Eugène Atget and Berenice Abbott

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991), Eugene Atget, 1927.
Gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art:
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Carl Zigrosser, 1968, 1968-162-38

Interesting article (From Paris to New York: The Story of Eugène Atget and Berenice Abbott) on the occasion of the publication of a new book by Kevin Moore: Old Paris and Changing New York: Photographs by Eugène Atget and Berenice Abbott (Yale University Press).

According to Yale University Press:

An insightful new look at two renowned photographers, their interconnected legacies, and the vital documents of urban transformation that they created

In this comprehensive study, Kevin Moore examines the relationship between Eugène Atget (1857–1927) and Berenice Abbott (1898–1991) and the nuances of their individual photographic projects. Abbott and Atget met in Man Ray’s Paris studio in the early 1920s. Atget, then in his sixties, was obsessively recording the streets, gardens, and courtyards of the 19th-century city—old Paris—as modernization transformed it. Abbott acquired much of Atget’s work after his death and was a tireless advocate for its value. She later relocated to New York and emulated Atget in her systematic documentation of that city, culminating in the publication of the project Changing New York.

This engaging publication discusses how, during the 1930s and 1940s, Abbott paid further tribute to Atget by publishing and exhibiting his work and by printing hundreds of images from his negatives, using the gelatin silver process. Through Abbott’s efforts, Atget became known to an audience of photographers and writers who found diverse inspiration in his photographs. Abbott herself is remembered as one of the most independent, determined, and respected photographers of the 20th century.

Kevin Moore is an independent curator and writer and is artistic director and curator of FotoFocus, Cincinnati. He is the author of Starburst: Color Photography in America 1970-1980 and Jacques Henri Lartigue: The Invention of an Artist.

Ara Güler considered on Casual Photophile

Ara Güler, people sitting talking beside a coffee bar in Beyoglu, 1958. Ara Güler/Magnum Photos via Ajam Media Collective

Very interesting, detailed and lavishly illustrated piece by Drew Chambers on Ara Güler, the Turkish photojournalist who passed away last October: “Everything starts with light” – An Oral History of Ara Güler.

I had not known his name and was not familiar with his work.

Maude’s Tavern

Maude’s Tavern is located near the Metro North Station on the Hudson River in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY. I went there with a friend for lunch a couple of weeks ago. When we’d decided to go there I hadn’t realized that I had in fact been there before – with another friend after a visit to nearby Untermeyr Gardens.

On the way to the men’s room I spotted this photograph by Andreas Feininger (Co-incidentally I just acquired two of his books). It’s appropriate as his father, the famous painter Lyonel Feiningeris buried in Mount Hope Cemetery in Hastings.

Taken with a Sony RX-100 M3.

The Great Showman

This is another of my Christmas presents: The Great Nadar. The Man Behind the Camera. By Adam Begley.

Possibly the greatest photographer of his age Gaspard-Félix Tournachon (brand name Nadar) was a friend of numerous celebrities many of whom he photographed including: Alexandre Dumas , Théophile Gautier, Gérard de Nerval, Charles Baudelaire, Victor Hugo, George Sand, Honoré Daumier, Jules Verne, Sarah Bernhardt and scores of others. His portraits are superb – definitely on the same level as other famous portrait photographers e.g. Julia Margaret Cameron; Richard Avedon; Yousuf Karsch; Arnold Newman etc. He was the first to photograph from the air (i.e. from a balloon) and the first to photograph underground (e.g. in the catacombs of Paris).

But Nadar was much more than that. Before he turned to photography he had lived a bohemian life and had become a famous illustrator. He’d also written novels and plays. Later he turned to aeronautics becoming a strong advocate of heavier than air flight and, curiously a renowned baloonist. He flew in one of the largest balloons of the time: and almost died (along with his wife who was also a passenger) when “Le Géant (Giant)” eventually crashed (See: Flight of the Giant).

It’s a great read and is filled with numerous wonderful examples of Nadar’s work. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Ansel Adams in Color

One of this year’s Christmas presents.

Ansel Adams is, of course, best known for his stunning black and white landscapes. But he also shot some color that is the subject of this volume. After a foreword and editor’s note comes an interesting and informative: Introduction: Quest for Color by James L. Enyeart. The bulk of the book is taken up by the Portfolio, consisting of 57 color plates. It concludes with a selection of writings on color photography by Adams himself.

Unfortunately I wasn’t too impressed by the portfolio. The photographs didn’t make me want to look at them more than once.

I think part of the problem is that Adams did not really relate too (or even like very much) color photography.

The introductory essay has him saying:

Color photography is a beguiling siren for the dilettante, but a scourge for the professional and serious photographer. So much is done superficially, so many millions of images are seen, that it is difficult, even for the serious worker, to realize how important are constant observations and visualization, in terms of rigorous practice and experiment.

Another quotation indicates that it bothered him that he didn’t have the control he was used to with black and white photography:

Moved by the scene, I tried to visualize a color photograph. The problem was formidable and I am sorry to say, unmanageable…

I am frustrated by both exposure-scale limitations and rigid film-color response. As “reality” is out of the question, I can indulge myself with explorations of the “unreal” color which may or may not have intriguing aesthetic effects. I would not want “post-card” realism, but I would enjoy “enhancements” of the colors which I fear is not possible with conventional material today…The scope of control with the electronic image has not been explored, but I feel confident astonishing developments await us in this area. (written in 1983).

It’s interesting that in the quotation above he predicts the effects that what we would call digital photography would have especially on color photography.

Towards the end of his life there were signs that he was coming to terms with color (from the introductory essay):

He finally resolved in his own mind that color photography could offer potential aesthetic experiences, it could be seen as a means of simulating reality, rather than recording it.

He came to believe that great aesthetic works, those that exceeded the documentary nature of reality, were possible in color, but that they were due either to the special color sensitivity of unique individuals like Cosindas, Porter and others, or to the careful selection and “seeing” of subjects. He placed himself in the latter category and fought to find a way for other photographers and the audience to unlock the nature of a color aesthetic that could control subject matter, rather than being controlled by it.

However, the quotation below shows that in March, 1984 (Just a month before he died) he was still having problems.

I fear I have become a problem! I don’t like photographic color. I don’t like the print of the Aspens. It is not my dish of tea! Wilder did a wonderful job of exhumation. But the whole idea is of increasing concern to me. While I did an awful lot of color when I was professionalizing, I never got anything that aesthetically pleased me. I know a lot about the mechanics – especially exposure and the application of the Zone System. The visual tests I had a Polaroid show that I have an excellent color perception over the full spectrum. I wish I liked it! Hence, while I have much that is going for color I find it increasingly negative for me. My field is B&W and I should stick to it! From a letter to Mary and Jim Alinder, March 9, 1984.

I suspect that these problems led an inability to fully engage with color photography and resulted in somewhat uninteresting photographs – at least on his terms. If I had taken these pictures I would have been more than pleased.