PICTORIALISM: From Stieglitz to Curtis

Alfred-Stieglitz-Edward-Curtis-Art2

It was 1901 in New York City, and photographer Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) was busy preparing an exhibition that would shake the foundations of the art world. He had worked for years—often to the point of physical exhaustion—to elevate photography to the stature of fine art. A series of juried photography shows, judged mostly by painters, had popularized the aesthetic of pictorialism. Pictorialist photographers approached their art like a painter or illustrator, playing with focus and exposure in innovative ways and even marking the surfaces of their images. The idea was to “make” an image rather than “take” it, projecting emotions into the scene and onto the viewer.

Stieglitz and his friends saw the need for yet another leap forward in this new era of photography. They would mount a show composed entirely of photographs, and judged only by photographers. Or rather, it would be judged by one photographer: Stieglitz himself. He put together the show in two months and dubbed it the Photo-Secession, intending to secede from old conceptions of both photography and fine art. The exhibition was an enormous success, and gave Stieglitz the momentum to launch a photography journal and gallery to promote his ideas.

Pictorialism- Alfred Stieglitz to Edward Curtis- Matthews Gallery Blog

 

From left: View of Stieglitz’s Little Galleries of the Photo Secession, which opened in 1905;
Edward S. Curtis in his adventure clothes.

Thousands of miles away in Seattle, Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952) was just beginning his photography career. Curtis grew up in Wisconsin and built his first camera when he was a teenager. At 17 he apprenticed in a photography studio in St. Paul, Minnesota, and when his family moved to Seattle in 1887, he bought a partnership in a portrait studio. Over the next few years, he began photographing Native American people of the Washington territory, some of them relatives of Chief Sealth and other important leaders. These early portraits and genre scenes inspired a 30-year adventure through the American West, during which Curtis and his team recorded the lives of over 80 tribes in photographs, writings, recordings and sketches.

Curtis’ expeditions, which he recorded in a series of volumes called The North American Indian, kept him far away from the epicenter of the American avant-garde where Stieglitz resided. “He was an outsider, too far removed from the photographic salons to court or count on ready shows and reviews that had instituted pictorialist photography,” writes Gerald Vizenor in an essay on Curtis. However, it’s this aesthetic that ties Stieglitz and Curtis together in art history.

“Curtis kept abreast of national, even international, trends in photography—and in the visual arts more generally,” writes Mick Gidley. “His early writings for Seattle magazines reveal that he absorbed much from Pictorialism in photography, including the example of Alfred Stieglitz, the founder of the Photo-Secession.” Curtis’ earliest photographs of Native peoples feature the soft focus and sepia tone of some classic pictorialist images, and present his subjects as stoic archetypes of a vanishing culture. In his many adventures, Curtis often posed his subjects and manipulated images to fit his vision of the tribes he was portraying. These techniques have earned Curtis praise as a pictorialist, but have also stirred up controversy. Curtis called himself an ethnologist, but the aesthetically powerful images he created didn’t always aim for scientific accuracy.

In the collection of photographs below, we’ve reunited Curtis with his pictorialist roots, placing some of his most iconic images among significant works by Stieglitz and his contemporaries. As you view the images, ponder Curtis’ position as an outsider during his lifetime, and his new place as a pictorialist in the art history books…

