Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2014 part III

I remember last year’s DB exhibition and how the arrangement of finalists had affected me, specifically how the impact of one exhibit as it rested by another artist’s work. Probably most affecting was ‘The Afronauts’ by Cristina De Middel next to Bloomberg and Chanarin’s work ‘War Primer 2’.

Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery

I am equally sure that whilst the emotional response was less for me this year, it must surely have an effect on the viewer to have such disparate work on show in such close proximity when the only contextual touchstone is that they have all been proposed to win a prestigious prize in the photographic calendar. Lorna Simpson’s work reminded me of the discussion that took place at the Thames Valley Group’s previous meeting a couple of day’s earlier. Simpson’s view, in my opinion was very ‘female’ a gendered perspective and singular amongst the other practitioners on view at TPG’s annual show. The earlier discussion raised, amongst other subjects to do with feminism and the arts, whether a view could be determined, or determinedly, feminine. Last year’s solo female’s work (one hopes this isn’t a case of tokenism – perhaps I’ll check previous year’s statistics?) ‘The Afronauts’ wasn’t, I think, a particularly gendered set, but I concede my view may be masked by how I felt about the work as a whole.

 

Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery

This work didn’t deal with war, as it’s co-companion on the fifth floor Richard Mosse’s work did, the expressed and hidden violence of a land desecrated by men for men; no Lorna’s work was intimate and personal, a look at a life projected through time. Small and needing to viewed at close distance, it had no notion of power, it was a look at how people were with each other, even if the other was, seemingly, the other side of the camera. The subject and the image maker seemed intimately bonded.

Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery

This quiet conversation with the viewer (quieter still perhaps after the Congo perils of Mosse’s work) in tender monochrome tones allowed the viewer to consider the relationships that existed for women of colour a half century earlier in the West Coast of America and have those thoughts mediated through a lens today. No less deep because of the apparent leif-motif of the production compared to Mosse’s carcinogenic perspective of riotous colour, but no better because of the proximity to it.

And so to Jochen Lempert:

Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery

Harking back to the recent Thames Valley meeting at which I had decided to air my first attempt at an “Open Work”. This piece had been with me since I created it a month or so earlier – I have written about it here, here and here. I presented these images as I had coded them from a large set of images and I wanted to see if any of the other people present could muster a narrative from them. I have to say that if what I hoped to achieve was even a connection to the image set then I failed; but no matter. The general comment that maybe it was ‘too open’ that I provided no sense of an emotional hook to attach the viewer to, maybe the ‘my narrative’ that I refused to explain was too obscure, or ‘too loose’ to be made liminal for others and that if I had provided, even a sense of a narrative/contextual axis to pivot from it may have worked. I’m not sure, but the experiment taught me some lessons and I am very grateful to the group for indulging me.

And so back to Jochen Lempert’s work. Well the first thing that struck me was the text; there was some and more than I had expected. Whether this was a strategy on behalf of the artist or the gallery I have no idea, but situating text there was. In fact I think the material to accompany this exhibit was considerably greater than any of the other artists, with a handout to title/explain most, if not all the images.

Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery

And whilst the images on the wall had no title or caption, the viewer was allowed the privilege to consider the printed document and edit their way through the imagery. As a strategy for ‘Open Work’ I found that interesting, the images were numbered – which usually predetermines an order – but there was no other indication as to which way, or indeed order, one should contemplate the works on view. On one hand most of these images had, as a common visual theme, the natural world, they were all monochrome and analogue based. As regards my reaction to them as a whole, as a work with an underlying narrative I couldn’t discern one, even with the text. I do think however that I was maybe looking to deeply, or not deep enough and that I need to do some more research into this to be able to connect in a form that is attractive to me.

Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery

 

Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery

 

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Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2014

Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery

I don’t think I was expecting to be as moved as I was, last year’s exhibition had me quite affected with the Bloomberg and Chanarin exhibit, and whilst I am always going to somewhat cynical about these big prize events, with their association with the marketing effort of some major organization seeking to project its brand, I hadn’t expected to be so moved.

Knowing that the principle reason for attending – the Jochen Lempert piece, resonating as it does with the works of Eco’s ‘Open Works’ was on the fourth floor but I headed one flight higher and viewed two quite extraordinary works: Lorna Simpson’s work ‘Summer 1957 – 2009’ about identity in a large series of monochrome images which complimented the strident colour work of Richard Mosse’s ‘The Enclave’.

