Atget meets Godard

Belmondo                Frame still from Breathless, directed by Jean-Luc Godard, 1960

Eugéne Atget and Jean-Luc Godard had something in common, even though their lives never coincided. The photographer of Paris and the Parisien  director overlapped in their choice of a street, Rue Campaigne-Premiére, one to live in and the other to set the climax of his debut movie. Atget lived for many years at 17 bis, Rue Campaigne-Premiére, in Montparnasse. His flat and photography business were there, where the immortal words on his shingle stated: Eugene Atget, Documents for Artists. There is a heritage plaque marking his residence, a site and a sight which brought tears to the eyes of this writer.

The street was also the home and workplace of many other artists, including Man Ray and Berenice Abbott, who together sort of discovered Atget and helped make him one of the immortals of photography. Man Ray’s business was a few doors away and he had noticed Atget’s sign.

The street was a magnet for artists. At no 3 is the Hotel Istria where lived Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Francis Picabia, Tristan Tzara, Modigliani, Moïse Kisling, Foujita, Nicholas de Stael and Yves Klein; writers Louis Aragon, Rainer Maria Rilke and Vladimir Mayakowsky, composer Eric Satie and the idol of Bohemian Paris, Kiki de Montparnasse. The hotel is still running.

Back to Godard. Rue Campaigne-Premiére played a part in launching the  French New Wave cinema of the 1960s when the director chose it for the final scene of his breakthrough movie Breathless, 1959, known in French as A Bout de Souffle. There is now a restaurant by that name on the street level of Atget’s building. 

In the final scene, low-life crim Jean-Paul Belmondo is shot in the back and staggers along the street, past Atget’s address, past the Hotel Istria and Man Ray’s studio, to expire theatrically on the ground while Jean Seberg looks on.

 Rue-Campaign-Premier           Google Street View showing the same location in Rue Campaigne-Premiére.

A final note. What does the name of the street signify? It commemorates the ‘first campaign’ by the military officer who later subdivided this area of land which was then outside the city. Paris is drenched with history.

 

The Bowness Prize 2016

bowness-2016-1     Greg Neville, Bowness Prize 2016

The Bowness Prize exhibition is the “grownups class” for photographers. It’s a place you go to see the highest level  of technical and pictorial accomplishment in illustrative photography.

Established in 2006 the Bowness has quickly become Australia’s most coveted photography prize. It’s based at the Monash Gallery of Art at Wheelers Hill in Melbourne, a distinguished venue for photography for three decades. Go there for the pictures, the bookshop, the café, the park and for the purpose-designed architecture by the great Harry Seidler.

The judging panel for 2016 included famed Australian film director Fred Schepisi AO, esteemed architectural photographer John Gollings AM and Monash Gallery of Art Director Kallie Blauhorn. You could trust that team.

Here are some favourites from the 2016 Bowness, with excerpts from the artists statements. Click on the images for a better view.

mike-gray    Mike Gray, Backyard Bag Study, 2016

“In between the camera and the backyard is a single element lens that projects the scene into a plastic bag that acts like the focussing screen of a large format camera. Essentially the materials act as a model for the human eye with the retina replaced by a disposable consumer item.”

.

 darren-tanDarren Tan, Friday, 2016

“Through the composition of images I captured while documenting the morning routine of the average white-collar worker, Creatures of Habit explores the banality and pedestrianism inherent to the nine-to-five.”

.

brett-canet-gibson     Brett Canet-Gibson, The Drowning Noun #3, 2015

“The drowning noun is a series of still-life images constructed from found objects.

.

michael-williams-mothershipMichael Williams, Mothership, 2016

“My photographs are formal studies of urban and suburban environments. I am drawn to locations rich with combinations of unsettling colour motifs and disjointed spatial elements.”

.

After 50 years

Talbot-C1966             Henry Talbot, fashion illustration for Bri-Nylon and Fibremakers, 1967

I’ve just realized that my photographic career is now 50 years old.