Edward S Curtis- Girl and Jar Photogravure- Matthews Gallery Blog

Edward S. Curtis, Girl and Jar, Photogravure

Adolph de Meyer- Marchesa Casati- 1912- Pictorialism- Matthews Gallery Blog

Adolph de Meyer, Marchesa Casati, 1912

Edward S Curtis- Apache Medicine-Man Photogravure- Matthews Gallery Blog

Edward S. Curtis, Apache Medicine-Man, Photogravure

Henry Peach Robinson- Fading Away- 1858- Pictorialism- Matthews Gallery Blog

Henry Peach Robinson, Fading Away, 1858

EdwardCurtis-Art-TheRushGatherer

Edward S. Curtis, The Rush Gatherer, Photogravure

Alvin Langdon Coburn- Spiderwebs- 1908- Pictorialism- Matthews Gallery Blog

Alvin Langdon Coburn, Spiderwebs, 1908

Edward S Curtis- Waiting the Forest-Cheyenne Photogravure- Matthews Gallery Blog

Edward S. Curtis, Waiting in the Forest— Cheyenne, Photogravure

Paul Haviland- Doris Keane- 1912- Pictorialism- Matthews Gallery Blog

Paul Haviland, Doris Keane, 1912

Edward S Curtis- The Storm-Apache Photogravure- Matthews Gallery Blog

Edward S. Curtis, The Storm-Apache, Photogravure

Alfred Stieglitz- The Terminal- 1893- Pictorialism- Matthews Gallery Blog

Alfred Stieglitz, The Terminal, 1893

Click here to learn more about Edward S. Curtis, his adventures and the rediscovery of his work in the 1970’s, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for daily gallery news.

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ROCH HART: Mystery of the Petroglyphs

Roch-Hart-New-Mexico-Jeep-Tours Roch Hart’s jeep outside Matthews Gallery

Roch Hart is the first and only fine furniture maker in our stable, but he also has a pretty awesome day job. As the owner of New Mexico Jeep Tours, Hart takes visitors on rugged expeditions across a 20,000 acre private ranch between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. The property is home to wild horses and numerous petroglyphs left behind by ancient Pueblo cultures.

We first met Hart through the image sharing website Flickr, where he posts stunning photographs from his adventures. We had no idea that he was also a master craftsman until he reached out to us. Not long after, a big red jeep full of beautiful hand-carved benches appeared outside the gallery. When we saw how good Hart’s work looked in our Southwestern art room, we knew it was a perfect match.

It didn’t take long to realize that Hart’s adventurous occupation and his impressive hobby were connected. As chronicled in previous posts, many of his works feature symbols from the petroglyphs he discovers on the ranch. The ancient marks are part of a complex language, and their meanings are partly lost to history. Luckily, Hart is a passionate detective. We asked him to show us some of his photos and tell the stories of petroglyphs that have inspired his work.

Take it away, Roch:

New-Mexico-Flag-Roch-Hart

New Mexico state flag, and a cross from Roch’s pie chest ‘The Way

In petroglyphs, the same symbol can hold multiple meanings. Take for example the Zia symbol on our state flag. Our European or Western paradigms might lead us to interpret the Zia as a simple, decorative depiction of the sun, but in the Pueblo culture these symbols were a communication form rather than an art form.  The circle of the Zia represents the circle of life. The four rays radiating from the circle represent many different things: the four directions, the seasons, the elements or even four stages in a person’s life. In the Pueblo culture, the four is a sacred number. I have found petroglyphs with faces whose mouths are in a square shape, perhaps speaking of the fours.

Roch-Hart-The-Way-Petroglyphs

Roch Hart with New Mexico petroglyphs, a similar design on Hart’s pie safe ‘The Way

Sometimes petroglyphs mimic the lines and rhythms of nature. I’ve been told by a trusted, unnamed native source that the triangular petroglyphs in the photo above represent mountains. The straight lines below the mountains may represent mesas, and below that is a mark that resembles a body of water. This could be a map of sorts. Not far from this petroglyph, there is a small pond with a view of mesas and the Jemez Mountains. On my latest pie safe, ‘The Way, I carved a similar pattern to represent mountains.

Roch-Hart-Petroglyph-Shield-WarriorShield Warrior petroglyph, photo by Roch Hart

In the world of petroglyphs there is a common theme of anthropomorphism (I really just like saying that word). Humans will sometimes take on the form of an animal, insect, or warrior shield. In the simple petroglyph above, a circled cross with a head and eyes represents a Shield Warrior. If we were still doing petroglyphs, this one could have represented me during my days as a cop. As you can see, this little guy also has the cross in his shield, representing the fours or ‘the way.’

