Posts Tagged ‘war photography

17
Jul
19

Exhibition: ‘Every Past Is My Past’ (photographs from the Fortepan digital photo archives) at the Hungarian National Gallery (MNG), Budapest

Exhibition dates: 16th April – 25th August 2019

Curator of the exhibition: István Virágvölgyi
Co-curator: Miklós Tamási
Curatorial assistant: Mária Madár

The catalog is a richly illustrated catalog in Hungarian and English.

 

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled' 1948

 

Unknown photographer
Untitled
1948
Fortepan / Capital of Budapest Archives

 

 

In seeking to understand the past, present and future of a people and a country, the importance of analysing the pictures stored within a historical photographic archive cannot be underestimated. The photographs in an archive such as the Hungarian Fortepan digital photo archive are a form of cultural memory, a collective consciousness, in pictures, of the numerous lifelines of the people of that country, its history, it triumphs, its trials and tribulations. Jean-Paul Sartre observes, “Time … is everywhere a self-transcendence and a referring of the before to the after and of the after to the before…” Photographs do this very well, as the future beyond the click of the shutter, becomes past time; that very time is then transcended back into present time, the past into the present embracing the future, when someone looks at an “old” photograph. The old is young again.

The Fortepan digital photo archive usually de/pics anonymous people taken by unknown photographers in sometimes known, sometimes unknown settings. It represents “Hungary’s 20th century history, the images focusing on the lives of ordinary people and their experiences, as conveyed by private photographers.” These vernacular photographs act as a tabula rasa,1 a touchstone for hidden stories and histories. The prima materia, the base material of chaos, forms a clean slate (tabula rasa) on which is written the order of the image. Out of light emerges darkness, the inversion that is the negative, which is then made positive again during printing. The etching of light onto the negative builds up a story first seen in the mind’s eye – that knowledge then decoded (or not) through experience and perception: how do you interpret a photograph? What language does it speak? Do you understand what it is saying? The before to the after and the after to the before…

And then we see. Images of happy human beings hanging from a crossbar; a young boy with amputation looking quizzically at the camera while a doctor and nurses pose stiffly, sullenly; and the horrors of war and an uprising that failed. The bits and pieces of lives and people and places and things and events and wars and death and youth and happiness and fun. A palimpsest. The past presently emerging, the present being constantly overwritten, the future embedded in the past. We are but a speck, an infinitesimal speck in the cosmos, not even a micron of a grain of sand in the fluidity of space/time.

“Even our experience of time and space, argues Jameson, has been transformed under postmodernism. Time has collapsed into a perpetual present, in which everything from the past has been severed from its historical context in order to circulate anew in the present, devoid of its original meanings but contributing to the cluttered texture of our commodified surroundings. The result, he writes, is historical amnesia, a lack of knowledge about the past that, in its pathological form, resembles the schizophrenic’s inability to remember anything and consequent inability to sustain a coherent identity.”2

What the photographs of the Fortepan archive let us achieve is to compile an incomplete, an in/coherent but valid identity from a certain perspective (and that is very important). As with any system of classification, it all depends who is looking and from what point of view. They also let us meditate on our brief existence in order to say, we were/are/will be here. And it mattered.

I look forward to hopefully meeting my friends Tamás Németh and Miklós Tamási when I am in Budapest soon.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Tabula rasa is the theory that individuals are born without built-in mental content and that therefore all knowledge comes from experience or perception.
  2. Jameson, Frederic. Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Duke University Press, Durham, N.C., 1991, p. 419 quoted in Springer, Claudia. Electronic Eros: Bodies and Desire in the Postindustrial Age. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996, p. 40

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Many thankx to the Hungarian National Gallery, Tamás Németh, Ákos Szepessy and the Fortepan digital photo archives for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“Time … is everywhere a self-transcendence and a referring of the before to the after and of the after to the before … If time is considered by itself, it immediately dissolves into an absolute multiplicity of instants which considered separately lose all temporal nature and are reduced pure and simply to the total a-temporality of the this.”

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Satre, Jean-Paul. Being and Nothingness. (trans. Hazel Barnes). London: Methuen, 1966, p. 215.

 

“Fortepan is a collective effort at “codebreaking” the assembled scanned negatives, to decipher what is there before us in the image. Fortepan has become a public resource of the Hungarian audio-visual culture.”

“In a word, Fortepan perhaps helps to make the 20th century, with all its turns and twists, a little more understandable, bearable and emotionally fathomable.”

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Miklós Tamási, Founder of Fortepan

 

“The archive is one that is free, high resolution, and operates based on Creative Commons 3. This means that it can be used free of charge even for commercial purposes. Even in such cases, people don’t owe us anything.”

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András Török, Cultural Manager of Fortepan

 

 

 

 

VIRTUAL TOUR OF THE EXHIBITION

 

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled (amputation)' 1916

 

Unknown photographer
Untitled (amputation)
1916
Fortepan / Capital of Budapest Archives

 

Unknown photographer. 'Hungary, Slovakia, Esztergom the Castle Hill and the Basilica from the Maria-Valeria Bridge' 1900

 

Unknown photographer
Hungary, Slovakia, Esztergom the Castle Hill and the Basilica from the Maria-Valeria Bridge
1900
Fortepan / Capital of Budapest Archives

 

 

Unknown photographer. 'Hungary, Balaton, Siofok' 1920

 

Unknown photographer
Hungary, Balaton, Siofok
1920
Fortepan / Capital of Budapest Archives

 

Unknown photographer. 'Hungary, Rácalmás opposite the Catholic Church (demolished in 1969)' 1920

 

Unknown photographer
Hungary, Rácalmás opposite the Catholic Church (demolished in 1969)
1920
Fortepan / Capital of Budapest Archives

 

Unknown photographer. 'Hungary, Budapest III., Óbuda Óbuda Shipyard, Danube branch next to Hajógyári Island, BL floating crane and two DDSG barge' 1920

 

Unknown photographer
Hungary, Budapest III., Óbuda Óbuda Shipyard, Danube branch next to Hajógyári Island, BL floating crane and two DDSG barge
1920
Fortepan / Capital of Budapest Archives

 

 

From the material of the popular Fortepan digital photo archive, a selection of more than three hundred pieces at the Hungarian National Gallery is presented. The exhibited pictures are closely related to Hungary’s 20th century history. The age in which they were made is manifested in many different ways in these images, but the emphasis is on the view and life events of the average person through the private photographs that provide the backbone of the collection.

Representing Hungary’s 20th century history, the images focus on the lives of ordinary people and their experiences, as conveyed by private photographers.

The founders of the collection, two high school classmates Miklós Tamási and Ákos Szepessy, began to collect the photographs in the digital Fortepan archives back in the 1980s. They launched an online site with 5,000 digitised images in 2010. Today the collection numbers 110,000 photos.

Each photograph in the exhibition tells a story. In some cases these stories can be reconstructed, but in most others the people in the pictures are no longer known, and neither are the circumstances in which the photo was taken, allowing visitors to use their imagination and invent their own stories linked to the images.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled (woman and boy)' 1935

 

Unknown photographer
Untitled (woman and boy)
1935
Fortepan / Capital of Budapest Archives

 

Unknown photographer. 'Romania, Transylvania, Strait of Békés' 1935

 

Unknown photographer
Romania, Transylvania, Strait of Békés
1935
Fortepan / Capital of Budapest Archives

 

Unknown photographer. 'Slovakia, Three Revuca highway between Veľký Šturec pass and village, opposite Čierny Kameň' 1935

 

Unknown photographer
Slovakia, Three Revuca highway between Veľký Šturec pass and village, opposite Čierny Kameň
1935
Fortepan / Capital of Budapest Archives

 

Unknown photographer. 'Hungary, Szentes St. Imre street, opposite number 5' 1936

 

Unknown photographer
Hungary, Szentes St. Imre street, opposite number 5
1936
Fortepan / Capital of Budapest Archives

 

 

Unknown photographer. 'Hungary, Budapest VIII. Tavaszmező utca 1, Gartner Károly, writer of sipotei Golgotha' 1942

 

Unknown photographer
Hungary, Budapest VIII. Tavaszmező utca 1, Gartner Károly, writer of sipotei Golgotha
1942
Fortepan / Capital of Budapest Archives

 

 

Gartner Károly (author) Gyula Komjáti (graphics). A Sipotei Golgotha: Romániai Rabmagyarok Története (A Sipotei Golgotha: The history of the Romanian prisoners of Hungarians). G. Z. Hartrampf I, 1932

The name of Șipotele, even for those interested in history, is mostly unknown. One of the most inhumane prisoners of war prisons in the First World War was established near this Romanian settlement, and most of the prisoners were Hungarian. Șipotele was located near the Romanian-Russian border at the time, eight kilometres from the Prut River and 40 kilometers south of lași.

 

Gartner Károly. 'A Sipotei Golgotha: Romániai Rabmagyarok Története' 1932 book cover

 

Gartner Károly (1908-1972) (author)
Gyula Komjáti (1894-1958) (graphics)
G. Z. Hartrampf I (publisher)
A Sipotei Golgotha: Romániai Rabmagyarok Története
Golgotha ​​Sipotei: The history of the Romanian prisoners of Hungarians
1932
Book cover

 

 

Gartner Károly (1908-1972) was born in Transylvania and married Irén Weigand, an officer of the Waterworks in Székesfehérvár, in 1936. Károly Gartner was mentioned in his thirties and forties as a result of his reminiscences of Golgotha, which depicts the death of fourteen thousand Hungarian prisoners of war from the experiences of the First World War. Together with his wife he also wrote a Hungarian song titled Cherry Blossom, was former director of the Phoenix Chocolate Shop, was the national director of the Bethlen István National Unity Party, and from 1938 he was the head of the Municipal Food Plant in Budapest.

Gyula Komjáti (1894-1958) was a Hungarian graphic artist, painter and teacher. He studied at Olgyai Viktors at the College of Fine Arts in Budapest. He was captured in World War I; it has become known through the graphics and etchings of the Sipotei prison camp. In 1926 he won the Ernst Prize and the Zichy Prize. Between 1927 and 1929 he spent a longer time in London with a state scholarship. He also captured World War II in drawings. From 1953 he was a teacher at the Budapest School of Fine Arts and Applied Arts.

 

Gyula Komjáti (1894-1958) 'Csendélet Sipotén' 1917

 

Gyula Komjáti (1894-1958)
Csendélet Sipotén
1917
Drawing for the book Golgotha Sipotei

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled' 1942

 

Unknown photographer
Untitled
1942
Fortepan / Capital of Budapest Archives

 

Unknown photographer. 'Hungary, Budapest XIV., City Park, Budapest International Fair showing captured Soviet I-15 Csajka fighter wreck' 1942

 

Unknown photographer
Hungary, Budapest XIV., City Park, Budapest International Fair showing captured Soviet I-15 Csajka fighter wreck
1942
Fortepan / Capital of Budapest Archives

 

 

Polikarpov I-15

The Polikarpov I-15 (Russian: И-15) was a Soviet biplane fighter aircraft of the 1930s. Nicknamed Chaika (Russian: Чайка, “Seagull”) because of its gulled upper wings, it was operated in large numbers by the Soviet Air Force, and together with the Polikarpov I-16 monoplane, was one of the standard fighters of the Spanish Republicans during the Spanish Civil War, where it was called Chato (snub-nose).

More than 1,000 I-15bis fighters were still in Soviet use during the German invasion when the biplane was employed in the ground attack role. By late 1942, all I-15s and I-15bis’ were relegated to second line duties.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Kogo. 'Polikarpov I-15bis 'Bort 19' (Aviarestoration)' 2005

 

Kogo
Polikarpov I-15bis ‘Bort 19’ (Aviarestoration)
2005
CC 2.0

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled' 1943

 

Unknown photographer
Untitled
1943
Fortepan / Capital of Budapest Archives

 

 

More than 110,000 photographs of Fortepan’s digital collection were collected by two high school classmates, Miklós Tamási and Ákos Szepessy in the 1980s. After the regular, but possibly collecting, amateur photos and negatives appearing on the out of stock markets, they launched their Internet site in 2010 with the publication of 5,000 digitised photos. Soon, many private individuals and public institutions have joined the donating circle of 600 people, whose images are expanding monthly with the archive.

The two most important features of Fortepan’s archive (named after the most popular amateur film by amateur photographers of the former Vác Forte) are free and common. Shared because it is made up of our pictures and is about our world. Shared because it is based on volunteers. Shared because anyone can help identify individual locations and people. Free because it is freely available to anyone without any restrictions, and images can be used without royalty.

It belongs to all the photos in the exhibition, it was a story. In the fortunate case, this story can be recalled, but in most cases it is no longer known what the individuals in the photos are, the history of the individual images – so the visitor’s imagination is left to see the story behind the photo.  Today’s background stories provide an insight into the misery of the world champion, who is modelled on the figure on the back of the old twenty-pound banknote, or the rescue of a burnt photo archive. In addition to this, the exhibition is strongly summoned by the ruined Budapest destroyed during World War II; visitors can walk through an imaginary capital street with pictures taken over decades and in different places, placed in the position of Fortepan editors and picking pictures of a legacy; or read into the many readers’ letters written to Fortepan.

In the exhibition, as well as in a large, common family photo album, along the paths of human life, photographs taken before the 1990s are followed by a total of about 200 pieces. For the first time in this exhibition, the main characters are children, then young people, adults and finally the elderly. In addition, we present more than 150 photos, of which sixteen well-described stories are drawn. Including the 2 World War II fronts – as a war correspondent saw; the idyll of rural life with the eyes of a photographic painter; barely photographed history of the Hungarian Holocaust; life in Transylvania during the dictatorship of the 1980s or everyday life of a First World War Prisoner in Siberia. The pictures of Budapest, destroyed by war, or youth sports with the defence content of the Cold War years form a separate story. But there is more unity in the last years of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, pictures of the Stalin statue in 1956, photographs of the rebellious youth of the 1970s and 1980s, or banned photos of commuters from 1964. The sixteen stories, with their associated photos and their complementary items, appear in a separate installation at the exhibition.

In our centuries-old common history, the exhibition updates our memory of the memories that are directly and directly linked to us, just as Zsuzsa Rakovszky puts it in his poem Fortepan: “Every past is my past”.

Text from the Hungarian National Gallery website [Online] Cited 29/06/2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Every Past Is My Past' at the Hungarian National Gallery (MNG), Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'Every Past Is My Past' at the Hungarian National Gallery (MNG), Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'Every Past Is My Past' at the Hungarian National Gallery (MNG), Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'Every Past Is My Past' at the Hungarian National Gallery (MNG), Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'Every Past Is My Past' at the Hungarian National Gallery (MNG), Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'Every Past Is My Past' at the Hungarian National Gallery (MNG), Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'Every Past Is My Past' at the Hungarian National Gallery (MNG), Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'Every Past Is My Past' at the Hungarian National Gallery (MNG), Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'Every Past Is My Past' at the Hungarian National Gallery (MNG), Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'Every Past Is My Past' at the Hungarian National Gallery (MNG), Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'Every Past Is My Past' at the Hungarian National Gallery (MNG), Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'Every Past Is My Past' at the Hungarian National Gallery (MNG), Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'Every Past Is My Past' at the Hungarian National Gallery (MNG), Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'Every Past Is My Past' at the Hungarian National Gallery (MNG), Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'Every Past Is My Past' at the Hungarian National Gallery (MNG), Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'Every Past Is My Past' at the Hungarian National Gallery (MNG), Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'Every Past Is My Past' at the Hungarian National Gallery (MNG), Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'Every Past Is My Past' at the Hungarian National Gallery (MNG), Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'Every Past Is My Past' at the Hungarian National Gallery (MNG), Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'Every Past Is My Past' at the Hungarian National Gallery (MNG), Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'Every Past Is My Past' at the Hungarian National Gallery (MNG), Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'Every Past Is My Past' at the Hungarian National Gallery (MNG), Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'Every Past Is My Past' at the Hungarian National Gallery (MNG), Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'Every Past Is My Past' at the Hungarian National Gallery (MNG), Budapest

 

Installation views of the exhibition Every Past Is My Past at the Hungarian National Gallery (MNG), Budapest

 

 

About Fortepan

Fortepan is a copyright-free and community-based photo archive with over 100,000 photographs available for anyone to browse and download in high-resolution, free of charge. The images are free to share with the appropriate credit given as FORTEPAN / NAME OF DONOR. Please do provide the full credit at all times as it is a tribute to the selfless contribution of the donor.

This website was launched in 2010 by Ákos Szepessy and Miklós Tamási and it initially contained photographs found randomly in the streets of Budapest. The archive has expanded since then through donations from families, amateur and professional photographers, along with public collections. The images on the website are selected by editors. The descriptions attached to the images are compiled and edited by volunteers, utilising information contributed at the Fortepan Forum. We gladly offer to process your photographs and negatives as well, you can contact us at fortepan@gmail.com.

Fortepan’s collaborators are: László Gál, Luca Jávor, László Lajtai, Pál Négyesi, Tamás Németh, András Pálfi, Zsolt Pálinkás, Gábor Péter, Dávid Sándor, Gyula Simon, Miklós Tamási, András Török, János Varga, János F. Varga. Fortepan’s work is supported by Arcanum, Blinken OSA Archivum, Archive of Modern Conflict and Forum Hungaricum Nonprofit Kft. Administrative management is provided by Summa Artium Nonprofit Kft.

Text from the Fortepan website

 

Unknown photographer. 'Hungary, Uzsa (at that time part of the Lesenceistvánd settlement), Liget utca' 1950

 

Unknown photographer
Hungary, Uzsa (at that time part of the Lesenceistvánd settlement), Liget utca
1950
Fortepan / Capital of Budapest Archives

 

Unknown photographer. 'Hungary on 8126 from Söréd and Csákberény towards Csákberény. To the right is the Bodajk-Gánt railway' 1950s

 

Unknown photographer
Hungary on 8126 from Söréd and Csákberény towards Csákberény. To the right is the Bodajk-Gánt railway
1950s
Fortepan / Capital of Budapest Archives

 

Unknown photographer. 'Hungary, Budapest VII. Elizabeth (Lenin) road from New York Palace to Blaha Lujza Square' 1956

 

Unknown photographer
Hungary, Budapest VII. Elizabeth (Lenin) road from New York Palace to Blaha Lujza Square
1956
Fortepan / Capital of Budapest Archives

 

Unknown photographer. 'Hungary, Budapest V. South of Kossuth Lajos Square, underground construction area' 1956

 

Unknown photographer
Hungary, Budapest V. South of Kossuth Lajos Square, underground construction area
1956
Fortepan / Capital of Budapest Archives

 

Unknown photographer. 'Hungary, Budapest VIII. II. Pope John Paul (Republic) Square, main entrance of the Erkel Theater' 1956

 

Unknown photographer
Hungary, Budapest VIII. II. Pope John Paul (Republic) Square, main entrance of the Erkel Theater
1956
Fortepan / Capital of Budapest Archives

 

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled' 1957

 

Unknown photographer
Untitled
1957
Fortepan / Capital of Budapest Archives

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled' 1957

 

Unknown photographer
Untitled
1957
Fortepan / Capital of Budapest Archives

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled' 1957

 

Unknown photographer
Untitled
1957
Fortepan / Capital of Budapest Archives

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled' 1969

 

Unknown photographer
Untitled
1969
Fortepan / Capital of Budapest Archives

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled' 1969

 

Unknown photographer
Untitled
1969
Fortepan / Capital of Budapest Archives

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Every Past Is My Past' at the Hungarian National Gallery (MNG), Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'Every Past Is My Past' at the Hungarian National Gallery (MNG), Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'Every Past Is My Past' at the Hungarian National Gallery (MNG), Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'Every Past Is My Past' at the Hungarian National Gallery (MNG), Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'Every Past Is My Past' at the Hungarian National Gallery (MNG), Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'Every Past Is My Past' at the Hungarian National Gallery (MNG), Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'Every Past Is My Past' at the Hungarian National Gallery (MNG), Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'Every Past Is My Past' at the Hungarian National Gallery (MNG), Budapest

 

Installation views of the exhibition Every Past Is My Past at the Hungarian National Gallery (MNG), Budapest

 

 

Hungarian National Gallery
1014 Budapest, Szent György Square 2
Central Telephone: +361 201 9082

Opening hours
Tuesday to Sunday 10.00 to 18.00
Monday closed

Fortepan website

Hungarian National Gallery website

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11
Jul
19

Photograph: ‘PBY Blister Gunner, Rescue at Rabaul, 1944’ by Horace Bristol (1908-1997)

July 2019

 

Horace Bristol (1908-1997) 'PBY Blister Gunner, Rescue at Rabaul, 1944'

 

Horace Bristol (American, 1908-1997)
PBY Blister Gunner, Rescue at Rabaul, 1944
1944
Gelatin silver print

 

 

On the fly

This is a stunning picture taken of a brave, courageous, and beautiful man. It is also quite an erotic photograph of a naked man. Can a picture of this man be both heroic and erotic? Of course it can.

A comment on the Rare Historical Photos website from which the quote below is taken observes:

“There’s nothing inherently erotic about simple nudity, as any naturist can tell you. If people refrained from sexualizing images of clothes-free living / working / recreating, then perhaps we could have more of it, with the benefit of improving both physical and mental health.”

The comment is prudish to say the least. Modern French conceptions of eroticism state that it is an act of transgression that affirms our humanity, a transgression of the taboo, in this case the desire of pleasurable looking (scopophilia). The French philosopher Georges Bataille argues that eroticism performs a function of dissolving boundaries between human subjectivity and humanity, a transgression that dissolves the rational world… for Bataille, as well as many French theorists, “Eroticism, unlike simple sexual activity, is a psychological quest… eroticism is assenting to life even in death”. (George Bataille, Eroticism, Penguin 2001, p. 11.)

Even in the face of death (the man’s heroic actions in rescuing the downed pilot, and the death freeze, the memento mori, of the photograph) we, the observer, can affirm his life through eroticism, this forbidden impulse. As Christopher Lasch comments,

“Twentieth-century peoples have erected so many psychological barriers against strong emotion, and have invested those defenses with so much energy derived from forbidden impulse, that they can no longer remember what it feels like to be inundated with desire. They tend, rather, to be consumed with rage, which derives from defenses against desire and gives rise in turn to new defenses against rage itself. Outwardly bland, submissive, and sociable, they seethe with an inner anger for which a dense, overpopulated, bureaucratic society can devise few outlets.”1

.
While we acknowledge the strength and commitment of this brave young man and admire his “majestic nakedness” … on another level, we can invest in those oft denied strong emotions of pleasure and desire. Pleasure in looking at his body and desire for his youth and masculinity which overturns the forbidden impulse and transgresses the supposed taboo that a hero cannot be desired. Brave, heroic, human and downright hot, hot, hot!

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

PS. Please note the chart ‘This is the enemy’ by the mans buttocks, so that he can keep an eye out for Japanese ships while patrolling. His position in the aircraft is noted in the close up photograph below.

 

  1. Lasch, Christopher. The Culture of Narcissism. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1978, p. 11.

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

 

 

This young crewman of a US Navy “Dumbo” PBY rescue mission has just jumped into the water of Rabaul Harbor to rescue a badly burned Marine pilot who was shot down while bombing the Japanese-held fortress of Rabaul. Since Japanese coastal defense guns were firing at the plane while it was in the water during take-off, this brave young man, after rescuing the pilot, manned his position as machine gunner without taking time to put on his clothes. A hero photographed right after he’d completed his heroic act. Naked.

