Two shows at the Tate Modern

This was my first chance to visit to the Tate Modern and I think I would have gone no matter what was on display. I was anxious to see what had been done with the converted power generating station and to walk through one of the world’s most famous galleries. I arrived a little late in the day, however, and only had time to take in two of the shows: Picasso 1932: Love, Fame and Tragedy and Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art.

The Picasso exhibition was dedicated to a single year within the artist’s life that was a time of transition for him in terms of his personal life (end of a marriage, infatuation with a new and younger woman) and his art (questions about his ability to produce fresh and exciting work, now that he had reached middle age).

The biographical context for the show was interesting and helpful although I found that I have not (yet?) become a Picasso fan. I am well aware of the artist’s influence on the direction of 20th century art but sometimes the abstract paintings of women start to look the same to me.

I was very surprised to find, then, how often I appreciated the initial sketches of his work rather than the finished pieces. Without garish colour and with less distinct lines, the drawings had a lightness and playfulness that I found appealing. If anything, they might encourage me to go back to the paintings with fresh eyes.

Pablo Picasso —  Femme nue, feuilles et buste , 1932

Pablo Picasso — Femme nue, feuilles et buste, 1932

Pablo Picasso —  Jeune fille devant un miroir , 1932

Pablo Picasso — Jeune fille devant un miroir, 1932

Pablo Picasso —  Femme à la fleur, écrivant , 1932

Pablo Picasso — Femme à la fleur, écrivant, 1932

Pablo Picasso —  Femme nue couchée , 1932

Pablo Picasso — Femme nue couchée, 1932

From the Tate Modern catalogue:

Shape of Light is the first major exhibition to explore the relationship between the two, spanning the century from the 1910s to the present day. It brings to life the innovation and originality of photographers over this period, and shows how they responded and contributed to the development of abstraction.

Key photographs are brought together from pioneers including Man Ray and Alfred Stieglitz, major contemporary artists such as Barbara Kasten and Thomas Ruff, right up to exciting new work by Antony Cairns, Maya Rochat and Daisuke Yokota, made especially for the exhibition.

This was a wide-ranging exhibition, in terms of the period covered, the techniques employed and the artists represented. Although many of the pieces were considered daring or avant-garde in their day, quite a few now seem old-fashioned. I think this may have to do with the fact that the works are dependent on the particular characteristics of technologies that are now outmoded. They may have a momentary revival or nostalgic value, but their time has passed. By contrast, the Picasso paintings on show at the Tate—although older than a lot of the pieces in the Shape of Light show—continue to have a life about them, perhaps because the processes and materials involved in painting canvas have not become as tied to a particular era and then left behind.

Unfortunately, and perhaps ironically, no photography was allowed in this exhibit.

Learning, one portrait at a time

Over the last few years I've tried to include more people in my pictures. I've always taken shots of my children, but that's different. Everyone does that. 

Portraits, however, are a different ballgame. They make me nervous because I am not yet comfortable posing people for pictures that they have to like. So, I have a choice: I can continue to feel awkward or I can practise, learn and grow in confidence.

This weekend I practised with my wife, Jackie, who was looking for a new headshot. And we're both pleased with the results. She likes the colour and I like the black and white. See what you think.

In the meantime, I'll keep practising. 

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Fujifilm X-E1 with Fujinon 56mm lens

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Fujifilm X-E1 with Fujinon 56mm lens

Paris: Day 2

Day 2 wore me out. But in a good way. I spent about nine hours walking and standing, starting the day in the famous and overwhelming Musee du Louvre (more on this in another posting) and ending it off with a visit to the Sainte-Chapelle.

Sainte-Chapelle is not one of the bigger churches I have visited, but it is far and away the most memorable. It is extravagantly beautiful. Many of the cathedrals of Europe impress because of their rich histories and associations with the pious and powerful. Some churches, like Reykjavik's Hallgrimskirkja, capture attention because of their unique architecture. Other houses of Christian worship are notable for the purity and simplicity of their vision. But, again, Sainte-Chapelle is extravagantly beautiful.

I expect that many medieval churches were more beautiful in their day, but now we see only their bones with the plaster and decorative painting removed. Even so, how many churches of the period had the stained glass treasures that Sainte-Chapelle still enjoys? So much of the wall space is devoted to glasswork that the ceiling is supported by little more than light and dancing colours.

Built by France's King Louis IX (later canonized as Saint Louis) between 1238 and 1248, the church has now been annexed and partially absorbed by offices of the Palais de Justice de Paris.

But nothing can hold a candle to those windows. 

 

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Road to Seeing, by Dan Winters

Dan Winters' Road to Seeing is unlike any other photography book I've read -- and not just because it's some 700 pages in length. Winters presents his thoughts as a photographic memoir and invites the reader to a chat about his formative experiences and learning on the way to becoming a highly successful businessman and artist. I was impressed not only by Winters' enthusiasm and drive, but also by his ability to relate his story in a human and unaffected way. He is unstinting in his praise and appreciation of others -- to the point where I wondered if he had never worked with any difficult people -- but it is refreshing to read an author who attempts candour without feeling the need to pull others down. 

This beautifully-presented book will be worth it to people who love photography and who care about the connection between artist and art. It is a book to savour and I will spend time with it again.

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