Discovering Lee Miller

A primary reason for starting Informative Outlooks was my growing application for various art forms. I’m still reading and learning to gain a fuller understanding, yet by doing so my appreciation continues helping me to contextualise an artists’ meaning. On the subject of photography I have been drawn to real and candid moments specific photographers have captured (see my comments in my previous posts https://informativeoutlooks.wordpress.com/2013/04/24/close-up-photographers-at-work/ and https://informativeoutlooks.wordpress.com/2013/08/16/imagine-mccullin-2013/).

My appreciation for photography has continued upon discovering Lee Miller. For those unfamiliar with Miller she was a former photographic model who gained an interest in the arts (studying Italian art and culture for a year) before persuading Man Ray, a renowned figure of the surrealist movement to become his apprentice which began her photography career. Miller became acquainted with Ray professionally and personally, establishing relationships with other artists connected to the surrealist movement and consolidating herself as an photographer. Miller furthered her career by becoming a war photographer in Britain for Vogue and later a war correspondent for American forces capturing the aftereffects of the Second World War upon humanity. Throughout Miller’s surrealist and wartime periods, her use of composition, technique and engagement of subject matter is what draws me to her photography which I’ll elaborate through analysing my favorite Miller photographs.

Surrealism dealt with the unconscious mind where human desires of sex, violence and death are imminent. Miller’s surrealist photography dealt with sexual desire and gaze as shown below. The composition of the model’s breasts exposed from the sabre guard, traditionally to protect the torso creates an impression of overwhelming sexual desire. The surrealists wanted to show how sexuality is a powerful, overcoming emotion. The breasts exposed represents sexualities’ triumph within human desires making this photograph greatly symbolic of surrealism’s relationship with sex.

Nude wearing sabre guard (1930)

Nude wearing sabre guard. 1930

Surrealism’s notion of unconscious desires was represented in solorisation, a technique Miller accidentally discovered whilst working with Ray and later perfected. This accidental discovery was perfect for surrealist aesthetics as it gave subjects a dream-like quality. The close-up composition of Dorothy Hill’s head shot, Miller applied solorisation to make Hill a mysterious figure to be gazed at. Solorisation allows spectators to apply their abstract interpretations into what the dream-like visual represents, thus activating their unconscious.

Dorothy Hill (1933)

This last surrealist image I’ll analyse is not so much part of surrealism in its techniques or compositions, it is the people involved living by their artistic integrity. This photograph captures an intimate moment of Miller’s friends from the surrealist movement (Nusch and Paul Eluard, Ronald Penrose, Man Ray and Ady Fidelin) with particular focus on Eluard’s and Fidelin’s nude bodies. This photograph conveys a highly charged sexuality sufficient amongst the group whose surrealist tendencies were clearly personal as well as professional.

Picnic (1937)

Miller’s war photography captured moments of stark humanity wherever it be horrific or tragic. The photography below shows a beaten SS Prison Guard who had been recognised by former prisoners whilst disgusting himself as a civilian. I find this photograph to contain immense emotional power, framed in a close-up it is directing spectators into defining their feelings of the horrific violence brought upon him. This was a great technique by Miller to confront spectators. From my perspective it shows the SS Prison Guard’s consequences for his association with the Nazis. Acknowledging this might give spectators a sense of justified pleasure.

Beaten SS Prison Guard (1945)

The photograph of a child evacuee contains a similar quality to the beaten SS Prison Guard in its directness, spectators cannot help but be drawn into the subject matter. Like the beaten SS Prison Guard photograph, Miller is capable of capturing immense emotion power. The Second World War’s consequences on humanity were once again evident within Miller’s photography. The child evacuee’s facial expressions conveyed a sense of loss and vulnerability, what a global war zone has inflicted upon individuals. This was emphasised in the composition as the child evacuee shown in the wide shot is isolated, as if his troubles will continue.

