Posts Tagged ‘Walt Whitman

26
Nov
17

Text / Exhibition: ‘The Unflinching Gaze: photo media and the male figure’ at the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, New South Wales

Exhibition dates: 14th October – 3rd December, 2017

Curator: Richard Perram OAM

 

 

Todd Fuller and Amy Hill (Australia, 1988-; Australia, 1988-) 'They're Only Words'  2009

 

Todd Fuller and Amy Hill (Australia, 1988-; Australia, 1988-)
They’re Only Words
2009
Film, sound duration: 2:42 mins
Courtesy the artists and May Space, Sydney

 

 

I must congratulate curator and gallery Director, Richard Perram OAM and the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery for putting on such a fine exhibition, worthy of many a large gallery in a capital city. An incredible achievement, coming at the same time as Latrobe Regional Art Gallery put on the recent René Magritte exhibition. All power to these regional galleries. Now on with the show…

 

Show and tell

The male body. The female body. The trans body. The gay body. Etc. etc. etc. …
The male gaze. The female gaze. The trans gaze. The gay gaze. Etc. etc. etc. …

I did my Dr of Philosophy, all four and a half years of it, on the history of photography and its depiction of the male body so I know this subject intimately. It is such a complicated subject that after all of time, nothing is ever certain, everything is changeable and fluid.

To start, the definition of masculinity that I used as a determination for the term in my PhD is included as the first quotation below. The quotation is followed by others – on the optic experience and the creation of body image; on body image and our relation to other people; on the anxiety caused by the crisis of looking as it intersects with the crisis of the body; and how we can overcome the passivity of objective truth (accepting dominant images in this case, as they are presented to us) through an active struggle for subjective truth, or an acceptance of difference. A further, longer quote in the posting by Chris Schilling examines Ernst Goffman’s theories of body, image and society in which Goffman states that the body is characterised by three main features: firstly, that the body as material property of individuals; secondly, that meanings attributed to the body are determined by ‘shared vocabularies of body idiom’ such as dress, bearing, movements and position, sound level, physical gestures such as waving and saluting, facial decorations, and broad emotional expressions; and thirdly; that the body plays an important role in mediating the relationship between people’s self-identity and their social identity. These quotations just start to scratch the surface of this very complicated, negotiated social area.

What we can say is this: that masculinity is always and forever a construct; that male body image is always and forever a further construct built on the first construct; and that photo media images of the male body are a construct, in fact a double or triple construct as they seek to capture the surface representation of the previous two conditions.

What strikes me with most of the photographs in this posting is that they are about a constructed “performance” of masculinity, performances that challenge cultural signifiers of mainstream and marginalised aspects of Western patriarchal culture. In most the masculine subject position is challenged through complex projections of masculinity, doubled through the construction of images. In fact, spectatorship is no longer male and controlling but polymorphous and not organised along normative gender lines.

Thus, these artists respond to four defined action problems in terms of representation of body usage: “… control (involving the predicability of performance); desire (whether the body is lacking or producing desire); the body’s relation to others (whether the body is monadic and closed in on itself or dyadic and constituted through either communicative or dominating relations with others); and the self-relatedness of the body (whether the body associates and ‘feels at home’ in itself, or dissociates itself from its corporeality).”1 Further, four ideal types of body usage can be defined in terms of these action problems: the disciplined body where the medium is regimentation, the model of which is the rationalisation of the monastic order; the mirroring body where the medium is consumption, the model of which is the department store; the dominating body where the medium is force, the model of which is war; and the communicative body where the medium is recognition, the model of which could be shared narratives, communal rituals (such as sex) and caring relationships.2

As Chris Schilling observes, “The boundaries of the body have shifted away from the natural and on to the social, and the body now has ‘a thoroughly permeable “outer layer” through which the reflexive project of the self and externally formed abstract systems enter.” In other words, masculinity and male figure can be anything to any body and any time in any context. The male body can be prefigured by social conditions. But the paradox is, the more we know masculinity and the male body, the more knowledge we have, the more we can alter and shape these terms, the less certain we are as to what masculinity and the male body is, and how or if it should be controlled. Taking this a step further, Schilling notes that the photographic image of the body itself has become an abstract system/symbolic token which is traded without question, much as money is, without the author or participants being present.3 You only have to look into some of the gay chats rooms to know this to be true!

The most difficult question I had to ask myself in relation to this exhibition was, what is it to be male? Such a question is almost impossible to answer…

Is being male about sex, a penis, homosociality, homosexuality, heterosexuality, friendship, braveness, dominance, perversity, fantasy, love, attraction, desire, pleasure, Ockerism, respect, loyality, spirituality, joy, happiness etc. etc. It is all of these and more besides. And this is where I find some most of these images to be just surface representations of deeper feelings: I just like dressing in drag; I like pulling a gun on someone; I like holding a knife next to my penis to make my phallus and my armoured body look “butch”. It’s as though the “other”, our difference from ourselves (and others), has been normalised and found wanting. I want to strip them away from this performative, normalising aspect. Most of these photographs are male figures dressed up to the nines, projecting an image, a surface, to the outside world (even though the performative tells us a great deal about the peculiarities of the human imagination). I want them to be more essential, not just a large penis dressed up for show. Only in the image Untitled [Auschwitz victim] (Nd, below), where the performance for the camera and the clothing the man is wearing is controlled by others – does some sense of an inner strength of a male come through. In times of unknown horror and dire circumstances, this man stares you straight in the eye with a calm presence and inner composure.

For me personally, being male is about a spiritual connection – to myself, to the earth and to the cosmos. I hope it is about respect for myself and others. Of course I use the systems above as a projection of myself into the world, as to who I am and who I want people to see through my image. But there is so much more to being male than these defined, representational personas. This is not some appeal to, as David Smail puts it, “a simple relativity of ‘truths'” (anything to anybody at anytime in any context), nor a essentialist reductionism to a “single truth” about our sense of being, but an appeal for a ‘non-finality’ of truth, neither fixed nor certain, that changes according to our values and what we understand of ourselves, what it is to be male. This understanding requires intense, ongoing inner work, something many males have no desire to undertake…

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 1,230

  1. Chris Schilling, The Body and Social Theory, Sage Publications, London, 1993, p.95.
  2. Ibid., p. 95.
  3. Ibid., p. 183.

.
Many thankx to Director Richard Perram, Assistant Curator Julian Woods and the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“The category of “masculinity” should be seen as always ambivalent, always complicated, always dependent on the exigencies (necessary conditions and requirements) of personal and institutional power … [masculinity is] an interplay of emotional and intellectual factors – an interplay that directly implicates women as well as men, and is mediated by other social factors, including race, sexuality, nationality, and class … Far from being just about men, the idea of masculinity engages, inflects, and shapes everyone.”

.
Berger, Maurice; Wallis, Brian and Watson, Simon. ‘Constructing Masculinity’. Introduction. New York: Routledge, 1995, pp. 3-7.

 

“We choose and reject by action … Nietzsche calls the body ‘Herrschaftsgebilde’ (creation of the dominating will). We may say the same about body-image. Since optic experience plays such an enormous part in our relation to the world, it will also play a dominating role in the creation of the body-image. But optic experience is also experience by action. By actions and determinations we give the final shape to our bodily self. It is a process of continual active development.” (My underline)

.
Schilder, Paul. ‘The Image and Appearance of The Human Body’. New York: International Universities Press, 1950, pp. 104-105.

 

“Body images should not exist in isolation. We desire the relation of our body-images to the body-images of all other persons, and we want it especially concerning all sexual activities and their expression in the body-image. Masturbation is specifically social. It is an act by which we attempt to draw the body-images of others, especially in their genital region, nearer to us.”

.
Schilder, Paul. ‘The Image and Appearance of The Human Body’. New York: International Universities Press, 1950, p. 237.

 

“As the French critic Maurice Blanchot wrote, “The image has nothing to do with signification, meaning, as implied by the existence of the world, the effort of truth, the law and the brightness of the day. Not only is the image of an object not the meaning of that object and of no help in comprehending it, but it tends to withdraw it from its meaning by maintaining it in the immobility of a resemblance that it has nothing to resemble” … It is this severance of meaning and its object, this resemblance of nothing, that the crisis of looking intersects with the crisis of the body. In contemporary culture we promote the body as infinitely extendable and manageable. Indeed, we mediate this concept through the permeation of the photographic image in popular culture – through advertising and dominant discourse that place the young, beautiful, erotic body as the desirable object of social attention. This is a body apparently conditioned by personal control (moral concern). But the splitting apart of image and meaning pointed to by Blanchot suggests that such control is illusory. There is no single truth; there are only competing narratives and interpretations of a world that cannot be wholly, accurately described.” (My underline)

.
Blanchot, Maurice. ‘The Gaze of Orpheus’. New York: Barrytown, 1981, p. 85, quoted in Townsend, Chris. ‘Vile Bodies: Photography and the Crisis of Looking’. Munich: Prestel, 1998, p. 10.

 

“Where objective knowing is passive, subjective knowing is active – rather than giving allegiance to a set of methodological rules which are designed to deliver up truth through some kind of automatic process [in this case the construction of the male figure through the image], the subjective knower takes a personal risk in entering into the meaning of the phenomena to be known … Those who have some time for the validity of subjective experience but intellectual qualms about any kind of ‘truth’ which is not ‘objective’, are apt to solve their problem by appealing to some kind of relativity. For example, it might be felt that we all have our own versions of the truth about which we must tolerantly agree to differ. While in some ways this kind of approach represents an advance on the brute domination of ‘objective truth’, it in fact undercuts and betrays the reality of the world given to our subjectivity. Subjective truth has to be actively struggled for: we need the courage to differ until we can agree. Though the truth is not just a matter of personal perspective, neither is it fixed and certain, objectively ‘out there’ and independent of human knowing. ‘The truth’ changes according to, among other things, developments and alterations in our values and understandings … the ‘non-finality’ of truth is not to be confused with a simple relativity of ‘truths’.” (My underline).

.
Smail, David. ‘Illusion and Reality: The Meaning of Anxiety’. London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1984, pp. 152-153.

 

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Unflinching Gaze: photo media and the male figure' at the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Unflinching Gaze: photo media and the male figure' at the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Unflinching Gaze: photo media and the male figure' at the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Unflinching Gaze: photo media and the male figure' at the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Unflinching Gaze: photo media and the male figure' at the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition The Unflinching Gaze: photo media and the male figure at the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, New South Wales
Photos: Sharon Hickey Photography

 

 

“In line with current thinking the exhibition posits masculinity, and gender itself, as a kind of performance – a social construct that is acquired rather than biologically determined.

This idea has its limits, with most people happy to accept anatomy as destiny. Nevertheless, there is much we view as ‘natural’ that might be more accurately described as ‘cultural’. In an exceptional catalogue essay, Peter McNeil refers to Jonathan Ned Katz’s book, The Invention of Heterosexuality, which notes that the term “heterosexual” was first published in the United States in 1892. This is a remarkably late entry for a concept often viewed as a cornerstone of social orthodoxy.

A condition doesn’t require a word to make it a reality but it sure helps. Wittgenstein’s famous dictum: “The limits of my language are the limits of my world,” reminds us of the power of naming and categorisation.

To establish anything as an unquestionable norm is to stigmatise other views as abnormal. From the perception of abnormality comes the fear and hatred that surfaced during a same-sex marriage postal survey that revealed more about political cowardice than it did about Australian social attitudes. Although Perram has no qualms about celebrating gay sexuality his chief concern is to encourage a broader, more inclusive understanding of masculinity. …

One of the most striking moments in Perram’s show is a juxtaposition of Mapplethorpe’s 1983 portrait of gay porn star, Roger Koch, aka Frank Vickers, wearing a wig, bra and fishnets, his hands clasped demurely over his groin. The feminine coyness is at odds with Vickers’s musclebound torso and biceps which are fully on display in his self-portrait of the same year, along with his semi-erect penis.

The photos may be two versions of camp but the comparison shows how an individual’s sexual identity can be reconfigured with the appropriate props and body language. In the case of performance artist, Leigh Bowery, captured in a series of photos by Fergus Greer, the play of fantasy transcended the simple binary opposition of male and female, to create monstrous hybrids that question the limits of what it is to be human.”

John McDonald. “The Unflinching Gaze,” November 24, 2017

 

Tony Albert (Australia, 1981-) 'Brother (Our Past)' 2013

Tony Albert (Australia, 1981-) 'Brother (Our Present)' 2013

Tony Albert (Australia, 1981-) 'Brother (Our Future)' 2013

 

Tony Albert (Australia, 1981-)
Brother (Our Past) 2013
Brother (Our Present) 2013
Brother (Our Future) 2013
Pigment on paper, edition of 3 150 x 100 cm each
Courtesy UTS Art, Corrigan Collection

 

Andy Warhol (United States, 1928-1987) 'Blow Job' [still] 1964

 

Andy Warhol (United States, 1928-1987)
Blow Job [still]
1964
16mm film, black and white, silent duration: 41 min at 16 frames per second
© 2017 The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA, a museum of Caregie Institute. All rights reserved

 

 

Robert Wilson (United States, 1941-) 'Brad Pitt'  2004

 

Robert Wilson (United States, 1941-)
Brad Pitt
2004
Video portrait, looped
Dimensions variable
Courtesy the artist and the Byrd Hoffman Water Mill Foundation, New York

 

 

Peter Elfes (Australia, 1961-) 'Brenton [Heath-Kerr] as Tom of Finland' 1992

 

Peter Elfes (Australia, 1961-)
Brenton [Heath-Kerr] as Tom of Finland
1992
Cibachrome print
51 x 40.6 cm
Courtesy the artist © Peter Elfes

 

Casa Susanna Attributed to Andrea Susan '(Lee in white dress)' 1961

 

Casa Susanna
Attributed to Andrea Susan
(Lee in white dress)
1961
Digital copy from colour photographs
Collection of Art Gallery of Ontario, purchased with funds generously donated by Martha LA McCain 2015
© Art Gallery of Ontario
Photo: Ian Lefebvre

 

Nikki Johnson (United States, 1972-) 'David Amputation Fetishist' 2007

 

Nikki Johnson (United States, 1972-)
David Amputation Fetishist
2007
Digital print (from a set of images)
Courtesy the artist

 

Luke Parker (Australia 1975-) 'Double hanging' 2005

 

Luke Parker (Australia 1975-)
Double hanging
2005
Photograph, cotton thread, pins
15 x 40cm
Courtesy the artist and 55 Sydenham Rd

 

Gregory Collection. 'Mr Cullen & Mr Gornall' Date unknown

 

Gregory Collection
Mr Cullen & Mr Gornall
Date unknown
Digital copy from scanned negative
Courtesy the Bathurst Historical Society

 

 

Two hundred photos and videos by sixty two leading artists (twenty four Australian and thirty eight international) will be exhibited at Bathurst Regional Art Gallery (BRAG) from Saturday 14 October until Sunday 3 December 2017.

Curated by BRAG Director Richard Perram OAM, an openly gay man, The Unflinching Gaze: photo media and the male figure surveys how the male figure has been depicted by Australian and international artists in photo media over the last 140 years. It includes historic and contemporary fine art photography and film, fashion photography, pop videos and homoerotic art. Images range from the beautiful to the banal to the confounding.

Key artists in the exhibition include iconic American artists Robert Mapplethorpe, Andy Warhol, and avant-garde theatre director Robert Wilson with a video portrait of Brad Pitt; European artists such as Eadweard Muybridge, and Baron Wilhelm Von Gloeden; and historic and contemporary Australian artists including Beaufoy Merlin and Charles Bayliss, Max Dupain, Deborah Kelly, William Yang, Gary Carsley, Owen Leong and Liam Benson. Works have been sourced from Australian and international collections, including a major loan of 60 works from the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York.

The exhibition brings an unflinching gaze to how concepts of humanity and the male figure are intertwined and challenged. Themes include the Pink Triangle, which deals with the persecution, torture and genocide of homosexuals in concentration camps during World War II to those in Chechyna today; and the AIDS crisis in the 1980s.

The Unflinching Gaze exhibition is a unique opportunity for audiences in the Bathurst Region to access a world class photo-media exhibition, says Richard Perram OAM. The Unflinching Gaze not only deals with aesthetic concerns but also engages the community in a discussion around social issues. BRAG is working with local Bathurst LGBTI community groups to ensure that one of the most important outcomes of the exhibition will be to inform and educate the general Bathurst community and support and affirm the Bathurst LGBTI community.

The Unflinching Gaze: photo media and the male figure is a Bathurst Regional Art Gallery exhibition in partnership with Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York. Curated by Richard Perram OAM. This exhibition is supported by the Dobell Exhibition Grant, funded by the Sir William Dobell Art Foundation and managed by Museums & Galleries of NSW.

