Minneapois Institute of Arts
New Pictures at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Legacy: Margaret Bourke-White

Posted Jun 19, 2012

American photographer Margaret Bourke-White (1904 – 1971), who would have been 108 last week, approached documentary photography with a zeal that left many of her LIFE contemporaries jealous of her “scoops.”

Initially gaining notice from her pictures of economic crisis in 1930s United States, she was the only American photographer in Russia when the Germans bombed Moscow in 1941, and was given access to photograph Joseph Stalin, who she later stated was her most difficult subject because he stood like a stone.

Bourke-White followed stories around Europe, from Italy into Africa.  Not known for traveling light, the photographer carried up to 600 pounds of equipment on assignment until all her gear was lost when her ship was torpedoed en route to Africa in December of 1942.  After surviving the sinking but unable to save her equipment, she downgraded to only 250 pounds but continued to favor larger format cameras due to the negatives’ detail.

Throughout Germany she followed the Allied advance and captured shocking, iconic images at the Buchenwald concentration camp in April, 1945.  In India, Bourke-White shifted from the aftermath of war to a peaceful 1946 portrait of Mahatma Gandhi, who required her to learn how to use a spinning wheel before she was allowed to photograph him.

The Minneapolis Institute of Arts wishes a happy belated birthday to a photographer whose commitment to capturing the best images affected not only her own life and career, but continues to inspire photographers today.


Jen Dolen, Photography & New Media intern

Werner Bischof’s “dream of purity,” continued

Posted Jun 18, 2012

Like many of us, Werner Bischof wrote letters and journal entries chronicling his thoughts, concerns and expectations.  In retrospect, such correspondence among artists offers valuable depth into the legacy of their work and lives.

In 1953 Bischof wrote to fellow Magnum photographer, Robert Capa, whom Bischof referred to as a father-figure, “I am sick of doing nothing and eager to leave for South America. It is the only place I am interested in – as far as possible from civilization, back to nature”.  Six months later, even less fond of the masses of highways and “assembly line” way of living, he wrote to Henri Cartier-Bresson, “I am soon going on my great trip over Central America [...] to see simple people with more heart and less [...] television sets.”

Unfortunately, all did not go well in Peru, where Bischof died in a car accident.  Despite his short life, he made masterful work, and though he photographed difficult subjects like war and famine, he continued to “seek out beautiful things.”  Filling his compositions with strong visuals, Bischof framed rich design elements around both natural studies and action shots.  His lighter scenes of children playing and people at rest are as effective as his heavier pictures of active soldiers and emaciated figures.

Werner’s eldest son, Marco, manages his father’s estate and frequently communicated with former MIA curator Ted Hartwell. After a 1996 visit from Zurich, Marco wrote of the Boundary Waters, “we spent a wonderful week exploring more of the beauty of your country. Full with memories [...].  Physically we are here now – I guess our souls need some time till they arrive.”

Marco continued collaborating with the MIA, which presented Werner Bischof Photographs 1932-1954 in 2003-04, along with a CD biography by Marco Bischof, Carl Philabaum and Gary Brandenberg, Werner Bischof: Life and Work of a Photographer 1916-1954.  The CD, which Marco initially referred to as Werner Bischof: Dream of Purity, housed an archive of 1,000+ images and included notes, sketches, interviews, and letters such as the following excerpt written by Werner from Calcutta in 1952, to his wife, Rosellina:

Of course, my dearest – there is beauty too, temple dances of dreamlike beauty in the south …     I am an observer in the abattoir of beauty.


On display at the MIA again soon, view Bischof’s gelatin silver print “In the Court of the Meiji Temple, Tokyo, Japan” from 1951.  Related post: Werner Bischof’s “dream of purity”

Jen Dolen, Photography & New Media intern

Werner Bischof’s “dream of purity”

Posted Jun 4, 2012

By virtue of the medium, photographers share their insight more directly than other artists through various platforms.  Many work for newspapers to share images across a wide viewer base, conveying concern for human conditions in representations of crises – war, famine, poverty, natural devastation or human-made suffering – as well as with relatable moments during more peaceful times.  Yet, the role of a photojournalist can vary from a photographer not shooting for an employer, requiring a balance of internal and external pressures to produce certain images.

Werner Bischof struggled with the sensationalist expectation often pushed on photojournalists.  In one letter to his wife, Rosellina, he confessed, “This story-chasing has become hard to take – not physically, but mentally.”  However, he attempted to produce a sincere vision of events during his few years of work, prior to his accidental death in 1954 while on assignment in Lima, Peru.

