Understanding The Lives and Times of Great Photographers

Richard Sadler, Weegee in Coventry, 1963

William Henry Fox Talbot, The Ladder, April 1844

Lady Clementina Hawarden, Isabella Grace and Clementine Maude Hawarden, c.1863

George Davison, Portrait of Mr. Louisa Davison, March 1906

Unknown, Lewis Hine Photographing Children in a Slum, c. 1910

Lewis Hine, Tenement Playground, New York City (1900-1937)

Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dessau, Germany, 1945

Understanding The Lives and Times of Great Photographers

The Lives of Great Photographers is an inspiring exhibition at the National Media Museum in Bradford (UK), which draws on the Museum’s renowned collection to showcase the pioneers behind the camera, exploring the extraordinary stories surrounding some of photography’s most important innovators and artists. It focuses on the work of early photographers who took the initiative to establish photography as an industry during the 19th and 20th centuries. Featuring Henri Cartier-Bresson, Julia Margaret Cameron, Robert Capa, William Henry Fox Talbot, Weegee, Tony Ray-Jones, Fay Godwin and Eadweard Muybridge, the exhibition displays iconic images and artefacts from these and other great names. As technology evolved, the breadth and range of photography increased, and the methods by which it could provide artistic expression became more diverse. The pioneering photographers produced some of the first celebrity photographs in existence, created war/art photography during World War I and produced some of the earliest fashion and advertising photography.

Photography also proved an ideal medium for documenting world events: some of the earliest documentary photographers, including Lewis Hine and Dorothea Lange, were driven by their social consciences to record the Great Depression in America. Photojournalism, the cousin of documentary photography, is represented in the exhibition by artists such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa, founding members of the world’s first photographic agency, Magnum. Both men served in World War II and produced images that helped define an era.

However, while this exhibition considers the lives of photographers as much as their work, to what extent do their photographs reflect the lives, thoughts, feelings or beliefs of the person behind the camera? Although understanding the life and times of a photographer can inform and help to understand their work, it is important not to read too much into a photograph without considering when, and under what situation it was taken. Caution has to be exerted because we can never really know what the photographer was thinking, or feeling when they took the photograph. The danger is that we read something into the image that perhaps doesn’t really exist, except in our own minds.

Brian Liddy has provided an excellent, detailed discussion of some limitations involved in attempts to interpret the lives of great photographers, and uses photographs from this exhibition as examples.

The Lives of Great Photographers

Lives of the Great Photographers: Photographing Conflict

Photo-Gallery: Understanding The Lives and Times of Great Photographers

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Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Perfect Moment

Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Perfect Moment

Henri Cartier-Bresson was a photographer who, some critics have said, was a bundle of contradictions. He was interested both in photographic realism, in the world as it was, as well as in the hidden depths of the unconscious that the camera might reveal, in the search for mystery.  This article presents a number of vintage photographs, a slide show and a documentary short about his early masterpieces, entitled The Perfect Moment.

Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Perfect Moment

Slide Show: Henri Cartier-Bresson/The Perfect Moment

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A Chelsea Rhapsody: Chelsea Mournings

A Chelsea Rhapsody: Chelsea Mournings

Jedd Giles has published a long article on Ed Hamilton the legendary blogging chronicler of the life and times of the Chelsea Hotel, and about the continuing demise of The Chelsea Hotel on West 23rd Street in today’s edition of The New York Times, which begins:

“The Chelsea Hotel describes itself as a rest stop for rare individuals, a euphemism that still manages to pass the truth-in-advertising test if you take “rare individuals” to mean artists and addicts, and “rest stop” to mean possible death. Have sober, productive people ever bedded down for the night at the famous ghost ship on West 23rd Street? Have they even moved in permanently? Of course. One of the strangest rumors to emanate from the place over the decades is that some people actually raise children there. Still, it’s not the upstanding folks whose stories have echoed down the years and drawn generations of tourists and bohemians, it’s the legacies of giants who could barely stand up.

The Chelsea is where Dylan Thomas was living when he fell into a fatal, whiskey-induced coma. Where William Burroughs wrote Naked Lunch. Where Leonard Cohen rolled around with Janis Joplin, he recounted her kindly ministrations in his song Chelsea Hotel No. 2, and where drug-addled Sid stabbed drug-addled Nancy, then couldn’t remember if he had done it or not.”

The Chelsea Hotel on West 23d Street in Manhattan is an elegantly shabby Victorian-Gothic hotel, which is registered as a national historic landmark. The Chelsea has a long history of serving as a sanctuary for the the avant-garde. Through the years, those who lived at the Chelsea have included Jack Kerouac, Thomas Wolfe, Arthur Miller, Sam Shepard, Tennessee Williams, Edith Piaf, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Jean-Paul Sartre, Leonard Cohen, Willem de Kooning, Jane Fonda, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Milos Forman, Jimi Hendrix, Dennis Hopper, Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith, Vladimir Nabokov and Wes Klein. Dylan Thomas drank 18 straight whiskies there. His last. Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey while living there.

Recently, a corporate-style management team has taken over running the Chelsea, and its artist-residents are worried that the hotel will be transformed into a posh New York “boutique” hotel. A national grassroots protest is underway, and this posting is in support of that protest. This article presents a recent documentary about the hotel prepared by Michael Maher of the Australian Broadcasting Company, a music video of Rufus Wainwright (a former resident) performing Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel #2, and a beautiful photo-gallery that presents photographs of the Chelsea, as well as of some of the artists and celebrities who have lived there.

Living With Legends: A Documentary on the Chelsea Hotel by Michael Maher

Rufus Wainwright Sings: Chelsea Hotel #2

To learn more about The Chelsea Hotel, please visit: Living with Legends: Hotel Chelsea Blog

Also see this brief article from today’s edition of The New York Observer here.

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Henri Cartier-Bresson’s Great Early Photographs

Henri Cartier-Bresson’s Great Early Photographs

Henri Cartier-Bresson was a photographer who, some critics have said, was a bundle of contradictions.  He was interested both in photographic realism, in the world as it was, as well as in the hidden depths of the unconscious that the camera might reveal, in the search for mystery.  This article presents a slide  show of his early masterworks, entitled: “The Incisive Moment.”

Slide Show: Henri Cartier-Bresson/The Incisive Moment

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