Photo taken by Horace Bristol (1908-1997). In 1941, Bristol was recruited to the U.S. Naval Aviation Photographic Unit, as one of six photographers under the command of Captain Edward J. Steichen, documenting World War II in places such as South Africa, and Japan. He ended up being on the plane the gunner was serving on, which was used to rescue people from Rabaul Bay (New Britain Island, Papua New Guinea), when this occurred. In an article from a December 2002 issue of B&W magazine he remembers:

“…we got a call to pick up an airman who was down in the Bay. The Japanese were shooting at him from the island, and when they saw us they started shooting at us. The man who was shot down was temporarily blinded, so one of our crew stripped off his clothes and jumped in to bring him aboard. He couldn’t have swum very well wearing his boots and clothes. As soon as we could, we took off. We weren’t waiting around for anybody to put on formal clothes. We were being shot at and wanted to get the hell out of there. The naked man got back into his position at his gun in the blister of the plane.”

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Anonymous. “The naked gunner, Rescue at Rabaul, 1944,” on the Rare Historical Photos website [Online] Cited 02/07/2019

 

“To understand the current mainstream eroticising of the male body as a purely homoerotic gesture, though, is to misrecognise the nature of the desire which flows between the media and its audience. The desire courted by men’s magazines, whether they are pitched at a nominally hetero or homosexual market, is the desire to consume. For consumer’s it’s a seduction which is increasingly mediated by the consumption of images. What is presaged by the new sexualising of men is not merely the extension and refinement of an existing market, but a new order of commodification. Originally carriers of the commodity virus, images have become desirable in themselves. Or to put it another way, our desires are increasingly modelled on the logic of images.”

Lumby, Catharine. “Nothing Personal: Sex, Gender and Identity in The Media Age,” in Matthews, Jill (ed.,). Sex in Public: Australian Sexual Cultures. St. Leonards: Allen and Unwin, 1997, p. 9.

 

“The second school of thought is characterized by newer approaches, which forcibly challenge these essentialist notions of sexuality. This second school of thought includes neo-psychoanalytic approaches which see sexuality and sexual desire as constituted in language (the work of Freud reinterpreted via Jacques Lacan; a position that has been taken up by feminists such as Juliet Mitchell). It also includes discursive or poststructuralist approaches which take as a starting point the work of Michel Foucault who argues that sexuality is an historical apparatus and sex is a complex idea that was formed with the deployment of sexuality.

What links this second group of theorists is the recognition of social and historical sources of sexual definitions and a belief that bodies are only unified through ideological constructs such as sex and sexuality. That is; sex and sexuality are, and have been, shaped and determined by a multiplicity of forces (such as race, class and religion) and have undergone complex historical transformations. We therefore give the notions of sex, gender and sexuality different meanings at different times and for different people. These notions combine to create understandings of ‘sexualized bodies’ which are subsequently expressed and reinforced through a variety of mechanisms; for example through marriage laws, the regulations of deviance, the judiciary, the police, as well as, more generally, the education system, and the welfare system (Weeks, 1989, p. 9). This view of sexuality as ‘constructed’ is in agreement with the view of sex as ‘given’ on the basis that sex and sexuality define us socially and morally. However, this second view suggests that sexuality could be a potentiality for choice, change and diversity, but instead we see it as destiny – and depending on whether you are male, female, homosexual, heterosexual, young, old, black or white, for example, your destiny is set in certain ways.”

Stephen, Kylie. “Sexualized Bodies,” in Evans, M. and Lee, E. (eds.,). Real Bodies. Palgrave, London, 2002, p. 30 [Online] Cited 05/07/2019

 

Eroticism

Eroticism (from the Greek ἔρως, eros – “desire”) is a quality that causes sexual feelings, as well as a philosophical contemplation concerning the aesthetics of sexual desire, sensuality, and romantic love. That quality may be found in any form of artwork, including painting, sculpture, photography, drama, film, music, or literature. It may also be found in advertising. The term may also refer to a state of sexual arousal or anticipation of such – an insistent sexual impulse, desire, or pattern of thoughts.

As French novelist Honoré de Balzac stated, eroticism is dependent not just upon an individual’s sexual morality, but also the culture and time in which an individual resides. …

.
French philosophy

Modern French conceptions of eroticism can be traced to Age of Enlightenment, when “in the eighteenth century, dictionaries defined the erotic as that which concerned love… eroticism was the intrusion into the public sphere of something that was at base private”. This theme of intrusion or transgression was taken up in the twentieth century by the French philosopher Georges Bataille, who argued that eroticism performs a function of dissolving boundaries between human subjectivity and humanity, a transgression that dissolves the rational world but is always temporary, as well as that, “Desire in eroticism is the desire that triumphs over the taboo. It presupposes man in conflict with himself”. For Bataille, as well as many French theorists, “Eroticism, unlike simple sexual activity, is a psychological quest… eroticism is assenting to life even in death”. (George Bataille, Eroticism, Penguin 2001, p. 11.)

.
Non-heterosexual

Queer theory and LGBT studies consider the concept from a non-heterosexual perspective, viewing psychoanalytical and modernist views of eroticism as both archaic and heterosexist, written primarily by and for a “handful of elite, heterosexual, bourgeois men” who “mistook their own repressed sexual proclivities” as the norm.

Theorists like Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Gayle S. Rubinand Marilyn Frye all write extensively about eroticism from a heterosexual, lesbian and separatist point of view, respectively, seeing eroticism as both a political force and cultural critique for marginalised groups, or as Mario Vargas Llosa summarised: “Eroticism has its own moral justification because it says that pleasure is enough for me; it is a statement of the individual’s sovereignty”. (Mangan, J. A. “Men, Masculinity, and Sexuality: Some Recent Literature,” in Journal of the History of Sexuality 3:2, 1992, pp. 303-13.)

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Horace Bristol (1908-1997) 'PBY Blister Gunner, Rescue at Rabaul, 1944' (detail)

 

Horace Bristol (American, 1908-1997)
PBY Blister Gunner, Rescue at Rabaul, 1944 (detail)
1944
Gelatin silver print

 

Battleships

Nagato
?
Fuso

 

 

Horace Bristol

Horace Bristol (November 16, 1908 – August 4, 1997) was a twentieth-century American photographer, best known for his work in Life. His photos appeared in Time, Fortune, Sunset, and National Geographic magazines.

Early life

Bristol was born and raised in Whittier, California, he was the son of Edith Bristol, women’s editor at the San Francisco Call. Bristol attended the Art Center of Los Angeles, originally majoring in architecture. In 1933, he moved to San Francisco to work in commercial photography, and met Ansel Adams, who lived near his studio. Through his friendship with Adams, he met Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham, and other artists. He was copy reader at night for the Los Angeles Times after graduating from Belmont High School.

Photography career

In 1936, Bristol became a part of Life‘s founding photographers, and in 1938, began to document migrant farmers in California’s central valley with John Steinbeck, recording the Great Depression, photographs that would later be called the Grapes of Wrath collection.

In 1941, Bristol was recruited to the U.S. Naval Aviation Photographic Unit, as one of six photographers under the command of Captain Edward J. Steichen, documenting World War II in places such as South Africa, and Japan. Bristol helped to document the invasions of North Africa, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.

Later life

Following his documentation of World War II, Bristol settled in Tokyo, Japan, selling his photographs to magazines in Europe and the United States, and becoming the Asian correspondent to Fortune. He published several books, and established the East-West Photo Agency.

Following the death of his wife in 1956, Bristol burned all his negatives, packed his photographs into storage, and retired from photography. He went on to remarry, and have two children. He returned to the United States, and after 30 years, recovered the photographs from storage, to share with his family. Subsequently he approached his alma mater, Art Center College of Design, where the World War II and migrant worker photographs became the subject of a 1989 solo exhibition. The migrant worker photos would go on to be part of the J. Paul Getty Museum’s Grapes of Wrath series.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Silhouette recognition chart of Japanese surface vessels of World War 2 September 1944

 

Silhouette recognition chart of Japanese surface vessels of World War 2 September 1944

 

 

Great Planes – Catalina Pby

A great documentary about this plane.

 

U.S. Navy. 'A U.S. Navy Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina patrol bomber in flight, 1942-43' c. 1942

 

U.S. Navy
A U.S. Navy Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina patrol bomber in flight, 1942-43
c. 1942
U.S. National Archives 80-G-K-14896

This plane carries radar antennas under its wing

 

U.S. Navy. 'A U.S. Navy Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina patrol bomber in flight, 1942-43' (detail) c. 1942

 

U.S. Navy
A U.S. Navy Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina patrol bomber in flight, 1942-43 (detail)
c. 1942
U.S. National Archives 80-G-K-14896

 

 

Consolidated PBY Catalina

Around 3,300 aircraft were built, and these operated in nearly all operational theatres of World War II. The Catalina served with distinction and played a prominent and invaluable role against the Japanese. This was especially true during the first year of the war in the Pacific, because the PBY and the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress were the only American aircraft with the range to be effective in the Pacific.

First flight: 28 March 1935
Introduction: October 1936, United States Navy
Retired: January 1957 (United States Navy Reserve)
1979 (Brazilian Air Force)
Primary users: United States Navy
United States Army Air Forces
Royal Air Force
Royal Canadian Air Force
Produced: 1936-1945
Number built: 3,305 (2,661 U.S.-built, 620 Canadian-built, 24 Soviet-built

General characteristics

Crew: 10 – pilot, co-pilot, bow turret gunner, flight engineer, radio operator, navigator, radar operator, two waist gunners, ventral gunner
Length: 63 ft 10 7/16 in (19.46 m)
Wingspan: 104 ft 0 in (31.70 m)
Height: 21 ft 1 in (6.15 m)
Wing area: 1,400 ft² (130 m²)
Empty weight: 20,910 lb (9,485 kg)
Max. takeoff weight: 35,420 lb (16,066 kg)
Zero-lift drag coefficient: 0.0309
Drag area: 43.26 ft² (4.02 m²)
Aspect ratio: 7.73
Powerplant: 2 × Pratt & Whitney R-1830-92 Twin Wasp radial engines, 1,200 hp (895 kW) each

Performance

Maximum speed: 196 mph (314 km/h)
Cruise speed: 125 mph (201 km/h)
Range: 2,520 mi (4,030 km)
Service ceiling: 15,800 ft (4,815 m)
Rate of climb: 1,000 ft/min (5.1 m/s)
Wing loading: 25.3 lb/ft² (123.6 kg/m²)
Power/mass: 0.067 hp/lb (0.111 kW/kg)
Lift-to-drag ratio: 11.9

Armament

3x .30 cal (7.62 mm) machine guns (two in nose turret, one in ventral hatch at tail)
2x .50 cal (12.7 mm) machine guns (one in each waist blister)
4,000 lb (1,814 kg) of bombs or depth charges; torpedo racks were also available

October 1941 – January 1945

Hydraulically actuated, retractable tricycle landing gear, with main gear design based on one from the 1920s designed by Leroy Grumman, for amphibious operation. Introduced tail gun position, replaced bow single gun position with bow “eyeball” turret equipped with twin .30 machine guns (some later units), improved armour, self-sealing fuel tanks.

Search and rescue

Catalinas were employed by every branch of the U.S. military as rescue aircraft. A PBY piloted by LCDR Adrian Marks (USN) rescued 56 sailors in high seas from the heavy cruiser Indianapolis after the ship was sunk during World War II. When there was no more room inside, the crew tied sailors to the wings. The aircraft could not fly in this state; instead it acted as a lifeboat, protecting the sailors from exposure and the risk of shark attack, until rescue ships arrived. Catalinas continued to function in the search-and-rescue role for decades after the end of the war.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Howard R. Hollem (American, -1949) for the United States Office of War Information. 'Jesse Rhodes Waller, a World War II Aviation Ordnanceman stationed at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas, installing a M1919 Browning machine gun in a United States Navy PBY plane' August 1942

 

Howard R. Hollem (American, -1949) for the United States Office of War Information
Jesse Rhodes Waller, a World War II Aviation Ordnanceman stationed at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas, installing a M1919 Browning machine gun in a United States Navy PBY plane
August 1942
Kodachrome film
United States Library of Congress Prints and Photographs division digital ID fsac.1a34894
The image is in the public domain

 

 

It’s an intricate operation – installing a 30-calibre machine gun in a Navy PBY plane, but not too tricky for Jesse Rhodes Waller, Corpus Christi, Texas. He’s a Georgia man who’s been in the Navy 5-1/2 years. At the Naval Air Base he sees that the flying ships are kept in tip-top shape. Waller is an aviation ordnance mate (AOM)

Howard R. Hollem was a photographer with the US Farm Security Administration and the US Office of War Information during the 1930s and 1940s.

Jesse Rhodes Waller was enlisted in the US Navy 13 Oct 1936 in Macon, Georgia. He served aboard USS Tarbell (DD-142) and USS Curtiss (AV-4).

 

Howard R. Hollem (American, -1949) for the United States Office of War Information. 'Jesse Rhodes Waller, a World War II Aviation Ordnanceman stationed at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas, installing a M1919 Browning machine gun in a United States Navy PBY plane' (detail) August 1942

 

Howard R. Hollem (American, -1949) for the United States Office of War Information
Jesse Rhodes Waller, a World War II Aviation Ordnanceman stationed at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas, installing a M1919 Browning machine gun in a United States Navy PBY plane (detail)
August 1942
Kodachrome film
United States Library of Congress Prints and Photographs division digital ID fsac.1a34894
The image is in the public domain

 

Howard R. Hollem (American, -1949) for the United States Office of War Information. 'US Navy ordnanceman Jesse Rhodes Waller posing with a M1919 Browning machine gun in a PBY Catalina aircraft, Naval Air Station, Corpus Christi, Texas, United States' August 1942

 

Howard R. Hollem (American, -1949) for the United States Office of War Information
US Navy ordnanceman Jesse Rhodes Waller posing with a M1919 Browning machine gun in a PBY Catalina aircraft, Naval Air Station, Corpus Christi, Texas, United States
August 1942
Kodachrome film
United States Library of Congress Prints and Photographs division
The image is in the public domain

 

 

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22
Apr
19

Exhibition: ‘Under Indian Skies – 19th-Century Photographs from a Private Collection’ at The David Collection, Copenhagen, Denmark

Exhibition dates: 23rd November 2018 – 28th April 2019

Curators: Joachim Meyer and Peter Wandel

 

 

Unknown photographer. 'The Taj Mahal, Agra, from the north' 1870s

 

Unknown photographer
The Taj Mahal, Agra, from the north
1870s
Albumen silver print
© The David Collection

 

 

There are some beautiful photographs in this posting, mainly by British photographers evidencing the colonial gaze.

This is how the British saw their subjects “Under Indian Skies” not how the Indians would have seen themselves. The only Indian photographer in this posting is Lala Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). His photograph The Char Minar, Hyderabad (1880s, below) is a much more fluid, street photography representation of Indian life (long time exposure, blurred figures) than the other grandiose representations of Indian palaces and architecture.

The portraits are also instructive, aping as they do the classical aspirations of contemporary European carte de visite and cabinet cards. Even though the photograph Portrait of a young Indian woman by an unknown photographer (1870s, below) portrays her in Indian dress, she is accompanied to the left by a reproduction of a classical Greek statue. Of course, the aspersion is that while she may be beautiful and different, the Orient is always reliant on Europe and Greece as the birthplace of civilisation, for its existence.

I have included extra information about locations and photographers were possible.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to The David Collection for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photograph for a larger version of the image.

 

The invention of photography in 1839 revolutionised the way in which the world was documented and interpreted, not only in Europe, but also in Asia. As early as the beginning of the 1850s, the British authorities in India launched an impressive photographic survey of architecture. Enthusiastic amateur photographers soon followed suit with atmospheric images of life in the period, including that of maharajas, snake charmers, and elephants bathing in the Ganges.

Through a selection of pictures from a private British collection, this photo exhibition focuses on some of the challenges and subjects that preoccupied the earliest European and Indian photographers. It also displays the distinctive beauty of vintage photos created with difficult to handle apparatuses, big glass negatives, long exposure times, and complex chemical processes.

The exhibition consists of over 80 photographs and photo albums from around 1850 to the beginning of the 20th century. The catalogue was written by the British photo historian John Falconer, who for many years was responsible for the photograph collections in the British Library’s Indian and Oriental departments. The catalogue costs DKK 200 and can be purchased in the museum shop, which also sells the lovely exhibition poster for DKK 40.

Text from The David Collection website [Online] Cited 24/03/2019

 

 

Donald Horne Macfarlane. 'Elephants bathing' 1862

 

Donald Horne Macfarlane (Scottish, 1830-1904)
Elephants bathing
1862
Albumen silver print
© The David Collection

 

 

Sir Donald Horne Macfarlane (July 1830 – 2 June 1904) was a Scottish merchant who entered politics and became a Member of Parliament (MP), firstly as a Home Rule League MP in Ireland and then as Liberal and Crofters Party MP in Scotland. Macfarlane was born in Scotland, the youngest son of Allan Macfarlane, J.P., of Caithness and his wife Margaret Horne. He became an East Indies merchant as a tea trader and indigo plantation owner. While in India he was a passionate amateur photographer. He experimented freely and produced semi-abstract images

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Donald Horne Macfarlane. 'Elephants bathing' 1862 (detail)

 

Donald Horne Macfarlane (Scottish, 1830-1904)
Elephants bathing (detail)
1862
Albumen silver print
© The David Collection

 

Felice Beato (Italian-British, 1832-1909) 'The Chattar Manzil Palace and the King of Oudh’s boat in the shape of a fish, Lucknow' 1858

 

Felice Beato (Italian-British, 1832-1909)
The Chattar Manzil Palace and the King of Oudh’s boat in the shape of a fish, Lucknow
1858
Albumen silver print
24.8 × 30 cm (9 3/4 × 11 13/16 in.)
© The David Collection

 

Felice Beato (Italian-British, 1832-1909) 'The Chattar Manzil Palace and the King of Oudh’s boat in the shape of a fish, Lucknow' 1858 (detail)

 

Felice Beato (Italian-British, 1832-1909)
The Chattar Manzil Palace and the King of Oudh’s boat in the shape of a fish, Lucknow (detail)
1858
Albumen silver print
24.8 × 30 cm (9 3/4 × 11 13/16 in.)
© The David Collection

 

 

View of one of the Chattar Manzil [Umbrella Palaces] showing the King’s boat called The Royal Boat of Oude on the Gomti River, Lucknow, India.

The Chattar Manzil (Urdu: چھتر منزل‎, Hindi: छतर मंज़िल), or Umbrella Palace is a building in Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh which served as a palace for the rulers of Awadh and their wives. It was constructed by order of NawabGhazi Uddin Haider and completed after his death by his successor, Nawab Nasir Uddin Haider.

The Chattar Manzil stand on the banks of the River Gomti. The Chattar Manzil consisted of a Bari (larger) Chattar Manzil and Chhoti (smaller) Chattar Manzil, however only the larger one still exists. These two buildings were examples of the Indo-European-Nawabi architectural style, even though the Bari Chattar Manzil has been altered over the years. The palaces were named after the chattris (umbrella-shaped domes) on the octagonal pavilions, which crown the buildings. The imposing building has large underground rooms and a dome surmounted by a gilt umbrella.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Felice Beato. 'Courtyard of the Sikandarbagh' 1858

 

Felice Beato (Italian-British, 1832-1909)
Courtyard of the Sikandarbagh
1858
Albumen silver print
© The David Collection

 

 

Felice Beato (1832 – 29 January 1909), also known as Felix Beato, was an Italian-British photographer. He was one of the first people to take photographs in East Asia and one of the first war photographers. He is noted for his genre works, portraits, and views and panoramas of the architecture and landscapes of Asia and the Mediterranean region. Beato’s travels gave him the opportunity to create images of countries, people, and events that were unfamiliar and remote to most people in Europe and North America. His work provides images of such events as the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and the Second Opium War, and represents the first substantial body of photojournalism. He influenced other photographers, and his influence in Japan, where he taught and worked with numerous other photographers and artists, was particularly deep and lasting. …

In February 1858 Beato arrived in Calcutta and began travelling throughout Northern India to document the aftermath of the Indian Rebellion of 1857. During this time he produced possibly the first-ever photographic images of corpses. It is believed that for at least one of his photographs taken at the palace of Sikandar Bagh in Lucknow he had the skeletal remains of Indian rebels disinterred or rearranged to heighten the photograph’s dramatic impact17. He was also in the cities of Delhi, Cawnpore, Meerut, Benares, Amritsar, Agra, Simla, and Lahore. Beato was joined in July 1858 by his brother Antonio, who later left India, probably for health reasons, in December 1859. Antonio ended up in Egypt in 1860, setting up a photographic studio in Thebes in 1862.

Text from the Wikipedia website

17. Gartlan, Luke. “Felix Beato,” in Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography 2, p. 128.

 

Felice Beato. 'Courtyard of the Sikandarbagh' 1858 (detail)

 

Felice Beato (Italian-British, 1832-1909)
Courtyard of the Sikandarbagh (detail)
1858
Albumen silver print
© The David Collection

 

 

Interior of the Secundra Bagh after the Slaughter of 2,000 Rebels by the 93rd Highlanders and 4th Punjab Regiment. First Attack of Sir Colin Campbell in November 1857, Lucknow. Albumen silver print, by Felice Beato, 1858. Located on the outskirts of Lucknow, it was the scene of intense fighting in November, 1857. Following the action, the British dead were buried in a deep trench but the Indian corpses were left to rot. Later, the city had to be evacuated and was not recaptured until March 1858 and it was shortly afterwards that Beato probably took this photograph. As one contemporary commentator described it: “A few of their [rebel] bones and skulls are to be seen in front of the picture, but when I saw them every one was being regularly buried, so I presume the dogs dug them up.” A British officer, Sir George Campbell, noted in his memoirs Beato’s presence in Lucknow and stated that he probably had the bones uncovered to be photographed. However, William Howard Russell of The Times recorded seeing many skeletons still lying around in April 1858 Photographic views of Lucknow taken after the Indian Mutiny, Albumen silver print 26.2 x 29.8 cm. The image was taken by Felice Beato, a Corfiote by birth, who visited India during the period of the Indian Mutiny or First War of Indian Independence; possibly on a commissioned by the War Office in London he made documentary photographs showing the damage to the buildings in Lucknow following the two sieges. It is known that he was in Lucknow in March and April of 1858 within a few weeks of the capture of that city by British forces under Sir Colin Campbell. His equipment was a large box camera using 10″ x 12″ plates which needed a long exposure, and he made over 60 photographs of places in the city connected with the military events. Beato also visited Delhi, Cawnpore and other ‘Mutiny’ sites where he took photographs.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Felice Beato (Italian-British, 1832-1909) 'A mosque in the Red Fort, Dehli' 1858

 

Felice Beato (Italian-British, 1832-1909)
A mosque in the Red Fort, Dehli
1858
Albumen silver print
© The David Collection

 

Felice Beato (Italian-British, 1832-1909) 'A mosque in the Red Fort, Dehli' 1858 (detail)

 

Felice Beato (Italian-British, 1832-1909)
A mosque in the Red Fort, Dehli (detail)
1858
Albumen silver print
© The David Collection

Samuel Bourne (English, 1834-1912) 'Alai Darwaza at the Qutb, Delhi' c. 1864

 

Samuel Bourne (English, 1834-1912)
Alai Darwaza at the Qutb, Delhi [Ala-ood-deen’s Gateway]
c. 1864
Albumen silver print
23.7 × 29.8 cm (9 5/16 × 11 3/4 in.)
© The David Collection

 

 

View of the front facade of the Alai Darwaza gatehouse at the Qutb complex in Delhi. The building is almost entirely covered with intricately carved geometric and floral patterns, which also adorn the pierced latticework screens that cover the arched windows flanking the archway over the entrance.