Press release from the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery (BRAG)

 

American & Australian Photographic Company (Beaufoy Merlin & Charles Bayliss) 'Mssrs. Bushley & Young' Nd

 

American & Australian Photographic Company
(Beaufoy Merlin & Charles Bayliss)
Mssrs. Bushley & Young
Nd
Digital reproductions from glass photo negatives, quarter plate
From the Collections of the State Library of NSW

 

Horst P. Horst (Germany; United States, 1906-1996) 'Male Nude I NY' 1952

 

Horst P. Horst (Germany; United States, 1906-1996)
Male Nude I NY
1952
Silver gelatin print
25.4 x 20.3 cm
Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay & Lesbian Art, gift of Ricky Horst

 

Liam Benson (Australia, 1980-) 'The Crusader' 2015

Liam Benson (Australia, 1980-) 'The Executioner' 2015

Liam Benson (Australia, 1980-) 'The Terrorist' 2015

 

Liam Benson (Australia, 1980-)
The Crusader 2015
The Executioner 2015
The Terrorist 2015
Inkjet print on cotton rag paper, edition of 5 90 x 134 cm
Photograph by Alex Wisser
Courtesy of the artist and Artereal Gallery

 

 

George Platt Lynes (United States, 1907-1955) 'Blanchard Kennedy' 1936

 

George Platt Lynes (United States, 1907-1955)
Blanchard Kennedy
1936
Gelatin silver photograph
23 x 18.2 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Purchased 1981

 

Christopher Makos (United States, 1948-) 'Altered Image: One Photograph of Andy Warhol' 1982

 

Christopher Makos (United States, 1948-)
Altered Image: One Photograph of Andy Warhol
1982
Gelatin silver photograph
50.6 x 40.8 cm each
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Purchased 1982

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (United States, 1946-1989) 'Helmut, N.Y.C. (from X Portfolio)' 1978

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (United States, 1946-1989)
Helmut, N.Y.C. (from X Portfolio)
1978
Selenium toned silver gelatin print
19.7 x 19.7 cm
Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay & Lesbian Art, Foundation Purchase
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (United States, 1946-1989) 'Roger Koch aka Frank Vickers: From the "Roger" Series' 1983

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (United States, 1946-1989)
Roger Koch aka Frank Vickers: From the “Roger” Series
1983
Gelatin silver photo
48.9 x 38.1 cm
Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay & Lesbian Art, Founders Gift
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission

 

 

Body, image and society

“Goffman’s approach to the body is characterised by three main features. First, there is a view of the body as material property of individuals. In contrast to naturalistic views … Goffman argues that individuals usually have the ability to control and monitor their bodily performances in order to facilitate social interaction. Here, the body is associated with the exercise of human agency, and it appears in Goffman’s work as a resource which both requires and enables people to manage their movements and appearances.

Second, while the body is not actually produced by social forces, as in Foucault’s work, the meanings attributed to it are determined by ‘shared vocabularies of body idiom’ which are not under the immediate control of individuals (E. Goffman, Behaviour In Public Places: Notes on the Social Organisation of Gatherings, The Free Press, New York, 1963, p.35). Body idiom is a conventionalized form of non-verbal communication which is by far the most important component of behaviour in public. It is used by Goffman in a general sense to refer to ‘dress, bearing, movements and position, sound level, physical gestures such as waving and saluting, facial decorations, and broad emotional expressions’ (Goffman, 1963:33). As well as allowing us to classify information given off by bodies, shared vocabularies of body idiom provide categories which label and grade hierarchically people according to this information. Consequently, these classifications exert a profound influence over ways in which individuals seek to manage and present their bodies.

The first two features of Goffman’s approach suggest that human bodies have a dual location. Bodies are the property of individuals, yet are defined as significant and meaningful by society. This formulation lies at the core of the third main feature of Goffman’s approach to the body. In Goffman’s work, the body plays an important role in mediating the relationship between people’s self-identity and their social identity. The social meanings which are attached to particular bodily forms and performances tend to become internalized and exert a powerful influence on an individuals sense of self and feelings of inner worth.

Goffman’s general approach to the body is revealed through his more specific analyses of the procedures involved in what he terms the ‘interaction order’. Goffman conceptualises the interaction order as somehow autonomous sphere of social life (others include the economic sphere) which should not be seen as ‘somehow prior, fundamental, or constitutive of the shape of macroscopic phenomena’ (Goffman, 1983:4). His analysis of this sphere of life demonstrates that intervening successfully in daily life, and maintaining a single definition in the face of possible disruptions, requires a high degree of competence in controlling the expressions, movements and communications of the body.” (Goffman, 1969).

Schilling, Chris. The Body and Social Theory. London: Sage Publications, 1993, pp.82-83.

 

Owen Leong (Australia, 1979-) 'Resistance Training' 2017

 

Owen Leong (Australia, 1979-)
Resistance Training
2017
Archival pigment print on cotton paper, edition of 5 + 2 AP
120 x 120 cm
Courtesy the artist and Artereal Gallery, Sydney Commissioned by BRAG for The Unflinching Gaze: photo media & the male figure with funds from BRAGS Inc. (Bathurst Regional Art Gallery Society Inc.)

 

Owen Leong (Australia, 1979-) 'Milk Teeth' 2014

 

Owen Leong (Australia, 1979-)
Milk Teeth
2014
Archival pigment print on cotton paper, edition of 5 + 2Ap
120 x 120cm
Courtesy of the artists and Artereal Gallery Sydney

 

Samuel J Hood (Australia, 1872-1953) 'The 9th Field Brigade' 24/2/1938

 

Samuel J Hood (Australia, 1872-1953)
The 9th Field Brigade (four images)
24/2/1938 (Liverpool, NSW)
Photo negative (copied from original nitrate photograph) 35mm
From the Collections of the State Library of NSW

 

Anthony Sansone (Italy; United States, 1905-1987) 'Untitled' 1935

 

Anthony Sansone (Italy; United States, 1905-1987)
Untitled
1935
Bromide print
24.1 x 18.9 cm
Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay & Lesbian Art, gift of David Aden Gallery

 

Fergus Greer (United Kingdom, 1961-) 'Leigh Bowery, Session V' Look 27 February 1992

 

Fergus Greer (United Kingdom, 1961-)
Leigh Bowery, Session V
Look 27 February 1992
Digital reproduction
Courtesy Fergus Greer

 

Fergus Greer (United Kingdom, 1961-) 'Leigh Bowery, Session VII' Look 34, June 1994

 

Fergus Greer (United Kingdom, 1961-)
Leigh Bowery, Session VII
Look 34, June 1994
Digital reproduction
Courtesy Fergus Greer

 

Unknown American. 'Vintage photograph from the Closeted History/Wunderkamera' Nd

 

Unknown American
Vintage photograph from the Closeted History/Wunderkamera
Nd
Tintypes, paper photographs
Collection of Luke Roberts

 

Frank Vickers (United States, 1948-1991) 'Untitled (self-portrait)' 1983

 

Frank Vickers (United States, 1948-1991)
Untitled (self-portrait)
1983
Silver gelatin print
17.8 x 12.4 cm
Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay & Lesbian Art, Founders’ gift

 

Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden (Germany; Italy, 1856-1931) 'Untitled' c. 1910

 

Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden (Germany; Italy, 1856-1931)
Untitled
c. 1910
Albumen silver print
20.3 x 15.2 cm
Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, Founders’ gift

 

Andy Warhol (United States, 1928-1987) 'Untitled (Victor Hugo's Penis)' Date unknown

 

Andy Warhol (United States, 1928-1987)
Untitled (Victor Hugo’s Penis)
Date unknown
Polaroid
8.5 x 10.5 cm
Collection of Byrd Hoffman Water Mill Foundation

 

Gary Carsley (Australia 1957-) 'YOWL' [still] 2017

 

Gary Carsley (Australia 1957-)
YOWL [still]
2017
Single Channel HD Video on Layered A3 Photocopy substrate
360 x 247 cms
Duration 4.32 min
Videography Ysia Song, Soundscape Tarun Suresh, Art Direction Shahmen Suku

 

Royale Hussar (Basil Clavering and John Parkhurst) 'Queens Guard 3' 1959-60

 

Royale Hussar (Basil Clavering and John Parkhurst)
Queens Guard 3
1959-60
Digital print from original negative

 

William Yang (1943- ) ''Allan' from the monologue 'Sadness'' 1992

 

William Yang (1943- )
‘Allan’ from the monologue ‘Sadness’
1992
19 gelatin silver photographs in the monologue
51.0 x 41.0 each sheet
Photograph: William Yang/Bathurst Regional Art Gallery

 

A photograph from the Sadness series, which depicts the slow death of his sometime lover, Allan Booth.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Auschwitz victim]' Nd

 

Unknown photographer
Untitled [Auschwitz victim]
Nd

 

This prisoner was sent to Auschwitz under Section 175 of the German Criminal Code, which criminalised homosexuality.
Photograph: Bathurst Regional Art Gallery

 

“The picture may have been taken by Wilhelm Brasse who was born on this date, 3 December in 1917, who became known as the “photographer of Auschwitz concentration camp”, though he was one of several, including Alfred Woycicki , Tadeusz Myszkowski, Józef Pysz, Józef Światłoch, Eugeniusz Dembek, Bronisław Jureczek, Tadeusz Krzysica, Stanisław Trałka, and Zdzisław Pazio whom the Camp Gestapo kept alive for the job of recording thousands of photographs of their fellow prisoners, supervised by Bernhard Walter, the head of Erkenundienst.

The photographs themselves present a transgression of the subject’s own self-image. The carte-de-visite format forces a confrontation of the victim (which in this situation, they are) with themselves in a visual interrogation, by placing a profile and a three-quarter view either side of a frontal mug shot. The final image seems to depict the subject beholden to a higher authority.

Brasse had been arrested in 1940, at age 23, for trying to leave German-occupied Poland and sent to KL Auschwitz-Birkenau where because he had been a Polish professional photographer in his aunt’s studio his skills were useful. Brasse has estimated that he took 40,000 to 50,000 “identity pictures” from 1940 until 1945.

Brasse and another prisoner Bronisław Jureczek preserved the photographs when in January 1945, during the evacuation of the camp, they were ordered to burn all of the photographs. They put wet photo paper in the furnace first and followed by such a great number of photos and negatives that the fire was suffocated. When the SS-Hauptscharfürer Walter left the laboratory, Brasse and Jureczek swept undestroyed photographs from the furnace, scattering them in the rooms of the laboratory and boarding up the door to the laboratory. 38,916 photographs were saved.”

James McCardle. “Ghosts,” on the On This Day in Photography website 03/12/2017

 

M. P. Rice. 'American poet Walt Whitman and his 'rebel soldier friend', Pete Doyle' Walt Whitman and Peter Doyle, Washington DC. c. 1865

 

M. P. Rice
American poet Walt Whitman and his ‘rebel soldier friend’, Pete Doyle
Walt Whitman and Peter Doyle, Washington DC.
c. 1865
Charles E. Feinberg Collection, Library of Congress
Photograph: Library of Congress/Library of Congress/Bathurst Regional Art Gallery

 

 

“The first extant photo of Whitman with anyone else, here Peter Doyle, Whitman’s close friend and companion in Washington. Doyle was a horsecar driver and met Whitman one stormy night in 1865 when Whitman, looking (as Doyle said) “like an old sea-captain,” remained the only passenger on Doyle’s car. They were inseparable for the next eight years.”

 

 

Bathurst Regional Art Gallery (BRAG)
70 -78 Keppel St
Bathurst NSW 2795

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22
Oct
17

Exhibition: ‘Charles Sheeler from Doylestown to Detroit’ at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Exhibition dates: 22nd July – 5th November 2017

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'Side of White Barn, Bucks County, Pennsylvania' 1915

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
Side of White Barn, Bucks County, Pennsylvania
1915
Photograph, gelatin silver print
© The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 - 1976) 'White Fence, Port Kent, New York' 1916 (negative); 1945 (print)

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
White Fence, Port Kent, New York
1916 (negative); 1945 (print)
© Paul Strand Archive, Aperture Foundation

 

 

Charles Sheeler is a cracking good photographer who’s work has not got the recognition that it deserves – in comparison to, say, Stieglitz, Strand, Steichen or Weston. When you think of those top echelon artists from the early twentieth century, his name is never mentioned. And it should be.

Sheeler’s Side of White Barn, Bucks County, Pennsylvania (1915, above) predates one of the most famous early modernist photographs, Strand’s White Fence, Port Kent, New York (1916, above) by a year, yet is hardly known. While Strand’s image possesses low depth of field, strong lighting and a focus on the fence as physical, geometric, sculptural object within the picture frame, Sheeler’s photograph is much more subtle but no less effective in its modernist vocation. The pictorial space is flattened into geometric shapes, the bottom of the photograph grounded by a cracked wall, hay, chickens and a fence, the top of the image foreclosed by the tiled roof of the barn and its attendant shadow (showing that the sun was high in the sky when this image was taken). Within the boundaries of the rectangle are subtle graduations of tone, colour and form, almost like an modernist etching with light, so beautifully does the artist both understand what he is seeing and how to render it through the physicality of the print. Unlike Strand’s “knock you over the head with the white picket fence”, Sheeler’s subtle paean to the modern world requires contemplation on the nature of light, photography and the fine art print. This is a masterpiece in the history of photographic art.

I am similarly convinced by Sheeler’s Ford Plant – CrissCrossed Conveyors (1927, below), in my opinion one of the top ten photographs of all time.

I cannot fault this image. The light falling on the subject is incredible (notice the shadow from the beam mid-upper left, telling us the time of day the photograph was taken), the tonality superb, the framing of the subject admirable – all elements tensioned perfectly within the pictorial plane. The bottom of the photograph is grounded by stacked tyres and the structure ascends to the heavens from there… not just in one element, but in five! The main criss-cross of the conveyors is placed off centre supported by an iron tower, which allows the eye to roam freely across the image. The placement also allows for another elevator to ascend behind the main two, while a set of steps climbs higher and higher eventually exiting the picture stage left. Behind the criss-crossed conveyors the depth of space that must exist in reality is proposed by two tanks, further reinforced by 8 chimney stacks, and yet this photograph evidences no such depth of field. While everything is reduced to flattened shapes in this machine age, modernist, objectified world – and while no human being is presented for scale – the human hand is all over this image: in the construction of such technology, in the presence of the human scale stairs, in the ascension to the sky of the organ pipes of the industrial cathedral, in the comprehending eye of the photographer, and in the presence, the aura, of this magnificent print. While this image may seem the antithesis of humanist photography in one sense, conversely it reaffirms the very act of humanity in another. Or perhaps I’m just an old romantic.

Marcus

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

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'Doylestown House - The Stove' about 1917

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
Doylestown House – The Stove
about 1917
Photograph, gelatin silver print
© The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'Doylestown House - Stairs from Below' Negative date: about 1916-1917

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
Doylestown House – Stairs from Below
Negative date: about 1916-1917
Photograph, gelatin silver print
© The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'Doylestown House - Stairwell' Negative date: about 1916-1917

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
Doylestown House – Stairwell
Negative date: about 1916-1917
Photograph, gelatin silver print
© The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'Buggy, Doylestown, Pennsylvania' Negative date: 1917

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
Buggy, Doylestown, Pennsylvania
Negative date: 1917
Photograph, gelatin silver print
© The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'Manhatta - Ferry Docking' Negative date: 1920

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
Manhatta – Ferry Docking
Negative date: 1920
Photograph, gelatin silver print
© The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

This exhibition celebrates the MFA’s unparalleled holdings of works by Charles Sheeler (1883-1965), presenting 40 photographs from three significant series created during the heyday of his career as a founder of American modernism.

After enjoying success as a painter, Sheeler initially took up photography as a way to make a living. His experiments with the medium included the 1916-17 series of photographs capturing various elements of an 18th-century house he rented in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. The sequence of stark, geometric compositions was among the most abstract and avant-garde work being made in the US at the time – created in response to the Cubist art of Picasso and Braque that Sheeler had previously encountered in Europe.

In 1920, Sheeler collaborated with fellow photographer Paul Strand on the short film Manhatta, presenting dramatic views of lower Manhattan. Abstract stills from the 35mm film, which was shot from steep angles, are presented alongside larger prints of Sheeler’s cinematic images of New York City, produced shortly after Manhatta – which he used as source material for his paintings. The film Manhatta is on view in the gallery.

Charles Sheeler from Doylestown to Detroit culminates with the 1927 photographs of the Ford Motor Company plant in River Rouge, Michigan, commissioned to celebrate the introduction of Ford’s Model A. The cathedral-like scenes convey an optimism for American industry, and are now considered icons of Machine Age photography. All of the photographs in the exhibition are drawn from the Museum’s Lane Collection – one of the finest private holdings of 20th-century American art in the world, including Sheeler’s entire photographic estate – given to the MFA in 2012. (Text from the MFA website)

 

 

Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler
Manhatta
1921
Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York
© Aperture Foundation Inc., Paul Strand Archive

 

 

In 1920 Paul Strand and artist Charles Sheeler collaborated on Manhatta, a short silent film that presents a day in the life of lower Manhattan. Inspired by Walt Whitman’s book “Leaves of Grass,” the film includes multiple segments that express the character of New York. The sequences display a similar approach to the still photography of both artists. Attracted by the cityscape and its visual design, Strand and Sheeler favoured extreme camera angles to capture New York’s dynamic qualities. Although influenced by Romanticism in its view of the urban environment, Manhatta is considered the first American avant-garde film.

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'Manhatta - Rooftops' Negative date: 1920

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
Manhatta – Rooftops
Negative date: 1920
Photograph, gelatin silver print
© The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'Manhatta - Through a Balustrade' Negative date: 1920

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
Manhatta – Through a Balustrade
Negative date: 1920
Photograph, gelatin silver print
© The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'New York, Buildings in Shadows and Smoke' Negative date: 1920

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
New York, Buildings in Shadows and Smoke
Negative date: 1920
Photograph, gelatin silver print
© The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'Ford Plant - Criss-Crossed Conveyors' 1927

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
Ford Plant – CrissCrossed Conveyors
1927
Photograph, gelatin silver print
© The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'Ford Plant - Ladle Hooks, Open Hearth Building' Negative date: 1927

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
Ford Plant – Ladle Hooks, Open Hearth Building
Negative date: 1927
Photograph, gelatin silver print
© The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'Ford Plant - Stamping Press' Negative date: 1927

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
Ford Plant – Stamping Press
Negative date: 1927
Photograph, gelatin silver print
© The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

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01
Mar
16

Exhibition: ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Exhibition dates: 18th September 2015 – 13th March 2016

 

THIS IS THE FIRST OF THREE POSTINGS ABOUT (MAINLY AMERICAN) 19th CENTURY PHOTOGRAPHY.

