11 November 2018 § Leave a comment
Mid century modern is one of today’s most prominent design trends – especially in California. Cruise around say, Los Angeles or Palm Springs and you will find no end of shops and businesses offering original, reproduction or imitation mid century furnishing. Around the world decor, design and architecture reflect a renewed interest in the period.
With this significant revival comes a desire to look in more detail at this era and perhaps re-assess the major figures. Phaidon’s latest publication, California Captured is therefore a very welcome look at the pioneering architectural photography of Marvin Rand.
His stylish and precise photography perfectly captured the aesthetic of the era but Rand was much more than simply an observer – an intrinsic part of the movement he worked hand in glove with some of the period’s major movers and shakers.
Helping to shape developments in architecture from within his imagery was vital in a period where Angelenos sought a new and modern style within an optimistic and expanding city. A circle of photographers, magazines and architects brought the latest designs, themselves enabled by the latest technologies, to an eager public. The new architecture boomed and along with Rand the associated trades flourished.
Born in downtown LA he enrolled at Art Center College of Design joining a circle of avant-garde artists and designers, including Saul Bass, Lou Danziger and Charles and Ray Eames. Through this he met Esther McCoy, an influential LA architectural historian, who would help launch his career.
Rand worked with many of today’s cutting-edge architects through the key decades of the fifties and sixties, his client list a who’s who of architects past and present, including the likes of Eames, Louis I. Kahn, Craig Ellwood and Frank Gehry.
But not only was Rand active in photographing the new but he eagerly recorded the rapidly disappearing architecture of LA. He helped in restoration and preservation, spending time photographing distinguished buildings threatened with destruction.
Rand always insisted that the architecture spoke for itself. He photographed with a light hand eschewing artifice and unnatural lighting. His skill lay in spotting unseen angles and capturing the essence of any building. Unlike most of his peers he often worked alone whilst insisting on doing all of his own darkroom work which he considered of equal importance to the quality of the original image.
Remarkably it was only as recently as 2012 that his archive of some 50,000 images was ‘re-discovered’. Having been carefully organised by Rand before his death in 2009 it had remained stored away within family possessions.
Rand was amongst a small group of photographers who worked to record and promote the architecture of the period. Julius Shulman is usually the pre-eminent name but this book elevates Marvin Rand to a significant position within the group and is an essential addition to any collection of architectural photography.
California Captured by Marvin Rand is available via this link at www.phaidon.com
This post was also published at CELLOPHANELAND*
240 colour illustrations
290 x 250mm
ISBN 97807 1487 6115
1 July 2017 § Leave a comment
This post also appears on www.cellophaneland.com
Any history of photography would be incomplete without substantial mention of the famed photographic agency Magnum, now celebrating its 70th anniversary. Within its 1947 origins are both the reasons for its success and for its often rocky journey: the diverse founding group included both Robert Capa who represented the ultimate in involved photo-journalism and, at the opposite end of the spectrum Henri Cartier-Bresson whose imagery was detached and artistic. This stylistic inclusivity both made it important but at the same time ensured that members would rarely see eye to eye.
What they had in common however was a desire to break the traditional model of the photographic business – a system where the publishers had total control. Magnum Photos Inc sought to break this with a disruptive model worthy of Uber. The photographers would take control of their images, owning their rights, dictating editing and presentation and even creating content and photo-essays.
Despite the canny catch-all basis of the business – which included not only photographs but for example printing, cameras, moving images, design, studios, materials and equipment – image quality always remained high in the agenda. Magnum would always stand for intelligence in combining both reporter and artist in the photographer’s role.
The story to be told in the Magnum Manifesto therefore is formidably complex. It is one that includes the Magnum’s founding, its ever-changing membership, the business models, the personal relationships and the artistic and cultural events that shaped the whole. In an often uneasy amalgam, its constituent photographers were often in conflict and a steady intake of new members, carefully screened and slowly inducted, meant an organisation in continuous flux.
