Photography – Art & Antiques Magazine http://www.artandantiquesmag.com For Collectors of the Fine and Decorative Arts Tue, 09 Jul 2019 01:51:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/cropped-artandantiques_red_icon-32x32.png Photography – Art & Antiques Magazine http://www.artandantiquesmag.com 32 32 Ralph Eugene Meatyard: Surrealist Pastoral http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/2019/03/ralph-eugene-meatyard/ Sat, 30 Mar 2019 01:09:15 +0000 http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/?p=6562 Continue reading ]]> The enigmatic, otherworldly photographs of Ralph Eugene Meatyard belong to a very real place.

Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Untitled, circa 1970

Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Untitled, circa 1970, gelatin silver print.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Untitled, circa 1970 Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Untitled, 1964 Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Untitled, circa 1968 Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Lucybelle Crater and 45 yr old husband Lucybelle Crater Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Untitled, 1966

The photographs of Ralph Eugene Meatyard seem to depict a dream world. Sometimes scary, sometimes endearing, but always uncanny, his small-scale black-and-white prints invite the viewer into a zone where faces are replaced by masks, dolls come to life, and children play amid ruins. So it might come as a surprise to learn that Meatyard’s work was firmly grounded in a real place, his home town—to be specific, in Lexington, Ky., where Meatyard lived with his wife, Madelyn, and their three children, all of whom are featured in his photographs. There he pursued a career as an optician and business owner while photographing on weekends and holidays.

He also spent a good deal of time with a very creative group of friends who helped him become an artist and sustained and stimulated him in his work over a period of two decades. Some of these people are now famous, more so than Meatyard—the Trappist monk Thomas Merton; the poet, essayist, and environmentalist Wendell Berry; the writer and artist Guy Davenport; and perhaps most important, the photographer and curator Van Deren Coke, who taught Meatyard and enabled him to start his artistic career.

A book just published by the University of Kentucky Press aims to situate Meatyard in this place, not so much in terms of influences as in terms of the way he used the locality in his work, how he took it as both setting and subject and then took off from there. Ralph Eugene Meatyard: Stages of Being is edited by Stuart Horodner, director of the University of Kentucky Art Museum in Lexington and Janie M. Welker, curator of collections there, and features essays by them as well as short reflections by a variety of prominent photographers, including Duane Michals, Emmet Gowin, Roger Ballen, Laurel Nakadate, and Catherine Opie. It is issued in conjunction with an exhibition of the same name that ran at the University of Kentucky Art Museum last fall and that will be on view again this fall and winter, at the Bates College Museum of Art in Maine.

Meatyard’s son Christopher, now a photographer himself, is quoted by Horodner as saying, “He picked the environment first. Then he’d look at the particular light, in that moment, in that place, and start composing scenes using the camera.” In addition to posing his wife, kids, and friends, Meatyard would often salt the scene with objects he’d found on his ramblings or bought at antique or curio shops in the area. Sometimes the staging was elaborate; sometimes it was subtle. Meatyard had the genius of knowing how just one detail could push an image over the border from the everyday world into a parallel, strange one. For example, in an untitled work from 1968, we see a picnic table with two garbage cans in the background. The way Meatyard has rendered the lighting makes the suburban park look like the forest primeval; the branches, so dark as to be almost in silhouette, are reaching out like the arms of mythic tree people. So far everything is as found by the lens, but then we notice the dirty, decapitated head of a doll resting on the table (doubtless put there by the photographer), its expressionless eyes staring off toward the lower left corner of the frame.

In another untitled image, from around 1970 (Meatyard rarely titled his photos, which he made with a Rolleiflex camera and printed fairly small, usually around seven inches square), no props are used, and none are necessary to convey the desired eerie quality. A man enters a bare room in a house whose architectural details suggest that it is an old, American-vernacular type. The light from the window is printed as bright white, eliminating any data from outside. The tone of weirdness is greatly enhanced by the fact that the human figure, slightly blurred and bordering on featureless, looks too tall for the space, as if he were entering a child-sized house.

The weirdness and local architecture, often crumbling or rotting, have led some observers to call Meatyard’s work “Southern Gothic,” but that’s not quite right. For one thing, Meatyard wasn’t Southern; he arrived in Lexington at in 1950, at the age of 25, and stayed till his death from cancer in 1972, but he was born in Illinois, in a town called—you can’t make this up—Normal. After service in World War II and studies at Williams College (pre-dental, another incongruous fact) and Illinois Wesleyan (philosophy), he learned the optician’s trade and was invited to Lexington by the optical firm of Tinder-Krauss-Tinder. As it happened, the company also sold photographic equipment and supplies, and that got Meatyard interested. He bought his first camera that year, 1950, and soon was exhibiting in the group shows of the Lexington Camera Club.

At the club, he took a class with Van Deren Coke, who was taken with Meatyard’s work and got it exhibited nationally, alongside such luminaries as Minor White, Aaron Siskind, and Coke’s owner teacher, Ansel Adams. But this fame—albeit in a very small circle, given that the art-photography world of the 1950s was far smaller than today and got far less attention—did not go to Meatyard’s head in any way. He stayed in Lexington, plodding away at his lens-grinding like a latter-day Spinoza, eventually opening his own business, Eyeglasses of Kentucky. In his office, he would hang some of his own photographs, as well as artwork by friends including the photographer Emmet Gowin and the abstract painter Frederick Thursz. As Horodner puts it in the book, “He had a day job. He was responsible. The photos were taken on the weekends and the film was not developed for months. This should not be taken as a lack of ambition.” His images, his imagination, were surreal; his life was lived as a mid-Southern American bourgeois. His great friend Guy Davenport wrote, “He was a quiet, diffident, charming person on the surface, a known ruse of the American genius.”

Masks feature prominently in Meatyard’s work—worn by the people who pose for him, and sometimes just lying around, even hanging from a tree. In Latin, the word for mask is persona, and paradoxically, what Meatyard was doing by putting his figures in masks was to depersonalize them, to mask their individuality. He did this to get at something deeper than the merely personal, something that unites everyone; In his famous fantasy-narrative series “The Family Album of Lucybelle Crater,” in which his own family plays the parts wearing grotesque latex masks, all of the characters, male or female, old or young, are named Lucybelle Crater. What Meatyard was driving at was the sense in which we are all the same person.


By John Dorfman

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Dorothea Lange: Through the Lens of Compassion http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/2019/03/dorothea-lange/ Sat, 30 Mar 2019 00:18:16 +0000 http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/?p=6569 Continue reading ]]> A major retrospective of Dorothea Lange’s photographic career returns to the U.S.

Dorothea Lange, Crossroads General Store, Gordonton, North Carolina, 1939

Dorothea Lange, Crossroads General Store,
Gordonton, North Carolina, 1939, Archival pigment print.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Dorothea Lange in Texas on the Plains, ca. 1935 Dorothea Lange, Crossroads General Store, Gordonton, North Carolina, 1939 Dorothea Lange, May Day Listener, San Francisco, 1934 Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936 Dorothea Lange, left: Shipyard Worker, ca. 1943

An exhibition now on view at the Frist Art Museum in Nashville, Tenn., affords an opportunity to assess the full career and vision of a photographer who is known to most people only through isolated images—above all, through one, the so-called Migrant Mother. This image, now vying with the Mona Lisa for the title of most iconic in visual history, is one of five similar photos that Dorothea Lange made in haste on a March day in 1936 at a pea-pickers’ camp in Nipomo, Calif., as part of her work documenting rural workers’ conditions during the Great Depression for the U.S. Farm Security Administration. However, as visitors to “Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing” (through May 27) will realize, Migrant Mother needs to be situated within a body of work that is not only powerful and original but that virtually defines the way the art of photography was brought to bear on social, political, and economic concerns during the tumultuous 20th century.

The retrospective was organized by the Oakland Museum of California, which holds Lange’s personal archives, donated after her death in 1965 by her second husband, labor economist Paul Taylor. It was first mounted at the OMCA in 2017, after which it was shown at the Barbican in London and the Jeu de Paume in Paris, and the Frist is its final stop on this international tour. Around 130 vintage and contemporary prints will be on display, along with personal memorabilia and portions of a documentary film about Lange made by one of her granddaughters.

The photographer was born Dorothea Nutzhorn in 1895 in Hoboken, N.J.—the birthplace, 31 years earlier, of another German-American giant of photography, Alfred Stieglitz. When Dorothea was 12, her parents divorced; the event left her with a permanent distaste for her father, a lawyer, which she expressed succinctly by replacing her last name with her mother’s maiden name of Lange. Even more defining was another childhood misfortune, polio, which came when she was seven and left her with a permanent limp. The disability awakened in the relatively privileged middle-class girl a profound empathy for the less fortunate. Polio, she later said, “was the most important thing that happened to me, and formed me, guided me, instructed me, helped me, and humiliated me.”

After high school, Lange went to teacher-training school, then dropped out and got a job in a New York photography studio. She apprenticed with photographers including the portraitist Arnold Genthe and studied at Clarence H. White’s private school of photography. At this point in her life, photography primarily meant portraiture to her, and when she moved to San Francisco in 1918, she opened a portrait studio that catered to society clients and did quite well. In San Francisco, Lange met her first husband, the Western painter Maynard Dixon. It was while traveling through the Southwest with Dixon in search of subject matter for his art that Lange got her first intensive exposure to people who were struggling to survive, especially Native Americans and Spanish-Americans in the Taos, N.M. area, whom she photographed.

