Stephen White(Collector)

 

 

The Stephen White Collection

Colin Westerbeck

(Curator Emeritus of Photogrphy Art Institute of Chicago)

 

         Historians and critics of photography have always been troubled by questions about what sort of photographs are art and what sort are something else – commerce or scientific documentation, or just kitsch. The question, however, is irresolvable, for on the most elemental level the nature of art is to retain ambiguity. The mission of science is to resolve ambiguity by treating experience as phenomena, in order to eliminate and thereby transcend the confusion of everyday life, whereas that of art is to retain the confusion, to reflect life as human beings actually live it. At least in the modern Western tradition of Europe and America, art’s goal has been to hold in suspension maddening contradictions central to human experience – the ability of irreconcilable possibilities, emotions or even facts to be equally true and valid.

         By trusting his human instincts rather than specializing in a narrow area of photographic history that could be mastered by scholarship alone, Stephen White put together a collection that ranges over the whole of photographic history and illustrates the medium’s ability to handle Western art’s largest themes, including the ambiguity inherent in human experience. Thus is the conflict between romanticism and disillusionment that has been writ large in the history of photography generously illustrated by White’s collection. The ability of enthusiasm and skepticism to co-exist in a single image is characteristic of some of the strongest material in the collection.

         Consider, for instance, Jessie Bertram’s 1916 re-strike as a carbon print of David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson’s 1843 paper negative depicting the woods at the edge of a lake. On the one hand, with its still waters and motionless canopy of leaves above, it is a placid, bucolic landscape typical of the lingering taste for such pictures in the era when it was made. On the other hand, though, the rocky shore and the density of the woods beneath the canopy make the scene look unapproachable, perhaps even a bit treacherous were we to paddle over and try to land there.

         This slight frisson emanating from the scene is what compels our attention to an otherwise formulaic image – especially the coolness that wafts out of the trees. For all its inviting beauty, the photograph might remind us of how a similar darkness gave pause to the American poet Robert Frost about plunging too deeply into nature in his poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” The poem ends with the stanza:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep

But I have promises too keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

The frisson in the poem lies in that repetition of the last line. The mix of temptation with reluctance that we might feel when we look into Hill and Adamson’s woods – a certain ambivalence about nature – is what Frost gave voice to in his poem.

                                             

         When the invention of photography was announced in 1839, it took two forms so utterly different that there was very little overlap in the way they were used. The daguerreotype, created by the Frenchman Louis-Jacques Mandé Daguerre, was a unique image, like the Polaroid later, that was very highly detailed. This acuity made it enormously popular with the emerging bourgeoisie as a medium for portraiture and, for that very reason, made the poet Charles Baudelaire denounce it as vulgar. The preferred photographic process for art was William Henry Fox Talbot’s version called the calotype, which permitted multiple prints on paper to be made from a translucent paper negative. This was the process that Hill and Adamson used and that, despite having been invented by an Englishman, was preferred over the daguerreotype by French photographers working in landscape. The fiber in the paper used for both negative and print gave the latter a tooth that appealed to Romantic tastes in art then morphing into Impressionism. Landscape was the primary genre of art for which the hazy effects of the calotype seemed perfectly suited. The fact that a negative was turned into a positive also appealed to artists because it suggested this photographic process entailed a paradox, a contained contradiction of the sort intrinsic to art.

Talbot recognized this appeal himself, as can be seen in the studies he did of his ancestral home, Lacock Abby, and in similar studies he made, like that in White’s collection, of Abbotsford, the estate of the Romantic novelist Sir Walter Scott. Landscapes containing ancient piles like these as well as outright ruins were also part of the Romantic taste of the age, most of all in France, as we can see in the careers of various photographers who worked for the organization Missions Héliographiques documenting primarily medieval sites for Prosper Mérimée’s semi-official Monument Historique. White’s print by Edouard Baldus, “Maison Carrée at Nimes, France,” of a temple dating back to Roman times, exemplifies  the type of work done for Missions Héliographiques. There was also an imperial aspect to such photography, which ranged far afield of France to ruins like those photographed in Jerusalem by Auguste Salzman or in Egypt by Felix Teynard, both among White’s holdings.

