Renowned curator and photographer John Szarkowski passed away on Saturday, July 7th in Pittsfield, MA from complications due to a stroke. He was 81. He was born December 18, 1925, in Ashland, WI.
Szarkowski was director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA) for nearly three decades. It could be argued that he was one of the most influential photography curators of his generation, if not THE most influential. His writings and exhibitions were groundbreaking, and he was often credited with putting photography on a level more closely aligned with the other arts. Two of his books written as a curator were especially significant: "The Photographer's Eye," (1964) and "Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art" (1973). They remain classic works that should be in every photography and art library.
Sarkowski's gallery representative and friend Peter MacGill told me: "He taught us how to think about and look at photographs. He was bigger than life. John had an unparalleled intellect packaged in an unbelievably kind Midwestern body. He was exceedingly smart, but also wonderfully accessible and very funny."
He was often overlooked as a photographer (or should we say, his curatorial work overshadowed his photography?), but that was his first love and occupation. Szarkowski started to take photographs when he was only 11 years old. By the time Edward Steichen had invited him to take over for him at MoMA in 1962, Szarkowski had published two books of his own photographs, "The Idea of Louis Sullivan" (1956) and "The Face of Minnesota" (1958), and had just earned a Guggenheim Fellowship for a photography project. In recent years he had returned to his own photography work.
Speaking about how they worked together on presenting Szarkowski's images, MacGill said, "It was very humbling to have the trust of the man who had changed the world of photography so completely. What had we done? When the elevator doors opened up and John got off, everyone became happy and excited. We worked for him, but he taught us."
"His photography constantly surprises you when you look at it. It is extraordinary to see the variety of things he photographed and how they all worked in the service of mankind."
In 1963 Szarkowski met and married his wife Jill Anson, an architect, who died at the end of last year on December 31st. Friends say the loss clearly impacted Szarkowski, who suffered a stroke on March 2nd of this year--barely two months after the death of his wife (see Issue 120, 3/6/2007 for more details). He is survived by two daughters, Natasha Szarkowski-Brown and Nina Anson Szarkowski-Jones, both of New York, and two grandchildren.
I myself did not know John as well as many others in this field, but I was able to view his retrospective exhibition of his own photographs, which opened at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and toured museums around the country. Fittingly it ended at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 2006, which is where I finally saw it.
As MacGill noted, "I don't think John was ever happier than when his retrospective opened at the museum in New York. John's life was divided into three chapters and his adopted home of New York City really only knew about chapter two, his life as a curator. His show allowed people to see and understand the first and third chapters which involved making photographs."
The images and prints had a stunning classic quality to them, yet maintained an off-center quirkiness that put them in a category of their own. The quiet, self-effacing, but determined quality of the photographs had to have come from the photographer's own center of being, and made me wish that I had known him better.
Ted Hartwell, Minneapolis Institute of Arts' founding photography curator, died on July 10th at St. Mary's Hospital in Rochester after suffering a heart attack five days earlier near his home in Pepin, WI. He was 73. Hartwell was born in Sioux City, Iowa on Nov. 9, 1933, but grew up in Minneapolis.
A true Midwesterner, Hartwell joined the Art Institute's staff in 1962 as photographer and adjunct curator of photography, and was promoted to curator in 1972. He continued in that position until he passed away. He was part of the early generation of highly influential photography curators, which included Beaumont Newhall, Edward Steichen and John Szarkowski, who also just passed away.
His groundbreaking show of Richard Avedon in 1970, the first such retrospective of Avedon's work, put Hartwell and Minneapolis on the photography map. This exhibition would "set the tone", as photographer Jerome Liebling told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, "for everything Ted did."
Norma Stevens, long time studio manager for Avedon and the Executive Director of the Richard Avedon Foundation, was one of the many who paid tribute to Hartwell.
Hartwell is survived by his wife, Carolyn Mary, their children, Theron, 8, and twins Franklin and Louise, 4; and his son, Joseph, 38, from a previous marriage. A son, Charles, predeceased him.