As the Depression set in, Lange had to look no farther than out the window of her Oakland studio to see suffering and hopelessness. She was inspired to take her camera out into the streets, capturing psychologically rich, haunting images such as White Angel Breadline, San Francisco (1933). In this photograph, the main figure, eyes obscured by his hat brim, has his back turned on his fellows in unemployment, which deepens our sense of his isolation. A happier image is May Day Listener, San Francisco (1934), a young woman whose almost beatific eyes express the hope that socialism connoted in those days.

In 1935, at a small gallery exhibition of her photographs, Lange met Paul Taylor. She had been unhappy in her marriage to Dixon and soon left him for Taylor. A political progressive with a particular interest in agricultural problems, Taylor motivated Lange to put her photographic abilities to more direct and practical use in the fight for better conditions and social justice. Together they traveled around California, documenting poverty, he in words and she in pictures. In 1936 they joined the Resettlement Administration, later named the Farm Security Administration, and expanded the scope of their travels under the mandate of this New Deal organization. It was during her FSA period, the second half of the ’30s, that Lange created her most indelible images, including Migrant Mother.

Lange was never a purist; for her, photographs had to be in service of a human reality that was not aesthetic, and the integration of images with words of explanation and documentation was part of that mission. Uncharacteristically, Lange, who was tired and in a hurry that day, failed to take notes to go with Migrant Mother, and so the identity of its main subject, an Oklahoma-born Native American woman named Florence Owens Thompson, remained unknown to the public until the late ’70s, even as her image became a universal symbol. Thompson (who lived until 1983) and her family were very uncomfortable with the uses the photograph had been put to, beginning with its publication in the San Francisco News—Lange, they claimed, had promised them that it would only go into the archives of the FSA and not be published. A separate room in the Frist show is given over to the five different takes on Thompson and two of her young daughters, so that viewers can see how the one famous image—FSA head Roy Stryker said, “To me, it was the picture”—crystallized amid a series of incomplete approaches.

After the U.S. entered World War II, Lange was assigned to the Office of War Information and found a new subject—the West Coast Japanese-Americans who were being uprooted from their homes and sent to internment camps. This time, her photographs, taken on the California coast and in the Manzanar camp in the Eastern California desert, met a less enthusiastic reception. In fact, because of their compassionate attitude toward a group of people who were regarded with suspicion at best and hatred at worst, they were heavily censored and largely sidelined from the public discourse at the time. They are, however, powerful human documents in their own right, and their representation in the Frist show makes clear that Lange’s eye had by no means lost its sharp yet tender focus after the Depression years.

After the war, with the social issues less acute, Lange’s work lost some of its passion and certainly its organized program, although she was still capable of wonderful single images; for example, Café Near Pinole, California (1956), a shot of a man at a bar flanked by a cigarette machine and a jukebox, could almost be by Robert Frank in its hipster bleakness. A 1952 essay that Lange co-wrote with her son Daniel Dixon, “Photographing the Familiar,” states, “Bad as it is, the world is potentially full of good photographs. But to be good, photographs have to be full of the world.”


By John Dorfman

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Ansel Adams: Western Expansion http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/2018/11/ansel-adams/ Fri, 30 Nov 2018 04:04:28 +0000 http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/?p=6355 Continue reading ]]> A show at the MFA Boston looks at the influences on and of Ansel Adams.

Ansel Adams, Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park, about 1937

Ansel Adams, Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park, about 1937, photograph, gelatin silver print.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Ansel Adams, Pine Forest in Snow, Yosemite National Park, about 1932 Mitchell Epstein, Altamont Pass Wind Farm, California, 2007 Ansel Adams, The Tetons and Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, 1942 Ansel Adams, Monolith -- The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, 1927, print date: 1950-60 Ansel Adams, Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park, about 1937

Before Ansel Adams famously photographed Yosemite National Park, there was Carleton E. Watkins, a New York-born photographer who decamped to San Francisco in 1849 during the Gold Rush. Instead of finding gold, Watkins became one of the earliest and most important American landscape photographers. He started out as an apprentice to Robert Vance, a pioneering daguerreotypist, and quickly began making money shooting mining estates. He shot Yosemite in the summer of 1861 with a steroscopic camera and a mammoth-plate camera, which used 18-by-22-inch glass negatives. His sweeping panoramic views of what was then known as the “Yo-Semite Valley” showcased the region’s breathtaking waterfalls, mountains, gigantic trees, and wilderness. At the time, it was largely untraveled, and most viewers had never seen Half Dome, Cathedral Rocks, and El Capitan before Watkins’ photographs.

In fact, Watkins is generally credited with Yosemite’s becoming a national park in the first place. In the 1860s, while the country was in the throes of the Civil War, logging and mining companies were eyeing Yosemite’s rich resources. As the story goes, California Senator John Conness, who owned a cache of Watkins’ work and told Congress that Yosemite was home to “perhaps some of the greatest wonders of the world,” showed several photographs to President Abraham Lincoln. A year later, in 1864, Lincoln signed a law granting the land “in the granite peak of the Sierra Nevada Mountains” to the state of California to be “held for public use, resort, and recreation…inalienable for all time.” Predating both the National Park System and Yellowstone, it was the first act by the Federal government to preserve land for the public.

With a credit like this—and praise from leading artistic voices of his day such as Albert Bierstadt and Ralph Waldo Emerson—it’s surprising that Watkins and his photographs aren’t better known. The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 is partly to blame, as it destroyed Watkins’ studio and the lion’s share of his negatives (the quake also threw a then four-year-old Adams, a San Francisco native, into a wall, damaging his nose). A 1975 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art organized by the photography curator Weston Naef is largely credited with launching Watkins’ work back into the public eye. However it should be noted that Adams, who described Watkins as one of the “great Western photographers,” was well versed in the older artist’s work, often retracing his steps in Yosemite. He put several of Watkins’ photographs in “Photographs of the Civil War and the American Frontier,” an exhibition he curated for the Museum of Modern Art in 1942.

Adams’ influences, and the artists influenced by him, is the subject of “Ansel Adams in Our Time,” an exhibition that opens at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston on December 13. The show, which runs through February 24, puts Adams’ work on view alongside that of his 19th-century predecessors and 20 contemporary artists.

Just like one of Watkins’ or Adams’ panoramic photographs, the show provides a sweeping view of the American West and how its wilderness, inhabitants, and environment have changed.

Among the works representing 19th-century pioneers of government survey and expedition photography is Watkins Mount Starr King and Glacier Point, Yosemite, No. 69 (1865–66), which captures a serene clearing in the park near Mount Starr King, a symmetrical granite dome, and Glacier Point, a popular overlook point. The photograph’s rich textures and crisp clarity make it easy to forget that to get the shot on his photographic expedition Watkins wrangled over a dozen mules and carried 2,000 pounds of equipment and flammable chemicals. Another highlight is Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Falls (about 1887, albumen print) by Frank Jay Haynes. With its sharp contrast between black and white and bold lines, this work would be at home among the work of the Modernist photographers. Haynes, who first visited Yellowstone in 1881, obtained a photographic concession inside the new National Park at Mammoth Hot Springs in 1884. Henceforth he became the park’s unofficial official photographer, returning every year until his death and capturing all of the sites with a mammoth camera. It wasn’t uncommon for Adams to replicate these artists’ exact views in his own photographs, effectively reinforcing iconic images of the national parks.

Photographs such as The Sangre de Cristo from Marshall Pass (after 1879, albumen print) by William Henry Jackson and Heaipu, Navaho Woman (about 1879, albumen print) by John K. Hillers provide contemporary views of the 19th-century West. The former pictures a locomotive speeding through the southernmost subrange of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, and the latter portrays a Navaho woman surrounded by and wearing traditional weavings.

The work of Adams that populates the show is some of his most iconic. It comes from the Lane Collection, one of the largest and most significant gifts in the MFA’s history (some 6,000 photographs, 100 works on paper, and paintings). Traversing the breadth of American modernism, the collection features work by Charles Sheeler (his entire photographic estate of 2,500 works, to be exact), Edward Weston (nearly 2,500 works), Arthur G. Dove, Georgia O’Keeffe, Stuart Davis, and John Marin—most of whom were peers and friends of Adams’s. The collection boasts 500 photographs by Adams, making it possible for the museum to examine and reinterpret the artist’s oeuvre from seemingly endless angles.

Works like The Tetons and Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming (1942, gelatin silver print), seem to owe a lot to Adams’ 19th-century forerunners. Much like Haynes’ Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Falls, the image’s winding body of water, gleaming like polished silver, cuts a sharp contrast to the darkened trees that surround it. The snowy tops of the Teton mountains on the horizon display a crispness that even outdoes Watkins, as their jagged peaks appear to poke into the wispy clouds. Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park (about 1937, gelatin silver print), a view of a snowy Yosemite valley, could be a shot from Watkins’s portfolio.

Monolith—The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park (1927, print date 1950–60, gelatin silver print), another famous image in the show, comes from his pivotal 1927 portfolio “Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras”. Using a Korona view camera with glass plates and a dark red filter, Adams captured the image with the only plate he had left on his excursion to Yosemite. Adams said of the photo, which portrays a side view of the park’s famous granite dome, “I had been able to realize the desired image: not the way the subject appeared in reality but how it felt to me and how it must appear in the finished print.”

Works such as the famed Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico (1941, print date 1965–75, gelatin silver print) and Grass and Burned Stump, Sierra Nevada, California (1935, gelatin silver print) feel entirely modern. The former juxtaposes the modest buildings of the unincorporated community of Hernandez with a grand, expansive sky overhead. The latter is purely Modernist, with its rich textures and zoomed-in composition. Photographs like the 1930 Cemetery State and Oil Derricks, Long Beach, California, which depicts industrial towers in the distance over the shoulder of a marble funerary statue of an angel, seem to herald postmodern photography.