In the history of photography, this Romantic aesthetic had “legs”, as they say in the theater when a play has an exceptionally long run. Later variations on this theme in White’s collection include Lucienne Marcelles’ “Les Laveuses” (The Washerwomen), George Seeley’s “House and Tree,” two photographs of Greece by Arnold Genthe and two in Prague by Joseph Sudek, as well as William Gordon Shield’s  “Hour of Twilight,” D. J. Ruzicka’s “A Bridge in Venice,” Francois Kollar’s “Le Charron” (The Blacksmith) or pictures of Mexican peasants by Paul Strand and Mariana Yampolsky. 

The deeper one moves into the 20th century, however, the more conflicted such imagery becomes and the harder it is to maintain the Romantic myth. The darkness encroaching in the shadow that falls across Ruzicka’s Venetian bridge had all but engulfed Shields’ study of “The Hour of Twilight” 18 years earlier. In these works, as in all forms of nostalgia, the celebration of the past the photographer wants to keep alive in the present is being sullied by mixed emotions. The equanimity needed to keep the conflict of feelings in balance becomes harder to maintain. Regret seeps in because the past you want to preserve is slipping away even as you record it. The mistiness of such images becomes an acknowledgment of the evanescence of the subject.

                                                   

The conflict undermining Romanticism is perhaps most poignant in the depiction of human subjects. Talbot had photographed workers on his estate performing classic peasant hand labor—another Romantic motif – from which the images by Kollar, Strand, Yampolsky and even Sabastião Salgado followed. And yet, does the Kollar photograph depict labor as something noble, or show it to be ceaseless struggle? Certainly by the time Herbert List made his picture of a man silhouetted against the sparks belching from a blast furnace in “Steel Factory, Germany” and Gene Smith did the photograph inside a mill in his late-1950s series “Pittsburgh,” both also in White’s collection, this leitmotif had turned into a vision of hell. In such photographs the age of mechanization has destroyed Romantic illusions about the dignity of labor.

A picture from White’s collection we might also take into account here is George Barnard’s from the 1860s. At first glance it might seem yet another inviting landscape, until we notice that it’s littered with trees blown to smithereens in, as the title informs us, the American “Civil War Battle of Mount Kennesaw” where 200 Union cannons bombarded entrenched Confederate troops. The mechanization of warfare is commented upon, obliquely, in yet another photograph of Stephen White’s, the late-in-life portrait of Edward Steichen by Yousuf Karsh. A devoted follower of Alfred Stieglitz, Steichen had been an ardent Pictorialist, until he pioneered  aerial reconnaissance photography during World War I. The bird’s eye views of blasted landscapes he created then induced in him a cynicism that led him to a more mercenary career in commercial photography after the war, when he declared, “When I first became interested in photography . . . my idea was to have it recognized as one of the fine arts.  Today I don’t give a hoot in hell about that. . . . Art for art’s sake is dead – if it ever lived.”

The sharpness necessary to the reconnaissance photographs had seemed to refute the soft focus of Steichen’s earlier Pictorialist work as fuzzy-minded. This is not to say, however, that photography in the 20th century was without a new kind of romanticism (albeit one with a small “r”). Even when Gene Smith photographed victims of industrialization, as he did in Pittsburgh and his Minamata series in Japan, the pictures were as much a testament to the human spirit as a condemnation of the conditions in which people lived or worked. After World War I had horrified people in the West with the destructiveness of which the mechanical age was capable, there were attempts to rehabilitate the machine as an engine of creativity as much as destruction, and in the arts the camera, which is itself a machine of course, played a key role in ways ranging from the curriculum at Germany’s Bauhaus to a simple 1922 photograph Paul Strand made of his Akeley movie camera.