I date the start of this saga from a workshop I attended in the Lower Melbourne Town Hall in 1966. The esteemed fashion photographer Henry Talbot was giving a demonstration with the elegant Georgia Gold, a well-known model. Lights, camera and white background were all set up and Talbot gave a run-through explaining what was involved in this then very trendy genre. It was the year of Antonioni’s movie Blow Up, a worldwide hit that made inner-urban fashion studios very very cool.

I think I spoke to Talbot, and I hope to Georgia Gold, who were both very approachable. I was 16 and I even remember waiting for the bus that day, thinking I was pretty grownup. So here’s a thought: what would that boy think if he knew he would still be in the game a half-century later?

That distant memory was stirred up by a visit to the excellent NGV show Henry Talbot : 1960s Fashion Photographer. The show is a must for photographers who a) love fashion photography or b) love analogue photography. The gallery is laid out with wall prints but the special attraction is the tables with his contact proof sheets. It’s a very original approach to curating commercial art, focussing on the working process as much as the finished product.

The show closes tomorrow, Sunday August 21 at the NGV-Australian at Federation Square. Soak it up while you can. Meanwhile, have a look at the very useful E-book the NGV has on its website.

Forum: Max and Olive

Body-Culture-book

This Saturday, July 16, you can attend a free forum on the Max and Olive exhibition at the Ian Potter Museum. The speakers will discuss the work of Max Dupain and Olive Cotton, the “two luminaries of Australian Photography” who are the subject of the exhibition.

The three speakers are experts in this area having written and curated extensively about modernist photography in Australia, including the work of Dupain and Cotton.

Isobel Crombie is Assistant Director at the National Gallery of Victoria and wrote the excellent Body Culture, the book which analyses the ideological background of Dupain’s work.

Helen Ennis is Director of the Centre for Art History and Art Theory at the ANU’s School of Art.

And Shaune Lakin is Curator of Photography at the National Gallery of Australia.

The free Forum runs from 2-4pm at at the Ian Potter Museum, Swanston Street, Carlton.

Max and Olive

Dupain-Hungarian-String-Quartet        Max Dupain, Hungarian String Quartet, 1937Cotton-Hungarian-String-Quartet      Olive Cotton, Hungarian String Quartet, 1937

Max and Olive is an exhibition at the Ian Potter Museum at Melbourne Uni that looks at the work of Max Dupain and Olive Cotton, two important Australian photographers. It focuses on the period of their close professional association, and brief marriage, the years of 1934 to 1945. It closes on July 24, so run, don’t walk, to this fabulous show.

The exhibition is a fine-grained analysis of their vast and progressive output, and draws out much about the period and the social context. The two worked in every genre and evidently set a new standard in Sydney for modern photography. The studio, opened by Dupain in 1934 (at the age of 23!) was immediately successful and he worked prominently in fashion, portrait and advertising photography.

In 1937 the studio was commissioned to photograph the Hungarian String Quartet which was visiting Australia on a tour. The two resulting photographs in the exhibition show a clear difference in aesthetic temperament between the two photographers.

Cotton, who was Dupain’s studio assistant, photographed the four musicians  as a team, emphasizing the relationship between them as they performed a serenade by Tchaikovsky. ‘”I wanted to get the feeling of a group making music that they loved,” she said.

Dupain’s image is more theatrical, with one player, possibly the leader, heroically lit while the others are in subdued light and moved to the side. Where Cotton’s is an image of equality, Dupain’s is one of hierarchy. In this respect the twin photographs are almost a caricature of the gendered gaze.

A further example of their different style is in two landscapes, again taken in the same year and including similar ingredients. Once more, Dupain’s is a forthright composition with strong emphasis and contrast. He makes his statement boldly and clearly; he once quoted Lewis Mumford’s statement that “the mission of the photograph is to clarify the subject.”

Cotton’s image is more equivocal. She is juggling more elements and they are linked in an almost circular visual path. It is not as clear and decisive as Dupain’s and suffers a little from indecision, but as a scheme it reinforces the impression given by her Hungarian violinists. Cotton’s work is more about relationships, while Dupain is looking for heroes.

