Friday, December 31, 2010

Helen Levitt

Helen Levitt Biography from

Helen Levitt made her mark on photography during a volatile time in America. The social crisis of the 1930's inspired photographers to work for government funded projects to expose and correct the social problems. Walker Evans documented the rural south and Lewis Hine labor conditions while Dorothea Lange revealed urban plights. Helen Levitt chose a different path. At age 23 the subject she'd singularly devote a long career was located just blocks away in the children of New York neighborhoods.

As a child raised in Brooklyn, NY she had a fascination with sounds, dance, books and foreign films. Feeling unstimulated at school she left before graduating and went to work for a commercial photographer gaining technical knowledge over the next four years. Her self-taught education aligned her with Henri Cartier-Bresson and Walker Evans. Cartier-Bresson's work taught her three lessons: a blunt photographic record of ordinary facts could reveal the mystery and fantasy within daily life; that the poetry in such pictures turned its back on conventional value systems and notions of beauty; and that this art, which trafficked in the momentary, was not haphazard.

Flooding herself with art exhibits, photography, theater performances and film created for Helen a personal photo-learning experience. In 1936 she purchased the same compact Leica Cartier-Bresson used and attached a right-angle viewfinder. The equipment was central in her ability to maneuver through the neighborhood streets and photograph the natural choreography of children at play. She could remain on the fringes without disturbing the ongoing reality. This method of street photography complemented her respect for the privacy of her subjects. Being so consumed with one specific subject, a career in photojournalism held no interest for her.

"Levitt is not concerned with the popularity of her work now, nor has she ever been. She knows that what separates her from others is what makes her an artist, and that what brings her into closest intimacy with them is her wit," said Maria Morris Hambourg, curator in charge of the Department of Photographs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. "She has little faith in opinions or interpretations other than her own, and she wishes to live without the intrusions of publicity. She asks that we trust the pictures, not the words."

When I contacted Levitt's New York gallery for access to additional images not surprisingly I was denied. However, I did learn at 87 Ms. Levitt is in stable health and working on projects. Her photographs can be enjoyed on several Web sites and books In the Street, Photographers on Photographers, Helen Levitt: Mexico City, and A Way of Seeing.  (Editors note:  Helen Levitt passed away on March 30, 2009 at the age of  95.  Here's a link to her New York Times obituary.)

A theme of her New York work is the doorway as a threshold from private to public space, but her images will confirm as city dwellers can attest, neighborhood stoops, sidewalks and streets can be quite an intimate setting. Her black and white shots are almost all exterior, at a medium distance from the subjects and depict the self at its most extroverted, surreal, natural state, children at play. Levitt's found children are emotional, masked, climbing, miming, dancing, dreaming and acting. The space in her images have been described as stage-like and its inhabitants an unending cast of characters before, during and after the transformation. What I appreciate about her work is an involvement by the viewer in a private, mischievous moment of self-discovery. Levitt doesn't manipulate the situation, rather anticipates it and removes evidence of herself as photographer so we can enjoy a new moment we wouldn't have otherwise.

"Helen Levitt's extraordinary gift is to perceive in a transient split second, and in the most ordinary of places - the common city street - the richly imaginative, various, and tragically tender moments of ordinary human existence," said poet Wallace Stevens. (Colleen Carroll)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

August Sander

August Sander Biography from Icarus Films:

Sander was born in Herdorf, near Cologne, Germany, the son of a mining carpenter. The young Sander began an apprenticeship as a miner in 1889. He received a 13 x 18 cm camera from an uncle in 1892, built a darkroom, and began to photograph in his spare time. After military service, he toured Germany as a commercial photographer specializing in architectural and industrial photos. In 1901 he was employed by the Photographic Studio Graf in Linz, Austria. He and a partner bought this concern the following year and renamed it Studio Sander and Stuckenberg. Two years later he bought out his partner and started the August Sander Studio for Pictorial Arts of Photography and Painting.