Roch-Hart-Bear-Claw-PetroglyphsBear claw petroglyphs with storyteller and listener faces, photo by Roch Hart

 

Another common theme in petroglyphs is the ‘yin and yang.’ For instance, every storyteller needs a listener. The images above show petroglyphs that represent bear tracks. The tracks come in pairs, and each track has a face inside it representing a storyteller or a listener.

Roch-Hart-Storyteller-Faces

 ‘Marriage’ petroglyph, faces on Hart’s pie safe ‘The Storytellers

I call the petroglyph above ‘The Marriage.’ You can see two distinct people occupying one checkerboard body. If you look carefully, the square head appears to be speaking while the round head has its mouth closed. My pie safe called ‘The Storytellers‘ explores this theme of opposites. The listener and the speaker depend on each other.

Roch-Hart-New-Mexico-Petroglyphs

New Mexico petroglyphs, a spiral design on a bench by Roch Hart

Another common symbol is the spiral.  Spirals or concentric circles often represent time or travel.  I have found that cracks are often incorporated into these petroglyphs and I will find a spiral with the outer end going to or ending in a crack.  A common legend amongst the Pueblo natives is that they originated under the earth’s crust and made the journey to surface.  I believe these spirals convey that journey.  On one of my early pie safes, I placed a spiral on the door with the tail leading up to the middle joint of the door.

 Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 6.22.02 PMNew Mexico petroglyphs

Petroglyphs are very complex and have multiple layers of meaning and legend.  This blog post just scratches the surface, so to speak.  We have lost much knowledge of petroglyphs because early Spanish priests saw them as spiritualism apart from Catholicism. Catholicism was the state religion and the only legal one, so petroglyphs were outlawed.  In fact we often find crucifixes etched into the stones near these sites, placed there by the early priests to exorcise the place of evil spiritualism and to remind the Pueblo natives that this was not longer an accepted practice.

While part of me is upset about how we lost the knowledge of these ancient symbols, I enjoy that I don’t completely understand the mystery.  I love the idea that in some respects it is open to the interpretation of the beholder. Only the maker knew.

To make my fine furniture, I blend influence from the native cultures with my knowledge of Spanish colonial carpentry laws. That’s how I arrive on how to make a piece down to the joinery. But that’s for another blog post!

To see more photos by Hart, make sure to check out his Flickr account. See all of his furniture on our website, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for daily gallery news.

 

FAMILIAR STRANGERS: The Orphanage

Palace of the Governors Photo Archives

 Palace of the Governors Image Specialist Hannah Abeldeck sifts through the archives

“I think what you’re referring to is what we call ‘orphan photographs,'” said Palace of the Governors Photo Archivist Daniel Kosharek over the phone. “We have boxes and boxes of them.”

We contacted Kosharek last week in hopes of getting another angle on vernacular photography for our upcoming FAMILIAR STRANGERS show, which opens this Friday. The private collectors we had interviewed so far seemed delighted by the often unsolvable mysteries of found photographs. Did a professional archivist find an unknown image intriguing… or annoying?

A few days later, Daniel’s colleague Hannah Abeldeck ushered us onto an elevator and down to the basement of the Palace of the Governors. Abeldeck works as an image specialist for the archives, cataloguing, scanning and researching images in the collection of about 1,000,000 objects. The main room of the archives is packed with file cabinets and bookshelves. Sunlight streams down from a stairwell, making the subterranean space surprisingly bright.

“We weren’t a hundred percent sure what you were interested in, so I pulled some stuff to give you examples,” Abeldeck said, pointing to a teetering stack of files and a big green box.

To be honest, we weren’t sure either. We had no specific criteria when we were compiling photographs for FAMILIAR STRANGERS, which features compelling, mysterious images of diverse people and places. Unlike the scholars and history enthusiasts Abeldeck usually works with, we were more interested in questions than answers. In the following excerpts of our Q&A, Abeldeck provided us with a healthy helping of both as we explored a small corner of the “orphanage”.

Tools- Palace of the Governors Photo Archives The archivist’s toolkit

 

You started at the archives last October. Was it intimidating to approach such a large collection? 

