Celebrating the Photographer Ansel Adams

Today is the birthday of American photographer, Ansel Adams. I know we’ve all seen his images, heard about his commitment to conservation… and photographers certainly know about the Zone System he championed. So today, on his birthday, let’s celebrate his art, as well as the contributions he made to the art of photography.

I’ve always been intrigued by Adams’s technical abilities with photographs. When I was in college, I even “pitched” the idea of receiving college credit to attend his workshop one summer. My instructor agreed to the college credit IF I wrote a proposal and a paper after the workshop. Her agreement encouraged me to work on a plan to make it happen. My next step was parental approval so I devised a proposal to travel to California via train, and my parents agreed. Hot diggity dawg! I was going to apply to study with Ansel Adams, albeit a short amount of time, but it was time with Ansel Adams. I was sure he would teach me the secret of great photography. Unfortunately, Mr. Adams passed before I got my plan off the ground so I was never his student – in person.

After a long absence from photography, I now find myself embracing digital photography which in many ways is like re-learning photography. Don’t get me wrong. Digital photography has a lot of benefits, but, if I’m truthful, there is a part of me that misses film photography too. I have a collection of Ansel Adams books and I am still learning from him. His methods still hold teachable moment even though the medium has changed. I would like to think he would have enjoyed all the new developments in this medium we call photography.

Happy birthday! This Zone System is for you Mr. Adams.

If you want to join the party, HERE is a video interview with Ansel Adams. Enjoy!

Photographer Edward Curtis

"Kikisoblu (Princess Angeline) of the Duwamish" — the eldest daughter of Chief Seattle. 1896 portrait photograph by Edward S. Curtis.

Princess Angeline

Today is Edward Curtis’s birthday. Edward Curtis was a photographer, who, in my mind, crossed lines into the territory of what I consider a historian, and perhaps even a photojournalist. Officially, however, he is referred to as an “American photographer and ethnologist”. I have written a blog about him before (HERE).

His (circa) 1895 photograph of Princess Angeline (above) is considered his first portrait of a Native American. The rest, as the saying goes, is history. What intrigues me about his story is his dedication and determination. He literally gave up everything to pursue this passion of documenting Native Americans in a time when it was illegal for Native Americans to practice their customs. Clearly, he saw an urgency in documenting as many tribes, as well as their customs, languages, and rituals, before their way of life vanished. I realize there is controversy surrounding authenticity, etc., but I feel there are some stunning images that resulted from his work. For example, I could sit quietly with Princess Angeline for quite a while. Then, there is the Vanishing Race where only one of the warriors is looking back. That small moment becomes a metaphor for the past and a vanishing way of life. There are so many images that give me pause and make me ponder the stories.

So today, on Mr. Curtis’s birthday, have a look-see at some of the images he created which are housed at the Library of Congress.

Motivational Monday: “Sales Don’t Make A Show”

Today is Joan Mitchell’s birthday. Ms. Mitchell was an Abstract Expressionist painter in the 1950’s who was known for her use of bold colors and sweeping brushstrokes to create paintings inspired by nature. So let’s celebrate the day with one of her quotes. If you want to read more quotes, ArtNet NEWS published a series of Mitchell quote on her birthday a few years ago. HERE is the link. (And, yes. I know she did not like white. She probably would not approve this graphic I created. I, however, love white. After all, white is the presence of all colors.)

"Sales Don't Make a Show"

Joan Mitchell Quote

Museum Monday: Museums Closed on Monday?

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I love to visit museums, especially when I am traveling. On some subconscious level, I kind of instinctively know that most museums are generally closed on Mondays. I don’t think I ever knew with any certainty the exact reason why they were closed. I just assumed that it was because they are open on the weekends and need a well-deserved day off.

Well, I recently discovered that, while that may be true, there are additional reasons, like cleaning, preparing and moving exhibits, etc. Why didn’t I realize that? I take for granted that museums are magic and the exhibits magically appear, cleaned, curated, labeled, and ready for my visit. Yeah, well, everyone has to grow up sometime, so give me a moment. I just discovered my version of Utopia and I share the same reality. Never fear! I still believe they are magical and I have a solution. Let’s start a “Museum Monday” each month, right here to pick up the slack. We will just be doing our part for museums everywhere.

