Friday, August 27, 2010

3D's Future, Rolling Stones Arrive, Ken Duncan Speaks Out, Josef Lebovic in Kensington, Outback Roadside Shrines & How Leica Saved Their Jews

LATE NEWS: MGA announces the finalists for $25,000 Bowness Prize
Australia is rapidly becoming a centre for lucrative photographic competitions attracting talented, competitive, artistic photographers. Monash Gallery of Art have just announced the 34 images that have been selected by the judges (from 2,000 photographs submitted by 473 entrants) for the $25,000 William and Winifred Bowness Photography Prize - including (pictured left) Darren Sylvester's "Untitled, from the series, What happens will happen" The winning finalist, to be announced on September 23, will be awarded the $25,000 William and Winifred Bowness non-acquisitive Photography prize. Photography is, as ever, a major part of Monash Gallery of Art's program, with a forthcoming exhibition "More Seeing is Not Understanding" by Ponch Hawkes, (Untitled 1, 2008, pictured, right) opening on September 11. This MGA exhibition will be opened my Dr. Melissa Miles, lecturer in Theory of Art and Design, Monash University. Hawkes will offer her own thoughts in a talk she is giving on September 18.

Readers interested in seeing works selected as finalists in the Bowness can find them at
The Future According to Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner"
When I watched Ridley Scott's moody, prescient 1982 sci-fi epic "Blade Runner" again recently I was struck by how this film's story contained now familiar contemporary technology resonances. Flying cars (pictured) may not have eventuated, but one scene, in which the main character, detective Deckard, (the Blade Runner of the film's title) examines a small photograph which he has inserted into a computer of some kind (the device is barely visible, with only its screen showing). The technique for investigating the image is, however, now technically feasible. Not only does Deckard, played with a bleak truth by Harrison Ford, instruct his computer to scan the image in minute detail, he does it verbally, through a form of voice activation, now known to be one of Microsoft's intense obsessions for the future. As the computer allows this image to be progressively cropped and magnified on-screen (pictured, left) to Deckard's voice commands, Ridley Scott (and presumably Philip K. Dick, whose novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" inspired the film) quietly injects another visionary touch to the scene. Deckard asks the image to go to extreme magnification. As elements within the scene enlarge, we abruptly realise he is not only seeing details before him in great detail, he also can see behind certain elements within the picture, enabling him to subsequently identify a suspect (of whom he then verbally orders a hard copy image) This moment, though brief, reveals Ridley Scott at his visionary best in 1982, suggesting future imaging may well go beyond holography, and literally see around corners. Considering the recent impact of 3D, not only in the creation of Avatar, the most successful motion picture in history (and the prime source of NEWS Ltd's surprising billion dollar-plus profit) but also the increasing numbers of new digital cameras that now incorporate this technology into their still and video imaging, this moment proved truly arresting.
Blender Gallery's Director Tali Udovich is again exhibiting photographs of some of the legendary performers who have created the soundtracks to our lives. After her recent exhibition exploring Bob Dylan's early career, Blender Gallery are exhibiting Ethan Russell's photographs of the Rolling Stones taken in arguably their prime - when touring the United States in 1969. It is hard, now, to look at Russell's colour image (pictured, left) of the Stones at at their free concert at Altamont Speedway, without thinking beyond the ominous visible presence of Hell's Angels performing security - to the murder that unfolded in the turbulent crowd. Mercifully there are lighter moments from Russell, such as a boyish Mick Jagger with Richards (pictured, left) backstage, wearing costumes that seem to anticipate the Las Vegas excesses to come from Elvis. Russell also presents us with a droll image "Patience Please" showing Keith Richards (pictured, right) leaning against a water cooler above which an earnest U.S. government poster warns of the excesses of drugs. LET IT BLEED, Ethan Russell's massive, critically acclaimed 420 page signed, limited edition book (almost A3) is also available for purchase for the duration of the exhibition - which can be previewed online by clicking on Until October 5
Photographers Working in Public Are Angry ...
Well known Australian photographer Ken Duncan, master of the explicit panoramic image (Bondi Beach - pictured, above) is irate. The difficulties of making photographs in public - even documenting an Australian place like Bondi Beach or Uluru means that there are now severe restrictions on photographers. Permits are required at many beaches such as Bondi and even public places such as the Sydney Opera House. (pictured, by Ken Duncan) As a result Duncan has organised a rally for photographers on this coming Sunday, August 29th, coincidentally near the Opera House. "It is bureaucracy gone mad!" says Duncan, "I can't take photographs of my daughter at her swimming carnival without being approached by some official who thinks I might be a criminal. If I am photographing in a National Park and they (the Rangers) deem you're looking professional they will approach you. It's very uncomfortable. If you get a beautiful photograph and you exhibit it and someone buys it - you've broken the regulations - you're a criminal!" I mention to Duncan that similar restrictions exist in France about photographing in public. "Henri Cartier-Bresson would turn in his grave!" says Duncan, adding that in Australia, "If Max Dupain (pictured right, in 1981, preparing a barbecue at his Castlecrag home for Axel and Ros Poignant) went to that beach to photograph "The Sunbaker" today, he’d need a permit. Just the fact that you've got to ring up and get a permit to even go down (to a beach). How do you know when the sun’s going to rise - when that magical moment is going to happen? It's just bureaucracy gone crazy."
Photographers are the environment's best friend maintains Duncan, adding, "we're the ones whose photos were used to annex these areas and turn them into National Parks. Now all of a sudden we're commercial photographers and there to steal from nature. (Arts Minister) Peter Garrett has just been shocking on this ... he keeps trying to turn it into an indigenous issue ... instead this is about the rights of photographers (and artists too) to be able to photograph and tell their stories - to allow them to sell (them) in order to
stay alive to do it! What we're saying is this: if a photographer is having no more impact than the general public on the environment (then) there should be no permits or fees required. End of story." ozphotoreview intends to approach Arts Minister Peter Garrett, despite these fragile political times, for his perspective on this issue, and will post his answer as soon as possible.
Josef Lebovic Gallery Moves to Kensington

