• Solar Eclipse Influence

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    Digital Photography, Copyright
    © 2017 SuZan Alexander

    I didn’t have approved eye protection to view the solar eclipse here in the US today. So, I let the “eclipse mania” inspire my post- processing of a macro image of an agave plant-abstracted. I just wanted to share the fun with an “Agave Eclipse”. Happy viewing!

  • Happy Birthday Russell Lee

    By Photographer not credited. (Self portrait with timer?) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

    Russell Lee was an American photographer/photojournalist who, like Dorothea Lange, was best known for the images he captured during his time with the Farm Security Administration (FSA). Although Lee received a degree in engineering, he was dissatisfied with his career as a chemical engineer. He ultimately gave up his engineering career and began painting. It was during this time that he began using a camera as a tool to assist with his paintings. The rest, as they say, is history. I, for one, am so glad he made his way to photography. His images are among my favorites.

    I was fortunate to see the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum exhibit of Lee’s images. This particular exhibit included images Lee captured in the 1940s of Pie Town, New Mexico and its residents. I remember being so taken with his images that I went through the exhibit more than once. Although most of his images are beautiful black and white, this exhibit included a selection of images captured in color. Oh, and what colors they hold. Just look at this little beauty below.

     

    Russell Lee [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

    Happy birthday Mr. Lee!

  • Happy Birthday Käthe Kollwitz!

    Praying woman, 1892. Musée d’art moderne et contemporain of Strasbourg

    The subject of one of my college research papers was the German-born painter, printmaker, and sculptor, Käthe Kollwitz. Do not worry. I will not post the paper in its entirety. I will just give you the abbreviated version; not because it is undeserving, but because I want you to learn more about her and her work on your own. It is pretty powerful to see the work and relate it to what was happening in the world, and in her own life, at the time she created the work.

    The brief background is that Kollwitz’s reoccurring themes of the human condition categorized her art as part of the German Expressionism movement. Her work was a vehicle that confronted current world affairs. But, her compassionate depiction of these themes is what most defines her art. She articulated these themes in a powerful, yet poignant, style. However, her works did not escape controversy during World War II. Much of Kollwitz’s works, which were considered social statements, were banned due to its anti-war content. Although her work was banned, it has withstood the test of time, politics, censorship, all the things that set us apart, and focuses on what we have in common. Her work has spanned geographic borders, generations, and continues to be popular today.

    I do hope you will look at some of her work and read a little about her.

     

  • Happy Birthday Frida Kahlo!

    By Guillermo Kahlo (1871-1941) (Sotheby’s) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

    Frida Kahlo was born in Coyoacán, Mexico City, Mexico on July 6, 1907. Today, Kahlo is considered one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century. While she enjoyed some success in her lifetime, she was primarily known as the wife of another famous Mexican artist, Diego Rivera. However, since Kahlo’s death in 1954, her fame has grown exponentially and is a phenomenon sometimes referred to as “Fridamania”. But, I sometimes wonder, what do we really know about Fida Kahlo? Sure. Her image is on merchandise, people dress in her likeness, … but what do we know about her art? So, I put together a little “Top Ten” to get you started:

    1. Kahlo’s dreamlike imagery is often considered surrealistic; however, Kahlo never considered herself a Surrealist. She maintained that she just painted her own reality.
    2. Estimates of Kahlo’s portfolio are somewhere between 150 to 200 paintings. Approximately 55 of these paintings are self-portraits. This is no small feat since she was in constant pain and experience periods of time in which she was bedridden.
    3. Kahlo originally started painting in earnest during her recovery from a horrific bus accident. During this recovery period, she allegedly considered becoming a medical illustrator as a way to combine her interest in art and science. While she did not become a medical illustrator, I think many of her paintings reflect the marriage of these interests.
    4. While the majority of Kahlo’s work is autobiographical in subject matter, they blended realism and fantasy. I know everyone wants to add a label and place things in one particular box. I think Kahlo’s work is the example that sometimes, that just isn’t possible. Her genre was all her own. Her style evolved, changed, and adapted over time and physical limitations. But, the commonality is that she always seemed to remain true to her own voice. What do you think? Is her work one particular genre for you?
    5. Kahlo and Rivera shared an interest in Pre-Columbian art. Look for some of the influences in her paintings. (Here is a hint. She was particularly fond of Pre-Columbian jewelry, but there are other nods to Pre-Columbian influences as well.)
    6. Her first significant sale came in 1938 when Edward G. Robinson bought four of her paintings. He reportedly paid $200(US) each. Since her work sells in the millions of dollars now, I would say the film star had quite the eye as an art collector.
    7. The following year, 1939, the Louvre Museum purchased one of Kahlo’s paintings for its collection. This acquisition made her the first Mexican artist featured in the Louvre’s collection.
    8. Style. I suppose we cannot discuss Kahlo without discussing her personal style. Our modern term would be “brand”, but for Kahlo, it was much, much, much more than fashion, style, or brand. Sure. It was all of those things, but it was also a way to emphasize her ancestry. As another branch of her art, it also allowed her to make her own statement about feminism and anti-colonialist ideals. And, her clothing style served an additional purpose by allowing her to camouflage some of her physical injuries.
    9. Kahlo’s first solo exhibition was in April 1953 at Galería Arte Contemporaneo. Kahlo, who was on doctor ordered bed rest at the time, had her four-poster bed moved to the gallery and arrived at the opening via ambulance. Wow! What a night that must have been.
    10. Kahlo’s works are considered a national cultural heritage of Mexico, which prohibits them from being exported.

