Pop Art – Perhaps Not So Bright…

After World War II, a sense of optimism prevailed as the United States and Britain enjoyed a remarkable period of economic and political growth. (1) Middle class Americans moved into affordable, mass-produced homes in the suburbs and television became more popular than radio. Mass communication began to saturate homes in the industrialized world. (2)

In Britain, by the late 1950s and early 1960s, artists and thinkers began to rebel against a dull and stifling world bound by social conformity. Looking to the United States, these artists saw “a more inclusive youth culture that embraced the social influence of mass media and mass production.” (3)

Inevitably, a cultural revolution gained momentum, as mass media streamed major events into living rooms around the world. Pop art emerged during the turbulent times of the Vietnam War and the protests it incited, the Civil Rights Movement and its call for equality of African Americans and the women’s liberation movement. (4)

Pop artist’s based “their techniques, style, and imagery on certain aspects of mass reproduction, the media, and consumer society, these artists took inspiration from advertising, pulp magazines, billboards, movies, television, comic strips, and shop windows. These images, presented with (and sometimes transformed by) humor, wit, and irony, can be seen as both a celebration and a critique of popular culture.” (5)

Richard Hamilton’s compelling collage of 1956, Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing?, is crammed with all the new consumer products from the United States. On the surface it is a playful and naïve work, however, as Fiona MacCarthy writes, “at a more profound level it is horribly disquieting. No other work of art of its period expresses so precisely the jarringly ambivalent spirit.” (6) Hamilton’s disdain towards the dominance of America’s consumer culture is abundantly clear in his work.


Richard Hamilton, Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing? 1956.

Andy Warhol saw American society as a world of ready-mades. He once famously wrote, “All cokes are the same, and all cokes are good.” (7)


Andy Warhol, Green Coca-Cola Bottles, 1962.

Warhol liberated the art world and attitudes towards art radically shifted. It was the ideas behind Warhol’s art that makes him significant. Warhol was saying that Twentieth century America is about this, it is about movie stars, Brillo boxes, Coca-Cola and Campbell’s soup. His art dealer Ivar Karp said, “In this thing orientated world, Andy was a kind of God. America is a thing orientated culture, it’s a culture of objects and we bow down to that God everyday. Andy produced the artifacts. Andy gave us what we bow down to, things, movie stars, boxes, the American dream and life and finally death.” (8)

MarilyndiptychAndy Warhol, Marilyn Diptych, 1962.


Andy Warhol poses with his series of prints titled The Brillo Boxes at the Tate Gallery in London on February 15, 1971.

Warhol’s images are contrary to the heroic images of the Abstract Expressionists. On the surface there is a sense of buoyancy and optimism in Warhol’s work. It is glossy and bright, like the products that line supermarket shelves. However, there is also an unsettling quality. For instance, Warhol used a newspaper image of an empty electric chair in 1963 and returned to the subject of the death penalty for the next decade. A disturbing metaphor for death, “the chair, and its brutal reduction of life to nothingness, is given a typically deadpan presentation by Warhol.” (9)

Electric Chair 1964 by Andy Warhol 1928-1987

Andy Warhol, Electric Chair, 1964.

In the aftermath of John F Kennedy’s assassination, Warhol scoured newspapers and magazines for images of his wife, Jackie Kennedy. Warhol used eight photographs in his series ranging from Jackie arriving in Dallas to attending her husband’s funeral three days later. Warhol said that what bothered him the most was the way the media was “programming everybody to feel so sad.” (10) Echoing his sentiments, Alastair Sooke writes,The serial nature of the Jackie portraits – the way the images are repeated over and over again – is a metaphor for how the news media can work: bludgeoning its audience with a finite set of pictures and words, until we are “programmed” to think and feel a certain way.” (11)


Andy Warhol, Jackie Kennedy, 1963.


1. https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/themes/pop-art

2.  https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/themes/pop-art

3. http://www.slideshare.net/jackjsargent/pop-art-photographers

4. https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/themes/pop-art

5. http://www.guggenheim.org/new-york/collections/collection-online/movements/195228

6. https://www.dlsweb.rmit.edu.au/bus/public/referencing/newspapers/dir_quotes/intext_newspapers_no_author.html

7. http://en.m.wikiquote.org/wiki/Andy_Warhol

8. Andy Warhol A Documentary http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0862644/

9. http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/warhol-electric-chair-t07145

10. http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20140418-jackie-warhols-pop-saint

11. http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20140418-jackie-warhols-pop-saint


Richard Hamilton, Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing? 1956. http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/feb/07/richard-hamilton-called-him-daddy-pop

Andy Warhol, Green Coca-Cola Bottles, 1962. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Coca-Cola_Bottles

Andy Warhol, Marilyn Diptych, 1962. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marilyn_Diptych

Andy Warhol poses with his series of prints titled The Brillo Boxes at the Tate Gallery in London on February 15, 1971. http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/remembering-life-legacy-andy-warhol-gallery-1.1893857?pmSlide=1.1893846

Andy Warhol, Electric Chair, 1964. http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/warhol-electric-chair-t07145

Andy Warhol, Jackie Kennedy, 1963. http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20140418-jackie-warhols-pop-saint

Cubism and Photography – More than Squares.