I’ve worked in archives before, and for a rare book dealer. There are things about it that are not intimidating, but there are plenty of things that are. Partly, it’s the size of our collection. It’s huge. There’s stuff that’s really well processed, and then there’s stuff that’s hardly processed at all. There are so many different filing systems, so an original photograph can get put somewhere and be difficult to find again. There are systems by medium, by size, by when it arrived, by collection number.

Why were you interested in archival work? 

I think that our ideas about the past are often very simple. They’re based on things like summaries that people wrote about what they think happened. Sometimes photographs are a way of going back and re-looking at the past that you can’t do with words. You can get some idea of the complexity of the past. There’s a book that I read called “The Past is a Foreign Country.” In some ways, this job is like being a tourist. It’s interesting to see what is the same and what is different, what has changed and what is new.

Palace of the Governors Photo Archives

Orphan photos are catalogued in several ways: by location (left, New Mexico), collector (center, Forrest Fenn) or subject (right, portraits)

 

Where did the stack of orphan photos we’re looking at come from? 

We have a set of collections that exist in this limbo land between the old cataloguing system and the new cataloguing system. We might know something about them, or they might just be a box of photographs sitting on a shelf. This box says “Forrest Fenn“, so he probably donated them. Some have a photographer’s name on the back and some don’t. The stack of files is catalogued by location or subject— “New Mexico Towns” or “Portraits”.

Is there a way to estimate how many of your photographs are “orphaned”?

No, there’s not. Most of the stuff that we have, we know at least one thing about, so they’re not completely orphaned. Usually we know the photographer. Their name will be on the back, or the collection will be from their studio. Sometimes we don’t know anything about the photographer, but we know the location. When we seek things out for our collection, we’re usually looking for things where we know the photographer or the subject matter. But people also donate stuff to us. Those items that come in bulk collections, we know less about. The date is usually the thing that is the least identified about a photo.

What is the attitude among archivists towards orphan photos? 

Over the past 20 years, a lot of people who work in archives have adopted a philosophy called “MPLP.” That means “More Product, Less Processing.” It’s a way to deal with the huge volume of material that’s coming in. The volume of records that got created over the 20th century exponentially increased as the technology of production became cheaper. In the 1960s a photo archivist here might have spent four hours trying to identify a building in a photo. Now, we just don’t have time to do that. That’s one reason things get orphaned.

Palace of the Governors Photo Archives

 Mysterious beauty

 

The found photo collectors we interviewed find the element of mystery alluring. Do you get excited sometimes when you’re looking through orphan photographs, even though you don’t know their origins? 

Yeah! I’ll be looking through 100 unremarkable photographs from the past, and there’s one that seems more interesting or outstanding than others. There might be something aesthetically different about that photograph, but we’re also looking for historically interesting things. It doesn’t have to be a historical event, it could be about social history: why are these people together in this scenario? There are all sorts of social or technological things that could be interesting, even with orphan photographs.

In a blog post for FAMILIAR STRANGERS, we wrote about different roles people take when they’re looking at vernacular photographs: voyeur, detective, surrealist, even humanist. What would you add to that list? 

I’d add sociologist or social historian, particularly with the vernacular photography. We have a book called “Dressed for the Photographer” that’s a huge study of what people were wearing in daguerrotypes. You can date them based on their class and their region, so you can pin it a little more closely to the decade. It’s a way to find out what kinds of people passed through different places. We have portraits of Chinese men from Las Vegas, New Mexico that we don’t know much about, but their presence captures a bit of railroad history in the Southwest.

The photo collectors we interviewed also talked about the importance of bringing long-forgotten memories into the digital world. Do you feel similarly as an archivist? 

One of my main job duties is digitization. If you wanted to see and study some of these things, you would have to come to Santa Fe, New Mexico on an afternoon between Tuesday and Friday. Through digital cataloguing, we can post that stuff online and people can search from their houses. However, we have over 1,000,000 images and we’ve digitized maybe 30,000 of them. There’s still a huge mismatch between what we have and what is searchable online.

Palace of the Governors Photo Archives

Adelbeck flips through photographic glass plates in the archives. “As long as you don’t drop them, these will last forever.”