One door in Paddington has closed for this distinguished Sydney photography and print gallery, with another, wider door opening in Kensington. After many years in an elegant, though compact building at the corner of Paddington and Cascade streets, the Josef Lebovic Gallery has relocated to 103a Anzac Parade, on the corner of Duke Street, Kensington. With two floors of increased gallery space in a building that was formerly a bank, this could mark a change away from Josef Lebovic's familiar, dense displays of works arranged as classic 'Salon' hangs. Despite extensive renovations to his new premises, photographic works from the current exhibition "Australian & International Photography" can still be viewed, but by appointment only, at the gallery's new Kensington address. Among many outstanding works is Henri Cartier-Bresson's classic 1944 portrait of a great French artist just entering the last decade of his life, Henri Matisse (pictured, above) visibly frail, wheelchair-bound but firmly clasping a white dove with his left hand and continuing to draw. This picture is also full of irony considering Cartier-Bresson had just escaped from German wartime imprisonment and travelled across France to reach Matisse - as clearly as this dove had left its open cage. An interesting commentary on this and other Cartier-Bresson pictures can be found on the following blog I once advised a friend who asked, "if you could buy one Henri Cartier-Bresson photograph - apart from his famous leaping man behind the Gare St. Lazare railway station - which would it be?" I suggested this Matisse portrait, which they bought and have never sold, despite its value steadily increasing in following years. Ansel Adams's magnificent vista of "The Moon and Half Dome, Yosemite" is here (pictured, above right) as well as an equally planetary landscape by the late David Moore (1927-2003) "Sydney Harbour From 20,000 feet, 1992". Moore's other sculptural masterpiece, "Sisters of Charity, Washington DC, USA, 1956" is also present (pictured, left) in Lebovic's selection. Other welcome surprises in this display were two sensitive artist portraits by Kerry Dundas - of John Passmore in 1970 and an earlier 1948 observation of Godfrey Miller. The real surprise however, was Roger Scott's restrained portrait (pictured, right) of the influential photographer Carol Jerrems (1949-1980) made in Paddington in 1976. Fine portraits of Jerrems do exist, such as those by the late Rennie Ellis (1940-2003) but it was refreshing to see this quiet, simple observation of the melancholy photographer, made by her friend and B&W printer, Roger Scott, perhaps better known for his eloquent street photographs.
I should add, in a spirit of full disclosure, that I am represented by Josef Lebovic Gallery.
Australian roadside memorials.
Glenn Campbell is an accomplished Australian photojournalist, based in Darwin, equally at home documenting serene Aboriginal traditional owner Yvonne Margarulla standing in the idyllic Kakadu landscape or Prime Minister Julia Gillard (pictured, below) enjoying a lighter moment on an Australian Navy patrol boat. Recently Campbell became fascinated with the number and variety of memorials created by the side of highways (pictured) where loved ones had perished in road accidents. "After (covering) Bali in 2002, (when) it was ... my first exposure to real grief, I cut loose a bit ... hit the road, went on a long drive ... to NSW and Queensland. I'm at home in the desert. I was born in Mt. Isa. I did the same thing when I came back from Pakistan - I just found myself not moved to photograph anything for a while." The first (memorial) Campbell remembered noticing was on the road to Kangaroo Valley. "It was a gum tree with five crosses on it and there were messages scratched into the bark ... with posters and a letter stapled to the tree." Despite having spent time speaking to people who had lost loved ones (when he covered the Bali Bombing) Campbell had never thought about photographing roadside memorials in his work as a press photographer. "(But) these were young guys with the oldest twenty two." Campbell continued, "I (now) think these are sites of real importance." When I remarked to Campbell that roadside shrines suggest the democratisation of grief, he agreed. "It says a lot about the place of grieving in (our) society, which is not so much in the cemetery any more. It (grief) leaves people adrift. I couldn't have done this body of work without talking to the people who had set up these memorials. I wanted to give voice to this great anonymous grief that is permeating the country. Everyone ... is only one or two steps removed from road trauma." Campbell's "Shrines" exhibition is currently showing in the Supreme Court in Darwin until August 28. When I ask why at the Court? The photographer simply answered, "I needed somewhere big and somewhere quiet," adding, "my motives are pure ... I've learned a lot about myself. Ultimately these places are about love."
