Working at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF.fr), just like visiting, allows you to benefit from the many temporary exhibitions based primarily on their own collections and donations to the BnF. For those who like “dessins, estampes, photographies”, there is a small exhibition as of June 2023 which features on these three techniques in the work of a single artist Edgar Degas from the impressionist movement. Walking through the exhibition or slowly scrolling the press documentation allows you to follow the artistic life course of Edgar Degas. He started with the pencil dessin and evolved to the printing of a single or sequences of “estampes” (up to 20) to impress us beyond black and white with multiples of 50 shades of grey. Degas seems like continuously searching for the uniqueness of the moment to present strong emotions or to summarise interpersonal relationships immersed in a specific spatial setting. Having demonstrated the richness of dessins and estampes as artistic, but a bit laborious technique, he devotes his last few years to a more intensive work taking photographs and proceeding to their development or tirage as printed versions. No matter which technique he applies, he has a special artistic view that allows to capture emotions and immortalise them. The painter’s eye, as well as later on in his artistic career the photographer’s eye, keep scrutinising himself in various forms of “auto-portraits”. Beyond youth, the pervasive obsession with selfies nowadays had its artistic precursor Edgar Degas for example. Whereas most photographers would classify a double exposure as a “raté”, Degas experimented with this almost like a cubist, Picasso-like techniques in photography. Actually, the last few images in the exhibition show the artistic reference Picasso made in his work to images, impressions and techniques that inspired him throughout his artistic work. There are amazing links in and across the history of art or arts. (BnF expo Edgar Degas 2023).
Key visuals have the potential to appeal to us like an own language. From a communication point of view the message is simple. You send a message from your visual appearance even if you do not intend to do so. Hence, better think about it briefly before you go public. The receiver might interpret your visual statement differently from you or other peers, but you offer a coherent version of your activity or appearance. Be it politicians (Merkel) or others, frequently memory allows only for key visuals to make lasting impressions or for something or someone to enter into collective memory of a decade or even a century. Repetition, also from different sources, plays a major part in this. It is surprisingly still uncommon to hire persons in charge of key visuals for a person, an organisation or a festival. Haphazard treatment of key visuals as part of marketing is probably an underestimation of the lasting impact of a coherent visual message. Stability and repetition are key here, rather than the wide-spread ad-hoc approaches to marketing. Only on the margin of the exposition devoted to Philippe Apeloig “Des esquisses à l’affiche” (BnF) this lesson can be learned. The merit of the exposition is the opening-up of the process of creation. Posters, graphics and typescripts all contribute to the overall visual message. Achieving coherence in the thousands of choices demands an aesthetic point of view. This may blend aesthetic languages of a decade and reflections on the subject. Catching an audience at the time of affluence of images, movies and accelerated rhythms of daily life remains a challenge. For the “Fête du Livre” Apeloig has achieved this in a memorable way, well worth a tiny exposition of donations from a master in visual communication.
There have been many attempts to write a history of photography. Susan Sonntag’s account of photography and photographers remains the most successful one in my opinion. It includes a critical view on the medium just as much as capturing the power-related element of images and particularly photos. “Ouvrir l’album du monde” traces the history of photography from 1842-1911 starting with the invention by Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre of the “daguerréotype” (Great press dossier Link to pdf-file). The attempt to “de-center” the history from the dominating western perspective is interesting as it reflects the spread and acquisition of the new technology by various “ruling groups” across the planet. Images like photos served and still serve often as proof (so easy to produce fakes and fake news nowadays). Proof of variety of existence of species, mankind, land acquisition and landscapes. Images of religious ideation, frequently forbidden, have been captured on photos. Many photos use up-front and profile perspectives on the same face, like police registry or the ethnographic documentations. This puts the visitor in an awkward position of “complice” to the process, judgement or documentation effort of a ruling more powerful class or colonial occupier. Historical embedding is necessary to balance the voyeurism of the camera. The film “Der vermessene Mensch”, reviewed in The New York Times recently, is a timely warning, how science and photography have served to create hierarchies of people, despite the fact, that “all men are created equal”.
The self portrait is a timely topic for an exhibition of photography. As part of the European month of photography (EMOP), the PhotoBrusselsFestival offers a good overview of what photography deals with in the 21 century. The Korean cultural centre (KCC) in Brussels has a long tradition to serve as an exposition in the centre of Brussels (Sablon) and is joining this year’s photo festival. The 2023 photography festival has the “Self-Portrait” as a guiding theme. Rather than entering the debate about “portrait chosen or portrait endured” (Photographica 5,2022) the self-portrait has more degrees of freedom in it. Even if it is apparently a choice to portrait oneself, there are ample examples, where the urge to produce a self-portrait is part of a wider concern for fundamental issues.
The exhibition of 5 artists from Korea at the KCC invites us to reflect on the pervasive self-portrait practice all around us. The self-portrait is not only a tool of self-reflection, which has a long tradition in art (just think of a famous drawing by Albrecht Dürer of himself), but self-portraits are also pervasive on media and social media today. Additionally, the self-portrait is a powerful tool of thinking and imagining yourself at various stages of the life-course. For centuries it had been a social or political privilege to have your portrait taken. It still is to some extent, but only if the person taking the photograph, has a special reputation. In a market difference to the selfie, the exhibition of artists in the KCC highlights the process of self-reflection that is part of creating the portrait as well as the ensuing reflection by the spectator. In looking at the self-portrait of the photographer, we might involuntarily deal first with our own perception of the image. Danger, dreams, fantasy, sorrow, pain, self-assertion and reconstruction of the self, all these themes come to mind when confronted with the self-portraits of the 5 artists (Bae Chan-hyo, Jeong Yun-soon, Lee Jee-young, Ahn Jun, Choi Young-kwi).
KCC director Kim Jae-hwan names this collection, curated by Seok Jae-hyun, “An odyssey of images leading to self-re-flection”. In referring back to the protagonists in novels from Hermann Hesse, he points our attention to the “unique journey through images as they find themselves”. To embark on the journey visit KCC in Brussels, ask for a copy of the catalogue or start by reading the title of the exposition: “Who Am I” – it is apparently no longer a question after the journey. Is it for you? More reflection on images and photos here.
The exhibition of photos and film on “masculinities,liberation through photography” is an excellent example of how artistic approaches to central social phenomena enrich our understanding. The collection of images on masculinities enlightens and reveals the social construction of masculinity. All persons interested in such basic questions should grab the opportunity to pay a visit to the Barbican Centre in London until May 2020 (Later also in Berlin). Perfect choice of a location as the Barbican Centre represents a fine example of “brutal architecture” in London. This is already worth a visit for those not familiar with such concepts. Prepare to get lost somewhere in the multitude of cultural offerings. It feels like Centre Pompidou in Paris, but has additionally a splendid concert hall.
Depending on the time and location of our upbringing we are subject to different social constructions of masculinity. Browse through family collections of photos from grand fathers, fathers and your own youth and maybe your children. From the perspective of how masculinity has been framed at different epochs and across continents, it is obvious that masculinity just as feminity are constructed by social discourse, social choices and media representations. Make it a choice – nowadays – yes we can !
Read on with a critic published in “The Guardian” or “The Sunday Times“.