This photograph shows a gateway into the extended Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque. Known as the Alai Darwaza, it was built in 1311 by the Afgan ruler Alauddin Khalji. He had grand plans to extend the original mosque. Most of them were abandoned after his death in 1315, but this gateway is the most notable addition he made. It is 17.2 metres square.

The mosque and gateway are made out of rubble. It is the first of many Indian Islamic monuments to use a combination of white marble and red sandstone for the façade. Its distinctive features are the use of symmetry and the finely carved calligraphic and arabesque decoration on the southern façade of the gateway. This is also the first monument in which a true arch, using the radiating voussoirs shown here, is fully integrated into the design. The design is influenced by the architectural traditions of the empire of the Saljugs from western Asia.

The British photographer Samuel Bourne lived and worked in India between 1862 and 1869. During this time he toured the Himalayas and travelled through the subcontinent, photographing its landscape, architecture and historical sites. He set up a studio in Simla with Charles Shepherd and sold his prints sold to an eager public both in India and Britain.

Text from the V&A website

 

The Qutb complex are monuments and buildings from the Delhi Sultanate at Mehrauli in Delhi in India. The Qutub Minar in the complex, named after Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki, was built by Qutb-ud-din Aibak, who later became the first Sultan of Delhi of the Mamluk dynasty. The Minar was added upon by his successor Iltutmish (a.k.a. Altamash), and much later by Firoz Shah Tughlaq, a Sultan of Delhi from the Tughlaq dynasty in 1368 AD. The Qubbat-ul-Islam Mosque (Dome of Islam), later corrupted into Quwwat-ul Islam, stands next to the Qutb Minar.

Many subsequent rulers, including the Tughlaqs, Alauddin Khalji and the British added structures to the complex. Apart from the Qutb Minar and the Quwwat ul-Islam Mosque, other structures in the complex include the Alai Gate, the Alai Minar, the Iron pillar, the ruins of several earlier Jain temples, and the tombs of Iltutmish, Alauddin Khalji and Imam Zamin.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Unknown photographer. 'View from the entrance gateway of Akbar's Tomb, Sikandra' 1870s

 

Unknown photographer
View from the entrance gateway of Akbar’s Tomb, Sikandra
1870s
Albumen silver print
© The David Collection

 

Akbar’s tomb is the tomb of the Mughal emperor, Akbar and an important Mughal architectural masterpiece. It was built in 1604-1613 and is situated in 119 acres of grounds in Sikandra, a sub of Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India.

 

 

The first photographs from India

The David Collection’s new special exhibition provides a hitherto unknown first-hand impression of 19th-century India, primarily – but not exclusively – seen with the eyes of western photographers. Through original vintage photographs, the viewer is taken back to photography’s birth and earliest childhood and up to around 1900.

Photography had made a breakthrough in British-dominated India in the early 1850s. With its magnificent architecture, exotic landscapes, and many different peoples and cultures, India offered fantastic motifs: splendid Islamic palaces, mosques, and sepulchral monuments. Princes, maharajas, ministers, and warriors in all their glory. But also an abundance of life among the common people, with everyone from stonemasons to snake charmers as well as elephants bathing in the Ganges.

Motifs of a completely different type that can be seen in the exhibition are those of the shattered palaces and dead warriors that spoke admonishingly of the rebellion against British rule in 1857-1858. The rebellion broke out after Muslim and Hindu soldiers had been forced by the British to use cartridges supposedly greased with fat from pigs and cows. These are some of history’s earliest war photographs, which in Europe served as the basis for newspaper illustrations.

The photographs were often taken under difficult working conditions. The heavy photo equipment had to be transported to distant regions along impassible roads, and its chemicals dried out in the tropical heat. The exposure time could be very long, and processing the negatives and the positives was often arduous.

Experiments were made with the new media by both visiting and local photo pioneers. The exhibition bears witness to the exchanges and competition between amateurs and the professional photographers whose studios popped up in innumerable places in India in the years up to 1900. The photographs also show how the new medium developed in the tension field between documentation and creative art form.

The over 80 works in the exhibition comprise photographs and photo albums, all of which were lent by the same private collection. The exhibition catalogue was written by the British photo historian John Falconer, who for many years was responsible for the photograph collections in the British Library’s Indian and Oriental departments. The author is one of the world’s leading specialists in this field and his catalogue provides a detailed and lively account of the photographers’ India in the 19th century and their photographic techniques.

 

Book

Under Indian Skies is the book behind the forthcoming exhibition of the same name, which opens at The David Collection on 23 November 2018. The book – and the exhibition – offer a previously unknown, first-hand impression of 19th-century India, as seen through the eyes of primarily Western photographers. At the beginning of the 1850s photography made its breakthrough in colonial India. With its impressive architecture, exotic landscapes and many different ethnic groups and cultures, the country offered fantastic motifs. The Indian architecture with its magnificent Islamic palaces and mausolea. Princes, maharajas, ministers and soldiers in all of their splendour. But also ordinary people and daily life: stone-cutters and woodcarvers, carpenters and dyers, daily life with the elephants that bathe in the Ganges, cotton harvesters and gardeners, acrobats, snake charmers, dancers, musicians and religious processions.

In the book we are led all the way back to the conception and early years of photography, just before 1850, and right up until around 1900, when the medium was long established. What is more, the book includes what may well be the first examples of war photography – the ruins and corpses left behind after a large, bloody uprising in the end of the 1850s, triggered when the British forced local Hindu and Muslim troops to use cartridges greased with the fat of cows and pigs.

The photographers travelling to India to undertake ‘reportage’ photography were akin to explorers and their journeys were difficult expeditions, during which with great effort – and an army of helpers – they surveyed the remotest regions. The photographs of the first decades were composed in much the same way as paintings from the same period. The technical challenges were immense and exposure times, for instance, were extremely long, so everything had to be planned to the smallest detail.

Under Indian Skies presents a riveting, kaleidoscopic picture of an India that for the most part has disappeared today. Some monuments are still standing and one might still see similar scenes there, but the present infrastructure and political circumstances are completely different to that time.

In addition to the presentation of eighty-three selected photographs, the book contains two essays, on the history of photography in India and early photographic processes respectively.

 

About the Author

John Falconer is a British historian of photography, who for many years was responsible for the photography collection at the British Library’s Indian and Oriental departments. He has written many books on early Indian photography and is one of the world’s leading specialists in this area.

Press release from The David Collection Cited 24/03/2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under Indian Skies - 19th-Century Photographs from a Private Collection' at The David Collection, Copenhagen, Denmark

 

Installation view of the exhibition Under Indian Skies – 19th-Century Photographs from a Private Collection at The David Collection, Copenhagen, Denmark

 

Robert (1818-1872) and Harriet (1827-1907) Tytler. 'View at the Taj Mahal, Agra' 1858

 

Robert (1818-1872) and Harriet (1827-1907) Tytler
View at the Taj Mahal, Agra
1858
Calotype negative
510 x 400 mm
© The David Collection

 

 

Although Robert Tytler and his wife Harriet only took up photography after the Uprising of 1857-58, they managed to produce over 500 photographs of the sites of conflict in less than six months. Their use of very large paper negatives such as this, with the associated technical difficulties, was an ambitious choice for photographers new to the medium. The production of negatives of this size needed extremely large and unwieldy cameras, with consequently long exposures: a note on the back of this negative states that it required an exposure of twenty-five minutes. This decision probably owed much to the tuition the Tytlers received from the established photographer John Murray, who used a similar-sized camera and whose processing procedures they also adopted. This view (laterally reversed in the negative), is taken from outside the Taj Mahal complex from a position in front of the west gate (Fatehpuri Darwaza), looking north along the outer western wall towards the tomb of Fatehpuri Begum in the distance.

Text from the book Under Indian Skies

 

Lala Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905) 'The Char Minar, Hyderabad' 1880s

 

Lala Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905)
The Char Minar, Hyderabad
1880s
Albumen silver print
© The David Collection

 

 

Lala Deen Dayal was trained as an engineer but took up photography around 1864. He entered government service in 1866, founded the firm “Lala Deen Dayal & Sons” in 1868, and was commissioned to photograph temples and palaces of India. In 1886, Dayal retired from government service and became a professional photographer, moving to Hyderabad, India to work for the Nizam of Hyderabad, who conferred the honorary title of “raja” upon him.

Text from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

 

The Charminar (“Four Minarets”), constructed in 1591, is a monument and mosque located in Hyderabad, Telangana, India. The landmark has become a global icon of Hyderabad, listed among the most recognised structures of India. Charminar has been a historical place with Mosque on the top floor for over 400 years and also known for its surrounding markets. It is one of the tourist attractions in Hyderabad. It is where many famous festivals are celebrated, such as Eid-ul-adha and Eid-ul-fitr.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Meadows Taylor (1808-76) and James Fergusson (1808-1886) 'Architecture at Beejapoor, London' 1866

 

Meadows Taylor (1808-76) and James Fergusson (1808-1886)
Architecture at Beejapoor, London
1866
Album

 

Architecture at Beejapoor, an ancient Mahometan capital in the Bombay Presidency / photographed from drawings by Capt. P.D. Hart … ; with an historical and descriptive memoir by Captain Meadows Taylor ; and … notes by James Fergusson. 1866.

 

Meadows Taylor (1808-76) and James Fergusson (1808-1886) 'Architecture at Beejapoor, London' 1866 (detail)

 

Meadows Taylor (1808-76) and James Fergusson (1808-1886)
“Malik-I-Mydan” – “The Master of the Plain.”
Architecture at Beejapoor, London (detail)
1866
Album

 

This gun was brought back from Ahmadnagar in the 17th century as a trophy of war and is thought to be the largest medieval cannon in the world.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Appah Sahib Augriah, Mahratta, Sirdar and relative of Scindia' c. 1859

 

Unknown photographer
Appah Sahib Augriah, Mahratta, Sirdar and relative of Scindia
c. 1859
Albumen silver print
200 x 166 mm
© The David Collection

 

 

The title of Sirdar (or Sardar), from the Persian for a commander, could apply to a wide variety of senior positions, either military or administrative. The precise role of this figure in the Maharajah of Gwalior’s administration has not been established: the term was also often used by the British in a more general sense in the nineteenth century to denote a nobleman.

Text from the book Under Indian Skies

 

Unknown photographer. 'Appah Sahib Augriah, Mahratta, Sirdar and relative of Scindia' c. 1859 (detail)

 

Unknown photographer
Appah Sahib Augriah, Mahratta, Sirdar and relative of Scindia (detail)
c. 1859
Albumen silver print
200 x 166 mm
© The David Collection

 

Unknown photographer. 'Portrait of a Rajput prince in armour' 1866

 

Unknown photographer
Portrait of a Rajput prince in armour
1866
Hand-coloured photograph (probably an albumen print)
214 x 138 mm
© The David Collection

 

 

This delicately hand-coloured image depicts a Rajput ruler wearing an elaborate eighteenth-century armour known as Chahelta Hazah (Coat of a Thousand Nails). The inscription (in a Rajasthani form of Hindi, written in Devanagari script) identifies the sitter as Maharaj Shri Savan (or Sovan) Singhji. While the photographer is not named, it states that ‘Shivlal the painter coloured it’ and supplies a date of late September 1866.

Text from the book Under Indian Skies

 

Unknown photographer. 'Portrait of a young Indian woman' 1870s

 

Unknown photographer
Portrait of a young Indian woman
1870s
Albumen silver print
© The David Collection

 

Unknown photographer. 'Portrait of a young Indian woman' 1870s (detail)

 

Unknown photographer
Portrait of a young Indian woman (detail)
1870s
Albumen silver print
© The David Collection

 

Johnston and Hoffmann. 'Portrait of a young prince' c. 1900

 

Johnston and Hoffmann (Calcutta, 1882-1950s)
P. Johnston (Great Britain, died 1891)
Theodore Hoffmann (Germany? 1883 /1887 – India? 1921)
Portrait of a young prince
c. 1900
Albumen silver print
© The David Collection

 

R.K. Brothers. 'Ruling group, probably from Bikaner' c. 1900

 

R.K. Brothers
Ruling group, probably from Bikaner
c. 1900
Albumen silver print
© The David Collection

 

 

Bikaner is a city in the north Indian state of Rajasthan, east of the border with Pakistan. It’s surrounded by the Thar Desert. The city is known for the 16th-century Junagarh Fort, a huge complex of ornate buildings and halls. Within the fort, the Prachina Museum displays traditional textiles and royal portraits. Nearby, the Karni Mata Temple is home to many rats considered sacred by Hindu devotees.

 

R.K. Brothers. 'Ruling group, probably from Bikaner' c. 1900 (detail)

 

R.K. Brothers
Ruling group, probably from Bikaner (detail)
c. 1900
Albumen silver print
© The David Collection

 

 

The David Collection
Kronprinsessegade 30
1306 Copenhagen K
Denmark
Phone: +45 33 73 49 49

Opening hours
Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 17pm
Wednesday until 21.00pm
Monday closed
Also closed December 23, 24, 25, and 31

The David Collection website

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20
Jan
19

Exhibition: ‘Matthias Bruggmann. An Act of Unspeakable Violence’ at the Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

Exhibition dates: 17th October 2018 – 27th January 2019

Curator: Lydia Dorner, Curator Assistant, Musée de l’Elysée

 

 

Matthias Bruggmann. 'Marmarita, Reef Homes, September 11 2013'

 

Matthias Bruggmann
Marmarita, Reef Homes, September 11 2013
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

 

“The swimming pool at Al-Khair Hotel, above Marmarita. A number of the young men are from the Christian militia that protects Marmarita and helps besiege both the Krak des Chevaliers and al Husn, the Sunni village built around it. The Krak fell to the Syrian army in March 2014. Reuters, quoting Lebanese medical sources, reported that over forty of the opposition fighters fleeing the area were wounded in an ambush on the way out, with eight dead.”

 

 

These magnificent, thought provoking photographs by Swiss photographer Matthias Bruggmann take a critical look at the representation of the atrocities of war. The photographs won the Prix Elysée in 2017, awarded by the Musée de l’Elysée.

The photographs picture everyday life in what Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam has so aptly referred to as the “majority world” – that is, they attend to issues of critical importance in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and Oceania… not Europe or America. They shine a light on the conflict that is taking place in Syria and the surrounding geographical area by offering an outsiders perspective, much as Robert Frank offered an outsiders perspective on American society as he travelled through the USA, the resultant photographs leading to the production of his famous book The Americans.

But here the stakes are much higher. Here, life hangs in the balance. The little girl with the blond hair balances on her father’s shoulders; a man in silhouette peers through his night scope while the stars of the cosmos hang in the night sky behind; a man fires his machine pistol by holding it above his head, his comrades sheltering behind rocks; while a young man sits on his haunches, hunched over, blindfolded, bruised and in handcuffs. Awaiting some unknown fate.

One image among these formal, classical photographs (a body of work which crosses over from photojournalism to contemporary artistic photography) is particularly disturbing. On the road, Iraq, September 24 2016 (below) shows a group of men much like the groups of men that can be seen in Baroque painting. One man addresses the viewer holding a mobile phone, his face a skeleton, mask; another four men hold mobile phones in various attitudes, recording the scene or looking into them; the man at left, with a gun thrusting down his leg, walks into the scene, while the one behind walks out of scene, left; in the distance at right, a machine gun is mounted on a tripod, with man walking out of scene, right; while at centre right a group of four men, one with a Union Jack flag on the crutch of his trousers (?!), gaze down at a recumbent figure, a figure that you don’t initially see when looking at the photograph, for every man is standing but for the blood soaked figure of death.

The photograph highlights the barrenness of the landscape and the symbolical values embedded in the scene (masculinity, war, guns, flags, mobile phones, bodies, attitudes, death), clues in a charade which the spectator solves volens nolens – unwilling (or) willing: like it or not. The truth is yelled at you, if you know how to interpret the symbols.

It’s the mundanity evidenced in most of these mise en scène that gets you in the guts, that stirs up my anger and feelings of sadness and regret. I am so over ugly, male energy, from whichever side, from wherever – used in the name of religion, nationalism, power and control – to rule the life of others. These photographs are like a sad lament, a prayer offered up to the human race to ask deliverance from distress, suffering, and pain. Indifference to the pain and suffering of others should not be an option, for “in difference”, “we look with respect to another culture or another people.” (Mr Massarwe)

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the Musée de l’Elysée for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Matthias Bruggmann. 'Reef Idlib, February 20, 2013'

 

Matthias Bruggmann
Reef Idlib, February 20, 2013
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

“Two men mourn their brother who died decapitated by a regime shell. The fear of bombings was such that families stopped organising large funerals.”

 

Matthias Bruggmann. 'On the road Iraq September 24 2016'

 

Matthias Bruggmann
On the road, Iraq, September 24 2016
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

Matthias Bruggmann. 'Reef Idlib, 3 May 2014'

 

Matthias Bruggmann
Reef Idlib, 3 May 2014
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

 

“Using toilet cleaner and a dental probe, middlemen clean ancient coins. Coins and other antiquities are exported throughout the region, mostly to Turkey, but also Lebanon and, in some cases, Jordan, from where silver shekels then make their way to the Jerusalem souvenir industry. The trickiest part is faking provenance so that the antiquities can enter the highly lucrative Western market – dealers in neighbouring countries would take a fifty percent cut on the sale for the procurement. The asking price for a Byzantine mosaic measuring around two square meters was between 1,500 and 2,000 dollars and smuggling it out to a neighbouring country cost around 4,000 dollars at that point. Many of the deals were carried out over WhatsApp, and Syrians were often double-crossed by unscrupulous foreign dealers. One of the men in this photograph later complained that a North American dealer had cost him a small fortune when he refused to pay up his share.”

 

Matthias Bruggmann. 'Reef Idlib, 3 May 2014' (detail)

 

Matthias Bruggmann
Reef Idlib, 3 May 2014 (detail)
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

Matthias Bruggmann Talmenes. 'Reef Idlib 1 mai 2014'

 

Matthias Bruggmann
Talmenes Reef Idlib 1 mai 2014
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

 

“The remains of a barrel of chlorine (Cl₂) that was dropped on a house from a helicopter. This is one of the hundred or so documented attacks using chemical agents that happened before and after the 2013 Ghouta bombings in Damascus that the United States estimates killed 1,429. The Syrian government was the only warring faction to have access to airpower, therefore it is unthinkable that anyone else dropped this barrel. A man who refused to give his name, presenting himself as the owner of the house and the father of two of the children killed in the bombing, explained that he was an employee of a government-run granary. When he went back to work, he said, men came and offered him to interview him on an official TV channel to say that Jabhat al-Nusra had dropped the bomb. He added that the men offered to give him money to rebuild his house in exchange. This attack, which killed 3 and wounded over 130, was extensively documented, both by Human Rights Watch and by Christoph Reuter in Germany’s Der Spiegel. As of mid-2018, the Syrian Archive also held over a dozen videos of the attack and its aftermath.”

 

Matthias Bruggmann. 'Kafr Souseh, Damascus, 5 May 2012'

 

Matthias Bruggmann
Kafr Souseh, Damascus, 5 May 2012
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

Matthias Bruggmann. 'Desert, 20 September 2016'

 

Matthias Bruggmann
Desert, 20 September 2016
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

Matthias Bruggmann. 'Desert, 20 September 2016' (detail)

 

Matthias Bruggmann
Desert, 20 September 2016 (detail)
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

Matthias Bruggmann. 'Shinshirah, Reef Idlib, 19 May 2014'

 

Matthias Bruggmann
Shinshirah, Reef Idlib, 19 May 2014
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

Matthias Bruggmann. 'Shinshirah, Reef Idlib, 19 May 2014' (detail)

 

Matthias Bruggmann
Shinshirah, Reef Idlib, 19 May 2014 (detail)
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

 

Matthias Bruggmann is the winner of the second edition of the Prix Elysée, with the support of Parmigiani Fleurier, for his project on Syria. Hoping to “bring, to Western viewers, a visceral comprehension of the intangible violence that underlies conflict”, he takes the gamble of hiding nothing in his explicit and brutal pictures. Taken in the field, they force the viewer to slow down and take stock of the war – geographically distant, admittedly, but made omnipresent by the media.

If the tens of thousands of pictures of torture taken by Syrian photographers do not attract the attention of a Western audience, what can a foreigner who doesn’t even speak Arabic hope to accomplish? The photographs of Matthias Bruggmann take a critical look at the representation of the atrocities of war. They give Westerners a more nuanced picture of the reality of an armed conflict and blur the boundaries between photojournalism and contemporary artistic photography.

Launched in 2012, his project plunges us into the complexity of the conflict. His images, which cover a geographic zone larger than Syria, question our moral assumptions and bring about a better understanding of the violence underlying this conflict.

Matthias Bruggmann explains: “Formally, my previous work put viewers in a position where they were asked to decide the nature of the work itself. A scientifically questionable analogy of this mechanism would be the observer effect in quantum physics, where the act of observing changes the nature of what is being observed. My Syrian work builds on this framework. From a documentation perspective, it is, thus far and to the best of my knowledge, unique as the work, inside Syria, of a single Western photographer, in large part thanks to the assistance and hard work of some of the best independent experts on the conflict. Because of the nature of this conflict, I believe it is necessary to expand the geographical scope of the work. At its core is an attempt at generating a sense of moral ambiguity. The design of this is to make viewers uneasy by challenging their own moral assumptions and, thus, attempt to bring, to Western viewers, a visceral comprehension of the intangible violence that underlies conflict. One of the means is by perverting the codes normally used in documentary photography to enhance identification with the subject.”

 

Biography

Matthias Bruggmann is a Swiss photographer who was born in Aixen-Provence in 1978. For the past 15 years, his work has focused on the different war zones throughout the world. After graduating from the Vevey School of Photography in 2003, he became interested very early on in the complexity of his profession in times of war. At the beginning of the 2000s, he accompanied the photojournalist Antonin Kratochvil, who covered the invasion of Iraq. This first experience provided him with the opportunity to explore the complex link between photojournalism and reality – what is actually grasped or described. Since that time, his personal projects have taken him to Egypt, Haiti, Libya and Somalia.

Matthias Bruggmann’s work was featured in the exhibition reGeneration: 50 photographers of tomorrow, organised by the Musée de l’Elysée in 2005, and he was part of the curatorial team for We Are All Photographers Now! presented at the museum in 2007. He is also one of the cofounders of the contemporary art space, Standard/Deluxe, in Lausanne. His photographs have been published in countless newspapers and magazines, including Le Monde, The Sunday Times, Time Magazine and National Geographic.

His work is included in a number of private collections, as well as the public collections of the Frac Midi-Pyrénées and the Musée de l’Elysée. His project on Syria received the Prix Elysée in 2017, awarded by the Musée de l’Elysée with the support of Parmigiani Fleurier. He is represented by the Contact Press Images agency and by the Galerie Polaris in Paris.

