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.

Feature Friday: Dorothea Lange (Part II)

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By Dorothea Lange, Farm Security Administration / Office of War Information / Office of Emergency Management / Resettlement Administration [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

We are in the second week of celebrating Dorothea Lange. Last week, we set the foundation of Lange’s work as a successful high-end portrait photographer. So, how did this “city-girl” evolve into a documentary photographer best known for documentation of rural America, agriculture, agriculture workers, and their hardships? Hold on to your virtual hats because Lange is taking us on a ride documenting rural America.

Perhaps a family “time-out” played a pivotal role in Lange’s shift to documentary photography. Lange, husband (Maynard Dixon), and their two sons relocated to New Mexico for a period of time in the 1920’s to take refuge from the Depression. During her time in New Mexico, Lange photographed many of the residents and, when they returned to San Francisco, it seems her focus had shifted from portrait photography to what might be termed “street photography”. (See: “The White Angel Breadline” (1933)) Lange began to use her camera as a tool to document and affect social change. Before long, her portrait experience also became apparent in the way in which she captured the people she was photographing. Her humanization of these people set her apart and people began to notice her documentary work. One person who noticed her work was Paul Taylor, Professor of Economics at the University of California. Eventually, Lange and Taylor married and set about the rural areas as a team for the federal Resettlement Administration (RA) documenting rural poverty, exploitation of agricultural workers, as well as the changing landscape of agriculture. The RA latter became known as the Farm Security Administration (FSA), and although Lange was hired as “typist” because that was the only job available for her at the time, her images became popular RA/FSA images which were shared with the media. Among the more popular images is Lange’s “Migrant Mother” pictured above.  This image has always captivated me. It captures the subject, Florence Owens Thompson, so beautifully. To me, it conveys her strength and beauty. Yes, strength and beauty become redundant in this instance.

I hope you will take a minute to really look at this image. Look at the tight crop of the subject, yet all the information that is contained in the canvas predominantly filled with the subject. We see her worried face. We see three children “framing” her in a sort of triangle, which is symbolic of strength. I was so captivated the first few times I saw this image, I almost missed the sleeping infant in her lap. Oh my goodness! You have empathy for what this woman and her family are experiencing, but OH! what an image. This picture is truly worth a thousand words – or a thousand adjectives at least.  I would love to hear what you see in this image, so please comment and share.

Dorothea Lange: Part 1

Edited and converted to JPEG by en:User:Moondigger at en.wikipedia - This image is available from the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID fsa.8b27245.This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information.العربية | čeština | Deutsch | English | español | فارسی | suomi | français | magyar | italiano | македонски | മലയാളം | Nederlands | polski | português | русский | slovenčina | slovenščina | Türkçe | українська | 中文 | 中文(简体)‎ | 中文(繁體)‎ | +/−FSA photo by Rondal Partridge via Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-fsa-8b27245digital scan of the original negative, 20MB TIFF file, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3948901

By Rondal PartridgeFarm Security Administration / Office of War Information / Office of Emergency Management / Resettlement Administration

During the month of May, I will be adding posts about American Photographer, Dorothea Lange (May 26, 1895 – October 11, 1965). Lange is known as one of the preeminent documentary photographers of the 20th century. Lange’s images are some of the best known, most recognizable images of the 20th century. And, even though viewers recognize the images, they may not know the artist’s name who is responsible for the images, or anything about her. I recently read Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits by Linda Gordon. The Dorothea Lange biography provided some insight into who Dorothea Lange was as a woman, a wife, a mother, an artist, a photographer, and a business woman. But, let’s start at the beginning. Shall we?

Dorothea Nutzhorn was born on May 26, 1895, in Hoboken, New Jersey. There were two pivotal events in her early childhood that played a large part in shaping her life. The first was contracting polio at the age of 7 which left her right leg and foot weak and twisted. The second event was the divorce of her parents when Lange was a teen. The divorce had such an effect on her that she eventually changed her last name to Lange; her mother’s maiden name.

As a young woman, Lange and a friend decided to travel and go on an adventure. Unfortunately, their first stop was San Francisco where all their funds were stolen. Apparently, Lange did not let this color her new adventure. She was resourceful and called upon her experience with photography to opened a portrait studio in San Francisco.  While circumstance changed her plans, over time, Lange managed to build a very successful upscale portrait studio. Her studio also became a gathering place for artists and wealthy patrons in the San Francisco community. One of those artists, was the renowned painter, Maynard Dixon. Eventually, Lange and Dixon married and had two children. Lange’s studio work became the primary income for her family.

So how did this successful business woman, running an upscale portrait studio which catered to the wealthy, high cultured San Francisco crowd come to photograph the rural environs and people after the Great Depression? Oh my, let’s discuss it next week. But until then, just ponder what she accomplished in an era when women were not encouraged to be entrepreneurs, artists, or adventure seekers.