Child evacuee (1944)

Continuing with the Second World War’s consequences upon humanity, Miller captured the body of a young German woman who had committed suicide. Incidentally the position she is in creates a dream-like quality, as if she is only sleeping. However knowing the truth changes these assumptions to tragedy. Despite the fact the woman in question was affiliated with the Nazis and took her own life before facing justice, there is no sense of judgement indicated as was in the beaten SS Prison Guard photograph. Miller framed the photograph from a close perspective, her technique seems to offer sympathy towards a life wasted through suicide as repercussions of Nazi politics.

Nazi Female suicide (1945)

Miller’s surrealist and war photographs were always encapsulating within her use of composition that was direct. This related to her technique of making spectators automatically engage with subject matter and be drawn into her photography wherever to be intrigued or horrified. Photography which has such power should be given substantial recognition.

To Inform and Delight: The World of Milton Glaser (2008)

“The purpose of art is to inform and delight”. This is a Horace quote which Milton Glaser has followed throughout his career. Within To Inform and Delight: The World of Milton Glaser this was evident in various examples of Glaser’s work explained by himself and others who note Glaser’s influence on graphic art.

Glaser explained that emotions felt from music can be incorporated into graphic art. The contributors analysing his posters for Bob Dylan and The Beatles note as a result Glaser pioneered psychedelic design. Reflecting over these designs it is easy to understand Glaser’s use of colours and composition evoked the 1960s counter-culture directing its characteristics onto the world as progressive creativity.

I was in agreement with Glaser’s idea of graphic art needing to be simple and direct. He created the ‘I Love NY’ slogan at a time when New York was in disarray. This now iconic slogan was certainly a direct engagement in promoting social unity. Glaser’s more recent campaign of buttons with political slogans i.e. ‘dissent protects democracy’ also evoked calls for social unity. The simplicity and directness of Glaser’s designs contextualises his ideal to inform the public and delight them with his directness. Throughout To Inform and Delight: The World of Milton Glaser from my perspective clarifies how art can be a tool for direct defiance whilst being gratifying for the public.

Inciting a Revolution Of The Mind: Anguish and Enthusiasm – What Do You Do With Your Revolution Once You’ve Got It

Rich in content, Anguish and Enthusiasm aims to subject visitors into contemplating what fuels revolution and its consequences. Quite an ambitious exhibition in its offering, consisting of various mediums allowing room for thought. Entering the gallery I was greeted to Sarah Pierce’s Gag (2013), a collection of discarded items and waste from equipment and material which played a part in constructing the gallery space for Anguish and Enthusiasm. At first I wondered how exactly this connects to themes of revolution. Then I realised Anguish and Enthusiasm itself is a revolution, one of the mind to widen understanding of its revolutionary themes. This in itself is a powerful message as you become physically engaged with Anguish and Enthusiasm.

Gag (2013). Photo by Paul Greenwood

Anguish and Enthusiasm also contains a strong visual presence in enhancing our understanding of revolution. From Harry Eccleston’s etchings of industrial employees embodying a containment of quiet dignity of Industrial Revolution’s characteristics, The Graphic’s cover of a horrified revolutionaries’ last moments before death and Eoghan McTigue’s subjective Empty Sign and Empty Sign (TU). Each piece has underlying currents of revolution’s magnitude which do not fail to evoke.

Eoghan McTigue’s Empty Sign (1998) and Empty Sign (TU) (2002). Photo by Jan Dixon and Emily Dixon.

Anguish and Enthusiasm’s evoking visuals reached higher proportions with the display of films particularly Pocas Pascoal’s intimate account of Angola’s civil war in There Is Always Someone Who Loves You (2003). Using personal footage and striking scenes of revolutions’ repercussions made it a fitting piece of the exhibition in educating spectators. More charmingly was Sandra Ramos’ Relay Race (2010), a simple feature of predominant figures in Cuban history undertaking a rely before the baton finished with Ramos, personifying herself as a metaphor of everyone must keep the ideals of their country in the right direction. Perhaps it will make spectators think of what they can contribute towards national interests.

There Is Always Someone Who Loves You (2003). Photo by Jan Dixon and Emily Dixon.