Press release from the Musée de l’Elysée website

 

Matthias Bruggmann. 'Shirqat, Iraq, 22 September 2016'

 

Matthias Bruggmann
Shirqat, Iraq, 22 September 2016
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

Matthias Bruggmann. 'Shirqat, Iraq, 22 September 2016' (detail)

 

Matthias Bruggmann
Shirqat, Iraq, 22 September 2016 (detail)
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

Matthias Bruggmann. 'Ghazi Ayaash, Deir ez-Zor, May 25, 2015'

 

Matthias Bruggmann
Ghazi Ayaash, Deir ez-Zor, May 25, 2015
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

Matthias Bruggmann. 'Rabiah, Reef Hama, April 23, 2012'

 

Matthias Bruggmann
Rabiah, Reef Hama, April 23, 2012
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

Matthias Bruggmann. 'Hadar, Reef Quneitra, August 7, 2015'

 

Matthias Bruggmann
Hadar, Reef Quneitra, August 7, 2015
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

At the northern frontline between the Druze fighters and Jabhat al-Nusra, the older fighters teach the younger ones how to fight. Some of the fighters were in the security services, and either retired, or went absent without leave to defend their village.

 

Matthias Bruggmann. 'Bab Hud, Homs, May 26, 2012'

 

Matthias Bruggmann
Bab Hud, Homs, May 26, 2012
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

 

Syria, 2012. In the old town of Homs, a group of fighters and activists meet to stage an allegorical piece written by one of them, who was, in his life, before the revolution, a known writer. In this piece, a lion (or assad, in Arabic …) has lost his voice, and mistreats the other animals to try to find it. The street next door is one of the most dangerous in the city, because it is the corner of government shooters.

 

Matthias Bruggmann. 'Bab Hud, Homs, May 26, 2012' (detail)

 

Matthias Bruggmann
Bab Hud, Homs, May 26, 2012 (detail)
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

Matthias Bruggmann. 'Industrial City, Deir ez-Zor, May 5, 2015'

 

Matthias Bruggmann
Industrial City, Deir ez-Zor, May 5, 2015
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

Matthias Bruggmann. 'Shirqat, Iraq, September 22, 2016'

 

Matthias Bruggmann
Shirqat, Iraq, September 22, 2016
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

 

The Musée de l’Elysée
18, avenue de l’Elysée
CH - 1014 Lausanne
Phone: + 41 21 316 99 11

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02
Nov
18

Text: Marcus Bunyan. ‘Death and the image’ 2018

November 2018

 

This text was written in 2017 for a special issue of the international magazine Text on the subject ‘Writing Trauma’. While the text was accepted, the peer-reviewers wanted heavy revisions, including reordering the piece and editing out my personal stories. At the time, I was going into hospital for an operation on my hand and such revisions were impossible to undertake.

Now, over a year later, I have reread the text… and I have amended and extended it, but otherwise I am going to leave it as I wrote it in the first place. I like the way I write and I like my personal stories. While it is a long read the writing addresses an important subject with, I hope, some interesting insights along the way.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 8,137

Download Death and the image (4.3Mb pdf)

 

 

Abstract

This text investigates how the act of photography visually writes trauma. Through an analysis of the context of images of death by artists such as Alphonse Bertillon, Robert Capa, Alexander Gardner, and Walker Evans the paper ponders how the camera captures human beings ante-mortem, at the death point, post-mortem and vita ad mortem.

It seeks to understand that line between presence and absence where life was there… and now death is in its place. Death was one step removed, now it is present. How does the act and performance of photography depict the trauma of death, this double death (for the photograph is a memento mori and/or the person in the photograph may already know that they are going to die).

“The text of eternity that the photograph proposes, imparts and imposes a paradoxical state of loss. The secret of telling truth in a photograph is that the more truthful, “the more orgasmic, the more pleasurable, the more suicidal” the pronouncement of the perfect paradox (you are dead but also alive) … then the more we are strangled while uttering it. The language of deferral in the writing of trauma in death and the image becomes the dissolve that seizes the subject in the midst of an eternal bliss. In death and the image we may actually die (be)coming.”

Keywords

Trauma, photography, death, art, memento mori, war, execution, memory, victim, representation, Alphonse Bertillon, Robert Capa, Alexander Gardner, Walker Evans, ante-mortem, point of death, death point, post-mortem, punctum, empathy, vita ad mortem, life after death.

 

 

Death and the image

 

 

.
“Photography, because it stops the flow of life, is always flirting with death…”

.
John Berger1

 

“On the most fundamental level there are transitions from continuous to discontinuous or from discontinuous to continuous. We are discontinuous beings, individuals who perish in isolation in the midst of an incomprehensible adventure, but we yearn for our lost continuity. We find the state of affairs that binds us to our random and ephemeral individuality hard to bear. Along with our tormenting desire that this evanescent thing should last, there stands our obsession with a primal continuity linking us with everything that is.”

.
Georges Bataille2

 

 

German Gen. Anton Dostler is tied to a stake before his execution

 

“German General Anton Dostler is tied to a stake before his execution by a firing squad in the Aversa stockade. The General was convicted and sentenced to death by an American military tribunal. Aversa, Italy.” Blomgren, December 1, 1945. 111-SC-225295. National Archives Identifier: 531326

 

 

Trial and Execution of General Anton Dostler

The still photograph (above) can be seen being taken by the flash from a still camera that occurs at 5.16 secs in the YouTube film. The photographer can then be seen walking off. Later in the film another angle of the execution is shown, again with the flash of the absent camera recorded, starting at 7.10 secs. The displacement of time and space, between one point of view and another, with the absence of the still camera in both instances (in the image and in the film), is uncanny.
* See additional image of Dostler’s execution taken from a different perspective in the Addendum section of this text.

 

 

1

One of life’s recurrent themes is mortality. As Bataille notes, we are discontinuous beings: we live, we breathe, and we die. Photography’s recurrent theme is also mortality. In a ghostly evocation, the medium possesses an odour of death that sticks in the throat. So how then does photography visually write the trauma of death – over time, through space, in different contexts, with multiple narratives and different points of view?

As a first point of reference, we need to define trauma. Trauma can be an injury to living tissue; a disordered psychic or behavioural state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury; an emotional upset and an agent, force or mechanism that causes all or any of these conditions.3 Atkinson and Richardson note that the work of theorists such as Nicolas Abraham, Maria Torok, Shoshana Felman, Dori Laub, Dominick LaCapra, and Cathy Caruth in broad terms view trauma,

“… as the delayed manifestation of a psychic wound sustained during an experience that has happened too quickly to allow registration and processing of the event at the time of its occurrence. To study trauma in literary or cultural terms, then, is to be concerned with the tension between what is known and what is not known, and with the impact and dynamics of the woundedness and machinations of trauma – not only its purely physical instantiation, but in all its reverberations. This is what brings the study of trauma to the uncertainty of truth, the impossibility of bearing absolute witness to catastrophe, the multiplicity of historical narratives.”4

.
Constitutive of trauma and its affects is the “piercing of the psychic shield” which protects a fragile subjectivity leaving in its wake shattered individuals, communities and even whole nations.5 Further, Michalinos Zembylas citing Kaplan (2005) notes that “an important distinction that needs to be made here is one’s positioning and context of encountering trauma,”6 between being a primary or secondary witness. Personally, I believe that a testimony (a formal written or spoken statement that something is true) in the first instance… becomes a testament (something that serves as a sign or evidence of a specified fact) in the second.

When looking death in the face, we can state that death is a trauma not only for the physical body and the psyche of the person involved (the direct trauma victim), but also for the witness of the event, be they a primary witness – one who actually witnesses the traumatic event – or a secondary witness, a person “who has no personal connection to the victim but may encounter trauma through other sources such as the media and oral or written accounts of a catastrophe.”7

These secondary encounters can never be the actual experience of trauma but, acting through language (be it oral, written or visual), they may embody sensations that stimulate feelings and thoughts in the secondary observer. A social construction of a testament may produce an empathetic engagement in viewers as “secondary witnesses.”8 Through an understanding of spectatorship, experience, aesthetic effects, narrative strategies and temporal shifts in the polyvocal nature of language we can begin to understand how the affect of secondary traumatisation – on memory, history and the body – can break down the subject-object dichotomy, can break down the realist norms of representation to produce “a mode of cognition involving sensuous, somatic and tactile forms of perception.”9 Here language (the photograph in this case, reinforced by the title of the photograph) stands in for that which is absent, but it is not in opposition to an intensity of feeling. The language of the photograph can intensify the affect of the image, especially if the photograph becomes transcendent, embodied, in the vitality and “aliveness” of the viewer.10

This mimetic experience “promotes a critical and self-reflexive empathy” and knowledge in the secondary witness that LaCapra observes is a “virtual, not vicarious, experience … in which emotional response comes with respect for the other and the realization that the experience of the other is not one’s own.”11 Essentially, this is a social concept, a social construction of reality, a matrix-like view of the world that draws on relational and contextual dimensions for understanding trauma. This concept requires careful consideration of issues related to history, culture, race, gender, ideology, beliefs, agency and power.

“From a social constructionist and narrative perspective, people reconstruct their selves through the stories they tell about their past and the meaning they ascribe to the present in anticipation of the future. They shape their stories through active and creative interpretation of their lives and are in turn shaped by these stories. However, the self is not only a product of narratives. People are purposeful and moral beings, having the power and agency to change scripts, discourses and ideologies…”12

.
Here we can ask, what are the machinations of the image in the affective dynamics of photographs of trauma and how are they situated in a certain relation to trauma? What do photographs actually do that give rise to a way of thinking and feeling about trauma?

Although no representation can fully describe the first hand experience of trauma because of the partial nature of language – its gaps, elisions and impossibilities of speech13 – it is because of these very gaps that new spaces of interpretation can open up. Rather than just representing the perceived reality of trauma (this happened, at this time, in this location – an ordering of reality), images have the unique ability to transcend their indexical relationship to the real, pointing and touching (as if with the index finger) to the relationality of trauma as it touches human emotion. With its ability to police and regulate it subject, the implicit violence of photography is a predatory means of taking possession of both its victim (the subject) and its viewer.

Anna Gibbs has stated that we live, “in a more or less continuous state of mediatized emergency and traumatic aftermath, desensitized by the onslaught of images … to the affect we ought to feel.”14 I strongly disagree. I would argue that the traumatic numbing15 and supposed “death of experience”16 allegedly present in the world of image circulation, translation, and accumulation only occurs if the witness lets it be so.

Personally, I believe that something in the image is transferred to the witness pre-cognition – intuitively, imaginatively – which can then be interpreted cognitively and relationally with regard to history and memory, art and culture, politics and experience through an orthogonal movement through time and space. As viewers and interpreters, we are not fixed at a particular point in time and space, nor do we observe from one particular point of view. Our existential engagement provides a space to close the gap between affect and enunciation.

“Facts can vibrate; they can give of colors, sounds, smells, images. To talk of these facts with no recognition of this is to lack any awareness of the act of enunciation, of the gaps between language and experience and the unpredictable ways that sparks can break out of language, leap across the gap and ignite the tinderbox of traumatic memory.”17

 

2

Surfing Pinterest (a photo sharing website) recently, I absentmindedly clicked on an abstract image of three hanging black shapes from the pantheon of image tiles that presented itself to me. Up popped this horrific image of three Afro-Americans who had been lynched in the Southern United States in the 1920s. I was shocked and dismayed. I had such a strong emotional reaction to the image. But more than that, my feelings and memories of the bigotry that I had faced as a young gay man growing up in the 1970s swelled in my consciousness. This story is a example of how exposure to an image can bring to the surface unresolved aspects of being ‘Other’, of being different, and being persecuted for that difference. I thought about the lives of these people that had led them to that point, their families, their histories and the terror that they must have experienced on that day. You cannot begin to understand that, but you can have empathy and anger against the systems of racism and bigotry that exist in the world.

Then the cognitive part of my brain linked the image to a report I had only just seen a few days before on lynching, which told of the thousands of Afro-Americans who had been killed between 1882 and 1968.18 Mentally, I then linked this to a Facebook posting which put forward the analogy that the current killing of Afro-Americans by police in the United States was akin to a contemporary and publicly endorsed and enforced form of lynching. Finally, in my head I heard Billie Holiday singing that famous song Strange Fruit, “a dark and profound song about the lynching of African Americans in the Southern United States during the Jim Crow Era, “strange fruit,” as they hang from trees, rotting in the sun, blowing in the wind, and becoming food for crows upon being burned.”19 I watched the video of Billie Holiday singing this song on YouTube.20 Every time I think of this image I have these associations of animate thought intrinsic to the original experience,21 where the micro and macro conditions of production work to “embody and register trauma,”22 a communicable language of sensation and affect, time and time again.

 

 

Billie Holiday – Strange fruit

 

 

These chains of affect, the nexus between affect / feeling / emotion / cognition, are a form of synaesthesia where facts, emotions, feelings, memories, sounds and images vibrate against each other as an active and continuous engagement of the self with the world in which one lives. In a human being who is un/consciously aware, these real and mediated experiences may encourage a sensory intensification that elicits thought and empathic vision in the materiality of embodied experience, something (the punctum?) that takes us out of our selves into a higher register of being.

As part of this system of impressions, of an instantaneous, affective response triggered by an image,23 photographs force us to engage visually and involuntarily. “Impressions that force us to look, encounters which force us to interpret, expressions which force us to think.”24 Encounters which force us to comprehend. The conjunction of affect and critical awareness “constitute the basis of an empathy grounded … on a feeling for another that entails an encounter with something irreducible and different, often inaccessible.”25 This combination of affective and intellectual operations – about forcing oneself to look (and that process of looking/surrendering) but never forgetting your ‘point of view’, your memory, history and identity, is when empathy becomes that process of surrender, “but also the catch that transforms your perception.”26 How is this “catch” enunciated in photographs? I now want to look at a few images that explicate these phenomena.

 

Ante-mortem: present but absent

3

With the invention of photography in the late 1830s, the photograph as memento mori allows the spectator to observe death not at first hand, but through the representation of the image “taken from life.” Photographs provide a verification of reality through their apparent verisimilitude, while being woven into narratives – oral, textual, intertextual, spatial and temporal – that frame the event in multiple ways.

“Photographs … have come to stand in for reality … despite the fact that it is relatively easy to manipulate their meaning. As a result of their ability to project reality, images, and particularly those that depict death and destruction, are seen as potentially powerful pieces of documentary evidence…”27

.
Photographs are embedded in “a context of the cultural circumstances at the time, and therefore exist rarely in isolation or without meaning”28 and can be seen as having a denotative level (what they physically represent) and a connotative level (the meanings attached to that representation).29 Photography quickly changed how death was displayed because it introduced a “reality” and immediacy of representation that was democratic, personal and everyday.30

 

Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' 26th April 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Lewis Paine
26th April 1865
Albumen silver print from a Collodion glass plate negative

 

 

An example of the personal, everyday and documentary nature of photography can be seen in the photograph taken by Alexander Gardner in April 1865. This portrait is of Lewis Thornton Powell (aka Lewis Payne or Paine) who was one of the conspirators in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln which occurred the same month. The photograph has a background of dark metal, and was taken on one of the ironclads U.S.S. Montauk or Saugus, where the conspirators were for a time confined. The reality is Paine was executed in July 1865 just eight short weeks after this photograph was taken, so in effect (and in the affect on us of this knowledge), he is (already) a dead man walking. This is a double death – that death buried in the very act of taking any photograph, La petite mort or “the little death,” an idiom and euphemism for the orgasm of the photographic time freeze; and the fact that we know that he was going to die, those short weeks later.

The photograph forms the central panel of a three-panel Renaissance-like altarpiece, the form in which the three photographs are usually displayed. The left and right hand photographs were taken within minutes of each other, with the camera in the same position, whereas in the centre photograph the camera has been lowered to show more of the body, and the image has been cropped at the top. In the central plate the figure of Paine has been raised up in the frame – almost prematurely brought back to life by his placement. The centre image is the only one where Paine stares directly at the camera. He surveys the viewer with a gaze I find enigmatic.

 

Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' 26th April, 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Three photographs of Lewis Paine
26th April, 1865
Albumen silver prints from a Collodion glass plate negative

 

 

This is a very modern face, a very contemporary face. His hair is similar to Justin Beiber’s. Who brushed his hair across for this picture, and would it normally be this long, or has it just been ignored because of his fate? He still has good muscle tone – has he been exercising in his ironclad cell? And finally, his clothing – are they navy issue, as his top appears to have been given to him, perhaps the coarse, navy blue wool of the Northern states. If we were to place this image within the metaphysical school of photography which peaked with Paul Caponigro and Minor White we could say: Hovering above his head, has his spirit already begun to leave his body?

One reading of his gaze is that he is interested in what the photographer is doing – almost the gaze of an apprentice wanting to apply these skills in the future. Given his fate is he insane because of his interest? Another reading could be that he is looking out to the future in the hope of finding that he will be judged in another way. And another is the immediacy of his gaze – it is a gaze that is happening now!

The other thing that I find mysterious is the distance of the photographer from the subject. Was it fear or the presence of the guards that stopped Gardner getting any closer, or are there deck fittings we cannot see that prevented his approach. Imagine being Paine, having a photographer point a damn great view camera at you, documenting your countenance for prosperity. What was going on in Paine’s mind – what is his perspective on this performance by the photographer? And what brought Paine to this place?

Michel Foucault calls the methods and techniques by which human beings constitute themselves, “technologies of the self.” Foucault argued that we as subjects are perpetually engaged in processes whereby we define and produce our own ethical self-understanding. According to Foucault, technologies of the self are the forms of knowledge and strategies that “permit individuals to effect by their own means or with the help of others a certain number of operations on their own bodies and souls, thoughts, conduct, and way of being, so as to transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of immortality.”31 As we look into his eyes he knows that we know he is going to die, has already died but the intensity of that knowledge is brought into present time. In this instant, what Paine emanates is a form of i-mortality.

Roland Barthes in his seminal work Camera Lucida observes in Section 39:

“He is dead and he is going to die… The photograph is handsome, as is the boy: that is the studium. But the punctum is: he is going to die. I read at the same time: this will be and this has been; I observe with horror an anterior future of which death is the stake. By giving me the absolute past of the pose, the photograph tells me death in the future. What pricks me is the discovery of this equivalence.”32

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This is Barthes anterior future, a moment where truth is interpreted in the mind of the photographer, not out there but in here (your head and your heart), where past, present and future coalesce into a single point in time: his death and our death connected through his gaze, and the knowledge of our joint discontinuity. In this moment in time, what we are doing is making a list about the human condition when we talk about something that is remarkable. Language can never fully describe the human condition, much as it may try… and this is why this photograph is remarkable, because it is ineffable, unknowable. The photograph inhabits you; it haunts you like few others, because it is a memoriam to a young man and his present death. Here he is present but absent at one and the same time.

As such, this is an image as triple death – the death of the photograph (past time / memento mori / remembrance of death), the death of the person in the photograph and also a third death, the knowledge that Paine is going to die. Death, like life, can be cyclical. This is the catch that transforms your perception, in Barthes terms the punctum of the image, in which the wounding, personally touching detail (past pose, future death) establishes a direct relationship with the object or person within it.

“The punctum (a Latin word derived from the Greek word for trauma [my emphasis]) … inspires an intensely private meaning, one that is suddenly, unexpectedly recognized and consequently remembered (it “shoots out of [the photograph] like an arrow and pierces me”); it ‘escapes’ language (like Lacan’s real); it is not easily communicable through/with language. The punctum is ‘historical’ as an experience of the irrefutable indexicality of the photograph (its contingency upon a referent). The punctum is a detail or “partial object” that attracts and holds the viewer’s (the Spectator’s) gaze; it pricks or wounds the observer.”33

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This trauma, prick or wound that lifts the viewer out of themselves, out of their everyday existence, “points to those features of a photograph that seem to produce or convey a meaning without invoking any recognizable symbolic system. This kind of meaning is unique to the response of the individual viewer of the image.”34 This punctum also accounts for the importance of emotion and subjectivity in interacting with photographs; memory of that photograph displaces it from its moment of origin.35 Photography enacts the trauma of death even while being enacted upon.

Now we can read Eduardo Cadava’s comments on Walter Benjamin’s analysis of the photograph:

“As Benjamin suggests … the photograph, like the souvenir, is the corpse of an experience. A photograph therefore speaks as death, as the trace of what passes into history. I, the photograph, the spaced out limit between life and death, I, the photograph, am death. Yet, speaking as death, the photograph can be neither death nor itself. At once dead and alive, it opens the possibility of our being in time.”36

 

4

Photography then, can be seen as death taken away from itself.

Through the oscillation between studium (historical, social or cultural meanings extracted via semiotic analysis) and punctum (those features of a photograph that seem to produce or convey a meaning without invoking any recognisable symbolic system) the traumatic photograph of death, death’s afterimage, transcends the initial shock inducing signifier leading to a more extended form of engagement that addresses the duration of trauma in memory – through the images elisions, slippages, and conceptual, political and historical complexities. Our negotiation with imaging and imagining, therefore, takes place within ever-expanding contexts of meaning – some relating to the past and some to the present – which impact future interpretations.

I believe that these negotiations are, firstly, linked to what Deleuze calls the encountered sign, a “sign that is felt, rather than recognized, or perceived through cognition.”37 A feeling that is a catalyst for critical enquiry or deep thought. “For Deleuze, affect or emotion is a more effective trigger for profound thought because of the way in which it grasps us, forcing us to engage involuntarily…”38 Secondly, I believe that these negotiations are linked to what Barthes calls the images “third meaning.”

“In Barthes’ view, the image’s third meaning compels viewers after they encounter and deplete both its literal/informational side and its symbolic dimensions. Barthes argued that the third meaning is difficult to locate, because it is not situated structurally or in a certain place of the image. It is similarly difficult to describe, because it involves what he called the image’s obtuseness, its accent or anaphoric side.”39

.
Again, we have this idea of the catch, accent, or punctum that grasps us and takes us out of ourselves, that modulates the images “voice” (which is how the image takes on an already provided meaning upon its initial appearance), a voice which then also “helps us to understand both the image’s third meaning and the role of contingency in visual memory.”40

 

Death point

5

 

.
“Ah, wretched as I am … to dwell not among the living, not among the dead.”

.
Sophocles, ‘Antigone’41

 

 

Commentators such as Barbie Zelizer observe that images, especially about-to-die images, easily “reduce complex issues and circumstances to memorable but simplistic visual frames.”42 The image,

“… depicts for its onlookers a moment in an event’s unfolding to which they attend while knowing where that unfolding leads. This means that visual work often involves catching the sequencing of events or issues midstream, strategically freezing it at its potentially strongest moment of meaningful representation.”43

.
Other writers such as Susan Sontag note that these images have the potential to stir public emotions, simply because they freeze a moment in time and can be looked at again and again… but at the same time the repeated viewing of images of atrocity can have a numbing effect.44 The pain and fear evidenced in the photograph as seen in the victim’s eyes (for example in the photograph of the shooting of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy), expands the literal / informational side and its symbolic dimensions (chivalry, love, devotion, hope – Camelot!) into a Barthes’ third space. While Kennedy is a victim twice over (the victim of the assassin and the camera) in a guttural interpretation of the image he is to remain a victim for eternity in the contingency of the future, as long as we continue to look at this photograph.

