1903; and Kid Curry died either by his own hand in Parachute, Colorado, in 1904, or, as legend has it, lived until he was killed by a wild mule in South America in 1909. The photograph comes from the collection of Camillus S. Fly, a pioneer photographer in Tombstone, Arizona, in the 1880s and sheriff of Cochise County in the 1890s.

 

Tom Howard (American, 1894 - 1961) '[Electrocution of Ruth Snyder, Sing Sing Prison, Ossining, New York]' 1928

 

Tom Howard (American, 1894 – 1961)
[Electrocution of Ruth Snyder, Sing Sing Prison, Ossining, New York]
1928
Gelatin silver print
24 x 19.3 cm (9 7/16 x 7 5/8 in.)
Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2008
© The New York Daily News Archive / Getty Images

 

 

In spite of the universal ban on cameras in American death chambers, news editors have long recognized the public’s hunger for eyewitness images of high-profile executions. In January 1928 Tom Howard made tabloid history when he photographed, using a miniature camera strapped to his ankle, the electrocution of the convicted murderer Ruth Snyder at Sing Sing prison in Ossining, New York. The sensational picture ran under banner headlines on the front page of the New York Daily News two days in a row.

.
“In 1925, Snyder, a housewife from Queens Village, Queens, New York City, began an affair with Henry Judd Gray, a married corset salesman. She then began to plan the murder of her husband, enlisting the help of her new lover, though he appeared to be very reluctant. Her distaste for her husband apparently began when he insisted on hanging a picture of his late fiancée, Jessie Guishard, on the wall of their first home, and named his boat after her. Guishard, whom Albert described to Ruth as “the finest woman I have ever met”, had been dead for 10 years.

Ruth Snyder first persuaded her husband to purchase insurance, with the assistance of an insurance agent (who was subsequently fired and sent to prison for forgery) “signed” a $48,000 life insurance policy that paid extra (“double indemnity”) if an unexpected act of violence killed the victim. According to Henry Judd Gray, Ruth had made at least seven attempts to kill her husband, all of which he survived. On March 20, 1927, the couple garrotted Albert Snyder and stuffed his nose full of chloroform-soaked rags, then staged his death as part of a burglary. Detectives at the scene noted that the burglar left little evidence of breaking into the house; moreover, that the behavior of Mrs. Snyder was inconsistent with her story of a terrorized wife witnessing her husband being killed.

Then the police found the property Ruth claimed had been stolen. It was still in the house, but hidden. A breakthrough came when a detective found a paper with the letters “J.G.” on it (it was a memento Albert Snyder had kept from former love Jessie Guishard), and asked Ruth about it. A flustered Ruth’s mind immediately turned to her lover, whose initials were also “J.G.,” and she asked the detective what Gray had to do with this. It was the first time Gray had been mentioned, and the police were instantly suspicious. Gray was found upstate, in Syracuse. He claimed he had been there all night, but eventually it turned out a friend of his had created an alibi, setting up Gray’s room at a hotel. Gray proved far more forthcoming than Ruth about his actions. He was caught and returned to Jamaica, Queens and charged along with Ruth Snyder. Dorothy Parker told Oscar Levant that Gray tried to escape the police by taking a taxi from Long Island to Manhattan, New York, which Levant noted was “quite a long trip.” According to Parker, in order “not to attract attention, he gave the driver a ten-cent tip.” …

Snyder became the first woman executed in Sing Sing since 1899. She went to the electric chair only moments before her former lover. Her execution (by “State Electrician” Robert G. Elliott) was caught on film, by a photograph of her as the electricity was running through her body, with the aid of a miniature plate camera custom-strapped to the ankle of Tom Howard, a Chicago Tribune photographer working in cooperation with the Tribune-owned New York Daily News. Howard’s camera was owned for a while by inventor Miller Reese Hutchison, then later became part of the collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.” (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Unknown (French) Publisher: Le Petit Parisien (French, active 1876–1944) 'Marius Bourotte' 1929

 

Unknown (French)
Publisher: Le Petit Parisien (French, active 1876–1944)
Marius Bourotte
1929
Gelatin silver print with applied color
11.6 x 16.2 cm. (4 9/16 x 6 3/8 in.)
Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1996

 

These photographs of thieves and assassins were heavily retouched with ink and gouache to facilitate their reproduction in illustrated newspapers and magazines. Although they were not conceived as typological studies, the cropping and retouching deliberately intensified their sinister aspect, producing caricatures of criminality that satisfied the sensationalism of the picture press.

 

Unknown (American) '[Automobile Murder Scene]' c. 1935

 

Unknown (American)
[Automobile Murder Scene]
c. 1935
Gelatin silver print
24.3 x 20.1 cm (9 9/16 x 7 15/16 in.)
Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2008

 

 

This picture is a master class in the aesthetics of the crime photograph. As the writer Luc Sante has noted, photography stops time, while crime photography shows the stopped time of an individual life cut short. The anonymous cameraman (whose shadow can be seen in the image) may have worked for the police but was more likely a newspaper photographer. His editors must have considered this an absolute bull’s-eye combination of titillation, voyeurism, and fig-leaf moralizing that lets readers have their cake and eat it too. Most importantly, the stopped time of the crime photograph imparts a heightened significance to all the details within the frame, which could either be clues or random accident.

 

Weegee (American, born Ukraine (Austria), Złoczów (Zolochiv) 1899 - 1968 New York) 'Human Head Cake Box Murder' c. 1940

 

Weegee (American, born Ukraine (Austria), Złoczów (Zolochiv) 1899 – 1968 New York)
Human Head Cake Box Murder
c. 1940
Gelatin silver print
33.6 x 26.9 cm (13 1/4 x 10 9/16 in.)
Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987
© Weegee / International Center of Photography

 

 

It is hard to decide which of the several mysteries contained in this macabre photograph is the most bizarre: the murder to which the title alludes, the headless bodies standing flat-footedly around a bodyless head, the “scriptboy” who enters at upper left, how the police photographer can be both rooted to the spot and levitating above it, why he wears his hat as he works, or where Weegee is standing.

 

John Gutmann (American (born Germany), Breslau 1905 - 1998 San Francisco) "X Marks the Spot Where Ralph Will Die" 1938

 

John Gutmann (American (born Germany), Breslau 1905 – 1998 San Francisco)
“X Marks the Spot Where Ralph Will Die”
1938
Gelatin silver print
23.4 x 17.8 cm (9 3/16 x 7 in.)
Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987
© 1998 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

Trained as a painter, Gutmann fled Germany for America in 1933. In need of money, the artist began photographing across the country as a foreign correspondent for the tremendously popular picture magazines of his homeland, which had an insatiable appetite for all things American. What began as an assignment in exile – travelling from New York, Chicago, and Detroit to New Orleans and San Francisco – became a remarkable lifelong career in a new medium and country.

One of the earliest and most inventive practitioners of street photography, Gutmann was one of the great poets and chroniclers of a particularly American kind of city life – the endless supply of characters and spontaneous dramas set against a backdrop of skyscrapers, signs, and graffiti.

 

 

Weegee (American, born Ukraine (Austria), Złoczów (Zolochiv) 1899 - 1968 New York) '[Outline of a Murder Victim]' 1942

 

Weegee (American, born Ukraine (Austria), Złoczów (Zolochiv) 1899 – 1968 New York)
[Outline of a Murder Victim]
1942
Gelatin silver print
33.9 x 27.4 cm. (13 3/6 x 10 13/16 in.)
Gift of Bruce A. Kirstein, in memory of Marc S. Kirstein, 1978
© Weegee / International Center of Photography

 

 

Working as a freelance press photographer in New York City during the mid-1930s and 1940s, Weegee achieved notoriety through sensational photographs of a crime-ridden metropolis. Although his nickname derived from an earlier job as a “squeegee boy” drying photographic prints in a professional darkroom, through brazen self-styling he designated himself a human Ouija board, who always seemed to know where the next big scoop would be. In fact, he lived across the street from police headquarters and used a department-issued radio. Here, Weegee distills the genre of the crime scene photograph into a minimalist trace: the camera’s flashbulb illuminates a hastily drawn chalk outline bearing the stark label “HEAD.”

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) 'Man Escorting Frank Pape, Arrested for Strangling Boy to Death, New York. November 10, 1944' 1944

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig)
Man Escorting Frank Pape, Arrested for Strangling Boy to Death, New York. November 10, 1944
1944
Gelatin silver print
9 1⁄2 × 7 9/16″ (24.1 × 19.2 cm)
International Center of Photography. Bequest of Wilma Wilcox
© 2014 Weegee/ International Center of Photography/Getty Images

PHOTOGRAPH NOT IN EXHIBITION.
Taken prior to the famous image by Weggee below.

 

Weegee (American, born Ukraine (Austria), Złoczów (Zolochiv) 1899 - 1968 New York) 'Frank Pape, Arrested for Homicide' 1944

 

Weegee (American, born Ukraine (Austria), Złoczów (Zolochiv) 1899 – 1968 New York)
Frank Pape, Arrested for Homicide
1944
Gelatin silver print
33.6 x 26.4 cm (13 1/4 x 10 3/8 in.)
Anonymous Gift, 2005

 

 

“For Weegee… a photographic print was usually nothing more than a by-product. Weegee’s prints served as the matrices from which halftone and gravure printing plates were made (by others) for reproduction in magazines, books, and newspapers. Weegee intended these mass-produced multiples, and not the photographic prints themselves, to be the final forms of his imagery… He did not expect or intend his work to be experienced in the form of photographic prints.”

A. D. Coleman, “Weegee as Printmaker: An Anomaly in the Marketplace,” in Tarnished Silver: After the Photo Boom. New York: Midmarch, 1996, p. 28. (Emphasis added.) quoted in Jason E. Hill.

 

The subject of this photograph, a sixteen-year-old boy, confessed to tying up and strangling four-year-old William Drach in the Bronx on October 29, 1944, allegedly mimicking what he had seen in a movie. Here, Weegee adapts the traditional tropes of portraiture, in which the sitter’s hands and facial features are of the utmost importance, to present a caged criminal still armed with his weapons. Exploiting the cramped quarters of the police van, Weegee frames the boy’s placid face within the crisscross of the chain-linked fence. The boy’s hands – the presumed tools of his crime – are eerily dismembered from his body.

“On November 9, 1944, the American photographer Weegee made three exposures of Frank Pape, moments after the sixteen year old was arraigned on homicide charges for the accidental strangling death of a four-year-old neighbor and as he was escorted into a police wagon outside the Manhattan Police Headquarters, on Centre Market Place, en route to the 161st Street courthouse in the Bronx.1 Of these, the third expo- sure, which pictures the young Pape through the luminously articulated mesh of that police wagon’s grated rear window and is the basis for Frank Pape, Arrested for Homicide, November 10, 1944 in the Thomas Walther Collection, now stands among the photographer’s best-known and most widely collected and reproduced works.”

For more on the creation and dissemination of this print, see Jason E. Hill, “In the Police Wagon, in the Press, and in The Museum of Modern Art (A Note on Weegee’s Frank Pape, Arrested for Homicide, November 10, 1944)”.

The original negative was horizontal and was cropped in various proportions, photographs taken from the above article by Jason E. Hill:

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) 'Frank Pape, Arrested for Strangling Boy to Death, New York' 1944

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig)
Frank Pape, Arrested for Strangling Boy to Death, New York
1944
Photographic negative (digitally scanned and inverted)
4 x 5″ (10.2 x 12.7 cm)
International Center of Photography
© 2014 Weegee/International Center of Photography/Getty Images

PHOTOGRAPH NOT IN EXHIBITION

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) 'Frank Pape, Arrested for Strangling Boy to Death, New York' 1944 indicating cropping variants

 

This print, made by Sid Kaplan in 1983, shows the entire view of Weegee’s original negative for the third exposure he took of Frank Pape in November 1944. Colored frames indicate the cropping of prints, now in various collections, derived from the negative: Sid Kaplan’s portfolio of Weegee’s prints, International Center of Photography, New York (red); Frank Pape, Arrested for Homicide, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (blue); Sixteen-Year-Old Boy Who Strangled a Four-Year-Old Child to Death, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (dark green); Frank Pape, Arrested for Homicide, November 10, 1944, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (brown); Frank Pape, Arrested for Homicide, November 10, 1944, The Museum of Modern Art, New York (orange); Frank Pape, Arrested for Strangling Boy to Death, New York, International Center of Photography (yellow); the image as it was first published in PM (white); the image as it appeared in Weegee’s 1945 book, Naked City (light green).

 

William Klein. 'Gun 1, New York' 1955

 

William Klein (American, born New York, 1928)
Gun 1, New York
1954, printed 1986
Gelatin silver print
45.4 x 33.3 cm (17 7/8 x 13 1/8 in.)
Gift of the artist, in honor of his mother, Mrs. Helen Klein, 1987

 

 

Upon his return home in the late 1940s after eight years abroad in the army, Klein found his native New York City familiar but strange. Commissioned by Vogue to create a photographic book about the city, Klein recorded its vibrancy and grittiness, producing an uncompromising portrait that the magazine ultimately rejected. He subsequently took his photographs to Paris and published them under the title Life is Good & Good for You in New York. For this photograph, Klein asked two boys on Upper Broadway to pose. One pointed a gun at the camera, his face erupting with rage, mimicking the stereotypical poses of criminals in our image-saturated society.

 

United Press International (American) Person in Photograph: Patricia Hearst (American, born 1954) 'SAN FRANCISCO. Fugitive newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst and three other members of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) were reported captured in the Mission District here 9/18, bringing to an end one of the most bizarre criminal cases in U.S. History. In this photo released by the FBI 4/15/74, a girl resembling Miss Hearst is shown with a weapon in hand during a robbery of the Hibernia Bank' 1974

 

United Press International (American)
Person in Photograph: Patricia Hearst (American, born 1954)
SAN FRANCISCO. Fugitive newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst and three other members of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) were reported captured in the Mission District here 9/18, bringing to an end one of the most bizarre criminal cases in U.S. History. In this photo released by the FBI 4/15/74, a girl resembling Miss Hearst is shown with a weapon in hand during a robbery of the Hibernia Bank
1974
Gelatin silver print
22.4 x 17.5 cm (8 13/16 x 6 7/8 in.)
Gift of Alan L. Paris, 2011

 

 

The newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst in a 1974 shot from a bank surveillance camera.

The kidnapping of newspaper heiress Patty Hearst by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) was one of the most sensational news stories of the twentieth century. As part of its mission to dismantle the U.S. government and its capitalist values, the SLA abducted Hearst, an act that catapulted the terrorist group onto an international stage. A few months later, the SLA released tapes of Hearst declaring that she had joined their crusade, and within weeks she was photographed participating in a San Francisco bank robbery. The bank’s surveillance camera captured the photographs, vividly demonstrating the power of the medium to render a dramatic image of an event, even without a person behind the lens.

 

Larry Clark (American, born 1943) 'Armed Robbers, Oklahoma City' 1975, printed 1981

 

Larry Clark (American, born 1943)
Armed Robbers, Oklahoma City
1975, printed 1981
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 20.2 cm. (12 x 7 15/16 in.)
Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1994
© Larry Clark

 

 

A child of Eisenhower’s straitlaced and conformist 1950s America, Clark saw the camera as a way to “turn back the years” and photograph a younger crowd doing the kinds of things he either did or wanted to have done when he himself was a teenager – shooting drugs, shacking up with prostitutes, and committing all manner of crimes. Because of the nature of who and what he was photographing, almost all of Clark’s work from this period would become memorial in nature. This double portrait makes manifest the dangerous allure that is often attached to portrayals of criminality.

 

United Press International (American) '[Bank Robber Aiming at Security Camera, Cleveland, Ohio]' March 8, 1975

 

United Press International (American)
[Bank Robber Aiming at Security Camera, Cleveland, Ohio]
March 8, 1975
Gelatin silver print
Image: 6 7/8 × 4 13/16 in. (17.4 × 12.2 cm) Sheet: 7 1/2 × 5 7/8 in. (19.1 × 15 cm)
Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2015

 

This startling photograph captures a robber firing his pistol at a bank camera to prevent it from recording his identity. Although he and his accomplices absconded with $11,600 in the heist, the gunman was too slow for the ever-watchful eye of the security camera, which caught his face right before the shot rang out, enabling authorities to identify their suspect.

 

 

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03
Apr
16

Exhibition: ‘The world is beautiful: photographs from the collection’ at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Exhibition dates: 4th December 2015 – 10th April 2016

 

Despite a focus on the camera’s relationship to the beauty and pure form of the modern world – “the attraction and charm of the surface” – these photographs are more than just being skin deep. In their very straightforwardness the photographs propose a “rigorous sensitivity to form revealed patterns of beauty and order in the natural and man-made alike.” But more than the portrayal of something we would not see if it were not for the eye of the photographer, the lens of the camera, the speed of the film, the sensitivity of the paper, the design of the architect, the genetics of nature … is the mystery of life itself.