Dupain-Bawley-Point-landscape                   Max Dupain, Bawley Point Landscape, 1938
Cotton-The-patterned-road               Olive Cotton, The Patterned Road, 1938

The exhibition Max and Olive is a special event, the first to look at the work of these two historic figures together. While Dupain is clearly the superior artist, Cotton comes out very well. And as a display of fine photographs the show is a revelation, there is much to learn just from how they worked with photography, especially the formal qualities of composition, contrast and print colour etc.

The exhibition is a travelling show from the National Gallery of Australia.  It’s  website has a complete set of the pictures in the show with text so after you’ve seen the exhibition you can review it at leisure on a computer. Just make sure you see it at the Ian Potter Museum first.

Typology exhibition

Typology-invite

This my invitation design for Typology, a new exhibition by Photoimaging students at Melbourne Polytechnic. It opens on Wednesday in B Space gallery at the Fairfield campus.

Typology is the study or classification of types of things according to their similarity and differences. The work of Bernd and Hilla Becher on water towers and other industrial structures is the best known example in contemporary photography.

Considering the role of photography in recording visual information, typology is a natural subject for students to work on. Their work will be grids and series of small photographs of metal tools, autumn leaves, green peppers, pocket knives and various other objects. The subject-matter may be ordinary but the beauty is in the interplay of differences, even though some images, such as Tanya Boosman’s in the invitation card, are beautiful in themselves.

The exhibition is a short one, running from Tuesday 21 to Friday 24 of June. The opening is Wednesday 22, from 7 to 9pm.

 

Obscure Camera exhibition

Obscure-Camera-1Obscure Camera, the new show at Tacit gallery, features artists working at the border of photographic practice. Each work tests the normal definition of photography with sculptures, digital renderings and found images.

My images (above) were  made from students’ discarded mistakes recovered from darkroom rubbish bins. The artist was the chemical action of developer, silver and oxygen except that I found them and transformed the raw images into art prints.

_DSF5423

Paul Garrick has created two handsome sculptures that reference landscape photographs of the Ansel Adams tradition. The cloud suspended in a steel frame resembles an Adams red-filtered sky trapped in a three-dimensional Magritte painting.

Bunder-1    Rikki-Paul Bunder works in abstracted landscapes but his beautiful Tacit prints go all the way, with a fine mist of granulated pigment forming mysterious shapes from water and light.

The other artists are TJ Bateson and Garry Moore. Obscures Camera continues at Tacit Contemporary Art until Sunday June 19.

 

One hundred year old ad

Robur-ad-1916-1                                     These photographs by Spencer Shier date back 100 years to 1916 and show us what ads looked like in those distant years. It was about the time of Gallipoli.

A young woman is proudly showing us a tin container of Robur tea with its amazing circular lid. How innovative. Her pose is familiar to advertising history, an attractive young woman smiling at us and pointing to the product. It’s a formula that survives to this day.

The apron is not part of modern publicity though. It has connotations to us of domestic drudgery, pre-feminist gender roles, or perhaps domestic help – she may be posing as a servant. In those times, many households above the level of working class had paid housekeepers.

The title listed on the Trove archive site is “Miss Diamond,” so the model was presumably a celebrity of some kind, a music hall singer perhaps? While she wears an apron here, in other portraits on the site she wears a lush fur coat that suggests wealth and success. Who was she?

Robur-ad-1916-3                     Spencer Shier was a Melbourne photographer who specialized in portraits. He did well, living in a Toorak house at his death in 1946, a location that suggests commercial success and social standing. He specialized in society and celebrity portraits and advertising photography. He may be worthy of further research since many now forgotten photographers can be very interesting to us at this distance in time. Just look at his self-portrait.Shier-by-Shier-1931                       Spencer Shier, self-portrait, 1931

.

Joiners opening

Joiner-1E        My students and their friends gathered last night at the opening of our Joiners exhibition. The work was made for a David Hockney-style photomontage assignment, to shoot a subject in fifty or more shots and assemble it directly on the wall.

Making a Joiner is a tricky operation. The capture process can be confusing, how do you record a subject in dozens of details? Then the assembly of the prints is challenging because the images don’t align. Joiners run contrary to the normal instincts of a photographer, to create a single perfect rectangular image. A Joiner can take almost any form and often take on a different shape when they are assembled a second time.