Between 1907 and 1914 Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque collaborated to create Cubism. The work of Paul Cézanne and tribal art are considered the major influences of the movement.

Cubism rejected traditional modes of representation, these included emulating nature, creating a three dimensional picture plane using perspective and foreshortening and other inherited modelling techniques. The Cubist’s in fact wanted to accentuate the two-dimensionality of the canvas. (1)

The Cubist’s reduced and fractured objects into geometric forms, they used multiple and contrasting viewpoints to capture the essence of an object or scene and they realigned these components within a shallow and relief-like space upon the canvas. (2)

Both artist’s greatly admired the work of Cézanne and in 1908 Braque imitated Cézanne’s landscapes of L’Estaque in Southern France. Cézanne painted the town often and Braque was immensely influenced by his work when he saw it in a memorial exhibition in Paris in 1907. (3)


Paul Cézanne, The Riaux Valley near L’Estaque, 1883.


Georges Braque, Road near L’Estaque, 1908.

The impact of Picasso’s avant-garde painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907 was immense. Picasso’s stylized and distorted forms were drawn from Iberian sculpture and African masks. Picasso first saw African art earlier that year in Paris at the Ethnographic Museum in the Palais du Trocadero.


Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907.


Picasso in his studio with his collection of African art, 1908.

In 1982, an exhibition called “Cubism and American Photography, 1910-30” opened at the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House in Rochester. The curators asserted that Cubism in painting promoted the formation of a truly modern photographic style. (4)

The curators, John Pultz and Catherine B. Scallen, suggested that the Armory Show of 1913, which brought modern French painting and sculpture, including Cubist works to the United States significantly influenced Paul Strand. Alfred Stieglitz considered Strand’s work avant-garde. Strand’s “close up photographs were crispy lit, dynamically composed and superficially abstract.” (5)


Paul Strand, Abstraction, Porch Shadows, Connecticut, 1916.

Stieglitz renounced Pictorialism’s painterly aesthetic and photographer’s began engaging with the medium’s “unique properties and capabilities.” (6)

In Grundberg’s article about the 1982 exhibition, he claims that the curators have failed to recognize the impact of other art movements such as Suprematism, Constructivism and Surrealism upon photography. Figures such as Aleksandr Rodchenko and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy also contributed to the new style that was appearing in photography. “Straight photography” was sharply focused, unmanipulated and unsentimental. (7)


Aleksandr Rodchenko, Composition, 1918.


Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Untitled, 1923.

More recently, in terms of Cubism and photography, David Hockney’s experiments are of interest. Hockney created a new way of making photographs more akin to that of a painting or drawing in terms of time. He writes, “A photograph is… a fraction of a second, frozen. So, the moment you’ve looked at it for even four seconds, you’re looking at it far more than the camera did. It dawned on me this was visible, actually, it is visible, and the more you become aware of it, the more this is a terrible weakness; drawings and paintings do not have this.” (8) Hockney stands in place and photographs a scene as it unfolds before him. He then joins the photographs together to create one picture.


David Hockney, “Joiner” Self Portrait.


David Hockney, “Joiner” Gregory and David.

In 1983, Melvyn Bragg’s art series, The South Bank Show, visited Hockney at his home in LA. Hockney was filmed as he created a “Joiner” portrait especially for the documentary of two women drinking tea. (9)

Watch on Youtube David Hockney “Joiners”


1. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/cube/hd_cube.htm

2. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/cube/hd_cube.htm

3. http://www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=78787

4. http://www.nytimes.com/1981/12/13/arts/photography-view-what-was-cubism-s-impact.html?pagewanted=2

5. http://www.nytimes.com/1981/12/13/arts/photography-view-what-was-cubism-s-impact.html?pagewanted=2

6. http://www.nytimes.com/1981/12/13/arts/photography-view-what-was-cubism-s-impact.html?pagewanted=2

7. http://www.nytimes.com/1981/12/13/arts/photography-view-what-was-cubism-s-impact.html?pagewanted=2

8. http://dangerousminds.net/comments/david_hockneys_cubist_photography

9. http://dangerousminds.net/comments/david_hockneys_cubist_photography


Paul Cézanne, The Riaux Valley near L’Estaque, 1883. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Paul_C%C3%A9zanne_-_Houses_in_Provence-_The_Riaux_Valley_near_L’Estaque_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