 

On the flip side, photo enthusiasts also stressed the importance of holding the physical object in their hands.

Having the original copy is very important for us in our ability to archive things. There’s something called digital obsolescence. For a physical photograph, if we put it in an archival mylar sleeve and keep them in a climate controlled environment, that is 95% of the preservation job. Digital objects are not that way, they need constant babysitting. Things periodically need to be switched over or upgraded. The CD is already an obsolete technology, so if you created a digital photograph in that format you have to migrate it to something else. With digital objects, there is a risk of the object disappearing within 15 years.

Do you have any stories of people identifying themselves or family members in an orphan photo? 

I just posted a picture on Facebook last week of two kids playing baseball. We knew the photographer and the date, and we knew it was in New Mexico somewhere. Someone recognized his brother in the photo. It’s really cool when that happens, but it’s bound to happen sometimes. We have all of these photos of unidentified people, and someone out there must know who they are. Those people existed at some point.

Is it frustrating when you encounter photographs that have recently left the range of “living memory”? 

It’s kind of interesting, because you start to understand the process by which photos get made, and how that affects what we can recover from the past. In the past, the occasions of photography were more constrained. You got a photo taken at an important event, like a wedding. As technology makes photography more accessible to the average person, you see a much larger growth of everyday captured moments that are not remarkable. At the same time, even within the proliferation of photography, there are things that happen that people don’t think to take pictures of. The process of painting a house might be interesting to future historians, but no one bothers to document that. There are a hundred billion photographs taken of the Santa Fe Plaza or the Palace of the Governors—and people are still taking them today—but there might be a storefront somewhere that no one has really photographed. It’s really interesting what people are choosing to document, and what they don’t document. We try to fill in those gaps by collecting photographers like Robert Christensen, a deliveryman who captured obscure stretches of road in rural New Mexico.

So this is just the tip of the iceberg?

Oh, yes. We have many, many, many more unidentified photos. If you needed pictures of ancestors and didn’t have any of your own, you could just come pick some. (laughs) “This is my great grandmother.”

Burro Photograph- Palace of the Governors Photo Archives

 Caption: Leaving Las Vegas During the Small Pox Scare, 1898; filed under Transportation, Land, Burros

You can follow Abeldeck and Kosharek’s exploits on the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives Facebook and Tumblr pages. Also, make sure to come to the opening of FAMILIAR STRANGERS: Vernacular Photography this Friday from 5-7 pm. Read more about the show in this week’s Santa Fe Reporter.

FAMILIAR STRANGERS: Almost Lost

Familiar Strangers Found Photography Show- Matthews Gallery Blog

Editor’s Note: No original photographs were harmed in the making of this blog

The messages were all the same. “Why do found photographs hold allure for you?” we wrote to members of Flickr’s robust vernacular photography community. “What is it about anonymous photographers and their subjects that makes collecting these artworks special or important?” 

As we explained in our last blog post, we’ve been wearing many different hats as we prepare for the May 16 opening of FAMILIAR STRANGERS: Vernacular Photography. Judging by the diverse answers we received from this query, it seems longtime found photography fans follow a similar process.

“At the time they were taken, they meant something to the photographer,” writes Gary Moyer, who runs a Flickr Group called Found Photos. “It’s a shame to think they can’t live on in this digital age.” But although part of Moyer’s mission is to bring this ephemera to the virtual realm, he’s also charmed by the objects themselves. “The photos are real, something to hold in your hand,” he concludes. 

For John Van Noate, administrator of several vernacular photography groups, it’s more about the immediacy of the image. “They provide a slice of life unfiltered, unmediated,” he writes. “Life in the raw, so to speak.”

Dave Bass‘ interest in vernacular photography started with a childhood fascination for taking snapshots. “I still recall the anxiety felt when retrieving a processed roll from the drugstore and opening the package to discover my treasures,” he recalls. Hunting down “orphan” photos seemed like a natural extension of his passion, and over years of collecting he’s learned a lot about human nature from the pictures he’s found.

