Tuesday, 8 September 2009
Images de Deauville c. 1936
"What makes a still life good instead of mediocre is the quality of vision and imagination employed by the photographer, and especially his reaction to his subject material"
Not only did American photographer Paul Outerbridge (1896-1958) have the vision and creativity of an artist, he was technically meticulous and imaginative.
Party Mask with Shells 1936
Outerbridge was at the height of his powers in the period between the two world wars and embraced the project of modernism with extraordinary diligence and elan. He had many friends in the avant-garde, including Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Pablo Picasso, Francis Picabia, Constantin Brancusi, Alexander Archipenko and Max Ernst and their influence is felt in his intense black and white images of everyday objects. They all have a sense of abstract and geometric design, a formal beauty and, frequently, a surreal quality.
Ide Collar 1922
The Ide Collar is perhaps the most iconic of his work. A brilliantly conceived advertisement, Marcel Duchamp tore it from the November 1922 issue of Vanity Fair and tacked it to his studio wall. To Duchamp it was a 'Ready Made' in his own tradition.
I am focusing on his colour photography because it has an exceptional quality of its own.
Chair with materials 1936
Not only did Outerbridge have state-of-the-art lighting equipment and legendary preparation for every shoot, he developed a method of printing that was terrifically complex and labour intensive. The tri-colour Carbro process used three separate glass plates for each image and involved precise timings and conditions. He wrote about it in a collection of essays entitled Photographing in Color [New York: Random House, 1940] and it wouldn't be for the faint-hearted.
Wallpaper Design 1936
Beach Equipment c 1936
It would be hard for digital photography, I imagine, to achieve this translucence.
Window with Plants c 1937
I cannot do justice here to Outerbridge's intellectual and creative instincts or put him more squarely in the context of his time. For a superb essay and many more stunning photographs I recommend the book that I have referred to. It is Paul Outerbridge by Elaine Dines-Cox with Carol McCusker pub. Taschen 1999 My copy has on the cover what I can only describe as an artistically soft-porn nude although he would have objected to that description.
I haven't mentioned his nudes. Blatantly erotic in soft lighting. Of their time?
Terrace c 1938
Father and Son in Kitchen 1941