Over and above this are of course the photographs from a roll call of the best in the world in all fields – Capa, Cartier Bresson, Elliott Erwitt, Alec Both, Alex Webb, Eve Arnold and so on. Their archive is represented by a steady stream iconic and event-defining images. These not only represented what was happening in the world but often shaped public opinion and by doing so could be argued to have moulded future events.
A deep look into the organisation is therefore so much more than a book of photographs and in fact the anniversary is being marked not just by this hugely impressive book, but by a global programme of events and exhibitions.
The title Magnum Manifesto makes it clear that this is not just a photo book featuring their ‘greatest hits’ but a deeper look in to everything that it represents. The book infact takes the opportunity to display plenty of lesser known, but still impressive, works. After some introductory essays, the preface looks at the four founders at the time that they created the organisation – all working busily around the globe in a rapidly changing post war world – before dividing Magnum’s story in to three key periods.
Human Rights and Wrongs represents the period from its founding until 1968. A time of widespread unrest it was also the time of the UN Declaration of Human Rights – a proclamation with the same values of liberty, equality and dignity espoused by the agency. We see representative images of hunger, postwar Soviet Union, black power, strikes and student riots before a series of longer photo essays that look at universality – a theme that at least partly inspired Edward Steichen’s landmark ‘Family of Man’ exhibition at MoMA in 1955, where nearly a fifth of the images were supplied by Magnum.
An Inventory of Differences describes the subsequent period, from 1969 to ’89, where the focus became more on differences and otherness. We find the unemployed, deformed, immigrant, minority and marginalised of the world and memorable images like Steve McCurry’s Afghan Refugee. Portfolios include Inge Morath’s Masquerade, Philip Jones Griffiths Immigrants and Josef Koudelka’s Gypsies.
Finally Stories About Endings shows the postmodern era up to the present day. Cultural expansion led to greater ‘artistic’ output and a flowering of methods of distribution of the imagery – books, exhibitions, gallery displays and the internet. Photographers looked at what was disappearing. We see Martin Parr’s Still Lives and Colonial lives, Thomas Dworzak’s Taliban and Donovan Wylie’s The Maze.
That the Magnum Manifesto succeeds in its task is great credit to the editor Clément Chéroux who must be commended in producing something that has combined all these aspects in to a cohesive whole. We get a compelling story that draws us through the ups and downs of the organisation even whilst great historic events unfold. We also get enough stunning imagery from the great photographers to realise why Magnum is something unique and special.
An absolutely essential book on the most important photographers collective the world has ever seen.
Magnum Photos’ 70th anniversary will be celebrated with a global programme of events throughout 2017. For more information visit www.magnumphotos.com
To purchase Magnum Manifesto (at a 20% discount) visit www.thamesandhudson.com
The first accompanying exhibition is at the International Center for Photography NY until 3 September 2017 and will then tour internationally.
24 February 2016 § Leave a comment
I am usually rather sceptical about anything featuring numbered selections. Nowadays hardly anything seems to reach the pages of a magazine or a TV screen without being reduced to a seemingly arbitrary list. At best it can be of modest help where information has been distilled from something extensive or complex but at worst is simply a pointless exercise made with minimal critical judgement. The title of 100 Works Of Art That Will Define Our Age therefore aroused suspicion. How much selection was there? Was there really a nice round number? Could, or should, ’100’ just have been left off?
Numerical gripes aside this is an exceptional book. It is a formidable task to attempt to scroll forwards in time and make a judgement on how a future population will have judged art of the present day or indeed judge the art of your own era. It would also be easy to get bogged down in an almost endless series of semantic or philosophical questions but Grovier however delicately navigates this minefield with humour and skill.
He notes that Vincent Van Gogh’s contemporary view of his own ’Starry Night’ was that it was a dreadful ‘failure’ and by slipping in frequent insights such as this Grovier lets us glimpse at how the defining views of the art of the past and present are ever fluid.
We see how the artists of today continually draw from the past and how meanings flow in two directions. Great art never finishes but instead forever participates having the power to alter the art of the past as well as to influence the future.
