Posts Tagged ‘Robert Frank’

Photography | Dennis Hopper’s 1960s

Friday, September 14th, 2012

Dennis Hopper – The Lost Album
Vintage Photographs of the 1960s
Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, Germany
Until 17th December, 2012

Dennis Hopper’s first major exhibition of 400 photographs from the thousands he took between the years 1961 and 1967, was at Fort Worth Museum, Texas in 1970 – one year after the release of the counterculture film, Easy Rider, which he directed, co-starred in and also co-wrote. Mounted on cardboard, without frames or glass, the small prints that he sometimes numbered on the back and to which he added brief notes were attached directly to the wall and kept in place by thin strips of wood. When the show finished everything was put into storage, tucked away in five large crates that lay forgotten and were only re-discovered after his death in 2010.

In Dennis Hopper: The Wild Ride of a Hollywood Rebel by Peter L Winkler, (Barricade Books, 2011), the author reveals how Hopper, who came from Kansas, told James Dean, while on the set of Rebel without a Cause, in which he had small role: ‘I hated my home life, the rules, the regimentation… everybody neurotic because they weren’t doing what they wanted to do, and yelling at me when I wanted to be creative, because creative people end up in bars.’ Born in 1936, Hopper would have been in his mid to late twenties when he took the images that form the exhibition at Berlin’s Martin-Gropius-Bau: Dennis Hopper – The Lost Album, none of which have been exhibited in Europe before. In the late 1950s he had left home and gone to San Diego, California to study acting. Having achieved early success, his acting career in Hollywood stalled in 1958, as the result of a serious spat with the director of From Hell to Texas, whereupon Hopper left for New York to study method acting with the legendary Lee Strasberg at the Actors’ Studio. Aside from acting, he wrote poetry and produced paintings and after receiving his first camera as a gift in 1961, took up photography.

Hopper’s photographs reflect the atmosphere of an exciting and turbulent era in the USA when America, via photographers like Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, Gary Winogrand and Diane Arbus, was re-inventing the documentary tradition. And while perhaps his work at this stage is not quite so recognisably individual or always as accomplished as that of these esteemed contemporaries, like theirs, Hopper’s is spontaneous, intimate and keenly observed: it captures an epoch, its protagonists and milieus. Many of the pictures on show are of the icons to whom he was attracted: including James Rosenquist, Andy Warhol, Paul Newman and Jane Fonda but Hopper exercised an intense enthusiasm and curiosity for everything he encountered, from street life in Harlem to bullfights in Tijuana and cemeteries in Mexico. His relentless thirst for photographic subjects led from his family to musicians, Hell’s Angels and hippies, and to his accompanying Martin Luther King on a civil rights march through Alabama, capturing the essential moments of their lives in the prints that are a fascinating album of just a few years of his own.

Dennis Hopper images from top
Paul Newman, 1964
Malibu, California, USA

James Rosenquist, 1964
Billboard Factory, Los Angeles, California, USA

Double Standard, 1961
Los Angeles, California, USA

Andy Warhol, Henry Geldzahler, David Hockney, and Jeff Goodman, 1963
USA

Martin Luther King, Jr, 1965
Montgomery, Alabama, USA

All photographs © The Dennis Hopper Trust
All photographs courtesy of The Dennis Hopper Trust

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Exhibition | Ralph Gibson’s Selective Eye

Friday, June 15th, 2012
Ralph Gibson
Camera Work, Berlin, Germany
16th June – 4th August, 2012

American photographer, Ralph Gibson’s Leda, 1974, is simply one of the most erotic pictures I’ve ever seen. But is it a game? Is it meant to be humourous? Or is it for real? The ambiguity itself is tantalising. As with many of his pictures, nothing is explained; the viewer is left to draw whatever conclusion he/she chooses. Leda was the very first Gibson image I was shown when I was introduced to his extraordinary work in the late 90s by a female photographer friend, who was already a big fan. And I could see why: glimpses of a mysterious and secret world, many of Gibson’s pictures appear to exude a close understanding of female sensuality and sexuality.

British editorial art director/curator, David King’s maxim has been described as: ‘If you can crop any more off a picture then you haven’t cropped it enough.’ Not refuting the accuracy of the description, King later clarified his doctrine by explaining that, obviously, if it’s a fantastic picture then you leave it alone, but most photographs are enhanced by cropping. As a magazine art director, myself – often praised for the skill of my cropping, reviled on the odd occasion (by sensitive photographers) for its insensitivity – I was immediately struck by the impact of Gibson’s images that are the product of his highly selective eye and absolute economy of crop. Could anyone, other than perhaps fashion and beauty photographer, Hiro, who throughout the 1960s to 1990s produced many closely-cropped, elegant images for magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar and French Vogue – have come close to the graphically succinct statement of Gibson’s Mary Jane, 1980?

Born in 1939 in Los Angeles, California, Gibson, whose work is in the collections of over 150 international museums and galleries, assisted American documentary photography icons Dorothea Lange – and later – Robert Frank before embarking on his own freelance career as a photographer in the late 1960s. He crops, as they did, as Henri Cartier Bresson, as Eugene Richards does and as most other great photographers do or have done – in camera. Like Cartier-Bresson, Gibson uses only Leica cameras and, among a long list of other, major commendations, won the Leica Medal of Excellence Award in 1988.

