A Readymade Man Ray

The joy of a new piece of tech -in this case a phone- is discovering all the weird and wonderful things it can do in addition to its obvious function. The cameras on phones have come on leaps and bounds haven’t they! Most produce better quality images than the average small compact camera these days and in some cases out perform their SLR counterparts. What makes camera phone photography interesting is the plethora of effect options that can be applied. Some of the effects, such as ‘warm vintage’ etc can be a bit twee, but solarisation… now that’s exciting.

Solarisation is a technique in traditional film photography and is achieved through the overexposure of either the negative or print to light. Many claim to have discovered it or at least to be aware of it; everyone from Daguerre (1787-1851) to Herschel (1792-1871) acknowledged that the overexposure of the negative within the camera produced an interesting reverse negative effect on some tones when printed. It was however the St Helens, Merseyside, born John William Draper who first coined the term solarisation. It didn’t take long before photographers discovered that the same effect could be achieved in the darkroom and was duly dubbed the Pseudo-Solarisation by H. de la Blanchere in 1859 in L’Art du Photographe. Blanchere described how briefly exposing a silver halide print to white light produced the same results that overexposure in the camera had achieved. Despite their knowledge of the effect, photographers regarded a solarised image as a defective one, not seeing the artistic possibilities of the technique. That said, the academic Janet Buerger has suggested that the below photographs taken by the artist Edgar Degas in 1881 may be an early artistic experiment with the effect.

Perhaps the most famous exponent of Pseudo-Solarisation was the artist Man Ray, who produced some astoundingly beautiful images in which his assistant and muse Lee Miller was intrinsic in more ways than one. It was Miller who accidentally ‘rediscovered’ solarisation while working as an assistant in Man Ray’s studio. Ray was reputedly so intrigued by the effect that he worked to perfect the technique for producing consistent solarised images. Below are a small number of Man Ray’s solarised images, including a self-portrait and a number of images for which Miller was the model.

From an art historical perspective one has to wonder what Man Ray would have made of the immediacy of the camera phone and its solarising filter. Would he have loathed it for removing the skill and the artistry in the physical making. Or in the spirit of all his other readymades would he have seen the camera phone and its solarising filter as an extension of that practice? I suspect the latter.

From the plethora of professional and talented photographers I return to an amateur one and her camera phone. To date I have ‘solarised’ the cats, flowers in the garden and will, if I can get him to sit still long enough, solarise my beau. And just to prove that my naffness knows no bounds, I’ve embraced the spirit of Ray and Miller and solarised a miniature bronze reproduction of The Winged Victory of Samothrace – well it is a readymade after all!

For more photography by Man Ray please visit http://www.manray-photo.com/catalog/index.php

and the for the wonderful Lee Miller please visit http://www.leemiller.co.uk/

 

 

 

Roses, Roses, Roses!

She had na pu’d a double rose,
A rose but only twa,
Till up then started young Tam Lin,
‘Lady, thou’s pu’ nae mae!

The Ballad of Tam Lin

Today my mind is consumed by the thought of roses, I spied a beautiful late bloom in the garden this morning and my thoughts have been turned towards them ever since. In the ballad of Tam Lin Janet gets herself into trouble by picking Tam Lin’s roses; her actions summon Tam Lin to her and lead to her seduction. Janet then finds herself pregnant and in love with Tam Lin so she determines to save him (she faces a moral dilemma after all as a single pregnant woman) from his captor the Fairy Queen. Janet is forced to face a trial of faith and courage but I won’t spoil the ending for you…

Culturally a red rose is a symbol of love yet a yellow rose, according to the Language of Flowers is a declaration of decreased love – so be careful of the colour you choose to present to a loved one, particularly if your beloved is a 19th century scholar you might just get a slap!

Roses feature very prominently in many of Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s paintings; the last roses of the season are often shown being presented as votive offerings like in the autumnally hued The Last Roses or the above shown A Votive Offering (The last roses) painted in 1872 and 73 respectively.