Georges Braque, Road near L’Estaque, 1908.  http://www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=78787

Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907. http://www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=79766

Picasso in his studio at the Bateau-Lavoir, Paris, 1908, Musée Picasso, Paris.               Photo Credit: Réunion des Musées Nationaux.                 https://uncrated.wordpress.com/2012/06/12/picasso-and-african-art/

Paul Strand, Abstraction, Porch Shadows, Connecticut, 1916. http://www.moma.org/collection//browse_results.php?criteria=O%3AAD%3AE%3A5685&page_number=12&template_id=1&sort_order=1

Aleksandr Rodchenko, Composition, 1918. http://www.moma.org/collection/browse_results.php?criteria=O%3AAD%3AE%3A4975&page_number=2&template_id=1&sort_order=1

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Untitled, 1923. http://www.moma.org/collection/browse_results.php?criteria=O%3AAD%3AE%3A4048&page_number=1&template_id=1&sort_order=1

David Hockney, “Joiner” Self Portrait. http://dangerousminds.net/comments/david_hockneys_cubist_photography

David Hockney, “Joiner” Gregory and David. http://dangerousminds.net/comments/david_hockneys_cubist_photography

Youtube “David Hockney Joiners.”                                     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cGtraVb_0vY#t=265

Surrealism – The Conscious & Unconscious Merges to Create a New Reality.

André Breton published his Manifesto of Surrealism in 1924. Freud’s theories on automatic writing & the subconscious significantly informed Breton’s concepts on the psychic origins of the image. (1) Rational analysis and calculated forms of exploration were rejected by the Surrealists, they were seen as blocking imagination. In the Surrealist Manifesto Breton wrote that he wanted to merge the conscious and subconscious in order to create a distinct “new reality.” (2)

Breton and his contemporaries used dreams, intoxication, chance, sexual ecstasy, and madness to access the creative powers of the unconscious. (3) “The images obtained by such means, whether visual or literary, were prized precisely to the degree that they captured these moments of psychic intensity in provocative forms of unrestrained, convulsive beauty.” (4) The Surrealist dilemma of reconciling the contradictory conditions of reality and dreams were compellingly resolved by using photographic techniques. Artists used double exposure, combination printing, montage and solarization to merge the conscious and subconscious mind. (5)


Man Ray, Dust Breeding, 1920.

h2_1987.1100.49Otto Umbehr, Mystery of the Street, 1928.


Maurice Tabard, Composition, 1929.


Man Ray, Jacqueline Goddard, 1930.


André Kertész, Distortion No. 6, 1932.


Réné Magritte, Edward James in front of ‘On the Threshold of Liberty,’ 1937.


1. http://www.moma.org/collection/artist.php?artist_id=768

2. http://www.arthistoryarchive.com/arthistory/surrealism/Origins-of-Surrealism.html

3. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/phsr/hd_phsr.htm

4. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/phsr/hd_phsr.htm

5. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/phsr/hd_phsr.htm

All Images


The Pictorialists – Photographer as Artist.

Pictorialism was an international style and aesthetic movement that legitimized photography as a fine art in the late C19th. (1) The rapid increase in travel and commerce easily transported books and publications around the globe. This facilitated the exchange of aesthetic ideas, artistic techniques and most notably actual photographic prints. (2)

For the first 40 years of photography only those dedicated to science, mechanics and art practiced it. In 1888 things dramatically changed when Kodak introduced the first hand held box camera. Kodak’s slogan, “You press the button, we do the rest.” (3)

The Kodak camera was preloaded with film that produced about 100 pictures. When the whole roll of film was exposed, the camera was returned to Kodak in Rochester, New York. The film was developed and prints were made. The prints and the camera with a new roll of film inside where returned to the customer. Now anyone could take a photograph. “No knowledge of photography is necessary,” read the Kodak advertisement. (4)


Kodak Advertisement, 1888.

Photography collector Michael Wilson observed, “Thousands of commercial photographers and a hundred times as many amateurs were producing millions of photographs annually… The decline in the quality of professional work and the deluge of snapshots (a term borrowed from hunting, meaning to get off a quick shot without taking the time to aim) resulted in a world awash with technically good but aesthetically indifferent photographs.” (5) Naturally with the advent of the Kodak camera, debates about photography as an art form or a mechanical medium ensued.

The Pictorialists denounced the point-and-shoot Kodak approach to photography and emphasized the role of the photographer as an artist or craftsman. They preferred “labor-intensive processes such as gum bichromate printing, which involved hand-coating artist papers with homemade emulsions and pigments, or they made platinum prints, which yielded rich, tonally subtle images.” (6)

In terms of style, Pictorialists would manipulate or “create” a photograph rather than just recording a scene. Pictorialists veered away from documentation of everyday life and composed images imbued with a sense of drama and fantasy. Generally, a Pictorialist photograph lacks sharp focus and due to the hand coated papers, brush strokes appear on the surface creating a painterly quality to the image.