 

This monster posting is both fascinating and gruesome by turns. They were certainly dark fields, stained crimson with the blood of men of opposing armies, left bloated and rotting in the hot sun. Can you imagine the smell one or two days later when Alexander Gardner arrived to photograph those very fields.

Particularly in the early war years (1861-62).”Gardner has often had his work misattributed to Brady.” Gardner worked for Mathew Brady, running his Washington office and working in the field (as many other operatives did) during the early part of the Civil War. Gardner’s negatives were published under the banner of the studio of Brady. He finished working for Brady in 1862 before setting up his own studio in May 1863 a few blocks from Brady’s Washington studio. This fluidity of authorship continues later in the war when Timothy H. O’Sullivan’s photographs, an assistant to Gardner, appeared under the masthead of Gardner’s studio. Evidence of this can be observed in the image Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter (July 1863, below) where, at least, Sullivan is credited with the negative at bottom left under the image.

Gardner changed the face of photography. He endowed it with an immediacy and energy that it had previously been lacking. His photographs of the battlefield brought the action “presently” into the lounge rooms of the well-heeled and, by engravings taken from the photographs, into newspapers of the time. His series of photographs of the hanging of the conspirators convicted of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination are “considered one of the first examples of photojournalism ever recorded.” But he wasn’t above rearranging the scene to his liking, as in the moving of the body in Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter (July 1863, below) to make a more advantageous “view” … much like Roger Fenton’s moving of the cannonballs in his epic photograph The Valley of the Shadow of Death (1855). Today this would be frowned upon, but in the era these photographs were taken it seemed the most “natural” thing to do, to make a better photograph, and nothing was thought of it.

The exhibition text states, “But his arrangement of the corpse reflects how difficult it was for Gardner and his contemporaries to process the reality of mass casualties in which the dead became anonymous. Caught at a transitional moment, Gardner did not trust the images his camera captured. That this photographic construction would be more marketable to a public still steeped in Victorian sentimentality only adds to Gardner’s malfeasance.” Malfeasance is a strong word. Malfeasance is defined as an affirmative act, “the performance by a public official of an act that is legally unjustified, harmful, or contrary to law; wrongdoing (used especially of an act in violation of a public trust).” (Dictionary.com) The exhibition text also states that “His actions are unforgivable from both a moral and artistic point of view,” and are a blot on Gardner’s career.

I don’t agree. Of course Gardner trusted the images that his camera captured, he was a photographer! This is a ludicrous statement… it is just that, arriving days after the battle, he wanted compositions that created news and views that were memorable. His affirmative action was not illegal or contrary to the law. Although morally it could be seen as a violation of public trust he was reporting the depravities of war within the first 25 years of the beginning of photography, and he was trying to get across to the general public the lonely desperation of death. In that era, at the very beginning of photographic reportage, who was to tell him it was wrong or illegal? We view these actions through retrospective eyes knowing that this kind of re-arrangement would not be tolerated today (but it is, in the digital manipulation of images!) and the condemnation of today is just a hollow statement. Photography has ALWAYS re-presented reality – through the hand of the author, through the eyes of the viewer.

Other interesting things to note in the posting are:

  • the mechanical overlaying of colour in the stereograph View on Battle Field of Antietam, Burial party at work (1862, below) where the colour is applied subtly in the left hand photograph while in the right hand image, the colour almost obliterates the figures
  • the attitude of the participants in Indian Peace Commissioners in council with the Northern Cheyenne and Northern Arapaho, Fort Laramie, Dakota Territory (1868, below). The military and civilian representatives of the government sit at right on boxes, four of them staring directly into the camera aware they are being photographed for prosperity (General William T. Sherman does not, looking pensive with his hands clasped) while on the left, the Native American Indian representatives sit on the ground wrapped in blankets with the backs of two interpreters towards the camera. They do not make eye contact with the camera except for one man, who has turned his head towards the camera and gives it a defiant stare (perhaps I am imagining, but I think not)

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The strongest photographs in this posting, other than the masterpiece Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter are not the empirical scenes of the battlefield but two portraits: Ulysses S. Grant (1864, below) and the war weary “cracked plate” image of Abraham Lincoln (1865, below). Both are memorable not just for the low depth of field or the “capture” of remarkable leaders of men during war but for something essentially interior to themselves – their contemplation of self. With Grant you can feel the steely determination (this in the second last year of the war) and, yet, comprehend his statement,

“Though I have been trained as a soldier, and participated in many battles, there never was a time when, in my opinion, some way could not be found to prevent the drawing of the sword”

in this image. What must be done has to be done, but by God I wish it wasn’t so. The eyes have it.

With the Lincoln portrait – of which Gardner only pulled one print from the plate before he destroyed it, making this the rarest of images – the charismatic leader is shown with craggy, war weariness. The contextless space around the body is larger than is normal at this time, allowing us to focus on the “thing itself” … and then we have that prophetic crack. “During this sitting, Gardner created this portrait by accident,” says the text from the exhibition. How do you create a portrait like this by accident? With the length of the exposure, Lincoln would have had to remain immobile for seconds… not something that you do by accident. No, both Gardner and Lincoln knew that a portrait was being taken. This is previsualisation (depth of field, space around and above the body) at its finest. That the plate was accidentally cracked and then discarded in no way makes this portrait an accident. If this is a portrait of, “Lincoln between life and death, between his role as a historical actor and the mystical figure that he would become with his assassination,” it is also the face of a man that you could almost reach out and touch!

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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Many thankx to the National Portrait Gallery, Washington for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

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“Gardner has often had his work misattributed to Brady, and despite his considerable output, historians have tended to give Gardner less than full recognition for his documentation of the Civil War. Lincoln dismissed McClellan from command of the Army of the Potomac in November 1862, and Gardner’s role as chief army photographer diminished. About this time, Gardner ended his working relationship with Brady, probably in part because of Brady’s practice of attributing his employees’ work as “Photographed by Brady”. That winter, Gardner followed General Ambrose Burnside, photographing the Battle of Fredericksburg. Next, he followed General Joseph Hooker. In May 1863, Gardner and his brother James opened their own studio in Washington, D.C, hiring many of Brady’s former staff. Gardner photographed the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1863) and the Siege of Petersburg (June 1864-April 1865) during this time.

In 1866, Gardner published a two-volume work, Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War. Each volume contained 50 hand-mounted original prints. The book did not sell well. Not all photographs were Gardner’s; he credited the negative producer and the positive print printer. As the employer, Gardner owned the work produced, as with any modern-day studio. The sketchbook contained work by Timothy H. O’Sullivan, James F. Gibson, John Reekie, William Pywell, James Gardner (his brother), John Wood, George N. Barnard, David Knox and David Woodbury, among others. Among his photographs of Abraham Lincoln were some considered to be the last to be taken of the President, four days before his assassination, although later this claim was found to be incorrect, while the pictures were actually taken in February 1865, the last one being on the 5th of February. Gardner would photograph Lincoln on a total of seven occasions while Lincoln was alive. He also documented Lincoln’s funeral, and photographed the conspirators involved (with John Wilkes Booth) in Lincoln’s assassination. Gardner was the only photographer allowed at their execution by hanging, photographs of which would later be translated into woodcuts for publication in Harper’s Weekly.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872

His photographs have “a terrible distinctness.” So wrote the New York Times about the work of trailblazing photographer Alexander Gardner (1821-1882). In a career spanning the critical years of the nineteenth century, Gardner created images that documented the crisis of the Union, the Civil War, the United States’ expansion into the western territories, and the beginnings of the Indian Wars.

As one of a pioneering generation of American photographers, Gardner helped revolutionize photography, both in his mastery of techniques and by recognizing that the camera’s eye could be fluid and mobile. In addition to creating portraits of leaders and generals – he was Abraham Lincoln’s favorite photographer – Gardner followed the Union army, taking indelible images of battlefields and military campaigning. His battlefield photographs – including those of the newly dead – created a public sensation, contributing to the change under way in American culture from romanticism to realism, a realism that was the hallmark of his work.

At war’s end, Gardner went west. Fascinated, like many artists, by American Indians, he took a series of stunning images of the western tribes, setting set these figures in their native grounds: these photographs are the pictorial evocation of the seemingly limitless western land and sky. He also took images of the Indians in Washington, D.C., where they traveled to negotiate preservation of their way of life. Gardner’s portraits of Native Americans are dignified likenesses of a resistant people fighting for their way of life.

In their documentary clarity and startling precision, Alexander Gardner’s photographs – taken in the studio, on battlefields, and in the western territories – are a summons back into a darkly turbulent and heroic period in American history.”

Text from the exhibition website

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872 at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington with, in the bottom photograph, two people looking at a photograph of Lieutenant General Grant.

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Ulysses S. Grant' (1822-1885) c. 1864

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885)
c. 1864
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Ulysses S. Grant' (1822-1885) c. 1864 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Ulysses S. Grant (detail)
c. 1864
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

There is a story that when Ulysses S. Grant traveled east in 1864 to take command of all the Union armies, the desk clerk at Washington’s Willard Hotel did not recognize him and assigned him to a mean, nondescript room. (When Grant identified himself, he was upgraded to a suite.) The anecdote points out that likenesses were not yet widely distributed, even after the advent of photography. It was possible for famous people to remain unidentified. But fame meant that one had one’s photograph taken, as Grant did in this image Gardner took after the western general arrived in Washington. Grant was coming off a string of successes in the West, including the successful siege of Vicksburg, which made him the inevitable choice for overall command. In Grant, Lincoln finally found a general who would consistently engage the enemy’s forces. Indicative of Grant’s stature, Lincoln bestowed on him the rare title of lieutenant general, a rank previously held only by George Washington. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Abraham Lincoln' 1863

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Abraham Lincoln
1861
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Abraham Lincoln' 1863 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Abraham Lincoln (detail)
1863
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

This portrait of Abraham Lincoln was taken on February 24, 1861, just before his inauguration on March 4. It has been conjectured that Lincoln is hiding his right hand in his lap because it was swollen from shaking so many hands during his travel from Illinois to Washington. This is also the first studio image depicting Lincoln with a full beard, which he had famously grown between the election and inauguration, purportedly at the behest of a little girl who wrote him from New York that it would improve his appearance. Lincoln was early to recognize the power of the relatively new medium of photography to mold and shape a public persona. He credited a photograph by Mathew Brady, taken when he came to New York City to present himself to Republican Party power brokers, as helping to confirm his suitability for the presidency by showing him well-dressed and dignified. Interestingly, the Brady photograph shows Lincoln standing; in this portrait he is seated, as if ready to begin work as president. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

 

Installation view of the exhibition Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872 at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington showing the “Imperial” glass-plate negative of President Abraham Lincoln from his August 9, 1863, sitting at Gardner’s Washington studio, with a print from the negative on the wall behind.

 

 

This exhibition provides the rare opportunity to display the means by which a photographic image was produced on paper: the glass-plate negative that was the “film” of early photography. Because of their fragility, surviving glass-plate negatives of this size (the so-called “imperial”) are rare: this is one of two of Lincoln that have survived and dates from his August 9, 1863, sitting at Gardner’s Washington studio. The process Gardner used was relatively new to America and consisted of hand-coating a glass plate with collodion – a syrupy mixture of guncotton dissolved in alcohol and ether to which bromide and iodine salts had been added. The difficulty for the photographer was that the glass plate had to be coated with collodion, sensitized in a bath of silver nitrate, and exposed in the camera immediately, while the emulsion was still damp. Gardner was acknowledged as a master in evenly coating the plate, which resulted in prints of exceptional clarity. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Abraham Lincoln' 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Abraham Lincoln
1865
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

The “cracked-plate” image of Abraham Lincoln, taken by Alexander Gardner on February 5, 1865, is one of the most important and evocative photographs in American history. In preparing for his second inaugural, Lincoln had a series of photographs taken at Gardner’s studio. During this sitting, Gardner created this portrait by accident: at some point, possibly when the glass-plate negative was heated to receive a coat of varnish, a crack appeared in the upper half of the plate. Gardner pulled a single print and then discarded the plate, so only one such portrait exists.

The portrait represents a radical departure from Gardner’s usual crisp empiricism. The shallow depth of field created when Gardner moved his camera in for a close-up yielded a photograph whose focus is confined to the plane of Lincoln’s cheeks, while the remainder of the image appears diffused and even out of focus. Lincoln is careworn and tired, his face grooved by the emotional shocks of war. Yet his face also bears a small smile, perhaps as he contemplates the successful conclusion of hostilities and the restoration of the Union. This is Lincoln between life and death, between his role as a historical actor and the mystical figure that he would become with his assassination. Although Lincoln looked forward to his second term, we know, as he could not, that he will soon be assassinated. This image inextricably links history and myth, creating one of the most powerful American portraits. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Abraham Lincoln' 1865 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Abraham Lincoln (detail)
1865
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

Smithsonian’s First Major Retrospective of Alexander Gardner’s Photographs at the National Portrait Gallery

Exhibition Will Highlight Gardner’s Civil War Photographs, Including His One-of-a-Kind Image of President Lincoln

“Considered America’s first modern photographer, just as the Civil War is considered the first modern war, Alexander Gardner created dramatic and vivid photographs of battlefields and played a crucial role in the transformation of American culture by injecting a sobering note of realism to American photography.

“Gardner’s photographs showed how the new medium and art form could develop to meet the challenges of modern society,” said Kim Sajet, director of the Portrait Gallery. “These are a record of the sacrifice and loss that occurred in the great national struggle over the Union. Our photograph of Lincoln by him, known as the ‘cracked-plate,’ is the museum’s ‘Mona Lisa.'” [see above]

The first section of the exhibition will highlight Gardner’s Civil War photographs, and his role as President Abraham Lincoln’s preferred photographer. Gardner photographed the president many times, recording the impact of the war on his face. Among these images is the “cracked-plate” portrait, a photograph that is arguably the most iconic image of Lincoln. In addition, the exhibition will encompass Gardner’s portraits of other prominent statesmen and generals, as well as private citizens.

Also in the exhibition are Gardner’s landscapes of the American West and portraits of American Indians. These document the course of American expansion as postwar settlers moved westward, challenged by geography and Indian tribes resistant to losing their ancestral homelands. Gardner’s landscapes are evocative studies of almost limitless horizons, giving a sense of the emptiness of western space. These are contrasted with his detailed portraits of Indian chiefs and tribal delegations.

Curated by David C. Ward, Portrait Gallery senior historian, and guest curator Heather Shannon, former photo archivist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, with research assistance from Sarah Campbell, this exhibition will feature more than 140 objects, including photographs, prints and books. The exhibition will be the finale of the Portrait Gallery’s seven-part series commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.”

Press release from the National Portrait Gallery

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Samuel Wilkeson' (1817-1889) c. 1859

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Samuel Wilkeson (1817-1889)
c. 1859
Salted paper print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

 

 

On July 1, 1863, at the Battle of Gettysburg, nineteen-year-old Lieutenant Bayard Wilkeson and his men attempted to slow the Confederate forces. A shell mangled the lieutenant’s right knee as his unit, Battery G of the Fourth U.S. Artillery, drew the attention of Confederate cannons. After amputating his leg with a pocket knife and being carried to an almshouse, Wilkeson ordered his men to return to battle. A few days later, his father, Samuel Wilkeson, a journalist, wrote home to say he had found Bayard dead “from neglect and bleeding.” On the front page of the July 6 New York Times, Samuel wrote a moving, influential, and widely circulated account of the battle. Bayard’s story and his father’s grief became symbolic of the North’s suffering, sacrifice, and righteousness. The article concludes, “oh, you dead, who at Gettysburg have baptized with your blood the second birth of Freedom in America, how you are to be envied!” (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Samuel Wilkeson' (1817-1889) c. 1859

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Samuel Wilkeson (1817-1889)
c. 1859
Salted paper print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Samuel Wilkeson' (1817-1889) c. 1859 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Samuel Wilkeson (1817-1889) (detail)
c. 1859
Salted paper print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Self-Portrait' c. 1861

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Self-Portrait
c. 1861
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

In this self-portrait taken at Mathew Brady’s Washington studio, Alexander Gardner presents himself wearing the garb of a mountain man or trapper, sporting buckskins and a fur hat; Gardner’s trademark full, ungroomed beard only adds to the frontiersman image. Gardner holds a bow and arrow while standing on Indian rugs. The image captures America’s enduring fascination with the West and adopting the garb of Native peoples. It also shows Gardner, a man about whom we know little, in disguise, hiding himself in a fictional frontier persona. Although he is acting a role, Gardner, whose family had bought land in Iowa in the antebellum period, was genuinely interested in the western lands and the fate of the Indians. In the 1860s he began his project of photographing the western tribal delegations when they came to Washington. After the Civil War he went west to photograph Indians on their native grounds. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

James Gardner. 'Alexander Gardner' 1863

 

James Gardner
Alexander Gardner
1863
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Larry J. West

 

James Gardner. 'Alexander Gardner' 1863 (detail)

 

James Gardner
Alexander Gardner (detail)
1863
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Larry J. West

 

 

Not as flamboyantly costumed as in his first self-portrait, this image of Alexander Gardner shows him as a workingman, which was his family’s heritage back in Scotland. Gardner’s proficiency as a photographer was based in part on his manual dexterity; he was a master at coating the glass-plate negatives with collodion, which formed the plate’s light-sensitive emulsion. By the beginnings of 1863 James Gardner was working with his brother in Washington. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Rose Greenhow' (c. 1854-?) and 'Rose O'Neal Greenhow' (c. 1815-1864) 1862

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Rose Greenhow  (c. 1854-?)
Rose O’Neal Greenhow  (c. 1815-1864)
1862
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