I have been aware of Mosse’s work for some time now; it has been featured on WeAreOCA before and has caused controversy there and elsewhere for its approach to documentary photography. Utilizing film that was intended to help reconnaissance aircraft find people it renders the land in a range of hues that seem, at first glance, to prettify it. But moved I was. I will return to the other finalists later in a separate post.

Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery

Yesterday, at the Thames Valley meeting we discussed feminist art and the discussion ranged into the gendered depiction of ‘view’, for example was there a difference in the way in which women ‘see’ or want to ‘record’ things compared to men. The land in Mosse’s very large digital ‘C’ prints was a very pretty pink, but the land was ‘Male’; scaped by Man for Men. Their appearance in the Pink permitted the viewer to stop and consider what it was that might be happening in the frame. This, seemingly slow, film projected a land so defiled as to defy imagination – listen to Eve Ensler’s visceral depiction of the same land towards the end of this lecture – it is the desecration of the land and humanity that is so appalling and moving at the same time. The use of outdated film provides another layer, this war is about who controls the land – another trope from yesterday’s discussion – for the wealth that it holds – those rare earths and minerals extracted to enable the digital revolution to continue on it’s inexorable course – with iPhones and Androids, allowing a the distance learner the ability to participate, but also to contribute to the vision before them on the top floor.

Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery

The size of these prints is impressive, but I felt drawn into them to look and search for humanity, for some semblance of life amongst the horror of the sharp end of neo-liberalism, and what I found was sadness, waste, loss and a sense of how man has become lost in the land scaped by Men who are absent from the frame and live a long way away.

Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery

It is a virtuoso piece. Quite brilliant. Quite empty and quite emptying.

Making stories about the truth.

reprinted with the kind consent of the artist Anna Fox

“‘There is nothing wrong with avarice as a motive, as long as it doesn’t lead to dishonest or antisocial conduct’. Business 1986” – reprinted with the kind and acknowledged consent of the artist Anna Fox

I’m not sure if Anna Fox said those words at the study visit to UCA, I know I wrote them, but I think she did; either way the notion of a fiction about truth found a resonance with this listener. I have written before about this idea, that to explore truths it is perhaps best accomplished by a narrative held in check by a storyteller.

I continue to think that the conquest of fallacy is best fought not with banners heralding the ‘truth and the light’ but with the muted tones of inference and suggestion, asking questions of the reader and not through the ‘imperative truth’ of ‘the answer’. Anna Fox’s fictions are carefully constructed to elicit inquiries from the reader, to suggest though that they are truths is as far removed from veracity as claiming that they falsehoods. These stories are neither, Fox’s constructions are stories. And the stories do not provide a didactic ordering of the universe, rather suggesting I think, of the lifting of the lids of our prejudices.

Text and image, image and text. Anna Fox’s combinatorial use of these twin illustrators isn’t universal in her work, however I was struck by how the artist described her process. In what appeared to be an identical means to how I constructed the narrative in assignment five – “Dear John”, however text isn’t a major factor in most of her her work, unless it is about the text as in ‘Cockroach Diary

Kareoke night, 2011 - reprinted with the kind and acknowledged consent of the artist Anna Fox

Kareoke night, 2011 – reprinted with the kind and acknowledged consent of the artist Anna Fox

The two nouns that I found myself considering quite often through the talk and for some time after were ‘time’ and ‘construction’. The artist opened her talk describing how time is fundamental to her practice and process and indeed, perhaps to all photographers – I’m now not sure that this precept wouldn’t apply to all artists, but be that as it may. Fox prefers film. And large format film at that. Her choice of medium dictates the speed that she can work at, despite often using a digital medium format camera as back up Fox takes time because of the restrictions of the format (mistakes are costly), and her most recent work exacerbates this stretching of time. Some of her most recent work , a commission from France (Rennes, I think) has the artist constructing images with multiple exposures and stitching them together – ‘joining time together’ – half a dozen or more images stitched together. Each image a construction in itself and then combined to create a story from several episodic instances time. I had a conversation after the event about what value the stitching together brought to the narrative – couldn’t for example, the artist employed more people in the tableau and simply made one construct? I have thought about that a lot, my first thought was that on the face of it there might be no additional narrative value in making half a dozen images with the same ‘cast’; but then I wondered about knowing that they were the same players juxtaposed in various locations on the canvass, providing another layer of context to the narrative. And what I got out of the image may not be what others get out of it, it will, in all likelihood denote/connote something other than my comprehension/feeling for the story.

