Day out at the Art Centre

From time to time the Victorian National Gallery has some great photographic work on display.

Currently they are showing work from Edward Steichen.  http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/whats-on/exhibitions/exhibitions/edward-steichen-and-art-deco-fashion

Famous for his years of work as fashion photographer for Vanity Fair and Vogue.  It might be said that he and the magazines  changed both the way fashion consumed and fashion sets the pace.  Steichen’s work certainly opened up new vistas for the up and coming dressers of the 20s, 30s and 40s.

So Mr An Onymous and I took the pilgrimage.   Now, its true that we’ve moved house recently, so I got the added adventure of a bus trip (with formula one racing driver, Sebastian Vettel in disguise) Made it to the Werribee Rail Station in what can only be described as World Record Time, and still had a couple of minutes to wait of the Early train. Good work Seb.

An was awaiting at Newport Station so we journeyed in for a day of photographic excellence.  Both armed with FZ200 Pannys.  No one can say we aren’t Individuals.

The Edward Steichen Exhibition is quite amazing.   The prints are probably contact prints from the 8 x 10 inch sheets he would have used.  There is a short video dub of an old ‘movie tone’ style news report on his work, and it shows the high Energy he pumped into a even a simple shoot.    He worked a lot with models who were movie stars of the time.  Now if you’ve watched the odd (and some of them are very odd) old pre-talkie movie, most of the actresses of the time were, well, dumpy.  Perhaps a little on the plump side,  or as might be said. “Dowdy”.    Steichen and Vogue set about to change that look.  He preferred to work with dancers. Lithe slim creatures who not only could stand around, but could drape over sets, and allow clothes to look stylish.  It becomes obvious as you sees the dates change that his styles both of work and interpretation change.  From very over elegant, opulent is the word, interiors to quite simple out door settings, boat trips, and the horse race track,  become the norm.  All places that his audience would be seen or would want to be seen.  And the clothes changed to reflect that ‘outdoor’ look.    There is also quite a large collection of dresses and clothing on display and again its possible to track how those styles change.

One of  the big leaps is the single piece bathing cossie for the swimming conscious.   No longer the baggy unsightly, but bold and streamlined.  Easily able to appeal to the fashion conscious.

While this exhibition features his work from the Fashion industry, and the images appear to be owned by the publisher of Vogue, Vanity Fair, Steichen was also in demand as a portrait photographer.  Some of these too are on display.   One famous work that is not there is the risqué bordering on sensual picture he made of dancer Therese Duncan in Greece.  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Steichen_-_wind_fire_-_Thérèse_Duncan_on_the_Acropolis,_1921.jpg

Therese was adopted child and pupil of the famous Isadora Duncan, and Steichen and Duncan made a series of images around the Parthenon, in 1921.

Personally I think his most famous feat and what would prove to be a great step in the march of photographic art occurred while he was Picture Editor  for “US Camera” magazine, as photo-judge, he selected for the 1943 US Camera Annual, a picture by Ansel Adams.  It is titled “Moonrise , Henandez, New Mexico.” 

This stunning landscape set the pace for landscape work for many years to come.

His other great contribution was the “Family of Man” project of the early 1950s.
Many of the images were the work of what would become household names in photographic circles.   There was a book produced to support it, and here we are 60 or more years later, and the works still hold such impact and the people immortalised in silver/gelatine are still able to speak across time.

Family of Man

If you’re in Melbourne and have several hours, a peek at Edward Steichen and his genius is time so well spent.

In the foyer of the Gallery is a rather interesting installation. It looks like a huge half sphere made from translucent buckets. The light inside the dome is simple amazing. Soft, non-directional, yet full of sparkle.  A great place for portraits. There is also a range of large mirrors with colour tones, and by careful standing various photo possibilities open up.  Two old blokes spent 1 5mins or more making some great images and forgetting the world, and being engrossed in the wonderful art that the simple process of photography can encourage.

The dome in the foyer
The dome in the foyer
More of the dome
More of the dome
Bromelia inside the buckets
Bromelia inside the buckets
Closeup from the dome
Closeup from the dome
Space and colour against line and shape
Space and colour against line and shape
Detail of a huge pane of glass accidentally broken but yet to be replaced.
Detail of a huge pane of glass accidentally broken but yet to be replaced.
Photography for the self-concious.
Photography for the self-concious.
See, never let blokes alone for too long with mirrors.
See, never let blokes alone for too long with mirrors.
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