Own Research 8 – Masters of Photography Dec 2016 Beetles & Huxley

This exhibition is on until 23rd December so if you are doing nothing and have the time I would strongly recommend you go. Out of the 3 exhibitions visited I think this was my favourite 🙂 I’m going to include all 29 images on display within this review but will only talk about some of them or I’ll never move on!

So many classic photographers and such well known images, most I knew and it felt like coming home… yeah I know ‘what a load of rubbish’ but it was soooo great to stand there and say OMG THAT is a Paul Strand…THAT is an Alfred Stieglitz…THAT is an Edward Weston THAT is a Dorothea Lange… it was a veritable treasure chest of the Masters of Photography indeed. My only regret is that no-one offered to buy me the Ansel Adams Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico an absolute steal at £75,000.00…

The images were displayed in more or less chronological order rather than all the images from one artist grouped together, although most photographers only had one image on display. Once again I’m going to borrow some chunks of text…so shoot me for being lazy…I got a pile of things to get through :oP

This video is brilliant at showing that manipulation in post processing is not restricted to computer software!

29 November – 23 December

Masters of Photography 2016 is a survey of 29 masterpieces by leading photographers of the twentieth century.

The exhibition will contain important prints by some of the world’s most influential photographers. Each photograph has been chosen for its significant role in the history of the medium. The exhibition will display a range of iconic imagery, including some of the most influential photographs ever taken. The exhibition spans the entirety of the twentieth century, from early Modernist masterpieces, such as Alfred Stieglitz’s “The Steerage” of 1907, to the colourist works of Joel Sternfeld and Stephen Shore.

Photographers on display



To begin… the first image that you see on walking into the gallery is Alfred Stiegliz The Steerage, 1907. I was amazed at how small it was. The video below explains it better than I can.


Edward Steichen had two images on display, Triumph of the Egg, France 1921 and Fred Astaire in ‘Funny Face’ 1927.

As I have said with the other exhibitions you so lose the detail and subtle tones when studying the images online. I’m not that convinced over Mr Egg, its a brilliant study of texture, shape, form and tone but apart from that doesn’t do that much for me, but it could be yours for £165,000… However the image of Fred Astaire is superb. The excellent use of lighting to create figure to ground contrast in an abstract manner, the tones and details captured within this portrait, which captured the importance of the man himself and the musical era he represented, I thought was wonderful and at £25,000 you can keep the egg, I’ll take Fred! I must stop looking at the price tags…

Edward Steichen became the official photographer for Vogue and Vanity Fair in 1923, and soon began to take accomplished early fashion photographs and celebrity portraits. His work from this period is characterised by graphic compositions with dramatic contrast and strong lighting. It was a sharp, modern aesthetic that was ideal for the time and at odds with his earlier Pictorialist style.

Steichen took this portrait of Fred Astaire for Vanity Fair in 1927, when Astaire was starring in the musical Funny Face (Gershwin and Gershwin), during its original run on Broadway. He starred alongside his sister, Adele Astaire, who worked as his dance partner until her marriage in 1932. Funny Face opened on 22 November 1927, as the very first show at the newly built Alvin Theatre, and marked Astaire’s first performance in evening dress with top hat, a striking look that would come to define his career.

Paul Strand, Rebecca, New York, 1923


This intimate portrait is of Rebecca Strand, one of more than a hundred that Paul Strand made of his wife between 1920 and 1932. Many of the shots were taken of her in bed as the long exposures required meant that she could relax and maintain her pose. Once again the fine details in the actual print are sublime, and the subtle lighting which emphasize her features so well rather than turning her into a troll (like mine sometimes do) is beautiful.

The series was so strongly influenced by Alfred Stieglitz’s celebrated extended portrait of his wife, Georgia O’Keeffe, that Strand’s parallel project, pursued in close contact with his friend and mentor, may be considered an implicit act of homage.

Edward Weston, Cabbage leaf, 1931


I know…it’s a cabbage leaf…I know I’m gushing a bit but so many images and photographers that I so like…wow…just wow…may be not here online..in this blog..but to see the real image up close and personal was ….well it was one that made my day, the variation in tones, the texture and contrasts were..oh someone get me a thesaurus I’m running out of superlatives and it’s just a cabbage leaf …so thank you to this person…9 years… ok I’ll stop now, may be I should put down my Christmas Pimms…..

