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)

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

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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.

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Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907.

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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)

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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)

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Aleksandr Rodchenko, Composition, 1918.

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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.

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David Hockney, “Joiner” Self Portrait.

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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”

References 

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

Images

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

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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)

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Man Ray, Dust Breeding, 1920.

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

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Maurice Tabard, Composition, 1929.

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Man Ray, Jacqueline Goddard, 1930.

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André Kertész, Distortion No. 6, 1932.

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

References

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

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/phsr/hd_phsr.htm#slideshow1

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)

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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)

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Film Still from ‘Undertow.’

http://vimeo.com/47810310

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.

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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.

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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)

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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)

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Film Still from ‘The Trial.’

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_7weUR0oMY#action=share

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.

References

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.

Images

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