One of the Confederacy’s most successful female spies, Rose O’Neal Greenhow was a prominent Washington widow and a staunch southern sympathizer. The Confederacy recruited her as a spy after war erupted in 1861. Most notably, Greenhow is credited with passing along intelligence prior to the First Battle of Manassas, insuring a southern victory. Soon after, her covert activities were uncovered and she was placed under house arrest. Gardner took this photograph after “Rebel Rose” and her daughter, Little Rose, were transferred to the Old Capitol Prison in 1862. Greenhow served five months before being exiled to the South. She then traveled to Europe to promote the Confederate cause. Returning in September 1864, Greenhow drowned attempting to run the federal blockade of Wilmington, N.C. The Confederacy buried her with military honors. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner. 'View on Battle Field of Antietam, Burial party at work' 1862

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
View on Battle Field of Antietam, Burial party at work
1862
Coloured Stereograph (Albumen silver print on stereo card)

 

Alexander Gardner. 'View on Battle Field of Antietam, Burial party at work' 1862 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
View on Battle Field of Antietam, Burial party at work (detail)
1862
Coloured Stereograph (Albumen silver print on stereo card)

 

Alexander Gardner. 'View on Battle Field of Antietam, Burial party at work' 1862 (detail)

Alexander Gardner. 'View on Battle Field of Antietam, Burial party at work' 1862 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
View on Battle Field of Antietam, Burial party at work (details of left and right photographs)
1862
Coloured Stereograph (Albumen silver print on stereo card)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Antietam Bridge, Maryland' 1862

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Antietam Bridge, Maryland
1862
Albumen silver print
Photograph by Alexander Gardner, from Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War
Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, Record Group 165, National Archives Still Picture Branch, College Park, Maryland

 

 

Antietam Bridge (not to be confused with the more famous Burnside Bridge located to the south, which was the site of a confused Union attack during the Battle of Antietam’s third phase) spanned Antietam Creek, roughly in the middle of the battlefield. Before the battle, some Union troops used it to move toward the Confederate lines arrayed just outside the village of Sharpsburg. The bridge was not brought into play during the battle since George McClellan, fearful of overcommitting his troops, kept a large reserve near his headquarters at the Pry House, a reserve that would have used the bridge in its attack if it had been sent against Robert E. Lee’s lines. Unlike Burnside Bridge, the original stone Antietam Bridge, with its three arches, has not survived and has been replaced by a modern span. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Scouts and Guides to the Army of the Potomac, Berlin, MD, October, 1862' October 1862

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Scouts and Guides to the Army of the Potomac, Berlin, MD, October, 1862
October 1862
Albumen silver print
Photograph by Alexander Gardner, from Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War
Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, Record Group 165, National Archives Still Picture Branch, College Park, Maryland

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Scouts and Guides to the Army of the Potomac, Berlin, MD, October, 1862' October 1862

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Scouts and Guides to the Army of the Potomac, Berlin, MD, October, 1862
October 1862
Albumen silver print
Photograph by Alexander Gardner, from Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War
Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, Record Group 165, National Archives Still Picture Branch, College Park, Maryland

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Scouts and Guides to the Army of the Potomac, Berlin, MD, October, 1862' October 1862 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Scouts and Guides to the Army of the Potomac, Berlin, MD, October, 1862 (detail)
October 1862
Albumen silver print
Photograph by Alexander Gardner, from Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War
Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, Record Group 165, National Archives Still Picture Branch, College Park, Maryland

 

 

Gardner documented specialized units in the Union army, as with the Telegraphic Corps, and here with the so-called “Scouts and Guides,” who were part of the intelligence service that Allan Pinkerton ran for the Army of the Potomac. Gardner took this group portrait when he returned to the area around Antietam; Berlin (now Brunswick), Maryland, is on the Potomac, just downstream from Harpers Ferry. In his Sketchbook Gardner wrote about the hardship and dangers faced by men who frequently acted as spies and could be executed if caught: “Their faces are indexes of the character required for such hazardous work.” Gardner’s statement exemplifies how connections are drawn between appearance and personality; a photograph was seen as particularly informative psychologically. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Completely Silenced: Dead Confederate Artillerymen, as they lay around their battery after the Battle of Antietam' 1862

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Completely Silenced: Dead Confederate Artillerymen, as they lay around their battery after the Battle of Antietam
1862
Stereograph (Albumen silver print on stereo card)
Collection of Bob Zeller

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Completely Silenced: Dead Confederate Artillerymen, as they lay around their battery after the Battle of Antietam' 1862 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Completely Silenced: Dead Confederate Artillerymen, as they lay around their battery after the Battle of Antietam (detail)
1862
Stereograph (Albumen silver print on stereo card)
Collection of Bob Zeller

 

 

The Battle of Antietam (Maryland) occurred on September 17, 1862, and it is still America’s bloodiest day, with more than 25,000 combined casualties (killed and wounded) on both sides. Despite a nearly three-to-one numerical advantage, the Union forces were unable to score a decisive victory. The heavy casualties did force Robert E. Lee to withdraw, however, ending his first invasion of the North. Gardner probably arrived at the battlefield on September 18. He took this image of dead Confederates near the Dunker Church, a focal point of the Union attack, which began shortly after 7.00 am the day before. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Gathered Together for Burial after the Battle of Antietam' 1862

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Gathered Together for Burial after the Battle of Antietam (View in Ditch on the Right Wing after the Battle of Antietam)
1862
Stereograph (Albumen silver print on stereo card)
Collection of Bob Zeller

 

 

This photograph, probably taken on September 19, graphically exposes the savagery of the fighting that occurred at the “Sunken Road” during the second, midday phase of the Union assault on Lee’s defensive line. A worn-down cart path provided perfect cover for Confederate troops, who initially blunted the Union attack, inflicting tremendous casualties. However, once the northerners had flanked the road, southern troops were trapped and exposed to a withering fire that choked the road with their corpses; hereinafter, the “Sunken Road” was known as “Bloody Lane.” (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) and Timothy O'Sullivan (1840-1882) 'Field Where General Reynolds Fell, Gettysburg, July, 1863' July 1863

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) and Timothy O’Sullivan (1840-1882)
Field Where General Reynolds Fell, Gettysburg, July, 1863
July 1863
Albumen silver print
Photograph by Timothy O’Sullivan, from Alexander Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War. Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, Record Group 165, National Archives Still Picture Branch, College Park, Maryland

 

 

General John Reynolds (1820-1863) of Pennsylvania was the highest-ranking casualty at Gettysburg. One of the Union’s best generals, Reynolds had been considered a potential replacement for George McClellan. On July 1, commanding the left wing of the Union forces, Reynolds moved his infantry forward to blunt the Confederate advance, bringing on a wholesale engagement of the two armies; his decisiveness bought time for the Union to consolidate its forces at Gettysburg. He was killed leading a charge by the Second Wisconsin just west of the town. Despite its title, it is unlikely that Gardner’s photograph depicted this spot since he did not photograph any of the sites from Gettysburg’s first day. Instead, documentary evidence indicates that it was probably taken near Rose Farm, south of the battlefield. Initially Gardner published the photograph without reference to Reynolds. That was added later when Gardner realized he had missed an opportunity and sought to capitalize on Reynolds’s heroism. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Incidents of the War: Unfit for Service at the Battle of Gettysburg' July 1863

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Incidents of the War: Unfit for Service at the Battle of Gettysburg
July 1863
Albumen silver print
Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA
Gift of David L. Hack and Museum purchase, with funds from Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., by exchange

 

 

After the success of his series “The Dead of Antietam,” which he had made while working for Mathew Brady, Gardner paid special attention in his Gettysburg photography to concentrate on the casualties, both human and animal. He got to the battlefield quickly, probably by July 7, as the process of burying the dead was just under way. In addition to the more than 7,000 soldiers killed, it has been estimated that more than 1,500 artillery horses died during the battle. Disposal of the horses complicated the task of clearing the land; while attempts were made to deal respectfully with human remains, the horses were collected into piles and burned. Gardner’s title for this picture may be taken as ironically low-key: the graphic image needed no rhetorical embellishments. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Panorama of Camp Winfield Scott, Yorktown, Virginia' 1863

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Panorama of Camp Winfield Scott, Yorktown, Virginia
1863
Albumen silver prints from glass negatives
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005
Image copyright: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY

 

 

Gardner and his family immigrated to the United States in 1856. Finding that many friends and family members at the cooperative he had helped to form were dead or dying of tuberculosis, he stayed in New York. He initiated contact with Brady and came to work for him that year, continuing until 1862. At first, Gardner specialized in making large photographic prints, called Imperial photographs, but as Brady’s eyesight began to fail, Gardner took on increasing responsibilities. In 1858, Brady put him in charge of his Washington, D.C. gallery. (Wikipedia)

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“Before leaving home, he had seen and admired photographs by Mathew Brady, who was already famous and prosperous as a portraitist of American presidents and statesmen. It was Brady that likely paid Gardner’s passage to New York and soon after arriving, he went to visit the famous photographer’s studio and decided to stay.

Gardner was so successful there that Brady sent him to manage his Washington, D.C., studio, and soon after that, he was photographing Abraham Lincoln as the owner of his own studio [May 1863], and about to produce his historic images of the nation’s struggle. But there was more – after Appomattox, unknown to most of those who have praised his groundbreaking photographs of the war, he went on to record the westward march of the railroads and the Native American tribes scattering around them.

When the Civil War began, Mathew Brady sent more than 20 assistants into the field to follow the Union army. All of their work, including that of Gardner and the talented Timothy O’Sullivan, was issued with the credit line of the Brady studio. Thus the public assumed that Brady himself had lugged the fragile wagonload of equipment into the field, focused the big boxy camera and captured the images. Indeed, sometimes he had. But beginning with the battle of Antietam in September 1862, Gardner determined to take a step beyond his boss and his colleagues.

It pictured a dead Confederate soldier in a rocky den [see above], with his weapon propped nearby. Photographic historian William Frassanito has compared it to other images and believes that Gardner moved that body to a more dramatic hiding place to make the famous photo. Taking such license would blend with the dramatic way his album mused over the fallen soldier: “Was he delirious with agony, or did death come slowly to his relief, while memories of home grew dearer as the field of carnage faded before him? What visions, of loved ones far away, may have hovered above his stony pillow?”

Significantly, as illustrated by that image and description, Gardner’s book spoke of himself as “the artist.” Not the photographer, journalist or artisan, but the artist, who is by definition the creator, the designer, the composer of a work. But of course rearranging reality is not necessary to tell a gripping story, as he showed conspicuously after the Lincoln assassination. First he made finely focused portraits that caught the character of many of the surviving conspirators (much earlier in 1863, he had done the slain assassin, the actor John Wilkes Booth). Then, on the day of execution, he pictured the four – Mary Surrat, David Herold, Lewis Powell and George Atzerodt – standing as if posing on the scaffold, while their hoods and ropes were adjusted. Then their four bodies are seen dangling below while spectators look on from the high wall of the Washington Arsenal – as fitting a last scene as any artist might imagine.

After all Gardner had seen and accomplished, the rest of his career was bound to be anticlimax, but he was only 43 years old, and soon took on new challenges. In Washington, he photographed Native American chieftains and their families when they came to sign treaties that would give the government control over most of their ancient lands. Then he headed west.

In 1867, Gardner was appointed chief photographer for the eastern division of the Union Pacific Railway, a road later called the Kansas Pacific. Starting from St. Louis, he traveled with surveyors across Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona and on to California. In their long, laborious trek, he and his crew documented far landscapes, trails, rivers, tribes, villages and forts that had never been photographed before. At Fort Laramie in Wyoming, he pictured the far-reaching treaty negotiations between the government and the Oglala, Miniconjou, Brulé, Yanktonai, and Arapaho Indians. This entire historic series was published in 1869 in a portfolio called Across the Continent on the Kansas Pacific Railroad (Route of the 35th Parallel).

Those rare pictures and the whole expanse of Gardner’s career are now on display at the National Portrait Gallery in a show entitled Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872. Among the dozens of images included are not only his war pictures and those of the nation’s westward expansion, but the famous “cracked-plate” image that was among the last photographs of a war-weary Abraham Lincoln. With this show, which will run into next March, the gallery is recognizing a body of photography – of this unique art – unmatched in the nation’s history.”

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Ernest B. Furgurson. “Alexander Gardner Saw Himself as an Artist, Crafting the Image of War in All Its Brutality,” on the Smithsonian.com website October 8, 2015 [Online] Cited 27/02/2016.

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Gardner's Gallery' c. 1863-65

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Gardner’s Gallery
c. 1863-65
Albumen silver print
DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas

 

The nation’s capital was a center for photography during the war, and Alexander Gardner set up his new studio in May 1863 at Seventh and D Streets, just a few blocks from that of his former employer, Mathew Brady. Gardner split with Brady after the success of his Antietam photographs. The signage gives a full range of Gardner’s services, showing how he catered to the market for photographic images; the main sign reads “News of the War.” (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Walt Whitman and Party' c. 1863

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Walt Whitman and Party
c. 1863
Albumen silver print
The Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio

 

 

“This picture comes from a time when materials worked for each other. If pictures from these times were enlarged we would find their sharpness to be disappointing … but as this concept was not imagined, it shouldn’t be considered. The lens, the paper, the chemistry, the contact process all worked together. It is a superb image. If it were possible to make images like this, it is no wonder that highly talented people wanted to be photographers. And with talent, there were some with this level of sensitivity.

Note how the enlargement shows us some details that were not easily visible, but the tonality of the original has not carried over. Look at how the tonality of the curved branch combines with the figure of Whitman in the original, but it has crumbled in the enlargement … it is probably not possible to scan the original and keep the tonality without spending a squillion. Anyhow, it is a moment that has not been lost. It is almost too big a step of faith to believe that this much of the “air” of the original scene could be preserved.”

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Dr Marcus Bunyan, March 2016

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Walt Whitman and Party' c. 1863 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Walt Whitman and Party (detail)
c. 1863
Albumen silver print
The Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio

 

 

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) came to Washington from New York City in search of his brother George, who had been wounded on December 13, 1862, at the Battle of Fredericksburg. Whitman found his brother, whose wound was not serious, and decided to stay in Washington. Whitman had been in a funk in New York: Leaves of Grass was not selling, and he was finding it difficult to write or revise his poetry. In Washington, Whitman assumed the role of a hospital visitor, comforting wounded soldiers, bringing them small treats, and, most important, writing their letters. He observed Abraham Lincoln, whom he idolized, from afar. And he began a relationship with Peter Doyle, a former Confederate soldier, whom he met on a streetcar and lived with for eight years. The other people in this photograph cannot be identified. The leaves on the trees would indicate that it was taken in late spring or summer of 1863. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter' July 1863

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter
July 1863
Albumen silver print
Collection of Ron Perisho

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter' July 1863

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter
July 1863
Albumen silver print
Collection of Ron Perisho

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter' July 1863 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter (detail)
July 1863
Albumen silver print
Collection of Ron Perisho

 

 

Gardner’s manipulation of this Confederate casualty to create a narrative vignette about the soldier’s fate indicates how unstable the line was between fiction and truth in the creation of photographs. Gardner’s intrusion shows that he thought he had to improve his images so that they would function as a sentimental narrative that could be more easily read by his audience. His actions are unforgivable from both a moral and artistic point of view. But his arrangement of the corpse reflects how difficult it was for Gardner and his contemporaries to process the reality of mass casualties in which the dead became anonymous. Caught at a transitional moment, Gardner did not trust the images his camera captured. That this photographic construction would be more marketable to a public still steeped in Victorian sentimentality only adds to Gardner’s malfeasance.

In his Sketchbook Gardner created an elaborate story around his photographs of a dead Confederate “sharpshooter” who apparently had fallen during fighting at the Devil’s Den. Gardner claimed that he took photographs when he returned to the battlefield in the fall of 1863 and “discovered” the corpse, along with the rifle propped against the stone wall, still undisturbed where the soldier had fallen. The story isn’t credible: four months after the battle, the body would have long since decayed, and souvenir hunters would have picked up the rifle. The truth, untangled by photographic historian William Frassanito, is a blot on Gardner’s career: Gardner and his assistants moved a dead soldier [below] from a nearby line of bodies being readied for burial. Shortly after the battle they posed it amid the boulders, including the carefully positioned rifle. The soldier was a regular infantryman, not a sharpshooter or sniper. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'A Sharpshooter's Last Sleep, Gettysburg, July 1863' 1863

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
A Sharpshooter’s Last Sleep, Gettysburg, July 1863
1863
Albumen silver print
National Archives, Washington, D.C.

