Friday, July 29, 2011

Werner Bischof

Werner Bischof

"The Mimi Scheiblauer School for Deaf/Mute Children," 1944

"Germany, Cologne, The Interior of a Shattered Cathedral," 1946

"Town of Hiroshima:  A Victim of the Hiroshima Atomic Explosion," 1951

"Kabuki Actor, Tokyo, Japan," 1951

"Michiko in Town, Tokyo, Japan," 1951

"Farmer, Cambodia," 1952

"On the Road to Cuzco, near PIsac, in the Valle Sagrado of the Urubama River, Peru," 1954

"School in the Forest, Otwock, Poland," 1948

"New York City," 1954

Werner Bischof was born in Switzerland. He studied photography with Hans Finsler in his native Zurich at the School for Arts and Crafts, then opened a photography and advertising studio. In 1942 he became a freelancer for Du magazine, which published his first major photo essays in 1943. Bischof received international recognition after the publication of his 1945 reportage on the devastation caused by the Second World War.

In the years that followed, Bischof traveled in Italy and Greece for Swiss Relief, an organization dedicated to post-war reconstruction. In 1948 he photographed the Winter Olympics in St Moritz for Life magazine. After trips to Eastern Europe, Finland, Sweden and Denmark, he worked for Picture Post, The Observer, Illustrated and Epoca. He was the first photographer to join Magnum with the founding members in 1949.

Disliking the 'superficiality and sensationalism' of the magazine business, he devoted much of his working life to looking for order and tranquility in traditional culture, something that did not endear him to picture editors looking for hot topical material. Nonetheless, he found himself sent to report on famine in India by Life magazine (1951), and he went on to work in Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and Indochina. The images from these reportages were used in major picture magazines throughout the world.

In the autumn of 1953 Bischof created a series of expansively composed color photographs of the USA. The following year he traveled through Mexico and Panama, and then on to a remote part of Peru, where he was engaged in making a film. Tragically, Bischof died in a road accident in the Andes on 16 May 1954, only nine days before Magnum founder Robert Capa lost his life in Indochina.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Boris Smelov

Boris Smelov

Boris Smelov biography from The State Hermitage Museum (taken from The State Hermitage 2009 retrospective of Smelov's work):

Photographer Boris Smelov (1951-1998) became a legend of St. Petersburg’s photography during his lifetime. He was a living classic who evoked veneration from all who were somewhat connected to the art of ‘photography’. Critics and professional photographers unanimously acknowledged Boris Smelov as one of the best European masters of photography. The image of St. Petersburg that he created is not only high quality photographs but, undoubtedly, the most eloquent utterance ever said about that city at the end of the last century, the utterance that can be equal to Brodsky’s poetry in its significance. His Apollo from the series of photographs of the Summer Garden sculptures is a photo of a proud marble profile of the ancient god with trickling raindrops and a crawling spider. This photo was reproduced repeatedly and became a symbol of St Petersburg culture of the end of the twentieth century, a symbol that was so rich in content and significance that it could tell more about Petersburg - Petrograd - Leningrad - St. Petersburg than the most solid collected papers from research conferences.

Creative work of Boris Smelov is a valuable and bright phenomenon of Petersburg culture between 1970s and 1990s. It is connected with Petersburg, it is dedicated to Petersburg, but at the same time deprived of local history narrow-mindedness. His works can be compared with the most artistic models of the world photography such as works of Cartier-Bresson, Doyen and Curtis.

Smelov is an artist who stands at the brink of the centuries, he is a domestic artist who at the same time stands at the level of the highest achievements of international photography displaying the connection between the relatively new art of photography and traditional art, in the first place traditional art of St. Petersburg, an international city by essence. Photography is a discovery of the nineteenth century. It changed and determined world perception of a modern man more than any other discovery. A photograph can create a consecutive chain of moments defining nervous pulse of a city life.