I truly believe that such photographs are authentic cultural artifacts that portray who we as humans were, who we have become, and where we will likely go,” Bass writes. He uses Flickr group Vernacular Photo to connect with like-minded folks across the world. 

All of these intrepid collectors’ answers did have one thing in common: a sense of loss, and a desire to subvert it. As Moyer puts it, “Each [photograph] represents a moment that is gone forever.” In a way, these collections preserve memories that would otherwise have vanished long ago. 

On that hopeful note, we leave you with an excerpt from Paul Jackson‘s correspondence. The UK resident runs the Flickr group Found Photographs, and has a lot to say about vernacular photos and the power of the online community to uncover their secrets. It’s enough to make you believe that nothing is lost forever. Attend our FAMILIAR STRANGERS exhibition, opening May 16 from 5-7 pm, to untangle more mysteries!

Familiar Strangers Found Photography Show- Matthews Gallery Blog

From Paul Jackson:

I went to art school here in the UK in the 1970s and my interest in vernacular photographs stems from then. In those days you could often buy old postcards and snapshots in charity shops for virtually nothing. Often just arranged in old shoe boxes. You can rarely do that now as these things have become very collectable.

I think it is a shame when dealers break up old photograph albums as all the clues that would help place these images in context get wiped away. You may be interested in some subsidiary groups we run on Flickr. One is called “What’s That Picture” where we invite people to post pre-1945 images that they want help identifying. Sometimes this is a tall order but the Flickr community acts a bit like a hive mind and we have had some astonishing successes. A lot of these can be found in another group “The Astonishing Power of Flickr“. Here many images that have been successfully identified have been posted and some other extraordinary events such as people recognising themselves or other serendipitous events have occurred. 

You ask what the allure is for me. Well, there is something awfully poignant about old snap shots/vernacular photographs. The lives of strangers’ births deaths marriages, love, hearth and home..all life is there and with the knowledge that all that life has probably by now slipped away. These things end up in sales almost always through a death and the death of someone who either has no remaining family, or a family that cannot or will not preserve these fragile family histories. It is a very sobering thought.

I am at a period in my life when I am beginning to realise that even my own family photographs and the ones of my parents and grandparents are going to be vulnerable to be “lost” when I die and it does make you dwell on the ephemeral nature of life, the impermanence of the structures we build around ourselves and how easily it can fade away.

One of my favourite quotes is the famous one in Blade Runner when Roy Batty the replicant is dying:

“I’ve… seen things you people wouldn’t believe… Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those. moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time… to die…”

Looking at so many old and found photographs I often think that “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe” the person behind the camera has seen these things, lived that life..you know, we can sometimes almost taste it.

 

Familiar Strangers Found Photography Show- Matthews Gallery Show

FAMILIAR STRANGERS: Be a Voyeur, Detective, Surrealist, Humanist!

Found Photograph- Familiar Strangers Show- Matthews Gallery

  Untitled, Unknown

“A photograph is usually looked at—seldom looked into,” said Ansel Adams. When it comes to the pictures in our upcoming show, there’s no other option but to dig a little deeper.

FAMILIAR STRANGERS: Vernacular Photography, opening Friday, May 16, is not your typical Matthews Gallery show. The artists who created our collection of found photographs never got the recognition that Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec or Renoir did, but there’s no denying their aesthetic sensibilities.

That’s what has kept us digging through estate sales, thrift shops, antique stores and attics for years. We’ve amassed quite the collection of vernacular photographs, also known as “found” or “orphan” photos, and we’re not alone in our scavenging habits. Our friends on social media understand the great allure of the hunt.

Looking at so many old and found photographs I often think that, ‘I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe,'” writes Paul Jackson, who maintains the Flickr group Found Photographs.  “The person behind the camera has seen these things, lived that life..you know, we can sometimes almost taste it.” We asked several other photo finders what they love about the pursuit, and they all had equally passionate answers.

Vernacular photography presents unique challenges to the viewer, asking us to shift between different roles to grasp what we’re seeing. Our first impulse is often voyeuristic. We can’t resist a peek at someone’s intimate moment, and we swiftly draw conclusions about what’s going on. In the image above a baton girl gawks open-mouthed at a band boy, but he looks resolutely away. Is this a tale of unrequited love?