Gibson’s early close-ups – Umbrella and Car, 1954 – of sections of cars are reminiscent of Paul Strand’s (1890–1976) early, modernist-inspired photography – Wire Wheel, New York, 1917 – that hover on the edge of the abstract. But, whereas Strand’s images, in line with prevailing modernist preoccupations of the time, remain objective studies, Gibson’s are enigmatic, hinting at a story – something beyond the picture area that the viewer must invent, imagine for himself. In this way they come closer to the surrealist photographs of André Kertész and Man Ray. Often his female nudes – Untitled, 2008 – subjected to strong natural light, are reduced to a series of light, sensual, softly-toned areas crossed by heavy geometrical shadows. At the brink of abstraction – Torso Palms, 1973 – they hold back, and it’s at that point the viewer is forced to stop and think: is it me, or does the shape of the breasts really resemble the underside of a phallus?

Images from top
Leda, 1974 © Ralph Gibson
Christine, 1974 © Ralph Gibson
Umbrella and Car, 1954 © Ralph Gibson
Untitled, 2012 © Ralph Gibson

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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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The Opinions of Others

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

Last Thursday’s headlines informed us of the death of two photojournalists, Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, killed sadly in Libya. In August 2010, on the Peta Pixel site, Neil Burgess, head of London-based photo agency NB Pictures and former head of Network Photographers and Magnum Photos was quoted as having declared that photojournalism is dead. Burgess’s point, apparently, was that news-based magazines simply were not running great photo-essays any more. If what he said is true, without intending to seem callous, it begs the question: what were these photographers doing there?

Could the old adage: ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ in the era of Facebook – where images put up on a member’s wall reveal so much more than any hand-written letter – be more apposite than ever before. Are these pictures of themselves and those they’ve taken of their friends to be considered portraits? If it was indeed dead, has You-tube resurrected and become the new home of, albeit short-lived and disposable, photojournalism? Does this cheapen photography or merely democratise it?

Photography galleries and auction houses selling archive prints, for the most part produced by those who have become household names – on April 9th, a Philips de Pury auction of 261 photographs, where the top prices paid were for Cindy Sherman and Robert Frank prints, sold for a total of 5,802,250 US$ – have developed the output of the sub-genre into a valuable commodity. Currently though, prices fall far short of those that paintings and sculpture are fetching. Have sales peaked? Will a photographic print or an image that is intended to be admired exclusively on a computer screen ever be worth as much as a Van Gogh?

What I am trying to get at is that the world of photography has, in recent years, fundamentally changed to become an enormous, shifting, complex and often perplexing subject to try to understand, follow or find a clear basis to form an opinion about.

Not so long ago, a reliable colleague, friend or trusted acquaintance might point someone out across the room at an event and tell me that he/she is a new and interesting photographer. I might get an introduction, wander over and introduce myself  – in those days, before I became a full-time photographer, I was commissioning a lot of photography and was keen to work with and encourage up and coming talent – or the photographer might sidle up to introduce his/herself or wangle an introduction to me. Things were simpler when I saw one photographer at my office, at an alloted time, every weekday. Once I had chatted with them and looked at their work, regardless of whether I thought it was right or relevant for whatever projects I was involved with, I thought I could tell if they were any good. These days, I’m no longer commissioning but like to keep reasonably well informed. The ever-growing amount of stuff out makes it all the more difficult to make an immediate judgement. I want more information, I miss the personal contact; I find myself canvassing the opinions of others, looking not for guidance, exactly – perhaps I’ve grown lazy – more for them to have done an initial sift.

Having looked at a lot that I was unimpressed with, I have subscribed to a small number of on-line photo magazine sites and adopted them as my regular ports of call. None of them provide answers to the questions I would like to ask or forums for discussion about the aspects of photography that I feel ought to be discussed. However, by looking at their offerings and clicking on the links they provide to galleries, book publishers and photographers’ personal sites, I use these as springboards to what I consider interesting, and where I can keep informed about what is happening in photography. Currently, in my opinion, the best of these comes in the form of a daily, La Lettre de la Photographie, which, in the last few days led me to the following:

Patrick Tosani, photography 1980-2011
La Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris, France. Until 19th June

Image: Talon réf. 100-40,1987 © Patrick Tosani /ADGP, Paris 2011


Michael Thompson: Portraits,
Damiani, 2011. $65.00, 45,88 €

Image: Courtesy, Jed Root and Damiani



The Feast of Trimalchio

Le Royal Monceau, Paris. Until 25th June

Image: The Feast of Trimalchio. Allegory #1. The Triumph of America. AES+F 2010-2011. Courtesy, Triumph Gallery, Moscow

The Lives of Great Photographers
National Media Museum Bradford ,UK. Until 4th September
Featuring Henri Cartier-Bresson, Julia Margaret Cameron, Robert Capa, William Henry Fox Talbot, Weegee, Tony Ray-Jones, Fay Godwin and Eadweard Muybridge

Image: Carlyle like a rough block of Michael Angelo’s (sic) sculpture, 1867, Julia Margaret Cameron. Courtesy, The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the National Media Museum/SSPL

Do you have any favourite photography sites?

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