A Western graveyard is the subject of Bryan Schutmaat’s Cemetery, Tonopah, NV (2012, archival inkjet print). The photograph depicts a cemetery in Tonopah, a mining town in the Nevada desert. As in Adams’ photograph, equipment from mining activity is visible behind the graves, which date to the first decade of the 20th century, a prosperous time for the town. Mitchell Epstein’s Altamont Pass Wind Farm, California (2007, chromegnic print), another contemporary work in the exhibition, shows the intersection between nature, recreation, and industry. It captures a view of a golf course, which is positioned in front of the Altamont Pass Wind Farm in the Altamont Pass of the Diablo Range in Northern California. The wind farm was one of the first in the United States, with its earliest wind turbines being established in the area in the early 1980s by Fayette Manufacturing Corporation on land owned by Joe Jess, a cattle rancher. Some of the contemporary works in the show riff on traditional landscape photography. Catherine Opie’s Untitled #1 (Yosemite Valley) (2015, pigment print), for instance, provides a beautiful view of a Yosemite waterfall blurred and overexposed.

Other contemporary artists in the exhibition include Trevor Paglen, Abelardo Morell, Binh Dahn, and Victoria Sambunaris. Mark Klett, who is also featured in the show, created an entire series that marries historic landscape images by 19th-century photographers with those of the 20th. In one work that Klett made with Byron Wolfe, View from the handrail at Glacier Point overlook, connecting views from Ansel Adams to Carleton Watkins (2004), the artist creates an even more panoramic view of Yosemite with a contemporary image of the park, layered with those taken by both Adams and Watkins. They fit together quite well.

By Sarah E. Fensom

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Print Culture http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/2018/09/japanese-printmaking-photography/ Sat, 29 Sep 2018 13:51:56 +0000 http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/?p=6223 Continue reading ]]> Japanese printmaking and photography of the 20th century would be unthinkable without each other.

Tokuriki Tomikichiro, Sanjo Bridge, 1954

Tokuriki Tomikichiro, Sanjo Bridge, 1954 , woodblock print; ink and color on paper.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Tokuriki Tomikichiro, Sanjo Bridge, 1954 Kawase Hasui, Ferryboat Landing at Tsukishima, from the series Twelve Months of Tokyo, 1921 Ohara Koson, Evening Scene with Sail Boats and Mt. Fuji, 1900s Moriyama Daido, Evening View, 1977

Japan has been in love with photography ever since the mid-19th century, when the advent of the new European picture-making invention coincided with Japan’s opening up to foreign influences under the Meiji Restoration. The new word coined for photography was shashin, meaning “reproducing truth,” and early Japanese photography tended to be documentary in nature. Often using hand-applied color, photographers filled many of the same functions as color woodblock prints, but at lower cost and with the added attraction of novelty. For these reasons, the rise of photography was one of the most important factors (along with the newspaper printing presses) in the demise of the traditional ukiyo-e print, which by the end of the 19th century was left without a market and therefore without creative energy. When Japanese printmaking experienced a rebirth about 20 years later, it was in new formats and styles, all of which had to acknowledge the fact of photography, either as an influence or as something to define itself against. Meanwhile, after World War II and especially in the ’50s and ’60s, Japanese photography experienced a rebirth of its own, with the rise of the Japanese camera industry and, in parallel, a new spirit among photographers who eschewed simplistic documentary in favor of a radically poetic way of portraying the social changes in Japan at the time.

Many of these trends and forces can be seen and studied in a pair of complementary exhibitions now on view at the Freer | Sackler at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. The Asian art galleries are celebrating the acquisition of one of the most important collections of Japanese photography by putting around 70 photos on view in the exhibition “Japan Modern: Photography from the Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck Collection” (September 29, 2018–January 21, 2019). Concurrently, the museum will also mount “Japan Modern: Prints in the Age of Photography,” which examines the new printmaking media and aesthetics that arose around 1920 and continue to be vital to this day.

Although the Katz–Huyck collection includes works dating back to the 1880s, the ones on view in “Japan Modern” span the 1930s through ’80s, the period in which Japanese photography really came into its own as an innovative, creative force. One of the first photographers of this period to make an impact was Shoji Ueda, who absorbed the influence of European Surrealism in the ’30s and ’40s and expressed it in a completely local and personal way. Ueda made a specialty of photographing people against the sand dunes in his home town of Tottori. In these dune photos, the human figures seem to become dislocated, intentionally placed in a surreal space where they acquire a mysterious, elusive new meaning, as in My Wife on the Dunes (circa 1950). In his Boku To Neko (The Cat and Me) (circa 1950), Ueda takes a traditional ukiyo-e theme, a person playing with a cat, and gives it a slightly absurdist feel, partly by placing it incongruously outdoors and partly by making it a comic-strip-like triptych that defeats our expectations that it be chronologically sequential.

Eikoh Hosoe, one of the greatest names of modern Japanese photography, is well represented in the exhibition. Starting out as a photographer after Japan’s catastrophic defeat in World War II, Hosoe explored psychic realms of darkness and eros, often through performance-art collaborations with other artists, including the writer Yukio Mishima. In Simmon: A Private Landscape (#1) (1971), Hosoe poses the actor Simon Yotsuya in a field of weeds with power lines in the far distance. Yotsuya, wearing heavy makeup and a kimono-like robe, looks like a courtesan out of ukiyo-e transported to a postindustrial landscape. Some of the other photos in the show, such as Seikan Ferryboat (1976) from Fukase Masahisa’s “Ravens” series, channel some of the angst and craziness of atom-bomb-scarred postwar Japan. Tomatsu Shomei’s Yokosuka, Kanagawa (1959) conveys a sense of fragmentation through multiple points of view and distorted optics. These are all black and white images; when color is used, the connection with Japanese printmaking comes through clearly. Hamaya Hiroshi’s glowing, reddish-orange Cibachrome Peaks of Takachiho Volcano (1964) is in a lineage going back to Hokusai’s 36 Views of Mount Fuji. Daido Moriyama’s Evening View (1977), an atypically serene image for the edgy photographer, isolates a red light bulb against a deep blue, almost dark sky in a way that suggests the lamps in 19th-century prints.

In making the connection between printmaking and photography, it is important to remember that in Japan, which did not have robust gallery and museum scenes for photography, the medium was promoted largely through magazines such as Camera Mainichi and Provoke and through photobooks, the latter a genre in which the Japanese have always excelled, and still do. Prints and photographs are both multiples, media invented for the purposes of infinite reproduction, and therefore each has a deep connection to the enterprise of publishing.

The “Japan Modern” print exhibition consists mainly of landscapes, and across a variety of styles they show how powerful the influence of photography was on printmakers. Ferryboat Landing at Tsukishima (1921), from Kawase Hasui’s series “Twelve Months of Tokyo,” is an example of shin hanga (“new prints”), the luxurious and technically polished school of woodblock printmaking that arose from the ashes of ukiyo-e. Hasui shows us the boat through an opening between pillars at the dock, looking upward, and the composition of this image strongly suggests the way a camera lens sees it. Despite the exquisite refinement of the line and color, this print has a snapshot aesthetic. Tile Roof (1957), by Sekino Jun’ichiro, is from the school of sosaku hanga or “creative prints,” a rougher-around-the edges set of styles that required the artist’s involvement in every stage of the process, unlike the traditional schools in which technicians would work from an artist’s designs. The tightly cropped view downward onto the roof makes the scene almost abstract, an effect typical of modernist photography. This particular image is reminiscent of some of André Kertész’s photographs. In Kimura Risaburo’s City 119 (1969), the vantage point is pulled up so high that the woodblock print resembles an aerial photograph. And some of the prints, such as Ono Tadashige’s Road (1954) or Kawanishi Hide’s Kobe Port (1953), use deliberately crude techniques and non-realistic color schemes as if to say, here is something that a photograph cannot do; this is not shashin.


By John Dorfman

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On the Road http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/2018/03/william-eggleston/ Wed, 28 Mar 2018 22:49:34 +0000 http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/?p=5881 Continue reading ]]> A body of William Eggleston’s influential color photography goes on view at the Met.

William Eggleston, Memphis, ca. 1971–7

William Eggleston, Memphis, ca. 1971–74, dye-transfer print 17.688 x 12 in. (45 x 30.5 cm)

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) William Eggleston, Memphis, 1965 William Eggleston, Memphis, ca. 1971–74 William Eggleston, Memphis, ca. 1965–68 William Eggleston, Memphis, ca. 1971–7

“William Eggleston: Los Alamos,” a current exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, opened on Valentine’s Day, and appropriately so—“Los Alamos,” the vast body of work the photographer created between 1965 and 1974, is in many ways a love letter to the American vernacular and the process of shooting in color. The show, which runs through May 18, puts on view 75 dye-transfer prints from color transparencies, including the first color photo Eggleston ever took—Untitled, Memphis (1965), the famous image of a well-coifed young clerk pushing shopping carts outside a grocery store. The prints were gifted to the museum by Jade Lau, and this show marks the first time the full series hits walls in New York City.