For me, this is sad and painful photograph. I remember the day it happened. I was ten years old at the time. It’s one of those events that you will remember for the rest of your life – where you were, who you were with – like the moon landings or 9/11. I was in a car outside a small newsagent when the news came on the radio. Robert F. Kennedy had been shot: first aural, then visual on the black and white TV that night, then textual in the newspapers and then visual again with this photograph, then associative. The pain of the loss of those heady days of hope lessens not.

 

Boris Yaro (American, born 1938) 'LOS ANGELES. KENNEDY MOMENTS AFTER SHOOTING' June 5, 1968

 

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

 

While photographs of the actual moment of death are rare I have been able to find around ten images that capture this vital moment, a freezing of reality at the point of death, the death point: that line between presence and absence where life was there… and now death is in its place. Death was one step removed, now it is present.

However, I would argue that in the contextual language of the photograph, there is no singular death point. I would propose the idea of an extended period of time and space embedded in the spatio-temporal matrix of the image, so that there is no single point, no singular resolution to the traumatic moment of death – either for the person involved, nor the witness or viewer.

Setting aside the concept that the image could have been staged, in Robert Capa’s famous photograph Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936 (below), there is something about this image where space or some basic element is being democratised at the moment of death – or maybe in the choice to struggle with death. In an ontological sense of becoming, perhaps it is this that becomes the pure representation of time. In contrapunto, there is an anonymous image of a German soldier at the point of death on the steppes of Russia that is totally unknown. Why has one become famous and the other not?

Has it to do with the fame of the photographer, the pose of the person, or the agency of photography itself, where one photograph regarding the pain of others is too damning a legacy and of too plain a purpose to bare contemplating, while the other – with its masked face, outflung arm and falling, quasi-religious nature – has become possibly the most famous of war photographs through its proliferation in newspapers and magazines.

Whatever the merits of each image, these death point photographs are noteworthy for what is not said: the violence that is being perpetrated on the victim every time a person looks, and looks again, at the photograph. The writing of trauma by photography never ends, is always and forever infinite.

 

Robert Capa (1913-1954) 'Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936' 1936

 

Robert Capa (1913-1954)
Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936
1936
Gelatin silver print
Photograph by Robert Capa © Cornell Capa / Magnum

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Falling German Soldier, Eastern Front' c. 1942

 

Anonymous photographer
Falling German Soldier, Eastern Front
c. 1942
akg-images / Interfoto AKG138118

Caption: A German soldier pays the ultimate price of war. German casualties were less than those of the Red Army, but the steady attrition suffered by the Wehrmacht began to undermine its effectiveness.46

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942' 1942

Anonymous photographer. 'Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942' 1942

 

Anonymous photographer
Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942
1942
Rare Historical Photos website 2013

Caption: A Soviet spy laughs at his executioner in a picture taken in Rukajärvi, in East Karelia, in November 1942. It has been thought within the Finnish Defence Forces that the decision to withhold pictures of the fate of Russian POWs and spies may also have been prompted by concerns that pro-Soviet elements in Finnish society could have used the images for propaganda purposes. This picture was declassified by the Ministry of Defense of Finland in 2006, with the description: Unknown Soviet intelligence officer before being shot, Finland, 1942.

It’s a pretty amazing picture. To capture the last few moments of life. He knows he will die in a few seconds, in a forest in the snow. And there he will bleed out and be forgotten. His life, his experience, has come to an end. What else could he do but smile? That smile was his final defiance. Death smiles at us all, all a man can do is smile back.47

 

 

6

Here we might ask, is it possible, through the use of encountered signs, “voice”, punctum, catch or accent, to extend the unreal time of death?

Personally, I believe it is and I would argue for a sense of a Buddhist “no-time”. A transcendent time embedded into the fabric of the image. In Walker Evans’ terms an “unconscious phenomenon” that culminates in amazing accidents of composition, where things constantly rub up against each other “in the desire to create a type of friction that tests the boundaries of representation.”48 An example of this spatio-temporal dimensionality, third meaning or Thirdspace, can be seen in the interplay between the still image and film footage of the execution of German General Anton Dostler by a firing squad in the Aversa stockade December 1, 1945. By examining the film we see a flash of light at 5.16 secs, which is the still photograph at the top of this text being taken by the flash of a camera. The photographer can then be seen walking off. Later in the film another angle of the execution is shown, again with the flash of the absent camera recorded, starting at 7.10 secs. The displacement of time and space, between one point of view and another, with the absence of the still camera in both instances (in the image and in the film), is uncanny.

The fluidity of Barthes’ third meaning, where the image’s obtuseness compels viewers, has obvious links to Edward Soja’s conceptualisation of “Thirdspace”, which emerged from the spatial trialectics established by Henri Lefebvre in The Production of Space and Michel Foucault’s concept of heterotopia. Soja defines Thirdspace as, “an-Other way of understanding and acting to change the spatiality of human life, a distinct mode of critical spatial awareness that is appropriate to the new scope and significance being brought about in the rebalanced trialectics of spatiality-historicality-sociality.”49 In this amorphous space, “everything comes together… subjectivity and objectivity, the abstract and the concrete, the real and the imagined, the knowable and the unimaginable, the repetitive and the differential, structure and agency, mind and body, consciousness and the unconscious, the disciplined and the transdisciplinary, everyday life and unending history.”50

A further example of the presence of a third meaning in a still photograph can be seen in the image by an unknown photographer Photo taken at the instant bullets from a French firing squad hit a Frenchman who collaborated with the Germans (1944, below). Caught like a rabbit in headlights, the flash illuminates the collaborator kneeling, bound, and masked but it is not quick enough to freeze the explosion of wood, the dynamic breaking of the rope or the slight movement of the hands. The body seems to float on a bed of leaves. The cheap, dirty shoes and striped trousers leading up to the material that covers the victim’s face. Is that his hair, or a hat or another hood over his head? Although we know the what, why, and where of the photograph – an encounter with both its literal/informational side and its symbolic dimensions – the placing of the image, its accent and obtuseness is much more difficult to understand. The photograph and its protagonist seem to exist beyond time and space, the anonymous man surrounded by a death bed of leaves, bursting the bonds that wrapped him and held him tight. Like the mystery of Man Ray’s L’Enigme d’Isidore Ducasse (1920), the photograph has disturbed the trialectics of spatiality-historicality-sociality, destroying the imploring label, “Do not disturb.”

 

Unknown photographer. 'Photo taken at the instant bullets from a French firing squad hit a Frenchman who collaborated with the Germans. This execution took place in Rennes, France. 21 November 1944'

 

Unknown photographer
Photo taken at the instant bullets from a French firing squad hit a Frenchman who collaborated with the Germans. This execution took place in Rennes, France. 21 November 1944
1944
Silver gelatin photograph
U.S. Army Signal Corps
National Archives Identifier (NAID)

 

 

Post-mortem: absent but present

7

 

Letherolfsvile Oct 29 AD 1859

This is the likeness of Catherine Christ

When I am dead and in my grave

And when my bones are rotten

Remember me

When this you see

Or I shall be forgotten

The grass is green The rose is red

here is my name when I am dead 51

 

 

This short poem written on a piece of paper hidden underneath an image in a daguerreotype case implores us to remember the person – a plea to the future to remember them – through a composite narrative of portrait and text. Through the creative addition of text, the language of photographs can be supplemented which adds to the functionality of the photograph as an effective memory object.52 But what if the scene of the text (the photograph) contains an absence, no depiction of the person who has died? What happens to the writing of trauma in images of the dead then?

If we acknowledge that a photograph of a person always prefigures its subjects passing then what we are doing “in reality” is deferring the death of an/other onto the foreseen death of ourselves. In this process, we must remember that every photograph is a construct, a performative act by the photographer. What the photographer chooses to record is an act of will, whether ethical or not. Photographers have the presence of mind to attend to a certain manufacture of history. When viewing this instant narrative the viewer must acknowledge a loss of a sense of time:

“This lost sense could manifest as reliving a traumatic episode as if it is taking place in the present … In the context of trauma… a loss of sense of time deprives one of the ability of remembering and telling one’s narrative in a chronological order.”53

 

Emmet Gowin (b. 1941) 'Avebury Stone and Rennie Booher, England and Danville, Virginia' 1972

 

Emmet Gowin (b. 1941)
Avebury Stone and Rennie Booher, England and Danville, Virginia
1972
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Emmet and Edith Gowin
© Edith and Emmet Gowin and courtesy of Pace MacGill Gallery, New York

 

 

One way that artist’s upset this chronological order is by playing with the fragmentary nature of time, space and memory – of present absence/absent presence. In Emmet Gowin’s accidentally double-exposed negative, Avebury Stone and Rennie Booher, England and Danville, Virginia, 1972 (above), the photograph combines “a funerary image of his wife’s grandmother, Rennie Booher, with the surface of a Neolithic monumental stone he had photographed in England a few days earlier.” Floating through eternity, encased in ancient rock that nourishes her spirit, Gowin’s photograph acts as a kind of testament of absent but present, neither here not there. This loss of sense of space and time can be deeply disturbing (like trauma) as it questions one’s physical presence in the world, but it can also have a transcendental dimension as both time and space are inextricably bound to the very specific conditions of the material world. Photographs like the one of Booher have the potential to draw together what would otherwise seem to be incompatible. To form what Jacob Bronowsi calls a “hidden likeness”, one that transcends time and space, one that is reactivated with every looking.

“The poem or the discovery exists in two moments of vision: the moment of appreciation as much as that of creation; for the appreciator must see the movement, wake to the echo which was started in the creation of the work. In the moment of appreciation we live again the moment when the creator saw and held the hidden likeness. When a simile takes us aback and persuades us together, when we find a juxtaposition in a picture both odd and intriguing, when a theory is at once fresh and convincing, we do not merely nod over someone else’s work. We re-enact the creative act, and we ourselves make the discovery again…”54

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An important fact about the nature of trauma is the compulsion of the human psyche to repeat traumatic events over and over again. The reproducibility of photographs and the ability to look at them again and again – their machine-like repeatability, their citationality or iterability to use Derrida’s signature term – feeds into this repetitive “death instinct” (Thanatos). However, Bronowsi’s “hidden likeness” (also the name of one of Emmet Gowin’s exhibitions and a form of punctum) is perhaps a liminal moment, one that may upset the death instinct. These liminal moments may occupy a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold. By disrupting the threshold – between life and death, between past, present and future time – they are requisite of the ghost (the soul) in the machine (the camera).

As Derrida observes, building on the work of Barthes,

“It belongs to it without belonging to it and is unlocatable in it; it never inscribes itself in the homogenous objectivity of the framed space but instead inhabits, or rather haunts it: “it is the addition [supplement]: it is what I add to the photograph and what is none the less already there.” … Neither life nor death, it is the haunting of the one by the other … Ghosts: the concept of the other in the same, the punctum in the studium, the dead other alive in me.”57

 

8

In this scenario, perhaps the act of writing trauma through death in the image becomes the true act of learning, and the interpretation of that act becomes an act of creation rather than one of rote memorialisation. These are images that require contemplation, time, analysis, and sensation, where the subject of the photograph is transformed “from somebody merely seen to someone really felt,” which is, as Batchen says, “an emotional exchange transacted in the heart.”58

This emotional exchange can take many forms. It can be triggered when the dead body is only metaphorically represented in the image, when the physicality of death has been transmuted. For example, photographs such as Walker Evan’s Child’s grave, Hale County, Alabama (1936, below), or the documentary image Place where the corpse was found (1901-8, below) by the French photographer Alphonse Bertillon, propose a re-imaging and re-imagining of the life of the person. They do so through an un/ambiguous photographic context, that is, through the marking of place in the photograph. In the latter case, this marking of a life is represented by two pieces of wood lying on the ground and two pieces of wood propped at 45 degrees against the wall. As though this is all that is left of the existence of Mademoiselle Mercier in a street (Rue de l’Yvette) that still exists in Paris to this day. A photograph of pieces of wood and an empty space.

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Child's grave, Hale County, Alabama' 1936

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Child’s grave, Hale County, Alabama
1936
Silver gelatin print
7 3/8 x 9 7/16″ (18.7 x 23.9 cm)
© 2016 Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Attributed to Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853-1914) 'Place where the corpse was found' 1st November 1902

 

Attributed to Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853-1914)
Place where the corpse was found
1st November 1902
From Album of Paris Crime Scenes
Gelatin silver print
Overall: 24.3 x 31 cm (9 9/16 x 12 3/16 in.)
Page: 23 x 29 cm (9 1/16 x 11 7/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Howard Gilman Foundation Gift, 2001

 

 

Other photographs picture the place of death nearly a century later in order to commemorate the traumatic death of “deserters” at the hands of a firing squad during the First World War. These are some of the most traumatic photographs of death I have seen, for they require me to imagine the mise en scène that was enacted at dawn almost 100 years ago, in the very place where these photographs were later “shot” at dawn.

The artist, Chloe Dewe Mathews, realised that “I was placing my tripod around the same spot where the firing squad had stood and looking directly at the place where the victim was placed.” It was, she says, “a solitary and sombre undertaking,” an undertaking (with that name’s etymological link to the word undertaker) which the viewer is invited to partake of, a re-imaging of those traumatic events that requires an active imagining, and thinking, in the neo-spectator. It is this duration of trauma in cultural memory which calls for an active negotiation in ways of seeing, a re-negotiation which can produce an empathic vision that “changes the terms of our engagement” with the image.

 

Chloe Dewe Mathews. 'Former Abattoir, Mazingarbe, Nord-Pas-de-Calais' 2013

 

Chloe Dewe Mathews (b. 1982)
Former Abattoir, Mazingarbe, Nord-Pas-de-Calais
2013
Eleven British soldiers were executed here between 1915-18
From the series Shot at Dawn
© Chloe Dewe Mathews

 

 

Vita ad mortem: life after death

9

 

.
“… the life of spirit is not the life that shrinks from death and keeps itself untouched by devastation, but rather the life that endures it and maintains itself in it. It wins its truth only when, in utter dismemberment, it finds itself.”

.
George Wilhelm Frederich Hegel61

 

 

The absence/presence contained within all photographs speaks to the ultimate affect: that of la petite mort – the “little death” – the sensation of orgasm as likened to death, a short period of melancholy or transcendence as a result of the expenditure of the “life force.” While Barthes metaphorically used the concept to describe the feeling one should get when experiencing any great literature, it can also be used when some undesired thing has happened to a person and has affected them so much that “a part of them dies inside.”

A photograph can also contain this melancholy transcendence, a catastrophe that has already occurred.

“Whether or not the subject is already dead, every photograph is this catastrophe… This punctum, more or less blurred beneath the abundance and the disparity of contemporary photographs, is vividly legible in historical photographs: there is always a defeat of Time in them: that is dead and that is going to die… At the limit, there is no need to represent a body [in photographs] in order for me to experience this vertigo of time defeated.”63

.
Barthes’ concept of an extended punctum may be useful here, when he states, “I now know that there exists another punctum (another ‘stigmatum’) than the ‘detail’. This new punctum, which is no longer of form but of intensity, is Time, the lacerating emphasis of the noeme (‘that-has-been’), its pure representation.”64

Here Barthes is proposing a punctum of intensity; a punctum as lacerating “detail”; and/or “the vertigo of time defeated.” This “temporal hallucination” embedded and embodied in the photograph – the temporality of the “will-have-been”, they are dead (today), they are already dead (yesterday), Barthes’ anterior future – represents a symbolically mediated subject bound up in three extases of time (past, present, and future).65

The subject becomes lost in the language of the photograph, the intersection of Lacan’s the Imaginary (in which the human subject creates fantasy images of both himself and his ideal object of desire), the Symbolic (the social world of linguistic communication and inter-subjective relations), and the Real (defined as what escapes the Symbolic, the Real can be neither spoken nor written, it is impossible, but is ceaselessly writing itself). These concepts serve to situate subjectivity within a system of perception and a dialogue with the external world.

According to Lori Wike, the experience of punctum and the structure of iterability can be aligned to Lacan’s concept of the death drive (or death instinct) present in the Symbolic order, in which the signifier “materializes the agency of death.”66 This may account for the role of the photographic punctum as trauma, in which the punctum opens up “a kind of subtle beyond” where “a blind field is created (is divined)…”67 As Barthes notes, “Photography is a kind of primitive theater, a kind of Tableau Vivant, a figuration of the motionless and made-up face beneath which we see the dead.”68 Further, we can say that, “unlike the symbolic, which is constituted in terms of oppositions such as “presence” and “absence”, there is no absence in the real,” for the real is undifferentiated, “it is without fissure.”

“The symbolic introduces “a cut in the real,” in the process of signification: “it is the world of words that creates the world of things.” Thus the real emerges as that which is outside language: “it is that which resists symbolization absolutely.” The real is impossible because it is impossible to imagine, impossible to integrate into the symbolic order. This character of impossibility and resistance to symbolization lends the real its traumatic quality.”69

.
The “mark” of photography is eviscerated in the intensity of the real, a traumatic loss of time that confronts us with our own mortality and the knowledge that we will not be remembered. This is where images of death can take us once the initial affective connection is established – to a noumenal space where in the play of representation, the point of origin becomes ungraspable (Lacan’s différance).70

“In French, différance simultaneously contains within its neo-graphism the activities of differing and deferring, a distancing acted out temporally as well as spatially.”71 Where the moment (the time freeze of the shutter) turns in, on and around its own fulcrum, where there is always difference at the point of origin. For all of its instantaneous nature, in photography there is always a perverse moment of displacement and deferral. In its history, “a perverse complicity of continuity and resemblance with its supposed opposite, discontinuity and difference”72 … the latter only existing in a reciprocal relationship to the former.

The circle is closing and we return to where we started.

 

10

Human beings in their longing for lost continuity are mirrored by their photographs which transition from continuous to discontinuous and back again. While we yearn for our lost continuity, we must acknowledge that death is an unedited event, one that we cannot look back on. There is no following event to blank out that moment… and the dead are always dying. But what images of death in photography do is this: they allow us to approach the noumenal, that state of being of which we can have knowledge of, but can never know. We can approach, touch, feel, analyse, and have empathy for traumatic events in the representation of an unknowable reality. The photograph has the ability to go beyond the symbolic, to approach the impossible, the real.

The photograph may proffer a ‘releasement toward things’,73 a coexistence between a conscious and unconscious way of perceiving which sustains the mystery of the object confusing the distinction between real time and sensual time, between inside and outside, input and output becoming neither here nor there. As Martin Jolly notes, citing John Thompson, “… images of death can be seen a form of “mediated, non-reciprocal intimacy, stretched across time and space” in which we are increasingly unconstrained by our location or our time.”74 Further, John Thompson observes, “While lived experience remains fundamental, it is increasingly supplemented by, and in some respects displaced by, mediated experience, which assumes a greater and greater role in the project of self-formation.”75

In the sense that the photograph becomes la petite mort, the little death, it embodies our desire for the soul to become eternal in the form of this mediated experience… the displacement of the soul via the ghost in the machine, the soul remembered throughout time in the traumatic trace of the photograph. Death in the language of photography is always postponed and deferred: into the physicality of the photograph; into cultural memory; into the gaze (of the photographer, the camera and the viewer); and into the body of the observer. Here, a relationship exists between an impossible reality (an encounter with an “outside” which is unknowable) and a floating referent in an image that is both formative and transformative. And in that relationship, as Donna Haraway observes, “Relationship is multiform, at stake, unfinished, consequential.”76

The text of eternity that the photograph proposes, imparts and imposes a paradoxical state of loss. The secret of telling truth in a photograph is that the more truthful, “the more orgasmic, the more pleasurable, the more suicidal”77 the pronouncement of the perfect paradox78 (you are dead but also alive) … then the more we are strangled while uttering it. The language of deferral in the writing of trauma in death and the image becomes the dissolve that seizes the subject in the midst of an eternal bliss. In death and the image we may actually die (be)coming.

© Dr Marcus Bunyan 2018

Word count: 8,137

 

 

Addendum

“Empirically acknowledged as tragic, the photographic print was really just that when, at the turn of the century, it became the instrument of the three great authorities over life and death (the law, the army, medicine). This is when it demonstrated its power to reveal the unfolding of a destiny from the word go. As deus ex machina [god from the machine or, providential intervention], it was to become just as ruthless for the criminal, the soldier or the invalid, the conjunction between the immediate and the fatal only becoming more solid, inevitably, with the progress of representation.”

Virilio, Paul. The Vision Machine (trans. Julie Rose). Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994, p. 43.

 

“Written with her trademark flair and force, Sontag’s book [On Photography] inaugurated a wave of criticism, much of it influenced by Foucaultian theory, that underscored the instrumentality and implicit violence of photography, its ability to police and regulate it subjects, especially those lacking social and political power: the poor, presumed “deviants” or “criminals,” and workers. As Sontag herself acknowledged, however, photography is not only a predatory means of taking possession, but also a mode of conferring value; it can potentially be put to counter-hegemonic uses, used to see and frame in ways that affirm and legitimate, rather than strictly contain and control, the presence of culturally disenfranchised persons.”

Entin, Joseph. “Milton Rogovin’s Approach: Photography, Class, and the Aesthetics of Making Space (2008),” on the ASX website July 12, 2010 [Online] Cited 27/10/2018

 

“The submissions attest to our insatiable hunger for images of suffering. “Sight can be turned off; we have lids on our eyes,” says Sontag5. But sometimes we  just can’t resist taking a look. Since its inception photojournalism has traded in images of human suffering. If one of its motivations for representing tragedy has been to change the world then it has been unsuccessful. Instead the profession has turned us into voyeurs, passively consuming these images, sharing in the moment without feeling implicated or responsible for what we are seeing. Roland Barthes summed up the analgesic effect of looking at images of horror when he wrote “someone has shuddered for us; reflected for us, judged for us; the photographer has left us nothing – except a simple right of intellectual acquiescence.”6 Put another way, we look at events in photographs and feel relieved that they’re not happening anywhere near us. …

In the final analysis we were choosing between a French landscape, a dead guerrilla, an HIV positive mother and an American soldier. A strange task. Rather predictably the majority vote went to Tim Hetherington’s soldier. Yet comparing so many diverse images and ultimately declaring one of them a winner feels meaningless. Do we even need to be producing these images any more? Do we need to be looking at them? We have enough of an image archive within our heads to be able to conjure up a representation of any manner of pleasure or horror. Does the photographic image even have a role to play any more? Video footage, downloaded from the internet, conveys the sounds and textures of war like photographs never could. High Definition video cameras create high-resolution images twenty-four photographs a second, eliminating the need to click the shutter. But since we do still demand illustrations to our news then there is a chance to make images that challenge our preconceptions, rather than regurgitate old clichés.”

Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin. “Unconcerned but not indifferent,” on the FOTO8 website 04 Mar 2008 [Online] Cited 20/11/2018

 

5. Susan Sontag, Regarding The Pain of Others (Penguin, London, 2003) p. 105

6. Roland Barthes, The Eiffel Tower and Other Mythologies (New York, Hill and Wang, 1979) p. 71. quoted in John Taylor, Body Horror: photojournalism, catastrophe and war (Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1988) p. 17

 

Adrien Constant de Rebecque (Swiss, Lausanne 1806-1876 Lausanne) '[Man in Chainmail Tunic Posing as a Dying Soldier]' c. 1863

 

Adrien Constant de Rebecque (Swiss, Lausanne 1806-1876 Lausanne)
[Man in Chainmail Tunic Posing as a Dying Soldier]
c. 1863
Albumen print from collodion glass negative
17.9 x 24.2 cm (7 1/16 x 9 1/2 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Howard Gilman Foundation Gift, 2012
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo. 'Ouvrier en grève, assassiné (Striking worker, assassinated)' 1934

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
Ouvrier en grève, assassiné (Striking worker, assassinated)
1934
Silver gelatin print

 

Manuel Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002) 'La Buena Fama Durmiendo (The Good Reputation Sleeping)' 1939, printed c. 1970s

 

Manuel Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
La Buena Fama Durmiendo (The Good Reputation Sleeping)
1939, printed c. 1970s
Silver gelatin print

 

 

One of my early heroes in photography was Manuel Alvarez Bravo. Many Mexican photographs tell such stories based on the mythology of the country: there are elements of the absurd, surrealism, macabre, revolution, political and socio-economic issues, also of death, violence, beauty, youth, sexuality and religion to name but a few – a search for national identity that is balanced in the photographs of Bravo by a sense of inner peace and redemption. This potent mix of issues and emotions is what makes Mexican photography so powerful and substantive. In the “presence” (or present, the awareness of the here and now) of Mexican photography there is a definite calligraphy of the body in space in most of the work. This handwriting is idiosyncratic and emotive; it draws the viewer into an intimate narrative embrace. Two famous photographs by Bravo illustrate some of these themes (Apollonian/Dionysian; utopian/dystopian). When placed together they seem to have a strange attraction one to the other.

 

Anne Frank, photograph inscribed with her wish to go to Hollywood, October 10, 1942

 

Anne Frank, photograph inscribed with her wish to go to Hollywood, October 10, 1942

 

Unknown photographer - U.S. Signal Corps Photo. 'General Anton Dostler' 1945

Unknown photographer - U.S. Signal Corps Photo. 'General Anton Dostler' 1945

 

Unknown photographer – U.S. Signal Corps Photo
General Anton Dostler
1945
Silver gelatin photograph
From International News Photos

 

 

References

Atkinson, Meera and Michael Richardson 2013 ‘Introduction: At the Nexus’, in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 1-21

Atkinson, Meera and Michael Richardson (eds) 2013 Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Barthes, Roland 1981 Camera Lucida – Reflections on Photography New York: Hill and Wang

Bataille, Georges 1962 Death and Sensuality: A Study of Eroticism and the Taboo New York: Walker and Company

Batchen, Geoffrey 2004 Forget Me Not: Photography & Remembrance New York: Princeton Architectural Press

Batchen, Geoffrey 1997 Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography paperback 1999 Massachusetts: MIT Press

Bennett, Jill 2005 Empathic Vision: Affect, Trauma, and Contemporary Art Palo Alto: Stanford University Press

Berger, John 1985 The Sense of Sight New York: Vintage International

Brett, Donna West 2016 ‘Damaged: Ruin and Decay in Walker Evans’ Photographs’ Walker Evans Symposium Melbourne: Centre for Contemporary Photography

Bronowski, Jacob 1958 Science and Human Values New York: Harper and Row

Brown, Andrew (ed. and trans,) 1987 Sophocles: Antigone Wiltshire: Aris and Phillips Ltd.

Cadava, Eduardo 1992 ‘Words of Light: Theses on the Photography of History’ Diacritics 22 no. 3-4 (Fall-Winter), 84-114

Chaouat, Bruno 2005 ‘Image malgré tout’ (review) L’Esprit Créateur vol. 45 no. 1, 110-111

Deleuze, Gilles 1964 Proust and Signs New York: George Braziller, 1972 in English

Edwards, Janis L. 2012 ‘Visual Literacy and Visual Politics: Photojournalism and the 2004 Presidential Debates’ Communication Quarterly vol. 60 issue 5, 681-197

Foucault, Michel 1988 ‘Technologies of the self’ in L H Martin and H Gutman and P H Hutton (eds) Technologies of the self: A seminar with Michel Foucault Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 16-49

Gibbs, Anna 2013 ‘Apparently Unrelated: Affective Resonance, Concatenation and Traumatic Circuitry in the Terrain of the Everyday’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 129-147

Gibbs, Anna 2007 ‘Horrified: Embodied Vision, Media Affect and the Images from Abu Ghraib’ in D Staines (ed) Interrogating the War on Terror Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 125-142

Hanusch, Folker 2010 Representing death in the news: Journalism, Media and Mortality London: Palgrave Macmillan

Haraway, Donna and Cary Wolfe 2016 Manifestly Haraway Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

Hegel, George Wilhelm Frederich 1807 Phenomenology of Spirit Preface (trans. A. V. Miller 1977) Oxford: Oxford University Press

Heidegger, Martin 1966 Discourse on Thinking New York: Harper & Row

Houlihan, Kasia 2004 ‘Annotation on Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida – Reflections on Photography’ New York: Hill and Wang 1981 in Theories of Media, Winter

Jolly, Martyn 2015 ‘An Australian Spiritualist’s Personal Cartes-de-Visite Album’, in A Maxwell and J Croci (eds) Shifting Focus: Colonial Australian Photography 1850-1920 North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 71-87

Kopelson, Kevin 1990 ‘Wilde, Barthes, and the Orgasmics of Truth’ in GENDERS no. 7 Spring, 22-31

Lacan, Jacques and Jeffrey Mehlman 1972 ‘The Seminar on the ‘Purloined Letter” in Yale French Studies no. 48 French Freud: Structural Studies in Psychoanalysis Yale University Press, 39-72

Martin, Luther H and H Gutman and P H Hutton (eds) 1988 Technologies of the self: A seminar with Michel Foucault Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press

Maxwell, Anne and Josephine Croci (eds) 2015 Shifting Focus: Colonial Australian Photography 1850-1920 North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing

O’Hagan, Sean 2014 ‘Chloe Dewe Mathews’s Shot at Dawn: a moving photographic memorial’ The Guardian website

Papastergiadis, Nikos and Mary Zournazi 2002 ‘Faith without certitudes’ in M Zournazi Hope: New Philosophies for Change Annandale NSW: Pluto Press Australia, 78-97

Randell, Karen and Sean Redmond (eds) 2008 The war body on screen, New York: Continuum

Rastas, David and Maria Schlachter 2016 Art as a Sanctuary for the Mad: Six characteristics of mystical experience and their visual accompaniment in contemporary art

Rogobete, Ileana Carmen 2011 Reconstructing Trauma and Recovery: Life Narratives of Survivors of Political Violence during Apartheid PhD thesis Cape Town: University of Cape Town

Rutherford, Anne 2013 ‘Film, Trauma and the Enunciative Present’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 80-103

Sontag, Susan 1977 On Photography New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Staines, Deborah (ed) 2007 Interrogating the War on Terror Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Strawberry 2013 ‘Roland Barthes: studium and punctum’ Museum of Education website

Thompson, John 1995 The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of Media Cambridge: Polity Press

Virilio, Paul 1994 The Vision Machine (trans. Julie Rose). Bloomington: Indiana University Press

Walsh, Stephen 2000 Stalingrad: The Infernal Cauldron, 1942-43 London: Simon and Schuster

Wike, Lori 2000 ‘Photographs and Signatures: Absence, Presence, and Temporality in Barthes and Derrida’ In[]Visible Culture: An Electronic Journal for Visual Studies issue 3, 1-28

Zelizer, Barbie 2002 The Voice of the Visual in Memory Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania

Zembylas, Michalinos 2008 The Politics of Trauma in Education New York: Palgrave Macmillan

 

 

Endnotes

[1] Berger, John 1985 The Sense of Sight New York: Vintage International, 122

[2] Bataille, Georges 1962 Death and Sensuality: A Study of Eroticism and the Taboo New York: Walker and Company, 15

[3] Anonymous 2016 Definition of Trauma by Mirriam-Webster, at http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/trauma (accessed 8 November 2016)

[4] Atkinson, Meera and Michael Richardson 2013 ‘Introduction: At the Nexus’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 5

[5] Rutherford, Anne 2013 ‘Film, Trauma and the Enunciative Present’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 82

[6] Michalinos Zembylas 2008 The Politics of Trauma in Education, New York: Palgrave Macmillan 4

[7] Ibid., 4

[8] Rutherford Op. cit., 87

[9] Rutherford Op. cit., Footnote 49, 93

[10] Rutherford Op. cit., 94

[11] Bennett, Jill 2005 Empathic Vision: Affect, Trauma, and Contemporary Art Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 9

[12] Rogobete, Ileana Carmen 2011 Reconstructing Trauma and Recovery: Life Narratives of Survivors of Political Violence during Apartheid PhD thesis Cape Town: University of Cape Town, at https://open.uct.ac.za/handle/11427/10884 (accessed 8 November 2016)

[13] Rutherford Op. cit., 85

[14] Gibbs, Anna 2013 ‘Apparently Unrelated: Affective Resonance, Concatenation and Traumatic Circuitry in the Terrain of the Everyday’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 130

[15] “Perhaps rather than numbness, what we actually feel is our own helplessness or impotence, and the shame of helplessness, which robs us of agency. Helplessness is what Tomkins calls an affect complex, and within it distress is the dominant affect, although there may be admixtures in it of fear, anger and shame… Helplessness immobilises, and this is what induces the shame which, as a reduction of interest, makes us lower our gaze and look away.”

Gibbs, Anna 2007 ‘Horrified: Embodied Vision, Media Affect and the Images from Abu Ghraib’ in D Staines (ed) Interrogating the War on Terror Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 139-140

[16] “To suffer is one thing; another thing is living with the photographed images of suffering, which does not necessarily strengthen conscience and the ability to be compassionate. It can also corrupt them. Once one has seen such images, one has started down the road of seeing more – and more. Images transfix. Images anaesthetize…”

Sontag, Susan 1977 On Photography New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux 20

“Are we making too much of images? Are we lured by our own voyeurism and iconophilia, numbed as we are by the democracy of the spectacle? Or, on the contrary, do images open the eyes of our conscience? In other words do images merely entertain and anaesthetize us or do they shame us and awake our conscience?”

Chaouat, Bruno 2005 ‘Image malgré tout’ (review) in L’Esprit Créateur vol. 45 no. 1, at https://muse.jhu.edu/article/265181/pdf (accessed 8 November 2016)

[17] Rutherford Op. cit., 89

[18] Anonymous 2016 ‘Lynching in the United States’, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynching_in_the_United_States (accessed 11 November 2016)

[19] Anonymous 2016 ‘Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday’, at http://genius.com/Billie-holiday-strange-fruit-lyrics (accessed 11 November 2016)

[20] ‘Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit’, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dnlTHvJBeP0 (accessed 11 November 2016)

[21] Rutherford Op. cit., Footnote 55, 95

[22] Bennett, Jill 2005 Empathic Vision: Affect, Trauma, and Contemporary Art Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 4 quoted in Rutherford, 95

[23] Ibid., 11

[24] Deleuze, Gilles 1964 Proust and Signs New York: George Braziller (1972 in English) 7, in Bennett 161

[25] Bennett Op. cit., 10

[26] Papastergiadis, Nikos and Mary Zournazi 2002 ‘Faith without certitudes’ in M Zournazi Hope: New Philosophies for Change 94-95, in Bennett, 10

[27] Hanusch, Folker 2010 Representing death in the news: Journalism, Media and Mortality London: Palgrave Macmillan, 55

[28] Ibid., 56

[29] Ibid., 56

[30] Randell, Karen and Redmond, Sean (eds) 2008 The war body on screen New York: Continuum, cited in Hanusch, 30

[31] Foucault, Michel 1988 ‘Technologies of the self’, in L H Martin and H Gutman and P H Hutton (eds) Technologies of the self: A seminar with Michel Foucault Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 18

[32] Barthes, Roland 1980 La Chambre Claire (Camera Lucida) (1981 in English) New York: Hill and Wang Section 39, 94

[33] Houlihan, Kasia 2004 ‘Annotation on Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida – Reflections on Photography’ New York: Hill and Wang 1981 in Theories of Media, Winter at http://csmt.uchicago.edu/annotations/barthescamera.htm (accessed 12 November 2016)

[34] Strawberry 2013 ‘Roland Barthes: studium and punctum’ Museum of Education website 12 March, at https://educationmuseum.wordpress.com/2013/03/12/roland-barthes-studium-and-punctum/ (accessed 11 November 2016)

[35] “For memory is always in a state of ruin; to remember something is already to have ruined it, to have displaced it from its moment of origin. Memory is caught in a conundrum – the passing of time that makes memory possible and necessary is also what makes memory fade and die.”

Batchen, Geoffrey 2004 Forget Me Not: Photography & Remembrance New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 78

[36] Cadava, Eduardo 1992 ‘Words of Light: Theses on the Photography of History’ Diacritics 22 no. 3-4 (Fall-Winter), 110 in Batchen 172

[37] Bennett Op. cit., 7

[38] Ibid., 7

[39] Zelizer, Barbie 2002 The Voice of the Visual in Memory, at http://www.sas.upenn.edu/folklore/center/ConferenceArchive/voiceover/voice_of_the_visual.html (accessed 13 November 2016)

[40] Ibid.,

[41] Brown, Andrew (ed. and trans,) 1987 Sophocles: Antigone, lines 850-52 Wiltshire: Aris and Phillips Ltd., 91

[42] Edwards, Janis L 2012 ‘Visual Literacy and Visual Politics: Photojournalism and the 2004 Presidential Debates’ Taylor Francis Online at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01463373.2012.725000 (accessed 13 November 2016)

[43] Zelizer Op. cit.,

[44] Sontag Op. cit., 18 cited in F Hanusch 2010 Representing death in the news: Journalism, Media and Mortality London: Palgrave Macmillan, 105

[45] See ‘Robert Capa: The Falling Soldier’, The Met website, at http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/283315 (accessed 13 November 2016)

[46] Walsh, Stephen 2000 Stalingrad: The Infernal Cauldron, 1942-43 London: Simon and Schuster, 23

[47] Anonymous photographer 2013 ‘Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942’, Rare Historical Photos website 29 December, at http://rarehistoricalphotos.com/russian-spy-laughing-execution-finland-1942/ (accessed 13 November 2016)

[48] Brett, Donna West 2016 ‘Damaged: Ruin and Decay in Walker Evans’ Photographs’ Walker Evans Symposium Melbourne: Centre for Contemporary Photography October 7, 5 at https://www.academia.edu/29201498/Damaged_Ruin_and_Decay_in_Walker_Evans_Photographs (accessed 13 November 2016)

[49] Soja, Edward W. 1996 Thirdspace Malden (Mass.): Blackwell, 57

[50] Ibid., 57

[51] Batchen Op. cit., 47

[52] Ibid., 48

[53] Rastas, David 2016 Art as a Sanctuary for the Mad: Six characteristics of mystical experience and their visual accompaniment in contemporary art, at http://www.davidrastas.com/kunstglaube/madness&mysticism/essays.html (accessed 19 November 2016)

[54] Bronowski, Jacob 1958, Science and Human Values New York: Harper and Row, 31

[55] Anonymous 2015. ‘Hidden Likeness: Photographer Emmet Gowin at the Morgan’, The Morgan Library & Museum website May 22 through September 20, 2015 https://www.themorgan.org/exhibitions/emmet-gowin (accessed 08 May 2018)

[56] See Turner, Victor 1966 The Ritual Process: Structure and Antistructure Chicago: Aldine. For a definition of liminality see Anonymous ‘Liminality’, Wikipedia website https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liminality (accessed 08 May 2018)

[57] Batchen, Geoffrey 1997 Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography (paperback 1999) Massachusetts: MIT Press, 194

[58] Batchen Forget Me Not, 94

[59] O’Hagan, Sean 2014 ‘Chloe Dewe Mathews’s Shot at Dawn: a moving photographic memorial’ The Guardian website 29 June, at https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/jun/29/chloe-dewe-mathews-shot-at-dawn-moving-photographic-memorial-first-world-war (accessed 25 November 2016)

[60] Bennett 2005 Empathic Vision 69

[61] Hegel, George Wilhelm Frederich 1807 Phenomenology of Spirit Preface (trans. A. V. Miller 1977) Oxford: Oxford University Press, 10

[62] Anonymous 2016 ‘La petite mort’ Wikipedia website at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_petite_mort (accessed 25 November 2016)

[63] Barthes Op. cit., 96

[64] Barthes Op. cit., 96

[65] See Wike, Lori 2000 ‘Photographs and Signatures: Absence, Presence, and Temporality in Barthes and Derrida’ in In[]Visible Culture: An Electronic Journal for Visual Studies issue 3, at http://www.rochester.edu/in_visible_culture/issue3/wike.htm#BackFromNote10 (accessed 25 November 2016)

[66] Lacan, Jacques and Jeffrey Mehlman 1972 ‘The Seminar on the ‘Purloined Letter’’ in Yale French Studies, no. 48, 53 quoted in Wike 2000

[67] Barthes Camera Lucida, 57-58 quoted in Wike 2000

[68] Barthes Camera Lucida, 31-32 quoted in Wike 2000

[69] Anonymous 2016, ‘The Real’, Wikipedia website at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Real (accessed 25 November 2016)

[70] “Derrida sees differences as elemental oppositions working in all languages, systems of distinct signs, and codes, where terms don’t have absolute meanings but instead draw meaning from reciprocal determination with other terms… Différance is the systematic play of differences, of the traces of differences, of the spacing by means of which elements are related to each other… the a of différance also recalls that spacing is temporization, the detour and postponement by means of which intuition, perception, consummation – in a word, the relationship to the present, the reference to a present reality, to a being – are always deferred.”

Anonymous 2016 ‘Différance’ at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Différance (accessed 25 November 2016

[71] Batchen Burning with Desire 179. Information on photography and differance 178-179.

[72] Batchen Burning with Desire 186

[73] “We stand at once within the realm of that which hides itself from us, and hides itself just in approaching us. That which shows itself and at the same time withdraws is the essential trait of what we call the mystery… Releasement towards things and openness to the mystery belong together. They grant us the possibility of dwelling in the world in a totally different way…”

Heidegger, Martin 1966 Discourse on Thinking New York: Harper & Row, 55-56

[74] Thompson, John 1995 The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of Media Cambridge: Polity Press, 208 quoted in M Jolly 2015 ‘An Australian Spiritualist’s Personal Cartes-de-Visite Album’ in A Maxwell and J Croci (eds) Shifting Focus: Colonial Australian Photography 1850-1920 North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 84

[75] Thompson 233 quoted in Jolly 2015

[76] Haraway, Donna and Cary Wolfe 2016 Manifestly Haraway Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 122, at https://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed 26 November 2016)

[77] Kopelson, Kevin 1990 ‘Wilde, Barthes, and the Orgasmics of Truth’ GENDERS no 7 Spring, 26

[78] You are dead but also alive, the dissolution of the distinction between objective and subjective realities, “the image is an interface connecting inner and outer, past and future, affect and cognition.”

Gibbs, Anna 2007 ‘Horrified: Embodied Vision, Media Affect And The Images From Abu Ghraib’ in D Staines (ed) Interrogating the War on Terror Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 130

 

 

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04
May
18

Exhibition: ‘Susan Meiselas: Mediations’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 6th February – 20th May 2018

Curators: Carles Guerra and Pia Viewing

 

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore) 'Sandinistes aux portes du quartier général de la Garde nationale à Esteli : "L'homme au cocktail Molotov", Nicaragua' 16 juillet 1979

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore)
Sandinistes aux portes du quartier général de la Garde nationale à Esteli : “L’homme au cocktail Molotov”, Nicaragua
16 juillet 1979
© Susan Meiselas/ Magnum Photos

NICARAGUA. Esteli. 1979. Sandinistas at the walls of the Esteli National Guard headquarters

 

 

The second of a double header from Jeu de Paume, Paris.

Whatever you write or say doesn’t matter. It’s the images that matter, the work before you.

Meiselas’ work offers respect, that is the key word, respect for the individuality of the people she photographs. You can feel it in her images; it is what gives them their power. Unlike the previous posting on the work of Raoul Hausmann, where it was all about the photographer, here the work is authored but the photographs are all about the subject: their place in the world, their trials and tribulations.

Meiselas’ photographs are very strong – graphic work (in form and declaration) balanced with an existential, human touch. Meiselas questions the nature of the original photograph and photographic process in order to understand how the photograph and its ongoing testimonies change in specific times and places, by developing multilayered narratives which integrate the participation of her subjects into her works. As such they are as much meditations on the human condition as much as mediations between place, her role as witness, storytelling, and how the meaning of images changes according to the context of their diffusion, which is facilitated by technology.

On the compilation of her visual histories, I can’t put it better than the text below:

“Lauded documentary photographer Susan Meiselas has been working at the nexus of history, politics, ethnography, art, and storytelling throughout her prolific career, producing multi-layered photographic narratives about individuals and societies across the U.S. and the world. Sensitive to both the potential and limitations of images, the 1992 MacArthur Fellow approaches her projects aware of their inevitable impartiality and incompleteness, supplementing her own photographs with texts, interviews, archival images, and other forms of documentation. “My projects are authored but I’d like to think they are not authoritative,” she says.

“About Susan Meiselas” on the Artsy website

Marcus

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

 

A member of Magnum Photos since 1976, Susan Meiselas questions documentary practice. She became known through her work in conflict zones of Central America in the 1970s and 1980s in particular due to the strength of her colour photographs. Covering many subjects and countries, from war to human rights issues and from cultural identity to the sex industry, Meiselas uses photography, film, video and sometimes archive material, as she relentlessly explores and develops narratives integrating the participation of her subjects in her works. The exhibition highlights Susan Meiselas’ unique personal as well as geopolitical approach, showing how she moves through time and conflict and how she constantly questions the photographic process and her role as witness.

 

 

“It is important to me – in fact, it is central to my work – that I do what I can to respect the individuality of the people I photograph, all of whom exist in specific times and places.”

.
“This photograph is for whom. And so, for a long time that’s been the question motivating almost everything that I do.”

.
Susan Meiselas

 

 

Susan Meiselas: Mediations at Jeu de Paume on Vimeo

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore) 'Sharif and Son' 1971

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore)
Sharif and Son
1971
Série 44 Irving Street, 1971
© Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos

 

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore)
Lena après le spectacle, Essex Junction, Vermont, 1973
1973
Série Carnival Strippers, 1972-1975
© Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos

USA. Essex Junction, Vermont. 1973. Lena on the Bally Box

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore) 'Lena juchée sur sa caisse, Essex Junction, Vermont, 1973' 1973

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore)
Lena juchée sur sa caisse, Essex Junction, Vermont, 1973
1973
Série Carnival Strippers, 1972-1975
© Susan Meiselas/ Magnum Photos

USA. Essex Junction, Vermont. 1973. Lena after the show

 

 

“Meiselas is known for her searing, visceral photographs of civil unrest and political revolution around the world, from Central America to Kurdistan. However, it is her “Carnival Strippers” that defines her career for many.”

“A History of Magnum Photos in Ten Photographers” on the Artsy website.
See what they mean on the Susan Meiselas: “Carnival Strippers” 1972 – 1975 web page.