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Ruins of the Arsenal, Richmond, Virginia, April 1863 '1865

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Ruins of the Arsenal, Richmond, Virginia, April 1863
1865
Albumen silver print
Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine, Museum Purchase, Lloyd O. and Marjorie Strong Coulter Fund

 

 

Ironically, destruction of the major Confederate armory occurred not from a Union assault but by an accidental fire that started in Richmond after the government began to evacuate the city on April 1, 1865, leaving it vulnerable. Chaos and confusion reigned as panicked residents faced the prospect of being occupied by the invading northerners; looting and destruction of property occurred as well. In the breakdown of order, fires broke out and quickly spread, destroying as many as fifty city blocks, until Union soldiers acting as firefighters extinguished them in part. Among the major buildings destroyed were the Tredegar Iron Works and the Arsenal. The Arsenal had been built earlier in the century but had fallen into disuse. It was made operative again when the war broke out; among the weapons it housed were those taken from the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry in 1861. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Abraham Lincoln delivering his second inaugural address as President of the United States, Washington, D.C.' March 4, 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Abraham Lincoln delivering his second inaugural address as President of the United States, Washington, D.C.
March 4, 1865
Albumen silver print
Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Abraham Lincoln delivering his second inaugural address as President of the United States, Washington, D.C.' March 4, 1865 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Abraham Lincoln delivering his second inaugural address as President of the United States, Washington, D.C. (detail)
March 4, 1865
Albumen silver print
Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress

 

 

Abraham Lincoln’s major speeches as president – at both inaugurals and at Gettysburg – focused on large themes, in particular human nature and God’s will, as well as the character of the nation. The hard politics of formulating and implementing the details of, for instance, emancipation, civil rights, and reconstruction, were kept offstage in the day-to-day process of governing. So at his second inaugural on March 4, 1865, Lincoln delivered a moral homily on how neither side, North or South, could know God’s will for mankind, and that the war had unintended consequences. Both parties now had to accept living with those consequences, namely the end of slavery and the beginning of civil equality for African Americans, Lincoln hinted. He ended with his majestic call to move on from war to civic peace: “With malice toward none, with charity for all,” let us “bind up the nation’s wounds” to “achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace.” Flush with victory, many in the North were puzzled or displeased by the president’s conciliatory words. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Adjusting the Ropes' July 7, 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Adjusting the Ropes
July 7, 1865
Albumen silver print
Indiana Historical Society (P0409)
Daniel R. Weinberg Lincoln Conspirators Collection

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Adjusting the Ropes' July 7, 1865 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Adjusting the Ropes (detail)
July 7, 1865
Albumen silver print
Indiana Historical Society (P0409)
Daniel R. Weinberg Lincoln Conspirators Collection

 

 

Of the eight Booth conspirators tried for their role in the assassination plot, four were sentenced to death: Mary Surratt, David Herold, Lewis Powell, and George Atzerodt. While the men had been major participants in the plot (even if Herold and Atzerodt had failed at their assignments), Mary Surratt sentence was more controversial, as it was argued that her boardinghouse was simply where the conspirators had met; that her son John was part of the conspiracy did not help her cause. The jury was also uneasy about the federal government executing a woman for the first time. Convicted and sentenced on June 30, the conspirators were executed on July 7 at Washington’s Old Arsenal Prison, out of public view. In a macabre display of chivalry, a man holding an umbrella shielded Mary Surratt from the sun before the traps were sprung.

Gardner was the only photographer allowed to document the executions, a recognition of his prominence as a documentarian. His camera position on the wall of the prison allowed him a panoramic view. (Text from the exhibition website)

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The date was July 7, 1865. Alexander Gardner and his assistant Timothy O’Sullivan took a series of ten photographs using both a large format camera with collodion glass-plate negatives and a stereo camera (used to make 3D stereoscope pictures). This series of photographs are considered one of the first examples of photojournalism ever recorded.

Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, David Herold and Georg Atzerodt. The four conspirators are now standing (Mrs. Surratt is supported by two soldiers) and is being bound. A hood has already been placed over Lewis Powell’s head by Lafayette Baker’s detective John H. Roberts. The nooses are being fitted around the necks of David Herold and George Atzerodt.

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'The Drop' July 7, 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
The Drop
July 7, 1865
Albumen silver print
Stereograph (Albumen silver print on stereo card)
Library of Congress

 

 

“On July 7, 1865, at 1.15 pm., a procession led by General Hartranft escorted the four condemned prisoners through the courtyard and up the steps to the gallows. Each had their ankles and wrists bound by manacles. Mary Surratt led the way, wearing a black bombazine dress, black bonnet, and black veil. More than 1,000 people – including government officials, members of the U.S. armed forces, friends and family of the accused, official witnesses, and reporters – watched. General Hancock limited attendance to those who had a ticket, and only those who had a good reason to be present were given a ticket. (Most of those present were military officers and soliders, as fewer than 200 tickets had been printed.) Alexander Gardner, who had photographed the body of Booth and taken portraits of several of the male conspirators while they were imprisoned aboard naval ships, photographed the execution for the government. Hartranft read the order for their execution. Surratt, either weak from her illness or swooning in fear (perhaps both), had to be supported by two soldiers and her priests. The condemned were seated in chairs, Surratt almost collapsing into hers. She was seated to the right of the others, the traditional “seat of honor” in an execution. White cloth was used to bind their arms were bound to their sides, and their ankles and thighs together. The cloths around Surratt’s legs were tied around her dress below the knees. Each person was ministered to by a member of the clergy. From the scaffold, Powell said, “Mrs. Surratt is innocent. She doesn’t deserve to die with the rest of us”. Fathers Jacob and Wiget prayed over Mary Surratt, and held a crucifix to her lips. About 16 minutes elapsed from the time the prisoners entered the courtyard until they were ready for execution.

A white bag was placed over the head of each prisoner after the noose was put in place. Surratt’s bonnet was removed, and the noose put around her neck by a Secret Service officer. She complained that the bindings about her arms hurt, and the officer preparing said, “Well, it won’t hurt long.” Finally, the prisoners were asked to stand and move foward a few feet to the nooses. The chairs were removed. Mary Surratt’s last words, spoken to a guard as he moved her forward to the drop, were “Please don’t let me fall.” Surratt and the others stood on the drop for about 10 seconds, and then Captain Rath clapped his hands. Four soldiers of Company F of the 14th Veteran Reserves knocked out the supports holding the drops in place, and the condemned fell. Surratt, who had moved forward enough to barely step onto the drop, lurched forward and slid partway down the drop – her body snapping tight at the end of the rope, swinging back and forth. Surratt’s death appeared to be the easiest. Atzerodt’s stomach heaved once and his legs quivered, and then he was still. Herold and Powell struggled for nearly five minutes, strangling to death.

Each body was inspected by a physician to ensure that death had occurred. The bodies of the executed were allowed to hang for about 30 minutes. The bodies began to be cut down at 1.53 pm. A corporal raced to the top of the gallows and cut down Atzerodt’s body, which fell to the ground with a thud. He was reprimanded, and the other bodies cut down more gently. Herold’s body was next, followed by Powell’s. Surratt’s body was cut down at 1.58 pm. As Surratt’s body was cut loose, her head fell forward. A soldier joked, “She makes a good bow” and was rebuked by an officer for his poor use of humor.

Upon examination, the military surgeons determined that no one’s neck had been broken by the fall, as intended. The manacles and cloth bindings were removed (but not the white execution masks), and the bodies were placed into the pine coffins. The name of each person was written on a piece of paper by acting Assistant Adjutant R. A. Watts, and inserted in a glass vial (which was placed into the coffin). The coffins were buried against the prison wall in shallow graves, just a few feet from the gallows.”

“Mary Surratt” text from the Wikipedia website

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'General Sheridan and His Staff' c. 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
General Sheridan and His Staff
c. 1865
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

Another in Alexander Gardner’s valedictory series of the major Union commanders in each theater of the war, this photograph groups four of the figures from the 1864 campaign in the Shenandoah Valley under the command of Philip Sheridan (1831-1888). Sheridan is standing to the left; at the table are cavalry officer Wesley Merritt (1834-1910); George Crook (1830-1890), who had an independent force in western Virginia before joining Sheridan’s army; Sheridan’s chief of staff, James W. Forsyth (1835-1906); and perhaps America’s most famous cavalryman, George A. Custer (1839-1876).

This photograph brings together the men who would be major figures in the settlement of the Great Plains and the Indian Wars – none more emblematic than Custer. As such, it provides the bridge between the first half of Gardner’s career during the Civil War and the images of western land and people on which he focused during the rest of his photographic career. One war had ended; another was beginning. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'General Sheridan and His Staff' c. 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
General Sheridan and His Staff
c. 1865
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'General Sheridan and His Staff' c. 1865 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
General Sheridan and His Staff (detail)
c. 1865
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

” … Gardner was born in Paisley in 1821 and trained as a jeweller before moving into the world of newspapers. An idealist and socialist, he formed the left-leaning newspaper the Glasgow Sentinel in 1851. His keen interest in photography led to him emigrating across the pond in the hope of furthering his career. He was headhunted by [Matthew] Brady and at the outbreak of the war was well-positioned in Washington.

He was recruited as a staff photographer by General George B. McClellan, commander of the Army of the Potomac, and made history on 19 September 1862 when he took the first photographs of casualties on the battlefield at Antietam. In 1863, Gardner split from Brady and formed his own gallery in Washington with his brother James [May 1863]. In July of that year, he photographed the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg, developing images in his travelling darkroom.

Author Keith Steiner said: ‘Gardner was essentially a photojournalist. He had to process and develop the photographs on the move and in the middle of a battlefield which was not easy. He was highly regarded and Walt Whitman once said that he ‘saw beyond his camera’… ‘He was an artist, in some ways a scientist and a publisher. He was the complete package.’

Gardner was also the official photographer to President Abraham Lincoln. He captured him seven times, including before his inauguration in March 1861 and in February 1865, just weeks before he was assassinated. The war-time leader personally visited Gardner to have his photograph taken every year instead of the Scotsman visiting the White House.

Keith said: ‘Most of the photographs you see of Lincoln were taken by Gardner and chart how he aged physically. He was pictured in 1861 then a few years later and it is like a different man. In February 1865, he is a broken man and has aged about 20 years through the stress of the civil war. It is an incredibly revealing photograph’.”

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Anonymous. “How Abraham Lincoln’s Scottish photographer became the first man to capture the horrors of the Civil War but was robbed of the credit… until now,” on the Daily Mail Australia website 25 January 2014 [Online] Cited 27/02/2016.

 

The West, 1867-1872

After the war, Alexander Gardner photographed events and people associated with one of the most abiding preoccupations of the nineteenth century: westward expansion. From 1867 to 1872 he made portraits of American Indian leaders who traveled to Washington to negotiate preservation of their traditional lands and lifeways, even as white Americans flooded the frontier. In 1867, Gardner became the first photographer to document a transcontinental project, making views of the Kansas Pacific Railroad’s construction activities, bustling frontier towns and settlements, Army forts, Indian villages, and magnificent empty landscapes.

The federal government then hired Gardner to photograph the spring 1868 treaty negotiations between the Indian Peace Commission and leaders of the Crow, Northern Cheyenne, Northern Arapaho, and Lakota in the Dakota Territory. The Fort Laramie Treaty established reservations on the northern Plains, marking a watershed moment in the relationship between Native peoples and the government. Gardner’s images are the only photographs of treaty negotiations ever commissioned by the U.S. government. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) '"Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way." Laying track, 300 miles west of Missouri River, 19th October, 1867' 1867

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
“Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way.” Laying track, 300 miles west of Missouri River, 19th October, 1867
1867
Albumen silver print
William T. Sherman Collection of Alexander Gardner Photographs, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution (P10134)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) '"Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way." Laying track, 300 miles west of Missouri River, 19th October, 1867' 1867 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
“Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way.” Laying track, 300 miles west of Missouri River, 19th October, 1867 (detail)
1867
Albumen silver print
William T. Sherman Collection of Alexander Gardner Photographs, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution (P10134)

 

 

Alexander Gardner quoted from the final stanza of a 1726 poem by Bishop George Berkeley for the title of this photograph. The Anglo-Irish philosopher had originally offered his verse as a lamentation on the decline of British influence in North America, but after the Civil War, as the United States turned with determination to its expansionist agenda, Americans found particular resonance in Berkeley’s line, “Westward the course of empire takes its way.” Constructing a transcontinental railroad was central to the achievement of these ambitions. Although the company survived into the 1870s, the Kansas Pacific Railroad was unable to rally federal support for a transcontinental route along the southerly thirty-fifth and thirty-second parallels. On May 10, 1869, at Promontory Point in the Utah Territory, the “Golden Spike” ceremony joined the more northern tracks of the Union Pacific Railroad with those of the Central Pacific Railroad, marking the completion of the first railroads to link the East and West coasts of the United States. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Bridge over the Laramie River near its Junction with the North Platte River, Fort Laramie, Dakota Territory' 1868

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Bridge over the Laramie River near its Junction with the North Platte River, Fort Laramie, Dakota Territory
1868
Albumen silver print
William T. Sherman Collection of Alexander Gardner Photographs, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution (P10128)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Indian Peace Commissioners in council with the Northern Cheyenne and Northern Arapaho, Fort Laramie, Dakota Territory' 1868

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Indian Peace Commissioners in council with the Northern Cheyenne and Northern Arapaho, Fort Laramie, Dakota Territory
1868
Albumen silver print
National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution; William T. Sherman Collection of Alexander Gardner Photographs (P15390)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Indian Peace Commissioners in council with the Northern Cheyenne and Northern Arapaho, Fort Laramie, Dakota Territory' 1868 (detail)

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Indian Peace Commissioners in council with the Northern Cheyenne and Northern Arapaho, Fort Laramie, Dakota Territory' 1868 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Indian Peace Commissioners in council with the Northern Cheyenne and Northern Arapaho, Fort Laramie, Dakota Territory (details)
1868
Albumen silver print
National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution; William T. Sherman Collection of Alexander Gardner Photographs (P15390)

 

 

Left to right: Colonel Samuel F. Tappan (1831-1913), General William S. Harney (1800-1889), General William T. Sherman (1820-1891), General John B. Sanborn (1826-1904), General Christopher C. Augur (1821-1898), General Alfred H. Terry (1827-1890), and Commission Secretary Ashton S. H. White (lifedates unknown)

In the summer of 1867, when Congress convened the Indian Peace Commission, popular opinion in the eastern United States supported a diplomatic resolution to the so-called “Indian problem” on both the northern and southern Plains. (The negotiations on the southern Plains were not photographed.) Consisting of civilians and army generals, the commission managed to secure treaties with the region’s “hostile” tribes and convened its final meeting on October 7, 1868. By then, public sentiment had taken an aggressive turn and demanded increased military intervention in Indian matters. Overruling their more diplomatically minded colleagues, the commission’s military members – led by General William T. Sherman – used the shift in the political landscape to advantage. As a body, the commission resolved that the government “should cease to recognize the Indian tribes as ‘domestic dependent nations.'” Treaty-making, or diplomacy, was at an end, and in the coming years, military conflict characterized U.S.-Indian relations on the Plains. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Lakota delegates Medicine Bull, Iron Nation, and Yellow Hawk with their Agent-Interpreter, Washington, D.C.' 1867

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Lakota delegates Medicine Bull, Iron Nation, and Yellow Hawk with their Agent-Interpreter, Washington, D.C.
1867
Albumen silver print
William T. Sherman Collection of Alexander Gardner Photographs, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution (P10139)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Lakota delegates Medicine Bull, Iron Nation, and Yellow Hawk with their Agent-Interpreter, Washington, D.C.' 1867 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Lakota delegates Medicine Bull, Iron Nation, and Yellow Hawk with their Agent-Interpreter, Washington, D.C. (detail)
1867
Albumen silver print
William T. Sherman Collection of Alexander Gardner Photographs, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution (P10139)

 

 

Left to right: Medicine Bull (lifedates unknown), unidentified interpreter, Iron Nation (1815-1894), and Yellow Hawk (lifedates unknown)

Alexander Gardner made three portraits of each American Indian pictured here: a group portrait and two separate portraits of each delegate, one in his Native and one in his Western attire. (A suit was often among the gifts given to Native delegates to the capital.) It is unknown how Medicine Bull (Sicangu Lakota), Iron Nation (Sicangu Lakota), and Yellow Hawk (Itazipacola Lakota) were dressed when they arrived to sit for their portraits, but Gardner’s apparent desire to make two individual portraits of each in many ways anticipates the popular “before and after” photographs of Native people that circulated in the following decades. The photographs were made to document the supposed salutary benefits of the sitter’s exposure to American civilization. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

The Lakȟóta people (pronounced [laˈkˣota]; also known as TetonThítȟuŋwaŋ (“prairie dwellers”), and Teton Sioux (from Nadouessioux – ‘snake’ or ‘enemy’) are an indigenous people of the Great Plains of North America. They are part of a confederation of seven related Sioux tribes, the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ or seven council fires, and speak Lakota, one of the three major dialects of the Sioux language. The Lakota are the westernmost of the three Siouan language groups, occupying lands in both North and South Dakota. The seven bands or “sub-tribes” of the Lakota are:

  • Sičháŋǧu (Brulé, Burned Thighs)
  • Oglála (“They Scatter Their Own”)
  • Itázipčho (Sans Arc, Without Bows)
  • Húŋkpapȟa (“End Village”, Camps at the End of the Camp Circle)
  • Mnikȟówožu (“Plant beside the Stream”, Planters by the Water)
  • Sihásapa (“Black Feet”)
  • Oóhenuŋpa (Two Kettles)

Notable Lakota persons include Tȟatȟáŋka Íyotake (Sitting Bull) from the Húnkpapȟa band; Touch the Clouds from the Miniconjou band; and, Tȟašúŋke Witkó (Crazy Horse), Maȟpíya Lúta (Red Cloud), Heȟáka Sápa (Black Elk), Siŋté Glešká (Spotted Tail), and Billy Mills from the Oglala band. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Ihanktonwan Nakota delegates Long Foot and Little Bird, Washington, D.C.' 1867

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Ihanktonwan Nakota delegates Long Foot and Little Bird, Washington, D.C.
1867
Albumen silver print National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution; William T. Sherman Collection of Alexander Gardner Photographs (P10149)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Ihanktonwan Nakota delegates Long Foot and Little Bird, Washington, D.C.' 1867 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Ihanktonwan Nakota delegates Long Foot and Little Bird, Washington, D.C. (detail)
1867
Albumen silver print National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution; William T. Sherman Collection of Alexander Gardner Photographs (P10149)

 

 

In a letter dated February 20, 1867, Smithsonian Institution Secretary Joseph Henry pressed Commissioner of Indian Affairs Lewis V. Bogy to fund a comprehensive effort to photograph Native delegates to Washington. Henry envisioned a kind of archive, a “trustworthy collection of likenesses of the principal tribes of the United States,” urgently adding that with the passing of “the Indian” only a few years remained to undertake such a project. Bogy apparently passed on the project, but the Smithsonian found an alternative collaborator in Englishman William Blackmore. (Blackmore posed before Alexander Gardner’s camera with Oglala Lakota leader Red Cloud. The portrait of the two men is on display nearby.) Blackmore commissioned local Washington photographers like Gardner to make portraits of visiting delegates such as the Ihanktonwan Nakota delegates Long Foot (lifedates unknown) and Little Bird (lifedates unknown), pictured here. Blackmore made his photographs available to the Smithsonian; they represent the institution’s very first photograph collection and are now housed in the National Anthropological Archives. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

 

Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery
8th and F Sts NW
Washington, DC 20001

Opening hours:
11.30 am – 7.00 pm daily

Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery website

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21
Dec
14

Exhibition: ‘Eyes on the Street: street photography in the 21st century’ at the Cincinnati Art Museum

Exhibition dates: 11th October 2014 – 4th January 2015

Artists

Olivo Barbieri (Italian; lives and works in Modena, Italy)
Philip-Lorca diCorcia (American; lives and works in New York)
Jason Evans (British; lives and works in London)
Paul Graham (British; lives and works in New York)
Mark Lewis (Canadian; lives and works in London)
Jill Magid (American; lives and works in New York)
James Nares (American; lives and works in New York)
Barbara Probst (German; lives and works in New York)
Jennifer West (American; lives and works in Los Angeles)
Michael Wolf (German; lives and works in Paris and Hong Kong)

 

 

Watching the watcher watching…

Marcus

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

 

“Some of the artists in Eyes on the Street made their work at street level; others sought higher vantage points. Some sharpen our appreciation for individuals, while others underscore universal urban traits. Some work with still images, while others create films and videos. What links them, and binds them to the historical tradition of street photography, is the quality of attention they give these bustling environments. They are watchful. What distinguishes them from the twentieth-century street-photography tradition, however, is that these artists are also acutely conscious of the active roles cameras play in making urban public places today. They know they are part of a greater system of watching.”