Sander was awarded a gold medal and Cross of Honor at the Paris Exposition of 1904, the first of hundreds of such awards he would receive in his career. He began at this time to experiment with color photography and his work in this field was soon acquired by the Leipzig Museum. In 1906 Sander's first one-man exhibition, of 100 prints, was held at the Landhaus Pavilon in Linz.

After selling his studio in Linz, Sander moved his family to Trier and then to Lindenthall, a suburb of Cologne. While photographing peasants in nearby Westerwald, Sander originated his life-project, "People in the Twentieth Century." His intention was to document the entire German people. While pursuing this work, he continued to photograph industrial and architectural subjects to make his living.

Sander served in the German Army during World War I but continued to photograph. He began teaching apprentices and other students in 1919.

In 1927 Sander travelled to Sardinia to photograph the people and landscapes. This was his only trip outside Germany.

Late that year he showed 60 photographs from the "People in the Twentieth Century" series in the Cologne Kunstverein exhibition. This show led to an agreement with the publisher Kurt Wolff to issue books covering the entire project. The first of these volumes, Face of Our Time, appeared in 1929 with an introduction by Alfred Doblin.

Sander delivered a series of highly popular radio lectures on "The Nature and Development of Photography" in 1931. The rise of Hitler began to affect his work about this time.

His son Erich joined the Socialist Worker's Party and anti-Nazi movement in 1933; he was jailed for treason in 1934 and died in prison 10 years later. At the same time (1933-1934) five books of Sander's "German Land, German People" series were published. They met with immediate disapproval by the Nazi authorities and he was forced to cease work on "Man in the Twentieth Century." His Face of Our Time was seized, the plates destroyed, and negatives confiscated by the Ministry of Culture.

Sander began a series of Rhineland landscapes and nature studies in 1935 on which he worked for the rest of his life. During World War II he made prints of pre-war photographs for families of men who had died or were missing in action. He began some work on "Man in the Twentieth Century" once more. His studio was destroyed by bombing, but thousands of negatives were salvaged. Tragically, the same negatives were destroyed by looters in 1946. Despite these setbacks, Sander continued to work on a variety of special projects and books.

In 1951 Sander's work was mounted at the first exhibition at Photokina. His documentation of pre-war Cologne was bought by the city the same year. A number of his photographs were selected by Edward Steichen in 1952 for inclusion in the Family of Man show of 1955.

Sander was named an honorary member of the German Photographic Society in 1958 and was given a one-man show by that body the following year. He received the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1960. Sander suffered a stroke in late 1963 and died in Cologne some months later.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Eudora Welty


(born April 13, 1909, Jackson, Mississippi, U.S.—died July 23, 2001, Jackson) American short-story writer and novelist whose work is mainly focused with great precision on the regional manners of people inhabiting a small Mississippi town that resembles her own birthplace and the Delta country.

Welty attended Mississippi State College for Women before transferring to the University of Wisconsin, from which she graduated in 1929. During the Great Depression she was a photographer on the Works Progress Administration's Guide to Mississippi, and photography remained a lifelong interest. Photographs (1989) is a collection of many of the photographs she took for the WPA. She also worked as a writer for a radio station and newspaper in her native Jackson, Mississippi, before her fiction won popular and critical acclaim.

Welty's first short story was published in 1936, and thereafter her work began to appear regularly, first in little magazines such as the Southern Review and later in major periodicals such as The Atlantic Monthly and The New Yorker. Her readership grew steadily after the publication of A Curtain of Green (1941; enlarged 1979), a volume of short stories that contains two of her most anthologized stories—“The Petrified Man” and “Why I Live at the P.O.” In 1942 her short novel The Robber Bridegroom was issued, and in 1946 her first full-length novel, Delta Wedding. Her later novels include The Ponder Heart (1954), Losing Battles (1970), and The Optimist's Daughter (1972), which won a Pulitzer Prize. The Wide Net and Other Stories (1943), The Golden Apples (1949), and The Bride of Innisfallen and Other Stories (1955) are collections of short stories, and The Eye of the Story (1978) is a volume of essays. The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty was published in 1980.