The project is part of the Photoimaging course at Melbourne Polytechnic, in a subject I share with Natalie Morawski. The exhibition is on for two more weeks at the St John Street Gallery in Prahran, building B, (Melbourne Polytechnic) open Monday to Friday 12-5pm.

Joiner-3-SashaJoiners-1-Sheldon

Joiners exhibition

Joiner-invitation                   My students are having an exhibition of their Joiners projects, the photomontage technique developed by David Hockney in the 1980s. It’s a project I devised, along with Natalie Morawski, for the Photoimaging students at Melbourne Polytechnic.

It’s an informal exhibition made of class work rather than finished Diploma pieces, and is practice for the students in the process of exhibiting. It’s in our shiny new St John Street gallery at the Prahran campus

To make a Joiner you record your subject through close-up details in as many shots as you can manage. After printing them you try to re-assemble the subject by joining and overlapping the prints. Because each photo has its own viewpoint and perspective they don’t align perfectly so it’s like a jigsaw puzzle where the pieces don’t fit.

It challenges the natural instinct to make perfect, single, rectangular photographs – some of the Joiners on show contain 150 single shots and roam over the wall in a jagged patchwork.

The exhibition runs 12-5pm from Monday May 16 to Friday 20. The “opening” is on Thursday 19, 7 to 9pm. The gallery is in St John Street Prahran, ground floor building B, a hundred metres from Chapel St.

.

A gift of Kodachromes

Screen-Shot-2016-04-26-at-6.34.22-am Tony Woolrich has given me some boxes of old 35mm slides acquired in his furniture trading business. He thought they were special and deserved closer scrutiny and he was right. They came from an elderly couple in Malvern eager to pass them on, but other than that the name and address is unknown and the trail has gone cold.

The slides, a few hundred in number, document somebody’s travels in Europe and Japan in the early 1950s. Who the photographer was and what the travel was for is anyone’s guess sixty years after the event. There are some teasing clues though.

For one thing, they are too good for a complete amateur. Photographs made by amateurs are often taken too close or too far away, with no clear subject-matter and with a poor sense of composition, they are simplistic. As you can see, that is not the case with these pictures. They are accomplished examples of the street photography genre, made with a eye photographic eye, an openness to varied subject-matter and a good feeling for light, colour and composition.

A further clue is the expensive glass mounts, with some being cropped with special black tape. This protection suggests the maker was a professional, a photographer, a lecturer or a member of camera clubs, showing them often in public slides shows. This is more plausible than it might seem – in the 1950s overseas travel was rare and seeing images of foreign locations was a special event.

All the slides are Kodachromes, a fact which is immediately apparent because none of them have faded. That fabulous emulsion has held fast for sixty years while other slides I possess half their age have long ago faded badly. The distinctive colour palette, the contrasty “snap”, is intact, giving the images the look of glossy magazine photos. You can see what was lost when production and processing ceased in 2010. In photographic terms it was something like a tragedy and was covered widely in the press.

These first few images show what the collection is like. I’m gradually taking them out of the glass mounts to scan them and bring them back to their natural appearance. It’s going to be a long project.

TW-2-copy TW-11-copy

TW-flower-stallTW-10-copy-2

Kodachrome-g

Persona exhibition

Persona_InvitationPersona is a group exhibition opening next week at the St John Street gallery in Prahran. Four Visual Arts colleagues at Melbourne Polytechnic are showing self-portrait projects framed by the word persona. My Dust and Scratches project is part of it, along with work by Karenne Ann, Sean Payne and Kirsten Perry. 

The word Persona describes the public aspects of character rather than the psychological, a social role or a character played by an actor. The long history of the self-portrait genre has not only involved portrayal of the “self” as in Van Gogh’s disturbing self-portraits or those of the German Expressionists.

A more expanded or system-based approach to the self-portrait runs alongside this tradition, for example Francesca Woodman‘s playful, performative nudes or Chuck Close‘s giant forensic paintings of his photographed face.

In our Persona exhibition we’ve adopted either the impersonal, anonymously institutional image or essays the process of vision itself rather than its ostensible subject.”