Modernist structures and mass-produced objects in plants and animals can never beat a good mystery. Just look at Man Ray’s Woman with closed eyes (c. 1928, below) or the look in the eyes of Robert Frank’s son, Pablo. You can never pin that down. While form may be beauty, mystery will always be beautiful.

Marcus

.
Please click on the photographs to view a larger version of the image.

 

 

“German photographer Albert Renger-Patzsch was a pioneering figure in the New Objectivity movement, which sought to engage with the world as clearly and precisely as possible.

Rejecting the sentimentality and idealism of a previous generation, Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) emerged as a tendency in German art, architecture and literature in the 1920s. Applying this attitude to the field of photography, Renger-Patzsch espoused the camera’s ability to produce a faithful recording of the world. ‘There must be an increase in the joy one takes in an object, and the photographer should be fully conscious of the splendid fidelity of reproduction made possible by his technique’, he wrote.

This selection reflects the range of subjects that Renger-Patzsch returned to throughout his career. It includes his early wildlife and botanical studies, images of traditional craftsmen, formal studies of mechanical equipment, commercial still lifes, and landscape and architectural studies. His images of the Ruhr region, where he moved in 1928, document the industrialisation of the area in almost encyclopaedic detail. All of his work demonstrates his sustained interest in the camera’s relationship to the beauty and complexity of the modern world.

In 1928 Renger-Patzsch published The World is Beautiful, a collection of one hundred photographs whose rigorous sensitivity to form revealed patterns of beauty and order in the natural and man-made alike. Embodying a new, distinctly modern way of looking at the world, the book established Renger-Patzsch as one of the most influential photographers of the twentieth century.”

Text by Emma Lewis on the Tate website

 

The world is beautiful is an exhibition of photographs taken over the last 100 years from the National Gallery of Australia’s magnificent photography collection, including work by Diane Arbus, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Max Dupain, Bill Henson, Robert Mapplethorpe, Man Ray, Cindy Sherman and many more.

It draws its title from one of the twentieth-century’s great photographic moments, the publication of Albert Renger-Patzsch’s book The world is beautiful in 1928. Renger-Patzsch’s approach embodied his belief that ‘one should surely proceed from the essence of the object and attempt to represent it with photographic means alone’.

Inspired by this confidence in the medium, the exhibition looks at the way the camera interacts with things in the world. One of photography’s fundamental attributes is its capacity to adopt a range of relationships with its subject, based on the camera’s physical proximity to it. Indeed, one of the most basic decisions that a photographer makes is simply where he or she places the camera. The pictures in this exhibition literally take you on a photographic trip, from interior worlds and microscopic detail to the cosmic: from near to far away.

Together, these photographs capture some of the delight photographers take in turning their cameras on the world and re-imaging it, making it beautiful through the power of their vision and their capacity to help us see the world in new ways.”

Text from the National Gallery of Australia website

 

Near

Close up, the world can be surprising. There is an undeniable intensity and focus that comes with getting up close to people and objects. It is rude to stare, but photography has no such scruples.

Pioneers of the medium attempted to photograph organic forms through a microscope, making once-hidden worlds accessible. The pleasure photographers take in getting up close to their subject has followed the medium’s progress. This was especially the case during the twentieth century, when advances in photographic technology and profound shifts in our relationship to space brought about by events such as war often turned our attention away from the outside world.

For many photographers, the camera’s capacity to subject people and objects to close scrutiny has provided a way of paring back vision to its essence, to view the world unencumbered by emotion and sentiment. For others, getting up close is not just about physical proximity; it is also about psychological and emotional states that are otherwise difficult to represent. Experiences such as intimacy, love and emotional connection, as well as disquiet, anxiety and hostility, can all be suggested through the use of the close-up. Photographers have also used it literally to turn inwards, escaping into the imagination to create dreamworlds. The camera-eye really can see what the human eye cannot. (Text from the National Gallery of Australia website)

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch. 'Mantelpavian [Hamadryas Baboon]' c. 1925

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch
Mantelpavian [Hamadryas Baboon]
c. 1925
Gelatin silver photograph
23.8 x 16.8 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

“In photography one should surely proceed from the essence of the object and attempt to represent it with photographic terms alone.” Albert Renger-Patzsch

Renger-Patzsch’s primary interest was in the object as a document, removed from its usual context and unencumbered with sentiment. Die Welt ist schön [The world is beautiful], published in Munich in 1928, is one of the great photographic books in the history of photography and its influence across the world was profound. It is an astounding study of the world, celebrating beauty wherever the photographer found it – in modernist structures and mass-produced objects or in plants and animals. The connection and continuity of industry to the natural world is conveyed by emphasising underlying structural and formal similarities. The Gallery has a major holding of works by Renger-Patzsch, including a copy of Die Welt ist schön and 121 vintage prints, most of which were reproduced in the book.

Renger-Patzsch was always firmly committed to the principle of the photograph as a document or record of an object. While the title for his most famous contribution to photography came from his publisher, he wanted his now-iconic 1928 book Die Welt ist schön (The world is beautiful) to be titled simply Die Dinge (Things). In 1937 he wrote that the images in his book, ‘consciously portray the attraction and charm of the surface’. Indeed, the power of these pictures resides in their straightforwardness. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Edward Weston (USA 1886-1956) 'Guadalupe de Rivera, Mexico' 1924

 

Edward Weston (United States of America 1886 – 1958)
No title (Guadalupe, Mexico, 1924): from “Edward Weston fiftieth anniversary portfolio 1902-1952”.
1924
Gelatin silver photograph
20.7 h x 17.8 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1981

 

 

In 1923 Weston travelled from San Francisco to Mexico City with his son, Chandler and his model and lover, Tina Modotti. The photographs he made there represented a startling, revolutionary breakthrough. Everything got stripped down to its essence, with objects isolated against neutral backgrounds. For these heroic head shots, he moved out of the studio, photographing in direct sunlight, from below and with a hand-held camera. They are monumental but still full of life: Weston was excited by the idea of capturing momentary expressions, in people he found ‘intense and dramatic’. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Man Ray (United States of America 1890 - France 1976) 'No title (Woman with closed eyes)' c. 1928

 

Man Ray (United States of America 1890 – France 1976)
No title (Woman with closed eyes)
c. 1928
Gelatin silver photograph
Not signed, not dated. Stamp, verso, l.r., “Man Ray / 81 bis. Rue / Campagne Premiere / Paris / XIV”.
Image 8.9 h x 12.8 w cm sheet 8.9 h x 12.8 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1984

 

Robert Frank. 'Pablo' 1959

 

Robert Frank (Switzerland born 1924 – emigrated to United States 1947)
Pablo
1959
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 20.8 h x 31.0 w cm sheet 27.0 h x 35.4 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1980

 

 

Frank set out on a two-year road trip across the States in 1955. The images he made of race and class divisions, poverty, alienated youth and loneliness expose America’s dark soul. Others, such as this haunting image of his son, Pablo, were more personal. A selection appeared in The Americans, published in Paris in 1958 and in the States the following year. Many saw it as a bitter indictment of the American Dream, others saw an evocative, melancholic vision of humanity that is deeply moving. As Jack Kerouac commented in his introduction to the American edition, Frank ‘sucked a sad, sweet, poem out of America’. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Carol Jerrems. 'Vale Street' 1975

 

Carol Jerrems (Australia 1949 – 1980)
Vale Street
1975
St Kilda, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 20.2 h x 30.3 w cm sheet 40.5 h x 50.4 w cm
Gift of the Philip Morris Arts Grant 1982
© Ken Jerrems and the Estate of Lance Jerrems
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

“I try to reveal something about people, because they are so separate, so isolated, maybe it’s a way of bringing people together I don’t want to exploit people. I care about them.”

Carol Jerrems, 1977

.
Carol Jerrems became prominent in the 1970s as part of a new wave of young photographers. Influenced by the counter-culture values of the 1960s, they used art to comment on social issues and engender social change. Jerrems photographed associates, actors and musicians, always collaborating with her subjects, thereby declaring her presence as the photographer. Vale Street raises interesting questions about what is artifice and what is real in photography. She deliberately set up this image, employing her aspiring actress friend and two young men from her art classes at Heidelberg Technical School. Vale Street has achieved an iconic status in Australian photography; the depiction of a confident young woman taking on the world is an unforgettable one. It is an intimate group portrait that is at once bold and vulnerable. In 1975 it was thought to be an affirmation of free love and sexual licence. The image also appears to be about liberation from society’s norms and taboos – ‘we are all three bare-chested, we have tattoos and so what?’

The implication that this scene is perfectly natural is reinforced by locating the figures in a landscape. The young woman is strong and unafraid of the judgement of the viewer. The necklace around her neck is an ankh – a symbol of the new spiritualty of the Age of Aquarius and a re-affirmation of the ancient powers of women.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002

 

Paul Outerbridge. 'Nude lying on a love seat' c. 1936

 

Paul Outerbridge (United States of America 1896 – 1958; Paris 1925-28, Berlin and London 1928)
Nude lying on a love seat
c. 1936
Carbro colour photograph
30.2 h x 41.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1980

 

 

Like the Australian-born Anton Bruehl, Paul Outerbridge studied at the Clarence White School of Photography in New York. White was keen to see photography establish itself as a practical art that could be used in the service of the rapidly expanding picture magazine industry. Within a year of enrolling in the school, Outerbridge’s work was appearing in Vogue and Vanity Fair. During his lifetime, Outerbridge was known for his commercial work, particularly his elegant, stylish still-life compositions which show the influence of earlier studies in painting. He was also admired for the excellence of his pioneering colour work, which was achieved by means of a complicated tri-colour carbro process.

Much of Outerbridge’s fame now rests on work that he made following more private obsessions. His fetishistic nude photographs of women are influenced primarily by eighteenth-century French painters such as Ingres. Although the depiction of nudes was a genre pursued from the inception of photography, Outerbridge’s interest in breaking down taboos resulted in this material, if known at all, being passed over or vilified in his lifetime. Outerbridge sought to express what he described as an ‘inner craving for perfection and beauty’ through these often mysterious, languid and richly toned images. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014)

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #92' 1981

 

Cindy Sherman (United States of America born 1954)
Untitled #92
1981
Type C colour photograph
61.5 h x 123.4 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1983

 

 

This is one of 12 Centerfolds made by Sherman in 1981. The Centerfolds present Sherman posing in a range of situations, each suggesting heightened emotional states and violent narratives; these associations are augmented by the uncomfortably tight framing and the panoramic format used by Sherman across the series. Initially commissioned for the art magazine Artforum, the Centerfolds were never published because they were deemed, with their apparently voyeuristic points of view, to reaffirm misogynist views of women. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

William Eggleston (American, born 1939) 'Untitled (Greenwood, Mississippi)' 1980

 

William Eggleston (United States of America born 1939)
Greenwood, Mississippi
(1973) prtd 1979
Dye transfer colour photograph
Image 29.5 h x 45.4 w cm sheet 40.2 h x 50.8 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1980

 

 

With its intense red, Eggleston’s picture of the spare room in a friend’s home is one of the most iconic of all colour photographs. Often called The red room, this photograph was intended to be shocking: Eggleston described the effect of the colour as like ‘red blood that is wet on the wall’. But the radicalness of the picture is not just in its juicy (and impossible to reproduce) redness; it is also found in the strange view it provides of a domestic interior, one that Eggleston has described as a ‘fly’s eye view’. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Imogen Cunningham. 'Magnolia Blossom' 1925

 

Imogen Cunningham (United States of America 1883 – 1976)
Magnolia Blossom
1925
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 17.1 h x 34.6 w cm mount 38.2 h x 50.7 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1978

 

 

During the 1920s, raising three young sons, Cunningham began to focus on her immediate surroundings. This restricted environment encouraged Cunningham to develop a new way of working, as she began to place her camera closer to the subject: to zebras on a trip to the zoo, to snakes brought to her by her sons, and perhaps most famously to the magnolia blossoms and calla lilies she grew in her garden. Observing what she termed the ‘paradox of expansion via reduction’, the intensity and focus attendant to this way of seeing flooded her work with sensuality and reductive power. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Olive Cotton. 'Skeleton Leaf' 1964

 

Olive Cotton (Australia 1911 – 2003)
Skeleton leaf
1964
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 50.4 h x 40.8 w cm sheet 57.8 h x 47.6 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1987

 

 

This leaf skeleton – a leaf that has had its pulp removed with heat and soda – was probably photographed in front of a window in Cotton’s home near Cowra, NSW. Since the 1930s Cotton had been drawn to the close study of nature, and many of her best photographs feature close-ups of flowers, tufts of grass and foliage. This photograph is notable because it was taken in the studio, and reflects the austerity and simplicity that pervaded Cotton’s work in the decades after the Second World War. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Lee Friedlander (United States of America born 1934) 'Nashville, 1963' 1963

 

Lee Friedlander (United States of America born 1934)
Nashville, 1963
1963
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 28.2 h x 18.7 w cm sheet 35.3 h x 27.8 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1981

 

 

Middle distance

The further away we move from a subject, the more it and its story open up to us. While the close-up or compressed view tends to be very frontal (the camera presses up against the subject), the defining characteristic of much mid-century photography was its highly mobile relationship to space: its extraordinary capacity to survey and to organise the world.

The space between the camera and its subject can suggest impartiality and detachment. Documentary photographers and photojournalists, for example, open their cameras up to their subjects, as if to ‘let them speak’. But the depiction of the space between the camera and its subject, and the way that it is rendered through the camera’s depth of field, can also reflect decision making on the part of the photographer. By adjusting the camera’s settings, and thus choosing to render part of the subject in focus, the photographer can direct our focus and attention to certain parts of an image. In this way, photographers put forward an argument based on their world view. Photography can change the way we think about the world. (Text from the National Gallery of Australia website)

 

Ilse Bing. 'Eiffel Tower, Paris, 1931' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (Germany 1899 – United States of America 1998; France 1930-1941 United States from 1941)
Eiffel Tower, Paris
1931
Gelatin silver photograph
Signed and dated recto, l.r., pen and ink “Ilse Bing/ 1931”
Image 22.3 h x 28.2 w cm sheet 22.3 h x 28.2 w cm mount 35.0 h x 41.8 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1989

 

 

Bing took up photography in 1928 and quickly developed a reputation as a photojournalist and photographer of modernist architecture. Inspired by an exhibition of modern photography and the work of Paris-based photographer Florence Henri, Bing moved to Paris 1930 and quickly became associated with the city’s photographic avant-garde. Bing worked exclusively with the fledgling Leica 35mm-format camera; her interest in the pictorial possibilities of the hand-held Leica can clearly be seen in this striking view of the Eiffel Tower. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Walker Evans (United States of America 1903 - 1975) 'Graveyard and steel mill, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania' 1935

 

Walker Evans (United States of America 1903 – 1975)
Graveyard and steel mill, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
1935
Gelatin silver photograph
19.1 h x 24.0 w cm sheet 20.2 h x 25.2 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1980

 

Gary Winogrand. 'World´s Fair', New York, 1964

 

Garry Winogrand (United States of America 1928 – Mexico 1984)
World’s Fair, New York
1964
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 21.8 h x 32.7 w cm mount 37.4 h x 50.1 w cm
Image rights: © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1978

 

 

Winogrand had a tremendous capacity to photograph people in public spaces completely unawares. This image records a group of visitors to the 1964 World’s Fair; it focuses on three young women – Ann Amy Shea, whispering into the ear of Janet Stanley, while their friend Karen Marcato Kiaer naps on Stanley’s bosom. The figures fill the space between the picture’s fore- and middle-grounds, to the extent of allowing the viewer to examine people’s expressions and interactions in close detail. This in turn allows us to encroach on the personal space of people we don’t know. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Diane Arbus, 'Child with a toy hand grenade in Central Park, N.Y.C. 1962'

 

Diane Arbus (New York, United States of America 1923 – 1971)
Child with toy hand grenade, in Central Park, New York City
1962
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 20.0 h x 17.2 w cm sheet 32.8 h x 27.6 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1980

 

 

During workshops with Lisette Model, Arbus was encouraged to develop a direct, uncompromising approach to her subjects. She did this using the square configuration of a medium-format camera which Arbus most usually printed full frame with no cropping. Model also convinced Arbus, who had been interested in myth and ritual, that the more specific her approach to her subjects, the more universal the message. In many ways this image of a boy caught hamming it up in Central Park, with his contorted body and grimacing face, captures and prefigures many of the anxieties of America during the sixties, a country caught in an unwinnable war in Vietnam and undergoing seismic social change. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson (France 1908 - 2004) 'Rue Mouffetard, Paris' 1954 prtd c. 1980

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson (France 1908 – 2004)
Rue Mouffetard, Paris
1954 prtd c. 1980
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 35.9 h x 24.2 w cm sheet 39.4 h x 29.6 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1982

 

Helen Levitt. 'New York' 1972

 

Helen Levitt (United States of America 1913 – 2009)
New York
1972
Dye transfer colour photograph
Image 23.9 h x 36.2 w cm sheet 35.6 h x 42.9 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1984

 

 

“The streets of the poor quarters of the great cities are, above all, a theatre and a battleground.” Helen Levitt

Inspired by seeing work by Walker Evans and Henri Cartier-Bresson in 1935, Levitt took to the streets. Children became her most enduring subject. Like Evans, Levitt was famously shy and self-effacing, seeking to shoot unobserved by fitting a prism finder on her Leica. Her approach eschews the sensational; instead she is interested in capturing small, idiosyncratic actions in the everyday. Her images were often shot through with a gentle, lyrical humour though a dark strangeness also surfaces at times. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Helen Levitt. 'New York' c.1972

 

Helen Levitt (United States of America 1913 – 2009)
New York
1972
Dye transfer colour photograph
Image 23.4 h x 35.6 w cm sheet 35.4 h x 42.9 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1984

 

Ernst Haas (1921-1986). 'Route 66, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA' 1969

 

Ernst Haas (Austria 1921 – United States of America 1986; United States from 1951)
Albuquerque, New Mexico
1969
Dye transfer colour photograph
Image 44.9 h x 67.8 w cm sheet 52.3 h x 75.7 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 2000

 

 

For Haas, colour photography represented the end of the grey and bitter war years and he started seriously working in the medium after moving to America in 1951. Work on his photoessay, Land of Enchantment and film stills assignments for The Misfits, The Bible and Little Big Man took Haas to the Southwest. The desert landscape of Albuquerque, located on Route 66, had been totally transformed by progress since the 1920s. Photographing the street after rain, Haas has signified that evolution by way of his distinctive ability to translate the world into shimmering energy. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Faraway

Photography has a long-standing interest in faraway places. In 1840, right in photography’s infancy, astronomical photography was launched when the first photograph of the moon was made. As photographic imaging technology has improved, so has the medium’s capacity to make faraway places accessible to us.