Bischof wrote,  “The artist is a person whom nature has endowed with an exceptional sensitivity, who conveys the impressions his environment makes on him in terms of his own world. The requirements for this are a solid technical training, the study of the different means of expression and, not least, enormous willpower to prevail over all doubts; it is a hard road, and fortune smiles upon few.”


 Werner Bischof
In The Court of The Meiji Temple, Japan, 1951
Gift of Frederick B. Scheel

View Bischof’s  gelatin silver print “In the Court of the Meiji Temple, Tokyo, Japan” from 1951 on display at the MIA again, soon.


This image is presented as a “thumbnail” because it is protected by copyright. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts respects the rights of artists who retain the copyright to their work

Jen Dolen, Photography & New Media intern

Avedon: Portrait & Dialogue

Posted May 15, 2012

What is a portrait?  Richard Avedon, who would have been 89 years old today, worked with his sitters to engage their persona.  He said people often came to him to be photographed “as they would go to a doctor or fortune teller”:  to learn about themselves.  When he photographed his father, then age 83, portraying him as “still fantastically vibrant and hungry and angry and alive” rather than wise,  Avedon didn’t want to show the pictures to his dad, fairly certain he wouldn’t like them.  “My photographs show his impatience—I love that quality in him—but seeing it would frighten him. [...] He’s much more interested in looking sage, so my sense of what’s beautiful is very different from his.’”

Beyond that familial exchange, Avedon was cognizant that a sitter and photographer may have different visions of the final product. Varied perspectives on portraiture originate, perhaps, from a different understanding of the role of the person behind the lens.  Former MIA curator Ted Hartwell mused, “The tradition of the portrait as a kind of monument or idealization is an attempt to portray that person in the way they would like to be seen, whereas [Avedon] is very forthright. [...looking] honestly and directly at things that make us typically uncomfortable.”


 Richard Avedon
Marilyn Monroe, Actress, May 6th, 1957
The Christina N. and Swan J. Turnblad Memorial Fund


Avedon was certainly aware of the position of the photographer as a subjective intermediary with judgment and biases. He believed a “portrait is not a likeness. The moment a motion or fact is transformed into a photograph, it is no longer a fact, but opinion. There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate, but none of them are true.”


This image is presented as a “thumbnail” because it is protected by copyright. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts respects the rights of artists who retain the copyright to their work

Jen Dolen, Photography & New Media intern

Edwin Land, instant images, & Ansel Adams

Posted May 7, 2012

Today, if a parent snaps a picture and a toddler asks to see it right away, no one bats an eye.  When Edwin Land’s child made the request seven decades ago, she inspired the discovery of instant imagery.

Born over a hundred years ago on May 7th (1909-1991), Land pioneered what became known as Polaroids in the 1940s.  He invented immediate picture technology on vacation in Santa Fe after his three-year-old daughter asked why she couldn’t see the picture he had just taken of her.  Well, why not?  He took a walk and, within an hour, visualized an idea to produce a finished print in the field:  placing darkroom chemistry between two sheets of film.

Ansel Adams, always enthusiastic about photographic technique and developments, embraced Land’s innovations.  Beginning in 1948, Adams worked with his Land camera and offered feedback as a consultant for 35 years.  Adams was a strong advocate for the film, writing, ” It is unfortunate that so many photographers have thought of the Land camera as a ‘toy,’ a casual device for ‘fun’ pictures [...] The process has revolutionized the art and craft of photography”

A writer of many books and manuals on photography, Adams first published Polaroid Land Photography in 1963 and revised an edition in 1978, dedicated to “Edwin H. Land, creator of new horizons for the mind and spirit.”

Happy birthday Edwin Land, and thank you for laying the foundation for instant imagery!


Jen Dolen, Photography & New Media intern

Happy 182nd birthday, Eadweard Muybridge!

Posted Apr 9, 2012

The MIA’s Photography & New Media department wishes a happy birthday to photography pioneer Eadweard Muybridge, born in England on April 9th, 1830.  Muybridge would have been 182 years old today.  Celebrate by seeing three of his pieces on view at The Sports Show.


 Eadweard Muybridge
Animal Locomotion Plate 344 (Striking a Blow), 1887
Gift of Samuel C. Gale, William H. Hinkle, Albert Loring, Charles M. Loring, Charles J. Martin,
and Charles Alfred Pillsbury

Muybridge was the first to break down movement photographically by triggering a sequence of still cameras, recording thousands of images of men, women, children, and animals in action, preceding the notion of the instant replay.