To quote further from Sean Payne’s catalogue essay …

Karenne Ann’s sculpted and scanned heads are little death masks in plaster, commentaries on misguided illusions as they apply to women and to herself.

Greg Neville’s self-portraits are derived from his collection of identity cards dating back to 1974.

Sean Payne’s works are extrapolations from an anonymously taken school photograph. This found photo, printed from its original negative, is broken down into pixels

Kirsten Perry’s uses the technology of eye-tracking, giving the record an empirical basis and intentionally removing the the artist’s hand, the better to isolate and examine vision as a process.

The Persona opening is at 5-7pm on Tuesday April 12 and runs until Friday April 22. St John Street gallery is on street-level in building B of Melbourne Polytechnic’s Prahran campus, just off Chapel St and High St.

.

What was Kodachrome?

kodachrome-1936

What was Kodachrome? Why was it so loved? When production and processing ceased in 2010 it was a front page story.

When Kodachrome was released on the market in 1935 it became the first colour film to succeed in the mass market, establishing colour photography as a viable option for amateurs and professionals alike. Before Kodachrome, making photographs in colour was an arcane science mastered by only a few. The Colour-Carbro process required colour separations to be made first and then printed sequentially in perfect registration on the receiving paper. It was hard, slow and very expensive.

When Kodachrome arrived in 1936 it brought simplicity to colour photography:  you shot the film and Kodak processed it, and that was it. A box of colour slides was posted to you a week later and the colours were realistic and beautiful.                                                                                                                           Kodachrome1936

The actual invention of Kodachrome is a story in itself. The inventors were two young American musicians, Leopold Godowsky Jr. and Leopold Mannes. They became known as God and Man. Both were high achievers. Godowsky studied music at UCLA and became a violinist with the San Francisco Symphony. Mannes studied piano at Harvard and earned a Pulitzer Scholarship and a Guggenheim fellowship, playing professional piano – all this while studying physics at Harvard. They came from high achieving families. Godowsky’s father was the most famous concert pianist of his day and Mannes also came from a renowned classical music family.

All this makes it so odd that in their spare time they were inventing colour film. In 1917 they had seen a crude colour film at a cinema and thought they could do better. They tinkered for years with their process until family connections help them get financing for their research. Eventually Kodak noticed and invited them to work at Rochester, Kodak’s HQ. God-and-Man

In 1935, Kodak released its 16mm cine Kodachrome and a year later 8mm cine and 35mm still films, all very successful and the beginning of a 75 year story. How did it work? Well, wikipedia explains it thus:

Kodachrome film was coated with three layers of ordinary black-and-white silver halide gelatin emulsion, but each layer was made sensitive to only one-third of the spectrum of colors—in essence, to red, green or blue. Special processing chemistry and procedures caused complimentary-colored cyan, magenta or yellow dye images to be generated in these layers as the black-and-white silver images were developed. After they had served their purpose, the silver images were chemically removed, so that the completed chromogenic film consisted solely of the three layers of dye images suspended in gelatin.

Kodachrome gave spectacular colour and great longevity. I have slides a half century old and there’s no fading, while other brands have decayed badly. The crisp, vivid palette was very appealing and the slides were also very sharp. Kodachrome was available in 25 ISO which became the preferred choice for landscape and geographic photographers for its fine detail – enlargements from 35mm were no problem. Other speeds and size formats were also available for different purpose, including 5×4 and 10×8 – imagine!

Kodachrome-5x4                             4×5 Kodachrome transparency by Alfred Palmer. October 1942. “Noontime       rest for an assembly worker at the Long Beach, Calif., plant of Douglas Aircraft Company. Nacelle parts for a heavy bomber form the background.”

One eccentricity of the film was its weird processing. Because of the special emulsion only a handful of labs worldwide could accomplish the difficult  process. In the 1940s, Kodak brought the Ektachrome range of transparency films which had a much simpler developing process. This continues, although it’s running out of steam in the face of digital photography’s superior colour control.