Eggleston, who was born in Memphis, Tenn., in 1939, still calls the Mississippi Delta home today. Undoubtedly he has a special finesse with this region—look no further than the photograph described above, countless photos in the series, or his out-of-print paperback “Elvis at Graceland”—but what makes “Los Alamos” so special is its broader view of the country; the show includes studies captured both at home and on the road. Eggleston went on numerous road trips during this period with curator Walter Hopps and actor-director-photographer Dennis Hopper. The young trio explored New Orleans, New Mexico, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and beyond. American culture reflects a long-held interest in journeys, from Huckleberry Finn to On the Road, but when Eggleston and company were traveling, the American road movie exploded as a genre. The years between 1965 and 1974 saw the release of Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Easy Rider (1969, directed by Hopper), Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), Badlands (1973), and many others of both the A and B variety. Seeing the country from a car window, filling up in some unfamiliar gas station, eating at the local diner, drinking at the local bar, taking in the local color, causing some trouble, and recording the landmarks and landscapes became the formula for a new type of Homeric epic set on America’s highways and back roads rather than the Peloponnese.

“Los Alamos” is unquestionably the most seminal photographic series following this paradigm, with cars, gas pumps, Coca Cola bottles, signage, and people dotting the American landscape in vivid, sumptuous color. Louisiana (circa 1971–74, dye-transfer print) depicts a rusted gas station soaked in rain. In Santa Monica (circa 1974, dye-transfer print) a black family poses (but not for Eggleston) in between the front end of a car and the seafoam-green ocean. Mississippi (circa 1971–74, dye-transfer print) boasts a sign reading “Minnows 2¢ ea.” in bold red letters that is nestled on a strip of patchy grass off the side of the road. Arkansas (circa 1971–74) shows a painted, cut-out wooden sign of a clean-cut, white family kneeling at a church pew; shot at an upward angle, the sign’s characters seem to be floating in mid-air. Baton Rouge (circa 1971–74, dye-transfer print) pictures a door thickly upholstered with the image of a cocktail glass. Eggleston even named the series “Los Alamos” while he was on the road, driving past the Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1973. Commenting on the facility, where the United States developed atomic weapons, Eggleston told Hopps, “You know, I’d like to have a secret lab like that myself.”

In the series, it’s possible to see much of the art-historical canon that came before it, from Modernist photography, the work of Walker Evans and the WPA artists, the street photography of Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Pop Art. In line with the latter, Eggleston was one of the first fine art photographers to co-opt the dye-transfer color process from commercial photographers who used it for advertising and product photography. But for present-day viewers, especially those who didn’t live through the ’60s or ’70s, it smacks of what has long passed. Malls, big-box stores, and now the Internet have laid waste to many of the small businesses captured in “Los Alamos,” and with them have gone the unique flourishes of the mom-and-pop store. Today, pieces of Americana, like the signs and ornaments in Eggleston’s photographs, are sold like works of art in their own right, while countless examples likely languished in the garbage years ago. The series also serves as a reminder of things that still fester. The Mississippi area seen through Eggleston’s camera set the scene for the civil rights movement, but decades later our country still faces incidents of hatred and racial inequality, and the South still deals with poverty.

Eggleston famously said that his photographs were “part of a novel I’m doing,” and indeed they read like scenes or chapters from an unfolding narrative. En route to New Orleans (circa 1971–74, dye transfer print), which depicts a setting inside an airplane, feels like a prompt for a story of its own—it’s full of potential energy, but it also captures the feeling of being trapped in the air. In it, an elegant hand stirs an effervescent drink, while clouds and sky watch through the window. The drink’s reflection radiates from the gray tray table as if the sun had been trapped in a glass. The image is iconic, and countless layman photographers have tried to recreate it while traveling via aircraft—just check Instagram—or better yet, a recent ad campaign by the luxury skincare company Crème de la Mer. Try as they might, none of the imitators can get it quite right, likely because they haven’t come from where Eggleston came from and they’re not going where he was going.

In the wall text of the show, Eggleston is quoted as saying, “Often people ask me what I am photographing. It’s a hard question to answer. And the best I have come up with is I just say ‘life today.’ I don’t know if they believe me or not. Or what that means.”


By Sarah E. Fensom

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Robert Mapplethorpe: Another Perfect Moment http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/2016/03/robert-mapplethorpe-photography/ Tue, 29 Mar 2016 18:02:33 +0000 http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/?p=4486 Continue reading ]]> A two-museum retrospective in Los Angeles highlights Robert Mapplethorpe’s enduring oeuvre and legacy.

Robert Mappletorpe, Orchid 1987

Robert Mappletorpe, Orchid 1987

Featured Images: (Click to Enlarge) Robert Mappletorpe, Shoe (Melody), 1987 Robert Mappletorpe Robert Mappletorpe, Self Portrait Robert Mappletorpe, Ajitto (1981) Robert Mappletorpe, Orchid 1987

In the majority of the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe’s work, sex is casually or rather blatantly present. In his black and white floral close-ups—such as Calla Lily (1988)—which are reminiscent of the studio portraits of Irving Penn or Richard Avedon, flowers have the supple sexuality of bodies. Photographs that depict nude bodies—such as Lisa Lyon (1981)—which harkens back to the Neo-Classicism of 19th-century Pictorialist portraits, take on the delicacy and unselfconscious beauty of flowers.

Yet others, such as the artist’s series “X Portfolio” on the underground BDSM scene in late 1960s and ’70s New York, or those depicting homoeroticism or simply the relationships between gay men, such as Larry and Bobby Kissing (1979), depict sexuality explicitly. The artist even depicted himself as a sexual fetish object, as in Self-Portrait (1980), where he is seen sitting in front of the camera, smoking and leather-clad, wearing the hairstyle of 1950s teenage rebellion: the pompadour. Photographs from the “X Portfolio,” which were on view in the 1988 exhibition “The Perfect Moment” at the Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnati, led to the indictment of the museum and its director, Dennis Barrie, for obscenity by the city of Cincinnati (the jury ultimately found Barrie and the CAC not guilty), and the eventual cancellation of the show at its next planned stop, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Additionally, Mapplethorpe, who died of AIDS in 1990, is often associated, not only with the AIDS crisis but also with the culture wars of the 1980s and with gay life in general.

Yet regardless of content or cultural associations, Mapplethorpe strove to express the totality of his vision as an artist—to direct and capture images of what he found visually appealing: the slick sheen of leather, the glistening smoothness of musculature, the satin-like texture of flower petals. Beauty, with an emphasis on self-directed perfection, was Mapplethorpe’s ideal—an aesthetic that seemed to reach an apex in the art world of 1980s New York.

In Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids (2010), the author and musician recalls a day in the ’60s when she and Mapplethorpe, her boyfriend at the time, found sketches by Touko “Tom of Finland” Laaksonen among some used paperback in Times Square. The sketches, which showcased leather-clad, physically fit young men atop motorcycles, left a lasting impression on Mapplethorpe. Though he studied art at Pratt and was exposed to photography early on by his father, an amateur photographer, Mapplethorpe was not enamored of the camera or the photographic process. Born in Queens, N.Y., and coming of age in the New York of the ’60s and ’70s, Mapplethorpe was drawn to Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg—not only to the former for his fame and persona or the latter for his glamour-meets-grunge lifestyle, but to both for their use of the photograph in works that were not necessarily about photography. In his early work, such as Leatherman #1 (1970), Mapplethorpe used found images from gay porn magazines and scrap materials to create collages. The artist and filmmaker Sandy Daley lent Mapplethorpe a Polaroid camera in 1970. This was a pivotal moment in Mapplethorpe’s art-making process. With the camera, he effectively stepped into the role of auteur, conceiving of images and producing them to his standards of perfection rather than finding them and piecing them together.

“Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium,” a major retrospective co-organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, is now on view at both museums through July 31. “Mapplethorpe’s motive for art-making was not about medium, but about his idea of perfection,” says Britt Salvesen, curator and head of the Wallis Annenberg Photography Department at LACMA. “He said that in another era, he could have been a sculptor. However, our title addresses photography being the perfect medium for him.”

LACMA and the J. Paul Getty Trust made a joint acquisition of art and archival materials from the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation in 2011. Along with a joint gift from the foundation that same year, the acquisition privileges both institutions with the ability to stage the most comprehensive survey of Mapplethorpe’s work to date. Says Getty director Timothy Potts, “The rich photographic holdings in the Getty Museum and LACMA, together with the artist’s archive housed at the Getty Research Institute, make Los Angeles an essential destination for anyone with serious interest in the late 20th-century photography scene in New York.”

Further contextualizing Mapplethorpe’s work, “The Thrill of the Chase: The Wagstaff Collection of Photographs,” a concurrent exhibition at the Getty (also until July 31), puts on view the collection of Sam Wagstaff—Mapplethorpe’s partner and an accomplished collector and curator. Wagstaff’s photography collection, which was acquired by the Getty in 1984, has served as one of the backbones of the Department of Photographs at the museum. Boasting classic works of photography such as an albumen silver print of Gustave Le Gray’s The Great Wave (circa 1857), an albumen silver print of Mrs. Herbert Duckworth (1867) by Julia Margaret Cameron, and a gelatin silver print of Philippe Halsman’s Dali Atomicus (1948), Wagstaff’s collection is a veritable history of photography.

Mapplethorpe, who did not print his own images but felt strongly about the photographic object, most certainly reveled in the quality of Wagstaff’s vintage prints. While Mapplethorope “wasn’t always forthcoming,” as Salvesen puts it, with his photographic influences, Wagstaff’s cache of prints by Man Ray, Edward Weston, and Roger Fenton were in his purview. In particular, the Boston-based 19th-century Pictorialist photographer and publisher F. Holland Day (whose photographs Wagstaff did collect) comes to mind when looking at Mapplethorpe’s portraits throughout the ’80s. A paragon of dreamy Neo-Classical portraits and the dandy lifestyle, Day has multiple examples of the African American male nude (or partial nude) in his oeuvre.