Each photo work is not just a simple document, it is the embodiment of what lies deep down in our consciousness and what comes only in our dreams and fantasies, for reminiscence is a form of fantasy. Accidental moments interlace with one another making an important message, a whole text about the city, its unique expressiveness that might be more whole and significant than its immutable immovable monuments. In the pungency of experiencing such moments torn out of the time flow one can feel the unique fragrance of Boris Smelov’s art, which he himself called ‘intuitive photography’. In his case intuition, however, is always accompanied by accurate and precise reckoning of intellect.

Boris Smelov did not photograph specifics of real Leningrad and it would even be perfunctory to say that he was trying to catch the phantom of Petersburg in his photographs. His Petersburg is not just a city it is a City with the capital letter. It has something relating to the City image of another great photographer, Parisian of the twentieth century Eugene Atget, to whom Smelov was very close as appeared. Unexpected angle of Boris Smelov’s photographs gives a new meaning to the familiar common places - the city is not a frozen text anymore. It enters into discussion with the spectator, communicating something new and unexpected, be it a magical light coming from the inside of St Isaac’s Cathedral rhyming with the glowing lonely window in the wall that towers above the snow-covered roofs, or tired silhouettes of random passengers against the background of Neva panorama that is seen through the windows of an evening tram.

The name of Smelov is well-known to photographers, collectors, critics and historians of photography. Today any more or less famous Petersburg photographer has not eluded his influence. This is a generally recognized fact. He was represented at various exhibitions during his lifetime as well as after his death. It is impossible not to mention him when talking about Petersburg photography, however, until now there was not a single large-scale museum exhibition dedicated to his work, not a single album dedicated only to him was published. The exhibition presented in the Hermitage is the evidence of recognition of this outstanding master whose talent is appreciated at its true value.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863-1944), Self Portrait

"Leo Tolstoy," 1908

"Greek Woman Harvesting Tea in Chakva, Georgia"

"Headquarters of the Urla Railway Administration," 1910

"Mohammed Alim Khan (1880-1944), emir of Bukhara," 1911

"Zindan (prison) in Bukhara," 1907

"Young Russian Peaasant Women Along Sheksua River Near Kirillov"

"Monastery of St. Nilus on Stolbny Island in Lake Seliger near Ostashkov," ca. 1910

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii biography from Wikipedia:

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863-1944) was a Russian chemist and photographer. He is best known for his pioneering work in color photography of early 20th-century Russia.

Early life

Prokudin-Gorskii was born in the ancestral estate of Funikova Gora, in what is now Vladimir Oblast. His parents were of the Russian nobility, and the family had a long military history.  They moved to Saint Petersburg, where Prokudin-Gorskii enrolled in Saint Petersburg State Institute of Technology to study chemistry under Dmitri Mendeleev. He also studied music and painting at the Imperial Academy of Arts. In 1889, he traveled to Berlin to continue his studies in photochemistry at the Technical University of Berlin with Adolf Miethe, who was working on color dyes and three-color photography.

Marriage and career in photography

In 1890, Prokudin-Gorskii married Anna Aleksandrovna Lavrova, and, later, the couple had two sons, Mikhail and Dmitri, and a daughter, Ekaterina.  Anna was the daughter of the Russian industrialist Aleksandr Stepanovich Lavrov, an active member in the Imperial Russian Technical Society (IRTS).  Prokudin-Gorskii subsequently became the director of the executive board of Lavrov's metal works near Saint Petersburg and remained so until the October Revolution. He also joined Russia's oldest photographic society, the photography section of the IRTS, presenting papers and lecturing on the science of photography.  In 1901, he established a photography studio and laboratory in Saint Petersburg and further developed Miethe's methods on color photography. Throughout the years, his photographic work, publications and slide shows to other scientists and photographers in Russia, Germany and France earned him praise, and, in 1906, he was elected the president of the IRTS photography section and editor of Russia's main photography journal, the Fotograf-Liubitel.