What happened to God and Man? After inventing Kodachrome, Mannes  returned to music, becoming a concert pianist and composer. Godowsky  pursued a career as a concert violinist with the Los Angeles and San Francisco Symphonies while also becoming a painter and sculptor. Somehow he found the time to get married – to George Gershwin’s sister!   I told you they were high achievers.

Kodachrome
They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s
A sunny day, oh yeah
I got a Nikon camera
I love to photograph
So mama, don’t take my Kodachrome away                                                                  Paul Simon

Carol and Therese

Carol-rScreenshot from trailer for Carol, directed by Todd Hayne.

The new Todd Hayne movie Carol has arrived and I can state that it’s a photographer’s film.

The story is a love affair between two women in early 1950s New York, a time when gay and lesbian romance was seen as a moral lapse, or worse. The implications in this for danger and secrecy, and the teasing development of their attraction, finds its visual expression in the Oscar-nominated cinematography of Ed Lachman.

In preparing for the film’s visual style Hayne and Lachman studied early 1950s still photography, looking for the right colour palette and focal qualities. They looked at women photographers of the time including Esther Bubley, Vivian Maier, Helen Levitt and Ruth Orkin, but they found their principal reference in the work of Saul Leiter, an abstract painter and colleague of De Kooning, who had taken up photography and flourished.

Leiter’s beautiful Kodachromes captured the compression and layering of the Manhattan streetscape. He shot through shadows, blurs and reflections to capture the great cities ambiguity and mystery, and its poetry.

In the movie, Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara (both also Oscar-nominated for the film) are seen through a variety of obstacles, glimpsed in longshot, shrouded in shadow, and overlayed by reflections. It creates a rich visual texture which helps carry the film forward, rather like a writer’s literary style  creates the right atmosphere for the events in a novel. 

Lachman’s compositions as expert as Leiter’s, despite his assertion that he’s a cine photographer and not a still photographer. The movie was shot on film, in Super 16, not 35mm, to create “a certain emotional quality — you’re viewing the character through the texture of the grain but also feeling their emotions through the grain.”

One further pleasure for readers of blogs like this is that the character of Therese is a budding photographer herself, and we see her with cameras of the time and even in a picture conference at the New York Times where she works. Her interest in photography is not a casual plot point, it’s the perfect analogy for her character, discrete and watchful, her beautiful big eyes like camera lenses.

Carol-tCarol-yCarol-q

 

 

Leica business?

$_57For Sale: one Leica repair business. Price: $195,000.

Ebay has posted an unusual ad: a complete repair business for Leica cameras. The European Camera Service was the authorized Leica service agent for the whole of Australia.

The business was established in 1991 by technician, Jorg Heumuller who was trained at Leica in Wetzlar, Germany. He was sent to Australia to establish a Leica service centre for repairs, routine service and warranty jobs.

The offer is for the whole shebang, as you can see in the photo: “a full range of current Leica special tools essential for working on Leica cameras of the period without damaging or marking the cameras. It is not feasible to list every single component – serious buyers may contact us to discuss the inventory and make an appointment to view the collection.”

This is the most unique ad I’ve ever seen on ebay. To see the details click here.

.

Faces in close up

EG-Marshall

Actor EG Marshall had a face to be photographed. You could see him in movies and television during the 1950s and 60s, a busy character actor, though never a star.

A screen actor’s instrument is his face. Just as a violinist uses a violin, an actor uses his face to focus his interpretation of the character. The subtleties of expression, the micro control of facial muscles and the ability to convey thought though the eyes – these are the tools that a screen actor uses. And it’s especially true in the close up.

The movie close up is a fundamental component of film syntax. It was invented in the early years of silent cinema, and if most early silent films look like filmed plays, then the close up was a new addition to the young medium. It brought a greater intensity to the story-telling and a new degree of intimacy with the audience. Click on these photos to see what I mean.

The close up is still a part of silent cinema because even in present-day movies, most close ups are silent, the characters do not speak. The essentially visual nature of the film medium comes to the fore as we empathise with the character’s emotions and try to understand their thoughts. Close ups don’t need words.

Henry-Fonda's-face

A new video film-essay from Filmscalpel, Twelve Silent Men, demonstrates the power of the close up and the ability of actors to communicate without words. It’s a re-edit of a famous 1957 movie, the wordy courtroom drama Twelve Angry Men, directed by the great Sydney Lumet.