Photography can bring foreign places and people closer to home, or collect together images of places and structures that are located in different places. It can also attempt to give a picture to experiences that are otherwise difficult to grasp or represent, such as complex weather events or transcendental phenomena.

Against the odds, there are photographers who make images that are about what cannot be seen. Faraway is often used as a metaphor for thinking about the ineffable and the inexplicable. Science and spirit go hand-in-hand. ‘The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious’, Albert Einstein believed. Photographers can take us to new worlds. (Text from the National Gallery of Australia website)

 

Ansel Adams. 'Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico' 1941

 

Ansel Adams (San Francisco, California, United States of America 1902 – Carmel, California, United States of America 1984)
Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico
1941
Ansel Adams Museum Set
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 38.6 h x 49.0 w cm mount 55.6 h x 71.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1980

 

 

Adams became the most famous landscape photographer in the world on the back of his images of America’s West. While mass tourism was invading these wilderness areas, Adams’s photographs show only untouched natural splendour. His landscapes are remarkable for their deep, clear space, distinguishable by an uncanny stillness and clarity. The story of Moonrise is legendary: driving through the Chama River Valley toward Española, Adams just managed by a few seconds to catch this fleeting moment before the dying sunlight stopped illuminating the crosses in the graveyard. Through hours of darkroom manipulation and wizardry, Adams created an image of almost mystical unworldliness. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Tracey Moffatt (Brisbane, Queensland, Australia born 1960) 'Up in the sky' 1997

 

Tracey Moffatt (Brisbane, Queensland, Australia born 1960)
Up in the sky [Up in the sky – a set of 25 photolithographs]
1997
No. 8 in a series of 25
Photolithograph
Image 61.0 h x 76.0 w cm sheet 72.0 h x 102.0 w cm
KODAK (Australasia) PTY LTD Fund 1997
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

Up in the sky is unusual in Moffatt’s oeuvre for being shot out of doors on location. Her photomedia practice is informed by an upbringing watching television, fascinated by film and pop culture. This series takes many of its visual cues from Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Accattone of 1961 as well as the Mad Max series – the references, twisted and re-imagined, are like half-forgotten memories. She addresses race and violence, presenting a loose narrative set against the backdrop of an outback town. The sense of unease is palpable: Moffatt here is a masterful manipulator of mood. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Laurence Aberhart (Aotearoa New Zealand born 1949) 'Taranaki, from Oeo Road, under moonlight, 27-28 September 1999' 1999

 

Laurence Aberhart (Aotearoa New Zealand born 1949)
Taranaki, from Oeo Road, under moonlight, 27-28 September 1999
1999
Gelatin silver photograph
19.4 h x 24.3 w cm
Gift of Peter Fay 2005
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

For four decades, Aberhart has photographed the Taranaki region of New Zealand’s North Island, including its settled landscape and its most distinctive feature, the sacred TeMounga (Mount) Taranaki. Using an 8 x 10-inch view camera, Aberhart has over time built up an important archive documenting the social geography and landscape of the Taranaki. Aberhart describes the conical mountain as a ‘great physical and spiritual entity’ and sees his photographs of it as a counterbalance to the countless images of the mountain that circulate on tea towels and postcards. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

 

National Gallery of Australia
Parkes Place, Canberra
Australian Capital Territory 2600
Tel: (02) 6240 6411

Opening hours:
Open daily 10.00 am – 5.00 pm
(closed Christmas day)

National Gallery of Australia website

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13
Feb
16

Review: ‘Trent Parke: The camera is god’ at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 26th November 2015 – 21st February 2016

 

Ghost in the machine

This is a disappointing first solo exhibition in Victoria by internationally renowned Australian photojournalist Trent Parke, the main body of the exhibition made up of his internationally celebrated series, consisting of anonymous portraits taken on the streets of Adelaide. Seriously, who writes this stuff? Sure, Parke is Australia’s only member of the Magnum photo agency but I have been commenting on photography for many years now, and have never heard of this series before, neither locally and definitely not internationally.

From the ironic title, The camera is god, critiquing the all seeing eye of the camera, to the work itself – a large grid of black and white digital prints from film negatives, the images taken when Parke, “fixed his camera on a tripod and set it to take multiple shots (up to 30 shots in eight-second bursts) when the pedestrian lights changed.” Parke then extracted, “individual portraits from these photographs of street traffic, Parke allowed motion-blur and film grain to obscure the identity of his subjects” – the series feels like a university photography course exercise into the study of motion. While the installation works better from a distance, the gridded layout forming a holistic whole of ambiguous individuals, the closer you get the more the integrity of the images naturally falls apart with golf ball sized grain. Unfortunately, not all the grain is from the film negative. Some of it is digital noise, and the combination of film grain and digital pixellation does not sit well with the images. If you are going to shoot analogue film, why then destroy its characteristics by printing digitally, and introducing an entirely different element into the equation?

Photographs of anonymous people in the city have a long presence in the history of photography. They disavow what is known as the ‘civil contract of photography’1 that is, a relation between formally equal parties (the photographer and the sitter), whose equality lies in their shared participation in the act of being photographed, in what Ariella Azoulay terms, the community of ‘the governed’.2 As Daniel Palmer and Jessica Whyte note, “Photography is one of the ways in which we are able to establish a distance from power and observe its actions from a position that is not already marked as one of subjection.”3 In other words, the photographer can photograph from a position of freedom and not of surveillance and control (by state power). Of course, this does not negate the power of the photographer to choose what to photograph, who to make subjective to their whim and control… with or without permission (to photograph).

Early examples in this genre are works by Paul Strand taken between 1915-17, close-up portraits of anonymous urban subjects. Next we have portraits of anonymous New York subway commuters taken by Walker Evans with a hidden camera between 1938-41 (see below). Other photographers include Harry Callahan and his Chicago series of 1950 and, in Australia, Bill Henson’s Untitled 1980/82 series of crowds, taken with a telephoto lens to flatten the pictorial plane.

Commenting on the work of Walker Evans, the author Max Kozloff observes in his highly recommended book, The Theatre of the Face: Portrait Photography Since 1900,

“From around 1938 to 1941 this ‘penitent spy and apologetic voyeur’, as he later styled himself, photographed passengers with a hidden camera, a cable release trailing down his coat sleeve to his itchy hand. This had been a devious, unsavoury thing to do, and he knew it; but the result was spectacular in its disclosure of the miscellaneous, anonymous, quotidian texture of metropolitan life, solemn or comic by turns. It was made up of figures whose collective presence he retroactively implied by experimentally sequencing his pictures, cropped and in grids. Evans did not see what his camera saw, and his subjects were oblivious to his design.”4

Sound familiar? sequencing his pictures, cropped and in grids…

The key here is an annunciation, a spiritual exposition, of the quotidian texture of metropolitan life through the photography of anonymous human beings. Human beings who have not given their permission to be photographed but who are captured anyway in the passions of life, the angst of existence, in a slightly devious way. Let’s get this straight: this series is not about the camera being god, it is about the photographer actively choosing to press the shutter release of the camera, the photographer choosing what to crop out of the image, about the photographer choosing what to print and how to arrange and sequence the work. It is about the photographer as (an absent) god … for he neither looks through the lens of the camera, nor is there at the exhibition. But he is an omnipresent, omni-prescient force, forever surveilling the field of view, dominating the subject and presenting his choice. The photograph is framed by the photographer’s (absent, but controlling) eye. It is about his ego, not the cameras, as to what is represented. Commenting on his own work, Walker Evans observes,

“A distinct point, though, is made in the lifting of these objects from their original settings. The point is that this lifting, is, in the raw, exactly what the photographer is doing with his machine, the camera, anyway, always. The photographer, the artist, “takes” a picture: symbolically he lifts an object or a combination of objects, and in so doing he makes a claim for that object or that composition, and a claim for his act of seeing in the first place. The claim is that he has rendered his object in some way transcendent, and that in each instance his vision has penetrating validity”5

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Further, as Annete Kuhn notes, the eye of the camera is neutral, it sees the world as it is:

“Photographs are coded, but usually so as to appear uncoded. The truth/authenticity potential of photography is tied in with the idea that seeing is believing. Photography draws on an ideology of the visible as evidence. The eye of the camera is neutral, it sees the world as it is: we look at a photograph and see a slice of the world. To complete the circuit of recording, visibility and truth set up by the photograph, there has to be someone looking at it …”6 (My italics)

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Caroline Blinder suggests that,

“… transcendental ethos is aligned with the camera’s ability to capture the real and the spiritual, the native and the universal simultaneously. Hence, Evans’s images of vernacular America, of regional architecture, objects, signs, and people become representative of a “moment of seeing” in which a secular vision of America is given sacred implications.

“The idea of reinserting a sacred purpose into the photographic project became part of the era’s [1930-40s] attempts to codify photography as a medium with far-reaching metaphoric, aesthetic, and cultural ramifications. In this context, the combination of a self-effacing aspect with a moment of total vision – “I am nothing; I see all” – in itself suggests a constant oscillation between positions behind and in front of a metaphorical camera; positions which, incidentally, also mimic and reflect the role of the critic vis-à-vis the subject of photography.”7

.
There is no penetrating validity to be seen here, for the series seems to have been codified (in absentia) as a form of post-human conceptualisation, undermining the 1930s attempt to codify the medium with a spiritual dimension. Unlike the photographs of Walker Evans, or Bill Henson, where I am fascinated with the object of the photographers attention (what were they thinking, where were they going, what was their life about?), in this case the object of the artist’s attention – “the transience of street life and the photographer’s own experience of being adrift in the world of light and movement” – does not carry me along for the journey, has not become existential, transcendent. It is not the ghost in the machine of the camera (its ability to capture things that humans cannot see) that is present, but the ghost in the machine of the human that becomes apparent in these images… that of an unresolved idea, a floating bit of code.

Personally, I found the rendered object not worth a second glance. The images did not, and will not, reveal themselves to you over weeks and years. Of much more interest was the single, whole image from which the detail is taken. If I had been surrounded by the light and energy of works such as the only complete image shown (see below) – say 15 of them in a darkened room – then I would have been excited, surprised, challenged and enlightened. Go with he source!

These images remain a promise unfulfilled. They could have been so much more “than the closed-off beings of our own mediations, of our own mirrors, our machines.”8

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

 

  1. Azoulay, Ariella (2008), The Civil Contract of Photography (trans. Rela Mazali and Ruvik Danieli), New York: Zone Books.
  2. Palmer, Daniel and Whyte, Jessica. “‘No Credible Photographic Interest’: Photography restrictions and surveillance in a time of terror,” in Philosophy of Photography Volume 1 Number 2, Intellect Limited 2010, p. 178.
  3. Ibid., p. 179.
  4. Kozloff, Max. The Theatre of the Face: Portrait Photography Since 1900. London: Phaidon Press, 2007. P. 149
  5. Walker Evans quoted in Thompson, J. L. (ed.,). Walker Evans at Work. London: Thames and Hudson, 1984, p. 229 in Caroline Blinder. “”The Transparent Eyeball”: On Emerson and Walker Evans,” in Mosaic : a Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature. Winnipeg: Dec 2004. Vol. 37, Iss. 4; pg. 149, 15 pgs.
  6. Kuhn, Annette. The Power of the Image: Essays on Representation and Sexuality. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985, pp. 27-28.
  7. Blinder, Caroline. “”The Transparent Eyeball”: On Emerson and Walker Evans,” in Mosaic : a Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature. Winnipeg: Dec 2004. Vol. 37, Iss. 4; pg. 149, 15 pgs.
  8. Kozloff, op. cit. p. 89.

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Many thankx to 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.

 

MGA provides Victorians with their first opportunity to see a significant exhibition of work by Trent Parke, the internationally renowned Australian photojournalist. Over the past two decades Parke has brought his highly poetic sensibility to traditional documentary photography. Alongside a range of Parke’s work recently purchased for the MGA collection this exhibition features his 2013 series, The camera is god (street portrait series), which puts a metaphysical spin on street photography.

 

 

“Walker Evans once wrote a friend: “Stare. It is the way to educate your eye, and more. Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long.” Evans’ insistence on staring as the main road to learning included making pictures of subway riders with a hidden camera, but he felt so guilty about being an unobserved observer that he withheld publication for years. This compunction still dogs many photographers but seldom stops them.”

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Goldberg, Vicki. “Voyeurism, Exposed,” on the Artnet website [Online] Cited 06/02/2016.

 

 

 

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013

 

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971)
The camera is god (street portrait series) (installation views)
2013
Pigment prints
Collection of the artist

 

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013

 

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971)
The camera is god (street portrait series)
2013
Pigment prints
Collection of the artist

 

 

“During the late 1990s Trent Parke turned away from his career as a press photographer to concentrate on using the visual language of documentary photography to explore personal interests. Continuing to work in the manner of a photojournalist – venturing into the world with a 35mm film camera hanging from his neck – Parke’s artistic practice is a type of existential journey.

Trent Parke: the camera is god is the first solo exhibition of Parke’s work in Victoria, and provides an opportunity to appreciate the trajectory of his practice over the last 15 years.

At the heart of this exhibition is Parke’s The camera is god (street portrait series) of 2014. This internationally celebrated series consists of anonymous portraits, taken on the streets of Adelaide. To capture these images Parke fixed his camera on a tripod and set it to take multiple shots (up to 30 shots in eight-second bursts) when the pedestrian lights changed. Extracting individual portraits from these photographs of street traffic, Parke allowed motion-blur and film grain to obscure the identity of his subjects. As such, this series is not really about individuals, but about the transience of street life and the photographer’s own experience of being adrift in the world of light and movement.”