Like’s those of Day, Mapplethorpe’s photographs, such as Thomas (1987), Ajitto (1981), Ken Moody (1983), and Derrick Cross (1983), which all appear in the Getty’s iteration of “The Perfect Medium,” idealize the black male body as Greek sculptors did the bodies of athletes during the Classical period. Mapplethorpe, who had a fascination with black skin, used three models of different racial backgrounds in his 1985 photograph Ken and Lydia and Tyler (also on view in the Getty show) to evoke the ancient mythological trope of the Three Graces. Shot in black and white, as the lion’s share of Mapplethorpe’s photographs are, the gradation of skin color highlights not only the beauty of the three unique bodies but also the tonality of the image.

Mapplethorpe’s interest in highly developed bodies is well documented. His long-time muse Lisa Lyon, with whom he created 184 portraits over the course of six years, was a female bodybuilder Mapplethorpe met at a party in 1979. Of Lyon, the first woman to win the International Federation of Body Builders female competition, Mapplethorpe is quoted as saying, “I’d never seen anybody that looked like that before. Once she took her clothes off it was like seeing something from another planet.” Mapplethorpe’s work with Lyon culminated in the 1983 photography book Lady, of which multiple images can be seen at LACMA’s iteration of “The Perfect Medium.” Patti Smith, Mapplethorpe’s other female muse and of course his longtime companion, could not be physically more different than Lyon. (Though both women were androgynous in their own way, Lyon was muscular, Smith lanky and soulful.) Portraits of Smith, such as Patti Smith (1979), not only capture the close relationship between the two artists but also chronicle their life in the still-heralded, bygone days of Max’s Kansas City, the Chelsea Hotel, and the gritty, exciting downtown New York scene. In the LACMA show, the two short films Mapplethorpe made are both on view; one, titled Still Moving, stars Smith, the other Lyon.

Smith has had a lot to do with Mapplethorpe’s legacy, especially in recent years. “Patti Smith’s book reopened peoples’ eyes to Mapplethorpe and why he wanted to be an artist,” says Salvesen. “It is an honest portrayal of a young man who believed he had something to say and how he was going to do that.”

Though both museums certainly want to place the quality of Mapplethorpe’s work over content or controversy, the artist’s legacy as a social figure undoubtedly factors into “The Perfect Medium.” “We now have some social distance from the time period from which he was working and making statements about his lifestyle and life,” says Salvesen,” and the situation in our country with gay civil rights is totally different now, but it’s good to look back and recall those different circumstances. For younger people who weren’t around when the culture wars played out in the late ’80s and early ’90s, it’s important to remember that debate about freedom of expression.”


By Sarah E. Fensom

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Kim Keever: Fluid Dynamics http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/2016/03/kim-keever-photography/ Tue, 29 Mar 2016 17:08:05 +0000 http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/?p=4456 Continue reading ]]> Photographer Kim Keever exploits the properties of paint and water in his enigmatic creations.

Kim Keever, Abstract 10166, 2014;

Kim Keever, Abstract 10166, 2014;

Featured Images: (Click to Enlarge) Kim Keever, Abstract 13307b, 2014 Kim Keever, Abstract 10166, 2014; Kim Keever, Abstract 7824b, 2014 Kim Keever, Abstract 6196, 2013. Kim Keever, West 38g, 2007;

For nearly 177 years, photography and painting have been engaged in a complicated but ultimately fruitful relationship. They started out feeling threatened by each other: Painting wondered, will photography put me out of a job? Photography wondered, will the art critics ever take me seriously? Today, those questions are, if not resolved, at least less urgent, and the two media have drawn so close that they often seem to merge. We have paintings that look like photographs and photographs that look like paintings. Among the contributors to the contemporary art world’s boundary-breaking experimentation in media, Kim Keever has hit on something truly unique—a photographic art in which paint itself is both the medium and the subject.

The New York-based artist’s latest series of large-scale C-prints depicts amazing microcosms of swirling color and form that could just as easily be abstract paintings as abstractions found in nature, like Stieglitz’s “Equivalents.” The color combinations vary from soothing consistency to outrageous contrast. Contemplating Keever’s pictures, the viewer may see flowers blooming, landscapes above or below the sea, mushroom clouds, or storms in the atmosphere of another planet. The overall impression is one of vastness—aided by the fact that the photos are printed large, on glossy sheets 44 inches across—but actually, as Keever is happy to disclose, the action all unfolds inside a tabletop fish tank. The artist pours paints into it and, using a digital Hasselblad camera, photographs the pigments as they diffuse through the water, interacting with each other in countless, ultimately unpredictable ways.

Keever has control over the choice of colors, the lighting, and of course the moment of exposure. He also has created a mirrored backdrop inside the tank on which he can make marks with paint before the water goes in. Other than that, though, he relinquishes control and lets the laws of physics go to work. Sometimes the clouds of suspended paint come together to form something wonderful; other times, nothing much gels. Keever delights in the unpredictability. “It’s all random,” he says. “There are just so many possibilities. It goes its own way, and I have no control once I’ve poured in the paint. You can’t stir it or it just goes to mud.” When the paint is “flowing nicely,” he says, he’ll keep up a steady pace of shots; the day I visited his studio, in an East Village walkup, the shutter clicked about once every two seconds for a minute or two.

In general, Keever approaches his work with the wide eyes of an explorer. “There’s a dialectic in this between solid form and randomness, and you can get this ‘how the hell did that happen’ effect. These forms are so strange, which is what I’m always after. They’re mesmerizing to watch.” Not surprisingly, Keever has scientific training; he got his degree in thermal engineering and briefly practiced the profession before becoming an artist. He thinks about what goes on in his tank in terms of the science of fluid dynamics (the physical laws that govern how liquids behave) and Brownian motion (the random motion of particles suspended in a liquid, caused by collisions on the molecular and atomic levels). But if the behavior of his raw materials is random, the choice of which configuration to isolate and turn into an artwork is anything but.

At first Keever was a painter, concentrating on landscape, a genre to which he feels a deep connection (born in Manhattan and raised mainly in Chicago, he lived on a farm on the Eastern Shore of Virginia for a few formative years as a child). However, he says, “I got bored with painting and was surfing around in my mind, trying to find something else. I started making tabletop models of landscapes, but couldn’t get any atmosphere. Everything looked like Mars.” A friend of his was throwing out an old tank, and that gave Keever an idea. He thought back to something his father showed him when he was a little boy—the way Carnation condensed milk behaves when poured into a glass of water. “Suddenly it made sense to me to take it all and put it in the tank,” he recalls. “The water disperses the light in a way that a landscape does. Water is compressed vapor, which is what we see when we look across the landscape. Maybe I’m compressing all that space and moisture into those two feet of the tank.”

After the tank-immersed landscape dioramas, Keever made some geology-influenced constructions, such as a mountain that eroded over time under water, which he photographed in progressive stages of decay. He then did the same for a sculpture of a human head, which perished similarly. Lately, he’s been experimenting with placing still life elements in the tank and letting the paints swirl around them. One of these was recently commissioned by The New Yorker, as an illustration for an article about edible seaweed. “They brought this big bag of seaweed from Connecticut,” says the artist, “and I just put it in the tank.” The result looks like the “forest primeval” displaced to the floor of the ocean. Keever also did a record-album commission last year; he did the design and illustration for indie-rock neo-folk musician Joanna Newsom’s Diver, which includes several tipped-in miniature versions of Keever’s most recent series of paint photographs. His works also appear in Newsom’s video for the album, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (of The Master and Boogie Nights fame).

Keever’s work has often been compared to that of the Hudson River School and German Romantics such as Caspar David Friedrich, but he is more inclined to cite Cindy Sherman and Roxy Paine as influences. He accepts the comparisons to classic landscape painters, but says, “It was more accidental; they just came out that way. My work basically came out of my own head.” He recalls, “When I was a kid, I would draw and sometimes copy things, and my dad would sort of shame me and tell me not to copy. I always wanted to make something new, and once I started working with tank, I felt I had reached the point where I was.”

By John Dorfman

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The Medium is the Magic http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/2015/11/magical-realism/ Tue, 24 Nov 2015 19:42:32 +0000 http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/?p=4234 Continue reading ]]> A show at LACMA puts the fantastical aspects of photography on display.

Harold Edgerton, Bullet through Jack of Hearts

Harold Edgerton, Bullet through Jack of Hearts 1960, printed later, gelatin silver print.

Featured Images: (Click to Enlarge) Portrait of 3 Unidentified Men, circa 1850 Eugène Atget, Eclipse, 1911 Lucas Samaras, Photo Transformation 8/19/76 Harold Edgerton, Bullet through Jack of Hearts

In his 1987 book Eros and Magic in the Renaissance, Ioan P. Couliano discusses society’s interaction with technological development: “Magic and science,” he writes, “represent needs of the imagination, and the transition from a society dominated by magic to a predominately scientific society is explicable primarily by a change in the imaginary.” Couliano’s point could guide a reading of Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, though it was written 20 years later. Márquez’s novel, arguably the best-known example of magical realism, describes the Buendía family’s foundation of the fictional Colombian town of Macondo. Various extraordinary occurrences befall the family and the town, while simultaneously, new technologies, such as the automobile, cinema, and the daguerreotype are slowly introduced, disrupting Macondo’s highly spiritual and somewhat fantastical way of life. The daguerreotype camera is met with confusion, if not mistrust—it’s easier for the family to comprehend their own belief system than a new-fangled machine that captures human likenesses. (Once the technology is embraced, however, one family member sets out to capture the image of God.)