The makers of this six minute re-edit have selected only the silent scenes in this 96 minute movie, the scenes where actors are not talking, just being. They have re-constructed the film out of the short sequences of actors looking, listening and thinking. They prove the adage that film acting is really re-acting.

Their short film demonstrates Lumet’s clever staging, a master class in mise en scène. The movie doesn’t only rely on the playwright’s words – it is not a filmed play despite the amount of dialogue and the stage-like juryroom. Lumet’s blocking of actors, his strategic camera positions (photographed by Boris Kaufmann) and the terrific performances by the cast show that it’s not a filmed play like those early silents. Instead, as one of the makers of Twelve Silent Men states: “In this eloquent feature film, a perfectly fine silent short is hiding”.

.

An Equitable centenary

Equitable-building-2                                  Greg Neville, The Equitable Building, 2014

This photograph was taken in Manhattan, looking up at the once famous Equitable Building near Wall Street, opened in 1915. At 40 storeys it was a gigantic building for its day and it darkened the surrounding area.

A wave of protest followed and the next year zoning laws were introduced requiring new tower blocks to get narrower as they went higher, letting light reach the street below. They eventually gave us the typical stepped shape of Art Deco skyscrapers, such as The Empire State Building.

The photograph was taken from under the Trinity and US Realty buildings opposite in the part of Lower Broadway where ticker-tape parades were held.

The camera was a Holga, the medium-format plastic toy that has reportedly been discontinued. It’s simple lens distorts at the edges, as you can see in the lower right corner, but overall it’s a serious camera – the signature wide-angle square image has a particular softness that’s very appealing.

The photograph of the Equitable is an extension of my Vertigo project, a chronological series showing the rise and rise of New York buildings.

You can see my other work with the Holga in The Modern Idea, also on my website.

Equitable                                                                Postcard, Geo P Hall & Son 1909

 

Alphonse Eugène Hubert

Hubert-1839Daguerreotype by Alphonse Eugène Hubert, c1839

Alphonse Eugène Hubert was a young architect in 19th century Paris and he had some bad news for Louis Daguerre.

After the great inventor leaked some hints of his discovery of the photographic process to a journal in 1835, a letter was printed that must have given him a shock:

I so much doubt M. Daguerre’s anticipated results that I find myself almost tempted to announce that I too have discovered a process for obtaining the most perfect of portraits, by means of a chemical composition which fixes them in the mirror at the moment one looks at oneself!

Hubert was unknown to Daguerre but he turned out to have enough knowledge of the new science to force Daguerre to employ him as an assistant. They worked together for some years until Hubert’s early death in 1840, the year after the invention of photography was announced.

What Hubert already knew and what subsequent contribution he made to our medium is unknown, any records Daguerre may have kept were lost in his 1839 studio fire. He was clearly useful to its birth, but we’ll never know the details.

What we do know is that the invention of photography was not a clear-cut Eureka moment by one person. The race to invent photography and then lay claim to the invention had some other, slower, runners than Louis Daguerre, the shrewd entrepreneur. Here is a list of the known ones:

1802 Thomas Wedgewood, son of the famous potter, made camera photographs on silver but could not fix them permanently.

1826 Joseph Nicéphore Niépce made a crude camera photograph on bitumen then went into partnership with Daguerre.

1834 Hercule Florence, a French painter and inventor living in Brazil made some apparently successful camera pictures on silver nitrate but did not publish enough details.

1835 Fox Talbot, an introverted member of the English rural gentry, made a fairly successful camera photograph in 1835 but then lost interest in the process until Daguerre’s shock announcement in 1839.

1839 Hyppolyte Bayard, a public servant in Paris, announced his Direct Positive process, claiming priority over Daguerre. Not having social connections, he was largely ignored.

January 7 1839 the date that really counts, the first official, verifiable and public announcement of the invention of photography, when members of the French Académie des Sciences were shown Daguerreotypes for the first time. And yes, they liked it, they were impressed.