How Leica protected their Jews
Bob Davis an Australian photographer based in Hong Kong, China, forwarded this remarkable story of the behaviour of the Leitz family, of Leica camera fame, in Germany in the face of the coming holocaust.
"The Leica (pictured, left and at right, Henri Cartier-Bresson's first Leica) is the pioneer 35mm camera. It is a German product - precise, minimalist, and utterly efficient. Behind its worldwide acceptance as a creative tool was a family-owned, socially oriented firm (founded in 1869) that, during the Nazi era, acted with uncommon grace, generosity and modesty. E. Leitz Inc.,designer and manufacturer of Germany 's most famous photographic product, saved its Jews. And Ernst Leitz II, the steely-eyed Protestant patriarch who headed the closely held firm as the Holocaust (pictured, below left, trains arriving at Auschwitz-Birkenau) loomed across Europe, acted in such a way as to earn the title: "The photography industry's Schindler." As soon as Adolf Hitler was named chancellor of Germany in 1933, Ernst Leitz II began receiving frantic calls from Jewish associates, asking for his help in getting them and their families out of the country. As Christians, Leitz and his family were immune to Nazi Germany 's Nuremberg laws, which restricted the movement of Jews and limited their professional activities. To help his Jewish workers and colleagues, Leitz quietly established what has become known among historians of the Holocaust as "the Leica Freedom Train," a covert means of allowing Jews to leave Germany in the guise of Leitz employees being assigned overseas. Employees, retailers, family members, even friends of family members were "assigned" to Leitz sales offices in France , Britain , Hong Kong and the United States. Leitz's activities intensified after the Kristallnacht of November 1938, (pictured, right) during which synagogues and Jewish shops were burned across Germany. Before long, German "employees" were disembarking from the ocean liner Bremen at a New York pier and making their way to the Manhattan office of Leitz Inc., where executives quickly found them jobs in the photographic industry. Each new arrival had around his or her neck the symbol of freedom - a new Leica. The refugees were paid a stipend until they could find work. Out of this migration came designers, repair technicians, salespeople, marketers and writers for the photographic press.
Keeping the story quiet
The "Leica Freedom Train" was at its height in 1938 and early 1939, delivering groups of refugees to New York every few weeks. Then, with the invasion of Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, Germany closed its borders. By that time, hundreds of endangered Jews had escaped to America thanks to the Leitzes' efforts. How did Ernst Leitz II and his staff get away with it?
Leitz, Inc. was an internationally recognized brand that reflected credit on the newly resurgent Reich. The company produced range-finders and other optical systems for the German military. Also, the Nazi government desperately needed hard currency from abroad, and Leitz's single biggest market for optical goods was the United States. Even so, members of the Leitz family and firm suffered for their good works. A top executive, Alfred Turk, was jailed for working to help Jews and freed only after the payment of a large bribe. Leitz's daughter, Elsie Kuhn-Leitz, (pictured, left) was imprisoned by the Gestapo after she was caught at the border, helping Jewish women cross into Switzerland . She eventually was freed but endured rough treatment in the course of questioning. She also fell under suspicion when she attempted to improve the living conditions of 700 to 800 Ukrainian slave laborers, all of them women, who had been assigned to work in the plant during the 1940s. (After the war, Kuhn-Leitz received numerous honors for her humanitarian efforts, among them the Officier d'honneur des Palms Academic from France in 1965 and the Aristide Briand Medal from the European Academy in the 1970s.)
Why has no one told this story until now? According to the late Norman Lipton, a freelance writer and editor, the Leitz family wanted no publicity for its heroic efforts. Only after the last member of the Leitz family was dead did the "Leica Freedom Train" finally come to light.
It is now the subject of a book, "The Greatest Invention of the Leitz Family: The Leica Freedom Train," by Frank Dabba Smith, a California-born Rabbi currently living in England.
Copyright: Robert McFarlane 2010


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