Stieglitz-SpringShowersAlfred Stieglitz, Spring Flowers, The Coach, 1902.

Steichen_flatironEdward Steichen, Flatrion Building, 1904.


Alvin Langdon Coburn, Spiderwebs, 1908.


Clarence H. White and Alfred Stieglitz, Torso, 1907.


Clarence H. White, Nude, 1908.

Clarence_H_White-RaindropsClarence H. White, Raindrops, 1903.


1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pictorialism

2. ibid.

3. ibid.

4. ibid.

5. Wilson, Michael and Reed, Dennis. Pictorialism in California: Photographs 1900–1940. Malibu: Getty Museum, 1994, p.1.

6. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/pict/hd_pict.htm#slideshow7

All Images


Susan Norrie – Our World Precariously Oscillating Between Beauty & Exploitation.

Susan Norrie’s installation Undertow (2002) combines six projections of varying sizes depicting provocative imagery of natural and man-made disasters which are compellingly accompanied by a haunting and mesmerising soundtrack composed by Robert Hindley. Norrie’s shift in practice to installation is interestingly characterised by Lynn who writes of “the artist’s resolution to distinguish herself within the male dominated history of art.” (1)

Norrie’s practice has developed significantly from her early years as a painter. Over the past decade Norrie’s ambitious installations incorporate painting with still imagery and video projections, sound and sculpture. This shift in the artist’s practice also coincides with a change in focusing on cramped interior spaces to vast exteriors. (2)

Norrie’s keen interest in history, especially that relating to women, the differences between appearances and reality and her Surrealist experiments with form accompany her explorations. Looking at things in different ways creates multiple perspectives enabling “parallels and resonances [to] emerge.” (3)

Norrie’s use of video alludes to cinema & its opposing elements of reality & appearances. in the darkened space of her installations the images projected are at once disturbing and uncanny for the viewer, are these scenes real or constructed? “Norrie’s depiction and implementation of the uncanny is there partly to create a specific emotional effect in the viewer but also to stimulate the viewer into thinking differently and thinking politically about the terrible problems that beset the planet in the twenty-first century.” (4) Creed suggests that even though Norrie’s vision is bleak, she still offers us the conciliation that history can be changed. (5)

The following excerpt from Rachel Kent’s essay ‘Susan Norrie: Painter of Darkness and Light’ is perhaps the artist’s incessant mantra;

We must convince each generation that they are transient passengers on this Earth. It does not belong to them. They are not free to doom generations yet unborn. They are not at liberty to erase humanity’s past nor dim its future. (6)

(Element 1)


Film Still from ‘Undertow.’

Norrie offers a sense of blind faith in Element 1. A child carried on her father’s shoulders walking through archways of cherry blossoms in Japan. Yet the blossoms bloom earlier each year due to the devastating effects of global warming. Tunnicliffe writes, “In Undertow the damage wrought by human error and the destructive power of nature echo each other, each feeding from the others potential for catastrophe.” (7)

(Element 2)

The imbalance between the economic gains of mining natural resources & the repercussions upon nature are devastating in Element 2. A bird struggles, saturated in a sea of oil, eventually dying with a lethal injection. (8)

(Element 3)


Film Still from ‘Undertow.’


Video clip from ‘Undertow.’

The engrossing Element 3, begins with a somewhat bucolic landscape that pans across a forest scene that begins to fill with fire and chemical fumes as trees burn in a rage. Tunnicliffe writes that Element 3 is the most painterly, drawing from the history of painting and its effects on film directors. (9) “The terrible beauty of these images is of a degraded and literally polluted sublime, of the vision of the Romantics blasted apart into a wasteland of ruined nature rather than the ruins and remnants of human endeavour in a awe-inspiring and timeless landscape.” (10)

In another sequence, haunting images of the dust storm that enshrouded Melbourne in 1983. Over two million tonnes of eroded soil, due to poor land management, was gathered up in a wind storm and choked the streets of Melbourne blocking out the sun. (11) Norrie’s footage is ominous as the dust surges turning day to darkness.


William Turner, Hannibal and His Army Crossing the Alps, 1812

Tunnicliffe suggests the tumultuous Melbourne sky is reminiscent of William Turner’s Hannibal and His Army Crossing the Alps, 1812 and the hazy forest alludes to Caspar David Friedrich’s, The Cross and the Cathedral in the Mountains, 1812. (12) But unlike these eighteenth century examples of nature & the sublime, Norrie’s work reminds us that we have neglected nature in favour of the economic gains such degradation costs.