Carol and Todd and Saul

Carol_Poster2_FINAL-560x830

Todd Haynes’ new movie Carol is based on a Patricia Highsmith novel about a love affair between two women in 1950s New York. It’s played by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara and is getting great reviews.

Haynes’ films always have a strong visual intelligence, think of the stylish look of I’m Not There or Far from Heaven. For Carol he said he was influenced by the still photography of Saul Leiter, the veteran New York photographer whose beautiful Kodachromes of the city in the 1950s have recently gained popularity.

Leiter wanted to be an abstract painter and this ambition gave his photography a distinctive style. He shot into mirrors and windows to catch reflections, used shadow, blur and negative space, or shot through obstacles, all to create a dense, layered vision of the city. His pictures are complex and ambiguous and have a lush painterly feel.

saul_leiter-1Leiter-in-bus
Leiter

Leiter shot Kodachrome slide film but he wasn’t able to print it at the time. Transparency film was very expensive to print until the digital age so he mostly projected them to groups of artists – no way to gain wide recognition in the visual arts. Now that his early work is being digitally printed it is being seen widely and is gaining great admiration. There are numerous exhibitions and books in circulation and he is now seen as a significant photographer of mid-century Manhattan.

Director Todd Haynes and his cinematographer Ed Lachman researched the period setting of Highsmith’s novel and discovered that Leiter’s images were a perfect fit. Highsmith’s tense and ambiguous world found its analogue in Leiter’s shifting, dissolving vision of New York.

Haynes filmed scenes through
 car or shop windows to create a sense of dreaming
 and distortion. In one episode, Carol meets Therese
 for lunch for the first time. We watch Therese through
 the restaurant’s dirty window while Carol can be
 seen crossing the street in a reflection as pedestrians pass in front of her. (Harpers Bazaar)

In a BBC interview Hayne described how…

the whole act of looking is foregrounded. We’re shooting through windows and frames and doorways, and doors that close and windows that have obstructions or refractions or reflections, separating us from what we’re seeing on the other side. So the very act, the predicament, of looking, is foregrounded in ways that draw special attention to who’s onside of the looking glass, and who’s on the other.”  (BBC The Film Programme)

Carol-screenshot-3Carol-screenshot-1Carol-screenshot-2

And Ed Lachman spoke about the visualising of the film in these terms…

In “Carol,” my latest film, an adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith book that takes place in the early ‘ 50s, I used a muted palate of colors, more in magenta and greens. I tried to reference the way film stocks responded to colors in the ‘40s and ‘50s and their grain structure. We shot in super 16, not in 35mm film, because film stocks have become almost grainless.  (Ed Lachman in Museemagazine)

Carol-windoww

The movie Carol is in current release, but for a preview, look at the beautiful trailer.

.

Lurid Beauty at the NGV-A

Surrealist-study-1938

Max Dupain, Surrealist Study, 1938

An exhibition at the NGV at Federation Square includes Surrealist photography. Lurid Beauty: Australian Surrealism and its Echoes is a large survey of Australian art with 250 works in a range of media, both historical and contemporary. “Surrealism shook up the staid Australian art world of the 1930s and attracted a generation of young radicals who went on to become some of Australia’s most esteemed artists.”

There are some beautiful Max Dupain prints from the 1930s, made during his surrealist phase:
.
“Max Dupain was one of the few photographers in Australia to fully explore Surrealism, and he became the leading portrait photographer in Sydney in the 1930s and 1940s. Dupain greatly admired the work of the American-French Dadaist and Surrealist photographer Man Ray, which appeared both in art magazines as well as popular magazines such as American Vogue. Like Ray, Dupain experimented with solarisation, double exposure and photomontage techniques, combining the human figure with natural forms, such as shells, and mechanical components.” (NGV wall labels)
.
Contemporary artists also work in the surrealist mode and they are represented by artists such as Zoé Croggon and Pat Brassington.
.

Croggon__Fonteyn

Zoé Croggon, Fonteyn, 2012

Voicing-(2001)-

Pat Bassington, Voicing, 2001

Lurid Beauty: Australian Surrealism and its Echoes runs at NGV Australia, Federation Square until January 31.