As Minneapolis photography dealer Martin Weinstein described the man, "Ted was universally recognized as one of the earliest major figures responsible for the acceptance of photography as fine art. At the same time he always remained for photographers, colleagues, collectors and his family, the same kind, gentle and self-effacing person, who was almost unique in his demeanor. There is an old Yiddish term which is the highest praise you can give any person. That term is mensch. You meet very few in a lifetime. They are the kind, gentle, good ones, a person of integrity and honor. My buddy, Ted, was a mensch of the highest order."
Weinstein continued, "The recognition and respect that Ted enjoyed throughout the photographic community never ceased to amaze me. Ted would often visit our gallery's exhibit at art fairs in places like New York or Chicago. He would sit in our booth and receive visitors. It seemed as if homage was being paid to royalty. Artists, writers, curators, collectors, dealers, all would continuously come to chat with Ted and pay their respects. He was clearly loved by all of them."
By Stephen Perloff
Editor of The Photograph Collector
Christie's New York packed in a lot in its first day of its Spring sales. First the Elfering collection of Horsts and then the James Hyman Modernist sale (both already covered previously in our last issue), and after a short breath, the bidding continued with the first 50 lots of the various-owners sale.
That short breath may not have been enough as the bidding on the first few lots--all Avedon--was positively breathless. Collector Leon Constantiner leapt to $240,000 for Avedon's Fashion portfolio, 35/75 ($30,000$50,000). That tied for the third highest price of this sale. Jeffrey Fraenkel took the next two lots, Avedon's Minneapolis portfolio, 7/35 ($50,000$70,000), over Peter MacGill, also for $240,000, and seven images of Avedon's father, Jacob Israel Avedon (in my opinion, the strongest and most humane of all his portrait work), 2/10, ($15,000$25,000) for $84,000. Then New York gallerist Yancey Richardson snared Dovima with Elephants, 5/50, for $132,000, just under high estimate (eighth place). Clearly prices for Avedon are on the upswing.
A 16x20-inch dye-transfer print of Joel Sternfeld's McLean, Virginia ($15,000$25,000) burnt a hole in the pocket of a phone bidder at $45,600. Paul Strand's Lusetti Family, 1953, printed early 1960s, found a home at $84,000, although under the low estimate.
Howard Greenberg made a reservation for a vintage print of Cartier-Bresson's Piazza della Signoria, Florence, Italy, 1933 for $72,000, the low estimate. The print was possibly exhibited at the Julien Levy Gallery. Helmut Newton's Rue Abriot, Paris, seduced $78,000 from a bidder standing in the back of the room. And Ansel Adams's Portfolio Four: What Majestic Word, In Memory of Russell Varian, San Francisco soared to $144,000, one-third over high estimate (tied for sixth place). Illustrated in the catalogue over six pages with two gatefolds, the portfolio was sold to benefit the Sempervirens Fund, a non-profit land conservancy, for redwood land preservation.
Peter MacGill picked up Robert Mapplethorpe's unique silver print, Orchid (with Black Bowl) for $84,000, over a high estimate of $25,000.
Then Edward Weston's Shells ($200,000$300,000) passed at $140,000. According to Michael Mattis, who has a stellar Weston collection with his wife Judy, "The print had a 3-inch break in it. Even more significantly, the upper shell had apparently moved a little during the multi-hour exposure, which knocked the upper half of the picture out of focus. There is an interesting comparison to be made to a close variant of this image [that had been in the Schieszler sale a few years ago] in which both shells are in sharp focus."
Mattis didn't hesitate for the next lot, however, Weston's Pepper 2P, a print originally in the estate of Tina Modotti, as he wrested it away from dealer Paul Hertzmann for $90,000.
Phone bidders took the next two lots: Irving Penn's Cuzco Children for $114,000 (tied for tenth place) and Helmut Newton's Mannequins, Quai d'Orsay II for $66,000, the latter more than double the high estimate. Ansel Adams's Clearing Winter Storm also blew by for $66,000.
Next up was Newton's Private Property, Suites I, II, and III, totaling 45 prints (and also illustrated across six pages, with three gatefolds) ($250,000$350,000). Although there seemed to be no other bids, it went to an order bidder for $288,000, the second highest price of the sale.
