Portfolio: A fresh focus on past masters
Sunday 10 April 2011
As a crowd looks on, a woman opens up her shoulders, ready to strike a particularly doleful-looking lady. Who are they? And why is no one stopping the violence?
The full flesh of the truth comes when we know something of the background of the most influential person present, but not pictured: the photographer.
For without the quick trigger-finger of Henri Cartier-Bresson, we would never have seen this moment: a moment captured at a camp for displaced persons following the Second World War; a moment at which the aggressor has picked out the woman as a Gestapo informer who had denounced her; a moment that became an icon of liberation and the end of Nazi terror; a moment that would have particular resonance for Cartier-Bresson, himself a prisoner of war for three years.
It is this kind of context that the National Media Museum is exploring in its new exhibition, The Lives of Great Photographers, pairing portraits of the masters with some of their most famous works, alongside illuminating snippets from their notebooks.
How much more can we appreciate Edward Steichen's portrait of the actress Gloria Swanson (bottom, second right), for example, when we understand that he shot it after becoming chief photographer of Vogue and Vanity Fair? After agreeing to take the commercial editorial role, he revolutionised the turn-of-the-century pictorialism he had used in creating the fine art of fashion photography by amalgamating its flighty soft focus with a modernist severity. The result: a crisp metaphor for the evanescent era in which Swanson will remain forever romantically veiled, as the talkies arrived to make actresses more accessible – and banished her silent-film career to history.
The Lives of Great Photographers is at the National Media Museum, Bradford (nationalmediamuseum.org.uk), from Friday to 4 September
film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Stephen Fry explains what he would say if he was 'confronted by God'
- 2 City traders pay £200 for a quick hangover cure
- 3 Venezuela Expo Tattoo 2015: Extreme body art from 'Vampire Woman' to 109mm earlobes
- 4 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 5 Ball pool for adults opens in London
Gorillaz Phase 4: Cartoon supergroup is back as new artwork is unveiled
Venezuela Expo Tattoo 2015: Extreme body art from 'Vampire Woman' to 109mm earlobes
As Better Call Saul launches, here are the other spin-off shows we need to see
Game of Thrones season 5 trailer: The first full-length look is here
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
Stephen Fry explains what he would say if he was 'confronted by God'
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures
President Putin is a dangerous psychopath - reason is not going to work with him