Another aspect of the talk was something that struck me about how Anna Fox acknowledged her accomplices in the work she produced. There was a determined, albeit natural, desire to acknowledge as many of her assistants/directors/fellows as the work she presented unfolded and I wondered if this wasn’t a particular aspect of this artist, or whether it was a feminine/feminist trait. Either way, it was something that appeared entirely natural as it was often, and something to be remembered. I was particularly interested and impressed by the amount of her work she passed round in published book form and how she emphasised that the presentation of the her work, especially in bound volumes is very important to her.

 

There was lots to think about and it was a very rewarding trip to UCA.

The Sargasso Sea

image 1

image 1

The Sargasso Sea lies at the western edge of the route from Britain to the Caribbean, it is encompassed by currents on all sides and has no land for its waters to break on. The currents north and south of it were responsible for the traffic that populated the islands, re-populated, welcomed and then repatriated for over four centuries.

Colonial rule, that pernicious device of the ‘Old World’ gave rise to the cultural heritage of the islands, providing the backdrop to its history and the population that was ‘peopled’ by its oppressor are left with a legacy that presented itself to me as echoes in varying forms.

These images depict and document how I ‘see’ those reverberations from the past. The patronage and subjugation, and subsequent rise of independence followed by the re-patronage through commercial dependence on the world that created an aberrant society with societal norms that had no connection with their own heritage.

‘The Wide Sargasso Sea’ by Jean Rhys is a novel about displacement, about ‘otherness’, about colonial/post colonial issues (it may also be a feminist novel and even a post-modern novel!). The novel’s situation of a white creole being ousted by her native people and then ending her days in an ‘other’ place – Britain – kept returning to me as I made these images. I saw these symbols of the changing face of colonialism and the effects of post-colonialism, The diasporas of people whose fates have ebbed and flowed, much as the seas between the two continents have, still holding those islanders in a place of dependence. And that is what I wanted to show, my reaction to the past’s inflictions on the present.

image 4

image 11

Home Truths

Motherhood

In her opening essay ‘Motherlode: Photography, motherhood and representation’ Susan Bright says “…(the work is) an exploration of the complex and demanding experience of motherhood and of the transitions that occur to women’s identity when she is becoming or being a mother”.  Bright mines a rich seam of narratives from her selected artists exploring motherhood and identity from a broad perspective. I wasn’t prepared for the breadth of exploration, nor the unexpected realization – as an extrapolation of the tropes explored in the twin exhibitions – that these artists that had been selected would present therefore a still limited vista of the possibility of exploration. Maybe it is that motherhood, perhaps the oldest subject of consideration for womankind and mankind alike, is therefore one of the ‘big’ subjects and would be unlikely to be fully served on two floors at this venue?

What I most admired about this exhibition were the diverse approaches to the titular subject, all those who live, all existence in fact has a voice in this conversation and maybe the single most important notion that I extracted from the show was that despite the size of the subject, our views (at least my views of the societal view) are generally very constrained. Whilst everyone has a mother story to tell, the validity of each individual story is as valid as any other’s story; that any single story might seem at odds with our own lifetime narrative doesn’t make it any less or any more valid. And yet the media tends to deliver limited truths about motherhood, where the elevation to perfection might be a royal birth and at the other end of the spectrum that of baby P’s mother. But motherhood is of course more than that; the male perspective is just as valid; we are all of woman born and so the voices of the son on the subject of mother, of mothering, presents an equally valid perspective. What about that of a father (on the subject of mother), or the mother’s view of the mother – a generation up or below?? The list then is long, though the possibilities maybe endless, and it was this understanding that I found the most enlightening, that the subject could, and perhaps should, be looked at from as many perspectives as possible. To limit the spectrum, as this show does – as any show of this enormity would do – delivers a partial view. But if it can be done whilst opening up a discourse in the mind of the spectator – as in this case to this viewer – then it has become more than the sum of it’s parts. We’re all someone’s daughter, we’re all someone’s son.

So, to the work….