A complete set of Camera Work ($150,000$250,000) went to a U.S. dealer by order for $144,000 (tied for sixth place). A Robert Polidori image of Havana, 1997, in an edition of 10, brought $54,000, one and a half times high estimate, and a world auction record for the artist. And Jeff Wall's Just Washed, 1997, cleaned up at $120,000, just over its high estimate (ninth place).
Ute Hartjen of Germany's Camera Work Gallery battled a phone bidder for Irving Penn's Woman in Moroccan Palace (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn), Marrakech, 1951, printed 1983, 20/40 ($250,000$350,000), finally yielding at $396,000, a world auction record for the artist and the top lot of the sale. A copy had sold for $307,200 at the Elfering sale in October 2005.
Robert Frank's Parade--Hoboken, New Jersey marched off for $108,000, but an oversized 30"x40" print of Adams's Moonrise, printed c. 1970 in a probable edition of three in this size ($120,000$180,000) passed at $110,000.
Peter Beard's Baby Cheetahs snuck by at the low estimate of $96,000. And Jeffrey Fraenkel walked, ran, galloped, and flew off with 400 plates from Eadweard Muybridge's Animal Locomotion series for $114,000 (tied for tenth) and just under the low estimate.
If there were questions about whether bidders would hold off for the Maggi Weston sale coming up at Sotheby's or whether there would be pockets deep enough to absorb the vast range of incredible--and slightly more pedestrian--material over these four days of sales, those questions seemed to be answered with confidence after this first evening.
The day sale had many decent pictures but not nearly as many highlights--and many more buy-ins. A spectacular carbon print by Frank Hurley, The Low Sun after the Winter Night of the ship Endurance caught in the ice during Ernest Shackleton's famed and near-disastrous Antarctic expedition melted the heart--and wallet--of a phone bidder at $90,000, more than double the high estimate. The same bidder later came back for Edward Weston's Dunes, Oceano ($40,000$60,000) at $114,000 (tied for tenth and the only lot from the day sale to break into the top ten).
Avedon's nude portrait of the young Rudolf Nureyev, Paris, 1961/1999, 1/20 more than doubled its high estimate to $72,000. Art consultant Turid Meeker paid $50,400, just over low estimate for a similarly well endowed picture, Robert Mapplethorpe's collage Black XXX , 1970.
Robert Frank's Andrea, Pablo, and Mary ($25,000$35,000) brought $60,000. Mapplethorpe's flowers continue to blossom. A Tulip brought $48,000 and a Calla Lily $66,000 from the phones.
More and more of the action was on the phones--and on the internet. A phone bidder went to $57,600 for Ansel Adams's Portfolio Three, out-climbing Michael Mattis and James Alinder. But New York gallerist Bruce Silverstein took Adams's The Tetons and the Snake River at $54,000. And Peter MacGill went to $72,000 for Robert Frank's Political Rally--Chicago, 1956/1970s ($25,000$35,000).
After lunch a phone bidder more than doubled the high estimate for Hiroshi Sugimoto's Hall of Three Bays at $42,000. A different phone bidder paid the same price, but almost triple the high estimate, for Naoya Hatakeyama's River Series. Peter MacGill speared Penn's Three Asaro Mudmen ($30,000$50,000) for a premium $108,000. And an internet bidder paid $45,600 for Peter Beard's Fayel Tall on Lake Rudolf ($15,000$25,000).
Bidding became more and more lethargic as the afternoon wore on past lot 450. Peter MacGill was back for another Robert Frank, City Hall--Reno, Nevada, 1956/c.1962 ($25,000$35,000) at $66,000. And finally art consultant Kevin Moore ran down Alexander Rodchenko's The Sports Girl for $42,000.
By the time the auction finished at lot 554, the various owners sale amassed $7,386,000 with a 22% buy-in rate, for an April total of $11,176,200. As Christie's press office wrote, "Coupled with the two Photographs sales held this February at the Rockefeller salerooms, which included the much-celebrated $4.3 million Photographs From The Estate Of Thomas T. Solley auction, the total for Christie's Spring 2007 Photograph sales stands at $16,736,460." (Christie's must be ahead of the global warming curve to put February in spring, but no matter.)