Welty's main subject is the intricacies of human relationships, particularly as revealed through her characters' interactions in intimate social encounters. Among her themes are the subjectivity and ambiguity of people's perception of character and the presence of virtue hidden beneath an obscuring surface of convention, insensitivity, and social prejudice. Welty's outlook is hopeful, and love is viewed as a redeeming presence in the midst of isolation and indifference. Her works combine humour and psychological acuity with a sharp ear for regional speech patterns.

One Writer's Beginnings, an autobiographical work, was published in 1984. Originating in a series of three lectures given at Harvard, it beautifully evoked what Welty styled her “sheltered life” in Jackson and how her early fiction grew out of it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Nancy Rexroth

It is easy to imagine discovering Nancy Rexroth's haunting and beautiful photographs in an old album in your parents' attic. They look as if a child in the 1950's took the photographs with a new Brownie camera. Images of empty, strangely luminous bedrooms, old clapboard houses, children at play and views of a small town are blurry and often obliquely framed, as if they been made by someone na?ly experimenting with a camera for the first time.

In fact, Ms. Rexroth created the series titled ''Iowa'' from 1971 to 1976, when she was in her late 30's. She used a toy camera called a Diana, and though she shot all the pictures in rural Ohio, she wanted to evoke memories of her childhood in Iowa in the late 1940's and early 50's. As much as they are about autobiographical memory and nostalgia, however, her pictures are about the talismanic role played by photographs in the emotional lives of modern people. Soon Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince and countless other simulators and appropriators would begin to explore what and how photographs of all types mean and feel, and photography about photography would eventually become a familiar academic genre. Anticipating that trend, Ms. Rexroth's ''Iowa'' still feels like something poetically rich and urgently new.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Minor White


Minor White was an American photographer, educator, poet and a critic. He was recognized for this intense commitment of photography and his vision. Minor White was a textural photographer. Textural photographs are pictures of items such as a bush, a tree, cracks in the road, or even a rusted up car.

Minor White was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1908. He studied botany at the University of Minnesota and worked for a few years on odd jobs before he started concentrating on photography. He worked as a photographer for the Works Progress Administration in Oregon from 1938 to 1939. From 1942 to 1945 he served as an infantryman in the Philippines. In 1945, White did his studies with Edward Weston, which was extremely intense due to the tonal beauty of his photographs. He then proceeded to work on a tenure with Alfred Steiglitz. It was at this time when White's photographs began to reflect on spiritual issues, including Roman Catholicism, Zen Buddhism, and mysticism.White believed that taking photographs and examining photographs was a spiritual act.

In 1945, White moved to New York City, where he studied at the University of Columbia. In 1946 he was united with the faculty of the California School of Fine arts where he worked as an assistant to Ansel Adams. While working with Adams, White co-founded the magazine 'Aperture' with Adams, Lange, and Beaumont and Newhall. White eventually succeeded Adams and became the Director of the California School of Fine Arts. From 1953 through 1965, White worked at the Eastman House and taught at the Rochester Institute of Photography. White edited much of Aperture during these years and much of his significant work was produced during this period, including "Windowsill." In 1965, White became professor of photography at the Massachussets Institute of Technology (MIT), where he served until 1976 when he passed away.