Cabbage Leaf (1931)
Artwork description & Analysis: As one of Weston’s monumental close-ups, Cabbage Leaf heightens ones visual understanding of this vegetable with its solitary display of a flayed leaf. The raised spinal structure and linear striations of the wilted form emerge from a dark, flat background as though a piece of relief sculpture. This creates a subtle undertone of grace and movement within the work. Indeed, the cabbage leaf becomes a sculptural work of art in its own right, elevating the common edible to an object of fine art, and thereby supporting Weston’s efforts to expand his audience’s visual consciousness of the world.

Weston photographed arrangements of cabbage over a nine-year period, from 1927 to 1936. In keeping with the method of straight photography practiced by the f/64 group to which he belonged, Weston created a high-resolution photo that relies on the object itself for visual interest, rather than manipulating the surface quality of the image as pictorial photographers did. Cabbage Leaf in particular is imbued with a Surrealist quality in that it depicts an everyday object with great precision and yet makes the viewer aware of an otherness or strangeness that we do not typically associate with it. Author Susan Sontag, for example, notes the subject’s resemblance to “a fall of gathered cloth,” adding that its title heightens our appreciation of its beauty by declaring that the gentle folds of drapery we so admire are in fact the veined, wilted leaf of a garden vegetable.

I love Edward Weston…I bought  secondhand book Edward Weston 125 Photographs published by AMMO Books a while back, it has this image in it and Weston said:

Since the first of the year I have done several negatives for myself:of a cabbage, of an orchid! The cabbage excited me the most, with finer results. This time it was a single leaf I used, achieving the strongest, most abstract results.

Imogen Cunningham, Agave Design I, 1920


Looking at her work I am left wondering if she inspired Robert Maplethorpe? Ok, so if you don’t want to buy me the Ansel Adams how about this book…a snip in comparison! I had never heard of her before but can see how she fits into the time line and where she got her inspiration from and who she may have inspired. The strong geometric patterns, definite lines and deep contrasting tones  make this a lovely composition.

Herbert Ponting, The Midnight Sun, Summer 1911


Herbert Ponting was renowned for his meticulous and adventurous approach to photography. His most famous work was taken during The British Antarctic Expedition 1910-1913, when he became the first professional photographer to capture the Antarctic.

In 1910, Ponting set sail with the rest of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s British Antarctic Expedition as the official photographer, personally chosen by Scott. ‘The Geographical Journal’ wrote at the time, The British Antarctic Expedition should be very well served by the camera in Mr Ponting’s hands.’ He remained in Antarctica for just over a year, during which time the other members of the expedition witnessed his great enthusiasm for representing nature. He insisted on using the traditional glass-plate technique for developing his photos, his cumbersome cinematograph and large amount of developing equipment added to the difficulty of his task. Ponting was well liked by his colleagues; however, at times, he preferred to maintain a distance, focusing on his photographs with painstaking detail.

On his return to England in February 1912, Ponting was disappointed by the lack of response to his photographs and films. Hearing of the subsequent deaths of Scott and the four other men who reached the pole, he set out to promote the legacy of the expedition, rather than focusing on new projects. He held several lectures, and produced the film, ‘Great White Silence’, which received great acclaim.

Despite the colour of the image online the overall tone of this photograph is a soft subtle blue. On completing further research it is actually a ‘blue toned carbon print’ (I have to admit I have no idea what that is…but it is blue) and the soft light, and detail within the photograph are gorgeous. The clouds of the mackerel sky, the ridges of the ice and ripples on the sea are stunning. It made me sad as well to think of how this expedition ended.

Walker Evans Bucket Seat, Model T, Alabama, 1936


I’m not going to rattle on about Walker Evans, if you don’t know who he is go Google him! What I took from this image was the change from one era to another, in the foreground was the Model T which represented so much at the time, and in the background a single horse and cart.

Dorothea Lange, White Angel Bread Line 1933 and Migrant Mother, Nipoma, California, 1936

These two videos say it all really.

Berenice Abbott, Nightview, New York, 1932


With a fixed artistic vision, the location scouted and exposure calculated for 15 minutes, the independently minded photographer captured that fleeting moment when the city was slightly darkened, but the office lights remained on.

For some, this photograph, though some 76 years old, may seem somewhat familiar with its dramatic angles, hovering perspective and workers still in their offices after dark. But for Abbott, it represented the emerging of the modern New York and new lifestyles that came with it.

She was versed in sculpture, drawing and writing, but it was during her employment in Man Ray’s photography studio that she learned to make photographs. Ray (1890-1976) ran a famous portrait studio but in his spare time was at the vanguard of surrealist photography. He challenged the conventional approaches to photography, which provided Abbott with opportunities to become a successful portrait photographer in her own right. He also introduced her to Eugene Atget (1857-1927), a photographer noted for tirelessly documenting the architecture, urban views and landscapes of Paris.

