For the week of October 14 thru October 20, 1998  

Media of the Moment


By MARILYN BAUER
Express Staff Writer

Last week the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City mounted an exhibit of the surviving major photographs of 19th century French painter Edgar Degas. Previously glimpsed only as adjunct material in larger Degas exhibits, the assembled photographs, for the first time displayed together, reveal the artist’s probing, sensitive vision and restless creativity in a medium in which he largely has gone unrecognized.

Mounting an exhibit of this magnitude is a big step on the part of this venerable institution. Especially since until relatively recently photography was, as journalist Deborah Solomon recently observed in the New York Times, "the Elvis of the visual arts."

With the Degas exhibit, the age old question "Is photography art? seems finally to be answered in the affirmative and the second-class status of the photographic image may now make it into the dust bin of revisionist history where theories like all artists are men are thankfully relegated forever.

The Sun Valley Center, never ones to lag behind important trends, will mount an extraordinary presentation of black and white photographs Monday with a new exhibition entitled "Looking at Photography: 1845-1990."

More than 70 black and white photographs spanning the century and a half since the medium’s creation, culled from a locally held private collection, illuminates the evolution of the art through premier examples of the work of its masters.

Nineteenth century pioneers are featured including William Henry Fox Talbot whose "A Scene in New York (1845)" is the earliest image in the show. Eadweard Muybridge, represented with "Turning with Pitcher and Goblet" also working in the 1830s employed multiple cameras and fast shutter speeds to record sequential details of movement indiscernible to the human eye.

Clearly the best represented decade in the show is the dynamic period of the 1920s and 1930s. Here we find the work of Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Edward Weston, and Andre Kertesz freezing the instant – at once perception, composition, creation – and determining the aesthetic and technical boundaries of the form.

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The collection contains four seminal works by Stieglitz (1864-1946). That he waited three hours in a snowstorm to shoot "Winter on Fifth Avenue" (1893) demonstrates his belief in the importance of waiting and watching from "the moment in which everything is in balance, that is, satisfies your eye."

When he shot "The Steerage" (1907) on a Europe-bound ship, he responded to the humanity of the passengers as well as their visual configuration: "I saw a picture of shapes and underlying that, the feeling I had about life."

Famed for his hypnotic portraits, Stieglitz’s 1918 portrait of Georgia O Keeffe reverberates with his powerful feelings for her and in his series of cloud images called "Equivalents" he crystallizes what usually remains in the unconscious.

"I wanted to photograph clouds to find out what I had learned in 40 years about photography," he told Amateur Photographer in 1923. "Through clouds to put down my philosophy of life – to show that my photographs were not due to subject matter – not to special trees, or faces, or interiors, to special privileges – clouds were there for everyone – no tax as yet on them – free."

Stieglitz’s relationship with the painter Georgia O’Keeffe will be the subject of a free lecture by Sarah Greenough, curator of photography at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, on Thursday, Oct. 22, at 7 p.m. in the center’s gallery.

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Paul Strand (1860-1976) brought his work to Stieglitz for comment and learned to use the same dynamics in photography and to accept its challenge to achieve art through objectivity. Drawing attention to the abstract beauty of the real world around us, he emphasized form, design and tonal values in his photographs, whether it be in the dark looming hull of a ship, "Boat" (1920), or the lyrical silhouettes of flag, skyscrapers, and women’s hats in "Fifth Avenue, New York" (1915).

Strand pushed the medium into artistic terrain considered too difficult, cerebral or brutal to describe with a camera. His undeniable success brought photography to its maturity and Stieglitz heralded the images as the first in an incisive modern vision expressive of the 20th-century experience.

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Seventeen luminous masterpieces by Edward Weston (1886-1953) offer a compelling overview of work which sought to awaken human vision and lead viewers "to see through their eyes not with them." From close-ups of peppers, shells and trees to studies of nodes, dunes and waves these works embody Weston’s idea that "The camera should be used for a recording of life, for rendering the very substance and quintessence of the thing itself, whether it be polished steel or palpitating flesh."

In 1927 Weston became entranced with a nautilus shell and began experimenting in his studio with a variety of exposures, lighting and composition. The shell prints emerged with a power of form and mysterious inner life never before seen in still life photography. Two examples are included in this show.

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In capturing unique fleeting moments on film, Andre Kertesz (1894-1985) found the extraordinary in the everyday. A perfectly lit single flower with its drooping leaf and a precisely framed view from the Eiffel Tower or steps on Montmartre become fresh new visions to experience. His strong, spontaneous, unposed pictures exerted a strong influence on magazine photography and his photos of Paris in the 1920s and 1930s became a kind of pictographic history of an era.

Other artists in the exhibition include: Bernice Abbott, Bill Brandt, Imogen Cunningham, Edward Curtis, Judy Dater, Robert Doisneau, Gertrude Kasebier, Heinrich Kuehn, Jacques-Henri Lartigue, Man Ray and Terry Toedtemeier.

Sun Valley Center for the Arts and Humanities is at 191 Fifth Street, East in Ketchum. Hours for the gallery are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, call 726-9491.

Documentary film series

In conjunction with "Looking at Photography: (1845- 1990) the Sun Valley Center will present a free documentary film series on Tuesday nights Oct. 27 through Dec. 1. Award winning films elucidating the lives of the artists will be shown at 7:30 p.m. in the gallery. The schedule is as follows:

Oct. 27 "Strand: Under the Dark Cloth" Using samples of his exquisite work and interviews with those who knew him, director John Walker has created a unique portrait of one of the most fascinating figures of contemporary art.

Nov. 3 "Man Ray: Prophet of the Avant Garde" Born Emanuel Radinskyin 1890, Man Ray became the leader of the American avant-garde and the most enigmatic of the Dadaists who transformed the Paris art world in the 1920s. Several remarkable discoveries are featured in this documentary, including private film footage taken by Man Ran of such friends as Picasso, Paul Eluard and Roland Renrose: a never before seen video interview, unearthed in the vaults of a Rotterdam museum; and perhaps most startling, the pen and ink drawings from his student days, which haven’t been seen since 1908.

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L’Etoile de Mer (1928) by Man Ray based on a poem by Robert Desnos which juxtaposes still lives, masked faces, a woman, a starfish and Paris.

Le Retour a las Raison (1923) by Man Ray weaves together abstracted and concrete images.

Nov. 10 "Best of William Wegman" William Wegman is one of the world’s most affable subversions. This 20 minute film, assembled by Electronic Arts Intermix, is a survey of Wegman vignettes from the years 1970 - 1978. His dog Man Ray, various props and the talking stomach are featured in this compilation of Wegman classics.

Nov. 17 "Remembering Edward Weston" Weston’s clear images of common objects, vegetables, shells and other natural forms has changed our understanding of the photographic medium. This film offers a view of the artist through interviews with family members and friends.

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"Imogen Cunningham: Never Give Up" a home video.

Nov. 24 "Masters of Photography: Andre Kertesz" Kertesz claimed he was born for the camera; he reflects on his boyhood in Hungary, his life in Paris and leading a walking tour of New York City, he photographs a young girl, the Cloisters, and Washington Square.

Dec. 1 "Candy Mountain" The story of an ambitious young musician who goes on a quest to fin legendary guitar maker Elmore Silk and in his travels encounters Tom Waits, David Johansen, Dr. John and others.

 

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