Striking images contrast styles of powerful photographers

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Striking images contrast styles of powerful photographers


Within the same freeze frames, one photographer’s work is mechanically calculated and precise while the other portrays a haze of dark romanticism.
Work by the two, Edward Weston and Tina Modotti, is showcased at Gallery Lumiere, a gallery in southern Seoul specializing in photography, as part of a continuing, ambitious exhibition series, which displays works by photographers at the forefront of their art during the 20th century. The exhibition, suitably titled “The Legend of Photography: photographs of Edward Weston & Tina Modotti,” presents 37 photographs by the pair who shared their artistic and romantic lives during the 1920s. The black and white photographs from the peak of both artists’ professional careers, from the 1920s to 1930s, are displayed on the simple, white walls of the gallery.

The exhibition is a part of the gallery’s aspiration to provide an opportunity for Korean visitors to view photography from a historical standpoint. “By continuing this series of exhibitions, I wanted to provide a space in Korea that delves into the history of photography, when the genre was starting to grow into an art form,” said Choi Mi-li, the director of Gallery Lumiere.
Last fall, the gallery presented “Alfred Stieglitz and Camera Work,” which featured 70 vintage photogravure and print works by Alfred Stieglitz, dubbed the “patron saint of straight photography” and by members of the Photo-Secession movement he led, including Edward Steichen, Paul Strand, Gertrude Kasebier and Ansel Adams. The fall exhibition showed the dynamic shift from pictorial photography to straight photography. This time, the gallery is introducing two artists who followed in the creative footsteps of Alfred Stieglitz and the Photo-Secession movement.

The chosen photographs by Weston and Modotti present both the contrasting and complementary elements of the artists. Following the movement towards a more realistic and unfiltered form of photography, or straight photography, as opposed to pictorialism, both artists veered away from methods such as soft focus, special filters, lens coatings and heavy manipulation during the printing process.
Their relationship began when Modotti joined Weston’s photography studio as a nude model in 1921. She quickly became his favorite and the two became lovers later that same year. Born in Udine, Italy, Modotti later became a political activist as a member of the Mexican Communist Party. Mexican photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo has said Modotti’s photographic career was divided into “romantic” and “revolutionary,” recognizing the former period as her time spent in collaboration with Weston.
Modotti’s 20 works on display include 5 photographs of Diego Rivera’s (a cubist painter and muralist) mural, politically-charged photographs including a Mexican woman carrying an anarchist flag, and more romantic works, such as “Roses.” She frequently used platinum printing, a process which depends on iron salts to create a subtle tone, which turned her black-and-white photos an elusive silvery-grey.

In contrast, most of Weston’s photographs used gelatin silver print, which gave his work a more defined, focused look. Photographs such as “Shell,” “Dunes” and “Chapingo” detail texture and shape more than any other element. This characteristic can be understood in connection with his belief that “the camera should be used for recording life.”
Weston’s work followed the flow of the photographic movement toward straight photography in the early 20th century. He founded the group f/64 (which refers to the camera setting which secures the maximum depth of field and delivers the sharpest image possible on a large format camera). The group’s common philosophy can be seen clearly in their published manifesto, which includes this quote: “Pure photography is defined as possessing no qualities of technique, composition or idea, derivative of any other art form. The production of the “Pictorialist,” on the other hand, indicates a devotion to principles of art which are directly related to painting and the graphic arts.”
In this exhibition, viewers can get a glimpse of Weston’s trademark photographs of nudes and still life. In all his work, ideological aesthetics are replaced by the photographer’s unwavering view of the role of a camera as a direct recorder of the object in front of it and nothing more.

by Cho Jae-eun

The exhibition, “The Legend of Photography: photographs of Edward Weston and Tina Modotti,” runs until May 7. A discussion, “Gallery Talks,” will take place from Mondays through Sundays at 1, 3 and 5 p.m. On Saturdays and Sundays at 4 p.m. the talks will be held in English. Lectures by critics and curators will be available during these talks.
Gallery Lumiere is located south of the Galleria Department Store in Apgujeong-dong. It is open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily except for Mondays. Admission is 5,000 won ($5) for adults and 4,000 won for students.
For more information, visit the Web site, or call (02) 517-2134.
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