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Walker Evans. 'Subway Passengers, New York' 1938

 

Walker Evans
Subway Passenger, New York
1938
Silver gelatin photograph

 

Walker Evans. 'Subway Passengers, New York' 1938

 

Walker Evans
Subway Passenger, New York
1938
Silver gelatin photograph

 

Walker Evans. 'Subway Passengers, New York' 1938

 

Walker Evans
Subway Passenger, New York
1938
Silver gelatin photograph

 

Walker Evans. 'Subway Passenger, New York' 1938

 

Walker Evans
Subway Passenger, New York
1938
Silver gelatin photograph

 

Walker Evans. 'Subway Passengers, New York' 1938

 

Walker Evans
Subway Passenger, New York
1938
Silver gelatin photograph

 

Walker Evans. 'Subway Passengers, New York' 1938

 

Walker Evans
Subway Passenger, New York
1938
Silver gelatin photograph

 

Harry Callahan. 'Chicago' 1950

 

Harry Callahan
Chicago
1950
Gelatin silver print
8 1/16 x 12 15/16 in. (20.48 x 32.86 cm)

 

Harry Callahan. 'Chicago' 1950

 

Harry Callahan
Chicago
1950
Gelatin silver print
8 3/8 x 12 3/8 in. (21.27 x 31.43 cm)

 

Harry Callahan. 'Chicago' 1950

 

Harry Callahan
Chicago
1950
Gelatin silver print
8 3/8 x 12 1/2 in. (21.27 x 31.75 cm)

 

Harry Callahan. 'Chicago' 1950

 

Harry Callahan
Chicago
1950
Gelatin silver print
7 7/8 x 12 3/4 in. (20 x 32.39 cm)

 

Bill Henson. 'Untitled' 1980/82

 

Bill Henson
Untitled 1980/82
gelatin silver chlorobromide print
from a series of 220
57.5 × 53.4 cm
courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

 

Bill Henson. 'Untitled' 1980/82

 

Bill Henson
Untitled 1980/82
gelatin silver chlorobromide print
from a series of 220
57.5 × 53.4 cm
courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

 

 

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

trent-parke-h-WEB

trent-parke-g-WEB

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

trent-parke-i-WEB

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

 

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971)
The camera is god (street portrait series) (details)
2013
Pigment prints
Collection of the artist

 

 

 

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

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

Monash Gallery of Art website

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12
Apr
15

Exhibition: ‘Modern Photographs from the Thomas Walther Collection, 1909-1949’ at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 13th December 2014 – 19th April 2015

Exhibition coincides with the culmination of the Thomas Walther Collection Project, a four-year research collaboration between MoMA’s curatorial and conservation staff

The Edward Steichen Photography Galleries, third floor

 

 

OMG, OMG, OMG if we had tele-transportation to travel around the world, I would be at this exhibition in an instant. Please MoMA, fly me to New York so that I can do a proper review of the exhibition!

Not only are there photographs from well known artists that I have never seen before – for example, the brooding mass of Boat, San Francisco (1925) by Edward Weston with the name of the boat… wait for it… ‘DAYLIGHT’ – there are also outstanding photographs from artists that I have never heard of before.

There is so much to like in this monster posting, from the glorious choreography of British ‘Chute Jumpers (1937) to the muscular symmetry and abstraction of Rodchenko’s Dive (1934); from the absolutely stunning light and movement of Riefenstahl’s Nocturnal Start of Decathlon 1,500m Race (August 1936) to the ecstatic, ghost-like swimming in mud apparitions of Kate Steinitz’s Backstroke (1930) – an artist who I knew nothing about (Kate Steinitz was a German-American artist and art historian affiliated with the European Bauhaus and Dadaist movements in the early 20th century. She is best known for her collaborative work with the artist Kurt Schwitters, and, in later life, her scholarship on Leonardo da Vinci). Another artist to flee Germany in the mid-1930s to evade the persecution of the Nazis.

In fact, when you look through the checklist for this exhibition I look at the country of origin of the artist, and the date of their death. There are a lot of artists from Germany and France. Either they lived through the maelstrom of the Second World War and survived, escaped to America or England, or died during the war and their archive was lost (such as the artist Robert Petschow (German, 1888-1945)). For some artists surviving the war was not enough either… trapped behind the Iron Curtain after repatriation, artists such as Edmund Kesting went unacknowledged in their lifetime. What a tough time it must have been. To have created this wonderful avant-garde art and then to have seen it dashed against the rocks of violence, prejudice and bigotry – firstly degenerate, then non-conforming to Communist ideals.

Out of the six sections of the exhibition (The Modern World, Purisms, Reinventing Photography, The Artist’s Life, Between Surrealism and Magic Realism, and Dynamics of the City) it would seem that the section ‘Reinventing Photography’ is the weakest – going from the checklist – with a lack of really memorable images for this section, hence only illustrated in this posting by one image. But this is a minor quibble. When you have images such as Anne W. Brigman’s A Study in Radiation (1924) or Edmund Kesting’s magnificent Glance to the Sun (Blick zur Sonne) (1928) who cares! I just want to see them all and soak up their atmosphere.

Marcus

PS. There is an excellent website titled Object:Photo to accompany the exhibition. It contains sections that map and compare photographs, connect and map artists’ lives along with many more images from the collection, conservation analysis and essays about the works. Well worth a look.

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Many thankx to the MoMA for allowing me to publish the photographs and text in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All images © The Museum of Modern Art

Note: Images below correspond to their sections in the exhbition.

 

 

“Modern Photographs from the Thomas Walther Collection, 1909-1949, on view from December 13, 2014, to April 19, 2015, explores photography between the First and Second World Wars, when creative possibilities were never richer or more varied, and when photographers approached figuration, abstraction, and architecture with unmatched imaginative fervor. This vital moment is dramatically captured in the photographs that constitute the Thomas Walther Collection, a remarkable group of works presented together for the first time through nearly 300 photographs. Made on the street and in the studio, intended for avant-garde exhibitions or the printed page, these objects provide unique insight into the radical intentions of their creators. Iconic works by such towering figures as Berenice Abbott, Karl Blossfeldt, Alvin Langdon Coburn, El Lissitzky, Lucia Moholy, László Moholy-Nagy, Aleksandr Rodchenko, and Paul Strand are featured alongside lesser-known treasures by more than 100 other practitioners. The exhibition is organized by Quentin Bajac, the Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz Chief Curator of Photography, and Sarah Hermanson Meister, Curator, Department of Photography, MoMA.

The exhibition coincides with Object:Photo. Modern Photographs: The Thomas Walther Collection 1909-1949, the result of a four-year collaborative project between the Museum’s departments of Photography and Conservation, with the participation of over two dozen leading international photography scholars and conservators, making it the most extensive effort to integrate conservation, curatorial, and scholarly research efforts on photography to date. That project is composed of multiple parts including a website that features a suite of digital-visualization research tools that allow visitors to explore the collection, a hard-bound paper catalogue of the entire Thomas Walther collection, and an interdisciplinary symposium focusing on ways in which the digital age is changing our engagement with historic photographs.

Modern Photographs from the Thomas Walther Collection, 1909-1949, is organized thematically into six sections, suggesting networks between artists, regions, and objects, and highlighting the figures whose work Walther collected in depth, including André Kertész, Germaine Krull, Franz Roh, Willi Ruge, Maurice Tabard, Umbo, and Edward Weston. Enriched by key works in other mediums from MoMA’s collection, this exhibition presents the exhilarating story of a landmark chapter in photography’s history.”

Press release from the MoMA website

 

The Collection

In the 1920s and ’30s photography underwent a period of exploration, experimentation, technical innovation, and graphic discovery so dramatic that it generated repeated claims that the true age of discovery was not when photography was invented but when it came of age, in this era, as a dynamic, infinitely flexible, and easily transmissible medium. The Thomas Walther Collection concentrates on that second moment of growth. The Walther Collection’s 341 photographs by almost 150 artists, most of them European, together convey a period of collective innovation that is now celebrated as one of the major episodes of modern art.

The Project

Our research is based on the premise that photographs of this period were not born as disembodied images; they are physical things – discrete objects made by certain individuals at particular moments using specific techniques and materials. Shaped by its origin and creation, the photographic print harbors clues to its maker and making, to the causes it may have served, and to the treatment it has received, and these bits of information, gathered through close examination of the print, offer fresh perspectives on the history of the era. “Object:Photo” – the title of this study – reflects this approach.

In 2010, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation gave the Museum a grant to encourage deep scholarly study of the Walther Collection and to support publication of the results. Led by the Museum’s Departments of Photography and Conservation, the project elicited productive collaborations among scholars, curators, conservators, and scientists, who investigated all of the factors involved in the making, appearance, condition, and history of each of the 341 photographs in the collection. The broadening of narrow specializations and the cross-fertilization between fields heightened appreciation of the singularity of each object and of its position within the history of its moment. Creating new standards for the consideration of photographs as original objects and of photography as an art form of unusually rich historical dimensions, the project affords both experts and those less familiar with its history new avenues for the appreciation of the medium. The results of the project are presented in multiple parts: on the website, in a hard-bound paper catalogue of the entire Thomas Walther Collection (also titled Object:Photo), and through an interdisciplinary symposium focusing on the ways in which the digital age is changing our engagement with historic photographs.

Historical Context

The Walther Collection is particularly suited to such a study because its photographs are so various in technique, geography, genre, and materials as to make it a mine of diverse data. The revolutions in technology that made the photography of this period so flexible and responsive to the impulse of the operator threw open the field to all comers. The introduction of the handheld Leica
 in 1925 (a small camera using strips of 35mm motion-picture film), of enlargers to make positive prints from the Leica’s little negatives, and of easy-to-use photographic papers – each of these was respectively a watershed event. Immediately sensing the potential of these tools, artists began to explore the medium; without any specialized training, painters such as László Moholy-Nagy and Aleksandr Rodchenko could become photographers and teachers almost overnight. Excitedly and with an open sense of possibility, they freely experimented in the darkroom and in the studio, producing negative prints, collages and photomontages, photograms, solarizations, and combinations of these. Legions of serious amateurs also began to photograph, and manufacturers produced more types of cameras with different dimensions and capacities: besides the Leica, there was the Ermanox, which could function in low light, motion-picture cameras that could follow and stop action, and many varieties of medium- and larger-format cameras that could be adapted for easy transport. The industry responded to the expanding range of users and equipment with a bonanza of photographic papers in an assortment of textures, colors, and sizes. Multiple purposes also generated many kinds of prints: best for reproduction in books or newspapers were slick, ferrotyped glossies, unmounted and small enough to mail, while photographs for exhibition were generally larger and mounted to stiff boards. Made by practitioners ranging from amateurs to professional portraitists, journalists, illustrators, designers, critics, and artists of all stripes, the pictures in the Walther Collection are a true representation of the kaleidoscopic multiplicity of photography in this period of diversification.

Text from the MoMA website

 

 

Gustav Klutsis. 'Postcard for the All Union Spartakiada Sporting Event' 1928

 

Gustav Klutsis (Latvian, 1895-1938)
Postcard for the All Union Spartakiada Sporting Event
1928
Offset lithograph
5 3/4 x 4 1/8″ (14.1 x 10.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Gustav Klutsis. 'Postcard for the All Union Spartakiada Sporting Event' 1928

 

Gustav Klutsis (Latvian, 1895-1938)
Postcard for the All Union Spartakiada Sporting Event
1928
Offset lithograph
5 3/4 x 4 1/8″ (14.1 x 10.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Gustav Klutsis. 'Postcard for the All Union Spartakiada Sporting Event' 1928

 

Gustav Klutsis (Latvian, 1895-1938)
Postcard for the All Union Spartakiada Sporting Event
1928
Offset lithograph
5 3/4 x 4 1/8″ (14.1 x 10.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Gustav Klutsis. 'Postcard for the All Union Spartakiada Sporting Event' 1928

 

Gustav Klutsis (Latvian, 1895-1938)
Postcard for the All Union Spartakiada Sporting Event
1928
Offset lithograph
5 3/4 x 4 1/8″ (14.1 x 10.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

Gustav Klutsis (Latvian, 1895-1938)

Latvian painter, sculptor, graphic artist, designer and teacher, active in Russia. He was an important exponent of Russian Constructivism. He studied in Riga and Petrograd (now St Petersburg), but in the 1917 October Revolution joined the Latvian Rifle Regiment to defend the Bolshevik government; his sketches of Lenin and his fellow soldiers show Cubist influence. In 1918 he designed posters and decorations for the May Day celebrations and he entered the Free Art Studios (Svomas) in Moscow, where he studied with Malevich and Antoine Pevsner. Dynamic City (1919; Athens, George Costakis priv. col., see Rudenstine, no. 339) illustrates his adoption of the Suprematist style. In 1920 Klucis exhibited with Pevsner and Naum Gabo on Tver’skoy Boulevard in Moscow; in the same year Klucis joined the Communist Party. In 1920-21 he started experimenting with materials, making constructions from wood and paper that combined the geometry of Suprematism with a more Constructivist concern with actual volumes in space. In 1922 Klucis applied these experiments to utilitarian ends when he designed a series of agitprop stands based on various combinations of loudspeakers, speakers’ platforms, display units, film projectors and screens. He taught a course on colour in the Woodwork and Metalwork Faculty of the Vkhutemas (Higher Artistic and Technical Workshops) from 1924 to 1930, and in 1925 helped to organize the Soviet section at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris. During the 1920s he became increasingly interested in photomontage, using it in such agitprop posters as ‘We will repay the coal debt to the country’ (1928; e.g. New York, MOMA). During the 1930s he worked on graphic and typographical design for periodicals and official publications. He was arrested and died during the purges in World War II.

From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press

 

Willi Ruge. 'Photo of Myself at the Moment of My Jump' (Selbstfoto im Moment des Abspringens) 1931

 

Willi Ruge (German, 1882-1961)
Photo of Myself at the Moment of My Jump (Selbstfoto im Moment des Abspringens)
1931
Gelatin silver print
5 9/16 × 8 1/16″ (14.2 × 20.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

Willi Ruge. 'With My Head Hanging Down before the Parachute Opened . . .' (Mit dem Kopf nach unten hängend, bei ungeöffnetem Fallschirm . . .) 1931

 

Willi Ruge (German, 1882-1961)
With My Head Hanging Down before the Parachute Opened . . .
(Mit dem Kopf nach unten hängend, bei ungeöffnetem Fallschirm . . .)
1931
Gelatin silver print
5 1/2 × 8″ (14 × 20.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

Willi Ruge. 'Seconds before Landing' (Sekunden vor der Landung) 1931

 

Willi Ruge (German, 1882-1961)
Seconds before Landing (Sekunden vor der Landung)
From the series I Photograph Myself during a Parachute Jump (Ich fotografiere mich beim Absturz mit dem Fallschirm)
1931
Gelatin silver print
8 1/16 × 5 9/16″ (20.4 × 14.1 cm) (irreg.)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

Willi Ruge. 'Seconds before Landing' (Sekunden vor der Landung) 1931 (detail)

 

Willi Ruge (German, 1882-1961)
Seconds before Landing (Sekunden vor der Landung) (detail)
From the series I Photograph Myself during a Parachute Jump (Ich fotografiere mich beim Absturz mit dem Fallschirm)
1931
Gelatin silver print
8 1/16 × 5 9/16″ (20.4 × 14.1 cm) (irreg.)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

Unknown photographer. 'British 'Chute Jumpers' 1937

 

Unknown photographer
British ‘Chute Jumpers
1937
Gelatin silver print
5 15/16 x 6 15/16″ (15.1 x 17.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

Robert Petschow. 'Lines of Modern Industry: Cooling Tower' (Linien der modernen Industrie: Kühlturmanlage) 1920-29

 

Robert Petschow (German, 1888-1945)
Lines of Modern Industry: Cooling Tower (Linien der modernen Industrie: Kühlturmanlage)
1920-29
Gelatin silver print
3 3/8 × 4 1/2″ (8.5 × 11.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Albert Renger-Patzsch, by exchange

 

Robert Petschow. 'The Course of the Mulde with Sand Deposits in the Curves' (Der Lauf der Mulde mit Versandungen in den Windungen) 1920-33

 

Robert Petschow (German, 1888-1945)
The Course of the Mulde with Sand Deposits in the Curves (Der Lauf der Mulde mit Versandungen in den Windungen)
1920-33
Gelatin silver print
3 3/8 × 4 1/2″ (8.5 × 11.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Albert Renger-Patzsch, by exchange

 

 

Robert Petschow was studying in Danzig as a free balloon pilot in the West Prussian air force. During the First World War Petschow was a balloon observer with the rank of lieutenant in Poland, France and Belgium. Maybe it was the work of a balloon observer which led him to photography, in which he was worked freelance from 1920. His images appeared in the prestigious photographic yearbook The German photograph in which he was presented with photographers such as Karl Blossfeldt, Albert Renger-Patzsch Chargesheimer and Erich Salomon. The book Land of the Germans, which was published in 1931 by Robert Diesel and includes many photographs of Petschow went on to be published in four editions. In 1931 he journeyed with the airship LZ 127, the “Graf Zeppelin” to Egypt. He participated as an unofficial member of the crew to document the trip photographically. In 1936, at the age of 48 years, Petschow joined the rank of captain in the Air Force and ended his work as a senior editor at the daily newspaper The West, a position he held from 1930. For the following years, there is no information to Petschow.

