Tuesday, April 26, 2011

When the Bells Tolled for Her

Her life was short. She was 26 when she died and she was buried days later on her 27th birthday. Yet she live long enough to make her mark on photojournalism - as the first woman to cover a war and die while doing so.

It was 1936 and Gerda Taro (nee Gerta Pohorylle; 1910-1937), was a photo assistant to Robert Capa (nee Endre Ernő Friedmann; 1913-1954), a photographer and photojournalist best known for his photos on the front lines of war zones.

Taro was a German Jewess. She knew about fascism first-hand. She opposed the Nazi party in Germany and was arrested for distributing anti-Nazi pamphlets. After her release, the family left Germany.

When the Spanish Civil War broke out, she went with Capa to cover the anti-fascists soldiers. It was there that she established herself as a war photographer. Below are some of her photos at Navacerrada Pass, Segovia front, Spain:

(This failed offensive was the basis for Ernest Hemingway's, "For Whom the Bells Tolled.")

A year later, Taro would be killed in a freak war accident. Her fame was such that LIFE magazine printed two full pages about her.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Rembrandt Has the Last Laugh

Henry Clay Frick was one of the more famous or infamous robber barons of the 19th century.(1849-1919) He owned or controlled most of the coke and steel output in the East.

Frick was, by all accounts, a typical CEO of those days - ruthless in business, highly competitive with his colleagues and compassionless with his workers.

He even built a mansion in New York City to rival that of his friend, Andrew Carnegie. Frick said he was building a mansion to "make Carnegie's place look like a miner's shack." Frick stocked his home with art - mainly European paintings from the old Masters. This is where Rembrandt might have had the last laugh.

Frick paid top dollar for Rembrandt's works. In the 1890s it was truly top dollar as Rembrandt was highly prized. Frick even arranged to have first rights of refusal on all Rembrandts.

Actually, some of the paintings were not Rembrandts, but "in the style of Rembrandt." One of the most controversial being "The Polish Rider," which had been the highlight of an exhibit by Frick.

Two other "Rembrandts" in Frick's collection have been since been attributed to unknown artists - probably students of the Master. They are: "Portrait of a Young Artist" and "Old Woman with a Book."

Can you imagine what Frick would have done if he had lived to know that he paid top price for art now regarded as being from the "Rembrandt School?" Poetic justice, perhaps?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Ashcan Art

In terms of derogatory descriptions of art, "Ashcan Art" sounds worse than "Impressionism" - another term coined by critics. (Archive: Oct, 2010-Durand-Ruel) Ashcan Art had much
in common with Impressionism.

Like the Impressionists' Salon des Refuses, these American artist created their own exhibition. It was a non-juried show organized by the artists. This bull-by-the-horns action by artists was regarded just as scandalously as it had been for the Impressionists. Yet the exhibition changed the direction and definition of art in America.

Beyond these rebellious similarities against the decision makers of what constitutes fine art, there was a major difference between the two schools of art. It was their choice of subjects.

Ashcan painters (This period is more appropriately titled, "American Realism.") were not interested in painting bucolic scenes nor the industrial age. They were interested in portraying the grittiness of urban life. They wanted to chronicle the urban lives of the poor and the disenfranchised of the city. They painted overcrowding, boxing, prostitution, drunks and everyday realities of poverty. (Since ashcans were ubiquitous in the urban landscape, this art movement became known as "ashcan art." )

These artists were referred by some critics as "apostles of ugliness." At the top and below are some of the art created during this time. What do you think? Should artists paint only the beauty of life and nature or are paintings of squalor and poverty appropriate subjects?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Brian Lanker Dreamt a World

Brian Lanker died recently. He was 63 years old. I came to know of him as an extraordinary photojournalist through his book, "I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America."

I did not know Mr. Lanker personally. Yet, having been touched by his book, I was saddened to know that such a compassionate and caring man had died.

He must have have a special understanding of women. After all, his Pulitzer Prize for feature photography was his photo titled, "Moment of Life." It captured the moment just after the birth of a baby and the look of delight on the mother's face.

Lanker had to have been an empathetic man. He said that he came to understand the "double minority" of black women after reading "The Color Purple." Then, when he heard Barbara Jordan (1936-1996),the first Southern black woman elected to the House of Representatives, give the keynote address at the 1976 Democratic Convention, he said, "You're the one who belongs in the White House."

Like Barbara Jordan, many black women had overcome daunting odds. Lanker wanted to acknowledge their accomplishments. He received a two-year grant from Eastman-Kodak to photograph and quote 75 black women. Some were well-known - many were unsung heroines.

The exhibition of Lanker's photographs of the women debuted at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. to record attendance. His book proved so popular that it is now in its 14th printing.

Thank you, Brian Lanker, for creating a homage to courageous women and for using your talents in the name of kindness, compassion and a strong sense of justice.