Grover actually creates a definition of ‘Our Age’ by selecting art from about 1990 to 2010 leaving a certain amount of critical weight to have already been applied. The notorious Saatchi Sensation exhibition from 1997 already seems an age ago and a handful of works like Damien Hirst’s ‘Shark’ and Marc Quinn’s Self are naturally included. Many others like Olafur Eliasson’s Weather Project for the Tate Turbine Hall, Jeff Koons’ Puppy, Marina Abramovic The Artist is Present and Tracey Emin’s ‘Bed’ seem natural choices, neatly included in sections with titles like ‘Is All Art Nostalgic’ and ‘Can Art and Life ever be in Sync?’.
At the same time one does wonder whether the likes of Jeff Wall, Cristina Iglesias, Walid Raad, Sean Scully and Sheela Gowda really define our age. I dont think so, and it is a stretch to think that as many as a hundred works can possibly define an age. If we look back another thirty years to Pop art how far do we see beyond a handful of names like say, Warhol and Lichtenstein? Who knows even if the period 1990 to 2010 will ever make its mark on history or fade in to a forgotten mist?
However, as one progressed through the book, the pleasure in looking back at some of the great works of our era and reading Grovier’s beautifully written and insightful analyses will dissolve all doubts. It reads easily and gently expands our appreciation of works that we perhaps doubted or misunderstood. It may, or may not, in the end include the works that define our age but perhaps it is best viewed simply as an exemplary record of memorable recent art.
For more information visit www.thamesandhudson.com
9 January 2016 § Leave a comment
Our historic – and largely still current – curatorial approach to archaeological and artistic objects has been to divide and classify, to separate and categorise. This has its advantages, but those institutions like the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford where form is privileged over origin, and Tate Modern where there is a thematic approach, show that alternative strategies can be worthwhile.
By listing artworks without prejudice to civilisations, geographical location, art movements or other artificial categories it takes away the inherent divisiveness of categorisation to allow some remarkable comparisons and invites us to consider links where we had not seen them previously.
30,000 Years of Art does note a basic classification, e.g. Post-impressionism or Nasca Culture plus a geographical location, but these play second fiddle to a straightforward chronological listing. We therefore find that sharing double page spreads may be Arabic scripts and Chinese brush paintings, the Venus de Milo and a Mayan mural or a Mexican mask and an Ethiopian stele.
It is in this removal of all art historical classifications and hierarchies that to us is 30,000 Years of Art main achievement. By presenting a thousand masterworks in chronological order it shows what was being created all over the globe at approximately the same time.
The result is a remarkable insight into the interrelationships between seemingly unrelated cultures and civilisations as well as celebrating the diversity between those that may be considered similar. The resulting timeline of works leads to compelling browsing with the juxtapositions offering intellectual pleasure and a sense of wonder and discovery.
This is a book that can be a real coffee table book to be dipped in to and enjoyed at leisure, the entries simply and clearly written and easily understood. It can be usefully read chronologically or utilised as a vital reference book taking the reader on a global and historical journey, as a Chinese Shang urn stands next to a Mycenaean vase, and Michelangelo’s Slave is followed by a contemporaneous male sculpture from Nigeria.
As a research or reference book it would also be useful alongside more comprehensive texts with the arrangement responding to such questions as what were artists creating in China or Africa while Rembrandt was painting self-portraits in Leyden? How were similar subjects – the female form, landscapes, religious scenes – manipulated by artists in Han China or Medieval Europe?
Although the sequence is chronological, the selection of entries for an individual culture comprises an abbreviated history of the art of that people. Thus, while artworks from ancient Greece or the European Renaissance or pre-Columbian Americas are interspersed with contemporaneous works created in Africa, India or Japan, an extraction of the Greek or Renaissance or American works could stand alone as an essential summary of the finest art of that period or culture.
This is a volume that will deserve repeated use and surely is a compelling addition to any collection – or coffee table. Highly recommended.
For more information visit www.phaidon.com
- 30,0000 Years of Art
- 297 x 297 mm, 11 3/4 x 11 3/4 in
- 1064 pp
- 1,000 colour illustrations
- ISBN-13: 9780714847894