It might be difficult for our contemporary eyes and city experiences to allow us to imagine Abbott’s New York City at Night as a new view of the world. In 1932, the Great Depression was still plaguing many Americans.

Abbott’s cityscape offers a perspective of excitement about American technological achievements — through her ability to blend cubist visual constructions with the reality of urban modern architecture.

This image, perhaps her most well-known, remains a visually exciting image with complex rhythms that might offer our jaded eyes a way to see the city with refreshed excitement.

Abbott’s enthusiasm for documenting New York City resulted in an extraordinary documentary project that can be explored in her book Changing New York. Many of those photographs can be seen at the Museum of the City of New York, where Abbott left her archive.

The Smithsonian’s Archive of Art also holds many documents related to the Federal Art Project that funded the massive photography project and Abbott’s assistant Elizabeth McCausland’s papers. Abbott’s legacy also continues through a photography award in her name that is given to emerging photographers with a body of work waiting to be published.

Shannon Thomas Perich is an associate curator of the Photographic History Collection at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

These things are always so incestuous Stieglitz was married to Georgia O’Keefe, Imogen Cunningham knew Edward Weston, Elizabeth McCausland was Abbott’s assistant…!

Harry Callahan, Chicago, 1950


I will probably sound like a stuck record but this image is so much better in real life. On the screen the tree trunks look a solid black but in print you can make out the texture of the bark and the snow catching it in places. Online the trees look as if they are ‘stuck on’ but the print is more subtle and you appreciate the perception of depth more. The exact same image was on display in Pace’s American Classics which is just as well as someone had bought this one :o/

Constantly testing the limits of his medium, Callahan created photographs that surpassed factual representation, revealing the graphic beauty in the everyday. He taught alongside László Moholy-Nagy and earned the deep admiration of Edward Steichen, who included his work in several exhibitions.

LOL it’s almost as good as a rock n roll who’s who…

Erwin Blumenfeld, Nude in Broken Mirror, New York, 1944 and Wet Veil, circa 1937

Edwin Blumenfeld shot in both B&W and colour, a selection of his work can be seen here.

The sensual nature of his work comes across very strongly and I love the idea of the layers and surreal nature of his images, the subjects not fulling revealing their identities. I never realised that he effectively killed himself :o/ Loved this small clip…I wonder if the whole documentary is out there somewhere?

Horst. P. Horst, Mainbocher Corset, Paris, 1939


Yet again a crossover photographer with the Atlas exhibition. More information can be found about Horst at the V&A.  Another classic image showing the beauty and eroticism of the female form, although I am convinced there was some manipulation in the darkroom around the waistline as in the actual image there is some kind of distortion to the image. I’d love it if someone could confirm this for me. Most often known as just Horst he was a German American photographer renowned for his photographs of women and fashion, which frequently ‘reflects his interest in surrealism and his regard of the ancient Greek ideal of physical beauty.’

Seen from behind, a model sits on a wooden bench, looking down through her arms. She wears a back-lacing corset by Detolle for Mainbocher and resembles a classic Greek statue in her pose. The highlights in her hair and the subtle skin tones work to make this a beautiful image to see.

In August 1939, on the eve of the Second World War, Horst P. Horst took his famous photograph of the Mainbocher Corset in the Paris Vogue studios on the Champs-Elysees.

Many consider the photograph to be Horst P. Horst’s best work an opinion that the photographer himself would probably agree with, for otherwise, how is one to explain that he chose the motif almost as a matter of course for the cover of his autobiography Horst – His Work and His World? Timeless beauty, balance, an interplay of modesty and charm, eros and humility, provocation and subtle elegance are simultaneously at play in the photograph, not to mention the flattering light and dramatic shadows. After all, wasn’t the photographer called a master of dramatic lighting?

Horst …favored the large camera mounted on a stand and a focusing screen that allowed him to calculate his photograph down to the last detail.  Roland Barthes, the great French philosopher, structuralist, and prognosticator of photography, might well have discovered his ‘punctum’ precisely here, that is, the apparently insignificant detail of a photograph that gives the picture its fascination and charm, and ultimately what awakens our interest. Horst P. Horst would probably have described the effect differently. Occasionally he spoke of “a little mess” that he carefully incorporated into his pictures.