And to a man. Fred Hüning, and to death, perhaps the antithesis of the notion of motherhood. This work documents the cycle of events from a stillbirth to a new birth. The pain, the ecstacy, the love, the despair – and here the first, and probably most significant difference between the book of the show and the show itself. Hüning’s use of text (or maybe the curatorial use of Hüning’s text) is absent from the book. Prose is used to illustrate the images at the exhibition in a way which I found very inspiring (I am working on an illustrated poem now as a direct result). It is said that thirty per cent of all pregnancies result in natural termination, most of course don’t make it to through the first semester, but given those statistics it is perhaps surprising that it doesn’t get investigated more often, perhaps it does and I haven’t encountered it.

Ledare’s engagement with Freudian syntax positions itself at the fulcrum of revelation between mother and son, her vagina. It is from where they first meet, he wearing the vestige of his gestation as a patina of the memory of forty weeks; she with an everlasting, undeniable physical connection. But Ledare’s mother isn’t depicted as much of a mother, more as an individual who has allowed herself to detach from the single trope of motherhood, perhaps putting it aside in a deliberate attempt to free herself from those bonds born of childbirth. Ledare’s witnessing of his mother’s expression of individuality, perhaps a rejection of the constraints of motherhood, or the home truth of once a mother always and only a mother?

Elina Brotherus’ work struck home. We waited for eighteen months before we conceived our first son, not long by any standards, but all the questions were there. I remember having to supply a fresh sample of semen in a cubicle at the hospital, my wife having to endure examinations, checking temperatures, engaging at specific times. Checking the sample. Being deflated, then, thankfully, being inflated. Brotherus’ pain is clear, the sense of emptiness in her images as palpable as is her loss and depicted in a way that resonated. To be inspired by this exploration of loss is something that I’m struggling with, that I identify with it so much either speaks to the common ground between us or to the strength of her work, I have a certainty of the latter notion.

My initial thought about this work was that it was out of place – after all this about motherhood, and here was a work that was voided of the titular subject. But of course it was as much about motherhood as Ledare’s and Hüning’s was.

Motherhood and apple pie is as normal as daybreak; society depends on that currency and its absence, as described by Brotherus, is still marked as an abnormality, an ‘otherness’. And in considering this notion of ‘otherness’ I wonder about how ‘othering’ these artists become by considering them as individuals rather than as simply (not a simple task) mothers. Home truths determine unwelcome intruders of reality into our lives, they rent the obfuscation of denial wide open to reveal the verité of life usually covered in a warm swaddling blanket even for a moment. Broda’s depression, Murray’s mantling of her fight against the oft found oblivion of post natal feminine anonymity, Gearon’s loss of the mother daughter relationship when the individual starts to disintegrate due to mental health and reversing the mothering role responsibility. Fessler’s road trip to a home bereft of welcome and solace. These works that were sometimes moving, sometimes funny, always challenging and giving a lie to the ‘one size fits all’ notion of motherhood.

 

Feminism

In the 1972 book “Ways of Seeing” based on the television series of the same name, John Berger (and perhaps the four other collaborators) prefaces the second essay with these words:

“According to usage and conventions which are at last being questioned but have by no means been overcome, the social presence of a woman is different in kind from that of a man.”

The television series starts form another place and can be seen here.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u72AIab-Gdc&list=PL872405DBCBDFF922

My concern when discussing this with others, and pointed out by the only two women in the discussion, was that I had missed a central concern from these women; that Berger had described a situation that women were in (and perhaps with too much visual imagery), but had not described a way out. My concern is now twofold:

Had I misread Berger? And; secondly, even if I had, has the intervening forty years taken any of his rhetoric and acted on it i.e. is there a likelihood that an answer is forthcoming, and if so by whom?

I have again read, reread and watched the video, but I must be missing something very basic. My understanding is that Berger was describing – albeit forty years ago – a situation that reflects societal attitudes towards women – and their concomitant rehearsed responses. By very numerous examples Berger presents the depiction of women as objects for the male gaze – no matter how, no matter where, no matter when depicted these are all, with very few exceptions, portrayed for the satisfaction of the male gaze. This disreputation of the viewer’s engagement with the objectified image is only made worse in my mind by the realization that the objectification, that Berger had described all those decades ago, hasn’t improved, rather the reverse; it is a situation that has become more widespread with the growth of the media to transport those images and the developed consumerism/globalization. Since Berger’s writing, this same means of objectification has moved to encompass not only the European (and by consequence the North American) societies, but also the Asian cultures that have been drawn into the same market led consumerist society.

