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Archive for January, 2012

Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph (Book Review)

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) was definitely a photographer’s photographer. I absolutely love Norman Mailer’s 1971 quote: “Giving a camera to Diane Arbus is like putting a live grenade in the hands of a child.” She was the photographer who focused on the freaks and described them as people who had “already passed their test in life.” She wrote “They’re aristocrats.”

Of course, these were through the times in the United States where there were the so-called “Ugly Laws”… intended to stop freaks from going into cafes and diners and public places. They were laws intended to get the disturbing off the street so society could fool itself that normalcy was somehow normal. So, while viewing Diane Arbus’ work, I can’t avoid the conscious echo that super-imposed on her images are the footprints of a society that was beating these people down.

And Diane Arbus, of course, was a disturbed soul in her own right. She committed suicide in 1971 in her 40s… relatively young.

Her work is blunt. Her photographs are a surviving document of the flaws and the differences between human beings through the facilitating perspective of an empathic communicator. In Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph, printed in 1972 (a year after her death), the reader is exposed to a selected array of her work in the spirit of the values and ideals that she held through her life. The iconic “Child with a hand grenade in Central Park, NYC 1962”; “Tattooed man at a carnival, Md 1970”; and, “A young [black] man and his pregnant [white] wife in Washington Square Park, NYC 1965”.

While we may make photographs as observers, documenters or collaborators there are certain truths that constrain the resulting artifacts. The photographer chooses what to include or omit from photographs. The photographer selects the correct exposure, the angles and the light. The photographer brings an inevitable bundle of political and social belief systems into the selection and creation of the subject matter.

Looking through the eyes of Diane Arbus is to inhale a social comment about humanity. Why do we ostracise the different? Why are we mesmerised by twins and triplets, or nudists or transvestites.

This is an incredible body of work and nobody would argue that Diane Arbus was anything but a master of her craft and an influence for future generations.

Kittel Tronerud’s Glass Negatives

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

Kittel Tronerud

My maternal grandfather, Kittel Johannes Tronerud, was born in 1870 in Norway – the son of Jorgen Tronerud, school teacher and church singer, and Karen Mathea Tronerud. In 1889 Kittel jumped ship while in port in Melbourne and made his way to Tasmania where he married and raised his first family of five children on the North Coast before being widowed. His naturalisation papers note his profession as Photographer.

Kittel raised his second family of around 10 children – fathering my mother and Aunt Rita in his mid-60s – to a much younger wife. Much earlier on King Island, he had shot extensive photography between 1900 and 1911 and died at the age of 69 (when my mother was 4 years old) after not recovering from surgery.

Two attached PDFs [number 1 and number 2] outline Kittle’s family tree from the early 1800s… one brother emigrated to New York.

Mrs Dorothy Crow of Grassy, King Island wrote a letter (attached) to my sister in 1988 describing how her husband had come by Kittel’s (also known as Joe Tronerud) original camera and glass negatives from a local farmer. Her husband printed 100 of the negatives and they were exhibited on King Island then were exhibited for a further two weeks in the Queen Victoria Museum in Launceston. Kittel’s camera and photographs are now housed in the King Island Museum.

A scan of a 1988 clipping from the King Island newspaper (also attached) shows four of the reproduced glass negatives.

Eventually I’d like to pursue these negatives and my familial relationship to King Island. The questions that I would like to address relate to the way Kittel, an impoverished professional Photographer with dirt floors and a large family to feed, saw the world around him. I would like to revisit some of his key photographs and investigate the difference or sameness in culture and landscape on King Island exactly one century since some of these shots were taken. This would involve visiting King Island Museum and hunting down familial links in the local community.

Paul Strand: A Retrospective Monograph, The Years 1915-1946 (Book Review)

Monday, January 16th, 2012

Paul Strand: A Retrospective Monograph, The Years 1915-1946

Paul Strand (1990-1976) was an American modernist photographer with a career spanning well over half a century. His work included the first intentionally made abstraction photographs, the first photograph of a part of a mechanical device as a purely aesthetic image, landscapes, architecture and candid portraits of everyday people. One of the most fascinating things about Strand is also the influence of artists like Picasso and Cézanne on what he was trying to achieve with his camera.

Reading Paul Strand: a Retrospective Monograph, the Years 1915-1946, published in 1971 as a hardcover, is something like dipping your big toe into a warm pool and then slowly submersing yourself further on every read through its pages. On first browse there appeared to be less to these images than I had imagined. However, Strand’s photography is deceptively simple, something very difficult to achieve. And it’s important to realise that these photographs were experiments and excursions in a two-dimensional visual world unlike our modern image-intensive iPhone enabled contemporary society. In that sense, it’s important to slow down and appreciate the black and white photographs for what they were in their context of time and space. In one sense, they are aesthetically beautiful images in their own right. In another, they represent the expression and evolution of artistic ideas.

Alfred Stieglitz thought enough of Paul Strand to include him in his Camera Work magazine in 1917 and exhibited Strand at 291, formerly known as Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, located on Fifth Avenue in New York. Stieglitz wrote:

New picture makers happen every day, not only in photography but also painting. New picture makers are notoriously nothing but imitators of the accepted: the best of them imitators of, possibly at one time, original workers… [Strand’s] work is pure. It is direct. It does not rely on tricks of process.Alfred Stieglitz

This retrospective of Strand’s work from 1915- 1946 covers only half of his career as a photographer. However, from abstractions to portraits to landscapes there is a strong sense of discoverability within his photographs that compelled me read and re-read this book a half dozen times in succession. Strand was a master of drama in the understated… a man who pushed photography toward art… a creator of deceptively simple images – attributes that I definitely admire.

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark and I live in the Derwent Valley in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a mazer & a yeast farmer (making beer, fruit wine and mead as by-products of continuous improvement in my farming practices). I'm a photographer, although my film cameras are currently silent. I do not tolerate idiots. I do not tolerate bigotry. I do not tolerate excuses. Let's be clear, if you sit with my enemies you my are my enemy for life.

Blogger. Thinker. Brewer. Drinker. Life partner to the amazing and incredible Megan.

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