ON THE HUMAN BEING: INTERNATIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY 1900-1950
The exhibition revolves around man’s fascination with capturing the essence of people, in order to recognize itself and make itself recognizable in the gaze of the other. To this end, the show brings together 111 images from leading figures of the first half of the 20th century.
Since the birth of photography, people have been the main protagonists in front of the camera lens. Photography, or the mirror with a memory as it was called then, experienced an intense and fruitful development, especially during the first decades of the 20th century, as part of this search to capture their essence. This led to the creation of a new forms of expression, new languages for communicating reality and expressing it artistically.
Curated by Ute Eskildsen, Director of the Photography Department at the Museum Folkwang in Essen (Germany), the exhibition On the Human Being: International Photography 1900-1950 explores humankind&rsquo";“s fascination with deciphering the keys to its own existence, in order to recognize itself and make itself recognizable in the gaze of the other. The show brings together 111 photographs, from 68 of the leading figures from the first half of the 20th century. Cecil Beaton, Brassaï”;", Claude Cahun, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Alvin Langdon Coburn, André Kertész, El Lissitzky, László Moholy-Nagy, Irving Penn, Man Ray, Alexander Rodtchenko, August Sander and Edward Steichen are some of the photographers featured in the exhibition, organized with the collaboration of the Museum Folkwang. Among the most striking pieces are portraits, some of well-known people, others depicting anonymous, but powerfully evocative, faces.
Touring the History of Photography The exhibition offers the visitor a tour de force in the history of photography during the first five decades of the previous century, a period which, among other factors, was marked by the appearance in 1888 of the Kodak portable camera, leading to incipient popularization of photography. Faced with a trend towards commercial and industrial applications of the medium, other circles vindicated the esthetic possibilities of this new language: preeminent among them were the pictorialists. Pictorialism, a highly influential movement during the early years of the 20th century, refers to the photographers&rsquo";" intention to make the photographic image a new form of artistic expression&mdash";“often imitating the formal characteristics of other disciplines, especially painting. Examples of this period include the work of Edward Steichen, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Hugo Erfurth, Frank Eugene, and Heinrich Kü”;"hn.
After World War I, the experimental drive of avant-garde movements expanded into photography. As Ute Eskildsen explains in the catalogue, the achievements of this period are many and of exceptional quality, especially in the 1920s and 30s, well-represented in the show by such artists as Man Ray, László Moholy-Nagy, El Lissitzky, Raoul Ubac, Germaine Krull, Helmar Lerski, and Herbert Bayer, as well as lesser-known women artists including Florence Henri, Aenne Biermann, Claude Cahun, Lotte Jacobi, and Gertrud Arndt.
The photojournalism school that arose during World War II had a profound impact on post-war photography styles. Street settings and the symbolic value of everyday life are the leading motifs of images by such artists as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Christer Strö";“mholm, and Joan Colom. As Professor Ramón Esparza points out in the catalogue, it is a question of &ldquo”;“exploring the interstices of reality, the vision of the extraordinary within the ordinary that the camera has to offer.&rdquo”;" In parallel, another group of photographers took up experimenting again, along with the Surrealist approaches that arose in the previous period, to work on creating an autonomous art image, delving into the possibilities of abstraction that this medium could offer. These artists include Raoul Hausmann, Angus McBean, Imogen Cunningham and Otto Steinert.
The representation of the human body and his face are in this exhibition or, as Ute Eskildsen has stated: &ldquo";“Possibly no other field of photographic practice is as fascinating as depicting human beings. These images make our history legible, on different levels.&rdquo”;"
Catalogue, conferences and guided tours On the Human Being: International Photography 1900-1950, is also the title of the bilingual exhibition catalogue, in Spanish and English. Along with the text by the curator of the exhibition, Ute Eskildsen, it also contains written contributions from photographer and author Florian Ebner, Ramón Esparza, art critic and teacher at the University of the Basque Country, and Christiane Kuhlmann, who also works at the Museum Folkwang. There are photographs and full descriptions of all the works on display.
The MPM has also scheduled a series of conferences, in which leading experts on photography will discuss different aspects of the medium. The cycle will be opened on Thursday 6 March by the exhibition&rsquo";“s curator, Ute Eskildsen, who will be giving a lecture on photographic portraits. Art historian David Elliott will talk about Rodtchenko&rsquo”;“s photography (Thursday 13 March), and the work of artist Lee Miller will be the through-line in Professor Mark Haworth-Booth&rsquo”;“s conference on Thursday 27th March. In April, Belinda Rathbone will explain the contribution to photography made by Walker Evans, on whom she is an expert (Thursday 17th April). The series will be rounded off by historian Juan Naranjo&rsquo”;"s dissertation on the work of Spanish photographer Nicolás de Lekuona, on Thursday 24th April. All these conferences will be held in the MPM Auditorium, at 20.00h. Entrance is free.
The exhibition will also be the main subject of the guided tours Talks at the Museum. This tour is free to visitors with entrance tickets, every Thursday at 6.00pm, and to school groups visiting the art museum up until 25th May.
Man Ray in the MPM Projection Room During museum opening hours and alongside this exhibition, the MPM Projection Room will be screening the films, The Starfish, The Mysteries of the Chateau de Dé, Poison and La Garoupe, all by Man Ray, one of the leading exponents of Surrealist photography in the 1920s and 30s.
The Starfish (1928), which is perhaps his most well-known film, is based on a poem by Robert Desnos, who also performs in the film alongside André de la Riviè";“re &ndash”;" a member of the Surrealist group &mdash";" and the legendary model, Kiki de Montparnasse. The dreamlike quality of this 20mn story is enhanced by the gelatine filters the director used to shoot it.
The Mysteries of the Chateau de Dé (1929), was filmed in the Viscomtes de Noialles&rsquo";" modern villa, a Cubist building by the architect and designer Robert Mallet-Stevens. The film, which lasts around half an hour, combines aesthetics with the concepts of the art movements of the period, and is inspired by a quotation by the poet Mallarmé: &ldquo";“a roll of the dice will never abolish chance&rdquo”;".
Poison (1935) and La Garoupe (1937) are shorter films than the other two. Poison, which is four minutes long, features the Surrealist artist Meret Oppenheim and Man Ray himself, who play a couple who are smoking and drinking. In the ten-minute-long La Garoupe, Man Ray uses colour for the first time, to film a holiday in the South of France. It is an exceptional document, with a cast that includes Picasso, Ady Fidelin, Emily Davies, Roland and Valentin Penrose, and Paul, Nush and Cécile É";"luard.