Robert Petschow died at the age of 57 years on 17 October 1945 in Haldensleben after he had to leave his apartment in Berlin-Steglitz due to the war. He left there a picture archive with about 30,000 aerial photographs, which fell victim of the war. His contemporaries describe Petschow as a humorous person and a great raconteur. (Translated from the German Wikipedia)

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko. 'Dive' (Pryzhok v vodu) 1934

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Dive (Pryzhok v vodu)
1934
Gelatin silver print
11 11/16 x 9 3/8″ (29.7 x 23.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko. 'Dive' (Pryzhok v vodu) 1934

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Dive (Pryzhok v vodu)
1934
Gelatin silver print
11 3/4 × 9 5/16″ (29.9 × 23.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange

 

Leni Riefenstahl. 'Nocturnal Start of Decathlon 1,500m Race' (Nächtlicher Start zum 1500-m-Lauf des Zehnkampfes) August 1936

 

Leni Riefenstahl (German, 1902-2003)
Nocturnal Start of Decathlon 1,500m Race
(Nächtlicher Start zum 1500-m-Lauf des Zehnkampfes)

August 1936
Gelatin silver print 9 5/16 x 11 3/4″ (23.7 x 29.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Abbott-Levy Collection funds, by exchange

 

Leni Riefenstahl. 'Untitled' 1936

 

Leni Riefenstahl (German, 1902-2003)
Untitled
1936
Gelatin silver print
9 3/16 x 11 5/8″ (23.4 x 29.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Abbott-Levy Collection funds, by exchange

 

Kate Steinitz 'Backstroke' (Rückenschwimmerinnen) 1930

 

Kate Steinitz (American, born Germany 1889-1975)
Backstroke (Rückenschwimmerinnen)
1930
Gelatin silver print
10 1/2 × 13 7/16″ (26.6 × 34.1 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

The Modern World

Even before the introduction of the handheld Leica camera in 1925, photographers were avidly exploring fresh perspectives, shaped by the unique experience of capturing the world through a lens and ideally suited to express the tenor of modern life in the wake of World War I. Looking up and down, these photographers found unfamiliar points of view that suggested a new, dynamic visual language freed from convention. Improvements in the light sensitivity of photographic films and papers meant that photographers could capture motion as never before. At the same time, technological advances in printing resulted in an explosion of opportunities for photographers to present their work to ever-widening audiences. From inexpensive weekly magazines to extravagantly produced journals, periodicals exploited the potential of photographs and imaginative layouts, not text, to tell stories. Among the photographers on view in this section are Martin Munkácsi (American, born Hungary, 1896-1963), Leni Riefenstahl (German, 1902-2003), Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956), and Willi Ruge (German, 1882-1961).

 

Anne W. Brigman (American, born Hawaii 1869-1950) 'A Study in Radiation' 1924

 

Anne W. Brigman (American, born Hawaii 1869-1950)
A Study in Radiation
1924
Gelatin silver print
7 11/16 × 9 3/4″ (19.6 × 24.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Mrs. B. S. Sexton and Mina Turner, by exchange

 

Bernard Shea Horne. 'Untitled' 1916-17

 

Bernard Shea Horne (American, 1867-1933)
Untitled
1916-17
Platinum print
8 1/16 × 6 1/8″ (20.5 × 15.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

Bernard Shea Horne. 'Design' 1916-17

 

Bernard Shea Horne (American, 1867-1933)
Design
1916-17
Platinum print
7 15/16 x 6 1/8″ (20.2 x 15.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

Bernard Shea Horne was the son of Joseph Horne, who built a legendary department store in Pittsburgh. The younger Horne retired from the family business when he was in his thirties and moved to northern Virginia to pursue his interests in golf and photography. In 1916 he enrolled at the Clarence H. White School of Photography, in New York, and became friends with one of its teachers, the avant-garde painter Max Weber. Horne produced numerous Weber-inspired design exercises, which he compiled into albums of twenty Platinum prints each. The four prints in the Thomas Walther Collection belonged to an album that he gave to Weber.

In 1917 Horne was elected president of the White School’s alumni association, a post he retained until 1925. In 1918 instructor Paul L. Anderson left the school, and Horne took his place as teacher of the technique class, a job he held until 1926. That a middle-aged man of independent means commuted to the school several days a week from Princeton, New Jersey, where he then lived with his two sons, suggests Horne’s devotion to White and his Pictorialist aims. During these years, Horne played a major role in the White School’s activities. In 1920 he was given a one-person show in the exhibition room of the school’s new building, a show that the alumni bulletin described as “interesting and varied in subject and technique, rich in bromoils, strong in design.” Supportive of the practical applications of artistic photography, in 1920 White joined his school to other institutions, including the American Institute of Graphic Arts and the Art Directors Club, to form The Art Center in New York. In 1926 Horne was given a one-person show at The Art Center, which marked the end of his active association with the school.

Abbaspour, Mitra, Lee Ann Daffner, and Maria Morris Hambourg

 

Jarislav Rössler. 'Untitled' 1924

 

Jarislav Rössler (Czech, 1902-1990)
Untitled
1924
Pigment print
9 1/16 × 9 1/16″ (23 × 23 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel

 

 

Jaroslav Rössler (1902-1990) was one of the Czech avant-garde photographers of the first half of the twentieth century whose work has only recently become known outside Eastern Europe. Czech photography in the twenties and thirties produced radical modernist works that incorporated principles of abstract art and constructivism; Jaroslav Rossler was one of the most important and distinctive artists of the period. He became known for his fusing of different styles, bringing together elements of symbolism, pictorialism, expressionism, cubism, futurism, constructivism, new objectivity, and abstract art. His photographs often reduced images to elementary lines and shapes that seemed to form a new reality; he would photograph simple objects against a stark background of black and white, or use long exposures to picture hazy cones and spheres of light. From 1927 to 1935 he lived and worked in Paris, producing work influenced by constructivism and new objectivity. He used the photographic techniques and compositional approaches of the avant-garde, including photograms, large details, diagonal composition, photomontage, and double exposures, and experimented with color advertising photographs and still lifes produced with the carbro print process. After his return to Prague, he was relatively inactive until the late 1950s, when he reconnected with Czech artistic and photographic trends of that period, including informalism. This book documents each stage of Rossler’s career with a generous selection of duotone images, some of which have never been published before. The photographs are accompanied by texts by Vladimir Birgus, Jan Mlcoch, Robert Silverio, Karel Srp, and Matthew Witkovsky. (Amazon)

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo. 'A Fish Called Sierra' (Un pez que llaman sierra) 1944

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
A Fish Called Sierra (Un pez que llaman sierra)
1944
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 x 7 1/4″ (24.1 x 18.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection
Edward Steichen Estate and gift of Mrs. Flora S. Straus, by exchange

 

Manuel Alvarez Bravo. 'Somewhat Gay and Graceful' (Un poco alegre y graciosa) 1942

 

Manuel Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
Somewhat Gay and Graceful (Un poco alegre y graciosa)
1942
Gelatin silver print
6 5/8 × 9 1/2″ (16.9 × 24.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Grace M. Mayer Fund

 

Manuel Alvarez Bravo. 'Day of Glory' (Día de gloria) 1940s

 

Manuel Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
Day of Glory (Día de gloria)
1940s
Gelatin silver print
6 3/4 × 9 1/2″ (17.2 × 24.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Grace M. Mayer Fund

 

Edward Weston. 'Steel: Armco, Middletown, Ohio' October 1922

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Steel: Armco, Middletown, Ohio
October 1922
Palladium print
9 1/16 × 6 7/8″ (23 × 17.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

In Edward Weston’s journals, which he began on his trip to Ohio and New York in fall 1922, the artist wrote of the exhilaration he felt while photographing the “great plant and giant stacks of the American Rolling Mill Company” in Middletown, Ohio. He then went to see the great photographer and tastemaker Alfred Stieglitz. Were he still publishing the magazine Camera Work, Stieglitz told him, he would have reproduced some of Weston’s recent images in it, including, in particular, one of his smokestacks. The photograph’s clarity and the photographer’s frank awe at the beauty of the brute industrial subject seemed clear signs of advanced modernist tendencies.

In moving away from the soft focus and geometric stylization of his recent images, such as Attic of 1921 (MoMA 1902.2001), Weston was discovering a more straightforward approach, one of considered confrontation with the facts of the larger world much like that of his close friend Johan Hagemeyer, who was photographing such modern subjects as smokestacks, telephone wires, and advertisements. Shortly before his trip east, Weston had met R. M. Schindler, the Austrian architect, and had been excited by his unapologetically spare, modern house and its implications for art and design. Weston was also reading avant-garde European art magazines full of images and essays extolling machines and construction. Stimulated by these currents, Weston saw that by the time he got to Ohio he was “ripe to change, was changing, yes changed.”

The visit to Armco was the critical pivot, the hinge between Weston’s Pictorialist past and his modernist future. It marked a clear leave-taking from his bohemian circle in Los Angeles and the first step toward the cosmopolitan connections he made in New York and in Mexico City, where he moved a few months later to live with the Italian actress and artist Tina Modotti. The Armco photographs went with him and became talismans of the sea change, emblematic works that decorated his studio in Mexico, along with a Japanese print and a print by Picasso. When he sent a representation of his best work to the Film und Foto exhibition in Stuttgart in 1929, one of the smokestacks was included.

In the midst of such transformation, Weston maintained tried-and-true darkroom procedures. He had used an enlarger in earlier years but had abandoned the technique because he felt that too much information was lost in the projection. Instead he increasingly favored contact printing. To make the smokestack print, Weston enlarged his 3 ¼ by 4 ¼ inch (8.3 by 10.8 centimeter) original negative onto an 8 by 10 inch (20.3 by 25.4 centimeter) interpositive transparency, which he contact printed to a second sheet of film in the usual way, creating the final 8 by 10 inch negative. Weston was frugal; he was known to economize by purchasing platinum and palladium paper by the roll from Willis and Clements in England and trimming it to size. He exposed a sheet of palladium paper to the sun through the negative and, after processing the print, finished it by applying aqueous retouching media to any flaws. The fragile balance of the photograph’s chemistry, however, is evinced in a bubble-shaped area of cooler tonality hovering over the central stacks. The print was in Modotti’s possession at the time of her death in Mexico City, in 1942.

Lee Ann Daffner, Maria Morris Hambourg

 

Edward Weston. 'Boat, San Francisco' 1925

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Boat, San Francisco
1925
Gelatin silver print
9 5/16 x 7 9/16″ (23.7 x 19.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Grace M. Mayer Fund

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958) 'Tina' January 30, 1924

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Tina
January 30, 1924
Gelatin silver print
9 1/16 x 6 7/8″ (23 x 17.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Grace M. Mayer Fund and The Fellows of Photography Fund, by exchange

 

Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932) 'Acanthus mollis' (Acanthus mollis [Akanthus, Bärenklau. Deckblätter, die Blüten sind entfernt, in 4facher Vergrößerung]) 1898-1928

 

Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932)
Acanthus mollis (Acanthus mollis [Akanthus, Bärenklau. Deckblätter, die Blüten sind entfernt, in 4facher Vergrößerung])
1898-1928
Gelatin silver print
11 3/4 × 9 3/8″ (29.8 × 23.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

Purisms

The question of whether photography ought to be considered a fine art was hotly contested from its invention in 1839 into the 20th century. Beginning in the 1890s, in an attempt to distinguish their efforts from hoards of Kodak-wielding amateurs and masses of professionals, “artistic” photographers referred to themselves as Pictorialists. They embraced soft focus and painstakingly wrought prints so as to emulate contemporary prints and drawings, and chose subjects that underscored the ethereal effects of their methods. Before long, however, most avant-garde photographers had come to celebrate precise and distinctly photographic qualities as virtues. On both sides of the Atlantic, photographers were making this transition from Pictorialism to modernism, while occasionally blurring the distinction. Exhibition prints could be made with precious platinum or palladium, or matte surfaces that mimicked those materials. Perhaps nowhere is this variety more clearly evidenced than in the work of Edward Weston, whose suite of prints in this section suggests the range of appearances achievable with unadulterated contact prints from his large-format negatives. Other photographers on view include Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932), Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002), Jaromír Funke (Czech, 1896-1945), Bernard Shea Horne (American, 1867-1933), and Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946).

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (American, 1882-1966) 'Vortograph' 1916-17

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (American, 1882-1966)
Vortograph
1916-17
Gelatin silver print
11 1/8 x 8 3/8″ (28.2 x 21.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Grace M. Mayer Fund

 

 

Vortograph

The intricate patterns of light and line in this photograph, and the cascading tiers of crystalline shapes, were generated through the use of a kaleidoscopic contraption invented by the American/British photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn, a member of London’s Vorticist group. To refute the idea that photography, in its helplessly accurate capture of scenes in the real world, was antithetical to abstraction, Coburn devised for his camera lens an attachment made up of three mirrors, clamped together in a triangle, through which he photographed a variety of surfaces to produce the results in these images. The poet and Vorticist Ezra Pound coined the term “vortographs” to describe Coburn’s experiments. Although Pound went on to criticize these images as lesser expressions than Vorticist paintings, Coburn’s work would remain influential.

 

Reinventing Photography – Here Comes New Photographer 

In 1925, László Moholy-Nagy articulated an idea that became central to the New Vision movement: although photography had been invented 100 years earlier, it was only now being discovered by the avant-garde circles for all its aesthetic possibilities. As products of technological culture, with short histories and no connection to the old fine-art disciplines – which many contemporary artists considered discredited – photography and cinema were seen as truly modern instruments that offered the greatest potential for transforming visual habits. From the photogram to solarization, from negative prints to double exposures, the New Vision photographers explored the medium in countless ways, rediscovering known techniques and inventing new ones. Echoing the cinematic experiments of the same period, this emerging photographic vocabulary was rapidly adopted by the advertising industry, which appreciated the visual efficiency of its bold simplicity. Florence Henri (Swiss, born America, 1893-1982), Edward Quigley (American, 1898-1977), Franz Roh (German, 1890-1965), Franciszka Themerson and Stefan Themerson (British, born Poland, 1907-1988 and 1910-1988), and František Vobecký (Czech, 1902-1991) are among the numerous photographers represented here.

 

André Kertész. 'Magda, Mme Beöthy, M. Beöthy, and Unknown Guest, Paris' 1926-29

 

André Kertész (American, born Hungary 1894-1985)
Magda, Mme Beöthy, M. Beöthy, and Unknown Guest, Paris
1926-29
Gelatin silver print
3 1/8 × 3 7/8″ (7.9 × 9.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

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

 

André Kertész (American, born Hungary 1894-1985)
Mondrian’s Glasses and Pipe
1926
Gelatin silver print
3 1/8 × 3 11/16″ (7.9 × 9.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Grace M. Mayer Fund

 

Unknown Photographer. 'White Party, Dessau' (Weißes Fest, Dessau) March 20, 1926

 

Unknown Photographer
White Party, Dessau (Weißes Fest, Dessau)
March 20, 1926
Gelatin silver print
3 x 1 15/16″ (7.6 x 5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Acquired through the generosity of Howard Stein

 

Iwao Yamawaki. 'Lunch (12-2 p.m.)' (Mittagessen [12-2 Uhr]) 1931

 

Iwao Yamawaki (Japanese, 1898-1987)
Lunch (12-2 p.m.) (Mittagessen [12-2 Uhr])
1931
Gelatin silver print
6 7/16 × 4 5/8″ (16.3 × 11.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Abbott-Levy Collection funds, by exchange

 

Gertrud Arndt. 'At the Masters' Houses' (An den Meisterhäusern) 1929-30

 

Gertrud Arndt (German, 1903-2000)
At the Masters’ Houses (An den Meisterhäusern)
1929-30
Gelatin silver print
8 7/8 x 6 1/4″ (22.6 x 15.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

Gertrud Arndt (née Hantschk; 20 September 1903 – 10 July 2000) was a photographer associated with the Bauhaus movement. She is remembered for her pioneering series of self-portraits from around 1930.

Arndt’s photography, forgotten until the 1980s, has been compared to that of her contemporaries Marta Astfalck-Vietz and Claude Cahun. Over the five years when she took an active interest in photography, she captured herself and her friends in various styles, costumes and settings in the series known as Masked Portraits. Writing for Berlin Art Link, Angela Connor describes the images as “ranging from severe to absurd to playful.” Today Arndt is considered to be a pioneer of female self-portraiture, long predating Cindy Sherman and Sophie Calle. (Wikipedia)

 

Iwao Yamawaki (Japanese, 1898-1987) 'Untitled' 1931

 

Iwao Yamawaki (Japanese, 1898-1987)
Untitled
1931
Gelatin silver print
8 11/16 x 6 1/2″ (22 x 16.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Abbott-Levy Collection funds, by exchange

 

Hajo Rose. 'Untitled (Self-Portrait)' 1931

 

Hajo Rose (German, 1910-1989)
Untitled (Self-Portrait)
1931
Gelatin silver print
9 7/16 × 7 1/16″ (23.9 × 17.9 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

‘Finally – a house made of steel and glass!’ This was the enthusiastic reaction of Hajo Rose (1910-1989) to the Bauhaus building in Dessau when he began his studies there in 1930. Rose promoted the methods of the Bauhaus throughout his lifetime: as a lecturer at universities in Amsterdam, Dresden and Leipzig, and also as an artist and photographer.