Like Strand’s picture, Albert Renger-Patzsch’s 1928 study in the White collection is of “Gears” photographed in a close-up that isolates and abstracts the subject. In photography, as in Modernist art in general, abstraction is the form that romanticism took in the 20th century. The abstractness of the vision is what often redeems the subject matter from an inherent ugliness that might otherwise make us avert our eyes. An abstract treatment gives to a mundane or even repulsive scene the ambiguity through which art holds our attention. In White’s 1928 Art Deco nude by Frantisek Drtikol, for example, although the subject’s distended body looks as if she’s being tortured on the rack, her form blends with other swirling lines in a graphic design that neutralizes whatever unease we might feel; the elegance of the abstraction holds any troubling literal interpretation in, literally, a state of suspension. The effect is the same as in Barbara Morgan’s picture of Martha Graham, whose jagged, hand-to-head gesture of anguish is countered by the graceful swish her dress makes in this high-speed exposure.

Like Strand’s camera, nature too becomes abstract in tight close-up when  photographed by Brett Weston in “Rocks” and “Leaves, Hawaii,” where the outline of the forms undulates as beautifully as Graham’s skirt or Drtikol’s nude. Even in the alarming picture of industrial pollution by Michael Kenna or Otto Hagel’s overhead of toxic dust,  the disorienting point of view, depriving us of the stabilizing effect of a horizon line, makes the image abstract in a way that detaches it from reality at the same time that, sub-consciously anyway, we recoil from what we’re seeing. The ultimate example of a photographer who took unseemly subject matter like deterioration or graffiti and turned it into Abstract Expressionism is the 1950s work of Aaron Siskind , as exemplified by White’s print.

                                                   

The one genre in which ambiguity is unavoidable, because inherent in the subject matter, is portraiture. In effect, the subject often seizes control of the image. Nonetheless, the White collection is particularly strong in examples where the subject has met his or her match in a photographer who knows how to take control back. The collection’s most famous portrait – Karsh’s of Churchill scowling at the camera – has a famous legend that Karsh elicited the expression by grabbing the signature cigar Churchill always smoked and yanking it out of his subject’s mouth in order to incur his displeasure. The range of the portraiture extends from a confrontational approach like this to obvious collaborations like Jean Dubuffet’s with Arnold Newman. Dubuffet could hardly have been unaware that, posed against a gritty patch of background throwing his extraordinary profile into relief, he would end up looking like the caricatures with equally outsize profiles in his own painting. Perhaps the most complex personality revealed in the White collection, though, is the one that’s least obvious – Stephen White’s own as a collector.

The two subject areas I have concentrated on here, landscape and industrialization, were also prominent in a touring museum exhibition mounted from White’s collection in 1990. It was rare for a commercial gallerist, which was what White had become in the 1970s,  to have a personal collection whose size and quality permitted a museum exhibition to be drawn from it. The reason he had a collection of such historical significance was that he couldn’t find buyers for many pieces he had originally bought as stock for his Los Angeles gallery. His instinctive taste was too wide-ranging and too advanced for many fledgling collectors then venturing into the nascent photography market. Much of what he acquired then turned out to be at best a very long-term investment, or, as he himself put it (somewhat ruefully) in a 1990 interview, “What was banal 20 years ago has become exquisite today.”

While the exhibition was touring that year, a prominent museum in Tokyo offered to buy his personal collection, and he – not without regret – agreed to sell it. But while he then closed his gallery, he didn’t stop collecting. The continuing fruits of his unabated passion for photography are what you see here at the Fourth Dali International photography exhibition.