Perhaps Prokudin-Gorskii's best-known work from the time is the only color portrait of Leo Tolstoy (see above), which was then reproduced in various publications and printed for framing and on postcards.  The fame from this photo and his earlier photos of Russia's nature and monuments earned him invitations to show his work to the Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich of Russia, Empress Maria Feodorovna, and, eventually, the Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and his family in 1909.  The Tsar enjoyed the demonstration, and, with his blessing, Prokudin-Gorskii got the permission and funding to document Russia in color.  In the course of 10 years, he was to make a collection of 10,000 photos.  Prokudin-Gorskii considered the project his life's work and continued his photographic journeys through Russia until after the October Revolution.  He was appointed to a new professorship under the new regime, but he left the country in August 1918.  He still pursued scientific work in color photography, published papers in English photography journals and, together with his colleague S. O. Maksimovich, obtained patents in Germany, England, France and Italy.

Later life and death

In 1920, Prokudin-Gorskii remarried and had a daughter with his assistant Maria Fedorovna née Schedrimo. The family finally settled in Paris in 1922, reuniting with his first wife and children.  Prokudin-Gorskii set up a photo studio there together with his three adult children, naming it after his fourth child, Elka. In the 1930s, the elderly Prokudin-Gorskii continued with lectures showing his photographs of Russia to young Russians in France, but stopped commercial work and left the studio to his children, who named it Gorskii Frères. He died at Paris on September 27, 1944, and is buried in the Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois Russian Cemetery.

Photography techinque

Prokudin-Gorskii's own research yielded patents for producing color film slides and for projecting color motion pictures. His process used a camera that took a series of three monochrome pictures in sequence, each through a different-colored filter. By projecting all three monochrome pictures using correctly colored light, it was possible to reconstruct the original color scene. Any stray movement within the camera's field of view showed up in the prints as multiple "ghosted" images, since the red, green and blue images were taken of the subject at slightly different times.

The exposure time of the frames is likely to have varied, even if the developed negatives were later on similar glass plates. In a letter to Leo Tolstoy requesting a photo session, Prokudin-Gorskii described each photo as taking one to three seconds, but, when recollecting his time with Tolstoy, he described a six-second exposure on a sunny day. Blaise Agüera y Arcas estimated the exposure of a 1909 photo taken in broad daylight to have had combined exposures of over a minute, using the movement of the moon as comparison.

Though color prints of the photos were difficult to make at the time and slide show lectures consumed much of the time he used to demonstrate his work, his studio worked in publishing prints of the photos in journals, books, postcards and large photogravures.  Many of the original prints from his publishing studio have survived to this day.

Documentary of the Russian Empire

Around 1905, Prokudin-Gorskii envisioned and formulated a plan to use the emerging technological advances that had been made in color photography to document the Russian Empire systematically. Through such an ambitious project, his ultimate goal was to educate the schoolchildren of Russia with his "optical color projections" of the vast and diverse history, culture, and modernization of the empire.

Outfitted with a specially equipped railroad-car darkroom provided by Tsar Nicholas II and in possession of two permits that granted him access to restricted areas and cooperation from the empire's bureaucracy, Prokudin-Gorskii documented the Russian Empire around 1909 through 1915. He conducted many illustrated lectures of his work. His photographs offer a vivid portrait of a lost world—the Russian Empire on the eve of World War I and the coming Russian Revolution. His subjects ranged from the medieval churches and monasteries of old Russia, to the railroads and factories of an emerging industrial power, to the daily life and work of Russia's diverse population.

It has been estimated from Prokudin-Gorskii's personal inventory that before leaving Russia, he had about 3500 negatives.  Upon leaving the country and exporting all his photographic material, about half of the photos were confiscated by Russian authorities for containing material that was strategically sensitive for war-time Russia.  According to Prokudin-Gorskii's notes, the photos left behind were not of interest to the general public.  Some of Prokudin-Gorskii's negatives were given away, and some he hid on his departure.  Outside the Library of Congress collection, none has yet been found.