Hajo Rose experimented with a wide variety of materials and techniques. The photomontage of his self-portrait combined with the Dessau Bauhaus building (c. 1930), the surrealism of his photograph Seemannsbraut (Sailor’s Bride, 1934), and the textile print designs that he created with a typewriter (1932) are examples of the extraordinary creativity of this artist. He also contributed to an advertising campaign for the Jena Glass Company: the first heat-resistant household glassware stood for modern product design and is still regarded as a kitchen classic today.

Shortly before the Bauhaus was closed, Hajo Rose was one of the last students to receive his diploma. Subsequent periods in various cities shaped his biography, which is a special example of the migratory experience shared by many Bauhaus members after 1933. After one year as an assistant in the Berlin office of László Moholy-Nagy, Hajo Rose immigrated to The Netherlands together with Paul Guermonprez, a Bauhaus colleague, in 1934. He worked there as a commercial artist and taught at the Nieuwe Kunstschool in Amsterdam. At the 1937 World Exposition in Paris, he won an award for his poster ‘Amsterdam’. After the Second World War, Rose worked as a graphic designer, photographer and teacher in Dresden and Leipzig. He continued to advocate Bauhaus ideas in the GDR, even though the Bauhaus was regarded in East Germany as bourgeois and formalistic well into the 1960s. Rose resigned from the Socialist Unity Party (SED) – in spite of the loss of his teaching position as a consequence. From that time, he worked as one of the few freelance graphic designers in the GDR. Hajo Rose died at the age of 79 – shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

 

Edward Steichen (American, born Luxembourg 1879-1973) 'Gertrude Lawrence' 1928

 

Edward Steichen (American, born Luxembourg 1879-1973)
Gertrude Lawrence
1928
Gelatin silver print
9 7/16 × 7 9/16″ (24 × 19.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Edward Steichen Estate and gift of Mrs. Flora S. Straus, by exchange

 

 

The Artist’s Life

Photography is particularly well suited to capturing the distinctive nuances of the human face, and photographers delighted in and pushed the boundaries of portraiture throughout the 20th century. The Thomas Walther Collection features a great number of portraits of artists and self-portraits as varied as the individuals portrayed. Additionally, the collection conveys a free-spirited sense of community and daily life, highlighted here with photographs made by André Kertész and by students and faculty at the Bauhaus. When the Hungarian-born Kertész moved to Paris in 1925, he couldn’t afford to purchase photographic paper, so he would print on less expensive postcard stock. These prints, whose small scale requires that the viewer engage with them intimately, function as miniature windows into the lives of Kertész’s bohemian circle of friends. The group of photographs made at the Bauhaus in the mid-1920s, before the medium was formally integrated into the school’s curriculum, similarly expresses friendships and everyday life captured and printed in an informal manner. Portraits by Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954), Lotte Jacobi (American, born Germany, 1896-1990), Lucia Moholy (British, born Czechoslovakia, 1894-1989), Man Ray (American, 1890-1976), August Sander (German, 1876-1964) and Edward Steichen (American, born Luxembourg, 1879-1973) are among the highlights of this gallery.

 

Aenne Biermann. 'Summer Swimming' (Sommerbad) 1925-30

 

Aenne Biermann (German, 1898-1933)
Summer Swimming (Sommerbad)
1925-30
Gelatin silver print
7 x 7 7/8″ (17.8 x 20 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Bequest of Ilse Bing, by exchange

 

 

Aenne Biermann (March 8, 1898 – January 14, 1933), born Anna Sibilla Sternfeld, was a German photographer of Ashkenazi origin. She was one of the major proponents of New Objectivity, a significant art movement that developed in Germany in the 1920s.

Biermann was a self-taught photographer. Her first subjects were her two children, Helga and Gershon. The majority of Biermann’s photographs were shot between 1925 and 1933. Gradually she became one of the major proponents of New Objectivity, an important art movement in the Weimar Republic. Her work became internationally known in the late 1920s, when it was part of every major exhibition of German photography.

Major exhibitions of her work include the Munich Kunstkabinett, the Deutscher Werkbund and the exhibition of Folkwang Museum in 1929. Other important exhibitions include the exhibition entitled Das Lichtbild held in Munich in 1930 and the 1931 exhibition at the Palace of Fine Arts (French: Palais des Beaux Arts) in Brussels. Since 1992 the Museum of Gera has held an annual contest for the Aenne Biermann Prize for Contemporary German Photography, which is one of the most important events of its kind in Germany. (Wikipedia)

 

Helmar Lerski. 'Metamorphosis 601' (Metamorphose 601) 1936

 

Helmar Lerski (Swiss, born Germany 1871-1956)
Metamorphosis 601 (Metamorphose 601)
1936
Gelatin silver print
11 7/16 × 9 1/16″ (29 × 23 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. The Family of Man Fund

 

 

There can hardly be another name in the international history of photography whose work has been so frequently misunderstood and so controversially evaluated as that of Helmar Lerski (1871-1956). “In every human being there is everything; the question is only what the light falls on”. Guided by this conviction, Lerski took portraits that did not primarily strive for likeness but which left scope for the viewer’s imagination, thus laying himself open to the criticism of betraying the veracity of the photographic image.

… Lerski’s pictures were only partly in line with the maxims of the New Photography, and they questioned the validity of pure objectivity. The distinguishing characteristics of his portraits included a theatrical-expressionistic, sometimes dramatic use of lighting inspired by the silent film. Although his close-up photographs captured the essential features of a face – eyes, nose and mouth -, his primary concern was not individual appearance or superficial likeness but the deeper inner potential: he emphasised the changeability, the different faces of an individual. Lerski, who sympathised with the political left wing, thereby infiltrated the photography of types that was practised  (and not infrequently misused for racist purposes) by many of Lerski’s contemporaries.

… Helmar Lerski’s attitude was at its most radical in his work entitled Metamorphosis. This was completed within a few months at the beginning of 1936 in Palestine, to where Lerski and his second wife Anneliese had immigrated in 1932. In Verwandlungen durch Licht (this is the second title for this work), Lerski carried his theatrical talent to extremes. With the help of up to 16 mirrors and filters, he directed the natural light of the sun in constant new variations and refractions onto his model, the Bernese-born, at the time out-of-work structural draughtsman and light athlete Leo Uschatz. Thus he achieved, in a series of over 140 close-ups “hundreds of different faces, including that of a hero, a prophet, a peasant, a dying soldier, an old woman and a monk from one single original face” (Siegfried Kracauer). According to Lerski, these pictures were intended to provide proof “that the lens does not have to be objective, that the photographer can, with the help of light, work freely, characterise freely, according to his inner face.” Contrary to the conventional idea of the portrait as an expression of human identity, Lerski used the human face as a projection surface for the figures of his imagination. We are only just becoming aware of the modernity of this provocative series of photographs.

Peter Pfrunder
Fotostiftung Schweiz

 

Max Burchartz. 'Lotte (Eye)' (Lotte [Auge]) 1928

 

Max Burchartz (German, 1887-1961)
Lotte (Eye) (Lotte [Auge])
1928
Gelatin silver print
11 7/8 x 15 3/4″ (30.2 x 40 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Acquired through the generosity of Peter Norton

 

Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz. 'Anna Oderfeld, Zakopane' 1911-12

 

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (Polish, 1885-1939)
Anna Oderfeld, Zakopane
1911-12
Gelatin silver print 6 11/16 × 4 3/4″ (17 × 12.1 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Mrs. Willard Helburn, by exchange

 

Edmund Kesting. 'Glance to the Sun' (Blick zur Sonne) 1928

 

Edmund Kesting (German, 1892-1970)
Glance to the Sun (Blick zur Sonne)
1928
Gelatin silver print
13 1/16 x 14 1/2″ (33.2 x 36.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

Edmund Kesting (27 July 1892, Dresden – 21 October 1970, Birkenwerder) was a German photographer, painter and art professor. He studied until 1916 at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts before participating as a soldier in the First World War, upon returning his painting teachers were Richard Müller and Otto Gussmann and in 1919 he began to teach as a professor at the private school Der Weg. In 1923 he had his first exposition in the gallery Der Sturm in which he showed photograms. When Der Weg opened a new academy in Berlin in 1927, he moved to the capital.

He formed relations with other vanguardists in Berlin and practiced various experimental techniques such as solarization, multiple images and photograms, for which reason twelve of his works were considered degenerate art by the Nazi regime and were prohibited. Among the artists with whom he interacted are Kurt Schwitters, László Moholy-Nagy, El Lissitzky and Alexander Archipenko. At the end of World War II he formed part of a Dresden artistic group known as Künstlergruppe der ruf – befreite Kunst (Call to an art in freedom) along with Karl von Appen, Helmut Schmidt-Kirstein and Christoph Hans, among others. In this city he made an experimental report named Dresdner Totentanz (Dance of death in Dresden) as a condemnation of the bombing of the city. In 1946 he was named a member of the Academy of Art in the city.

He participated in the controversy between socialist realism and formalism that took place in the German Democratic Republic, therefore his work was not realist and could not be shown in the country between 1949 and 1959. In 1955 he began to experiment with chemical painting, making photographs without the use of a camera and only with the use of chemical products such as the developer and the fixer and photographic paper, for which he made exposures to light using masks and templates. Between 1956 and 1967 he was a professor at the Academy of Cinema and Television of Potsdam.

His artistic work was not recognized by the authorities of the German Democratic Republic until 1980, ten years after his death. (Wikipedia)

 

Maurice Tabard. 'Am I Beautiful?' (Suis-je belle?) 1929

 

Maurice Tabard (French, 1897-1984)
Am I Beautiful? (Suis-je belle?)
1929
Gelatin silver print
9 5/16 × 6 15/16″ (23.6 × 17.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange

 

 

Between Surrealism and Magic Realism

In the mid-1920s, European artistic movements ranging from Surrealism to New Objectivity moved away from a realist approach by highlighting the strange in the familiar or trying to reconcile dreams and reality. Echoes of these concerns, centered on the human figure, can be found in this gallery. Some photographers used anti-naturalistic methods – capturing hyperreal, close-up details; playing with scale; and rendering the body as landscape – to challenge the viewer’s perception. Others, in line with Sigmund Freud’s definition of “the uncanny” as an effect that results from the blurring of distinctions between the real and the fantastic, offered visual plays on life and the lifeless, the animate and the inanimate, confronting the human body with surrogates in the form of dolls, mannequins, and masks. Photographers influenced by Surrealism, such as Maurice Tabard, subjected the human figure to distortions and transformations by experimenting with photographic techniques either while capturing the image or while developing it in the darkroom. Additional photographers on view include Aenne Biermann (German, 1898-1933), Jacques-André Boiffard (French, 1902-1961), Max Burchartz (German, 1887-1961), Helmar Lerski (Swiss, 1871-1956), and Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (Polish, 1885-1939)

 

Berenice Abbott. 'Daily News Building, 220 East 42nd Street, Manhattan' November 21, 1935

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Daily News Building, 220 East 42nd Street, Manhattan
November 21, 1935
Gelatin silver print
9 5/8 × 7 1/2″ (24.4 × 19.1 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Abbott-Levy Collection funds, by exchange

 

Marjorie Content. 'Steamship Pipes, Paris' Winter 1931

 

Marjorie Content (American, 1895-1984)
Steamship Pipes, Paris
Winter 1931
Gelatin silver print
3 13/16 × 2 11/16″ (9.7 × 6.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Andreas Feininger, by exchange

 

 

Marjorie Content (1895-1984) was an American photographer active in modernist social and artistic circles. Her photographs were rarely published and never exhibited in her lifetime, but have become of interest to collectors and art historians. Her work has been collected by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Chrysler Museum of Art; it has been the subject of several solo exhibitions. (Wikipedia)

Marjorie Content (1895-1984) was a modest and unpretentious photographer who kept her work largely to herself, never published or exhibited. Overshadowed by such close friends as Georgia O’Keefe and Alfred Stieglitz, she was more comfortable as a muse and source of encouragement for others, including her fourth husband, poet Jean Toomer. This text presents her beautiful, varied photographs and provides a glimpse into her life. Her pictures portray a variety of images including: New York’s frenetic cityscape distilled to essential patterns and rhythms; the Southwestern light and heat along with the strength and dignity of the Taos pueblo culture; and cigarettes and other everyday items arranged in jewel-like compositions. The discovery of the quality and extent of her work is proof that an artist’s determination can surmount a lack of recognition in her lifetime. (Amazon)

 

Walker Evans. 'Votive Candles, New York City' 1929-30

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Votive Candles, New York City
1929-30
Gelatin silver print
8 1/2 x 6 15/16″ (21.6 x 17.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Willard Van Dyke and Mr. and Mrs. Alfred H. Barr, Jr., by exchange

 

Georgii Zimin. 'Untitled' 1926

 

Georgii Zimin (Russian, 1900-1985)
Untitled
1926
Gelatin silver print
3 11/16 x 3 1/4″ (9.4 x 8.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

Georgii Zimin was born in Moscow in 1900, where he lived and worked for his entire life. Before the Russian Revolution he enrolled as a student at the Artistic-Industrial Stroganov Institute, known after 1918 as SVOMAS (Free state art studios). Zimin continued his studies at VKhUTEMAS (Higher state artistic and technical studios), which replaced SVOMAS in 1920. It was during his time at the school that he published the portfolio Skrjabin in Lukins Tanz (Scriabin in Lukin’s dance), in an edition of one hundred. This set of Cubo-Futurist lithographs from 1922 features costumed dancers in erotic poses, complementing a ballet choreographed by Lev Lukin. This work garnered Zimin acknowledgment by the Academy of Arts and Sciences and marked his affiliation with the Russian Art of Movement group. Throughout the 1920s he showed regularly at Art of Movement exhibitions at GAKhN (State academy for artistic sciences), in Moscow. Zimin also experimented with photography in the late 1920s and early 1930s, producing photograms akin to those made by László Moholy-Nagy and others at the time. Later in life, he served as Art Director of Exhibitions at the Department of Trade and held a post at the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition. – Ksenia Nouril

 

Umbo (Otto Umbehr) 'Mystery of the Street' (Mysterium der Strasse) 1928

 

Umbo (Otto Umbehr) (German, 1902-1980)
Mystery of the Street (Mysterium der Strasse)
1928
Gelatin silver print
11 7/16 x 9 1/4″ (29 x 23.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange

 

 

Trained at the Bauhaus under Johannes Itten, a master of expressivity, Berlin-based photographer Umbo (born Otto Umbehr) believed that intuition was the source of creativity. To this belief, he added Constructivist structural strategies absorbed from Theo Van Doesburg, El Lissitzky, and others in Berlin in the early twenties. Their influence is evident in this picture’s diagonal, abstract construction and its spatial disorientation. It is also classic Umbo, encapsulating his intuitive vision of the world as a resource of poetic, often funny, ironic, or dark bulletins from the social unconscious.

After he left the Bauhaus, Umbo worked as assistant to Walther Ruttmann on his film Berlin, Symphony of a Great City 1926. In 1928, photographing from his window either very early or very late in the day and either waiting for his “actors” to achieve a balanced composition or, perhaps, positioning them as a movie director would, Umbo exposed three negatives. He had an old 5 by 7 inch (12.7 by 17.8 centimeter) stand camera and a 9 by 12 centimeter (3 9/16 by 4 ¾ inch) Deckrullo Contessa-Nettle camera, but which he used for these overhead views is not known, as he lost all his prints and most negatives in the 1943 bombing of Berlin. The resulting images present a world in which the shadows take the active role. Umbo made the insubstantial rule the corporeal and the dark dominate the light through a simple but inspired inversion: he mounted the pictures upside down (note the signature in ink in the lower right).