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Brian Sholis, Associate Curator of Photography, Cincinnati Art Museum

 

 

Installation view by Rob Deslongchamps

Installation view by Rob Deslongchamps

 

Installation views by Rob Deslongchamps

 

Barbara Probst. 'Exposure #106: N.Y.C., Broome & Crosby Streets, 04.17.13, 2:29 p.m.' 2013

 

Barbara Probst
Exposure #106: N.Y.C., Broome & Crosby Streets, 04.17.13, 2:29 p.m.
2013
Ultrachrome ink on cotton paper in twelve parts, each 29 x 44 inches
Courtesy of the artist and Murray Guy, New York

 

On January 7, 2000, Barbara Probst first deployed a photographic technique that has become her signature and which she is still fruitfully exploring. On that night she used a remote-control device to synchronize the shutters of twelve cameras, creating as many perspectives on the same scene. In that work, and the more than one hundred that have followed, Probst dissects the photographic moment. Take, for example, the twelve-panel Exposure #106, exhibited here, which combines color and black-and-white film, multiple photographic genres, staged and unscripted elements, and a patchwork of vantage points. One can’t help but “read” these individual images sequentially, creating a false sense of narrative momentum from a collection of pictures taken in the same instant. One likewise builds, as Probst has called it, a “sculpture in the mind” by piecing together a three-dimensional scene from two-dimensional fragments. The process is never perfect, underscoring, as does all of Probst’s work, the incompleteness and partiality of any photograph.

“Probst forcefully deconstructs the notion of photographic truth, not by specifically questioning that photographic truth but merely by pointing out its necessary incompleteness.” Jens Erdman Rasmussen, Dutch curator.

 

Jason Evans. 'Untitled,' from the series "NYLPT," 2008

 

Jason Evans
Untitled from the series NYLPT
2008
Gelatin silver print
24 x 24 inches
Courtesy of the photographer

 

Jason Evans is a street photographer who, in his words, simply likes to “walk around and look at things, follow people, and get lost.” The series exhibited here, NYLPT, was made between 2005 and 2012 in New York, London, Paris, and Tokyo. Evans would expose a roll of 35-mm black-and-white film in one of these cities, then rewind and set aside the roll until his travels brought him to another. There, he would reload the film and re-expose the frames, doing so up to five times without knowing what the results would look like. Sometimes a fragment of language or familiar landmark reveals where part of the picture was made. More often, however, the textures, shapes, and surreal combinations of built environments come together to connote urbanness as a category of experience. Aware that people consume images in myriad ways, Evans not only developed the photographs in a darkroom, but also worked closely with a book publisher and digital programmers to create versions of the series specific to different mediums.

 

Olivo Barbieri. 'site specific_ISTANBUL #4' 2011

 

Olivo Barbieri
site specific_Istanbul #4
2011
Archival pigment print
45 x 61 inches
Courtesy of the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York

 

Between 2003 and 2013, the Italian artist Olivo Barbieri photographed more than forty of the world’s cities from low-flying helicopters. Fascinated by the expanding megalopolises, Barbieri sought a new visual language to present their shifting forms. He hit upon the idea of using a tilt-shift lens – normally used to correct the apparent convergence of parallel lines in pictures of buildings – to render sections of his images out of focus. By also slightly overexposing the photographs, Barbieri created a diorama-like effect; the people and places he captured seemed to inhabit miniature worlds. His pictures contained enormous amounts of information yet placed some of it tantalizingly out of focus.

This visual effect became so popular that Barbieri sought other ways to push photography’s language in response to the cities that inspired him. In recent years he has adopted a wide array of digital post-production techniques to modify his images, all in service of representing the dizzying state of cities today.

“Captivated by a vision of the twenty-first-century city as a kind of site-specific installation – temporary, malleable, and constantly in flux – [Barbieri] sought a photographic corollary for the radical mutations of urban form that he saw taking place.” Christopher S. Phillips, curator

 

Installation view by Rob Deslongchamps

 

Installation view by Rob Deslongchamps

 

“Cameras are an integral part of our lives, and the Cincinnati Art Museum’s new exhibition, Eyes on the Street, on view Oct. 11, 2014 – Jan. 4, 2015, examines how they can be used in public spaces. Through a collection of photographs, films and videos by 10 internationally renowned artists – most of whom have never previously exhibited in Cincinnati – the exhibition reimagines street photography and reveals how cameras shape perceptions of cities. Eyes on the Street is the Art Museum’s contribution to the region-wide FotoFocus festival and is a celebration of street photography in the twenty-first century.

“Street photography is a perennial subject of museum exhibitions, but by emphasizing the role cameras’ technical capabilities play in making these artworks, I hope to broaden our understanding of the genre,” said Brian Sholis, associate curator of photography. “At the same time, it’s important to recognize that we are not merely subject to faceless surveillance, but can use cameras to amplify the invigorating aspects of city life.”

Eyes on the Street reimagines the genre of street photography and demonstrates how cameras shape our perceptions of cities. It features ten internationally renowned artists who work in photography, film, and video, each of whom deliberatively uses the camera’s technical capabilities to reveal new aspects of the urban environment. Through high-speed and high-definition lenses, multiple or simultaneous exposures, “impossible” film shots, and appropriated surveillance-camera footage, these artists breathe new life into the genre and remind us that urban public places are sites of creative and imaginative encounters.

The exhibition title comes from influential urban theorist Jane Jacobs, who wrote, in her classic treatise The Death and Life of Great American Cities, of “eyes on the street” being crucial to urban neighborhoods’ vitality – and their ability to accommodate different people and activities. Today, discussion of cameras in public spaces often revolves around surveillance tactics or battles over first-amendment rights. Eyes on the Street reflects the diversity of urban experience and shows us how cameras can help us comprehend the complex urban environment.

The show includes artworks made in New York, San Francisco, Paris, Beirut, Tokyo, Istanbul, and elsewhere by artists who have exhibited widely and have received numerous grants, fellowships, and prizes. Most have never before exhibited in the Cincinnati area.”

Press release from the Cincinnati Art Museum

 

Philip-Lorca diCorcia. 'Head #23' 2001

 

Philip-Lorca diCorcia
Head #23
2001
Fujicolor Crystal Archive print
48 x 60 inches
Courtesy of the artist and David Zwirner, New York/London

 

To make the photographs exhibited in Eyes on the Street, Philip-Lorca diCorcia affixed a powerful strobe flash to construction scaffolding above a sidewalk in Times Square. He placed his camera some distance away, so as to remain unnoticed, and photographed unwitting strangers bathed in a halo of light. This outdoor “studio” married control and chance, isolating people from their busy surroundings. Their pensive faces reveal complex interior lives it would be easy to miss if we passed them on a busy street.

The resulting series, Heads, comprises a few dozen photographs chosen from the thousands that diCorcia made between 1999 and 2001. Erno Nussenzweig, the subject of Head #13, discovered the photograph of him in 2005. He sued the photographer for using his image without permission. The case went to the New York Court of Appeals, where judges ruled that diCorcia’s images qualify as art, not as advertising, thereby exempting him from privacy protections afforded by law. The case has become an important precedent for artists who wish to take pictures in public places.

 

 Jill Magid. 'Control Room' 2004

 

Jill Magid
Control Room
2004
Still from a two-channel digital video, ten minutes
Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Yvon Lambert, Paris

 

For more than a decade artist Jill Magid has deliberately worked with institutions of authority to create videos, books, installations, and other artworks. For a series made in Liverpool in 2004, Magid spent thirty-one days in the English port city – the length of time footage from its Citywatch surveillance system is stored. Wearing a red trench coat, she aimed “to use the CCTV system as a film crew, to act as the protagonist, and to be saved in [its] evidence locker.”

During the project she developed relationships with the camera operators. In the video Trust, Magid closes her eyes and allows a CCTV operator to verbally guide her safely through the city’s busy streets. She has described the interaction as one of the most intimate she has experienced, and wrote the Subject Access Request Forms, used to obtain the footage, in the form of love letters. As she later said, “Only by being watched, and influencing how I was watched, could I touch the system and become vulnerable to it.”

 

Installation view of James Nares's film 'Street'. Photo by Rob Deslongchamps.

 

Installation view of James Nares’s film Street. Photo by Rob Deslongchamps.

 

 

James Nares moved to New York during the 1970s and joined the experimental music and art scenes as a filmmaker, painter, sculptor, musician, and performer. Today he is perhaps best known for his beautiful abstract paintings, but he has made still- and moving-image work throughout his career. His 2012 film STREET has drawn renewed attention to his work with cameras. STREET uses the remarkable clarity offered by a high-speed, high-definition camera to mesmerizing effect. Shot from the window of a car, “the camera is moving in one line at a constant speed,” he has said. “I take small fragments of time and extend them. […] I just wanted to see the drama in small things that happen all the time, everywhere, the little dramas that become big along the way.”

STREET is an unscripted 61-minute high definition video filmed by artist James Nares over one week in September 2011. The final video is a mesmerizing experiment in the nuance and beauty of everyday people and people-watching; providing a global view that extends beyond the streets of New York where it was filmed: from Battery Park to the furthest reaches of Upper Broadway, and West Side to East Side in Nares’ personal homage to actualité films. In Nares’ words, “I wanted the film to be about people. All it needed were magical moments, and there are enough of those happening every moment of any given day.”

The scenes are drawn from more than sixteen hours of material and accompanied by a guitar soundtrack performed by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth.

 

 

Eyes on the Street

Brian Sholis

Associate Curator of Photography
Cincinnati Art Museum

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The title of this exhibition comes from the architecture writer and urban activist Jane Jacobs, who, in her classic 1961 treatise The Death and Life of Great American Cities, wrote of eyes on the street being crucial to the vitality of urban neighborhoods, in particular their ability to accommodate different people and activities. She was celebrating her Greenwich Village neighbors, “allies whose eyes help us natives keep the peace of the street,” the “lucky possessors of a city order that makes it relatively simple to keep the peace.” She was quick to add, “there is nothing simple about that order itself, or the bewildering number of components that go into it.” Fifty years later the elements that make urban life vibrant and challenging are even greater in number, and the omnipresence of cameras is one of the greatest changes to the ways we manage a city’s order. Today, discussion of cameras in public places often concentrates on issues of surveillance, personal privacy, and first-amendment rights. As the writer Tom Vanderbilt asked in a 2002 essay that touches on Jacobs’s legacy, “Why is a police surveillance camera on a public street any more intrusive than a patrolman stationed on the corner? [ . . . ] The real question in all of this is motive, not means: who’s doing the watching, and for what purpose?” The artworks brought together in Eyes on the Street offer ways to think about the social, political, legal, and architectural implications of these questions.

The photographs, films, and videos exhibited here also offer ways to reimagine the genre of street photography, which art historians typically associate with Jacobs’s mid-twentieth-century era. At the time she was drafting the ideas quoted above, photographers like Robert Frank, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Garry Winogrand prowled Western cities, 35-mm cameras in hand, taking pictures of the daily sidewalk ballet. They worked tirelessly, often photographing rapidly and without introducing themselves to their subjects, whom they corralled into rectangular compositions that expressed some of the dynamism of the passing parade. By contrast, the artists in Eyes on the Street, all working in the twenty-first century, respond to the changed conditions of the city in part by using more deliberative strategies to capture their subjects. They recognize the pervasive influence of cameras on the urban environment by employing their own cameras’ special capabilities to show things our eyes may not see or our minds might not notice. For photographers working half a century ago, the lens was a natural extension of their hands and a relatively simple conduit of their artistic sensibilities. The artists in Eyes on the Street work more self-consciously to disclose the forces conditioning the urban environment and to acknowledge cameras’ active role in that process. In so doing, they create stunning still- and moving-image artworks that show us such places as New York, Shanghai, Beirut, Paris, Chicago, and Istanbul as we’ve never seen them before.

 

Faces in the Crowd

Writing more than a century ago, German sociologist Georg Simmel diagnosed the mental life of people living in rapidly modernizing cities, suggesting that our psychological survival depended upon separating ourselves from the many stimulations of the urban environment. The influence of Simmel’s thinking upon the social sciences has been profound, but scholars today increasingly identify an inversion of his theory as true: for the survival of the metropolis, we must overcome narrow individualism to empathize with others who share it with us. However, one’s capacity to relate to others is necessarily limited, and this cosmopolitan ethics can be difficult to maintain. James Nares’s 2012 film Street uses the remarkable clarity offered by a high-speed, high-definition camera to offset the potentially numbing effect of so many encounters. By slowing down his footage of New York sidewalks, taken from the window of a car moving thirty miles per hour, Nares isolates small vignettes unspooling on the sidewalk. Peoples’ movements are picked out in fine detail, their individual gestures and expressions heightened into a slow-motion monumentality. A similar effect characterizes the photographs in Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s series Heads (1999-2001). To make these works, diCorcia, affixed a flash strobe to construction scaffolding on a sidewalk in Times Square. Placing his camera far enough away to be unnoticed, he pre-focused his lens on the spot illuminated by the flash and captured unwitting strangers bathed in a halo of light. His improvised outdoor studio married control and chance, isolating people from their busy surroundings and catching them in moments of inwardness. Their pensive faces reveal complex interior lives it would be all too easy to ignore should we be strolling past them. The quality of attention afforded by Nares and diCorcia’s cameras results in the humanism of their work and grants the dignity we can read in these faces. As the critic Ken Johnson observed of Street, what results is an update of “Walt Whitman’s poetic embrace of humanity. The camera gazes at all with the same equanimity and finds each person, in his or her own way, dignified, lovable, and even beautiful.”

In his series NYLPT, photographer Jason Evans reverses this penchant for individuation. The acronym stands for “New York London Paris Tokyo.” Working over a period of eight years, Evans would expose a roll of 35-mm black-and-white film in one of these cities, then rewind and set aside the roll until his travels brought him to another. There, he would reload the film and re-expose the frames, sometimes doing so up to five times without knowing what the results would look like. As he has said, “The ‘decisive moment’ was no longer out there waiting to be hunted down,” as with traditional street photography. Instead, “it had moved behind the lens, onto the film plane.” Sometimes a fragment of language or familiar landmark reveals where part of the picture was made. More often, however, the textures, shapes, and surreal combinations of built environments come together to connote urbanness as a category of experience.

… Exploring the Medium; Senses of Scale; Permission and Authority. Continues…

 

 

Jennifer West. Still from 'One Mile Film' 2012

 

Jennifer West
One Mile Film (5,280 feet of 35mm film negative and print taped to the mile-long High Line walk way in New York City for 17 hours on Thursday, September 13th, 2012 with 11,500 visitors – the visitors walked, wrote, jogged, signed, drew, touched, danced, parkoured, sanded, keyed, melted popsicles, spit, scratched, stomped, left shoe prints of all kinds and put gum on the filmstrip – it was driven on by baby stroller and trash can wheels and was traced by art students – people wrote messages on the film and drew animations, etched signs, symbols and words into the film emulsion lines drawn down much of the filmstrip by visitors and Jwest with highlighters and markers – the walk way surfaces of concrete, train track steel, wood, metal gratings and fountain water impressed into the film; filmed images shot by Peter West – filmed Parkour performances by Thomas Dolan and Vertical Jimenez – running on rooftops by Deb Berman and Jwest – film taped, rolled and explained on the High Line by art students and volunteers)
2012
Still from 35-mm film transferred to high-definition video
Commissioned and produced by Friends of the High Line and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation
Courtesy of the artist and Marc Foxx, Los Angeles

 

Jennifer West is resolutely experimental in her approach to film, and is known in particular for the ways she treats her film stock: submerging it in seawater, bathing it in chemicals, or exposing it to different types of radiation, usually to psychedelic effect. Her One Mile Film . . . (2012), commissioned by and for the High Line, an elevated park in New York, documents free-running practitioners – athletes who explore environments without limitations of movement – climbing, jumping, and exploring the park and its environs. Here, though, her “treatment” is an alternative method of recording people in this public space. Once she had completed filming, West affixed her film stock to the High Line’s footpaths, inviting park visitors – some 11,500 of them – to walk on, roll over, draw on, and otherwise imprint their presence upon her work. The finished film appears semi-abstract but is in fact a trace of the people who passed through that particular place on that September 2012 day, like the rubbings people make of manholes and headstones.