By Prokudin-Gorskii's death, the tsar and his family had long since been executed during the Russian Revolution, and Communist rule had been established over what was once the Russian Empire. The surviving boxes of photo albums and fragile glass plates the negatives were recorded on were finally stored in the basement of a Parisian apartment building, and the family was worried about them getting damaged. The United States Library of Congress purchased the material from Prokudin-Gorskii's heirs in 1948 for $3500–$5000 on the initiative of a researcher inquiring into their whereabouts.  The library counted 1902 negatives and 710 album prints without corresponding negatives in the collection.

Due to the difficulty in reproducing prints of sufficient quality from the negatives, only some hundred were used for exhibits, books and scholarly articles after the Library of Congress acquired them.  The best-known is perhaps the 1980 coffee table book Photographs for the Tsar: The Pioneering Color Photography of Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii Commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II, where the photos were combined from black-and-white prints of the negatives.  It was only with the advent of digital image processing that multiple images could be satisfactorily combined into one.  The Library of Congress undertook a project in 2000 to make digital scans of all the photographic material received from Prokudin-Gorskii's heirs and contracted with the photographer Walter Frankhauser to combine the monochrome negatives into color images.  He created 122 color renderings using a method he called digichromatography and commented that each image took him around six to seven hours to align, clean and color-correct.  In 2001, the Library of Congress produced an exhibition from these, The Empire That Was Russia: The Prokudin-Gorskii Photographic Record Recreated.  The photographs have since been the subject of many other exhibitions in the area where Prokudin-Gorskii took his photos.

In 2004, the Library of Congress contracted with computer scientist Blaise Agüera y Arcas to produce an automated color composite of each of the 1902 negatives from the high-resolution digital images of the glass-plate negatives. He applied algorithms to compensate for the differences between the exposures and prepared color composites of all the negatives in the collection.  As the library offers the high-resolution images of the negatives freely on the Internet, many others have since created their own color representations of the photos, and they have become a favourite testbed for computer scientists.  A century after Prokudin-Gorskii explained his ambitions to the tsar, people all around the world are finally able to view his work, fulfilling his goal of showing everyone the glory of the Russian Empire.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Willy Ronis

Willy Ronis, 1910-2009

"We do not see what is “real,” we see what we are."

"I have never separated form and content. The photo should have a meaning. But my photos are also more or less well constructed. If they had false notes, they stayed on the contact sheet."

"Vigneron de Cavignac, Gironde," 1945

"Marché aux Puces," 1948

"Cafe de France, Isle-sur-la_Sorgue," 1979

"Paris," 1952

"Naples," 1938

Willy Ronis was born in Paris on August 14, 1910, the son of Jewish immigrants from Russia and Lithuania. Ronis learned photography with his father in the family portrait studio. The business offered three primary services: portraiture, retail and retouching of prints for other photographers. A gifted draughtsman at school, he was recruited to assist in retouching portraits. Despite this early training and influence, Ronis’ primary love was music.

From the time he was a boy, Ronis studied piano and he planned on becoming a composer. His parents, however, urged him to study law instead—which he did for a year at the Sorbonne—but maintained his musical studies and paid for them by playing the violin in a restaurant orchestra. These paths were severed when his father fell ill to cancer, and Ronis had to play a greater roll in the family business.

At his father’s shop, Ronis met other photographers of his generation, including David “Chim” Seymour who would become a good friend. In the 1930’s he also came to meet Robert Capa (then known by his given name André Friedmann) and Henri Cartier-Bresson. The four of them, along with George Rodger, founded the, now celebrated, Magnum agency. By 1936, his father’s studio was closed and Ronis went free-lance, continuing with commercial commissions and beginning reportage. His bourgeoning career would be put on hold with the onset of WWII.

In 1946 he joined Robert Doisneau, Brassaï and others at the Rapho Agency. Willy Ronis was the first French photographer to work for LIFE Magazine. In 1953 Edward Steichen included his work in an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art titled Five French Photographers—the other four having been Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Izis and Brassaï. Ronis was also included in the famed Family of Man exhibit in 1955. In 1957 Ronis was awarded the Gold Medal at the Venice Biennale.