 

27.06.2012

 


 


  史蒂芬·怀特收藏展

 

  科林·韦斯特博克

(芝加哥大学美术馆摄影部策展人)

 

翻译:安  

 

影史学家和批常常一个问题纠缠不休,究竟哪些照片是艺术,哪些更像是广告或者科学记录,又或者只是假作艺术的媚俗之作?问题,其无解,因为艺术最基础层面的特就是承载暧昧不明。科学的任是通经历视象路来解决“不明”,以此消除并超越日常生活的困惑;而艺术的命运却是承载这些困惑,从而反射人的生存状。至少在当代欧美的西方传统中,艺术的目是把令人狂的矛盾一人主体经验压缩进一个停一能力有关无法和之可能性、情绪,甚或是若干同等真有效的事

相信其直觉,而非专注于仅被学者们所掌握的范围狭窄的学术史。史蒂芬·怀特所呈现的这一收藏展试图囊括整个摄影史,并且描绘摄影媒介在西方艺术几个大命题上的表现能力,包括人类固有的“暧昧不明”体验。因此展览重墨点染了摄影史上由来已久的浪漫主义和幻像破灭之矛盾 。而在一幅影像中并存热忱和怀疑,是展览中一些重要作品的共同特质。

例如,杰茜·伯特拉姆1916年对希尔和阿达姆松1843年纸质负片的碳印复制。作品描绘的是湖边树木,一方面,平静湖水和其上纹丝不动的林冠所构成的平和、田园牧歌式的风景,正是那个时代摄影作品中挥之不去的味道。但是另一方面,岩石参差的湖岸和林冠下深郁的树木,让这一景观又有深不可测之感,假使我们想划船登岸,说不定会有危险。

这一点从照片中散发出的心悸,尤其从树林中吹过来的那阵寒意,就是这幅看似中规中矩的照片吸引我们注意的原因。在引人入胜的美丽之下,她让我们联想到美国诗人罗伯特·弗罗斯特在他的一首诗“雪夜访林”中所描述过的那种进入自然太深时所感受到的黑暗前的踯躅,诗歌如此结尾:                          

林很美,暗且深

而我有约要赴,

睡前还要赶路,

睡前还要赶路。


诗所給予的心悸在于最后一句的重复。这种诱惑和迟疑的混合我们也许在看希尔和阿达姆松的树林时也可以感受--自然的某种不确定感 --是弗罗斯特在诗中想要表达的。

 

                       

 

                                           

   

1839年摄影术被发明时, 以几乎完全不相交的两种形式出现。达盖尔法,由法国人路易-雅克·曼德·达盖尔所发明,是非常特别的影像,像其后的宝丽来一样,细节极其丰富。其锐利的特点适合拍摄人像,让它在新兴的布尔乔亚阶层中非常流行,因为同样的原因,也让诗人查理·波特莱尔贬为低俗。更被艺术所接受的方法是威廉·亨利·福克斯·塔尔伯特的碘化银纸法,它可以从半透明的纸质底片上多次复制。这也是希尔和阿达姆松使用的方法,尽管是英国人的发明,可是法国的风景摄影师们喜爱这种方法更胜于达盖尔法。塔尔伯特法底片和照片上的纸质纤维让它倍受其时正在向印象派转化的浪漫主义品味的青睐。风景是最早的艺术题材,塔尔伯特法的朦胧效果似乎于此非常切题。从负像到正像的转化也对艺术家有吸引力,因为这种方法似乎包含了一个悖论,对艺术来说这种矛盾几乎是某种本能。

 

塔尔伯特自己也认出了这种特质,从他拍摄自己的祖屋拉考克院,或者此次展览中展出的阿伯特堡习作中可以一窥端倪(后者是浪漫主义小说家沃尔特·斯科特先生的祖居。)拍摄古老建筑或者遗迹也是当时浪漫主义品味的一种,以法国为主流,我们可以在很多当时为坡劳斯坡 ·莫瑞米半官方古迹普查而拍摄中古时期建筑的摄影师们的职业生涯中看到这一点。展览中巴尔杜斯的“尼姆方形神庙”是一个可以回溯到罗马时代的庙宇,体现了当时为这个被称作“古迹摄影项目”所做的拍摄。这些作品同时还包含了一种帝国气质,在这次展览中,我们可以看到它从法国偏远地带一直延伸到了奥古斯特·扎尔茨曼拍摄的耶路撒冷和费力克斯·狄那德拍摄的埃及古迹。

