Posts Tagged ‘Brassaï’

Photography | Giuseppe Cavalli: Master of Light?

Friday, April 6th, 2012

Giuseppe Cavalli: Master of Light
Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, London, UK
18th April to 17th June, 2012

Italy spawned great film directors, the names of whom: Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Bernardo Bertolucci, Luchino Visconti, Roberto Rossellini, Franco Zeffirelli, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Sergio Leone and Roberto Benigni, spring effortlessly to mind. But, try to to conjure up a list of the Italy’s great photographers to put alongside French, American, German and English ones, as well as the odd Brazilian and Japanese and it’s a different story.

Wikipedia lists 92 Italian photographers, the majority of whom I’ve never heard of with the exceptions of Romano Cagnoni, the reportage photographer, still life photographer Piero Gemelli, fashion photographer Marco Glaviano and the only ones I regard as worthy of being called great: Paolo Roversi, Oliviero Toscani and Gian Paolo Barbieri. The Magnum photographer, Ferdinando Scianna, isn’t on the list, nor does it mention the great eccentric architect and furniture designer, Carlo Mollino, who produced some interesting photographic images. For the record: Mario Testino isn’t Italian and was born in Lima, Peru into a family of Irish, Spanish and Italian origins. There’s also the prominent fashion photographer Mario Sorrenti, I suppose, who is based in New York but Italian-born and has certainly produces interesting work for many up-scale clients – but can he be ranked as as great?

In it’s modest way and while the name of the photographer, who is the subject of its current exhibition, Giuseppe Cavalli (1904-1961), is entirely new to me, North London’s Estorick Collection is to be applauded for making a tremendous effort to draw elements of Italian photography out of the darkness and into the light. In this context, who better to choose than Cavalli, evidently one of Italy’s key figures in 20th century photography, who chose light, over content, as the subject of his simple, thoughtful, occasionally almost abstract compositions. Born into a family of artists but opting to study law at Rome University – after which he practised for nine years as a lawyer – from 1935 he worked as a freelance photographer in the pleasant seaside town and port, Senigallia, on Italy’s Adriatic coast, north of Ancona, in the Marche region. Founding member of what are regarded as three of the country’s most influential photographic groups, Giuseppe Cavalli was the recipient of numerous international awards for his work, the constant gentle theme of which developed out of a reaction against the overblown imagery of Fascist era Italy. In the post war years, in marked contrast to the neo-realist aesthetic of directors such as Robert Rossellini that began to dominate Italian cinema and engaged with social and political themes, Cavalli and his companions rejected the perception of photography as a documentary tool in favour of their belief that the medium was an art form. All well and good but when set against those of his international, contemporary and accepted greats, for example: Brassai, Kertész and Man Ray, for me, Cavalli’s pallid prints, pale that little bit further.

Photographs from top
Untitled, undated
Gelatin silver print
35.2 x 28 cm

Composition, undated
Gelatin silver print
20.2 x 17.2 cm

The Little Ball, 1949
Gelatin silver print
30 x 24 cm

Waiting, 1948
Gelatin silver print
17.6 x 28.6 cm

The Black Pipe, 1951
Gelatin silver print
24 x 18 cm

All photographs by Giuseppe Cavalli (1904-1961) from the Prelz Oltramonti Collection, London

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Photography | André Kertész: A Given Moment

Friday, July 1st, 2011

André Kertész – Photographs
Martin-Gropius Bau, Berlin, Germany. Until 11th September 2011

In the caption to the first image by André Kertész in Bruce Bernard’s marvellous and indispensable, great slab-of-a-book, Century (Phaidon, 1999), in typical understatement, the author describes Kertész as: ‘…an Austrian soldier destined to become a great photographer’.

Berlin’s Martin-Gropius-Bau in collaboration with Jeu de Paume in Paris is showing a retrospective of over 300 photographs by Kertész, one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century, whose early photojournalist work impacted on that of others, including writer and photographer, Brassï and Henri Cartier-Bresson, both also destined to merit the description great photographer.

Bernard goes on to tell us that André Kertész first acquired a camera in 1913 – he was eighteen years old – just prior to his drafting into the Austro-Hungarian army. Whilst on active service he was wounded and paralysed for a whole year but still managed to produce his first serious works – photographs of soldiers on the Eastern front. A few prints remain, however, the negatives of all the photographer’s early work were, unfortunately, destroyed in 1918.

Born in Hungary, to jewish middle-class parents, Andor Kertész (later André) lived in Budapest working at the stock exchange before, after the war, moving to Paris where he joined fellow emigrés, László Moholy-Nagy, Robert Capa and Brassaï.