Caspar David Friedrich’s, The Cross and the Cathedral in the Mountains, 1812.

(Element 4)

In Element 4 scientists in protective clothing release a balloon into the atmosphere to measure gases that are destroying the ozone. (13) Science has broadened our knowledge of the issues but it seems futile considering no tangible objectives will ever be implemented to create stability between economics and environmental protection.

(Element 5)


Installation shot of Rotorua mud pools.

The scale of Element 5 is intimately smaller. The bubbling mud pools of Rotorua, New Zealand are at once therapeutic in nature & ominous considering such geothermal activity occurs near the Earth’s fault lines. The thick, oozing mud & sulphurous vapour that emanates sits heavy in the air and the geysers that erupt from the earth’s core create an other worldliness.

Kent writes, “The image of uncontrolled nature refers back to humanity- this time impelled by the desire to harness and exploit nature’s resources, yet powerless against its raw force. As the artist observes: ‘I have always been fascinated by the contradictory forces of nature, its illusive beauty and potential violence.” (14)

(Element 6)

The development of Norrie’s practice is apparent in the final element in Undertow. Norrie cites Orson Welles’ adaptation of Kafka’s, The Trial, 1962 as an example of the hopeless efforts individuals face when dealing with bureaucracy. (15)


Film Still from ‘The Trial.’


Film trailer for ‘The Trail.’

In Undertow, video projections & sound represent a world that oscillates between beauty & exploitation. Disturbing natural & unnatural events overwhelm the viewer. Images of cherry blossom blooming early due to global warming, festering & erupting mud pools, billowing dust storms and scientists conduct experiments that seem futile in the face of such events. Within a darkened exhibition space, lit only by the six screens, Norrie slows the footage down. This, and Hindley’s accompanying soundtrack creates a strangely meditative, dreamy atmosphere.


1. V Lynn, ‘Laminae,’ in Susan Norrie, Exhibition Catalogue AGNSW, Sydney, 1994-1995, p. 9.

2. R Kent, ‘Susan Norrie: Painter of Darkness and Light,’ in Susan Norrie: Notes from the Underground Exhibition Catalogue MCA, Sydney, 2003, p. 6.

3. ibid.

4. B Creed, ‘Susan Norrie,’ in Biennale of Sydney 2004 Exhibition Catalogue, p. 158.

5. ibid.

6. Kent, op. cit., p. 4.

7. W Tunnicliffe, Susan Norrie, Undertow Exhibition Catalogue, 2003, p. 3.

8. ibid., p. 2.

9. ibid., p. 1.

10. ibid.

11. ibid.

12. ibid.

13. ibid., p. 2.

14. Kent, op. cit., p. 5.

15. T Smith, ‘Selective Memory,’ in Archives and the Everyday Exhibition Catalogue, p. 3.


Cherry Blossom film still http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/266.2003/

Burning Forest film still  http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/266.2003/

‘Undertow,’ (Element 3) film clip http://vimeo.com/47810310

William Turner http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Joseph_Mallord_William_Turner_081.jpg

Casper David Friedrich http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Caspar_David_Friedrich_-_The_Cross_in_the_Mountains_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

Installation shot of Rotorua mud pools http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/266.2003/

‘The Trial’ film still http://thequietus.com/articles/10132-the-trial-orson-welles-50-years-on

Kiki Smith – “Uncommon Beauty.”


Kiki Smith, Born, 2002, Bronze.

Kiki Smith investigates the human experience and draws from a variety of artistic expressions. “Since she emerged in the early 1980s, Smith has been a fascinating and inventive presence. Her provocative meditations on the human body and the realms of myth, spirituality, nature, and narrative have resulted in works of extraordinary power and uncommon beauty.” (1) Smith’s practice also references her extensive knowledge of art history but instead of using the female form as the subject of her art, she uses the feminine as the object. The body is a “receptacle for knowledge, belief, and storytelling.” (2) In the 1990s Smith began engaging with feminine archetypes, from the biblical through to cultural mythology and fairy tales. (3) Unlike her predecessors, Smith weaves these stories together and invites new narratives & interpretations. (4)


Kiki Smith, Lilith, 1994, Bronze with glass eyes, 80 cm x 68 cm x 44 cm

6613911795_4f2007f542_zAt The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Smith’s bronze sculpture, Lilith 1994, was cast from a live model that crouched on the floor. Lilith was Adam’s first wife, but she infamously abandoned him and ran away to the Garden of Eden. Lilith refused to submit to a subordinate role and is therefore considered a symbol of feminine strength. (5) But according to Hebrew lore, Lilith is depicted as a night demon. Smith converges these narratives and displays the sculpture upside down clinging to the wall, her glass eyes eerily peer down at the viewer. (6)


Glass Eyes.

images-1Kiki Smith, Pietà, 1999, Printer’s ink, ink and graphite on joined paper, 140 cm × 77 cm

Smith’s Pieta drawings depict the grieving artist cradling her dead cat. The intimate self-portraits mimic the history and traditions of the Pieta in both title and composition. (7) The drawings further explore Smith’s resounding themes of human experience: death and the fragility of life.