 

在摄影史上,这种浪漫主义美学有“很多腿脚”,在戏剧界他们对一出演了很久的戏如此称呼。怀特收藏展中在这个命题上的后期变体包括:西恩 · 斯力的“洗衣妇”,乔治·西利的“树和屋”,阿诺德·根特的两幅希腊风景,约瑟夫·苏德克的两幅布拉格风景,以及威廉·戈登·谢尔德的“暮光时刻”, 德哈米 ·瑟夫 ·卢奇卡的“威尼斯的一座桥”,弗朗索瓦·科拉尔的“铁匠”, 或者还有保罗·斯特兰德和玛丽 · 雅博斯基的墨西哥农夫。

 

然而,当我们更深入二十世纪,影像变得更有冲突性,更难以维持它们的浪漫主义神话。侵入卢奇卡威尼斯桥下阴影的黑暗曾经占有了一切,同样的黑暗早在18年前,就曾经吞噬高登·谢尔德的“暮光时刻”。在这些作品中, 摄影师们想在现实中继续的关于过去的庆典无可避免的被复杂的情感玷污了,就如同所有的乡愁。保持矛盾情绪平衡所需的淡定越来越难以维持。遗憾不断的渗入,因为即便在你试图记录的时刻,那些想要保存的过往也向远方滑去。笼罩这类影像的雾气成为拍摄主题转瞬即逝的一种确认。

 

                                          

 

矛盾对浪漫主义的损害也许是人类主题描绘中最凄美的部分。塔尔伯特曾经拍摄过工人在他的领地上表演传统农艺另一个浪漫的主题科拉尔,斯特兰德,雅博斯基,甚至萨尔加多也都曾效仿的影像。然而,科拉尔们是试图描绘劳动的高尚,还是显示它无止境的挣扎?

 

等到赫伯特·李斯特拍摄他的“德国钢铁厂”时,火花四溅高炉前男人的剪影,和尤金·史密斯在他的1950年代后期 “匹兹堡” 系列中拍摄的工厂内部, 让这个主题变成了地狱景象。机器时代已然毁灭了浪漫主义对于劳动尊严的幻影。

 

此次展览中另一幅我们应该关注的作品是乔治·巴纳德拍摄于1860年代的作品。第一眼看去似乎是并不引人注意的风景,直到我们注意到画面中散落的被炸得粉碎的树木,标题告诉我们,这是“美国内战肯尼索山战役”的一个场景,在这里200门联军加农炮炮轰了战壕中的南部联军。战争的机械化因此被评述了,展览中的另一幅作品,约瑟夫·卡什所拍摄的爱德华·斯泰肯晚年肖像对此也有间接描述。作为斯特格里茨的忠实信徒,斯泰肯曾经是热情洋溢的画意派摄影师,直到一战中他开创空中侦查摄影。当时所拍摄的鸟瞰焦土导致他后来的犬儒主义,最终让他在战后进入雇佣军式的商业摄影创作,他在其时申明:“当我开始对摄影感兴趣时,希望能让它成为被认可的艺术。现在我一点也不在乎为艺术而艺术已经死了假设它曾经存在过。”

 

侦查照片对清晰度的要求似乎在指责斯泰肯早年画意作品中的柔焦是头脑不清醒。这并不是说,20世纪的摄影就没有一种新的浪漫主义(尽管此浪漫主义只能以小写r开头)。即使当尤金·史密斯拍摄工业化受害者的时候,如他在匹兹堡系列和日本水俣病系列中所表现的那样,也更像是对人类精神的证明,而不是对人类生存和工作状况的控诉。一战所展示的机器时代的毁灭能力把西方人民吓坏了,此时有各种努力期望能让机器从毁灭引擎恢复到创造引擎,在相机这个机器所创造的艺术中,这种努力扮演了重要角色,从德国包豪斯课程,到一张斯特兰德在1922年用他的阿克利电影机拍摄的简单照片。