Are there interesting exhibits at your area museum right now? Should those of us who believe in the magic of museums plan to visit?

Happy Birthday Vivian Maier!

 

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Today is Vivian Maier’s birthday (February 1, 1926 – April 21, 2009). If you are not familiar with Vivian Maier or her work, it may be because she was relatively unknown prior to the acquisition of some of her personal effects in 2007. Little information is known about Miss Maier. Apparently, she was an intensely private person who worked as a nanny for some 40 years, beginning in the mid-1950’s. During this time she was known to walk around with a Rolleiflex camera strapped around her neck, snapping images on rolls and rolls of film. Unfortunately, Vivian Maier did not experience the appreciation of her work during her lifetime. In fact, among the bevy of her personal effects were copious rolls of exposed, undeveloped film. Yep. The undeveloped film means that she never saw much of her own work. Clearly, showing her work was not why she did the work. So, what drove her to continue taking those photographs?

Since the discovery of the body of work amassed by Vivian Maier, her work has been exhibited posthumously and her life is the subject of books and documentary films. But, those stories and their details have been told and you can search them out.

My request for permission to share an image or two went unanswered, so you are going to have to click HERE to take a look if you are interested. However, I would like to consider some other points of view about her work. They are really more questions than answers. Here are a few questions that come to mind:

  • Miss Maier is now known for her street photography. It seems she went relatively un-noticed as she recorded everyday life, as well as current events. Maybe her anonymity was due to the Rolleiflex camera which allows the photographer to look down in the camera viewfinder rather than holding the camera up to the eye. I suspect this type camera made street photography a little more spontaneous and less obvious. Or, had she learned a delicate dance of being present without being present – very much like being a nanny who is part of a family’s life without really being family. Or, was it just a different time when photography was not so prevalent and things were, perhaps, a little more innocent and trusting?
  • She was known to be particularly fond of newspapers. Were her documentary-style photographs a type of self-assignment making her a defacto photojournalist? Or, simply a manifestation of her curiosity?
  • She captured her own image, reflection, shadow… in many of the images. Was this too a documentation of her and her life, a happy accident, or was she simply ahead of her time with the selfie revolution?
  • From what I have read, it appears as though Maier may have been a self-taught photographer. How did she learn photography? Especially after she stopped developing her film. Without that feedback, how do you know what is “working” and what is not? What area(s) need work? What is working, but could be better?

There are so, so, so many questions her story and work conjure up. Wouldn’t it be interesting to view the entire portfolio in toto, in chronological order, so you could see her evolution as an artist? Or, should we respect her privacy? What are your thoughts?

 

Happy Birthday John Singer Sargent!

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By unidentified photographer (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


American artist, John Singer Sargent, was born 162 years ago today (January 12, 1856). John Singer Sargent was apparently THE portrait artists back in the day. The photograph captures the artist in his studio. However, if you look closely at the painting behind him, you will get a glimpse at the portrait that probably brought him the most notoriety. Why this portrait? Well, the subject of the portrait was Virginie Gautreau. Madame Gautreau happened to be the “it girl” of Paris in the late 1800s. But the subject herself was not the reason the painting was famous.

It turns out that this particular portrait was quite controversial. The controversy surrounding the portrait was due to the fact that John Singer Sargent elected to paint Madame Gautreau in a dress with one bejeweled shoulder strap that had fallen from her alabaster shoulder. (I will give you a moment to GASP! and clutch your pearls!) This state of “undress” was too intimate, and apparently crossed the line, because it created quite a scandal. The portrait could not be exhibited which is why you see it in the studio. If you look closely, the artist even re-painted the strap in its proper place, but, as the saying goes, “the horse was already out of the barn”. Once you have collected yourself and recovered from the shock, I encourage you to read the book, Strapless by Deborah Davis.

And, speaking of books… if you are a bibliophile like me, I will be starting a “virtual” book club here on the website this year. I do hope you will join me on the last Thursday of the month to discuss books, books, and more books. But, until we officially kick off our year of reading, tell me what books you are enjoying (or have enjoyed) reading. (Scroll down and use the Comment box to share the book(s) you are enjoying.)

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