Historically, the members of the Buendía family are not photography’s only reluctant sitters. A machine that could automatically turn a moment or experience into a tangible object seems like magic, until, as Couliano suggests, the imagination accepts it as a scientific reality and not a fantastical illusion, or something entirely more sinister. However, photography’s history as an artistic medium is punctuated by illusion. Photographers are able to create pictures that seem at once to be reality and fantasy. “The Magic Medium,” a current show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (until February 7), puts 19 works from the museum’s permanent collection on view. Spanning 150 years, the exhibition explores how photographers have used process, composition, and the decisive moment to conjure spells and perform tricks.

Dhyandra Lawson, curatorial administrator in the Wallis-Annenberg Photography Department at LACMA and the curator of “The Magic Medium,” says that magical realism was an entry point for the show and that she reread One Hundred Years of Solitude in preparation. Lawson cites Untitled (hallway), a 2008 coupler print by Los Angeles-based artist Matt Lipps as an example of a “mystical moment.” Part of Lipps’ 2008 “Home” series, Untitled (hallway) depicts a puff of smoke in the artist’s childhood home. In this series, Lipps affixed cut-outs of Ansel Adams’ photographs to cardboard backgrounds and propped up them up on a table in front of multi-tonal images of his former home, taking a photograph of the standing collage. The result is a combination of the familiar and normal with the unknown and spectacular.

Similarly, William Eggleston, whose photograph Untitled [Building with strange cloud] (circa 1974) is in the show, has an uncanny ability to turn ordinary aspects of life into alluring images. “It’s about finding magic in the ordinary,” says Lawson. “Looking at the roof in this photograph is a valuable endeavor.” A photograph by Eugène Atget shows revelers crowding together on a city street to see something extraordinary—an eclipse. The photography, appropriately titled Eclipse, was taken by the French photographer in 1911, with this silver print printed in 1956.

Harold Edgerton’s Bullet through Jack of Hearts (1960, printed later) features a magician’s prop (is this your card?), but showcases a photographer’s trick. Edgerton captured the bullet sailing through the air, just after it punctured the card, by using ultra-fast stroboscopic lights. Whereas Nic Nicosia’s gelatin silver print Love + Lust #5 (1990) pulls off another form of trickery: the two lovers seen caught in a passionate kiss are hired actors. Says Lawson, “This print in particular is my nod to the cinema.”

This exhibition marks the first time that examples from LACMA’s daguerreotype collection will be on public display. Portrait of 3 Unidentified Men (circa 1850), a daguerreotype plate secured in a four-bracket preserver and leather case, shows three men posing closely together, while Untitled (circa 1850), a daguerreotype with a scallop brass mat, shows a woman regally sitting for her portrait. Daguerreotypes, which were exposed in the dark and developed with the vapor of mercury onto a sheet of silver-coated copper, are reminiscent of the purest crossroads between magic and science: alchemy.

By Sarah E. Fensom

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Alvin Langdon Coburn: A Man of Mark and Mystery http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/2015/08/alvin-langdon-coburn-photos/ Wed, 26 Aug 2015 20:48:54 +0000 http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/?p=4012 Continue reading ]]> Alvin Langdon Coburn, a master of Pictorialist and modernist photography, has been less widely known than he deserves, but a comprehensive traveling retrospective aims to change that.

Alvin Langdon Coburn, Station Roofs

Alvin Langdon Coburn, Station Roofs, Pittsburgh, 1910, gelatin silver print, printed circa 1958.

Featured Images: (Click to Enlarge) Alvin Langdon Coburn, Station Roofs Alvin Langdon Coburn, New York from its Pinnacles Alvin Langdon Coburn, Fifth Avenue from the St. Regis Alvin Langdon Coburn, The Steps to the Scott Memorial Fannie E. Coburn, Alvin Langdon Coburn at the Grand Canyon

The photographic career of Alvin Langdon Coburn appears before our eyes like a brief time exposure through a fast lens. The shutter opens, showing a decade and a half of brilliant achievement and equally brilliant fame, and then snaps shut again as the artist stages his own disappearance from the art world. From the first years of the 20th century until the end of World War I, Coburn made some of the most innovative photographs of the era—a transitional time when late 19th-century Pictorialism was yielding to modernism. (Coburn, who always had one eye on the history of his medium and the other on its future, was comfortable with both approaches and produced a body of work that in many ways unified them.) Not only that, he was a public figure in London, a leader and propagandist for the new photography who gathered a circle of disciples around him even though he was only in his twenties. Coburn was also in demand as a celebrity portraitist—cultural luminaries including George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, Auguste Rodin, and Igor Stravinsky trooped through his studio, glad to let this young émigré from Boston have his way with their likenesses. He eventually compiled the results and published them in a book titled Men of Mark (1913).

Coburn was very much a man of mark himself back then, but for a variety of reasons—beginning with, but not limited to, his vanishing act, about which more later—he has been overshadowed by his peers Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, and Paul Strand. Today his name is little known outside the tight circle of vintage photography enthusiasts, though some of his images have been fixed in the public mind via their use as illustrations on book covers. However, the time is ripe for a Coburn revival, and a major exhibition is poised to bring his name back to the prominence it deserves, revealing the full scope of his work through unprecedented loans. Organized by the Fundación MAPFRE in Madrid, Spain, and the George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y., “Alvin Langdon Coburn,” debuted in Madrid last winter and will be up at Eastman House from September 19 through January 24. It brings together, for the first time, photographs from Coburn’s vast personal collection, which he donated to Eastman House in 1962, four years before his death; another group that he gave to the Royal Photographic Society; photographs in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York; and a collection of works principally acquired from the artist’s godfamily and owned by Janet Lehr, a private dealer in New York. (This collection, which includes some striking paintings, was exhibited in Madrid but will not be in the American version of the show. It is, however, represented in the comprehensive, beautifully printed catalogue, which also contains a valuable long essay by exhibition curator Pamela Glasson Roberts.)

No scholarly or technical study is necessary to experience the uniqueness and power of Coburn’s photographs, but it may not be immediately clear, without some historical background, just how far ahead of their time they were. Take, for example, The Octopus, Madison Square Park. This photograph enters the realm of abstraction without in any way forsaking naturalistic representation. Instead of manipulating the image, Coburn relies on an unusual vantage point and composition—he looks down on the snow-covered park and its radiating footpaths from the window of a tall building across the street. This was made in 1909, a decade before avant-garde Soviet photographer Alexander Rodchenko perched on Moscow’s balconies and rooftops to get a new view of the new Russia. And the way Coburn makes the park—familiar terrain traversed by millions every year—resemble a tentacled being with a life of its own anticipates Surrealism by more than a decade, as does the inclusion of the slightly eerie shadow of the Metropolitan Life building, which conspired with the photographer to fall across the left side of the
image.

In The Bridge, Venice (1905), space is flattened out—a key modernist tactic in many media—and the lone figure mounting the stairs is overwhelmed by the water beneath, which takes up most of the frame and shimmers with abstract, possibly non-Euclidean geometries. The Great Temple, Grand Canyon (circa 1911), one of Coburn’s series of wilderness landscapes, rather than prefiguring the vast vistas of Ansel Adams, concentrates on the opportunities in the canyon’s pitted stone surfaces, again compressing the space and making the eye wonder whether it is looking at natural erosion or some kind of strange script incised in the rock.

Many of Coburn’s photographs, however, especially those made before 1917, are strongly redolent of Pictorialism, a school of photography that has been pretty consistently out of favor since its eclipse around 1920. The fact that Pictorialism has been used so often as a swear word makes it difficult to define precisely, but at a minimum, it can be said that it was an attempt to gain acceptance for photography as a valid medium for fine art at a time when it was being seen as a whiz-bang mechanical marvel useful mainly for making records of things, people, and events. If the art world was uncomfortable with the fact that photographs were machine-made, well then, the photographers would emphasize the touch of the hand, using complex processes to tone prints and manipulate their textures. To subvert glaring realism, Pictorialist photographers turned to so-called “soft-focus” lenses, blurring the outlines of objects and putting haloes on light sources.

At their worst, Pictorialist tactics tended to make photographs look like second-rate paintings or etchings, causing the medium to be untrue to itself. But at its best, they could be a way of stretching the limits of the camera, breaking away from slavish adherence to reportorial accuracy, and simply creating beautiful objects—and in today’s world of digital images it is easy to forget that photographs are objects. The proportions of eye, hand, and machine can vary, but all three need to be present to make a photograph, a fact of which Coburn was acutely conscious. His Pictorialist-type pictures are almost always in perfect taste, using the toolbox of special effects to convey inner perceptions. In photographs like the blue-toned Waterloo Bridge, London (1904), the tri-toned Place de la Concorde, Paris (circa 1904), The Flat-Iron Building (1910–11), or Fountain Court, The Temple, London (1907), Coburn takes us into a visionary world in which we see, simultaneously, things and the emotions they engender. In The Tunnel Builders (1907), which depicts workmen in silhouette engulfed in what looks like steam, he merges Pictorialism with modernism’s enthusiasm for industry, endowing these sandhogs with heroic dignity.