“I interpret my feeling at a given moment. Not what I see, but what I feel,” Kertész once said, seeing photography as an instrument for describing contemporary life. In Paris, to make ends meet, he produced reportage photography for the Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung and The Times (London) and made contact with the avant garde artists of Montparnasse: Piet Mondrian, Fernand Léger, Alexander Calder and Brancusi, among others. He also met and discovered he had much in common with the Surrealism group led by André Breton that included the American photographer and artist, Man Ray. He had taken the famous photograph Underwater Swimmer while recuperating in 1917; the optically distorted body beneath light reflections on the surface of the water would appear to anticipate his later works – and of some of the surrealists – and it wasn’t until some 10 years later the aesthetic effects of reflection were to become popular at the Bauhaus. In 1933 Kertész went on to produce the series entitled Distortions, in which female figures, distorted by mirrors, lead a life of their own between caricature and eroticism.

Despite the often complex nature of the thinking that the photographer put into them, like the best photojournalism, Kertész’s images are always simple, uncompromisingly direct and carefully cropped to include only those elements the eye demands. One of my particular favourites, which is included in the Martin-Gropius-Bau exhibition is the Magritte-like Martinique, shot on New Year’s Day, 1972. The image is rich, yet so reduced that it appears almost flat, almost but not quite devoid of perspective and with the very minimal shape of the upper torso of a man, who we know instinctively is alone on the other side of the translucent, frosted glass screen that separates the balconies of this hotel near the water’s edge. I love Washington Square, too, for similar reasons: again, the simplicity, the reduction of the features of the park scene in deepest winter to almost but not quite pure black and pure white. As a photographer specialising mostly in garden and plant photography, myself – click here to access my website – I’m drawn towards Melancholic Tulip, an earlier work produced during the year that WWII began in Europe. It’s not difficult to imagine the uneasiness of Kertész, who moved to New York City only three years before.

In New York City where, struggling to make ends meet he accepted a post on House & Garden. Later, Kertész began working for the fashion magazine Look and for Harper’s Bazaar , with legendary art director Alexey Brodovitch, who was previously with VU in Paris, one of the French publications, including Art et Médecine, Paris Magazine and UHU that the photographer had contributed to. In 1942, accepting an offer to work exclusively for Condé Nast, he remained with the company until 1963. That year, on a trip to Paris Kertész discovered a large number of his old negatives that fired his enthusiasm to begin experimenting again, bringing him much wider recognition and international recognition. His work has appeared in numerous books and in exhibitions around the world.

André Kertész, most certainly a great photographer, was awarded the Legion of Honour by the French government in 1983 and died on 28th September 1985, leaving an archive of 100,000 negatives.

Images above from top:
Melancholic Tulip New York, 1939
Gelatin silver print. Printed c. 1980. Courtesy Bruce Silverstein Gallery

Martinique January 1st 1972
Gelatin silver print. Vintage print. Courtesy Attila Pocze, Vintage Galéria, Budapest, Hungary

Washington Square
January 9th, 1954
Gelatin silver print. Vintage print. Collection of Leslie, Judith and Gabrielle Schreyer

Also showing
Eyewitness: Hungarian Photography in the 20th Century,
Brassaï, Capa, Kertész, Moholy-Nagy, Munkácsi
Royal Academy, London, UK. Until 2nd October 2011

Are you familiar with Kertész’s work?
What do you see as its merits?

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Photography | Outta Sight

Thursday, June 9th, 2011


Night Vision: Photography After Dark

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City,USA, until 18th September, 2011

As I child I was scared of the dark, of the imaginary and the real that lurked within it. So afraid was I that every night I slept with the blankets pulled up over my head and risked a spanking as punishment for wetting the bed that was my sanctuary. Then I grew up. Then I went to pubs, followed by nightclubs and often found myself walking home – sometimes staggering more than a little, in an advanced state of inebriation – the eight miles or so from the city to where I lived. The darkness in the city never frightened me. If I became detached from the crowd I had begun the evening with, comforting noises seeping out from the bars and clubs – American soul music (Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye), British rock (David Bowie, Roxy Music) – and looking in through the plate glass windows of the bustling open-late eateries let me know that I was not alone. The further I walked, the more the lights dimmed, the less I could see, the more the familiar ghosts from my childhood reared up from the dark shadows that gradually grew and deepened around me. Once, at around 2 am, a friend took me via a short cut that reduced our walking time by about five minutes. He had not mentioned beforehand that it passed through a graveyard. He was not letting on but I knew he was as afraid as I was. Then all at once we started singing: She says baby ev’rything is alright, uptight, out of sight. Baby, ev’rything is alright, uptight, clean out of sight. And, well, it somehow just was…
©Pedro Silmon 2011

Highlights of the Met’s exhibition include classic 20th Century, black and white, night photography by Berenice Abbot, Bill Brandt, Brassaï,Robert Frank, André Kertész, William Klein, Weegee and Diane Arbus, among many others.

Image above by Sid Grossman (American, 1913–1955)
Image title:
Mulberry Street, 1948
Gelatin silver print. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1990 (1990.1139.2). © Estate of Sid Grossman/Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, NYC

Are you frightened of the dark?
Do you want to tell us about it?

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