Michelangelo, Pietà, 1498–1499, Marble, 174 cm X 195 cm

Smith uses fairy tales like, Little Red Riding Hood, as a metaphor to express her perturbed feelings about the feminist experience in patriarchal culture. (8) Smith’s monumental sculpture, Rapture 2001 depicts the macabre scene when the woodcutter saves the grandmother and the young girl from the wolf. Yet, a life-sized woman steps out of the stomach of a dead wolf that is lying on its back in Smith’s bronze sculpture. Smith explores the idea that the tale is inherently violent and that critics have interpreted it as a symbolic parable of rape. (9) On Smith’s work Langer writes, “The challenge here is not to make bad literary picture but rather to create counter-narratives that are dramatic, sometimes reckless, many times vulgar, and above all strange. These images are self-consciously primitive with their swelling contours, violent, intensely personal touches of color, and successive layers of strokes and lines cutting into the surface.” (10)


Kiki Smith, Rapture, 2001, Bronze,


1. Walker Art Center, Collections > Kiki Smith, accessed 15 March 2013 <http://www.walkerart.org/collections/artists/kiki-smith>

2. PBS, Art in the Twenty-First Century, accessed 15 March 2013, <http://www.pbs.org/art21/artists/smith/index.html>

3. Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., 2005, Kiki Smith: A Gathering, 1980-2005, accessed 15 March 2013, <http://www.tfaoi.com/aa/6aa/6aa177.htm>

4. ibid., p. 8.

5. ibid., p. 4 & 7.

6. ibid., p. 7.

7. ibid., p. 9.

8. C Langer, review of W Weitzman’s ‘Kiki Smith: Prints, Books & Things’, Woman Art Journal Vol. 26, No.2 (Autumn, 2005 – Winter, 2006)

9. Bonner S, Visualising Little Red Riding Hood, London’s Global University, 2009.

10. Langer, op. cit., p. 56.


Born <http://art160sxu.blogspot.com.au/2010/04/kiki-smiths-born.html>

Lilith <http://blog.sfmoma.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/lilithone.jpg>

Lilith <http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7156/6613911795_4f2007f542_z.jpg>

Lilith <http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2176/2445591969_952ec4974a.jpg>

Pieta <http://whitney.org/image_columns/0004/8838/2001.151_smith_imageprimacy_compressed_600.jpg>

Rapture <http://24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_ly9a5fTvxW1qbo39mo1_1280.jpg>

Jean-Martin Charcot – Capturing the Mind.


Régnard, “Lethargy. Contraction of the stern-mastoidian frontal muscles,” Iconographie, vol. III.

There were approximately four thousand women patients hospitalised at The Salpetriere when Jean-Martin Charcot began working there in 1863. The patients were, “female paupers, vagabonds, beggars, ‘decrepit women,’ ‘old maids,’ epileptics, ‘women in second childhood,’ ‘mishappen and malformed innocents,’ incorrigible women-madwomen.” (1)

francis-galton-2Composites Male Portraits of Criminals Convicted of Murder, Manslaughter or Crimes of Violence.

During the late Nineteenth century, photography was synomonous with authenticity. The body was institutionalized by Francis Galton in 1882, who produced composites of criminal and ethnic types. Alphonse Bertillion also devised a scheme in 1879 of measuring and auditing the body. Charcot was the leading neurologist of the time and Freud’s mentor. (2) He described The Salpetriere as, “a living museum of pathology.” (3)

iii_c_138Alphonse Bertillion, Poster of Physical Features, Musée des Collections Historiques de la Préfecture de Police

Charcot desired to capture what cannot be seen; the inner workings of the mind. Charcot systematically employed photography to capture the experience of hysteria, “thus demiystify it- for science, for fame, and for the “hysterics” themselves.” (4) He “used photography to visually represent a disease that defied anatomy and, thus, physical examination.” (5)

Charcot’s standardized images of the women are, “like phosphorescent specimens pinned in velvet boxes.” (6) The women are subjected, made subject and alienated through visual representation. They are forced to participate in constructing the image. Didi writes of the contrived staging and repetition of certain poses that represented different psychological illnesses. Charcot and his assistants were accused of coaching patients to perform, so he began focusing on symptoms that couldn’t be rehearsed. When a new symptom was discovered it was reproduced in the hospital’s photo studio for the scrutiny of Charcot’s gaze. (7)

In Lethargy, the woman is in the lethargic phase where the phenomenon of neuromuscular hyper-excitability is at its peak. (8) She is being touched by an instrument in order to trigger a response from the muscle; the muscle basically contracts. The reaching into the “dark chamber,” (9) the supposed “hand of God,” is reminiscent of Chris Marker’s imagery in La Jatee, where scientists perform experiments upon the male protagonist which will either result in insanity or death.