    If you are interested in getting a first-hand look at some of Kahlo’s paintings, the Dallas Museum of Art has an exhibition through July 16, 2017, which includes some of her work. This is the only exhibition scheduled for the United States, so start planning.

    Resources:

    Frida Kahlo Wikipedia

    Fida Kahlo Biography

    Frida Kahlo: Paintings, Biography, and Quotes of Frida Kahlo

    The Frida Kahlo Phenomenon at The Dali Museum, Florida

  • Happy Birthday Dorothea Lange!

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    Happy birthday to Dorothea Lange! Yes, today is her birthday and the final post in this series celebrating Lange and her work.

    The first week, we discussed Dorothea Lange’s portrait photography work, followed by her FSA work documenting migrant agricultural workers and rural America after the Depression and Dust Bowl. Last week, was an overview of her work documenting the Japanese American Internment during World War II. So, now we are moving on to the latter part of Lange’s life.

    During the last two decades of her life, Dorothea Lange experienced reoccurring health issues. Many of her health problems were lasting effects of polio, but, even though Lange was in poor health, she continued to work as much as her health would allow. Her accomplishments during this period include co-founding a publishing house that produced periodicals and high-end photography books (Aperture), photo assignments for Life magazine, traveling, and teaching at the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA). During the better part of 1964-1965, Lange focused on curating a retrospective exhibit of her work at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Months before the MoMA exhibit opened (January 1996), Dorothea Lange passed away from esophageal cancer on October 11, 1965.

    In Linda Gordon’s book, Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits, Gordon described an assignment that Lange gave her students at CSFA, which encouraged them to use photography to answer the question, “Where do I live?” If you have listened to any of Lange’s interviews or read much about her, you know she was not asking for a pedestrian answer, but rather asking the students to explore the answer on a deeper level. Apparently, one group of students challenged Lange to accept the same assignment – to photograph where SHE lived. From this challenge came the only self-portrait Lange made. However, just like the assignment, the self-portrait was not a typical self-portrait. The resulting images were of her foot which was affected by polio at age seven. Even though her foot was twisted as the result of polio, she did not seem to let it slow her down. She still managed to scale automobiles for a better photography vantage points, as evidenced by a few images of her. She was one of the most prolific photographers in the FSA, and her images were usually the most popular with the public. I chose this Dorothea Lange quote because she certainly seemed to employ this model in her own work. She used her photography as a vehicle to affect change by shedding light on current topics and events. Did her “model” work? I would argue, that even though many of her photographs were “impounded”, those photographs were recently released to the public bringing the subject to the forefront again. Her FSA work is some of the most recognized photos from that program. I would like to think that she is still affecting change decades after she originally made the images.

    Resources:

    Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits by Linda Gordon

    Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning

    Dorothea Lange Photographs – Library of Congress

    Impounded: Dorothea Lange’s Censored Photographs of the Japanese American Internment during World War II

    Photographs of an Episode That Lives in Infamy (The New York Times)

    Dorothea Lange: Drawing Beauty Out of Desolation (NPR Morning Edition)

    Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits (Dodho Magazine)

    Dorothea Lange Biography (Biography.com)

    Dorothea Lange Biography (The Art Story)

  • Feature Friday: Dorothea Lange (Part III)

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    Lange, Dorothea, photographer. Oakland, Calif., Mar. 1942. A large sign reading “I am an American” placed in the window of a store, at 13th and Franklin streets, on December 8, the day after Pearl Harbor. The store was closed following orders to persons of Japanese descent to evacuate from certain West Coast areas. The owner, a University of California graduate, will be housed with hundreds of evacuees in War Relocation Authority centers for the duration of the war. California Oakland, 1942. Mar. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2004665381/.

    Here we are in week three already. Last week was all about Dorothea Lange’s transformation from portrait and studio work, to documentary work with the Farm Security Administration (FSA). The FSA terminated Lange January 1, 1940 and completely disbanded in 1943.  Many of the FSA photographers considered their time at the FSA a highpoint of their career. This was particularly true for Lange who took her termination hard and continued to search for projects that would be like the FSA work. This week, we will discover that she used her camera to document another group of Americans whom she hoped to aid with her images. Unfortunately, her work was hindered in many ways, and many of the resulting images were impounded and stored in the National Archives. Many of these images were unknown and unseen until recently. So, let’s explore her work now, shall we?

    In 1942, Lange was hired to photograph the incarceration process of more than 100,000 Japanese Americans. Why? What did these Americans of Japanese ancestry do that would warrant incarceration you might ask? Well, they MIGHT be disloyal. So, your follow-up question might be: Why would Dorothea Lange want to become involved in such a project? Lange saw an opportunity to create a photographic narrative telling the story of what was happening to this group of Americans based solely on race. Ultimately, since Lange was required to provide all film, negatives, and prints; having no other access to her work, she did not see the resulting images from this work until 1964.

    I find this body of work very difficult to write about without inserting my own opinion. I hope you will search and read more information about Lange’s work, as well as read about the internment of Americans during this period, because, as George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. Form your own opinion. But, from a purely artistic standpoint, you should appreciate that Dorothea Lange created classic images in less than optimal conditions. She put her Guggenheim Fellowship for excellence in photography on hold to pursue this documentary work which was not made available to the public until recently. PBS’s American Masters has a documentary titled Picturing Japanese American Internment: Dorothea Lange that may be of interest.