“It was the last photograph I took in Paris before the war”, he later recalled, “I left the studio at 4:00 a.m., went back to the house, picked up my bags and caught the 7.00 a.m. train to Le Havre to board the Normandie. We all felt that war was coming. Too much armament, too much talk. And you knew that whatever happened, life would be completely different after. I had found a family in Paris, and a way of life. The clothes, the books, the apartment, everything left behind. I had left Germany, Heune had left Russia, and now we experienced the same kind of loss all over again. This photograph is peculiar – for me, it is the essence of that moment. While I was taking it, I was thinking of all that I was leaving behind.”


Josef Sudek, Rose in Glass, circa 1950


The things you learn when you research photographers…I never knew Sudek was injured during the war, by his own side, and lost his arm!

This image has a really soft focus to it, in fact I’m not positive that anything is actually sharp but that does not detract from its gentle beauty. Sudek’s photographs are often lacking in strong contrast, using the lower tones of the photographic scale, offering mystery and a hint of romance no matter the subject. Many of his prints have a very limited tonal scale.

Bill Brandt, East Sussex Coast, 1978


This was printed on quite a heavy textured paper, the details of which showed through the print. I found this quite surprising. The image seen here and at the other exhibition were all from the same series which show his about-turn from photo-journalism to art photography. He took quite a few images of naked women some I feel were more successful than others, all of which were surreal in one way or another. Some I like some I don’t…I was hoping to like these more than I did but I found them to be grainy and not as interesting or as subtle with tonality as some of the other photographers on display. Sorry Bill.

Joel Sternfeld, McClean, Virginia, December 1978


One of two colour photographers featured in this exhibition, the other being Stephen Shore, I just love Joel Sternfeld.

He is well-known for large-format color photographs that explore ‘the possibility of a collective American identity by documenting ordinary people and places.’ By using an eight-by-ten-inch camera he can obtain the sharp and crisp details his work is known for.

Although he shoots in colour he ensures that this works for him not against, a fantastic example is the above image, which is also full of the irony for which his images are famed; the pumpkins’ vibrant oranges matching the autumnal colours of the countryside, and the fire’s flames as a fireman goes about purchasing his supper! However, as always there is another story behind the image which goes to reveal our own take on what we see is very important…Sternfeld told the Guardian in a 2004 interview:

You take 35 degrees out of 360 degrees and call it a photo. No individual photo explains anything. That’s what makes photography such a wonderful and problematic medium.

So there you have it. I got there eventually and I daresay I could have gone on about some of the images more than I did, or reviewed some of the images I have ignored…I may return to this post, I may not depending on time etc, but as I mentioned at the beginning, if you have the opportunity to attend this exhibition, do.

It emphasised: that B&W images are far from just B&W: the range of tones that can be acheived is amazing; any subject matter can lend itself to B&W – it does not have to be solely ‘serious, depressing’ documentary; that size does not matter, some of the photographs on display were really quite small but still had a powerful impact and I’m not rich enough to own any of these pieces!


Beetles and 2015, H. (2015) MASTERS OF PHOTOGRAPHY 2016. Available at: http://www.beetlesandhuxley.com/exhibitions/masters-photography-2016.html (Accessed: 22 December 2016).

Blumenfeld, Erwin: Photography, history (1948) Available at: http://theredlist.com/wiki-2-16-601-793-view-fashion-1-profile-blumenfeld-erwin.html (Accessed: 22 December 2016).

Edward Weston 125 Photographs by Steve Crist, Published by AMMO Books LLC (2012)

Foundation, T.A.S. (2016) Edward Weston biography, art, and analysis of works. Available at: http://www.theartstory.org/artist-weston-edward-artworks.htm (Accessed: 22 December 2016).

Harry Callahan | chicago, trees in snow (1950) | available for sale (2016) Available at: https://www.artsy.net/artwork/harry-callahan-chicago-trees-in-snow-1 (Accessed: 22 December 2016).

Jobey, L. (2008) Photographer Joel Sternfeld: Close encounters. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2008/oct/17/photography-joel-sternfeld (Accessed: 22 December 2016).

Joel Sternfeld (American, born 1944) (Getty museum) (1944) Available at: http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/artists/3731/joel-sternfeld-american-born-1944/ (Accessed: 22 December 2016).

Keats, J. (2012) Do not trust this Joel Sternfeld photograph. Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jonathonkeats/2012/09/06/do-not-trust-this-joel-sternfeld-photograph/#22b83520b22f (Accessed: 22 December 2016).

Perich, S. (2010) New York city at night, 76 years ago. Available at: http://www.npr.org/sections/pictureshow/2010/12/20/132143636/nyc (Accessed: 22 December 2016).

Photo liaison, Imogen Cunningham (no date) Available at: http://www.photoliaison.com/imogen_cunningham/Imogen_Cunningham.htm (Accessed: 22 December 2016).














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