(Copyright ©2007 by The Photograph Collector.)
My thanks to Steve Perloff and The Photograph Collector Newsletter for giving me permission to use this information. The Photograph Collector, which is a wonderful newsletter that I can heartily recommend, is published monthly and is available by subscription for $149.95 (overseas airmail is $149.95). You can phone 1-215-891-0214 and charge your subscription or send a check or money order to: The Photograph Collector, 140 East Richardson Ave, Langhorne, PA 19047. Or for a subscription order form to The Photograph Collector Newsletter, go to: http://www.photoreview.org/collect.htm.
Bernd Becher died at the age of 75 two weeks ago after undergoing heart surgery. Becher, along with his wife Hilla, was considered one of the major influences on contemporary photography.
The Bechers' straight-on documentary approach to various industrial age structures, such as water towers, storage silos, warehouses and framework houses, were icons for their many students at the Düsseldorf Academy. This "topological" and systematic method was quickly emulated by those students, and became known as the Düsseldorf or German school or style. The photographs that the Bechers took were often organized in grids to better compare the structures.
Before Becher, photography had been excluded from what was largely a school for painters.
Major contemporary photographers Andreas Gursky, Candida Hofer, Thomas Struth and Thomas Ruff were all students of the Bechers, which is a measure of their immense and continuing influence on the field.
For some time now I have been arguing that changes in the art market have been leading to a lack of connoisseurship and critical thinking in the art world. Finally another art publication seems to agree (at least in one article). The Art Newspaper's latest issue has an excellent article by Jane Kallir who is co-director of Galerie St Etienne of New York City.
Her article under the publication's Editorial and Commentary section is a fine discussion of this topic and raises some key issues for art curators, collectors, auction houses and dealers. Money can not be the criterion that determines the ultimate value of art in today's civilization and culture, but the current art market has been suggesting this, rather inaccurately, for some time now. It is about time that we all took a second look at this short-sighted premise and why it is untenable. This article lends fresh impetus to that effort.
Kallir also argues for more connoisseurship and knowledge for the collector, instead of the current reliance on money, trendiness and investment potential.
To see the article in its entirety click on: http://www.theartnewspaper.com/article01.asp?id=681 .
By Mack Lee
In late 2005, Hallmark Cards donated its remarkable, choice, and extensive collection of photographs (some 6,500 in all) to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. With the opening of the new Bloch wing on June 9th, and Keith F. Davis's formidable show "Developing Greatness: The Origins of American Photography, 1839 -1885," the geography of photographic collections has been redrawn. Kansas City is no longer a "fly-over" city for students and lovers of photography. In fact, if you're interested in understanding the origins of photography, or American art history, "Developing Greatness" is a "must see" show.
The show begins with over 165 daguerreotypes expertly lit with fiber optics in specially designed cases. There are several rare, small, primitive portraits from the first months of photography, including a previously unknown self-portrait by Henry Insley from about late 1839, and two works by Robert Cornelius. Samuel Bemis's whole plate view of the Lafayette House at Franconia Notch, NH, would be a masterpiece of composition from any point in the Daguerreian era, but the primitive quality of the technique and the other-worldly rendering of trees on the mountain side give the impression that the artist was an astronomer catching the first nanosecond from the big bang of photographic light.
Next is another previously unknown plate: an interior view of two rooms of a Daguerreian studio. The first and closest room could be the waiting room of a daguerreotypist of modest means; a common domestic interior with low ceilings, spare furniture and framed daguerreotypes on the wall. It is washed in gentle, low, early-morning or late-afternoon light. A man is seen through a doorway in a second room; he is seated in profile with a contemplative gaze, facing a window. It is apparent that he is in a workroom (above the doorway are the words "No Admittance") and is busy assembling a daguerreotype for a customer. A unique and innovative composition, the clarity, natural light and size of the image makes the viewer feel as if they have gone through a key hole with Alice to view a scene from another world.