 

Michael Wolf. 'Night #20' 2007

 

Michael Wolf
Night #20
2007
Digital c-print
48 x 60 inches
Courtesy of the artist and Bruce Silverstein Gallery, New York

 

The number of both people and buildings tucked into Hong Kong’s small landmass inspired Michael Wolf to express the verticality and compactness of that unique place. His series Architecture of Density emphasizes the repetition inherent to most large-scale construction by zeroing in on building facades and eliminating the ground, the sky, and all other elements that might reveal the picture’s scale. The residential towers seem to stretch on forever; the only variation comes from small human elements, such as laundry hung out to dry. The buildings depicted in the series Transparent City, made in 2007 and 2008 in Chicago, are not quite as close together, and Wolf subsequently created looser compositions. He likewise took advantage of a 300-mm lens and the buildings’ glass curtain-wall construction to peer through the windows at the life inside. “I became acutely aware of being a voyeur,” Wolf has said.

 

Mark Lewis, Still from 'Beirut' 2011

 

Mark Lewis
Beirut
2011
Still from a high-definition video, 8 minutes 11 seconds
Courtesy of the artist and Daniel Faria Gallery, Toronto

 

In his short films, Mark Lewis repeatedly isolates the fundamental gestures of cinema, exaggerating a zoom or a tracking shot to reveal the constructedness of a seemingly natural scene. Without sacrificing beauty or mystery, Lewis’s meticulously planned works uncover the kinds of artifice that big-budget popular movies aim to conceal. In his eight-minute film Beirut (2011), Lewis crafts a Steadicam shot to explore the multiple cultures and tangled histories represented on a Lebanese street. In a remarkable single take, the camera rounds a corner, proceeds down the street, then lifts magically into the air, floating above roofline to situate these histories in the larger urban fabric. And the end of this short film reminds us of the life that continues around us even as we focus only at street level.

 

 

 

Cincinnati Art Museum
953 Eden Park Drive
Cincinnati, Ohio 45202
Phone: (513) 721-ARTS (2787)

Opening hours:
Open Tuesday through Sunday, 11 am – 5 pm
Closed Mondays

21
Dec
12

Exhibition: ‘Edward Weston. Leaves of Grass’ at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Exhibition dates: 21st April 2012 – 31st December 2012

 

 

“Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you,
You must travel it for yourself.
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It is not far, It is within reach,
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know,
Perhaps it is every where on water and land.”

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Walt Whitman. Part of Song of Myself from Leaves of Grass. 1855

 

 

Very little information about this exhibition on the website which is a pity because the photographs are exceptional, even if some do recall the style of other artists of the same era (Charles Sheeler, Berenice Abbott, Ansel Adams, Clarence John Laughlin, and Walker Evans for example).

In 1941, “Weston was commissioned to take photographs for a pricey two-volume edition of “Leaves of Grass.” So over the course of nearly 10 months, Weston and his wife, Charis, drove more than 24,000 miles, through 24 states. Of the nearly 700 photographs he developed, he sent 74 to the publisher. Forty-nine appeared in the book.” (Mark Feney) “Over the course of the project Weston managed to produce some of the most compelling images of his later career that took his photography in a new and important direction. Like Whitman’s epic poems, they draw us into the history of this nation, the beauty of its landscape and the forthrightness of its ordinary citizens.” (Encore)

“Leaves of Grass has its genesis in an essay called The Poet by Ralph Waldo Emerson, published in 1845, which expressed the need for the United States to have its own new and unique poet to write about the new country’s virtues and vices. Whitman, reading the essay, consciously set out to answer Emerson’s call as he began work on the first edition of Leaves of Grass. Whitman, however, downplayed Emerson’s influence, stating, “I was simmering, simmering, simmering; Emerson brought me to a boil.”

The first edition was published in Brooklyn at the Fulton Street printing shop of two Scottish immigrants, James and Andrew Rome, whom Whitman had known since the 1840s, on July 4, 1855. Whitman paid for and did much of the typesetting for the first edition himself. Sales on the book were few but Whitman was not discouraged. The first edition was very small, collecting only twelve unnamed poems in 95 pages. Whitman once said he intended the book to be small enough to be carried in a pocket. “That would tend to induce people to take me along with them and read me in the open air: I am nearly always successful with the reader in the open air.” About 800 were printed, though only 200 were bound in its trademark green cloth cover.

The title Leaves of Grass was a pun. “Grass” was a term given by publishers to works of minor value and “leaves” is another name for the pages on which they were printed. Whitman sent a copy of the first edition of Leaves of Grass to Emerson, the man who had inspired its creation. In a letter to Whitman, Emerson said “I find it the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom America has yet contributed.” He went on, “I am very happy in reading it, as great power makes us happy.”

Text from Amazon website

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Many thankx to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Edward Weston. 'Grand Canyon, Arizona' 1941

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Grand Canyon, Arizona
1941
Photograph, gelatin silver print
The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Edward Weston. 'Boulder Dam' 1941

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Boulder Dam
1941
Photograph, gelatin silver print
The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Edward Weston. 'From 515 Madison Avenue, New York' 1941

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
From 515 Madison Avenue, New York
1941
Photograph, gelatin silver print
The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Edward Weston (United States, 1886-1958) 'Schooner, Kennebunkport, Maine' 1941

 

Edward Weston (United States, 1886-1958)
Schooner, Kennebunkport, Maine
1941
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Edward Weston (United States, 1886-1958) 'Wedding Cake House, Kennebunkport, Maine' 1941

 

Edward Weston (United States, 1886-1958)
Wedding Cake House, Kennebunkport, Maine
1941
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Edward Weston. 'Shenandoah Valley, Virginia' 1941

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)

Shenandoah Valley, Virginia
1941
Photograph, gelatin silver print
The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Edward Weston. 'Mammy’s Cupboard, Natchez, Mississippi' 1941

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Mammy’s Cupboard, Natchez, Mississippi
1941
Photograph, gelatin silver print
The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Edward Weston. 'Woodlawn Plantation House, Louisiana' 1941

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Woodlawn Plantation House, Louisiana
1941
Photograph, gelatin silver print
The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

“In 1941, the Limited Editions Club of New York invited photographer Edward Weston to illustrate its deluxe edition of Walt Whitman’s epic poem Leaves of Grass. The commission inspired Weston and his wife, Charis, to take a cross-country trip, throughout the South, the Mid-Atlantic states, New England, and back to California, in their trusty Ford, which they nicknamed “Walt.” Weston’s photographs from this project – mostly made with large, 8 x 10 camera – are exceptionally wide-ranging, with a particular focus on urban and man-altered landscapes. Although he never wanted his images to literally reflect Whitman’s text, Weston did relate to the poet’s plainspoken style and his emphasis on the broad spectrum of human experience. Weston wrote of the Whitman book: “I do believe . . . I can and will do the best work of my life. Of course I will never please everyone with my America – wouldn’t try to.”

Text from the MFA Boston website

 

Edward Weston. 'Girod Cemetery, New Orleans, Louisiana' 1941

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Girod Cemetery, New Orleans, Louisiana
1941
Photograph, gelatin silver print
The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Edward Weston. 'Meraux Plantation House, Louisiana' 1941

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Meraux Plantation House, Louisiana
1941
Photograph, gelatin silver print
The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Edward Weston. 'Belle Grove Plantation House, Louisiana' 1941

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Belle Grove Plantation House, Louisiana
1941
Photograph, gelatin silver print
The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Edward Weston. 'Bessie Jones. St. Simons Island, Georgia' 1941

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Bessie Jones. St. Simons Island, Georgia
1941
Photograph, gelatin silver print
The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Edward Weston. 'Mr. and Mrs. W. P. Fry, Burnet, Texas' 1941

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Mr. and Mrs. W. P. Fry, Burnet, Texas
1941
Photograph, gelatin silver print
The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Part of Walt Whitman 'Song of Myself' from 'Leaves of Grass' 1855

 

Walt Whitman
Part of Song of Myself
from Leaves of Grass
1855

 

Edward Weston. 'Charis Wilson' 1941

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Charis Wilson
1941
Photograph, gelatin silver print
The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Avenue of the Arts
465 Huntington Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts

Opening hours:
Monday and Tuesday 10am – 4.45pm
Wednesday – Friday 10am – 9.45pm
Saturday and Sunday 10am – 4.45pm

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22
Aug
12

Exhibition: ‘Portraits of Renown: Photography and the Cult of Celebrity’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 3rd April – 26th August 2012

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On the Nature of Photography

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“To get from the tangible to the intangible (which mature artists in any medium claim as part of their task) a paradox of some kind has frequently been helpful. For the photographer to free himself of the tyranny of the visual facts upon which he is utterly dependent, a paradox is the only possible tool. And the talisman paradox for unique photography is to work “the mirror with a memory” as if it were a mirage, and the camera is a metamorphosing machine, and the photograph as if it were a metaphor…. Once freed of the tyranny of surfaces and textures, substance and form [the photographer] can use the same to pursue poetic truth.”

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Newhall, Beaumont (ed.). The History of Photography. Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1982, p.281.

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“Carol Jerrems and I taught at the same secondary school in the 1970’s. In a classroom that was unused at that time, I remember having my portrait taken by her. She held her Pentax to her eye. Carols’ portraits all seemed to have been made where the posing of her subjects was balanced by an incisive naturalness (for want of a better description). As a challenge to myself I tried to look “natural”, but kept in my consciousness that I was having my portrait taken. Minutes passed and neither she nor her camera moved at all.

Then the idea slipped from my mind for just a moment, and I was straightaway bought back by the sound of the shutter. What had changed in my face? – probably nothing, or 1 mm of muscle movement. Had she seen it through the shutter? Or something else – I don’t know.”

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Australian artist Ian Lobb on being photographed by the late Carol Jerrems.

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There is always something that you can’t quite put your finger on in an outstanding portrait, some ineffable other that takes the portrait into another space entirely. I still haven’t worked it out but my thoughts are this: forget about the pose of the person. It would seem to me to be both a self conscious awareness by the sitter of the camera and yet at the same time a knowing transcendence of the visibility of the camera itself. In great portrait photography it is almost as though the conversation between the photographer and the person being photographed elides the camera entirely. Minor White, in his three great mantras, the Three Canons, observes:

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Be still with yourself

Until the object of your attention
Affirms your presence
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Let the Subject generate its own Composition
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When the image mirrors the man
And the man mirrors the subject
Something might take over

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Freed from the tyranny of the visual facts something else emerges.

Celebrities know only too well how to “work” the camera but the most profound portraits, even of celebrities, are in those moments when the photographer sees something else in the person being photographed, some unrecognised other that emerges from the shadows – a look, a twist of the head, the poignancy of the mouth, the vibrancy of the dancer Josephine Baker, the sturdiness of the gaze of Walt Whitman with hands in pockets, the presence of the hands (no, not the gaze!) of Picasso. I remember taking a black and white portrait of my partner Paul holding a wooden finial like a baby among some trees, a most beautiful, revealing photograph. He couldn’t bear to look at it, for it stripped him naked before the lens and showed a side of himself that he had never seen before: vulnerable, youthful, beautiful.

Why do great portrait photographers make so many great portraits? Why can’t this skill be shared or taught? Why can’t Herb Ritts (for example) make a portrait that goes beyond a caricature? Why is it that what can be taught is so banal that it has no value?

In photography, maybe we edit out what is expected and then it seems that photography does something that goes beyond language; it goes beyond function that can be described as a part of speech, metonym or metaphor. When this something else takes over I think it is truly “unrecognised” in the best portraits – and it is fantastic and wonderful.

This is the ultimate understanding of perception and vision – when spirit takes over – the ability to see it in the mind, through the viewfinder and be able to reveal it in the physicality of the print. This, I believe, is the reality of photography itself in its absolute essential form – and here I am deliberately forgetting about post-photography, post-modernism, modernism, pictorialism, ism, ism – and getting down to why I really like photography: the BEYOND the visualisation of a world, the transcendence of time and space that leads, in great photographs, to a recognition of the discontinuous nature of life but in the end, to its ultimate persistence.

This is as close as I have got so far…

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Dr Marcus Bunyan
August 2012

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

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Marie Cosindas (American, born 1925)
Andy Warhol
1966
Dye color diffusion [Polaroid ®] print
11.4 x 8.9 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Marie Cosindas

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Marie Cosindas (American, born 1925)
Yves St Laurent
1968
Dye color diffusion [Polaroid ®] print
11.4 x 8.9 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Marie Cosindas

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Andy Warhol (American, 1928 – 1987)
Grace Jones
1984
Polaroid Polacolor print
9.5 x 7.3 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© 2011 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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Portraits of Renown surveys some of the visual strategies used by photographers to picture famous individuals from the 1840s to the year 2000. “This exhibition offers a brief visual history of famous people in photographs, drawn entirely from the Museum’s rich holdings in this genre,” says Paul Martineau, curator of the exhibition and associate curator of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum. “It also provides a broad historical context for the work in the concurrent exhibition ‘Herb Ritts: L.A. Style’, which includes a selection of Ritts’s best celebrity portraits.”

Photography’s remarkable propensity to shape identities has made it the leading vehicle for representing the famous. Soon after photography was invented in the 1830s, it was used to capture the likenesses and accomplishments of great men and women, gradually supplanting other forms of commemoration. In the twentieth century, the proliferation of photography and the transformative power of fame have helped to accelerate the desire for photographs of celebrities in magazines, newspapers, advertisements, and on the Internet. The exhibition is arranged chronologically to help make visible some of the overarching technical and stylistic developments in photography from the first decade of its invention to the end of the twentieth century.

A wide range of historical figures are portrayed in Portraits of Renown. A photograph by Alexander Gardner of President Lincoln documents his visit to the battlefield of Antietam during the Civil War. Captured by Nadar, a portrait of Alexander Dumas, best known for his novels The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers, shows the author with an energetic expression, illustrating the lively personality that made his writing so popular. Baron Adolf De Meyer’s portrait of Josephine Baker, an American performer who became an international sensation at the Folies Bergère in Paris, showcases her comedic charm, a trait that proved central to her popularity as a performer. An iconic portrait of the silent screen actress, Gloria Swanson, created by Edward Steichen for Vanity Fair reveals both the intensity of its sitter and the skill of the artist. A picture of Pablo Picasso by his friend Man Ray portrays the master of Cubism with a penetrating gaze.

Yves St. Laurent, Andy Warhol, and Grace Jones are among the contemporary figures included in the exhibition. Fashion designer Yves St. Laurent was photographed by Marie Cosindas using instant color film by Polaroid. The photograph, made the year his first boutique in New York opened, graced the walls of the store for ten years. A Cosindas portrait of Andy Warhol shows the artist wearing dark sunglasses, which partially conceal his face. Warhol, who was fascinated by celebrity, delighted in posing public personalities like Grace Jones for his camera.”

Press release from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

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Man Ray (American, 1890 – 1976)
Pablo Picasso
1934
Gelatin silver print
25.2 x 20 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Man Ray Trust ARS-ADAGP

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Baron Adolf De Meyer (American, born France, 1868 – 1946)
Portrait of Josephine Baker
1925
Collotype print
39.1 x 39.7 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Mathew B. Brady (American, about 1823 – 1896)
Walt Whitman
about 1870
Albumen silver print
14.6 x 10.3 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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The J. Paul Getty Museum
1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles, California 90049

Opening hours:
Tues – Friday 10 – 5.30pm
Saturday 10 – 9pm
Sunday 10 – 9pm
Monday closed

The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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09
Feb
12

Exhibition: ‘HIDE/SEEK: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture’ at the Brooklyn Museum, New York

Exhibition dates: 18th November 2011 – 12th February 2012

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“The possibility of using our bodies as a possible source of very numerous pleasures is something that is very important. For instance, if you look at the traditional construction of pleasure, you see that bodily pleasure, or pleasures of the flesh, are always drinking, eating and fucking. And that seems to be the limit of the understanding of our bodies, our pleasures ….

It is very interesting to note, for instance, that for centuries people generally, as well as doctors, psychiatrists, and even liberation movements, have always spoken about desire, and never about pleasure. “We have to liberate our desire,” they say. No! We have to create new pleasure. And then maybe desire will follow.” (My bold)

Michel Foucault 1

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Minor White
Tom Murphy (San Francisco)
1948
from The Temptation of St Anthony is Mirrors 1948
Gelatin silver print
4 5/8 x 3 5/8 in. (11.7 x 9.2 cm)
The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum Bequest of Minor White, MWA 48-136
© Trustees of Princeton University

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(top)
Minor White
Images 9 and 10 in the bound sequence The Temptation of Saint Anthony Is Mirrors
1948
9.3 x 11.8 cm; 11.2 x 9.1 cm

(bottom)
Minor White
Images 27 and 28 in the bound sequence The Temptation of Saint Anthony Is Mirrors
1948. 5.3 x 11.6 cm; 10.6 x 8.9 cm

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(left)
Minor White

Tom Murphy (San Francisco)
1948
from The Temptation of St Anthony is Mirrors 1948
Gelatin silver print
4 5/8 x 3 5/8 in. (11.7 x 9.2 cm)

(right)
George Platt Lynes

Untitled
nd

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I had the great privilege of visiting The Minor White Archive at Princeton University while I was researching for my PhD. While there I studied the work cards and classic prints of the great photographer, paying particular attention to his photography of the male. What was a great surprise and delight to me were the presence of photographs of explicit sexual acts, men photographed with erections – images that have, to my knowledge, never been published. I don’t think that many people would even know that Minor White took such photographs. Although these images would have never been for public consumption it is still very unusual to find a classical photographer with such a public profile taking photographs of erect penises, especially in the 1940s!