White's nature studies are so devotedly observed abstractions. However, to the male nude figure study, he brought a lyrical passion, and unmatched eroticism. White's writings emphasized and promoted his ideas as in Mirrors, Messages, and Manifestation. Undoubtedly, Minor White's work in photography altered the medium forever.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

George Tice

Tice was born and raised in Newark, New Jersey--the state in which his ancestors had settled generations earlier. At fourteen, he joined a camera club. A turning point in his self-training happened two years later, when a professional photographer critiquing club members' work praised his picture of an alleyway. Tice briefly studied commercial photography at Newark Vocational and Technical High School; he then joined the Navy. A published image he made of an explosion aboard an American ship caught the eye of photographer Edward Steichen, who purchased it for The Museum of Modern Art. For about a decade, Tice worked as a portrait photographer and helped establish a gallery. That success enabled him to concentrate on personal projects.

In the 1960s, Tice shifted from smaller camera formats to larger ones, which enabled him to craft carefully toned and detailed prints. He portrayed traditional Amish and Shaker communities, as well as the hard lives of fishermen in Maine. In the 1970s, Tice began exploring his home state. Those photographs formed the beginnings of his Urban Landscapes series, which he worked on until the year 2000. His publications include: Fields of Peace: A Pennsylvania German Album (1970), Paterson, New Jersey (1972), Seacoast Maine: People and Places (1973), Urban Landscapes: A New Jersey Portrait (1975), and Hometowns: An American Pilgrimage (1988). Tice has taught at the Maine Photographic Workshops since 1977.

Friday, December 24, 2010

David Octavius Hill


Scottish photographers. David Octavius Hill (b. 1802, Perth, Perthshire, Scot. — d. May 17, 1870, Newington, near Edinburgh), originally a painter, was a founding member of the Royal Scottish Academy and its secretary for 40 years. In 1843 he enlisted the help of Robert Adamson (b. 1821, Berunside, Scot. — d. January 1848, St. Andrews), a chemist experienced in photography, in photographing the delegates to the founding convention of the Free Church of Scotland. They used the calotype process, by which an image was developed from a paper negative. In these and other portraits they demonstrated a masterly sense of form and composition and a dramatic use of light and shade. Their five-year partnership resulted in some 3,000 photographs, including many views of Edinburgh and small fishing villages. Before Adamson died at age 27, they produced some of the greatest photographic portraits of the 19th century.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Aaron Siskind

From the Museum of Contemporary Photography:

Aaron Siskind was born on December 4, 1903 in New York. He was the son of Russian Jewish immigrants and the fifth of six children. After receiving his Bachelor of Social Science degree from College of the City of New York in 1926, he went on to teach high school English for 21 years in the New York public school system. His first loves were music and poetry, but he took an interest in photography in 1930 (when he received his first camera as a going-away present before his honeymoon trip to Bermuda), and began his photography career as a documentarian in the New York Photo League in 1932. From 1936 to 1940 he oversaw the League’s Feature Group as they created documentary photo-essays of political import including Harlem Document, Dead End: The Bowery, Portrait of a Tenement, and St. Joseph’s House: The Catholic Worker Movement. In the early 1940s, his work shifted to the abstract and metaphoric as Siskind cultivated friendships with such Abstract Expressionists as Franz Kline, Barrett Newman, Adolph Gottlieb, and Mark Rothko, and began to exhibit work at the Charles Egan Gallery (which specialized in Abstract Expressionism).

On the invitation of Harry Callahan, Siskind joined the faculty of the Institute of Design in Chicago in 1951, taking over as head of the photography program when Callahan left in 1961. In 1963 he helped found the Society for Photographic Education. Siskind and Callahan, famous for their synergy as professors and photographers, were reunited beginning in 1971 when Siskind left the Institute of Design for the Rhode Island School of Design where Callahan was a professor and Siskind continued to teach until his retirement in 1976. Siskind traveled broadly, in particular making multiple trips to Mexico and Italy, including a period spent in Rome during his 1966 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship. Siskind died in Providence, Rhode Island on February 11, 1991 at the age of 87. The Aaron Siskind Centennial Celebration took place during 2003/2004 with exhibitions at more than a dozen institutions across the country, including the Museum of Contemporary Photography, each devoted to a different period or theme of the photographer’s life and work.