Except for the radical leap in technologies, the daguerreotype was a direct descendent of hand-painted portraits on ivory made in similar scale and presented in similar hinged leather cases. While all daguerreotypists borrowed something from this earlier tradition, a few went far beyond any painterly precedents.
On view by Southworth and Hawes, for example, is a delicately rendered sixth plate of frost patterns on a window. This photograph is a radical departure from both the tradition of portrait painting, and from any "normal" use of the daguerreotype, which was largely applied to portraiture. All other photographs of natural forms are descended from this photograph and a small handful of remotely comparable examples. And of the progeny, few are as beautiful as this.
The show also includes a Southworth and Hawes portrait of Mary Hawes, the artist's daughter. The young girl is standing and holding on to a chair in an evocative and painterly pose. We would be viewing a masterpiece if that were all that was going on. However, her dress is beautifully tinted red and clouds have been painted in the background, probably by the child's mother. With no horizon line or other spatial reference, it's not clear if the chair is an oversized prop or if the young girl is much larger than a normal size chair. The space of the picture becomes intriguingly ambiguous, and the viewer is forced to wonder if the scene was made on a cloud or on earth.
The Russell Miller portrait of an artist painting a trompe l'oeil backdrop has been very well received since it first surfaced about 20 years ago. And elderly woman standing in front of it expressed a commonly held sentiment: "Wow!!!...Wow!!!...Wow!!!" The brilliance of this work is poignant. While very little else by Miller is known, it seems impossible that a work of this quality could have been a strictly "one-off" production. What else might this brilliant daguerreotypist have made, and where are the plates?
Next is a portrait of a young man sitting precariously on a chair with his mouth wide open and his whole visage expressing alarm or excitement. This marks an important point in the pioneering era of photography. It's one of the earliest photographs of human emotion.
The sixth plate of gravediggers may be unique in the Daguerreian era. The sky has a dense, iridescent blue color caused by over exposure, which gives a bizarre, otherworldly feeling. One of the figures is wearing an unusual Transylvanian-style cape. The image looks as if it could be an illustration from an Ambrose Bierce story or a still from a Rod Serling or David Lynch screenplay.
Other treasures include an astonishing whole-plate view of the interior of a butcher shop, a profile portrait of Frederick Douglass, a barn-raising scene, a uniquely artistic "trophies of the hunt" still-life from 1842, and an outdoor view of boys playing marbles. All of these are "new" additions to our historical knowledge: none have ever before been published.
At some point the reader may wonder whether the reviewer is suffering from irrational exuberance or whether this is really a great show. The curator, Keith Davis, often "blasted" many of the finest pieces out of private collections. Most collectors and curators have no choice but to wait for a great piece to come to the market place. However, thanks to the generous support and forward thinking of Donald J. Hall, Hallmark's chairman of the board, Davis was given the means to develop a collection of international importance. This was done through "blasting": steady travel, lots of study, networking, and a willingness to pay a fair (or even "full") price for great pieces. The result is an unusually large number of national treasures of photography in one place.
The 122 paper photographs are equally stunning and important. Many of the most famous practitioners are represented, with both familiar and little-known masterpieces. This section begins with pre-Civil War work by J. B. Greene, the brilliant young American based in Paris, Samuel Masury and Charles D. Fredricks.
A large group of Western landscapes includes signature works by Timothy O'Sullivan, Carleton E. Watkins, Eadweard Muybridge and William Henry Jackson.
The Civil War section is equally memorable. A.J. Russell's photograph "Fredericksburg: Rebel Caissons Destroyed by Federal Shells" is a stark record of the impossible and unimaginable horrors of war. The dead horses are almost too contorted and abstract to be read as horses. The caissons look as if they have been up-ended and littered by a tornado. The three Union figures stand somberly staring at the ground as if they are wondering how such devastation is possible. Other prints in this section include Alexander Gardner's rare series of the hanging of the Lincoln conspirators and a previously unpublished portrait of General William T. Sherman and his son.
The show concludes with a variety of works from the 1870s and early 1880s, from lively cartes-de-visite and stereographs, to Lewis Rutherfurd's celebrated 1865 view of the moon, and a pristine copy of William Bradford's lavish album, "The Arctic Regions."
