On the street with Balthus

balthus-The Street 33

Balthus, The Street, 1933

This strange painting is an example of what used to be called magic realism, depictions of everyday life given a dreamlike twist. Balthus was a famous and controversial artist who had a knack for attracting other artists (both Cartier-Bresson and Bono attended his funeral). One who was drawn into friendship was Duane Michals, the great photographer of mysterious narratives.

Michals paid hommage to the artist by recreating the strange mood of his painting The Street. He arranged some characters in fixed poses (Michals himself on the left), all occupying the same space but without being connected or aware of each other. The photograph is half-successful. On its own it might seem an intriguing composition, but if you really want photographs of the street with strange encounters, you should be looking at Garry Winogrand.

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Duane Michals, After Balthus, 1962


Recently, another photographer has tried the same idea. Julie Blackmon is what used to be called a ‘tableaux’ photographer (a 1980s term), someone who stages  photographs using props and actors. Blackmon also uses Photoshop to combine elements – see the conflicting shadows here?

Julie Blackmon 2

Julie Blackmon, Homegrown Food, 2012

Blackmon is a US photographer who works in both the art and commercial fields. Her imagery has a nice luminosity although sometimes the poses seem a little arch to this viewer. Her subject is domestic disorder in the comfortable suburbs. You can see her website here.

Julie Blackmon 1

Julie Blackmon, Olive and Market St, 2012



One thought on “On the street with Balthus

  1. Great take on Winogrand – master of the street; which as you make clear, is not really Michals’ domain (apart from his very early ’empty New York’ series). It is the frozen nature of Balthus’ imagery that is so photographic, though there is no sense that he has copied photographs as so many painters do to their detriment. By contrast, Hisaji Hara is slavish in his exacting copies of Balthus paintings; http://hisajihara.com . Nevertheless, there is ‘something more’ about them..don’t you think? See also the end of a long post on Savitry http://wp.me/p1ZU6J-aJ whose work is redolent of that same ‘film-still’ quality and sense of standing ‘outside-looking-in’ which privileges the viewer, but renders them conscious of being impotent to the drama unfolding.

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