Martin Parr on Inspiration

Posted Jan 31, 2012

Photographer Martin Parr, whose pictures will be on view in New Pictures 6, visited MN for four days to take pictures of winter sports.   His comments on inspiration offer some insights into his approach to such a project.

“We live in a difficult but inspiring world, and there is so much out there that I want to record. However you cannot photograph everything, so I have to select subjects that throw light on the relationship I have with the world. This is often expressed as an ambiguity or a contradiction. Look at tourism, for example. We have an idea of what a famous site will look like as we’ve seen the photos – but when you get there, the reality is usually different. This rub between mythology and reality is the inspiration – and the contradiction.

Inspiration can also come when a good connection is made with the subject. The nature and quality of this connection can vary enormously. It may range from getting into a small community and winning the trust of the subjects over a number of visits; but it could also come from walking in the mountains and feeling a certain affinity with the landscape.

The knack is to find your own inspiration, and take it on a journey to create work that is personal and revealing.”

Winter Wonder Land, Martin Parr the Next New Pictures Artist

Posted Jan 4, 2012

I am delighted to announce that British photographer Martin Parr will be the next New Pictures artist at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts this spring.  Martin will cross the Atlantic in a few weeks to shoot photos covering the wealth of winter activities in Minnesota, from pond hockey to ice fishing. Given Martin’s track record of capturing the British middle class and international wealth, we expect a unique and foreign take on cultural and athletic life in our state.

A member of the esteemed Magnum Photos, an international photographers’ cooperative, Parr is one of the most renowned and celebrated photographers working today. He is known for his innovative use of color photography and his humorous approach to documenting the daily rituals of life. Parr is also recognized for his work as an editor of photo-based publications, and is credited with more than twenty compilations of his own work. In 2008, he was awarded the Royal Photographic Society Centenary Medal and the Baume & Mercier award for his career contributions to contemporary photography.

New Pictures 6: Martin Parr opens April 20, 2012 and runs through the summer.

Ansel Adams Meets Doris Ulmann and Her “Flimsy Tripod”

Posted Dec 28, 2011

In the spring of1933, Ansel Adams traveled from Santa Fe, New Mexico to the east coast to visit New York City for the first time in his life. In a series of interviews conducted by The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, Adams recounts a number of important meetings with leading art figures, such as photography impresario Alfred Stieglitz, painters Marsden Hartley and John Marin and critic Paul Rosenberg. One of his most memorable and humorous is with documentary photographer, Doris Ulmann, whose photograph “Two Men at Work (c. 1916-1925) is in the MIA’s collection. http://www.artsconnected.org/resource/10965/two-men-at-work

“She was the one that did a lot of photography in Appalachia and of the Negroes in the South. A very wealthy woman with an old Mercedes car and a German chauffeur. Took pictures of everybody who came to see her. Had this great eight by ten camera and a flimsy tripod. And while her exposure of me was going on, I could see the camera swaying [Laughter] So, I said, “You know, Doris, really, your tripod’s terrible.” [She said,] “You know, I just can’t get sharp pictures. I thought it was the lens.” I said, “It’s the tripod.” [She said,] “Well, will you help pick one out?” So the next day I was picked up in the car and we went down to Willoughby’s and all the other big photography stores; finally got her a tripod that would hold her eight by ten monstrosity up. And then she’d go to the lens cases in the store and said, “ I want that one and that one and that one.” God knows how many lenses that woman had. She just would buy lenses like Virginia [Adams’ wife] would buy, “Cool and Creamy” at the Safeway. [Laughter] But she had a very fine feeling and did many fine things. She had book[s] publish.  We have several [of her] books.

Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Decisive Moment

Posted Dec 8, 2011

Henri Cartier-Bresson, the great French photographer, was famous for coining the term “decisive moment” in photography. This fleeting moment captured daily experience in the photographic image. There are decisive moments in one’s life as well. In 1932, a photograph by Martin Munkácsi inspired Cartier-Bresson to become a photographer. He stated in later years, “I must say that it is that very photograph which was for me the spark that set fire to fireworks. I couldn’t believe such a thing could be caught with the camera. I said, ‘Damn it,’ took my camera and went out into the street.”

The photograph, Boys Running into the Surf at Lanke Tangayika is part of the MIA’s photography collection.  Leave a comment to let me know if you want to see it in the galleries soon.