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore) 'Debbie et Renee, Rockland, Maine, 1972' 1972

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore)
Debbie et Renee, Rockland, Maine, 1972
1972
Série Carnival Strippers, 1972-1975
© Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos

USA. Rockland, Maine. 1972. Debbie and Renee

 

 

Meiselas’s first major photographic essay focused on the lives of women performing striptease at New England country fairs, whom she photographed during three consecutive summers while teaching photography in New York City public school classrooms. Carnival Strippers was originally published in 1976 with a new edition of the book (which included a CD of the audio recordings) produced by Steidl/Whitney in 2003. In 1976, Meiselas was invited to join the photographic cooperative Magnum Photos. Beginning in 1976, she photographed a group of young girls living in her neighbourhood of Little Italy, New York. Entitled Prince Street Girls, they inspired an on-going relationship.

Meiselas is best known for her coverage of the insurrection in Nicaragua and her documentation of human rights issues in Latin America for over a decade. In 1978 Meiselas made her first trip to Nicaragua, and that year one of her iconic images was published on the cover of the New York Times Magazine. In 1981, she published Nicaragua: June 1978-July 1979, reprinted in 2008 (with a DVD of the film “Pictures from a Revolution”) and in 2016 (with a customize AR app, to trigger film clips from the photographs). Her image of Pablo Jesús Aráuz, the ‘Molotov Man’, made on July 16, 1979 just before the triumph of the Sandinistas, has become an icon of the revolution. The image is shown recontextualised in the installation The Life of an Image: ‘Molotov Man’, 1979–2009. Meiselas served as an editor for two collaborative projects, both of which support and highlight the work of regional photographers. The first, El Salvador: The Work of Thirty Photographers, Writers and Readers, 1983, also features her own images. The second project, Chile from Within, W. W. Norton, 1991, focuses on work by photographers living under the Pinochet regime. Meiselas has also co-directed four films: Living at Risk: The Story of a Nicaraguan Family, 1986 ; Voyages, on her work in Nicaragua produced in collaboration with director M. Karlin, Pictures from a Revolution, 1991, with R. P. Rogers and A. Guzzetti; and Reframing History, 2004.

In 1992, Meiselas produced Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History, Random House, 1997; University of Chicago Press, 2008. The book was produced along with akaKURDISTAN, 1998, an online archive of collective memory, currently shown as a physical map with story books made by contributors from the Kurdish diaspora worldwide. Pandora’s Box, Trebruk/Magnum Editions, 2003, is an exploration of an underground New York S&M club that began in 1995. Both projects are shown as exhibition works.

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore) 'Mississippi' 1974

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore)
Mississippi
1974
Série Porch Portraits, 1974
© Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore) 'Caroline du Sud' 1974

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore)
Caroline du Sud
1974
Série Porch Portraits, 1974
© Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore) 'Dee et Lisa, Mott Street, Little Italy, New York, 1976' 1976

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore)
Dee et Lisa, Mott Street, Little Italy, New York, 1976
1976
Série Prince Street Girls, 1975-1990
© Susan Meiselas/ Magnum Photos

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore) 'Roseann sur la route pour Manhatten Beach, New York, 1978' 1978

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore)
Roseann sur la route pour Manhatten Beach, New York, 1978
1978
Série Prince Street Girls, 1975-1990
© Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos

USA. New York CIty. 1978. Roseann on the way to Manhattan Beach

 

Alain Dejean Sygma. 'Portrait de Susan Meiselas, Monimbo, Nicaragua' Septembre 1978

 

Alain Dejean Sygma
Portrait de Susan Meiselas, Monimbo, Nicaragua
Septembre 1978
© Alain Dejean Sygma

 

 

The retrospective devoted to the American photographer Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore) brings together a selection of works from the 1970s to the present day. A member of Magnum Photos since 1976, Susan Meiselas questions documentary practice. She became known through her work in conflict zones of Central America in the 1970s and 1980s in particular due to the strength of her colour photographs. Covering many subjects and countries, from war to human rights issues and from cultural identity to the sex industry, Meiselas uses photography, film, video and sometimes archive material, as she relentlessly explores and develops narratives integrating the participation of her subjects in her works. The exhibition highlights Susan Meiselas’s unique personal as well as geopolitical approach, showing how she moves through time and conflict and how she constantly questions the photographic process and her role as witness.

Her early works already illustrate her interest for documentary photography. Her very first project, 44 Irving Street (1971), was a series of black and white portraits. Here, she used her camera as a means of interacting with the other tenants of the boarding house where she lived during her time as a student. For Carnival Strippers (1972-1975), Meiselas followed strippers working in carnivals in New England over the course of three consecutive summers. The reportage is completed with audio recordings of the women, their clients and managers.

From this period originates also Prince Street Girls (1975-1992), which was shot in the district known as Little Italy, in New York, where Susan Meiselas still lives. She photographed a group of young girls over several years, capturing the changes that took place in their lives as they were growing up, constituting a chronicle of the evolving relationship between the young girls and the photographer.

Three important series represent the center of the exhibition: Nicaragua, El Salvador and Kurdistan. Made between the late 1970s and 2000, the works reveal the way in which the artist challenges and practises photography. During the course of her extensive travels in Latin America, over a number of decades, in times of war and peace, Meiselas returns to the sites where she took the original photographs, using the images to find the people she had met in order to pursue a record of their testimonies. With her project Mediations (1982), Susan Meiselas reveals how the meaning of images changes according to the context of their diffusion. Her novel approach is almost prophetic in a world where the diffusion of the image is facilitated by technology.

As from 1997, Meiselas addresses each conflict in a different way according to the context. Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History (1997) is an archive of the visual history of a people without a nation. Meiselas, who gathered those elements all around the world in collaboration with Kurdish people, constructed her work as an installation composed of a compilation of documents, photographs and videos.

In 1992, Meiselas, asked to contribute to an awareness campaign exposing domestic violence, began by photographing crime scenes, accompanying a team of police investigators, and then selected a number of documents with photographs from the archives of the San Francisco Police Department. This research led her to create Archives of Abuse, collages of police reports and photographs, exhibited in the city’s public spaces as posters on bus shelters.

For the retrospective at the Jeu de Paume, Susan Meiselas has created a new work, begun in 2015, based on her involvement with Multistory, a regional arts organisation based in the United Kingdom. This last series A Room of Their Own was made collaboratively in a refuge for women and focuses on domestic violence. The installation includes five narrative video works, featuring Meiselas’s photographs, first-hand testimonies, collages and drawings.

The exhibition of the Jeu de Paume is the most comprehensive retrospective of her work ever held in France. It retraces her trajectory since the 1970s as a visual artist who associates her subjects to her approach and questions the status of images in relation to the context in which they are perceived.

Press release from Jeu de Paume

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore) 'Masque traditionnel utilisé lors de l'insurrection populaire, Masaya, Nicaragua' 1978

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore)
Masque traditionnel utilisé lors de l’insurrection populaire, Masaya, Nicaragua
[Traditional mask used during the popular uprising, Masaya, Nicaragua]

1978
© Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos

 

 

In the late 1970s, without an assignment of any sort, Susan Meiselas went to Nicaragua to cover the popular insurrection following the assassination of the editor of the opposition newspaper La Prensa. She became one of the most celebrated photojournalists in the world for her colour photographs of the Sandinista Popular Revolution. Some of them became icons of the Nicaraguan revolution. She didn’t see the insurrection as a series of isolated news events as a photojournalist would, but rather a historical process that was unfolding every day. Her approach was specific to the context of the conflict and the terrain.

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore) 'Fouille de toutes les personnes voyageant en voiture, en camion, en bus ou à pied, Ciudad Sandino, Nicaragua' 1978

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore)
Fouille de toutes les personnes voyageant en voiture, en camion, en bus ou à pied, Ciudad Sandino, Nicaragua
1978
© Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos

NICARAGUA. Cuidad Sandino. Searching everyone traveling by car, truck, bus or foot

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore) 'Retour chez soi, Masaya, Nicaragua' 1978

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore)
Retour chez soi, Masaya, Nicaragua
1978
© Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos

NICARAGUA. Masaya. September, 1978. Returning home

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore) 'Muchachos attendant la riposte de la Garde nationale, Matagalpa, Nicaragua' 1978

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore)
Muchachos attendant la riposte de la Garde nationale, Matagalpa, Nicaragua
1978
© Susan Meiselas/ Magnum Photos

NICARAGUA. Matagalpa. Muchachos await the counterattack by the National Guard

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore) 'Soldats fouillant la passagers du bus sur l’autoroute Nord, El Salvador' 1980

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore)
Soldats fouillant la passagers du bus sur l’autoroute Nord, El Salvador
1980
© Susan Meiselas/ Magnum Photos

EL SALVADOR. 1980. Soldiers search bus passengers along the Northern Highway

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore) 'Route pour Aguilares, El Salvador' 1983

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore)
Route pour Aguilares, El Salvador
1983
© Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos

EL SALVADOR. 1983. Road to Aguilares.

 

 

With Mediations, 1982, the project that lends its title to this retrospective exhibition, Meiselas revealed the effects that the circulation of images produces on their meaning. At a time when, thanks to new technologies, photography has become the object of an all-reaching exchange, Meiselas’s attitude becomes unprecedented, while her archival projects constitute a valuable precedent. Two of them, the ones devoted to Nicaragua and Kurdistan, are widely represented in this exhibition.

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore) 'Veuve sur le charnier de Koreme, nord de l'Irak' 1992

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore)
Veuve sur le charnier de Koreme, nord de l’Irak
1992
© Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos

NORTHERN IRAQ. Kurdistan. June, 1992. Widow at mass grave found in Koreme

 

 

The retrospective emphasises the development of Susan Meiselas’ photographic practice from the 1970s onwards. In most of her early work, she addresses the subjects of her portrait-based images by including them in one way or another in the process of her work. In 44 Irving Street, (1972), she asks the persons portrayed to comment on their representation and in Carnival Strippers (1975), a sound recording of the context in which the photographs are taken gives further perspective on the strippers lives. In addition to this aspect, her interest in archival documentation and the compilation of visual histories can also be traced back to this period (Lando, 1975) and one can see this develop in her research work on Kurdistan. Her treatment of images reveals that, in her artistic practice, she considers the photographic frame as a moment in time complementary to other forms of framing and capturing reality, which may be seen and reviewed over time.

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore) 'Blocs de béton signalant la fosse commune de Koreme, nord de l'Irak' 1992

 

Susan Meiselas (b. 1948, Baltimore)
Blocs de béton signalant la fosse commune de Koreme, nord de l’Irak
[Concrete blocks signaling Koreme Mass grave, northern Iraq]

1992
© Susan Meiselas/ Magnum Photos

 

 

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75008 Paris
métro Concorde
Tel: 01 47 03 12 50

Opening hours:
Tuesday: 11.00 – 21.00
Wednesday – Sunday: 11.00 – 19.00
Closed Monday

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30
Mar
18

Review: ‘Shadows of War: Roger Fenton’s Photographs of the Crimea, 1855’ at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London

Exhibition dates: 9th November 2018 – 28th April 2019

PLEASE NOTE: I GOT THIS COMPLETELY WRONG – THE EXHIBITION STARTS 9 NOVEMBER 2018!

 

This portrait (below) shows Captain Alexander Leslie-Melville (1831-57), known as Lord Balgonie. He was the eldest son of the 8th Earl of Leven, a Scottish peer. Lord Balgonie served in the Grenadier Guards during the war, and died only a couple of years after returning to Britain. At the time, his death was attributed to the hardships of the war. Fenton has photographed him standing in front of a sheet, which serves as a make-shift studio and he looks unkempt and shaken, as if he has recently stepped off the battlefield. In recent years, this photograph has been described as the first photographic portrait of shell-shock. From the collection of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69) 'Lord Balgonie' 1855

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69)
Lord Balgonie
1855
Albumen print
17.7 x 11.7 cm (image)
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017 RCIN 2500273

 

 

The Crimean photographs of Roger Fenton represent the beginning of war photography. These staged photographs, documented for the edification of a viewing public back home in England and for the purpose of making money for the photographer, set the trend for the genre for the next 80 years. Staging photographs of war, and altering reality to suit the commercial, political or moral aspirations of photographer or institution, continues to this day.

For most of the images, “research for the exhibition has revealed that Fenton’s portraits and topographical views were principally intended as source material for the artist Thomas J Barker, who had been commissioned by Agnews to produce an oil painting of the senior officers of the allied forces. Barker used over 50 of Fenton’s images to create the monumental work The Allied Generals with the officers of their respective staffs before Sebastopol (private collection).” Fenton was fulfilling his commission and earning a living by taking photographs for a painter. But Fenton’s photographs are most successful when he has a personal connection to the subject matter, whether it be portrait or landscape. In other words, when he is not constructing or documenting as representation, but attempting to capture the spirit of person/place.

In portraiture, this personal connection can be seen in the photographs, Lord Balgonie (1855, above), Fitzroy James Henry Somerset, Baron Raglan (1788-1855) (4 Jun 1855, below), Omar Pacha (1806-1871) (1855, below) and General James Bucknall Estcourt (1802-1855) (1855, below), a man deep in thought or, perhaps, melancholy. These are psychological portraits that attempt to get under the skin of the sitter, not mere representations for use as a template for painting.

The portraits of Baron Raglan and Omar Pacha are taken in the same location, probably at the same sitting. In the portrait of Baron Raglan, this man (soon to die) is relatively small in proportion to the overall framing of the photograph, his dark shadow falling on the wall behind, his hat and white plume pulled forward and out of focus in the image, incredibly large in comparison with the size of the body. In three-quarter profile he gazes out of the image, while the right and top of the image falls into soft, velvet darkness. By comparison, the portrait of Omar Pacha presents to us a much more self possessed and confident man. Fenton has moved the camera closer to his subject. No shadow falls on the wall behind and the light frames the head of the sitter perfectly. His bearing is upright but relaxed; his hands gently rest in his lap; and his gaze stares directly out of the image but not directly into the camera lens as though her is in deep thought somewhere beyond the photographer’s left shoulder. Both are magnificent portraits.

With regard to his landscapes of the Crimea the same feelings can be observed. One is the representational urge, the other the artistic. The first problem is the barrenness of the landscape and what to do with the inevitable horizon line. When photographing people in the landscape Fenton makes use of low depth of field either pulling the figures towards the front of the image (Sir John Miller Adye (1819-1900) 1855, and General Scarlett and Colonel Low Apr 1855, below) or the mid-distance (such as Captain and Mrs Duberly Apr 1855 and Colonel Doherty and the Officers of the 13th Light Dragoons 1855, below) whilst allowing the horizon line to float in the distance, either placed through the figures or floating above them. This low depth of field allows the horizon line to soften and the solid space around the figures to become ambiguous and fluid. It also allows the light in this vast expanse of country to do its duty, to illuminate the isolation of these figures “in the field.” A similar technique was used by Edward S. Curtis when photographing the Native American Indians against the vastness of country – low depth of field, letting the light and composition do the work as subject is located – or vanishes – into the landscape.

For the shear complexity of their visualisation, Fenton’s photographs of Balaklava are among my favourites. The placement of camera, the line of composition (ship masts, hills, horizon line, stacking of cannonball), the flattening of perspective (The Ordnance Wharf at Balaklava Mar 1855, below) and the tonality of the images are exemplary.

Taken a mere 15 years after the birth year of practical photography, Fenton’s “subtle and poetic interpretations” still resonate today. That he captured such acclaimed images using a heavy land camera, the photographs taken sometimes under fire, the glass plates prepared and developed in a ‘travelling darkroom’ – his horse drawn photographic van – make Fenton’s achievement all the more remarkable. The shadow of war that he captured, the presence of the men, women and landscapes of that time and place, are made alive to us today.

Note this

There is the date a photograph is made, and the date it is viewed. There is something about the different way a photograph exists in time, different from the date a poem is written and the date it is read, different from the date a painting is finished and the date it is viewed.

And then

Photographs remind us
of people, passing
They distill an essence
which
in turn
Instills in us
memory of time, place, spirit

 

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to The Queen’s Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

This is the first exhibition to focus exclusively on Roger Fenton’s pioneering photographs of the Crimean War, taken in 1855. Fenton was already an accomplished and respected photographer when he was sent by the publishers Agnew’s to photograph a war that pitched Britain, France and Turkey as allies against Russia. Arriving several months after the major battles were fought in 1854, Fenton focused on creating moving portraits of the troops, as well as capturing the stark, empty battlefields on which so many lost their lives.

Published in contemporary newspaper reports, Fenton’s photographs showed the impact of war to the general public for the first time. Through his often subtle and poetic interpretations Fenton created the genre of war photography, showing his extraordinary genius in capturing the futility of war.

 

 

Half a league,
half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

.
Lord Tennyson. The Charge of the Light Brigade

 

 

John Gilbert. 'The Queen Inspecting wounded Coldstream Guards in the Hall of Buckingham Palace, 22 February 1855' 1856

 

John Gilbert
The Queen Inspecting wounded Coldstream Guards in the Hall of Buckingham Palace, 22 February 1855
1856
Watercolour
138.0 x 214.5 x 13.0 cm
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017 RCIN 451958

 

 

This painting depicts the second meeting with Guardsmen which took place at Buckingham Palace. The first meeting had been with the Grenadier Guards on 20 February 1855. The artist John Gilbert prepared a sketch of the event for the newspaper the Illustrated London News, published on 10 March 1855. He went on to create this painting using photographs of the soldiers for accuracy. Prince Albert supplied photographs of himself and the royal children. Gilbert was also given permission by the Queen to visit the Marble Hall in Buckingham Palace to recreate the scene. The scale of the watercolour caused a sensation when it was exhibited in 1856. Probably acquired by the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69) 'Queen Victoria and Prince Albert' 1854

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69)
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert
1854
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69) 'A Zouave' 1855

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69)
A Zouave [Self-portrait as a Zouave]
1855
Salted paper print
18.2 x 14.1 cm (image)
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017 RCIN 2500562

 

 

The title of this work gives no indication that this is a self-portrait. Fenton has dressed himself in the uniform of a Zouave, a type of Algerian soldier who fought with the French army during the Crimean War. The Zouaves were admired both for their bravery and for their colourful dress. In 1855, when this photograph was exhibited for the first time, Fenton was Britain’s leading photographer but only a handful of fellow artists would have known that this was Fenton and not a Zouave soldier from the war. From the collection of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69) 'Sir John Miller Adye (1819-1900)' 1855

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69)
Sir John Miller Adye (1819-1900)
1855
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

 

 

The exhibition

Roger Fenton (1819-69) was the first photographer to document a war for public consumption. From March 1855, Fenton spent four months photographing the people and the terrain affected by the Crimean War, fought between the allied nations of Britain, France and the Ottoman Empire against Russia.

Fenton’s time in the Crimea was relatively short given the war lasted over two years (October 1853 – March 1856) but his photographs captured, for the first time, the chaos and disorder of a war zone, and showed the Victorian public portraits of soldiers in the field, directly affected by battle. Although Fenton was fulfilling a commercial commission, he allowed himself to respond emotionally in his work and this is perhaps why his photographs continue to represent the Crimean War more effectively than any other visual record of the conflict.

This exhibition presents Fenton’s work within the wider context of the war, alongside other contemporary artists, photographers and writers also in the Crimea at that time. We begin with two sections which, through Fenton’s portraits, introduce some of the key individuals and events that occurred prior to Fenton’s arrival in the Crimea.

Subsequently we examine Fenton’s work in more detail, before considering the significant role played by the royal family in focusing the attention of the British public on the impact of war and the returning wounded veterans.

 

The Crimean War, 1853-6

The Crimean War, also known as the Russian War, pitched the allied nations of Britain, France, the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Sardinia against the Russian Empire. At its simplest, the war was fought to prevent Russia gaining territorial control of various regions in eastern Europe, then under Ottoman control, and of routes into British India. These regions included the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, the Caucasus region and the Danubian provinces of modern-day Romania. Other more complex reasons included disputes over the control of religious sites and the protection of Christians in the Middle East, as well as concern over the declining influence of the Ottoman Empire and the growth of nationalism in various regions.

War with Russia had been publicly discussed for several years before Russian incursions into Romania, then under Ottoman control, led to a declaration of war from Constantinople in October 1853. Britain and France, fearing the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the growth of Russian power, followed with their support for the Ottomans by declaring war on Russia at the end of March 1854.

The conflict began in Europe and could have ended there in July 1854 when Russia began to withdraw but the European allies decided to confront Russia directly by besieging the Russian port of Sevastopol, an important naval base on the Crimean peninsula. The allies landed in the Crimea on 14 September 1854 and made their way towards Sevastopol, encountering the Russians in several major battles en route including Alma (20 September), Balaklava (25 October) and Inkerman (5 November). On 9 September 1855, after numerous other battles and skirmishes, Sevastopol fell to the allies.

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69) 'Fitzroy James Henry Somerset, Baron Raglan (1788-1855)' 4 Jun 1855

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69)
Fitzroy James Henry Somerset, Baron Raglan (1788-1855)
4 Jun 1855
Albumen print
18.3 x 14.5 cm (image)
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017 RCIN 2500229

 

 

Lord Raglan (1788-1855) was a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars. He lost his right arm during the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, whilst he was an aide to the Duke of Wellington. Despite having never commanded in the field, he was named as the expedition Commander-in-Chief in early 1854 when war seemed inevitable. He was to become the focus of heavy public criticism over the apparent poor organisation and logistics during the campaign. This criticism contributed to his declining health, and he died in the Crimea on 28 June 1855. He was succeeded as Commander-in-Chief by General James Simpson. From the collection of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69) 'Lieutenant-General Burgoyne and his aide-de-camp Lieutenant Stopford' 1855

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69)
Lieutenant-General Burgoyne and his aide-de-camp Lieutenant Stopford
1855
Salted paper print | 21.9 x 17.6 cm (image)
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017 RCIN 2500553

 

 

John Burgoyne (1782-1871) was a key member of the senior command during the war. After the Battle of Alma on 20 September 1854, Burgoyne proposed that the army march south of Sevastopol and besiege the city, rather than attacking the city from the north. This decision ultimately committed the allies to a siege of almost a year. Burgoyne returned to Britain in the winter of 1854-5 before Fenton arrived in the Crimea. As Fenton sought to photograph all the senior commanders from the war, he arranged this session in his London studio sometime after he returned to Britain in mid-July 1855. From the collection of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69) 'General Scarlett and Colonel Low' Apr 1855

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69)
General Scarlett and Colonel Low
Apr 1855
Albumen print
19.5 x 16.0 cm (image)
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017 RCIN 2500250

 

 

Sir James York Scarlett (1799-1871), here seated on a horse, played a key role in the Battle of Balaklava on 25 October 1854. The Charge of the Heavy Brigade, under Scarlett’s command, was a highly successful attack on the Russian army which has become overshadowed by the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade which occurred later during the same battle. Alexander Low (1817-1904) held the rank of Captain in the 4th Light Dragoons at the time of this photograph. He was a highly skilled cavalryman and served with distinction during the Charge of the Light Brigade. From the collection of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69) 'Officers of the 8th Hussars' Apr 1855

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69)
Officers of the 8th Hussars
Apr 1855
Albumen print
16.7 x 16.3 cm (image)
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017 RCIN 2500355

 

 

Fenton made a number of group portraits of men from the five Light Cavalry regiments that charged on 25 October. News of the action had caught the public imagination, and the names of the regiments became well-known. Fenton would probably have seen photographs of men who may have fought in the battle as having greater commercial potential. From the collection of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.

