Observing the photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, Truman Capote remarked, in a now famous quote, that the acclaimed photographer was “dancing along the pavement like an agitated dragonfly, three Leicas swinging from straps around his neck, a fourth one hugged to his eye: click-click-click (the camera seems a part of his own body), clicking away with a joyous intensity, a religious absorption.”
This photograph is from Flurina Rothenberger’s 2015 book I Love to Dress Like I Am Coming from Somewhere and I Have a Place to Go. It spans ten years of her photography (2004-14) in Africa. I was in the SoHo bookstore McNally Jackson with my friend who was buying it as a birthday gift for someone else.
Robert Cumming (b. 1943) has long identified as a painter, sculptor, photographer, mail-art practitioner, and performer. His multidisciplinary tendencies reach an apex in his photographs, often of careful constructions, which are laced with mystery and mischievous humor.
In this regular column, Dyer considers how a range of figures have been photographed. Here, he reflects on an image of the influential curator John Szarkowski.
For students of photography, this picture is of obvious and multilayered interest. Taken by Lee Friedlander in 1975, it shows John Szarkowski, head of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, striking a pose as Garry Winogrand takes his picture.
An electron micrograph of a virus. Ansel Adams’s photograph of magnetic core memory. A photograph of a thirteenth-century mosaic in Ravenna. What do these three images have in common? All of them look uncannily alike, and resemble patterns or graphs that emerge from mathematical exercises.
Posing, role-playing, or staging a tableau: the impulse to perform before the lens has been a fixture of photography from the beginning.
From the first days of the first photographs, those taking the pictures and those being pictured were fully aware of the performative potential of the new enterprise. Consider the strangely stilted tableaux that William Henry Fox Talbot arranged on the grounds of his home, Lacock Abbey, in the 1840s: his friends and family posing as, well, friends and family, but nevertheless acting their own roles as best they could in bright sunlight under the cold eye of the camera.
All users perform a version of themselves on Instagram. But how are artists today using the commercial platform to calculated effect? New Museum curator Lauren Cornell looks at how some artists deploy strategies of role-play, humor, withdrawal—or relish in the messiness of everyday life—to unravel social media’s conventions of self-presentation.
K8 Hardy’s video Outfitumentary (2001-11/2015) is a montage of hundreds of self-portraits shot over the course of a decade in whatever location the Brooklyn-based artist happened to be living or working at the time. In one early scene, alone in her bedroom, she positions her video camera for a wide-angle shot, then leaps onto a chair and, standing in profile with one leg hoisted onto its back, gazes at the camera with a mix of ferocity and knowing wit.
Performances are ephemeral; photographs are permanent. When is an image more than a mere document? How do images bring us closer to an event we never witnessed?
Roxana Marcoci: RoseLee, you pioneered the study of performance art with a landmark book, Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present (1979), and recently expanded it with an account of the technological, political, and aesthetic shifts in performance art that have occurred since the turn of the new millennium.
Lebanese artists Walid Raad, Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, and Rabih Mroué and Lina Saneh have all embraced the artist’s talk to unpack history and the limitations of the photograph.
In the last twenty years, the Lebanese artist Walid Raad has produced two major, long-term, multifaceted bodies of work. The first, known as the Atlas Group, delves into the mechanisms of history and memory that have been used to convey the experience of Lebanon’s civil war, a conflict that lasted roughly fifteen years, from 1975 through 1990.
In Helena Almeida’s 1969 photograph Pink Canvas for Wearing, she is literally wearing a canvas, her arms wrapped in sleeves that seem to sprout from it. This is the first photograph of her career, after working for more than a decade as a painter since graduating from the Faculty of Fine Arts of Lisbon in 1955.
"Who poured the paint?” I asked Torbjørn Rødland recently over Skype, referring to Pump (2008-10). "I did,” he replied, adding, "I cannot delegate important tasks like these.” The Los Angeles-based Norwegian artist’s answer, an assertion of control over a situation governed by chance, hints at the tension that characterizes many of his photographs.
Over the past five years I’ve slowly returned to dance. When I was an undergraduate art student in the early 1970s, I spent a year studying and performing modern dance at the University of Pittsburgh. My immersion in dance was intense but short-lived.
As a teenage photographer and commercial portrait-studio owner in Bangui, Central African Republic, in the 1970s, Samuel Fosso took turns between client sittings in his studio to reel off self-portrait after self-portrait, modeling the fashion of the day: colorful platform shoes, bell-bottomed pants, huge dark sunglasses, tight-fitted shirts, and blowout Jimmy Cliff rude-boy fisherman hats typical of postcolonial African urban youth of the period.
Dru Donovan’s series Lifting Water restages scenes and gestures and bodily attitudes from the time she spent caring for a dying friend, her former teacher and mentor. Enacted and photographed in a motel room over several consecutive weekends, the series shows the same portly bald man in late middle age in the role of the dying person, while a rotating cast play the carers who lift and wash him, laying comforting hands upon this body which is dying and not dying.
Performance may not immediately come to mind when one thinks of prolific conceptual artist Carrie Mae Weems (born 1953, Portland, Oregon). Yet Weems’s foray into art began with participating in Anna Halprin’s San Francisco Dancers’ Workshop at the age of seventeen.
Zheng Mahler is the name of a collaboration between Royce Ng, a Chinese-Australian artist, and Daisy Bisenieks, an Australian anthropologist. Drawing from each other’s backgrounds, they apply anthropological approaches to making art and use artistic methodologies in the studies of anthropology.
Martha Graham became emblematic of American modern dance in the 1930s and 1940s, which rejected the artifice of classical ballet, conceiving movement instead, as she put it, as "the condensation of strong feeling.” Many of Graham’s dances, like American Document (1938), drew on American history and mythic themes.
Ever since the onset of photography, the roles of the hand and the arm in making art have been subject to doubt. Once the definitive means of bringing an idea into form, these human appendages could seem feeble or quaint in an age of science and industry.