In 1928-29, Umbo was a founding photographer at Dephot (Deutscher Photodienst), a seminal photography agency in Berlin dedicated to creating socially relevant and visually fascinating photoessays, an idea originated by Erich Solomon. Simon Guttmann, who directed the business, hired creative nonconformists, foremost among them the bohemian Umbo, who slept in the darkroom; Umbo in turn drew the brothers Lore Feininger and Lyonel Feininger to the agency, which soon also boasted Robert Capa and Felix H. Man. Dephot hired Dott, the best printer in Berlin, and it was he who made the large exhibition prints, such as this one, ordered by New York gallerist Julien Levy when he visited the agency in 1931. Umbo showed thirty-nine works, perhaps also printed by Dott, in the 1929 exhibition Film und Foto, and he put Guttmann in touch with the Berlin organizer of the show; accordingly, Dephot was the source for some images in the accompanying book, Es kommt der neue Fotograf! (Here comes the new photographer!). Levy introduced Umbo’s photographs to New York in Surréalisme (January 1932) and showcased them again at the Julien Levy Gallery, together with images by Herbert Bayer, Jacques-André Boiffard, Roger Parry, and Maurice Tabard, in his 1932 exhibition Modern European Photography.

Maria Morris Hambourg, Hanako Murata

 

Umbo (Otto Umbehr). 'Six at the Beach' (Sechs am Strand) 1930

 

Umbo (Otto Umbehr) (German, 1902-1980)
Six at the Beach (Sechs am Strand)
1930
Gelatin silver print
9 3/8 × 7 1/8″ (23.8 × 18.1 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn. 'The Octopus' 1909

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (American, 1882-1966)
The Octopus
1909
Gelatin silver print
22 1/8 × 16 3/4″
(56.2 × 42.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

Dynamics of the City – Symphony of a Great City 

In his 1928 manifesto “The Paths of Contemporary Photography,” Aleksandr Rodchenko advocated for a new photographic vocabulary that would be more in step with the pace of modern urban life and the changes in perception it implied. Rodchenko was not alone in this quest: most of the avant-garde photographers of the 1920s and 1930s were city dwellers, striving to translate the novel and shocking experience of everyday life into photographic images. Equipped with newly invented handheld cameras, they used unusual vantage points and took photos as they moved, struggling to re-create the constant flux of images that confronted the pedestrian. Reflections in windows and vitrines, blurry images of quick motions, double exposures, and fragmentary views portray the visual cacophony of the metropolis. The work of Berenice Abbott (American, 1898- 1991), Alvin Langdon Coburn (American, 1882-1966), Germanie Krull (Dutch, born Germany, 1897-1985), Alexander Hackenschmied (Czech, 1907-2004), Umbo (German, 1902-1980), and Imre Kinszki (Hungarian, 1901-1945) is featured in this final gallery.

 

 

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08
Apr
15

Selection of images part 1

April 2015

 

A selection of interesting images.

The Vanishing Race by Edward S. Curtis is simple, yet one of the best. Already their shadows seem more substantial than their owners.

Any photographer worth their salt would recognise the light on the foliage in a certain location that they know, but the chance of it being as perfect as this are about a billion to one. Notice how the original frame extends the synthesis of man and landscape as well. Such a great amalgam of image and frame, such a perfect marriage where one complements the other without the frame being overpowering, as though the frame were an extension of the image (and organic nature of the landscape).

The line of the riders in the image as well… they would have virtually ridden over the photographer and the tripod if they had kept that line!! And the outrider – magnificent!!!

Marcus

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

 

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952) 'The Vanishing Race' 1904

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952)
The Vanishing Race – Navaho
1904
Orotone
(in original frame)

 

“The passing of every old man or woman means the passing of some tradition, some knowledge of sacred rites possessed by no other… consequently the information that is to be gathered, for the benefit of future generations, respecting the mode of life of one of the great races of mankind, must be collected at once or the opportunity will be lost for all time.” Edward S. Curtis

 

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) 'Fifth Avenue Houses' 1936

 

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991)
Fifth Avenue Houses (5th Avenue and 8th Street)
1936, printed later
Silver gelatin print

 

Ansel Adams (1902-1984) 'Surf Sequence #4' 1940

 

Ansel Adams (1902-1984)
Surf Sequence #4
1940, printed later
Silver gelatin print

 

Paul Caponigro (1932- ) 'Redding Stream, Redding, Connecticut' 1968

 

Paul Caponigro (1932- )
Redding Stream, Redding, Connecticut
1968, printed later
Gelatin silver print

 

Paul Caponigro (1932- ) 'Nautilus Shell, Ipswich, Mass' 1960

 

Paul Caponigro (1932- )
Nautilus Shell, Ipswich, Mass
1960
Silver gelatin print

 

Paul Caponigro (1932- ) 'Two Leaves, Brewster, New York' 1963

 

Paul Caponigro (1932- )
Two Leaves, Brewster, New York
1963
Silver gelatin print

 

Harry Callahan. 'Eleanor, Port Huron' c. 1954

 

Harry Callahan
Eleanor, Port Huron
c. 1954
Silver gelatin print

 

With her raven hair and ripe figure, Eleanor Callahan is one of the most recognizable models in the history of 20th-century photography, an inseparable part of both the life and work of one of its most renowned artists. Clothed and standing among trees in a public park, or nude and turned to the wall while clutching a radiator in an empty room, she served as a formal element within Mr. Callahan’s austere compositions as well as a symbol of womanhood. From 1941 to his death in 1999, she allowed herself to be photographed by him, without complaint, hundreds of times…

“He just liked to take the pictures of me,” she told an interviewer in 2008. “In every pose. Rain or shine. And whatever I was doing. If I was doing the dishes or if I was half asleep. And he knew that I never, never said no. I was always there for him. Because I knew that Harry would only do the right thing.” Text from the NY Times

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) 'Potato truck in the field near Shafter, California' 1937

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1965)
Potato truck in the field near Shafter, California
1937
Ferrotyped silver print

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Fish Market near Birmingham, Alabama' 1936

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Fish Market near Birmingham, Alabama
1936
Silver gelatin print

 

Robert Doisneau (1912-1994) 'Le gardien des géants du Nord' Nd

 

Robert Doisneau (1912-1994)
Le gardien des géants du Nord
Nd
Silver gelatin print

 

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) 'Christopher Street Shop' late 1940s

 

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991)
Christopher Street Shop
late 1940s
Silver gelatin print

 

Francesca Woodman (1958-1981) 'But Lately I Find a Sliver of a Mirror is Simply to Slice an Eyelid' 1979/1980

 

Francesca Woodman (1958-1981)
But Lately I Find a Sliver of a Mirror is Simply to Slice an Eyelid
1979/1980
Silver gelatin print

 

Francesca Woodman (1958-1981) 'Untitled, Rome, Italy' 1977/1978

 

Francesca Woodman (1958-1981)
Untitled, Rome, Italy
1977/1978
Silver gelatin print

 

André Kertész. 'Fan, December 1937' 1937

 

André Kertész
Fan, December 1937
1937
Silver gelatin print

 

“I am an amateur and I intend to stay that way for the rest of my life.” André Kertész

 

Margaret Bourke-White (1904-1971) 'Fort Peck Dam, Montana' 1936

 

Margaret Bourke-White (1904-1971)
Fort Peck Dam, Montana
1936
Silver gelatin print

 

This photograph became an icon of the machine age, not only because it was printed as the cover of the first issue of Life magazine (November 23, 1936), but also because it showed the power of modern technology to dwarf humankind. The giant buttresses and what seem to be crenellated battlements (actually the supports for an elevated highway) are meant to be as raw and impressive as the towering walls of ancient monuments. The engineers on the spillway provide the necessary indication of scale.

 

Margaret Bourke-White (1904-1971) 'Terminal Tower [Cleveland]' c. 1928

 

Margaret Bourke-White (1904-1971)
Terminal Tower [Cleveland]
c. 1928
Silver gelatin print

 

“I stood on the deck to watch the city [Cleveland] come into view. As the skyline took form in the morning mist, I felt I was coming to my promised land . . . columns of machinery gaining height as we drew toward the pier, derricks swinging like living creatures. Deep inside I knew these were my subjects.” – Margaret Bourke-White (1927) 

 

Francois Kollar (1904-1979) 'Double-impression of the Eiffel Tower' 1931

 

François Kollar (1904-1979)
Double-impression of the Eiffel Tower
1931
Solarised silver gelatin print

 

In this unique and widely-reproduced photograph, the French modernist photographer has overlaid positive and negative images of the magnificent Eiffel Tower. The iconic structure is depicted from an unusual perspective, thrusting upward, with Kollar’s special solarized effect.

 

Edward J. Kelty (1888-1967) 'X-ray of Ajax, the sword swallower' 1928

 

Edward J. Kelty (1888-1967)
X-ray of Ajax, the sword swallower
1928
 Silver print
18 × 11 inches (45.7 × 27.9 cm.)
with a New York X-ray lab credit in the negative

 

Edward J. Kelty (1888-1967) 'Marcellus Golden Models' 1933

 

Edward J. Kelty (1888-1967)
Marcellus Golden Models
1933
Silver print
11 1/4 × 8 7/8 inches (28.6 × 22.5 cm.)
with Kelty’s credit and title in the negative

 

 

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31
Dec
14

Exhibition: ‘Robert Frank in America’ at the Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University Part 1

Exhibition dates: 10th September 2014 – 5th January 2015

Curator: Peter Galassi

 

The lunatic sublime of America

This is the first part of a bumper two-part posting.

Robert Frank (born November 9, 1924) is one of the most important photographic artists of the twentieth century. He was born in Switzerland but he emigrated to American in 1947. He soon gained a job as a fashion photographer for Harper’s Bazaar. He honed his craft as a photographer in England where he took formal, classical images of British life during a trip to Europe and South America in 1947.

He became friends with Edward Steichen and Walker Evans, and it was Evans who supported him in his Guggenheim Fellowship application in 1955 which enabled him “to travel across the United States and photograph all strata of its society. Cities he visited included Detroit and Dearborn, Michigan; Savannah, Georgia; Miami Beach and St. Petersburg, Florida; New Orleans, Louisiana;Houston, Texas; Los Angeles, California; Reno, Nevada; Salt Lake City, Utah; Butte, Montana; and Chicago, Illinois. He took his family along with him for part of his series of road trips over the next two years, during which time he took 28,000 shots. 83 of these were selected by him for publication in The Americans.”1

In The Americans, Frank documents, “the tensions between the optimism of the 1950s and the realities of class and racial differences. The irony that Frank found in the gloss of American culture and wealth over this tension gave his photographs a clear contrast to those of most contemporary American photojournalists, as did his use of unusual focus, low lighting and cropping that deviated from accepted photographic techniques.2

Originally published as Les Américains in 1958 by Robert Delpire in Paris, and finally in 1959 in the United States by Grove Press, reaction in America was initially hostile. They American critics did not like Frank’s shoot from the hip style of photography, nor the mirror that was being held up to their society, especially by a Jewish foreigner. Over time The Americans came to be seen as a seminal work of American photography and social history. Like many artists, Frank only took photographs for a relatively short period of time, before moving on to become a filmmaker.

One cannot forget the era in which Frank took these photographs – that of McCarthyism and “the Second Red Scare, lasting roughly from 1950 to 1956 and characterized by heightened political repression against communists, as well as a campaign spreading fear of their influence on American institutions and of espionage by Soviet agents.”3 Americans were suspicious of foreigners, especially ones with cameras, and this was still the era of racial segregation pre the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

With regard to the structure of the photographs, their origin is based in classicism. This was Frank’s training. It was his skill as an artist, his intuitive and prescient vision of America – how he saw America like no one else before him had – that enabled him to ramp up the intensity, shoot from weird angles, low lighting, cropping, depth of field, unusual focus – and focus on the iconography of America as never seen before: jukeboxes, American flags, cars, highways, death, racial segregation – that was so revolutionary. But he could not have done that without his formal training. You only have to look at the comparison between the photographs of Robert Frank and Walker Evans. Formal and elegant in Evans Church Organ and Pews (1936) and Downtown street, New Orleans (December 1935) with lines vertical and clean… and then Frank, with hardly a straight line or neat angle to be seen. But the one does inform the other, otherwise Frank’s photographs would just become snapshots, vernacular photographs with very little meaning. Which they are not.

This is one of the most powerful, lyrical, humanist photo essays of a country that has ever been taken. Critic Sean O’Hagan, writing in The Guardian in 2014, said The Americans “changed the nature of photography, what it could say and how it could say it. [ . . . ] it remains perhaps the most influential photography book of the 20th century.”4 As an artist, Frank became the great connector for he is the critical link in the chain that stretches from Lewis Hine through Walker Evans… and on to Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand and Joel Meyerowitz.

As an artist you marvel at his intuition and inspiration, to look at the world as no one else had done before, to push the boundaries of medium and message. To photograph people, alone and in groups; politics; religion; race; automobiles and the road; and the media and thrust them into the white, bright, happy world of 1950s consumerist America saying: this is what this country is really like, this is my “impression” of you in all your fleeting madness, “America as an often bleak and lonely place.” You only have to look at the “eye” in U.S. 91, leaving Blackfoot, Idaho (1956, below) or look at the photograph of the grave by the side of the road to know that you are in Blue Velvet territory (David Lynch, director 1986, the title is taken from The Clovers’ 1955 song of the same name). I am not sure yet how one world pierces the other but believe me they surely do.

Marcus

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

 

 

“It was the vision that emanated from the book that lead not only me, but my whole generation of photographers out into the American landscape, in a sense, the lunatic sublime of America.”

.
Joel Meyerowitz

 

“Like a boxer trains for a fight, a photographer by walking the streets, and watching and taking pictures, and coming home and going out the next day, the same thing again, taking pictures. It doesn’t matter how many he takes, or if he takes any at all, it gets you prepared to know what you should take pictures of, or what is the right thing to do and when.”

.
Robert Frank

 

 

Robert Frank. 'U.S. 91, leaving Blackfoot, Idaho' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
U.S. 91, leaving Blackfoot, Idaho
1956
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Belle Isle, Detroit, Michigan' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Belle Isle, Detroit, Michigan
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Walker Evans. 'Main St., Ossining, New York' 1932

 

Walker Evans
Main St., Ossining, New York
1932
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Detroit' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Detroit
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary

 

Robert Frank. 'Drive-In Movie - Detroit' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Drive-In Movie – Detroit
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary

 

Robert Frank. 'Trolley - New Orleans' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Trolley – New Orleans
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Bequest of Morgan Garwood

 

Robert Frank. 'Barber shop through screen door - McClellanville, South Carolina' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Barber shop through screen door – McClellanville, South Carolina
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Collection of Bob and Randi Fisher, San Francisco

 

 

“In 1955 and 1956, Swiss-born photographer Robert Frank (b. 1924) traveled throughout the United States on a Guggenheim Fellowship, photographing ordinary people in their everyday lives. His book The Americans – 83 photographs, mostly from those travels, published in 1959 – repudiated the bland good cheer of the magazines with an image of the country that was starkly at odds with the official optimism of postwar prosperity. The book became a landmark of photographic history; but Frank soon turned to filmmaking, and the rest of his early photographic career was largely forgotten. An important group of unknown or unfamiliar photographs in the Cantor Arts Center’s collection provides the core of the exhibition Robert Frank in America, which sheds new light on the making of The Americans and presents, for the first time, Frank’s American photographs from the 1950s as a coherent body of work.

“We are delighted that the Cantor’s collection has provided the basis for a fresh look at one of the great achievements of 20-century photography,” said Connie Wolf, John and Jill Freidenrich Director of the Cantor Arts Center. “We are also deeply grateful to Robert Frank, who has generously contributed to the project.”

The exhibition Robert Frank in America, on view September 10, 2014 through January 5, 2015, features 130 photographs drawn primarily from the Cantor’s collection as well as from other public and private collections and from Frank himself. Peter Galassi, former chief curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, is the exhibition’s guest curator and author of the accompanying publication.

 

The Exhibition’s Development from the Cantor’s Collection

In the summer of 2012, Wolf invited Galassi to offer his thoughts on one of the museum’s hidden treasures: more than 150 photographs by Robert Frank given to the Cantor in the mid-1980s by Stanford alumnus Bowen H. McCoy and his colleague Raymond B. Gary. This remarkable collection spans the full range of Frank’s photographic career before he turned to filmmaking in the early 1960s. It is especially rich in Frank’s American work of the 1950s, including scores of photographs that are unknown or unfamiliar even to scholars. Wolf and Galassi saw an opportunity to share this work with Stanford students, faculty, scholars at large and the general public.

Research began at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, where more than two decades ago the artist established the archive of his photographic career prior to 1970. Studying more than 1,000 contact sheets enabled Galassi to determine the locations and dates of dozens of previously unidentified photographs in the Cantor collection. He then selected works for the exhibition so as to identify Frank’s major themes and artistic strategies. The compelling sequence of The Americans poetically weaves diverse images into a seamless whole, but Robert Frank in America groups related pictures to explore the pictorial strategies that Frank developed as he worked, and also to highlight important subjects – people, alone and in groups; politics; religion; race; automobiles and the road; and the media.