 

The Battle of Inkerman 5 November 1854

After Balaklava, the allied armies continued to besiege Sevastopol. The Russian army occupied a strong position between the city and the allies, and on 5 November 1854 they attempted to end the siege. The Battle of Inkerman saw fierce fighting hampered by thick fog, resulting in poor communication between the troops. Casualties were disproportionately high. The battle was a victory for the allies but it also committed the troops to a long winter in the Crimea.

Most of the injured soldiers were shipped to Scutari hospitals, near Constantinople. As the Inkerman wounded arrived, so too did Florence Nightingale and her nurses. During October, reports in The Times sent by William Howard Russell had described the poor care for the wounded and the lack of nurses. This led Sidney Herbert, Secretary of State for War, to ask Nightingale to lead a nursing party to Scutari. They arrived on 4 November 1854.

From Scutari, Nightingale made three visits to the Crimea, the first in May 1855 when she caught a serious illness that was to affect her for the rest of her life. By this time, Nightingale was already well-known to the British public and had been depicted in the press as the ‘Lady with the Lamp’. She returned to Britain in July 1856 and devoted much of the rest of her life to hospital and healthcare reform.

Inkerman

Roger Fenton produced this panoramic view of the Inkerman Valley, the scene of a fierce battle on 5 November 1854 that pitched the British and French allies against the Russian army. The battle took place in thick fog, resulting in troops becoming cut off from their commanders and a high number of casualties. Although the battle was an allied success, its impact was such that it extended the war by months, condemning the troops to the harsh winter of 1854–5 in the Crimea. From the collection of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69) 'The Ruins of Inkerman' May 1855

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69)
The Ruins of Inkerman
May 1855
20.2 x 25.8 cm (image)
Albumen print
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69) 'The Quarries and Aqueduct in the Valley of Inkerman' May 1855

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69)

May 1855
18.5 x 25.4 cm (image)
Albumen print
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69) 'Hardships in the Crimea' 1855

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69)
Hardships in the Crimea
1855
Albumen print
17.6 x 16.2 cm (image)
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017 RCIN 2500388

 

Fenton took a number of staged photographs of camp life, including this group of the 4th Dragoon Guards. Generally, the titles of his portraits are the name of the sitter or regiment photographed, but this is one of a small number which have been given a more emotive title. From the collection of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.

 

 

Haunting images that brought the stark reality of war into public consciousness for the first time have gone on display in a new exhibition Shadows of War: Roger Fenton’s Photographs of the Crimea, 1855 at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London. Roger Fenton (1819-1869) was the first photographer to document conflict in such a substantial way at a time when the medium of photography was still in its infancy and there was no expectation of what ‘war photography’ should be.

Drawn entirely from the Royal Collection, the exhibition explores the impact and legacy of Fenton’s Crimean work, which is shown in Scotland for the first time since 1856. It also tells the story of the historically close relationship between the Royal Family and those who have served their country in battle, with contributions to the exhibition’s multimedia guide by Prince Harry, photojournalist Sir Don McCullin and exhibition curator Sophie Gordon.

One of the leading photographers of the 19th century, Roger Fenton was commissioned by the art dealer and publisher Thomas Agnew & Sons to photograph the officers and other people of interest during the Crimean conflict. On 20 February 1855 Fenton set sail for the Crimea on board HMS Hecla, accompanied by 36 chests of cameras, glass plates, chemicals, a stove and other pieces of equipment, and a wine merchant’s van converted into a travelling darkroom and accommodation for the photographer and his two assistants.

Research for the exhibition has revealed that Fenton’s portraits and topographical views were principally intended as source material for the artist Thomas J Barker, who had been commissioned by Agnews to produce an oil painting of the senior officers of the allied forces. Barker used over 50 of Fenton’s images to create the monumental work The Allied Generals with the officers of their respective staffs before Sebastopol (private collection). The painting reproduces some of Fenton’s portraits directly, including those of the Scottish General Sir Colin Campbell and The Times reporter William Howard Russell, as well as his photographs of camp life, such as 8th Hussars Cooking Hut.

Other figures within the painting, such as Barker’s depiction of Florence Nightingale, are clearly inspired by Fenton’s photographs. Although Nightingale was in the Crimea in 1855, she was a reluctant sitter for the camera and appears not to have been photographed by Fenton. Instead Barker’s portrait of her on horseback seems to be inspired by Fenton’s photograph Mr and Mrs Duberly.

In the 19th century there was a thriving market for prints of popular paintings. An engraving of Barker’s work was published in 1859 with a key to help the public identify the figures. The reproduction of the painting in newspapers and exhibitions of Fenton’s photographs raised awareness of the conditions endured by soldiers at a time when the wounded began to arrive home.

The concern and admiration for the veterans displayed by Queen Victoria and members of the royal family helped to highlight the plight of those returning from war. The Queen met groups of soldiers, visited military hospitals and inspected troops of veterans at Buckingham Palace. One such occasion was recorded by John Gilbert in The Queen inspecting wounded Coldstream Guardsmen in the Hall of Buckingham Palace, 22 February 1855. This large watercolour, which has hung at Sandringham House since it was acquired by Queen Victoria’s eldest son, the future King Edward VII, is exhibited for the first time.

Queen Victoria was the first British monarch to meet and support wounded soldiers in public. Today Prince Harry’s work with veterans promotes a wider understanding and respect for those who serve their country. On the exhibition’s multimedia guide His Royal Highness speaks about a number of Fenton’s images and how they helped change attitudes towards those affected by their experiences on the battlefield.

Speaking about Fenton’s image Lord Balgonie, the first visual record of someone suffering from ‘shell shock’ Prince Harry says in the multimedia guide: ‘There has always been a fascination about people returning from war, what they’ve been through and what they’ve seen. The psychological impact of being on the battlefield is something that servicemen and women have had to deal with, but have often found it hard to talk about. As a result of photographers like Roger Fenton and those who have followed him, the public have gained a better appreciation of these experiences and consequently, over the years this fascination has turned to appreciation and respect.’

Press release from The Queen’s Gallery

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69) 'Photographic Van' 1855

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69)
Photographic Van
1855
Albumen print
17.4 x 15.9 cm
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017 RCIN 2500439

 

 

Fenton’s ‘travelling darkroom’ was the only space he had in which to prepare his glass plates before they were exposed in the camera, and afterwards, to develop the negative image. Beyond a few test prints, however, Fenton would not have done any significant printing of photographs in the Crimea. All the negatives were transported back to Britain and printed there. This photograph was probably taken shortly before Fenton went into the ‘Valley of the Shadow of Death’. He later wrote in a letter, perhaps half-jokingly, that he feared the van being destroyed by enemy fire in the valley so he felt he should preserve its memory in a photograph. From the collection of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.

 

Fenton’s Crimean Commission: 8 March – June 1855

Fenton was commissioned to go to the Crimean War by the Manchester-based publishers Thomas Agnew & Sons. Agnew’s was one of the leading publishers, print sellers and dealers at the time, and the firm saw the war as an opportunity to sell new images to a public hungry for information. The war coincided with an increased number of public art exhibitions as the middle classes in particular had more time and money to spend on leisure activities.

At the same time, Agnew’s also commissioned the British historical painter Thomas Barker (1815-82) to produce a large oil painting depicting the expected allied victory at Sevastopol. Fenton’s photographs were to be used as source material by Barker. This enabled the artist to claim absolute truthfulness and accuracy in his portraits.

Barker incorporated versions of at least 50 of Fenton’s photographs into his painting. Some photographs have been copied almost exactly; others have been reversed or combined with other images, with elements from some photographs appearing alongside people from other works. The painting was completed in 1856 and the associated engraving was published by Agnew’s in 1859. A key was also produced, identifying each individual in the work, in which Fenton’s role was explicitly acknowledged.

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69) 'Valley of the Shadow of Death' 23 Apr 1855

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69)
Valley of the Shadow of Death
23 Apr 1855
Albumen print
25.7 x 35.0 cm (image)
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017 RCIN 2500514

 

 

Perhaps Fenton’s most well-known photograph, ‘The Valley of the Shadow of Death’, is not in fact the location of the charge of the Light Brigade. When Fenton reached the ravine seen in this photograph, he found himself the target of enemy fire. Even so, Fenton managed to make at least two distinct views: the version seen here, and another in which far fewer cannon balls lie on the ground, indicating that he re-arranged one of the scenes. This photograph, which has become one of Fenton’s most famous compositions, demonstrates the power of the camera at war. The scene is still and almost barren, but the power of the imagination draws the viewer into the landscape and the title, with its reference to Psalm 23, suggests that we walk between the realms of life and sudden death. From the collection of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.

 

James Robertson (1813-88) 'Valley of the Shadow of Death' 1855-1856

 

James Robertson (1813-88)
Valley of the Shadow of Death
1855-1856
Salted paper print
22.3 x 29.2 cm (image)
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017 RCIN 2500723

 

 

Neither Robertson’s photograph nor Simpson’s lithograph show the same location as Fenton’s image, despite all three works having the same title. The full phrase from Psalm 23 from which the title comes is ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil’. It is reported that the British soldiers gave the ravine its name. The emotive pull of Fenton’s composition is all the more apparent when compared with Robertson’s photograph and Simpson’s lithograph, although the round shot in Simpson’s work links it visually to Fenton’s photograph.

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69) 'Omar Pacha (1806-1871)' 1855

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69)
Omar Pacha (1806-1871)
1855
Salted paper print
17.6 x 14.2 cm (image)
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017 RCIN 2500341

 

 

Omar Pacha (1806-71) was the commander of the Ottoman army at the beginning of the war, when the Russian incursions into the Balkan regions began. He was later to win a significant victory against the Russians at the Battle of Evpatoria on 17 February 1855 in the Crimea. Omar Pasha was photographed several times by Fenton, both seated and on horseback. A number of commanding officers were photographed in this way. It was probably to give the artist Thomas Barker a variety of poses which could be incorporated into his painting. Omar Pasha does appear on a horse in the final painting, but his head is a copy of this seated portrait. From the collection of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69) 'Colonel Brownrigg and the two Russian boys Alma and Inkerman' 1855

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69)
Colonel Brownrigg and the two Russian boys Alma and Inkerman
1855
Salted paper print
16.8 x 15.5 cm (image)
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017 RCIN 2500375

 

 

This portrait shows Colonel Brownrigg of the Grenadier Guards, with two Russian boys who were apparently taken prisoner by the British. In a letter from 29 April 1855 to his wife, Fenton described what happened, ‘Tell Annie [Fenton’s daughter] there are two Russian boys here who both would like to come to England which will she have Alma or Inkermann, such are their new names. One is an orphen [sic] the other has or had his parents in the town. They went out nutting last autumn & were taken, cried sadly but now would cry to go back’. From the collection of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69) 'Cooking house, 8th Hussars' 1855

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69)
Cooking house, 8th Hussars
1855
Albumen print
15.3 x 19.6 cm (image)
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017 RCIN 2500384

 

 

This beautifully composed group was incorporated almost entirely into Barker’s painting, although the woman standing at the back of the group was omitted. It is easily identifiable on the left-hand side of the painting. Fenton made a handful of photographs which try to capture the camp life of the ordinary soldier. The 8th Hussars were one of the regiments involved in the Charge of the Light Brigade and this association would give the photograph greater interest to the Victorian public. From the collection of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69) 'Maréchal Pélissier, Duke of Malakoff (1794-1864)' Jun 1855

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69)
Maréchal Pélissier, Duke of Malakoff (1794-1864)
Jun 1855
Albumen print
17.9 x 15.5 cm (image)
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017 RCIN 2500327

 

 

Fenton made several portraits of General Pélissier (1794-1864), on horseback and seated. Barker probably used this particular photograph to paint the general, who as the French Commander-in-Chief at the time of the final assault on Sevastopol in Summer 1855, features prominently in his painting. Pélissier had taken command of the French army on 16 May 1855, replacing General François Canrobert. He brought with him the energy and determination required to bring the siege of Sevastopol to a conclusion. From the collection of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69) 'Captain and Mrs Duberly' Apr 1855

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69)
Captain and Mrs Duberly
Apr 1855
Albumen print
15.2 x 16.0 cm (image)
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017 RCIN 2500314

 

 

Frances Isabella Duberly (1829-1902), known as Fanny, accompanied her husband Captain Henry Duberly (1822-91), Paymaster of the 8th Hussars, to the war against the orders of Lord Raglan. She kept a journal of her experience, which included witnessing the Battle of Balaklava. She was also one of the first civilians to enter Sevastopol after it fell to the allies. Mrs Duberly attempted to dedicate the published version of her journal to Queen Victoria, titled Journal Kept During the Russian War, but this was refused. From the collection of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69) 'Wounded Zouave and Vivandiere' 5 May 1855

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69)
Wounded Zouave and Vivandiere
5 May 1855
Salted paper print
17.4 x 15.8 cm (image)
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017 RCIN 2500401

 

 

The vivandières, also known as cantinières, were attached to French regiments to supply the troops with food and drink beyond the standard rations. In a letter to his wife, Fenton described how he photographed this group on 5 May, ‘In the afternoon a Cantiniere was brought up I made first a picture of her by herself & then a group in which she is giving assistance to a wounded soldier. It was great fun the soldiers enjoyed it so much & entered so completely into the spirit of the thing’. This group was incorporated into Barker’s painting, although the composition was reversed. From the collection of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69) 'Vivandière' 5 May 1855

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69)
Vivandière
5 May 1855
Albumen print
17.4 x 13.1 cm (image)
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017 RCIN 2500338

 

 

This striking portrait was taken at the same time as the earlier group photograph with the ‘wounded soldier’. The vivandières usually dressed in a feminised version of the uniform of the regiment to which they were attached. There were women attached to the British regiments, known as sutlers, who helped with food, drink and domestic duties. From the collection of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.

 

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69) 'Colonel Doherty and the Officers of the 13th Light Dragoons' 1855

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69)
Colonel Doherty and the Officers of the 13th Light Dragoons
1855
Salted paper print
14.6 x 19.0 cm
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017 RCIN 2500354

 

 

Lieutenant Colonel Charles Doherty (d. 1866) was the commanding officer of the 13th Light Dragoons on the day of the Battle of Balaklava. His regiment was part of the Light Brigade, and his men participated in the famous charge. However, due to illness, Doherty did not join the battle. Doherty’s replacement that day, Captain John Oldham, was killed in the battle. Fenton probably photographed this group in anticipation of the interest in regiments who formed the Charge of the Light Brigade. Some of the men included in the group were amongst the chargers. From the collection of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.

 

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69) 'Ismael Pacha receiving his chibouque' 27 Apr 1855

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69)
Ismael Pacha receiving his chibouque
27 Apr 1855
Albumen print
17.2 x 16.1 cm (image)
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017 RCIN 2500427

 

 

Ismael Pacha (1813-65), also known as György Kmety, fought against the Russians in the 1848 Hungarian Revolution. After its failure and the harsh Russian reprisals, he joined the Ottoman army. Fenton took a series of photographs of Ismael Pacha receiving a pipe from his servants. Both Ismael Pacha and his Nubian servant, seen to the right of this photograph, appear in Barker’s painting The Allied Generals. Presumably acquired by Queen Victoria.

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69) 'Ismael Pacha receiving his chibouque' 27 Apr 1855 (detail)

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69)
Ismael Pacha receiving his chibouque (detail)
27 Apr 1855
Albumen print
17.2 x 16.1 cm (image)
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017 RCIN 2500427

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69) 'View from Cathcart's Hill' 1855

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69)
View from Cathcart’s Hill
1855
Albumen print
24.1 x 33.7 cm (image)
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017 RCIN 2500534

 

 

This photograph shows the British camps as seen from Cathcart’s Hill, the main British cemetery in the Crimea. The cemetery took its name from the grave of Sir George Cathcart, a senior military officer who was killed during the Battle of Inkerman. The hill was also used as an observation point as from it commanders could view the progress of the Siege of Sevastopol. From the collection of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69) 'General James Bucknall Estcourt (1802-1855)' 1855

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69)
General James Bucknall Estcourt (1802-1855)
1855
Albumen print
20.5 x 15.2 cm
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017 RCIN 2500239

 

 

General Estcourt was a chief staff officer during the difficult first winter in the Crimea. He was among those most strongly criticised by the public and the press for the suffering of the army, although he was defended by his close friend Lord Raglan. He died of cholera in the Crimea in June 1855. The photograph is hard to interpret. It can be seen as someone taking a break from military concerns but it could also be a portrait of illness and exhaustion. From the collection of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69) 'Sir William Howard Russell (1820-1907)' Jun 1855

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69)
Sir William Howard Russell (1820-1907)
Jun 1855
Albumen print
18.1 x 15.3 cm (image)
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017 RCIN 2500306

 

 

William Howard Russell was a reporter for The Times who rose to fame during the Crimean War for his vivid descriptions of major battles and the conditions faced by British troops. The Crimean War was the first conflict where advances in technology allowed newspapers to quickly print reports from their correspondents in the field. These reports attracted great public interest and influenced both official and public attitudes to the war. Russell’s emotive account of the Charge of the Light Brigade, published in The Times on 13 November 1854, inspired the poem of the same name by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. From the collection of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69) 'Sir Colin Campbell' 1855

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69)
Sir Colin Campbell
1855
Albumen print
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

 

 

Balaklava – the British base

When the British and French armies moved south to besiege Sevastopol, they had to choose a location in which to base themselves. The armies needed to be able to receive both men and supplies without hindrance for what might be many months. The French based themselves at Kamiesch, whilst the British chose Balaklava. The army took over the town, setting up its own infrastructure including a Post Office and constructing a military railway to transport the supplies as close as possible to the front lines.

When Fenton arrived in the Crimea on 8 March 1855, he disembarked at Balaklava. He took his first photographs on 15 March and spent the next two weeks exploring the port. He described the place in a letter as ‘one great pigsty’, noting the chaos and confusion which he managed to convey in his photographs.

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69) 'Railway sheds and workshops at Balaklava' 15 Mar 1855

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69)
Railway sheds and workshops at Balaklava
15 Mar 1855
Albumen print
20.9 x 26.1 cm (image)
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017 RCIN 2500463

 

 

This photograph clearly shows the scale of activity in Balaklava. There are ships in the harbour, and supplies (probably flour bags) are piled high on the water’s edge. In the foreground in ‘Railway Yard’ the new military railway is being constructed. It was paid for by Samuel Morton Peto (1809-89) who had also provided Fenton’s passage to the Crimea. Construction of the railway began in February 1855 and part of the line was in use within weeks, probably around the same time that Fenton arrived at Balaklava. The railway was dismantled in 1856 after the end of the war. From the collection of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69) 'Guards Hill Church Parade Balaklava in the distance' 1855

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69)
Guards Hill Church Parade Balaklava in the distance
1855
Salted paper print
26.1 x 35.3 cm (image)
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017 RCIN 2500530

 

 

Towards the end of March, Fenton made a number of views from ‘Guards Hill’ looking down towards the harbour of Balaklava. The ‘church parade’ referred to in the title is the parade of Scots Fusilier Guards seen to the right of the image. Although the group is indistinct, the bearskin hats of the Guards can be clearly distinguished. From the collection of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69) 'Cossack Bay Balaklava' Mar 1855

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69)
Cossack Bay Balaklava
Mar 1855
Albumen print
26.8 x 35.6 cm (image)
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017 RCIN 2500498

 

 

Despite the title, Cossack Bay is only slightly visible in the middle distance of this photograph. The main view with the ships, including one bearing the number ’69’, centres around Cattle Pier. The ship with the transport number 69 is the Albatross, which at the time of this photograph had recently arrived from Constantinople after a four-day journey bringing Mary Seacole (1805-81). Mrs Seacole set up a store and ‘hotel’ for British servicemen, supplying food, drink and medical supplies. In 1857 Mrs Seacole published an autobiographical account of her life and experiences in the Crimea, titled Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands. From the collection of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69) 'The Ordnance Wharf at Balaklava' Mar 1855

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69)
The Ordnance Wharf at Balaklava
Mar 1855
Albumen print
20.5 x 25.2 cm (image)
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017 RCIN 2500461

 

 

The Ordnance Wharf was the place where military supplies arrived – the British army’s Board of Ordnance was responsible for supplying weapons and ammunition, which can be clearly seen in the foreground of this photograph. The round shot is stacked awaiting transportation on the railway to reach the army camps besieging Sevastopol. The performance of the Board of Ordnance came under heavy criticism during the Crimean War, particularly during the 1854-5 winter. As a result, after a 400 year existence, the Board was abolished and its responsibilities were transferred to the War Office. From the collection of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69) 'Balaklava from the Russian Church, Upper Harbour, and Church of Kadikoi in the distance' 1855

 

Roger Fenton (1819-69)
Balaklava from the Russian Church, Upper Harbour, and Church of Kadikoi in the distance
1855
Albumen print
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

 

 

After the war

Fenton left the Crimea on 22 June 1855, so missed the fall of Sevastopol. He arrived back in Britain on 11 July. Queen Victoria saw a selection of his work in August, whilst she was at Osborne House, and Fenton visited France in early September to show his photographs to the Emperor.

Fenton also began preparations for the display of his work at numerous venues across Britain. Hundreds of prints would have been required for the 26 venues identified so far, including Edinburgh, Glasgow, Exeter, Cardiff, Belfast and Dublin. Fenton also managed to photograph some of the significant individuals he had been unable to capture in the Crimea, in order to complete his commission for Agnew’s.

The photographs were extraordinarily popular with the public. One publication stated that two million visitors had seen the photographs by the end of March 1856. It is unlikely that this translated into financial success for Fenton, however. At the end of 1856 Agnew’s sold the negatives and remaining prints to a rival print seller, who continued to sell the work at a much lower price. Fenton continued his association with the royal family, travelling to Balmoral in September 1856 where he photographed the royal children.

 

Felice Beato (1832-1909) 'The Docks after the Explosion' 1856

 

Felice Beato (1832-1909)
The Docks after the Explosion
1856
Salted paper print
23.7 x 28.7 cm (image)
RCIN 2500683

 

 

James Robertson’s business partner and brother-in-law, Felice Beato, returned to Sevastopol in March or April 1856 to make a further set of photographs. By then the docks had been destroyed. Viewed together, these photographs provide a record of the changing landscape of the city in the aftermath of the war. From the collection of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.

 

Fenton’s photographic process

Fenton made his photographs by printing from glass negatives, using a process called the wet collodion process. The negatives were then shipped back to Britain where they were used to make prints in two different ways – the salted paper print and the albumen print.

The wet collodion process used a prepared piece of glass which, in the darkroom, would be coated with collodion and then made light-sensitive with further chemicals. Before the plate could dry, it would be placed in the camera and exposed. Then the plate would be returned to the darkroom and developed, rinsed, fixed, washed, dried and varnished. It was then ready for printing.

The salted paper print used paper which had been prepared by coating it in a salted solution. After drying, it would be made light-sensitive in the darkroom and then placed in a frame in contact with the glass negative to be exposed to sunlight. Once the image had appeared satisfactorily on the paper, the print would be processed, washed, fixed and toned.

 

 

The Queen’s Gallery
Buckingham Palace,
London, SW1A 1AA

Opening hours:
Open daily 10.00 – 17.30

Closures:
13 November – 7 December
24 December last admission 14.45, closes at 16.00
25 – 26 December

Royal Collection Trust 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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