But then as this snippet from a mediaeval ballad shows that roses are really all about temptation

All night by the rose
the rose I lay
Darf ich nought the rose stele
And yet ich bar the flour away


Now let’s think about other works by Alma-Tadema, the lush and decadent Roses of Heliogabalus (1888) – if there was ever a picture about pure excess this is surely it! Heliogabalus fills his dining room with flowers as an extravagant gesture and succeeds in killing some of his guests by suffocating them. Or the very sexy young things depicted in A Summer Offering (1911) who seductively clutch deliciously abundant blooms to denote their fecundity.

I love the dreamy quality of George Eliot’s poem Roses, it is such an appealing poem in terms of sensory experience, it’s all about sight, touch, smell and sound. And it is with Eliot I will end my excursion into roses, letting her have the last word on the subject.

You love the roses – so do I. I wish
The sky would rain down roses, as they rain
From off the shaken bush. Why will it not?
Then all the valley would be pink and white
And soft to tread on. They would fall as light
As feathers, smelling sweet; and it would be
Like sleeping and like waking, all at once!

Bewitching Sculpture: Icons of Marble, Bronze and Stone

Sculpture seems to be having a well deserved moment in the sun within the media at the moment, I hope the interest will be sustained. We seem to give less attention to Sculpture than to paintings, just visiting any art gallery confirms this. I am interested in how people conduct themselves within the gallery space and I have noticed that Sculpture galleries are often treated as corridors, simply walked through en route to reach the picture galleries.

I do not profess to know a great deal about sculpture, that I love it, is enough for me.

I find the details of sculpture bewitching, particularly, hands and feet. A well sculpted pair of hands can be incredibly articulate as with the hands of John Gibson’s 1860 Marble, Pandora ( V & A ). Gibson successfully articulates through Pandora’s hands her indecision. Pandora is on the cusp of action then pulls back from it for a brief moment, her hands revealing a feverish desire to open the box and a tension that she should not. This paradoxical sense of action and inaction could be said to be an intrinsic trait of many Pandora sculptures, however, I feel that hands of Gibson’s Pandora are more successful than most at conveying this inner conflict.

‘A roaring motor car which seems to run on machine-gun fire, is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace’.

I love the bombastic quality of the Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto, but on the topic of the Victory of Samothrace, we are diametrically opposed. The first sighting of the Winged Victory of Samothrace at the top of a beautiful staircase in the Louvre is really something to behold. She rises above everything around her elevated by her beauty and physical presence. As one of my favourite sculptures I am constantly amazed at her scale and the simple fluidity of her lines. The floating gossamer robe, the sense of motion and a complete sense of awe at the capability of the hands that released her from the block of marble in around 190 bc, for me makes the Victory absolutely breathtaking. Moreover, despite the Futurist’s manifesto declaration regarding the Victory, a comparison of Umberto Boccioni’s bronze, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, to the Victory reveals a parity of line and motion – the Victory is perhaps more of an influence than they would care to admit!

Cemeteries have some of the most exquisite examples sculpture. Jules Dalou’s life size bronze of the journalist Victor Noir is perhaps one of the most extraordinary grave memorials I have seen. Extraordinary, not because it has any radical qualities, it is a bronze in the tradition of bronzes. Its quality is derived from its heightened sense of corporeality. Approaching the grave is like arriving immediately upon the scene of Noir’s death, it is easy to imagine the duel in which he died as you stand next to the memorial. The beautifully crisp top hat is a bewitching detail, looking as if it had toppled to the ground as he fell.

Noir’s monument has also become something of a fertility symbol owing to the infamous sculpted protuberance. I love that as a memorial to a deceased 19th century man in Paris’s Pere La Chaise, a veritable city of the dead, Victor Noir has become a symbol of life and hope.

I love so many pieces of sculpture that it would be impossible to list and describe them here, so instead I have created in addition to the pieces already described a short list of favourites.

  1. Apollo and Daphne by Gian Lorenzo Bernini at the Borghese Gallery, Rome
  2. The Tinted Venus by John Gibson, The Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
  3. The Pieta by Michelangelo, St Peters Basilica, Rome
  4. Clytie by G.F Watts, a bronze version can be seen at the V & A London and a marble at the Harris Museum, Preston.
  5. Oscar Wilde’s Funerary monument by Jacob Epstein, Pere La Chaise Cemetery, Paris.