Some of the reasons Coburn has somewhat fallen through the cracks of photo-history have to do with his background and with the way the photography art world was organized at the beginning of the 20th century. Although he lived on into the Pop Art era, Coburn was born in the Victorian—or at least its American equivalent—in 1882, in ultraconservative Boston. His father was well off, a partner in a garment manufacturing business, but he died suddenly, when Alvin was nine. The boy and his mother, who were left with plenty of money, went to live with relatives in California, where an uncle gave him his first camera, a 4 x 5 inch Kodak. Coburn soon mastered the device and began spending long hours in the darkroom practicing printing techniques. His other ruling boyhood passion was stage magic, which he credited with giving him the manual dexterity needed for operating complex photographic equipment quickly under pressure. One can also detect a love of mystification and illusion in the young magician, qualities that stayed with Coburn for his entire photographic and post-photographic life.

His introduction to the artistic side of photography took place in and around Boston, where he and his mother had returned in 1893. It so happened that Coburn’s cousin F. Holland Day, who lived in nearby Norwood, Mass., was a great photographer with considerable importance in the emerging avant-garde scene, as well as a fine-art book publisher and general Mauve Decade decadent. In Day, young Coburn found a role model and mentor who taught him literature, philosophy, aesthetics, and composition, as
well as showing him that one could live a life uncompromisingly devoted to the arts—provided, of course, that one had enough inherited wealth, as both Day and Coburn did.

But in other ways, Day was a bad choice of role model, in that he was a divisive figure and not the most effective organizer or publicist for his own cause. In 1900, his publishing business having just folded, Day was pulling together a major exhibition, “The New School of American Photography,” which he planned to show in London under the auspices of The Linked Ring, a secessionist group that broke off from the conservative Royal Photographic Society. Before the show could launch, Stieglitz, who was a member of The Linked Ring, told the British members not to accept Day’s show, claiming that it was unrepresentative of American photographic efforts. In a sense it was, in that it did not include Stieglitz’s work! The 375-photo exhibition ended up being mounted at the RPS, where it ran for about a month, but the damage had been done. Stieglitz, not Day, emerged as the leader of the American photography art world. Day, while a great artist, lacked the ability to rally people together under his banner, an ability that Stieglitz, no matter how abrasive he was, definitely had. Coburn did not fight with Stieglitz, but he did not become a member of the Stieglitz circle, a decision that doubtless caused him to receive less exposure in the U.S. and ultimately affected his standing for posterity.

Another way in which Day was a bad example for Coburn was that within a few years, disappointed that he could not lead a movement and depressed by the loss of much of his work in a fire, he withdrew from the photography world. In fact, he withdrew from the rest of the world, too, spending much of the last quarter century of his life in bed, occasionally receiving guests and hosting house-party dress-up weekends but doing little if any creative work. While Coburn’s activities in retirement were quite different from his older cousin’s, Day undoubtedly modeled the reclusive stance that the younger man later adopted.

But in 1900, nothing could have been farther from Coburn’s mind. He was excited and eager to conquer the London art world, having crossed the Atlantic in the company of his domineering mother and Day. Except for a few trips to the U.S. over the next several years—including the Grand Canyon expedition and period spent studying with the painter and printmaker Arthur Wesley Dow—he would spend the rest of his long life in Great Britain, never returning to his homeland (another likely cause of his relative obscurity in later years). Coburn soon adopted a style of dress that recalled his fellow American aesthetic expat James McNeill Whistler, affecting a top hat, tails, and a cane and large jeweled rings on most of his fingers. Coburn was shy and averse to public speaking, but his drive and some kind of intangible magnetism allowed him to make a strong impression and push himself forward in the competitive photographic world.

His work began to be featured in specialist periodicals, and by mid-1906 he was ready to have a one-man show, which was held in Liverpool. True to form, he organized it himself, overseeing every detail. George Bernard Shaw wrote the catalogue essay. The show was a smashing success and launched the 23-year-old Coburn as a major figure on the English photographic scene. Soon he was accepting commissions for portraits, magazine work, and book illustration. One of his best efforts in that line was a suite of photographs for H.G. Wells’ collection of weird tales, The Door in the Wall, published in 1911 by Mitchell Kennerley. “Coburn is a man of whom much will be heard, if he does not kill himself meanwhile,” said an article in the Photographic Monthly for March 1906, referring to the photographer’s punishing work pace. Coburn also found time to go on a photographic tour across the European continent with Henry James, making pictures for a multi-volume edition of the author’s novels, teaching photography, writing critical essays, and even doing product endorsement—a 1914 ad for a soft-focus lens made by the Boston firm of Pinkham & Smith featured a lengthy blurb by Coburn.

Coburn’s photographic career prospered, and the extremely high prices he was able to charge for his work enriched him even further; while he certainly did not need the money, the high prices seemed to serve as some kind of validation of worth in his mind. Then in 1917, amid the turmoil of World War I, something changed. Coburn hit on an idea radical enough to leave even his admiring public behind—the Vortograph. This was his term for a photograph taken through a rotating three-prism device mounted in front of the camera’s lens. The result was completely abstract, a transformation of the external world into a set of geometric forms and light values. Coburn, always sensitive to the relationships between visual art and literature and music, was inspired to do this by Vorticism, a Futurist literary movement spearheaded by Ezra Pound, a friend and photographic subject of his.

Unfortunately, however, Pound failed to appreciate the Vortographs—even though he and Coburn had initially worked on them together—and wrote a brutal review that minimized their value and their connection to his movement: “Vortography stands below the other vorticist arts in that it is an art of the eye, not the eye and hand together.” The criticism rings particularly hollow because of Coburn’s longtime emphasis on the role of the hand, but it must have stung anyway. It must also have stung Coburn to hear Paul Strand heralded as the first photographer to make completely abstract images. Not only did Coburn get there first by several years, but Strand’s early abstractions were still based on “straight” photography of real scenes, while Coburn’s were made of pure light and shape, optically generated. “Why should not the camera also throw off the shackles of conventional representation and attempt something fresh and untried?” wrote Coburn in 1916. “If it is not possible to be ‘modern’ with the newest of all the arts, we had better bury our black boxes.” The gallery-going public and the critics alike did not take up his challenge; they were simply puzzled rather than inspired by the Vortographs, and in the ensuing disappointment Coburn began his withdrawal from professional photography.

Perhaps he had said everything he had to say with photography, precociously packed a lifetime of experimentation and achievement into less than 20 years. Regardless, he had other interests that had been preoccupying his mind for some time, occult, mystical, and religious in nature. With his obliging wife, Edith, Coburn moved to Harlech, Wales, a country retreat befitting the life of contemplation he was planning for himself. He became a Freemason and eventually founded an esoteric group called the Universal Order. Until the mid-1950s, the Order and kindred studies took up most of his time and energy, but during a trip to Madeira, Portugal, he was inspired to start taking pictures again, this time with a small 35mm camera. (The Eastman House exhibition skips this period—except for one image—on the grounds that Coburn never made formal prints of his Madeira negatives and that modern prints would not truly convey whatever the artist may have had in mind.)

In the early 1960s, Coburn began to think seriously again about his photographic legacy, and in collaboration with the photographic historians Helmut and Alison Gernsheim, he produced a memoir that, while far from complete and accurate in its recollections, does place his life work in the context of his philosophical beliefs and personal history. It was very important to him to see the book finished, despite his failing health, and he got his wish: On November 11, 1966, Alvin Langdon Coburn Photographer: An Autobiography was published; 12 days later, its author died, with the book in his hands.

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Night Scenes: After Dark http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/2015/05/night-scenes/ Fri, 22 May 2015 22:40:42 +0000 http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/?p=3856 Continue reading ]]> The allure and challenges of rendering the night in paintings, prints, and photographs are spotlighted in an innovative survey of the American nocturne.

George Bellows, Outside the Big Tent, 1912

George Bellows, Outside the Big Tent, 1912, oil on canvas;

Featured Images: (Click to Enlarge) George Tooker, Dance, 1946 Henry Ossawa Tanner, Nicodemus, 1899, John Leslie Breck, Santa Maria della Salute by Moonlight, 1897 Albert Bierstadt, The Burning Ship, 1871 George Bellows, Outside the Big Tent, 1912

“Night Vision: Nocturnes in American Art, 1860–1960,” an extensive exhibition at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick, Me. (June 27–October 18), is the first major survey of American night scenes. Curated by Joachim Homann, the show begins with moonlight and gas lighting, documents the electrification of city life and the impact of migration and photography, and ends in the 1950s, with abstraction and the beginning of the Space Age. At every stage, social and technical changes created new forms of nocturnal perception, and as the exhibition shows, those perceptions made night scenes central to American modernism.

The bookends of the exhibition are works by Winslow Homer and Andrew Wyeth. Both depict a boat at night, and both explore the workings of light and water, but their moods are totally different. Homer’s Fountains at Night was a response to the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, where Homer had exhibited his seascapes. The “White City” was the first large-scale public space to be electrified at night. Homer was impressed not just by the Fair’s architectural grandeur and mock-Venetian waterways complete with gondolas but also by the lonely splendor of its waters at night. In this painting, gondoliers propel two passengers on a private tour of the Grand Basin, the giant central pool. As they pass the floodlit Columbian Fountain, with its statues of rearing, fish-tailed horses and a Classical rider, we see an early reflection of electric lighting upon water. The churning waters are incandescent white, the gondoliers strain at their oars. The night is becoming modern, the United States rising on waves of power.