 

 

Goya’s Third of May Painting

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By Francisco de Goya - The Prado in Google Earth: Home - 7th level of zoom, JPEG compression quality: Photoshop 8., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22615690

The Third of May, 1808, By Francisco de Goya [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Since it is May 3rd, I thought it would be interesting to look at Francisco Goya’s painting, The Third of May, 1808. I have not had the pleasure of seeing Goya’s work in person; however, visiting Spain is on my “bucket list”. When I DO visit, I am going to make a point of going to the Museo del Prado in Madrid to see this painting, as well as all the other treasures in their collection. Until then, here is a list of ten things I have read or studied about the painting:

  1. The Third of May, 1808 was painted in 1814 by Spanish artist, Francisco de Goya.

 

  1. The painting is oil on canvas measuring some 8’9″ x 13’4″ and is located at the Museo del Prado in Madrid, Spain.

 

  1. This painting is also known as:
    • El tres de mayo de 1808 en Madrid;
    • Los fusilamientos de la montaña del Principe Pio; and/or
    • Los fusilamientos del tres de mayo

 

  1. The subject of the painting was a commemoration of the Spanish resistance to Napoleon’s armies as part of his plan to take control of Spain. On May 2, 1808, there was a rebellion against the French. In retaliation, the Spaniards were massacred in the streets on May 3, 1808 by the French armies. Keep in mind, this war predated the photography process, so painters were the primary vehicle for visual documentation. Goya created several paintings addressing this subject matter, however, THIS painting has been called the “world’s first modern painting”.

 

  1. Why is this painting considered one of the first paintings of the modern era? Well, I’m taking some liberties here, but here goes:
    • The painters of this era strived for beauty and perfection on the canvas. While Goya certainly had the technical skills to paint a “beautiful”, technically correct, painting, his work in this painting broke with the tradition of technically correct perspective, etc. to strengthen the story.
    • The painting is less about beauty and more about the impact of the events that happened.
    • The painting, even the brush strokes, seem to be less about perfection and more about the immediacy of capturing that one moment, as documentation, and well as feeling.

 

  1. Goya directs the viewer by employing the use of leading lines of the hill in the background, as well as the line of faceless, anonymous, army with their weapons pointing directly at the man dressed in white shirt and ochre trousers. He also uses the lighting (referred to as “chiaroscuro”) not only to give the painting a somber mood, but he also utilizes it to make the subject the brightest, lightest area of the painting, thereby directing the viewer’s attention.

 

  1. Goya also employs the iconography, or symbolism, of the Christian faith in this painting. The most obvious being the subject’s pose, which has been compared to the Crucifixion. Additionally, if you look closely at the right hand of the subject, there appears to be a wound, or stigmata, in the palm of the hand, similar to a wound suffered from being nailed to the cross. (There are many more parallels, but I encourage you to look and read on your own if you are interested.)

 

  1. The painting may have been in “storage” for many years before it was shown to the public, and was part of the royal collection which was transferred to the Prado in 1819. As a bit of trivia, the painting has remained in Madrid, except for one relocation during the Spanish Civil War. While transporting this painting, as well as the Second of May, the truck was involved in an accident that resulted in damage to both Goya paintings.

 

  1. Goya’s painting influenced Édouard Manet (Execution of Emperor Maximillian), as well as Pablo Picasso (Massacre in Korea). Goya’s painting was again referenced as an influence in another famous Picasso painting: Guernica which addresses the aftermath of bombing during the Spanish Civil War.

 

  1. Goya’s painting possesses a timeless quality. Neither the landscape, nor the clothing is specific to a time nor location per se, which allows the painting’s message to remain as relevant today as 200 years ago.

If you are interested in reading more about Goya’s painting, here are a few resources for you. Just click on the link:

Goya, Third of May, 1808, Khan Academy

Art historical analysis (Khan Academy video)

The Third of May 1808, Wikipedia

The Executions of the Third of May, 1808, Art Museums

 

Happy Birthday Joan Miró

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Carl Van Vechten [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 The Spanish painter, Joan Miró, was born on April 20, 1893, in Montroig, Spain. He died at age 90 in Palma de Majorca, Spain. For those of you who are observant, this means his date of birth (1893) and date of death (1983) are the same numbers in different order. I am sure folks who study numbers could find underlying meaning in the similarity of the numbers, but I think there is a symmetry, not unlike the visual language of symbols Miró developed in his paintings. And, while there are certainly more learned scholars who have written about Miró, his art, and contribution to art history, this post is not meant to address this important information (but I hope it makes you curious for more information). THIS, my friends, is a celebration of Joan Miró and his art. So, strap on your birthday party hat and let’s celebrate Joan Miró.

Here are three factoids about Joan Miró:

  1. Joan Miró moved to Paris in 1920. It was in Paris where he met Ernest Hemingway, as well as fellow Spaniard, Pablo Picasso. Both Picasso and Hemingway bought paintings from Miró. Maybe it is just me, but … think about that for a minute. Now, THAT is a story my friends.
  2. At the 1937 International Exposition in Paris, Pablo Picasso exhibited his famous painting, “Guernica“. Joan Miró also had a painting, “The Reaper“, on exhibit in the Spanish Pavilion beside “Guernica”.  However, “The Reaper” was lost or damaged and a few black and white photographs are all that remain of his work.
  3. Joan Miró was a prolific painter late in life. He apparently maintained a rigid daily work/studio schedule. It was also said that he had a sense of humor (and dare I say, a curiosity) which I think shows – especially in his later work.

No birthday party is complete without party favors. Am I right? So, here are a few resources to continue the Joan Miró party:

  • A short biography video about Miró here: ( HERE )
  • An article about the 1937 International Exposition in Paris: ( HERE )
  • An article, complete with picture, about “The Reaper“: (HERE)
  • And finally, here is an article that includes a description of Hemingway’s purchase of “The Farm“: (HERE)

 

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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Everything’s Comin’ Up Clover
Digital Photograph
© 2015 SuZan Alexander

“May you alway walk in sunshine.
May you never want for more.
May Irish angels rest their wings right beside your door.”