Society often slaps us on the wrist for our voyeuristic tendencies. In his brilliant essay on found photography Dr. Barry Mauer of the University of Central Florida says this instinct is something we should indulge.

“At first sight, most of these pictures are hilarious or tragic or both,” writes Mauer. “Voyeurism allows me to experience these reactions from a comfortable distance.” However, Mauer cautions against stopping there. Voyeurism often comes hand-in-hand with judgment and categorization. Stereotyping these mysterious individuals cuts us off from a rich world of visual mysteries. Time to pull out the magnifying glass.

Found Photograph- Familiar Strangers Show- Matthews Gallery

 

Untitled, Unknown

If we act as detectives, this simple portrait holds a lot of hints about the bicyclist and her photographer. Did you notice the bandages on her knee and arm? If those are recent wounds, perhaps she’s just learning how to ride. It’s difficult to tie a forearm bandage on your own. Maybe the person behind the camera is her teacher and medic? On the other hand, the bags on the handlebars hint at a different adventure. One of them looks like a canteen. Could the other hold snacks for a picnic?

Teasing out these details is invigorating. To take it one step further, note the composition of the photograph. The front wheel is cut off and part of the path is visible behind the girl. This perspective, when combined with the subject’s bent posture and excited face, lends the photo a sense of forward movement. Our mysterious photographer has imbued a picture of a static bike with surprising dynamism. Was that his or her intention?

Found Photograph- Familiar Strangers Show- Matthews Gallery

Untitled, Unknown

Of course, in the end we’ll probably never know if our inferences are correct. Who better to help us surmount our fear of the unknown than the surrealists? André Breton and his friends were inspired rather than daunted by impenetrable mysteries. They sought out fragments of culture, watching films from between their fingers to try to catch discreet details and writing stories based on dreams they had about real experiences.

Both techniques allowed them to focus on details they otherwise would’ve ignored. In the photo above, our interest in the group in the foreground distracts from the odd figure standing in the far background. Cropping the photo brings up a whole array of new questions.

Found Photograph Detail- Familiar Strangers Show- Matthews Gallery

Detail of previous photo

In a broader context the entire photo is a fragment. The man in the foreground’s stern expression stands alone, isolated from what happened before or after. Perhaps he cracked a smile a moment later, but this short glimpse of his day at the pool has a foreboding air to it.

“The surrealists used fragmentation as a means to knowledge, discovering significance in the fragment that had been concealed in the contextualized whole,” Mauer writes. It’s not hard to trace the progression of this thinking to Marcel Duchamp’s use of found objects, or to the Dada artists’ repurposing of vernacular photos in collages (more on all of that in an upcoming blog post).

In the end analyzing and relating to the “characters” in these photographs helps develop our skills in another field: humanism. It’s amazing how connected we can feel to a person we’ll never meet, and how powerful our feelings of empathy and sympathy can be when we exercise them. Look long enough, and you’ll start to imagine that these familiar strangers are looking right back.

Step into the shoes of a voyeur, detective, surrealist and humanist at FAMILIAR STRANGERS: Vernacular Photography, opening Friday, May 16. Also, make sure to check out our fascinating interview with four found photography collectors and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr for more gallery news!

NEW RELEASE: Fremont Ellis of Los Cinco Pintores

Fremont Ellis- La Plata Mountains- Matthews Gallery Blog

 

In 1921, Fremont F. Ellis and his friends Jozef Bakos, Walter Mruk, Willard Nash and Will Shuster founded an avant garde art society that would change Santa Fe forever. The five men were in their early 20s, and most of them had recently migrated there from the East Coast. They chose a name inspired by their new life in the Southwest: Los Cinco Pintores (The Five Painters).

In December of that year, Los Cinco Pintores mounted their first group exhibition at Santa Fe’s Museum of Fine Arts. Their work was diverse in subject matter, but their rallying point was modernism and the art of early Taos painters Robert Henri and John Sloan of the Ashcan School.