Ronis began teaching part-time in 1957, due primarily to the growing competition within the field of photo reportage. By 1968 he was teaching full time and over the next eight year taught at the School of Fine Arts in Avignon, Aix-en-Provence and Saint Charles, Marseilles. In 1979 he was awarded the Grand Prix des Arts et Lettres for Photography by the Minister for Culture.

Since 1983 Willy Ronis’ work has been published and exhibited with modest regularity. His blue-collar pastoral images of rural France and soft-spoken images of bustling Paris, primarily of the 1940’s and 50’s, have enchanted a new generation.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Gustave Le Gray

Self Portrait

“It is my deepest wish that photography; instead of falling in the domain of industry, or commerce, will be included among the arts. That is its sole, true place, and this is the direction that I shall always endeavor to guide it.” (1852)

Gustave Le Gray collection at The J. Paul Getty Museum
Gustave Le Gray portfolio at The Lee Gallery
Gustave Le Gray portfolio at Luminous-Lint
Gustave Le Gray portfolio at The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Gustave Le Gray seascapes at The Musée d'Orsay

"Boats Leaving the Port of Le Harve"

"Giuseppe Garibaldi"

"Empress Eugenie Praying"

"Soldier and Camel"

"Temple of Edfu"

"Un Effectg de Soleil"

"Zouave Story Teller"

Gustave Le Gray Auction News from Art Info:

Gustave Le Gray Sails Away With a World Auction Record for Nineteenth-Century Photography

At Rouillac's photography auction in Vendôme, France, an image by Gustave Le Gray set a world record for a 19th-century photograph when it fetched €917,000 ($1,305,000), including the buyer's premium. After a fierce bidding war, a Houston oil magnate won the beautifully composed seascape, beating out one bidder from France and another from an unspecified oil-producing state.

Four prints exist of the image, "Bateaux Quittant le Port du Havre" ("Boats Leaving the Port of Le Havre") (see above), which dates from 1856 or 1857. It measures roughly 12 by 16 inches and is an albumen print (meaning that Le Gray used the albumen found in egg whites to bind the photographic chemicals to the paper).

The ten Le Gray photographs at the sale fetched a total of €1.6 million ($2.3 million). Their provenance is very unusual, as they have all continuously been in the possession of a single family, having been collected by one of Le Gray's contemporaries, Charles Denis Labrousse. Another work from 1857, "La Vague Brisée" ("The Broken Wave"), fetched €372,000 ($529,400) — briefly establishing a world record for a 19th-century photograph before "Bateaux Quittant le Port du Havre" outshone it by fetching over twice that sum. "La Vague Brisée" had a high estimate of only €120,000.

Gustave Le Gray Biography by Malcolm Daniel of the Department of Photographs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art:

Gustave Le Gray (1820–1884) was the central figure in French photography of the 1850s—an artist of the first order, a teacher, and the author of several widely distributed instructional manuals. Born the only child of a haberdasher in 1820 in the outskirts of Paris, Le Gray studied painting in the studio of Paul Delaroche, and made his first daguerreotypes by at least 1847. His real contributions—artistically and technically—however, came in the realm of paper photography, in which he first experimented in 1848. The first of his four treatises, published in 1850, boldly—and correctly—asserted that "the entire future of photography is on paper." In that volume, Le Gray outlined a variation of William Henry Fox Talbot's process calling for the paper negatives to be waxed prior to sensitization, thereby yielding a crisper image.

By the time Le Gray was assigned a Mission Héliographique by the French government in 1851, he had already established his reputation with portraits, views of Fontainebleau Forest, and Paris scenes, as well as through his writing. Le Gray's mission took him to the southwest of France, beginning with the châteaux of the Loire Valley, continuing with churches on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, and eventually to the medieval city of Carcassonne just prior to "restoration" of its thirteenth-century fortifications by Viollet-le-Duc. He traveled with Auguste Mestral, sometimes photographing sites on Mestral's Mission list, and at other times working in collaboration with him.

