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Eugene Von Bruenchenhein & Evelyn Kalka (Marie)

One of the most beautiful bodies of work a photographer can make is the one where his wife is his muse. I just adore the Harry Callahan photographs of his wife and muse Eleanor made over 50 years and the work of Alfred Steiglitz around Georgia O’Keeffe. There is a long tradition of artist and muse; wife as muse. This is where I approach the gorgeous photographs of Eugene Von Bruenchenhein (1910-1983) and Marie.

The man was an interesting self-taught American outsider artist from Wisconsin spanning over 40 years of creativity across the genres of poetry, more than a thousand post-apocalyptic landscape paintings, drawings, hundreds of sculptures made of chicken bones, ceramic and cement and thousands of intimate photographs of his wife and muse, Marie.

Evelyn Kalka met Eugene Von Bruenchenhein in 1939. She was 19 years old, he was 29 years old. They married three years later. Marie was a name apparently taken on by Evelyn in honour of Eugene’s favourite aunt. In their small bungalow they created an artistic reality that was overshadowed by real poverty. Inside their bungalow he created art that wasn’t recognised until after his death. This art included the thousands of photographs of his wife, Marie.

That’s exactly what I love about the wife as muse work of Eugene Von Bruenchenhein and how it played a part in the larger stage of his private reality of personal creativity inside that bungalow.

At some point he began posing Marie in jewels and costumes, semi-nude or stripped down to her panties, often set against patterned-fabric backdrops, to shoot his own black-and-white girlie pix. He processed his film in a darkroom in the couple’s bathroom; sometimes Marie hand-tinted the prints that showed her looking past the camera or sometimes staring directly but absently into its inquisitive lens.Edward M. Gomez, An Artist Couple’s Domestic Gesamtkunstwerk

I guess what I’m saying is that there are erotic pictures and there are erotic pictures. Some are for the sake of stimulation or fantasy. Others are about shape, form, texture, lighting… or worship of femininity. Some are exploitative. Others, in contrast, are empowering nude photographs. Context, in my opinion, is everything. These are pictures of bodies. But when the context is the obsession and love for another human being in the form of a wife as muse I just find them extremely compelling beyond the beauty of the photographs themselves. And as human beings, we’re driven by story so it shouldn’t surprise anybody that this type of story is important to us.

It’s only recently that I’ve discovered the work of this creative powerhouse and the story of Marie. It rivals the work and story behind the photographs of Carlo Mollino, for example… or Monsieur X. Were his pictures of Marie meant for private viewing? Or had they been all along destined in his undiscovered artistic landscape to be a phenomenal work to be revealed after his eventual death? It appears creativity drove the artist; perhaps he’d have been perfectly happy to have them overlooked, having served their purpose.

If one were to be the sort of person to leave an artistic legacy behind I couldn’t think of anything grander than the collaboration between this loving couple. The book Eugene Von Bruenchenhein – King of Lesser Lands edited by Phillip March Jones would be a worthy addition to any photography book collection.

Marie

Marie

Marie

Eugene von Bruenchenhein self portrait

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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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