La Jetee Film Still, Directed by Chris Maker.


1. G Didi-Huberman, Invention of Hysteria: Charcot and the Photographic Iconography of the Salpetriere, Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2003, p. 13.

2. U Baer, Spectral Evidence: The Photography of Trauma, Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2002, p. 26.

3. Didi-Huberman, op.cit., p. 13.

4. U Baer, op.cit., p. 14.

5. ibid., p. 30.

6.  ibid., p. 16.

7.  ibid., p. 31.

8. Didi-Huberman, op.cit., p. 96.

9. U Baer, op.cit., p. 35.


Lethargy G Didi-Huberman, Invention of Hysteria: Charcot and the Photographic Iconography of the Salpetriere, Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2003, p. 201.

Francis Galton http://tejiendoelmundo.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/francis-galton-2.jpg

La Jetee film still http://sensesofcinema.com/2000/feature-articles/jetee/

C19th Mortuary Photography – The Illusion of Sleep.

Postmortem Photograph of a Child

Postmortem photograph of unidentified child. Harrison, Lock Heaven, Pa., ca. 1890-1910. Tinted gelatin silver print on cardboard mount, carte de visite. Courtesy, Center for Visual Communication, Mifflintown, Pa.

The enduring tradition of painted mortuary portraits precedes Nineteenth century mortuary photography. Jay Ruby writes, “The association of death and sleep is as old as Western culture itself. In classical Greece, the sons of the night were Hypnos, god of sleep, and his twin, Thanatos, god of death.” (1)

The denial of death was a pictorial convention that prevailed during the Nineteenth century. “People did not die. They went to sleep.” (2) The “last sleep” was a popular theme in mortuary photography because it beautified death by creating the illusion of sleep. With the high infant mortality rates during this time, mourning was a normal part of life. Memorialising the deceased was common and mortuary photographs were often displayed in the home.

A photograph retained the memory of the deceased and was also a lasting reminder that we have no power over death, a memento mori. The young boy (pictured above) is dressed in his Sunday best and it was probably the first and last time he was photographed. The photographer has adhered to the prevailing ideology of the day, and the boy appears to be sleeping. The photograph is a carte de visite, a small photograph that was relatively inexpensive to produce. The carte de visite was hugely popular and people would collect, trade or send them to loved ones. I cannot help asking whether his mother still carried him, even after his death, in her pocket.


1. J Ruby, Secure the Shadow: Death and Photography in America, Twelvetrees Press, 1990, p. 63.

2. ibid.


J Ruby, Secure the Shadow: Death and Photography in America, Twelvetrees Press, 1990, p. 66.

Eadweard Muybridge – Inventor, Photographer, Traveller, Murderer..

The Magic Image describes Eadweard Muybridge as an, “Inventor, traveller, photographer, murderer…” he shot and killed his wife’s lover. (1)


Jean Louis Théodore Géricault, The Epsom Derby, 1821, Oil on canvas, 92cm X 122cm

A former governor of California, Leland Stanford, commissioned Muybridge to settle the dispute over whether a trotting horse, ever had all four of its feet off the ground. The artist at the time believed it was an impossible task. (2) With the support of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Muybridge produced over 100,000 images of humans and animals in motion. Muybridge arranged twelve cameras beside the track, “Strings attached to electric switches were stretched across the track; the horse, rushing past, breasted the strings and broke them, one after the other; the shutters were released by an electromagnetic control, and a series of negatives made.” (3)


Eadweard Muybridge, First published in Animal Locomotion in 1887. Collotype.


Horse galloping animated.


Eadweard Muybridge, Plate 766, First published in Animal Locomotion in 1887. Collotype.

The results were astounding and proved that a galloping horse did at some point have all four feet off the ground. But not in the way that Jean Louis Théodore Géricault’s, The Epsom Derby had depicted. Muybridge had captured what the eye alone could not distinguish. The compilations of his studies greatly influenced artists and the advancement of industrial and scientific photography.

His inventiveness “nearly led to the invention, not just of the ‘movies’, but of the ‘talking picture’ itself. (4) The pictures in strips could be viewed in a zoetrope, which twirled the images, merging them so quickly that it produced the illusion of motion. In 1880 he projected his pictures onto a screen at the California School of Fine Arts, using a device he invented called a zoogyroscope. 