Reflecting upon revolutions’ direction were two Andreas Bunte films Low Pressure and Artificial Diamonds (2013), both showing how the technologies and facilities built by GDR being used today contrasting with initial intentions questioning the stability of revolutions which topic continued with Chung Kuo, Cina (1972) observing the lives of working class Chinese people after the Cultural Revolution, accompanied with Chinese propaganda posters and Cultural Revolution artefacts including Mao’s Little Red Book. Though this may seem more appropriate as part of a museum rather than an art exhibition it is compatible to the aim in educating spectators. This along with the wealth of cinematic visuals open for spectators shows Anguish and Enthusiam’s sincerity in promoting the revolutionary theme.

Cultural Revolution Artefacts. Photo by Jan Dixon and Emily Dixon.

The essence of Anguish and Enthusiasm’s sincerity can be summarised outside the Cornerhouse with the street mural Trust Your Struggle (2013), a dedication to police brutality victim Oscar Grant. Highlighted this injustice outside of the gallery and onto the street makes Trust Your Struggle direct and confrontational, unashamed of catching passers – by off guard with its message. To see injustice and awaken the public towards a revolution of the mind.

Trust Your Struggle (2013). Photo by Jan Dixon and Emily Dixon

Anguish and Enthusiasm: What Do You Do With Your Revolution Once You’ve Got It ends 18th August – http://www.cornerhouse.org/art/art-exhibitions/anguish-and-enthusiasm-what-do-you-do-with-your-revolution-once-you%E2%80%99ve-got-it

Creation/Destruction

Exhibiting at MMU’s Holden Gallery, creation/destruction engages spectators to understand the title theme as a cycle which variously affects living organisms and humanly – structured components alike.

Taken by Blog's Author

Taken by Blog’s Author

As an individual spectator, my curiosity was mostly drawn to Anya Gallaccio’s work. She is behind what is arguably the standout piece of creation/destruction, Preserve (Chateau). The piece signifies the core of this exhibition as one hundred gerberas, a flower which symbolises beauty and innocence, will slowly decay throughout creation/destruction’s tenure at Holden Gallery. Repeated viewings of the piece will actively portray the beauty of nature’s creation destroyed by human elements. A similar sensation can be found with Untitled (Black candles) and Untitled (White candles). Again Gallaccio has applied an exhibit piece which will continuously remain active. It seems to open interpretation for its connection with creation/destruction, does it represent the destructive longing ignited for a lost love? It’s all for spectators to decide and enhance their participation, emphasising the physicality and mentality creation/destruction can causes.

Untitled (Black Candles). Image from holdengallery.mmu.ac.uk

Rut Blees Luxemburg’s photography requires deep concentration. It’s best to let your mind’s eye absorb his work. With his piece The Pattern of the Plans, a section of a structured material is focused upon. Letting your mind’s eye wander into The Pattern of the Plans makes you imagine its history, what has been its purpose and why has it been left to erode. More provocative for the mind’s eye by Luxemburg was O, a female eye covered with an advertisement for a prostitute’s services. The provocation with O is how sex, the act which creates life can equally be destructive when used as a commodity which leaves bleak images as to the deterioration of the prostitute’s sense of self. The simplicity of this piece evoking such reactions speaks volumes revealing the power behind Luxemburg’s artistic intentions with the creation/destruction theme.

Rut Blees Luxemburg, ‘O’. Image from hotshoeblog.wordpress.com

Activating the mind’s eye continued with short features was Mark Lewis’ study of derelict buildings. In Isosceles an isolated corner containing a desolate building is viewed, its worn exterior abandoned by time as modernisation consumes the surrounding area. Isosceles excels on the building’s character making one wonder of the liveliness it had before becoming forlorn. North Circular contains the same meaning with more intensity. Staying static for a prolonged period studying the remains of an assumingly once prominent building before a slow descent upwards to a group of kids messing around with no consideration for what was a structure built on ambitions of yesteryear. Maybe North Circular is a poignant reminder of how all things must come to an end not matter how harsh it seems.

Contemplating such matters brings to conclusion the themes of creation/destruction as an exhibition. Every piece conveys how creation/destruction is connected to ourselves and society both physically and psychologically, it is an eternal cycle which will forever be universal.

creation/destruction continues at The Holden Gallery till May 23rd – http://www.holdengallery.mmu.ac.uk/