A few works at Tate Modern

After looking round the Red Star Over Russia exhibition, I spent about an hour having a wander round some of the free galleries at Tate Modern.  I’ve been to the Gallery several times recently, but it’s so big with a massive collection (of which only a fraction is on display at any one time) that I always seem to spot something I hadn’t seen before.

This poster from a collection on display from the May 68 events in Paris (50th anniversary coming up soon)  by the Atelier Populaire rather resonated with the exhibition I’d just seen

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I rather liked this 3 dimensional work by Victor Passmore

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Abstract in White, Green, Black, Blue, Red, Grey and Pink (1963)

A pleasing discovery was a number of photographs by the German photographer Werner Mantz.

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Werner Mantz began his career as a portrait and advertising photographer, later becoming known for his architectural photographs of the modernist housing projects in Cologne during the 1920s. His work is linked with the “New Objectivity” Movement in German photography before the Second World War which was concerned with using the clarity and precision of the camera to depict the everyday world in structured and organised compositions.

The photographs again linked with the Red Star Over Russia exhibition as they were similar in many ways with the photographs by Rodchenko.

I particularly liked this image dominated by the shadow of the lamppost

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Detail of Kalkerfield settlement, Cologne 1928

Dazzle Ferry

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During our recent visit to Liverpool I spotted “Everybody Razzle Dazzle”  pulling into the Pier Head ferry terminal. The light was better than last time I photographed the ferry so I snapped a shot.

The jazzy design was created by Sir Peter Blake as part of the First World War commemorations and was inspired by the Dazzle camouflage used on merchant ships transporting goods across the Atlantic during the First World War as a way of confusing U-boats.

“Affecting Change” at the Open Eye

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While we were in Liverpool last weekend we called into the Open Eye Gallery which is located in one of the modern glass buildings at Man Island near the Pier Head. The photographic gallery is in it’s 40th year and it’s always worth  a visit to have a look at whatever exhibition is on. We’ve seen some excellent photographs and discovered some talented photographers during our visits.

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The current exhibition Affecting Change

looks at how real change is made today, and what role photography has in that process. The exhibition features five rising photographers working in the North West.

The works on show look into the daily lives of people working hard to transform the lives of others. The artists have worked in collaboration with various collectives across Liverpool, a city renowned for transcending insular politics by championing positive change.

There’s even an opportunity for visitors to contribute their views on how to affect change, originally by writing on the wall (see photo at the head of this post), but as this has become filled up (obviously plenty of people have views on this!) the comments have to be written on sticky notes that can be stuck to the nearby door.

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Addressing the issue of how migrants are treated, Yetunde Adebiyi has produced a series of photographs based around the work of Between the Borders, an organisation dedicated to improving the experiences of asylum seekers.

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I particularly liked the wall of photographs by Jane MacNeil 

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There are controversial plans to redevelop the North Docks area on the Liverpool waterfront. A lot of the publicity has focused on how the development could affect the look of the historic waterfront with talk of removing its Unesco world heritage site status. There’s been less written about the affect a major development will have on the people currently living and working there. Working with the North Docks Community Group, the photographer has produced a series of images , featuring people from the local community and the places where they live and work.

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Jane MacNeil usually specialises in street photography, so this series based on posed portraits is something of a departure for her. But a successful one in my view.

Upstairs, Danny Ryder has recreated the inside of the not-for-profit radical bookshop News From Nowhere. Now located in Bold Street, a street of independent shops, many years ago I used to spend many an hour browsing the shelves in the shop in its original location near the entrance to the Queensway Mersey Tunnel.

The replica bookshop also functions as a reading room and social space, with seating and hot drinks provided.

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Portraying a Nation at Tate Liverpool – Part 1 – People of the 20th Century

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On Saturday we drove over to Liverpool – the main purpose being to visit the latest exhibition at the Tate, Portraying a Nation: Germany 1919–1933. It’s actually two exhibitions: ARTIST ROOMS: August Sander, and Otto Dix: The Evil Eye.

August Sander was a German photographer who between the two World Wars attempted to document the people of Germany in a series of photographs People of the Twentieth Century. The exhibition includes well over 100 photographs (I lost count) from this series

Sander August, Self-Portrait, 1925

August Sander – Self Portrait

He took portraits of people from all segments of society grouping them into seven distinct categories: ‘The Farmer’, ‘The Skilled Tradesman’, ‘The Woman’, ‘Classes and Professions’, ‘The Artists’, ‘The City’ and ‘The Last People’.

To take the photographs he used an old-fashioned large-format camera, glass negatives and long exposure times. This allowed him to capture his subjects in minute detail.

August Sander, Farmer’s Child, 1919

At the same time his set up meant that there was a shallow “depth of field” which meant that the background is out of focus. This means that the viewer concentrates on the subject rather than their surroundings.

The image many people have of the Weimar Republic was of a rather wild, bohemian society where “anything goes”. He certainly captured this aspect of the times with photographs like this one of a secretary with her fashionable, shapeless dress,  androgynous, almost masculine hairstyle and manner. She looks like someone out of Cabaret

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Secretary at West German Radio in Cologne

He also photographed intellectuals such as the subject of the second half of the exhibition – Otto Dix

August Sander, The Painter Otto Dix and his Wife Martha, 1925/26

The Painter Otto Dix and his Wife Martha

But the majority of his subjects were ordinary workers, farmers, mothers and children. which probably paint a truer picture of life between the wars in Germany

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Blacksmiths

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The Man of the Soil

August Sander, Police Officer and Master of the Watch, 1925

Police Officer

He also included portraits of people on the fringes of society – including the blind and disabled people. The same people who would soon be persecuted by the Nazis. His portraits however, for the times, are sympathetic.

Sander had leftist views and was clearly on the side of the outsiders. Included in the exhibition were a number of Jewish victims of persecution, such as this young lady.

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A victim of persecution

The photographs were originally taken for their passports as they were attempting to leave Germany towards the end of the 1930s. They show real, ordinary people at a time when the Nazis were presenting  distorted caricatures of Jews.

Sander wrote

”It is not my intention either to criticize or to describe these people, but to create a piece of history with my pictures.”

and to achieve that aim he also photographed the very people who were responsible for the persecution

August Sander, National Socialist, Head of Department of Culture

National Socialist, Head of Department of Culture

even though one of their victims was his own son, an active socialist.

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Political Prisoner [Erich Sander]

The Tate has displayed the photographs chronologically along with a commentary listing the events occurring when they were taken, rather than grouped by ”type,” as Sander intended. I wonder whether this loses something. Nevertheless I felt that it was an excellent exhibition of outstanding portraits, showing the skill and the dedication of the photographer as an artist.