In the 1852 edition of his treatise, Le Gray wrote: "It is my deepest wish that photography, instead of falling within the domain of industry, of commerce, will be included among the arts. That is its sole, true place, and it is in that direction that I shall always endeavor to guide it. It is up to the men devoted to its advancement to set this idea firmly in their minds." To that end, he established a studio, gave instruction in photography (fifty of Le Gray's students are known, including major figures such as Charles Nègre, Henri Le Secq, Émile Pecarrere, Olympe Aguado, Nadar, Adrien Tournachon, and Maxime Du Camp), and provided printing services for negatives by other photographers.

Flush with success and armed with 100,000 francs capital from the marquis de Briges, he established "Gustave Le Gray et Cie" in the fall of 1855 and opened a lavishly furnished portrait studio at 35 boulevard des Capucines (a site that would later become the studio of Nadar and the location of the first Impressionist exhibition). L'Illustration, in April 1856, described the opulence intended to match the tastes and aspirations of Le Gray's clientele: "From the center of the foyer, whose walls are lined with Cordoba leather … rises a double staircase with spiral balusters, draped with red velvet and fringe, leading to the glassed-in studio and a chemistry laboratory. In the salon, lighted by a large bay window overlooking the boulevard, is a carved oak armoire in the Louis XIII style … Opposite over the mantelpiece, is a Louis-XIV-style mirror … [and] various ptgs arranged on the rich crimson velvet hanging that serves as backdrop … Lastly on a Venetian table of richly carved and gilded wood, in mingled confusion with Flemish plates of embossed copper and Chinese vases, are highly successful test proofs of the eminent personages who have passed before M. Le Gray's lens … However, the principal merit of the establishment is the incomparable skill of the artist …."

Despite a steady stream of wealthy clients, the construction and lavish furnishing of his studio ran up huge debts. Perhaps in an attempt to alleviate these financial problems, or perhaps because he enjoyed the artistic challenges of landscape more than the routine of studio portraiture, Le Gray produced some of his most popular and memorable works in 1856, 1857, and 1858—further views of Fontainebleau Forest (1987.1011; now with glass negatives and albumen silver prints), and a series of dramatic and poetic seascapes that brought international acclaim. Despite critical praise and apparent commercial success (one 1857 review cited 50,000 francs in orders for seascapes), Le Gray was, in truth, a better artist than businessman. Nadar wrote that by 1859, Le Gray's financial backers were "manifesting a degree of agitation and the early signs of fatigue at always paying out and never receiving"; they accused him of drawing more personal income than allowed under contract, paying no interest on his loans, and refusing to open his books for inspection. The portrait business was threatened, too, by the popularity of the new carte-de-visite, small, mass-produced portraits that were far cheaper to buy than Le Gray's grand productions. Again, Nadar writes that "Le Gray could not resign himself to turn his studio into a factory; he gave up." On February 1, 1860, Gustave Le Gray et Cie was dissolved.

At the age of forty, Le Gray closed his studio, abandoned his wife and children, and fled the country to escape his creditors. He joined Alexandre Dumas, setting sail from Marseille on May 9, 1860, "to see," in Dumas' words, "places famous in history and myth … the Greece of Homer, of Hesiod, of Aeschylus, and of Augustus; the Byzantium of the Latin Empire and the Constantinople of Mahomed; the Syria of Pompey, of Caesar, of Crassus; the Judea of Herod and of Christ; the Palestine of the Crusades; the Egypt of the Pharaohs, of Ptolemy, of Cleopatra, of Mahomed, of Bonaparte … to raise the dust of a few ancient civilizations." For Le Gray, the voyage provided both an escape and new subjects to photograph. En route to the East, Dumas detoured to aid Garibaldi in his Italian nationalist struggle by returning to Marseille to collect a boatload of arms. Le Gray photographed Garibaldi and the barricaded streets of Palermo. After being abandoned in Malta following a conflict with Dumas two months into the voyage, Le Gray eventually made his way to Lebanon and finally Egypt. There he spent the last twenty years of his life as a photographer and as a drawing tutor to the sons of the pasha. He never returned to France.