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Margaret Bourke-White and Lewis Baltz
February 26, 2010 - June 19, 2010
MARGARET BOURKE-WHITE Insect Studies
The camera is a remarkable instrument. Saturate yourself with your subject, and the camera will all but take you by the hand and point the way.
Margaret Bourke-White was a pioneering figure in 20th century documentary photography and is famous for her scenes of modern industry, of the Great Depression, and of political and social movements in the 1920s through 1950s. Born in New York in 1904, Bourke-White attended Columbia University to study under renowned photographer, Clarence White. In 1927 she moved to Cleveland, the heartland of American industry, and opened her own studio. There she documented the effects of modern industry on the land and people.
Bourke-White used silver gelatin print, more commonly known as black and white photography, to capture powerful images that caught the attention of entrepreneur Henry Luce, founder of Time and Fortune magazines. In 1929 Bourke-White became the first staff photographer employed by Fortune magazine. In keeping with her groundbreaking work in the United States, Bourke-White obtained permission in 1930 to enter the Soviet Union to document industrialization under the Communist regime. Through her photography, she captured the psychology of a nation of workers through these first “behind the scenes” images of communist Russia. Upon her return in 1931, she compiled these photographs into a book entitled Eyes of Russia.
When Bourke-White returned to the United States she developed a greater sympathy for the suffering of the American worker. By 1935 she was using a more candid style of photography, sequentially ordering her photographs to create visual narratives. She explained, “While it is very important to get a striking picture of a line of smoke stacks…it is becoming more and more important to reflect the life that goes on behind these photographs.”
Bourke-White started using this new approach in photography for Fortune magazine in 1934 as she set off to document the effects of the intense drought of the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma and other Great Plains states. She created a photographic essay of the migration from this region at the height of the Great Depression and in 1936 published these images in a volume entitled You Have Seen Their Faces. As an artist, Bourke-White continued to use photography as an instrument to examine social issues from a humanitarian perspective. She witnessed and documented some of the 20th century’s most notable moments, including the liberation of German concentration camps by General Patton in 1945, the release of Mahatma Gandhi from prison in 1946, and the effects of South African labor exploitation in the 1950s. Her career was cut short in 1966 due to Parkinson’s disease, and she died in 1971.
In additon to her very public career, Bourke-White was fascinated by and photographed the life cycle of insects- even carrying their egg cases on assignments in hopes of catching the delicate moment when they hatched.
SOURCE: The Philips Collection, Washington, D.C. and the New York Graphic Society
LEWIS BALTZ San Quentin Point portfolio
The questioning of the photograph in its relation to reality, the interrogation of representation, the famous crisis of representation, really took place before digital technology.
– Lewis Baltz
Lewis Baltz, born in Newport Beach, California on September 12, 1945, is best known as one of the icons of the New Topography movement in photography of the late seventies. Presented together in the exhibition New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-altered Landscape in 1975 (Rochester, NY), this group of young photographers brought a shift in landscape photography by showing images of a world far removed from an heroic vision of America, focusing instead on urban and suburban realities under change. Along with Baltz, this group of photogrphers included Robert Adams, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Frank Gohlke, and Stephen Shore. Thirty years after its opening, New Topographics remains a pivotal exhibition in its impact on landscape photography world-wide in its attempt to define both objectivity and the role of the artist in photographic creation.
Baltz’s aesthetics are often referred to as ‘counter aesthetics’, as they reveal desolate landscapes and forgotten places with a dispassionate eye. His style is expressionless and obsessive, as he examines his subjects over long periods of time. This, according to some authors, makes him more closely aligned with conceptual art than with traditional photography.
San Quentin Point was photographed in 1982-1983 and occupies a special position in the evolution of the photographer’s work. Baltz has, in the guise of a forensically neutral statement, actually beautified the phenomena of an urban wasteland. By using the frame as a microscope, he has suggested that the disturbances observed here in miniature are legible as part of a larger allegory of American society. Lewis Baltz lives and works in Paris and Venice.
Source: The European Graduate School and Mark Haworth-Booth’s essay from the portfolio.