The call was that Berger didn’t provide a way out, a solution; but I wonder if he would have been damned by offering one as much as he seems to have been by not offering one? Hegemonic positions aren’t altered, usually, by voluntary repatriation of power and position and perhaps Berger, from his Marxixt position, deemed that proffering ‘the solution’ would have undermined the very offering he might have posited?

My tentative research on feminism has been wholeheartedly disappointing by the lack of engagement by women, for women in the argument. And I think this issue is a societal issue that reduces the life experience for both sexes and therefore should be one that is engaged by both genders. But where should I, as a feminist, look to find engagement in the process of deconstructing the apparatus that codifies one gender over another as a form of commodity? I think the answer is not in another re-issue of Spare-Rib, the demise of which due to the lack of appreciation of the brand-worth, nor another facile argument over the burning of undergarments; but, perhaps, by the very source of the problem which had it’s origins in the pre-Beauvoir, pre-Pankhurst events in the Industrial revolution. Well that isn’t going to happen, given the current state of the position of women in Government – present almost by their absence

Berger says in his introduction “…which are at last being questioned…” my italics – Greer published “The Female Eunuch” in 1970, was this one of the questioners, almost certainly? But who is questioning now? Who has the baton? Well I would say that the ‘need’ for women to be in the marketplace has reduced the availability of volume to enable questioners to be listened to, let alone heard. The most recent rhetoric from this Government is how to ‘get women (back) into the work place’! This need is one of course to foster ‘growth’ in order to heal the ills caused by the previous administration. And what jobs one might ask? But leaving the issue of whatever employment opportunities exist for women, or men come to that, the disenfranchisement of the electorate as a whole in the process of social change which might possibly provide a discourse on women’s rights and expectations, will surely not happen – at least not with this administration and probably not the next whomever is chosen. Our issues, we are told, are due to our profligacy, but here Berger’s final essay comes to the fore; our issues aren’t to do with gender related issues nor, remotely, feminist rights if the zeitgeist is to be believed.

I have notes about feminism on these blog posts: http://umneygm.wordpress.com/2013/01/29/f4/http://umneygm.wordpress.com/2013/01/17/feminism-three/ ,http://umneygm.wordpress.com/2013/01/15/496/http://umneygm.wordpress.com/2012/11/07/art-and-feminism-edited-by-helen-reckit-with-a-survey-by-peggy-phelan/ , Judy Chicago, and here http://umneygm.wordpress.com/2013/01/17/w-s-p-u/

 

 

Surrealism and Feminism

In the one course – Gesture and Meaning it is suggested that I study feminist art, and the course notes suggest some texts and workers in that field. In the other course, Documentary, it suggested that I look at Surrealism, similarly there are texts and artists in that field to “go and explore”.

Recently I had the pleasure of discussing feminist art with Lucie Bromfield at a study visit – Judy Chicago – in fact the only discussion I had on the day regarding feminism, which I found curious when the study visit was to a Judy Chicago show. Lucie has shared with me her draft essay “How Has a Feminist Reading of Surrealism Dealt with the Hegemonic Imbalance Found in the Movement?”. This work has sort of stuck with me, and indeed the conversation at the gallery; so I suspect that a good deal of my thoughts written here will have some foundation in Lucie’s thoughts – so acknowledgement is given here.

Invited in the Documentary course to look at Atget’s work about whom Benjamin remarked: “In fact, Atget’s Paris photographs are the forerunners of surrealist photography, advance troops of the broader columns surrealism was able to filed….he began the liberation of the object from the aura – Walter Benjamin, 1931 pp28 “Photography in the Dock” Solomon-Godeau 2009.

Benjamin’s words, written less than a decade after the Surrealist manifesto was coined, open the chapter that discusses Atget’s work from a number of aspects, but the aspect of a feminist perspective is perhaps the one I will dwell upon most. Though, as the text was referred to from the Documentary course, one suspects the aspect of authorship was in the mind of the author of the course. Be that as it may.

Despite Berenice Abbott’s intent on bring Atget’s work to the fore in 1928/29, it wasn’t until Szarkowski in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s did Atget gain the notoriety that he, Szarkowski, determined that he deserved. Indeed Abbott’s determined refusal to find a path in the surrealist genre – despite being introduced to Atget by Man Ray – may have contributed to her decision to sell the work in order to live. “Whatever the nature of the social, professional, and artistic positions Abbott occupied in relation to the surrealist milieu, the fact that she was a woman artist (and not a wife, mistress, or model) could only have been anomalous in the boys’-club (not to say misogynous) ambience of surrealism. Abbott’s embrace of Atget in 1928 must be understood as expressing a multiple refusal – a simultaneous refusal of surrealism, of art photography, and perhaps even of expatriatism (Abbott returned permanently [from France] to America in 1929). Ibid pp 35.

