Ellen Von Unwerth
The top image is a photograph I took in St Andrews, Scotland, 2012. -She.
It reminded me of the seascapes of Hiroshi Sugimoto, whom I was unaware of when I took the photograph. I have added two photographs by Sugimoto and will leave you with his words, as I could not have said it better myself (and was pleased to know I wasn’t the only one who feels a sense of ease and spirituality from the sea).
'Mystery of mysteries, water and air are right there before us in the sea. Every time I view the sea, I feel a calming sense of security, as if visiting my ancestral home; I embark on a voyage of seeing'. - Hiroshi Sugimoto.
Photographs 2 and 3 by Sugimoto
- Caribean Sea, Jamica, 1980.
- Ligurian Sea, Saviore, 1982.
Don’t Dance, 2011-2012.
The Man Ray Portraits exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, London, brings together some of Man Ray’s finest photographs. It includes examples of his work published in French photo-magazine Vu, as well as his work for Conde Nast, particularly Harper’s Bazaar, an avenue of his work I had previously not known of.
The exhibition includes portraits from when Man Ray first turned to photography in 1916, all the way through to his colour portraits from his Hollywood years in the 1950s and 60s. These colour portraits are like jewels at the end of the exhibition, they are small in size and from a far soft blocks of colour seem to make up the composition rather than the sitter of the photograph. I found them particularly intriguing and can safely say Man ray mastered colour photography as much as he did with the other photographic techniques he is now famous for experimenting with, such as solaristation ( evident in two of the portraits above) and photograms.
The only aspect the exhibition fell short on was its image labels, as the text to accompany the photographs focussed heavily on details of the sitter of the portrait. Whilst in some cases this proved fruitful, it would have been great to see the curators explain and contextualise Man Ray’s use of solarisation and why he was seen as so experimental and innovative in the 1920s.
That aside, the exhibition confirmed why Man Ray has a strong place in photographic history and that photography exhibitions prove to be an alluring genre and will one day be a prominent, respected and steady exhibition type.
The 1930s was an important and defining decade for photography. The dominance and intrigue of documentary photography from this period forms a large part of my MA thesis. Recently, after years of study I have felt that I have finally come to grips with ‘documentary’ from this era. A recent exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, however, made me reassess the connections and assumptions I have made about British documentary. The exhibition ‘Edith Tudor Hart: In the shadow of Tyranny’ was a compelling show illustrating the Austrian born photographer’s work in Vienna and then Britain, where she fled to in 1933. As she had done in Vienna, Tudor-Hart’s camera continued to engage with social and political issues( and she notoriously worked as a low-level agent for the Soviet Union).
Tudor-Hart’s photographs where connected to many of the great political upheavals of the 1930s, from documenting refugee children from the Spanish Civil War to the unemployed workers protesting in Wales and Northern England.
Photographs from the Vienna Lido display how Tudor-Hart could also turn her attention to leisurely pursuits, seemingly far removed from the unemployed workers on strike in the capital.
A sense of collectivity seems to be a domineering factor in T-H photographs of the unemployed in Britain; something I would not suggest is always present in other photographs from the 1930s. This theme seems to be one T-H is comfortable with, as were her photographs of children.
In order to make a living as a photographer, like many others, T-H had to turn her hand to commercial work. Comparing her fashion photographs to her other work, underlines that she was much more comfortable in socially and politically engaged photography. Her fashion photograph seems stiff and disconnected.
The model’s rigid pose and somewhat aggravated facial expression perhaps indicates the resentment T-H may have held at having to peruse fashion photography.
By acknowledging her political values and rejecting a candid approach to her photography, T-H avoided the suggestion that she was ‘removed’ from her photographs, or that they were mere ‘records’ or ‘objective scientific facts’. Such labels were often quoted from her contemporaries who vouched for the objectivity of documentary photography.
My admiration for T-H extends past her technical achievements and photographic approach. T-H not only acted as a Soviet spy but was not afraid of her work hosting a variety of political and social themes. Edith Tudor-Hart had guts in a time where men dominated the political and photography worlds and rightfully deserves a place amongst the debate and history of photography from during the inter-war period. Her work reaffirms that a lot of female photographers working in Britain in the 1930s and ‘40s have been excluded from the canon and are now slowly being credited with the exhibitions and attention they deserve.
Philip Jones Griffith, ‘The Curse of Colour’, 2000.
in-the-in-between. This gal knows her stuff.
“I wanna be bad” Sung by Helen Kane, 1929.
After a day spent researching the complexities of the ‘Modern Woman’ of the inter-war period in Britain and America, I have been thinking about how we can also argue that the Modern Woman of the 21st Century is faced with a host of complexities in how to present herself and to navigate the cityscape, working life or even life as a housewife.
This song by American singer Helen Kane demonstrates the same ambiguities and issues women face today- does presenting oneself as sexy and attractive make you open to objectification? To scandal? To spectacle? Does it go against any feminist sensibilities you may have? Or is it just a way of embracing modernity and asserting a certain form of femininity?
Whilst I get back to analyse Kane’s lyrics in relation to the gaze, spectacle and issues surrounding 1920s femininity, I would like to suggest todays popstars, such as Rihanna, do not seem so original or raunchy…Even Kane back in 1929 wanted to be a ‘bad girl’, whatever that may mean.
William Klein (b.1928) is renowned for his fashion photography and street documentary photographs. His ability to move between the two fields is one of the reasons I became so infatuated with his work. Klein’s fashion photographs seem to poke fun at the world they have been made for, yet embody everything one wants from a fashion shoot. In his documentary photographs Klein was insistent that this was not a candid approach- his subjects knew they were being photographed, an element I find fascinating and find myself trying to figure out if they have chosen to ignore the photographer or ‘act up’ to the camera. Another remarkable aspect of his photographs is that they are hard to date. Faced with a diverse selection of his documentary photographs at the recent Tate Modern ‘William Klein and Daido Moriyama’ exhibition I could not distinguish what photographs were from 1959 or 1995.
The selection of photographs here do not do justice to Klein’s diversity and ability but they show the range of his subject matter and the different areas of his work I find intriguing. The last photograph is one of the photograms Klein made for the Italian magazine Domus, an area that seems to be under researched.
On a side note- I could not find many of the photographs from his New York photo-book or his images from Moscow or Rome, which, whilst annoying for sharing on tumblr, is a slight relief. All his work is then not yet readily available on the interent and we still need to hope one day we will own a photo-book by Klein instead, and only then will we have his photographs at our fingertips.
I have decided on Toni Frissell as the photographer I will focus my ‘Fashion and The Everyday’ presentation around. Her photographs from the 1930s and 40s were fresh and energetic, and mostly all taken outdoors away from the studio.
I just came across this 1939 photograph and was pleased to notice that the jumpsuit worn by the model is really similar to my ‘Graduation Ball’ outfit. So I had to indulge and upload it.