Frank repeatedly photographed isolated figures so that they seemed trapped by pictorial forces, for example. This powerful metaphor for Frank’s vision of lonely individuals imprisoned by social circumstances is announced in the first picture, The Americans, where the flag obliterates a spectator’s face (Parade – Hoboken, New Jersey, 1955). In Robert Frank in America, that photograph is juxtaposed with another that uses the identical pictorial scheme but a different subject; the interior of a bar (New York City, 1955).

“Although The Americans is famous – partly because it is famous – Robert Frank’s American work of the 1950s has never been considered as a whole,” said Galassi. “The full range of the work shows just how Frank turned the vocabulary of magazine photojournalism on its head and used it to speak in a personal, poetic voice.”

Inviting Galassi to organize the exhibition was part of the museum’s renewed commitment to collecting, studying and presenting photography, Wolf says. The Cantor has been adding to its already strong holdings, presenting innovative exhibitions of work by distinguished artists and providing a valuable opportunity for Stanford students and faculty to work directly with photographs. Leland Stanford’s commission more than a century ago for Eadweard Muybridge’s pioneering work on animal locomotion serves as a foundation for the museum’s extensive collection today.

 

Exhibition catalogue

The major catalogue accompanying this exhibition is published by the Cantor Arts Center in association with international publisher Steidl, with whom Frank has worked closely on most of his books. All 130 photographs in the exhibition are reproduced as full-page tritone plates. Galassi’s extensive essay traces the evolution of Frank’s work from his arrival in the United States in 1947 until he abandoned his first photographic career in the early 1960s. The text provides a thorough outline of the photographic context in which Frank at first sought success as a magazine photojournalist as well as a detailed analysis of the methods and strategies that lie behind The Americans. The essay features 24 illustrations, including an unprecedented map of Frank’s 1955-56 Guggenheim travels, which locates the sites of nearly all of the photographs in The Americans and in Robert Frank in America. The 200-page book, with a foreword by Connie Wolf, is designed by Katy Homans, New York.

 

Robert Frank

Robert Frank was born in 1924 in Zürich, Switzerland. The conclusion of World War II ended his vulnerability (his father was a German-born Jew) and enabled him to escape what he regarded as a narrow, antiquated culture. Soon after reaching New York in March 1947, he was hired by Harper’s Bazaar, but his distaste for photographing fashion led him to quit after six months. Over the next five or six years, in Europe and the United States, Frank aimed to establish himself as a freelance photojournalist, with limited success. A Guggenheim Fellowship, awarded in March 1955 and renewed a year later, freed him to pursue his work independently, and he soon began to travel in hopes of making a book. Les Américains was published by Robert Delpire in Paris in 1958 and, as The Americans, by Grove Press in New York in 1959. The latter included an introduction by Jack Kerouac, author of On the Road.

Film and video have formed a central aspect of Frank’s work since 1959, when he collaborated with Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Alfred Leslie on Pull My Daisy. In 1972, however, he resumed making photographs, often using Polaroid positive-negative materials and incorporating text and multiple images. That same year he published the first of several editions of The Lines of My Hand, a book that surveyed his career in all mediums and initiated reconsiderations of his early photographic career. The first full-scale retrospective of his photographs was organized at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in 1986. In 1990, a major gift by Frank established the Robert Frank Collection at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, which has since presented two major exhibitions, each accompanied by an important book: Robert Frank: Moving Out (1994) and Looking In: Robert Frank’s “The Americans” (2009).”

Press release from the Cantor Arts Center

 

Robert Frank. 'Beaufort, South Carolina' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Beaufort, South Carolina
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary

 

Robert Frank. 'Butte, Montana' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Butte, Montana
1956
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Acquired through the generosity of Marti Meyerson Hooper

 

Robert Frank. 'Café - Beaufort, South Carolina' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Café – Beaufort, South Carolina
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Pier 24 Photography, San Francisco

 

Walker Evans. 'Church Organ and Pews' 1936

 

Walker Evans
Church Organ and Pews
1936
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Canal Street - New Orleans' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Canal Street – New Orleans
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Bowen H. McCoy

 

Robert Frank. 'Central casting - Hollywood' 1958

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Central casting – Hollywood
1958
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary

 

Robert Frank. 'Charleston, South Carolina' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Charleston, South Carolina
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Pier 24 Photography, San Francisco

 

 

Guggenheim proposal summary

“To photograph freely throughout the United States, using the miniature camera exclusively. The making of a broad, voluminous picture record of things American, past and present. This project is essentially the visual study of a civilization and will include caption notes; but it is only partly documentary in nature: one of its aims is more artistic than the word documentary implies.”

 

The full statement

“I am applying for a Fellowship with a very simple intention: I wish to continue, develop and widen the kind of work I already do, and have been doing for some ten years, and apply it to the American nation in general. I am submitting work that will be seen to be documentation - most broadly speaking. Work of this kind is, I believe, to be found carrying its own visual impact without much work explanation. The project I have in mind is one that will shape itself as it proceeds, and is essentially elastic. The material is there: the practice will be in the photographer’s hand, the vision in his mind. One says this with some embarrassment but one cannot do less than claim vision if one is to ask for consideration.

“The photographing of America” is a large order - read at all literally, the phrase would be an absurdity. What I have in mind, then, is observation and record of what one naturalized American finds to see in the United States that signifies the kind of civilization born here and spreading elsewhere. Incidentally, it is fair to assume that when an observant American travels abroad his eye will see freshly; and that the reverse may be true when a European eye looks at the United States. I speak of the things that are there, anywhere and everywhere - easily found, not easily selected and interpreted. A small catalog comes to the mind’s eye: a town at night, a parking lot, a supermarket, a highway, the man who owns three cars and the man who owns none, the farmer and his children, a new house and a warped clapboard house, the dictation of taste, the dream of grandeur, advertising, neon lights, the faces of the leaders and the faces of the followers, gas tanks and postoffices and backyards.

The uses of my project would be sociological, historical and aesthetic. My total production will be voluminous, as is usually the case when the photographer works with miniature film. I intend to classify and annotate my work on the spot, as I proceed. Ultimately the file I shall make should be deposited in a collection such as the one in the Library of Congress. A more immediate use I have in mind is both book and magazine publication.”

 

Robert Frank. 'Covered car - Long Beach, California' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Covered car – Long Beach, California
1956
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, John Spencer Fund

 

Robert Frank. 'Elevator - Miami Beach' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Elevator – Miami Beach
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Collection of Bob and Randi Fisher, San Francisco

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'En route from New York to Washington, Club Car' 1954

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
En route from New York to Washington, Club Car
1954
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary

 

Robert Frank. 'Florida' 1958

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Florida
1958
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary

 

Robert Frank. 'Ford River Rouge Plant' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Ford River Rouge Plant
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, The artist, courtesy Pace MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Robert Frank. 'Iowa' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Iowa
1956
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Bowen H. McCoy

 

 

“I am grateful to the Guggenheim Foundation for their confidence and the provisions they made for me to work freely in my medium over a protracted period. When I applied for the Guggenheim Fellowship, I wrote: “To produce an authentic contemporary document, the visual impact should be such as will nullify explanation.”

With these photographs, I have attempted to show a cross-section of the American population. My effort was to express it simply and without confusion. The view is personal and, therefore, various facets of American life and society have been ignored. The photographs were taken during 1955 and 1956; for the most part in large cities such as Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and in many other places during my Journey across the country. My book, containing these photographs, will be published in Paris by Robert Delpire, 1958.

I have been frequently accused of deliberately twisting subject matter to my point of view. Above all, I know that life for a photographer cannot be a matter of indifference. Opinion often consists of a kind of criticism. But criticism can come out of love. It is important to see what is invisible to others – perhaps the look of hope or the look of sadness. Also, it is always the instantaneous reaction to oneself that produces a photograph.

My photographs are not planned or composed in advance and I do not anticipate that the on-looker will share my viewpoint. However, I feel that if my photograph leaves an image on his mind – something has been accomplished.

It is a different state of affairs for me to be working on assignment for a magazine. It suggests to me the feeling of a hack writer or a commercial illustrator. Since I sense that my ideas, my mind and my eye are not creating the picture but that the editors’ minds and eyes will finally determine which of my pictures will be reproduced to suit the magazines’ purposes.

I have a genuine distrust and “mefiance” toward all group activities. Mass production of uninspired photojournalism and photography without thought becomes anonymous merchandise. The air becomes infected with the “smell” of photography. If the photographer wants to be an artist, his thoughts cannot be developed overnight at the corner drugstore.

I am not a pessimist, but looking at a contemporary picture magazine makes it difficult for me to speak about the advancement of photography, since photography today is accepted without question, and is also presumed to be understood by all – even children. I feel that only the integrity of the individual photographer can raise its level.

The work of two contemporary photographers, Bill Brandt of England and the American, Walker Evans, have influenced me. When I first looked at Walker Evans’ photographs, I thought of something Malraux wrote: “To transform destiny into awareness.” One is embarrassed to want so much for oneself. But, how else are you going to justify your failure and your effort?”

Robert Frank, U.S. Camera Annual, p. 115, 1958

 

Robert Frank. 'Lusk, Wyoming' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Lusk, Wyoming
1956
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary

 

Robert Frank. 'Main Street - Savannah, Georgia' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Main Street – Savannah, Georgia
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary

 

Walker Evans. 'Downtown street, New Orleans' December 1935

 

Walker Evans
Downtown street, New Orleans
December 1935
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'New York City' 1949

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
New York City
1949
Gelatin silver print
Lent by Peter Steil

 

Robert Frank. 'New York City' 1949

 

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
New York City
1949
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Collection of Bob and Randi Fisher, San Francisco

 

Robert Frank. 'New York City' early 1950s

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
New York City
early 1950s
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Bowen H. McCoy

 

Robert Frank. 'Parade - Hoboken, New Jersey' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Parade – Hoboken, New Jersey
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, John and Lisa Pritzker

 

Robert Frank. 'Reno, Nevada' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Reno, Nevada
1956
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Purchase

 

 

Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University
328 Lomita Drive at Museum Way
Stanford, CA 94305-5060
T: 650-723-4177

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Sunday 11 am – 5 pm
Thursday 11 am – 8 pm
Closed Monday and Tuesday

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07
Nov
14

Exhibition: ‘Walker Evans. A Life’s Work’ at Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin

Exhibition dates: 25th July – 9th November 2014

 

End of the week. Not a lot of energy or time to write an in depth piece on the wonders of Walker Evans, so just a few observations…

I like this photographer, I like him a lot. No histrionics, little subjectivity being thrown at the audience. The images are -just -so. The compositions are seemingly simple but are actually very complex. Only a skilled craftsman can make the difficult look simple. As Thomas Struth has said of his photography: ‘for me it is more interesting to try and find out something from the real than to throw something subjective in front of the audience.’

“The uninflected image gives no hints as to how it is to be interpreted, and the viewer is led to linger over what might otherwise seem an un-noteworthy, everyday vista.” It’s recognising that vista in the first place for what it is, and what else it can be, so that it ‘gives pause’ to the viewer.

I really like the portrait of Berenice Abbott and it is also very educational. Look at the depth of field, with the view camera probably one stop past wide open. The sharpness plane is very tiny but look at the quality of the lens and how it renders the values that are slightly out of focus. What a very beautiful image and I suspect a top drawer lens. Notice also it is print 22. Walker Evans would keep a lot of prints and they were not the same. The next copy of this print might have been better (he might have worked out something to do) or it might be worse – the developer might have gone off. So it is not strictly an “edition” it is just the numbering of the prints he made.

He used every sort of camera: 8 x 10 and the smaller view formats, roll film cameras, Colour polaroid! hence the different sizes of his prints. Occasionally he did crop his images but on other occassions he took “a stance” where you knew he was about to perform and there would be no cropping. If you are really interested in this master photographer, the best Walker Evans book to get is First and Last (1978, available cheaply as a hardback on Amazon) which contains many pictures and “threads” that are dynamite… and the John Szarkowski book Walker Evans (1972) is a good one as well.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to Martin-Gropius-Bau for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Walker Evans. 'Two Women' Frenchquarter, New Orleans, February - March 1935

 

Walker Evans
Two Women
Frenchquarter, New Orleans, February – March 1935
155 x 219 mm
Lunn Gallery Stamp (1975)
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Walker Evans. 'Young Women Outside Clothing Store' 1934-35

 

Walker Evans
Young Women Outside Clothing Store
1934-35
114 x 184 mm
Lunn Gallery Stamp (1975)
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Walker Evans. 'Girl In French Quarter' New Orleans, February - March 1935

 

Walker Evans
Girl In French Quarter
New Orleans, February – March 1935
117 x 178 mm
Lunn Gallery Stamp (1975)
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Walker Evans. 'Crowd In Public Square' 1930s

 

Walker Evans
Crowd In Public Square
1930s
143 x 248 mm
Lunn Gallery Stamp (1975)
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Walker Evans. 'Berenice Abbott' 1929-30

 

Walker Evans
Berenice Abbott
1929-30
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

“Walker Evans (1903-1975) was one of the great personalities of 20th century photography, being an exponent of what is called the “documentary style”. His work, which spans a period of over fifty years, will be represented by well over 200 original prints from the years 1928 to 1974, taken mostly from the considerable private collection of Clark and Joan Worswick, but also from various German collections.

For decades, right up to the present, the prolific photographic oeuvre of Walker Evans has acquired an increasingly model character. In the half century of his creative activity the photographer documented in sober documentary fashion a uniquely authentic picture of America, and like no other before him showed a particular feel for both the everyday and the subtle – the American Vernacular – creating a sense of identity and historic significance.

Visitors follow both Evans’ biography and the changing face of America, from the Great Depression to the onset of stability and business as usual: early impressions of the 1920s from the New York neighbourhood he lived in; portraits of his friends and fellow artists which give some indication of the ramified cultural ambience he inhabited; specimens of 19th century architecture that have blended into the evolving cultural life about them; picture cycles from Tahiti and Cuba; images of African sculptures and masks commissioned by the New York Museum of Modern Art; and numerous photographs taken in the 1930s in the rural south of the USA, which contrast starkly with the lifestyles of those who may be seen promenading in the fashionable streets of cities like New York.

In addition to street scenes, American monuments and shop window displays far from the world of “big business”, examples of his significant subway photographs are to be seen, taken with a hidden camera. We also see interiors whose modest appointments tell of the life of those who live in them, pictures that inevitably recall Evans’ remark that “I do like to suggest people by absence”. Evans’ predilection for typography, advertising and mass-produced articles give rise to strangely fascinating shots which seem to anticipate the soon-to-emerge Pop Art and its assemblages.

While the exhibition shows icons in the history of photography, it also highlights some of the photographer’s lesser known motifs dating from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. These include works done for Fortune, the magazine founded by Henry Luce in 1930; pictures taken on trips to London from 1945 onwards for the periodical Architectural Forum; or during stays at Robert Frank’s Nova Scotia house in the late 1960s.”

Text from the Martin-Gropius-Bau website

 

Walker Evans. 'Façade of House with Large Numbers' Denver, Colorado, August 1967

 

Walker Evans
Façade of House with Large Numbers
Denver, Colorado, August 1967
Collection of Clark and Joan Worswick
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Walker Evans. 'Interior View of Heliker/Lahotan House' Walpole, Maine, 1962

 

Walker Evans
Interior View of Heliker/Lahotan House
Walpole, Maine, 1962
Collection of Clark and Joan Worswick
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Walker Evans. 'Interior View of Robert Frank’s House' Nova Scotia, 1969-71

 

Walker Evans
Interior View of Robert Frank’s House
Nova Scotia, 1969-71
Collection of Clark and Joan Worswick
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Walker Evans. 'Robert Frank' Nova Scotia, 1969-71

 

Walker Evans
Robert Frank
Nova Scotia, 1969-71
Collection of Clark and Joan Worswick
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Walker Evans. 'Barn' Nova Scotia, 1969-71


 

Walker Evans
Barn
Nova Scotia, 1969-71
Collection of Clark and Joan Worswick
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Walker Evans. 'Pabst Blue Ribbon Sign' Chicago, Illinois, 1946

 

Walker Evans
Pabst Blue Ribbon Sign
Chicago, Illinois, 1946
Collection of Clark and Joan Worswick
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin
Niederkirchnerstraße 7
Corner Stresemannstr. 110
10963 Berlin
T: +49 (0)30 254 86-0

Opening Hours:
Wednesday to Monday 10 – 19 hrs
Tuesday closed

Martin-Gropius-Bau website

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘England’ 1993

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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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