 

像斯特兰德的照片一样,此次展览中阿尔伯特·伦格尔-帕萨克1928年的习作是以特写从物体本身被孤立和抽象的“齿轮”。在摄影和其他一般意义上的当代艺术中,抽象是浪漫主义在20世纪所选取的形式。抽象视觉通常可对不忍目睹的丑陋特质給予救赎。一次抽象治疗可以让平淡无奇甚至让人恶心的场景变得暧昧,通过这种暧昧,艺术捕获我们的注意力。比如 · 特提科勒1928年的装饰裸体,尽管主角向上弯曲的身体让她像是被挂在架上折磨一般,她的形态和其他曲线融合成的设计图案中和了我们所感受到的不适;抽象的优雅包裹着不论怎样困扰的文学解读,真的,有了一个停顿。芭芭拉·摩根的玛莎·格林汉姆也有同样的效果,后者尖锐的手越过头的痛苦姿态,被高速曝光形成的优雅飞扬衣衫給予反冲。

 

和斯特兰德的相机一样,自然也同样可以用极端特写的形式被抽象,被布莱特·韦斯顿所拍摄的“石头”和“叶子”,线条转动一如格林汉姆的裙子和特提科勒的裸体般美妙。甚至在令人震惊的迈克尔·肯纳的工业污染或者奥图·黑格尔头顶上的毒尘中,令人迷惑的视角,通过剥夺使我们觉得稳定的地平线,也让影像具备了脱离现实的抽象感,同时,也许是下意识的,我们仍被自己所见吓了一跳。摄影师在这一命题上的终极例证,是亚伦·西斯金德1950年代把极不合适拍摄的物体,比如腐烂或者涂鸦变成抽象表现主义的尝试,在怀特收藏展中,可以找到这个例证。

 

                        

 

在人像摄影中,暧昧不明似乎不可避免,这是被摄物性质使然。事实上,人像摄影中被摄者常常夺取影像控制权。然而,怀特收藏强调了当被摄者遇到棋逢对手的摄影师时,后者如何夺回主动权。本次展览中最著名的肖像丘吉尔对镜头皱眉有一段著名的传奇,据说卡什为了引发这个表情,揪住丘吉尔不离嘴的雪茄拔了出来,就为了获得他不高兴的样子。此次展览的人像部分从这样挑战的方式到显然的合作,比如阿诺德·纽曼拍摄让·迪比费。后者不可能不注意到,在有一片沙砾的背景上摆他伟大的侧影头像,其结果就是他会和自己画中的卡通人物有一样的轮廓。也许,怀特收藏展所能体现的最不明显却最复杂的性格,是作为收藏家的史蒂芬·怀特自己。

 

我所强调的两个主题,风景和工业化,同样也是1990年一次怀特收藏美术馆巡展的突出特性。一个商业画廊主(怀特在1970年代开始的身份,)其个人收藏达到数量和质量上足以举办美术馆展览的程度,在业界极其少见。怀特之所以会有如此历史意义收藏的原因是,他为自己在洛杉矶的画廊所采购的很多货品始终找不到买家。他的来自本能的品味范围太广,对进入摄影这个新兴收藏市场的初级藏家们来说也太超前。很多他当时购买的作品变成一个超长线的投资,或者像他自己在1990年一次访问中(有点伤感的)所说的那样,“20年前的平庸今天变成了精彩。”

 

展览开始巡展的同一年,东京一家知名美术馆出价购买怀特的个人收藏,他--不无遗憾的--同意卖出。虽然随后他关了画廊,收藏并没有停止。怀特有增无减的收藏热情带来新的果实,其中就有今天你在大理国际摄影节上看到的这次展览。

 

2012.06.27