Wyeth’s Night Hauling, an early tempera work from 1944, is haunted and anxious. A solitary fisherman has rowed out to sea and is drawing up lobster traps to steal other men’s catches. There are no stars and no moon; the sky is a black ground. The only illuminations are the flecked lights of the shore, a weak lantern in the boat, and the phosphorescent algae in the water. As the thief lifts a trap, he turns to check that he is unseen. A torrent of translucent water pours back into a glowing maelstrom of the sea. The light source is inverted—the algae in the water glisten like starlight. The night becomes a private, interior experience. There is something Promethean about this theft: is he after the lobsters, or a divine fire? Wyeth’s father was the popular illustrator N.C. Wyeth. In Night Hauling, the theft of food suggests the theft of knowledge.

Night thoughts can be dark thoughts. Art is a lonely profession, and the modern artist is often marginal to society. But as secrecy and solitude reverse the polarities of everyday life and social convention, they liberate individual expression. Several of the key pieces in “Night Vision” are by women artists—Georgia O’Keeffe, Marguerite Zorach, Lee Krasner, and Berenice Abbott. The African American painter Beauford Delaney turns the cityscape into a bare dreamscape in Untitled (1944); devoid of people, the forms of the buildings are the skeleton of civilization. In Delaney’s Jazz Club (1950), we see liberated energy, the temporary kinship of nightlife, and universality in shared human experience.

Not all the humans in the modern city know that they are sharing in the experience. The voyeurs of the Ashcan School make a virtue of their dislocation into the shadows. John Sloan’s “night vigils” describe the stolen intimacies of the dreaming voyeur. In The Cot (1907), a woman disrobes next to a messy bed, its sheets a creamy grey and white. Those same tones recur on the dresses of women entering a theater in The Haymarket, Sixth Avenue (1907). The artist is a stranger, passing unseen and experiencing his own strangeness. Lyonel Feininger returned to New York in 1937, having been away for 50 years. The city had changed, but a few surviving elements reminded him of his childhood. In City Moon (1945), Feininger rediscovers his origins as he discovers the new topography of the city.

Electricity changed the night and how it was perceived. But the first nocturnes predate electrification. The original School of Night was a group of atheistic scholars and scientists in Elizabethan London; they included Christopher Marlowe, Walter Raleigh, and Thomas Harriot. Artists, notably Caravaggio and Rembrandt, depicted night scenes, too, but the interior moods of the modern nocturne are a Romantic legacy, with roots in the brooding Gothic. Chopin created his first “nocturne” in 1827. Whistler, who emphasized the affinities between music and painting by calling pieces “arrangements” and “harmonies,” created his first nocturne in 1866.

The artist’s nocturne was born in the age of gas lighting, the smeary, blurred light sources of Whistler. But it grew in the age of electrification, when the night was carved by hard whites and yellows. Yet Whistler’s shadow falls on these later nocturnes, sometimes as an inspiration, sometimes as a challenge. In the early 20th century, Whistler’s aestheticism seemed antithetical to art that was socially or politically engaged: Raphael Soyer’s Bowery Nocturne (1933) drags the nocturne into Depression politics. On the other hand, in 1944, when Alfred H. Barr organized a joint retrospective of Feininger and his friend Marsden Hartley at MoMA, he praised Feininger as a “modern-day Whistler.” Feininger and Whistler had both lived abroad, and they shared an affinity for the nocturne.

That 1944 show, staged in the year of Wyeth’s Night Hauling, also evoked another founder of American modernism, Albert Pinkham Ryder, the other titan of the 19th-century nocturne. For Marsden Hartley, Ryder had made possible a uniquely American nocturne. “Night Vision” traces this lineage forward into the 1950s and abstraction. Louise Nevelson’s boxlike Untitled is all black shadows. But Nevelson also collected the figurative work of Louis Michel Eilshemius, whose work is in the Colby show and who was a peer of Ryder and Ralph Albert Blakelock. The nocturnal theme runs across styles and schools, and 19th-century sensibilities are woven into 20th-century expressions.

The unnatural, abstracted light of electrification also spurred artists to turn away, in search of the softer tones and indeterminate states of the authentic night. In Scare in a Pack Train (1908) and Moonlight, Wolf (circa 1909), Frederic Remington looks outside the city and toward the frontiers of society and vision. In the Orientalist narrative Nicodemus Visiting Jesus (1899), Henry Ossawa Tanner seeks the Biblical night of the Holy City. In 1897, four years after Winslow Homer explores an electrified night at Chicago, John Leslie Breck paints Santa Maria della Salute by Moonlight. Balsassare Longhena’s masterpiece floats in the Venetian blue like a ghost ship, timeless and lonely.

In 1843, when gas lamps were lit in the Piazza San Marco, Ruskin complained that Venice now resembled industrial Birmingham; he did not witness the electrification of Venice’s street lighting. Today, those gas lamps seem themselves to be “historical,” essential to the atmosphere of Whistler’s Venetian nocturnes or Henry James’ novels. Famously, Ruskin disapproved of Whistler; ironically, his disapproval stimulated Whistler’s creation of the modern nocturne. In 1879, bankrupted by his Pyrrhic victory over Ruskin in the law courts (a libel suit provoked by a harsh review), Whistler accepted a commission to draw 12 etchings in Venice. Traditionally, a night scene uses a limited light source and experiments with its effects; the sublime catastrophe of Albert Bierstadt’s The Burning Ship (1869) is lit by what the Old Masters called “moonlight.” But Whistler embraced the nocturnal and explored the dark.

Whistler’s modern shift was a Romantic move: Romanticism prizes individual perceptions and dark interiority over shared illumination and the light of reason. In an essay in “Night Vision”’s excellent catalogue, Daniel Bosch addresses Eliot and Baudelaire and the relationship of Symbolist poetry to the nocturne. Yet the exhibition focuses more on the technical challenges of art than on intellectual inspirations and Prufrockian precedents. The night demands technical creativity. The Romantic experience of Nature includes visual experience, and this can only be translated onto canvas and paper through a unique vocabulary.

“We’re creating a dialogue between different interpretations of the night,” explains Joachim Homann, the show’s curator. In “Night Vision,” that dialogue between Romantic individuality and technical innovation is embodied in the work of Georgia O’Keeffe. Her Black Abstraction (1927) is a rendering of a near-death experience she had while under anesthetic on a hospital trolley. “She felt that the world was receding from her,” Homann says, “which is perhaps the ultimate Romantic experience.” A year later, in 1928, O’Keeffe painted New York Night. “She was living with Alfred Stieglitz in an apartment in the Shelton Hotel, and when she looked up Lexington Avenue, she could see all the city lights around her.” Together, these two works, painted at almost the same time, express the nocturnal dialogue between individual perception and technical experiment.

Photography captures light in a different way and in a different quantity. The camera’s vision created a new kind of nocturne. The most remarkable photographs in “Night Vision” are rarely exhibited as art. Seneca Ray Stoddard’s The Antlers, Open Camp, Raquette Lake (circa 1889) is one of the first campfire photographs, as well as one of the first photographs to be taken with a flashlight. A group of hunters sits by a fire in an Adirondacks wood. This is an ancient scene—the hunters and the dogs, the deer strung up by firelight. Spontaneous and crude, it contrasts superbly with the Pictorialist effects and electrified city in the images of Stieglitz and Edward Steichen.

Stieglitz applied Whistler’s aesthetic, the capture of night in the city, to photography. Like his friend Steichen, Stieglitz creates a beautiful confusion of painterly and photographic effects. Steichen worked in both photography and paint, and “Night Visions” juxtaposes his works in both media. In the oil painting Shrouded Figure in Moonlight (1905), Steichen explores the most traditional of nocturnal lights. In The Flatiron (1904), the ocean liner-like form of a quintessential urban figure is misted in fog. Instead of finding its reflection in a pond, like the trees in the photograph Moonlight: The Pond (1906), the Flatiron Building is reflected in a thin puddle of rainwater. A cabbie and his horses float across the surface of the water, kin to the waiting hackney carriages in Stieglitz’s rainy Reflections–Night (1897) and modern heirs to the Classical wrangler and symbolic equines of Homer’s Fountains at Night.

This dialogue between photography and painting continues in the encounter between O’Keeffe’s New York Night and Abbott’s Night View, a bird’s-eye photograph of Midtown Manhattan in the ’30s. Cleverly, Night Vision ends without closing the conversation; deliberately disrupting the artificial divisions of genre and generation, the show pursues its theme into the present. In 1943, Steichen selected Ansel Adams’ epic Moonrise: Hernandez, New Mexico for publication in U.S. Camera magazine. Adams’ photograph concludes the exhibition, but an adjoining gallery presents a recent film by Michel Auder.

“Auder positioned a video camera in an apartment building in New York and captured what was happening in the apartments around him,” Homann says. “It’s a really poetic, richly textured view of the urban night.” Auder exhibited his film, Untitled (I Was Looking Back to See if You Were Looking Back At Me to See Me Looking Back At You), at the Whitney Museum’s 2014 Biennial. In its voyeurism, Auder’s film echoes the work of John Sloan, Edward Hopper, and their contemporaries. It also recapitulates the themes of this intricate and articulate exhibition—modernity and the changing experience of darkness, the role of art as a medium of personal expression, and the technical challenges of expression. These are present themes, and with night vision becoming an increasingly rare commodity, they are also part of the future of the night.

“We hear about preserving the night sky over the National Parks, or about switching off electronic devices at night to create a rhythm to our lives,” Homann observes. “So we know that people are increasingly conscious of the value of the night. A time of darkness is a time of reflection. It needs to be protected, and to be cherished in its own right. This exhibition shows the roots of that conversation, and it joins it too. It’s a richer conversation than people might expect.”

By Dominic Green

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