It was Abbott that brought Atget’s work to the attention of the American market, though it was Szarkowski who iconized the Frenchman’s work:

“What also became apparent from this feminist reading of Surrealism was that two further poles were to evolve; one that was to reject psychoanalysis and Freudianism; the second, that psychoanalysis was needed in order to more fully understand the roles assigned to women in society and art, because, as Juliet Mitchell would point out, “psychoanalysis is not a recommendation for a patriarchal society, but rather an analysis of one.” (Mitchell, 2000, back cover)” Lucie Bromfield, unpublished from: How Has a Feminist Reading of Surrealism Dealt with the Hegemonic Imbalance Found in the Movement?”.

Bromfield goes on to discuss these twin streams, also how female artists work ‘alongside’ the surrealists, but as for their collective importance to the origin of the movement, Bromfield goes on to cite Chadwick:

“The meeting in 1928 by male members of the Surrealists which lead to the 11th issue of this publication [La Revolution Surrealiste] was with the aim to conduct a “formal enquiry into sexuality”. The fact that there were no women present in the meeting was only commented upon by Louis Aragon “who apparently felt inhibited about discussing woman’s sexuality in her absence” (Chadwick, 1985, p.103). Along with their rejection of bestiality they also excluded homosexuality, though there was a paradoxical tolerance towards lesbianism.” Ibid Bromfield.

The inception od Surrealism then was guided by the absence of women, which is something that Solomon-Godeau goes on to discuss: “In making what might seem to be an ad feminin reference to a sexual division of labor along the lines of scholarship and stewardship, I mean to enforce, once again, the connection between canons, fathers, authority, and patriarchy. One of the the conspicuous features of virtually all canons in the field of cultural production is the relative absence of women and, needless to say, all other Others.” pp39 Solomon-Godeau

What I suggest here, is that, even if Atget was the forerunner of Surrealism that Benjamin suggests – a contention not without it’s detractors, but not discussed here – the movement was critically flawed by it’s singularity of exclusion to any Other representation. That Szarkowski, by his position of King maker at the MoMA, had iconized the relatively unknown French photographer from his position as the patriarchal head of a gender biased organization and art culture as much for his own determined position that he himself couldn’t. As Solomon-Godeau says “What distinguishes a photographi arbiter like Szarkowski from the other curators and critics has to do, first with the power of the position (not for nothing has Marth Rosler dubbed MoMA “the Kremlin of Modernism”) and, second, with his having produced a critical framework to justify, promote, and pedigree his preferences”. pp 39 Solomon-Godeau.

And whilst I find difficulty in not conflating the gender biased curation, including the exclusion to some extent of Abbott’s work to foster the worth of Atget and the opening of an art movement deliberately starved of any Other representation; I am well aware that there will be many attempts, in fact have been, to rewrite the history from other aspects. But I wonder how another archive might spin the orbit of Atget’s contribution to both the Documentarist tradition and the Surrealist which the post-Szarkowski discovery of the work of Vivian Maier. An archive of greater proportion, perhaps therefore greater significance through greater exploration of singular narratives over time. An archive whose existence has produced an exigency unparalleled with even Atget’s oeuvre, the majority of which lies within the French art establishment. That ‘Surrealism’ is a term often appended to ‘quirky’ images, odd juxtapositions and ‘clever’ framing denies the origin of it’s creation as an art movement. But those terms are as readily in the frame in Maier’s work as they ever were in Atges’, that they were taken by a woman recalls to mind, as Solomon-Godeau does when discussing the effect of the authorship of Szarkowski in relation to Atget’s work:

“You cannot value [the poet] alone: you must set him [sic], for contrast and comparison, among the dead. I mean this as a principle of aesthetic, not merely historical criticism. The necessity that he shall conform, that he should cohere, is not onesided; what happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which proceeded it. The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them… whoever has this idea of order… will not find it preposterous that the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past.” T.S.Eliot. “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” in selected prose of T.S.Eliot, ed, Frank Kermode (New York:Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1975) 109