While large, this show is not overwhelming. Instead it is inviting and inspiring: a memorable overview of a most remarkable subject. One of the best shows of early American photography ever produced, it is a true "must see".
The exhibition runs from now through December 30, 2007 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansans City, MO. For more information on the exhibit and the museum, click on
Mack Lee runs Lee Gallery in Winchester, MA. He is a long-time member of the Association of International Photography Art Dealers (AIPAD) and has been dealing in photography for over 26 years. His website is http://www.leegallery.com.
By Matt Damsker
Essay by Natasa Segota Lah (translation by Tomislav Kuzmanovic). 2007, Fraktura; 250 pages, approximately 200 black-and-white plates. ISBN No. 978-953-266-006-2. Price $55, plus shipping. To purchase signed copies contact email@example.com or call +1-215-822-5662.
While Eastern European photographers--from Sudek, Kertesz, Koudelka and others--established a dark modernism that lent spiritual intensity to our experience of their corners of the world--an insular world of fragile beauty, brute Stalinist reality and the long gray Soviet sky--their younger brethren are shining fresh light on the post-Soviet world. Prime among them, Stanko Abadzik is, at 54, a venerable presence, but the photos collected in this book extend back no farther than about 10 years, when the fall of the Berlin Wall was the energizing force in European realism.
Abadzik's images of Berlin, Prague, Dubrovnik, Budapest, Zagreb and the towns of Eastern Europe are nothing if not celebratory, preferring to capture the sheer, simple power and magic of sun and shadow playing over a world that has rather beautifully survived itself. Thus, the shots of empty cobblestone streets viewed in long perspective, or the images of townsfolk idling by cafes or bicycling acrobatically, are not so much moody dispatches from the edge as they are character studies now hopefully lit, it seems, from within as well as from without. Indeed, the glass and steel of Berlin skyscrapers, with the fighting image of Muhammed Ali dominating one huge façade, or a rural billboard plastered with Andy Warhol's portrait of Mao, become, through Abadzik's lens, cheerful reminders of pop globality in the most specific of settings.
This warm pop sensibility may be new to Eastern European photography, but it certainly feels right. It is also charmingly palpable in Abadzik's more traditional studies--of an alley in Dubrovnik, with laundry hung high above, or of a nun making her solitary way--in which bright sunlight winks at us through the heavy shadows. At the same time, the wonder of shadow, its way of abstracting the simplest image--of a gate, an archway, or the slats of a window treatment--is one of Abadzik's abiding affections, and he makes richly patterned Op art from such found material. There is a lot of delight to be found in this excellent compendium of Abadzik's art, and while Natasa Segota Lah's accompanying essay makes rapturous descriptive and philosophical connections for us ("The artist knows very well that simplicity is the result of the most complex modes of intellectual and emotional abstraction."), it suffers somewhat from an awkward English translation.
But Abadzik's passionate and affectionate eye speaks volumes for itself, and truly needs no explication. Images of dogs making their way, ploddingly, against a wonderfully high, lamp-lit wall in Prague, or of a skateboarder suspended over his twisting shadow in a context of curved space, are unforced masterworks, while Abadzik's portraits of people--accordionists and bench-sitters, leggy models and old women--are expressive and joyful in their embrace of humanity. There is really no rhetoric here, and no real darkness amidst the shadows--just the pure power of time, place, personality and photography.
Matt Damsker is an author and critic, who has written about photography and the arts for the Los Angeles Times, Hartford Courant, Philadelphia Bulletin, Rolling Stone magazine and other publications. His book, "Rock Voices", was published in 1981 by St. Martin's Press. His essay in the book, "Marcus Doyle: Night Vision" was published in the fall of 2005.
He currently reviews books for U.S.A. Today.
(Book publishers, authors and photography galleries/dealers may send review copies to us at: I Photo Central, 258 Inverness Circle, Chalfont, PA 18914. We do not guarantee that we will review all books or catalogues that we receive. Books must be aimed at photography collecting, not how-to books for photographers.)