“These men believe in color and are not afraid to use it,” wrote a critic who attended the inaugural show. “Upon entering the galleries, visitors are greeted with a great shout of color that’s almost stimulating.”

Fremont Ellis - Watercolors - Matthews Gallery Blog

Over the next few years, Los Cinco Pintores worked together to build a row of casitas along Camino del Monte Sol near Canyon Road. This earned them another nickname, “The Five Nuts in the Adobe Huts”. Meanwhile, word of their exploits had reached other artists back home.

By 1923 another group called the New Mexico Painters was exhibiting paintings of sweeping Southwestern landscapes across the Midwest and the East Coast. Artists like Randall Davey, Andrew Dasburg and Theodore Van Soelen settled in the area, and the Santa Fe Art Colony was born. The City Different has fostered a vibrant art community ever since.

Fremont Ellis- Watercolor Diptychs- Matthews Gallery Blog

These newly released works on paper are by Fremont Ellis (1897-1985), who was the last surviving member of Los Cinco Pintores. Ellis grew up in Montana and was inspired to become an artist at 14 when he saw Albert Bierstadt’s paintings on a trip to New York City. He worked as a photographer in California before settling in Santa Fe, and used his photographs of landscapes to inspire his painted compositions. This body of work holds the vigor and immediacy of the artist’s many outdoor adventures.

Learn more about Fremont Ellis on our website, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr for daily gallery news. Also, don’t forget to mark your calendar for our exhibition NEW MEXICO MODERNS: The Lumpkins Files, opening next week!

MEMORY IN BLUE: Jan van Leeuwen

Jan van Leeuwen- Barbed Wire Number 1- Matthews Gallery Blog

Jan van Leeuwen, Barbed Wire No. 1 (Cyanotype), Matthews Gallery

What color is memory? Is the human soul tinted by life’s great joys and sorrows?

Jan van Leeuwen‘s darkest recollections are a deep blue tide. His self-portraits take shape much like memories do. It’s a long process with details fading in and out of focus, projecting visions of the self that never feel quite complete. It took a lifetime for the photographer to discover his medium, but when he did the images came spilling out.

Jan van Leeuwen- Cyanotype Portraits- Matthews Gallery Blog

Leeuwen was born in Amsterdam in 1932. In 1940, when the artist was 8 years old, the Dutch surrendered to the Nazis and Leeuwen watched as his community fell apart. Jewish neighbors and schoolmates fled or were taken. Over the course of the four-year occupation, the young boy’s confusion turned to anger, frustration and guilt.

Leeuwen’s first career was as a kitchen wares distributor, and he learned how to work a camera by photographing the products. He took his first serious stab at the medium in 1986 when he was in his 50’s, mostly so he’d have something to do when he retired.

Jan Van Leeuwen- Cyanotype Portraits- Matthews Gallery Blog

Drawing inspiration from the innovative spirit of the Dutch Renaissance masters, Leeuwen developed his own method of producing photographs. He uses a 100-year-old wood camera to capture an image on resin-coated paper, creates a negative and then makes a contact print using a UV-B lightbox.

The process of capturing and transferring the images echoes the artist’s struggles with the trauma he experienced in his youth and the impact it has had on his identity. For the cyanotype in our collection, the artist used a long exposure to fracture himself into eight meshed figures. The only thing starker than their furrowed brows is the strand of barbed wire that stands in their way.

Jan Van Leeuwen- Cyanotype Portraits- Matthews Gallery Blog

Leeuwen created Barbed Wire No. 1 in 1993. A year later he quit his job to pursue photography full-time. Since then he’s had a stellar contemporary art career, with shows across the world and artwork in The Photo Review, Art in America and many other publications.

The artist’s success hasn’t dampened the intimacy of his self-portraits, or lightened the burden of his memories. However, Leeuwen reminds us that sadness is accompanied by beauty, and creation always surmounts the pain of destruction.

Learn more about Jan van Leeuwen’s art and life on the Matthews Gallery homepage, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for more gallery news.