Disturbed by having been in battle in the Second World War and seeing some of his best male friends killed, White’s early photographs of men (in their uniforms) depict the suffering and anguish that the mental and physical stress of war can cause. He was even more upset than most because he was battling his own inner sexual demons at the same time, his shame and disgust at being a homosexual and attracted to men, a difficulty compounded by his religious upbringing. In his photographs White both denied his attraction to men and expressed it. His photographs of the male body are suffused with both sexual mystery and a celebration of his sexuality despite his bouts of guilt. After the war he started to use the normal everyday bodies of his friends to form sequences of photographs, sometimes using the body as a metaphor for the landscape and vice versa. In the above photograph (Tom Murphy, left), based on a religious theme, we see a dismembered hairy body front on, the hands clutching and caressing the body, the lower hand hovering near the exposed genitalia, the upper hand cupping the breast. We see the agony and ecstasy of a homoerotic desire cloaked in a religious theme.

The image comes from the The Temptation of St Anthony is Mirrors (1948), four pages of which can be seen above. While at The Minor White Archive I looked at the only complete, undamaged book in existence. What an experience!

The book has a powerful and intense presence. It was beautifully sequenced as you would expect from Minor White and features photographs of Tom Murphy. There is a series of his hands over the back of a chair in different positions: hanging, curled, splayed, held slightly upwards, and these are paired with photographs of bare feet and turned up jeans, bare feet and rocks, and three other photographs of Tom Murphy. In an excellent paper Cruising and Transcendence in the Photographs of Minor White (nd), author Kevin Moore observes that the hand-bound volume with images paired on facing pages – “mirrors” to both one another and the artist – is a personal account as well as a meditation on the sins of the flesh.

“Temptation (which was never published or exhibited) begins with a sort of prologue, comprising a single full-length nude of Tom Murphy, White’s student and the model most commonly associated with his work. The pose is similar to those found in the beefcake pictures White was producing at this time: Murphy adopts a classical contrapposto stance and is entirely nude, his pale, wiry body positioned against a dark backdrop. A piece of driftwood at the model’s feet proposes a theme of innocence – man in his natural state. The sequence then moves to pairings of images describing man in his civilized state, featuring several loving close-ups of Murphy’s gesturing hands, a shot of his bare feet, and a single shoulder-length portrait, in which he wears a buttoned shirt and looks intently off to the side. Next, there is an interlude suggesting growing dissolution: an image of Murphy’s feet and a petrified stone is paired with a shot of Murphy in full dress slouched on a mass of rocks and staring vacantly off into the distance. The next pairing [images 9 and 10 above] accelerates the descent into temptation. Here, the pose in a second picture of Murphy’s feet suggests agitation, while a three-quarterlength portrait of Murphy, crouched in the bushes and looking back over his shoulder, is as emblematic an image of cruising as White ever produced. The photographs that follow descend further into lust and self-recrimination, conveyed through photographs in which Murphy’s naked body alternates between expressions of pain and pleasure. The sequence ends with a series of beatific nudes [images 27 and 28 above], which express redemption through nonsexual treatments of the body and in the body’s juxtaposition with natural forms – a return to nature.

White may have thought at first that the sequence format would help him transcend the limits of personal biography, that he could use the breadth and fluidity of the sequence to emphasize a universal narrative while exercising control over the potentially explosive and revealing content of individual images. This proved to be overly optimistic, at least in his earliest uses of the form. White’s colleagues, for example, immediately understood Temptation for what it really was: an agonized portrayal of White’s love for his male student.”

Moore goes on to conclude that White obsfucated his sexuality, displacing gay ‘cruising’ “by a universalized mystical searching – sexual longing setting in motion a heroic search” using photography as his medium, and that his photographs became a dreamscape, perhaps even a dream(e)scape: “in which meanings are obscured, not clarified; signs are effaced, not illuminated; beauty is closeted, not set out for all to see. White was attracted to the ambiguity of the dream because it offered cover and protection but also freedom to maneuver. The dream supported the irrational, maintained a sense of mystery, and beautified frustration.”

I have to disagree with Kevin Moore. Anyone who has seen The Temptation of Saint Anthony Is Mirrors in the flesh (so to speak) can feel the absolute presence of these images, their reality, the connection between image and viewer. Maybe White was a Romantic but he was realistically romantic; his images are not dreamscapes, they offer multiple readings and contexts, insights into the human condition. Even though there was anguish and guilt present about his sexuality, channelled through his photography, anyone bold enough to take photographs of erections in 1940 has some ticker. It takes a clear eye and a courageous heart to do this, knowing what was at stake in this era of sexual repression. Beauty is not closeted here, unless I am looking at different images from Kevin Moore. In fact the magic of the photography of Minor White is his ability to modulate space, to modulate bodies so that they are beautiful, ambiguous and mystical whatever their context. Not everything in this world has to be in your face. Like a Glen Gould playing the Goldberg Variations revelation of beauty takes time, concentration and meditation.

Also, an overriding feeling when viewing the images was one of loneliness, sadness and anguish, for the bodies seemed to be observed and not partaken of, to be unavailable both physically and in a strange way, photographically. For a photographer who prided himself on revealing the spirit within, through photography, these are paradoxical photographs, visually accessible and mysteriously (un)revealing, photographs of a strange and wonderful ambivalence. Two great words: obsfucation, ambivalence. Clouded with mixed feelings and emotions, not necessarily anything to do with sexuality. Not everything has to be about sexuality. It is the difference between imbibing Freud or Jung – personally I prefer the more holistic, more inclusive, more spiritual Jung.

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And so to the image of George Platt Lynes that I have paired with the nude of Tom Murphy.

Platt Lynes was another artist who struggled with is sexuality, but seemingly not to such an extent as Minor White did. GPL worked as a fashion photographer and had his own studio in New York where he photographed dancers, artists and celebrities among others. He undertook a series of mythological photographs on classical themes (which are amazing in composition and feature Surrealist motifs). Privately he photographed male nudes but was reluctant to show them in public for fear of the harm that they could do to his reputation and business with the fashion magazines. Generally his earlier male nude photographs concentrate on the idealised youthful body or ephebe.

As Lynes became more despondent with his career as a fashion photographer his private photographs of male nudes tended to take on a darker and sharper edge. After a period of residence in Hollywood he returned to New York nearly penniless. His style of photographing the male nude underwent a revision. While the photographs of his European colleagues still relied on the sun drenched bodies of young adolescent males evoking memories of classical beauty and the mythology of Ancient Greece the later nudes of Platt Lynes feature a mixture of youthful ephebes and heavier set bodies which appear to be more sexually knowing. The compositional style of dramatically lit photographs of muscular torsos of older men shot in close up (see photograph below for example) were possibly influenced by a number of things – his time in Hollywood with its images of handsome, swash-buckling movie stars with broad chests and magnificent physiques; the images of bodybuilders by physique photographers that George Platt Lynes visited; the fact that his lover George Tichenor had been killed during WWII; and the knowledge that he was penniless and had cancer. There is, I believe, a certain sadness but much inner strength in his later photographs of the male nude that harnesses the inherent sexual power embedded within their subject matter.

When undertaking research into GPL’s photographs at The Kinsey Institute as part of my PhD I noted that most of the photographs had annotations in code on the back of them giving details of age, sexual proclivities of models and what they are prepared to do and where they were found. This information gives a vital social context to GPL’s nude photographs of men and positions them within the moral and ethical framework of the era in which they were made. The strong image (below) is always quoted as an example of GPL’s more direct way of photographing the male nude in the last years of his life. The male is solid, imposing, lit from above, heavy set, powerful, massive. The eyes are almost totally in shadow. Later photos have more chiaroscuro than earlier work, more use of contrasting light (especially down lit or uplit figures) but are they more direct? Yes. The men look straight into camera.

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George Platt Lynes
Untitled (Frontal Male Nude)
nd

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This monumentality of body and form was matched by a new openness in the representation of sexuality. There are intimate photographs of men in what seem to be post-coital revere, in unmade beds, genitalia showing or face down showing their butts off. Some of the faces in these later photographs remain hidden, as though disclosure of identity would be detrimental for fear of persecution. The photograph above is very ‘in your face’ for the conservative time from which it emerges, remembering it was the era of witch hunts against communists and subversives (including homosexuals). Conversely, this photograph is quite restrained compared to the most striking series of GPL’s photographs that I saw at The Kinsey Institute which involves an exploration the male anal area (a photograph from the 1951 series can be found in the book titled ‘George Platt Lynes: Photographs from The Kinsey Institute’). This explicit series features other photographs of the same model – in particular one that depicts the male with his buttocks in the air pulling his arse cheeks apart. After Lynes found out he had cancer he started to send his photographs to the German homoerotic magazine Der Kries under the pseudonym Roberto Rolf, and in the last years of his life he experimented with paper negatives, which made his images of the male body even more grainy and mysterious.

I believe that Lynes understood, intimately, the different physical body types that gay men find desirable and used them in his photographs. He visited Lon of New York (a photographer of beefcake men) in his studio and purchased photographs of bodybuilders for himself, as did the German photographer George Hoyningen-Huene. It is likely that these images of bodybuilders did influence his later compositional style of images of men; it is also possible that he detected the emergence of this iconic male body type as a potent sexual symbol, one that that was becoming more visible and sexually available to gay men.

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The differences between the White and GPL nudes is instructive. White: introspective, haunted, religious with an unrequited sense of longing – hands clutching self, inward pointing; GPL: more closely cropped, more open, one hand firmly grasping but the other hand open, receptive, presented to the viewer above the available phallic organ. It reminds me for some unknown reason, some quirk of my brain association, of the shell of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (1486) inverted. There is difference between the two artists – one struggling with his sexuality, being realistically romantic, the other physically doing something about it – posting his photographs to one of the first gay magazines in the world. But both were taking photographs of intimate sexual acts that could never have been published in their lifetimes – that are still are hidden from view today. When, oh when, will someone have the courage to publish this work?

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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Thomas Eakins (1844-1916)
Walt Whitman (1818-1892)
1891
10.3 x 12.2cm
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institute

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Charles Demuth
Dancing Sailors
1917
Watercolor and pencil on paper
20.3 x 25.4cm
Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio; Mr and Mrs William H Marlatt Fund

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George Wesley Bellows (American, 1882-1925)
Riverfront No.1
1915
Oil on canvas
115.3 x 160.3 cm
Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio: Howald Fund Purchase

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Marsden Hartley (American, 1877-1943)
Eight Bells Folly: Memorial to Hart Crane
1933
Oil on canvas
Gift of Ione and Hudson D. Walker
Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota

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“Harold Hart Crane (July 21, 1899 – April 27, 1932) was an American poet. Finding both inspiration and provocation in the poetry of T. S. Eliot, Crane wrote modernist poetry that is difficult, highly stylized, and very ambitious in its scope. In his most ambitious work, The Bridge, Crane sought to write an epic poem in the vein of The Waste Land that expressed something more sincere and optimistic than the ironic despair that Crane found in Eliot’s poetry. In the years following his suicide at the age of 32, Crane has come to be seen as one of the most influential poets of his generation…

Crane visited Mexico in 1931-32 on a Guggenheim Fellowship and his drinking continued as he suffered from bouts of alternating depression and elation … While on board the steamship SS Orizaba enroute to New York, he was beaten after making sexual advances to a male crew member, seeming to confirm his own idea that one could not be happy as a homosexual. Just before noon on April 27, 1932, Hart Crane jumped overboard into the Gulf of Mexico. Although he had been drinking heavily and left no suicide note, witnesses believed his intentions to be suicidal, as several reported that he exclaimed “Goodbye, everybody!” before throwing himself overboard. (The legend among poets is: He walked to the fantail, took off his coat quietly, and jumped.) His body was never recovered.” (Wikipedia)

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Peter Hujar (1937-1987)
Susan Sontag (1933-2004)
1975
Gelatin Silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institute
© Estate of Peter Hujar

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Keith Haring (American, 1958-1990)
Unfinished Painting
1989
Acrylic on canvas
100.0 x 100.0 cm
Courtesy of Katia Perlstein, Brussels, Belgium
© Keith Haring Foundation

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David Wojnarowicz
A Fire In My Belly (Film In Progress) (film still)
1986-87
Super 8mm film
black and white & color (transferred to video)
Courtesy of The Estate of David Wojnarowicz and P.P.O.W Gallery, New York and The Fales Library and Special Collection

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“One day before World AIDS Day, the renown painter, photographer, writer, filmmaker, performance artist and activist David Wojnarowicz, who died in 1992 at the age of 37 from AIDS-related complications, has had one of his most important works, A Fire In My Belly, pulled from The Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery’s HIDE/ SEEK exhibit because of pressure from conservative politicians and the Catholic League.” See a four minute extract from this unfinished film on THE END OF BEING BLOG.

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HIDE/SEEK: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, the first major museum exhibition to explore how gender and sexual identity have shaped the creation of American portraiture, organized by and presented at the National Portrait Gallery last fall, will be on view at the Brooklyn Museum from November 18, 2011, through February 12, 2012. With the cooperation of the National Portrait Gallery, the Brooklyn Museum has reconstituted the exhibition in concert with the Tacoma Art Museum, where it will be on view from March 17 through June 10, 2012.

HIDE/SEEK includes approximately a hundred works in a wide range of media created over the course of one hundred years that reflect a variety of sexual identities and the stories of several generations. Highlighting the influence of gay and lesbian artists, many of whom developed new visual strategies to code and disguise their subjects’ sexual identities as well as their own, HIDE/ SEEK considers such themes as the role of sexual difference in depicting modern Americans, how artists have explored the definition of sexuality and gender, how major themes in modern art – especially abstraction – have been influenced by marginalization, and how art has reflected society’s changing attitudes.

Announcing the Brooklyn presentation, Museum Director Arnold L. Lehman states, “From the moment I first learned about this extraordinary exhibition in its planning stages, presenting it in Brooklyn has been a priority. It is an important chronicle of a neglected dimension of American art and a brilliant complement and counterpoint to ‘Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties’, a touring exhibition organized by the Brooklyn Museum, also on view this fall.”

In addition to its commentary on a marginalized cultural history, HIDE/ SEEK offers an unprecedented survey of more than a century of American art. Beginning with late nineteenth-century portraits by Thomas Eakins and John Singer Sargent, it includes works from the first half of the 1900s by such masters as Romaine Brooks, George Bellows, Marsden Hartley, and Georgia O’Keeffe; the exhibition continues through the postwar period with works by Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Agnes Martin, and Andy Warhol, and concludes with major works by late twentieth-century artists such as Keith Haring, Glenn Ligon, Nan Goldin, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, and Catherine Opie.

The Brooklyn presentation will feature nearly all of the works included in the National Portrait Gallery exhibition. Among them are rarely seen paintings by Charles Demuth, whose better-known industrialized landscapes are on view in the Brooklyn Museum exhibition Youth and Beauty; a poignant portrait of New Yorker writer Janet Flanner wearing two masks, taken by photographer Bernice Abbott; Andrew Wyeth’s painting of a young neighbor standing nude in a wheat field, much like Botticelli’s Venus emerging from her shell; Robert Mapplethorpe’s photograph riffing on the classic family portrait, in which a leather-clad Brian Ridley is seated on a wingback chair shackled to his whip-wielding partner, Lyle Heeter; and Cass Bird’s photographic portrait of a friend staring out from under a cap emblazoned with the words “I look Just Like My Daddy.” The exhibition will also include David Wojnarowicz’s A Fire in My Belly, an unfinished film the artist created between 1986 and 1987.”

Press release from the Brooklyn Museum website

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Berenice Abbott (1898 – 1991)
Janet Flanner (1892 – 1978)
1927
Photographic print
23 x 17.3 cm
Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C
C Berenice Abbott / Commerce Graphics Ltd., Inc.

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Thomas Eakins (American, 1844 -1916)
Salutat
1898
Oil on canvas
127.0 x 101.6 cm
Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts
Gift of anonymous donor

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Walker Evans (1903 – 1975)
Lincoln Kirstein (1907 – 1996)
1930
Gelatin silver print
16.1cm x 11.4cm
The Metropolitan Msuem of Art, Ford Motor Company Collection
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Marsden Hartley
Painting No. 47, Berlin
1915
Oil on canvas
39 7/16 x 32 in. (100.1 x 81.3 cm)
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn, 1972

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George Platt Lynes (American, 1907-1955)
Marsden Hartley
1942
Gelatin silver print
23.5 x 19.1 cm
Bates College Museum of Art, Lewiston, ME, Marsden Hartley Memorial Collection
© Estate of George Platt Lynes

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Beauford Delaney (American, 1901-1979)
James Baldwin
1963
Pastel on paper
64.8 x 49.8 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

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Cass Bird
I Look Just Like My Daddy
2003
C-type print
72.6 x 101.6 cm
Collection of the artist, New York
© Cass Bird

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1. Gallagher, Bob and Wilson, Alexander. “Sex and the Politics of Identity: An Interview with Michel Foucault,” in Thompson, Mark. Gay Spirit: Myth and Meaning. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987, p.31.

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Brooklyn Museum
200 Eastern Parkway
Brooklyn, NY 11238-6052
T: (718) 638-5000

Opening hours:
Wednesday and Friday, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Thursday11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.
first Saturday of each month, 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.
Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day

Brooklyn Museum website

HIDE/SEEK exhibition website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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