Zoetrope advertisement.


1. C Beaton, G Buckland, The Magic Image, Little, Brown & Company, 1975, p. 76.

2. B Newhall, The History of Photography, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1982, p. 119.

3. ibid.

4. A Scharf, Pioneers of Photography, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, 1975, p. 141.


Vultures flying http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Animal_locomotion._Plate_766_(Boston_Public_Library).jpg

Jean Louis Théodore Géricault file:///Users/skontos/Desktop/File:Théodore%20Géricault%20-%20The%20Epsom%20Derby%20-%20WGA08637.jpg%20-%20Wikipedia,%20the%20free%20encyclopedia.webarchive

Horse jumping http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Muybridge_horse_jumping_1.jpg

Horse galloping animated http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Muybridge_horse_gallop_animated.gif

Zoetrope advertisement http://www.thebigcamera.com.au/Zoetrope.html



Fredrick Holland Day – Seven Words in Seven Days in Seven Photographs.

Fredrick Holland Day

Fredrick Holland Day, The Seven Words, 1898Platinum print, each image 13.3 X 10.8 cm.

Born in Massachusetts, Fredrick Holland Day, was considered an eccentric of wealthy means. He was the first to recognize the work of John Keats. Before he died in 1933, Day donated his immense “collection of Keat’s letters, manuscripts and first editions that [was] the finest harvest of Keatsiana in existence,” to the poet’s museum in Hampstead. (1)

Day recognized the efforts of Alfred Stieglitz and the Photo-Secession group in its fight for photography to be recognized as an art form. In order to prove that photography could compete with painting, Day decided to portray the last seven days of Christ’s life.

Fredrick Holland Day  Fredrick Holland Day

Every detail was taken into consideration. Clothing and sandals were meticulously made. Day starved himself for a year and let his hair and beard grow so that he could pose as Christ. He photographed for three months during the summer and made hundreds of platinum negatives.

“When the results- printed on terracotta-coloured paper… were secretly shown to a few privileged friends, the response was enthusiastic. Steichen even wrote: ‘Few paintings contain as much that is spiritual and sacred in them.'” (2)  Day was also concerned with the presentation of the work and designed the frame for The Seven Words. (3)

Bernini  teresa ecstasy bernini saint st theresa  Bernini

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, 1647–1652, Marble, 150 cm.

The images are haunting. This was partially achieved by the uncorrected lens Day used which was made by the Boston firm, Pinkham and Smith. It “produced a sharp image with a halo around the highlights.” (4)  Day’s expression is reminiscent of Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Teresa, (1647-52). It is a dichotomous awe-inspiring agony and painful ecstasy. Scholars now see the work as a coupling of religious subject matter with an eroticism of the male body. This sexualization of the body of Christ is also imbued with homoerotic themes.

In 1904 a fire destroyed Day’s great collection of negatives and prints. After the fire Day ceased making photographs. In 1917, he retreated to his bed, remaining there until his death some sixteen years later.


1. C Beaton, G Buckland, The Magic Image, Little, Brown & Company, 1975, p. 97.

2. ibid., p. 96.

3. R Marshall, Robert Mapplethorpe, Secker & Warburg, London, 1988, p. 12.

4. Beaton, Buckland, op.cit., p. 93.


Fredrick Holland Day http://www.artnet.com/galleries/artwork_detail.asp?gid=423818140&cid=237234&aid=673995&wid=426148344&source=exhibitions

detail http://www.geh.org/taschen/htmlsrc6/m197300270004_ful.html

detail http://www.geh.org/taschen/m197300270003.jpg

Gian Lorenzo Bernini http://www.google.com.au/imgres?imgurl=http://www.students.sbc.edu/oneal08/Images/Close%2520on%2520angel%2520and%2520her.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.students.sbc.edu/oneal08/St.%2520Theresa%2520in%2520Ecstasy.html&h=815&w=565&sz=87&tbnid=q0-4ytZaaf-tIM:&tbnh=105&tbnw=73&zoom=1&usg=__J0FVAPtAPP8ecQ9BX4mq7zMyJTQ=&docid=0RHHX-YHyE45BM&sa=X&ei=ICcUUYe9EYSaiAePioGgCw&ved=0CDUQ9QEwAQ&dur=420

Gian Lorenzo Bernini (detail) http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_36fIdp8zWiQ/S44VPLXY3YI/AAAAAAAABGs/QPuKlzyb8SM/s800/teresa+ecstasy+bernini+saint+st+theresa.jpg

Gian Lorenzo Bernini (detail) http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-kMMfBHH4Sho/TbnXjsIk7VI/AAAAAAAAESE/gBzMt7ee7_8/s1600/bernini-ecstasy-of-st-teresa-s.jpg