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Fellows Find: Implicating History: Susan Meiselas and the Trafficking of Photographs about Nicaragua

By Erina Duganne

 

‘Nicaragua, June 1978–July 1979′ by Susan Meiselas.
‘Nicaragua, June 1978–July 1979′ by Susan Meiselas.

Erina Duganne, Assistant Professor of Art History at Texas State University, visited the Ransom Center on a Marlene Nathan Meyerson Photography Fellowship for a month during the summer of 2011 to review photographs by Susan Meiselas in the Magnum Photos collection. This research relates to her forthcoming book that examines the act of bearing witness in photography from the 1970s through the 1990s. She is also presenting her findings on Meiselas at the annual conference of the Association of American Studies. The Ransom Center is now accepting applications for 2012-2013 fellowships. Duganne discusses her research here.

For this fellowship, I closely examined press photographs in the Magnum Photos collection that Susan Meiselas took of the insurrection that occurred in Nicaragua in the late 1970s. My interest in these images was twofold. I sought to determine how these photographs were trafficked in print media, as well as how Meiselas responded to these uses through her 1981 book Nicaragua, June 1978–July 1979 and her 1982 exhibition Mediations.

To facilitate this research, I first organized Meiselas’s Nicaragua photographs according to the story index number that was, in most cases, found on the recto of the images. Next I located the actual newspapers and magazines that published these photographs so that I could compare which images from a particular story were in fact published and how they were captioned. I then compared how Meiselas used photographs from the same stories in her book Nicaragua and in her exhibition Mediations. Through these comparisons, I sought to determine the historically specific ways in which Meiselas’s Nicaragua photographs were distributed by Magnum Photos, used by the print media, and then recontextualized by Meiselas herself. In so doing, my aim is to suggest not only how Meiselas responded to this trafficking of her photographs, but more importantly, how she attempted to use these two projects to make viewers as well as herself implicit in the histories to which these photographs and their circulation bear witness.

Old Inspires the New

By Jennifer Tisdale

Austin-based Lakes Were Rivers, a group of 11 artists working in photography and video, recently collaborated with the Ransom Center to pair works of its artists with images from the Center’s photography collection, resulting in (Re)Collection, an exhibition in conjunction with the East Austin Studio Tour.

Each artist selected an image from the Ransom’s Center photography collections to be scanned and printed as an 8×10 reproduction. In the exhibition, these collection images are paired with a representative work made by members of Lakes Were Rivers, generating a complex and varied dialogue about the traditions and potential of photography as a medium.

Re(Collection) is on view this Saturday and Sunday, November 19 and 20, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 1319 Rosewood Avenue. Members of Lakes Were Rivers will serve as gallery attendants and will be available to discuss the show with visitors.

Some of the pairings appear below.

Adam Schreiber. Rirkrit Tiravanija, Untitled, 1999. Archival inkjet print. 2011.
Adam Schreiber. Rirkrit Tiravanija, Untitled, 1999. Archival inkjet print. 2011.
Paul Louis Marie Fabre-Domergue. Octopus Vulgaris, 1899. La photographique des animaux aquatques. Harry Ransom Center.
Paul Louis Marie Fabre-Domergue. Octopus Vulgaris, 1899. La photographique des animaux aquatques. Harry Ransom Center.

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Ben Ruggiero. Windows as Viewed #71: Migrant Mother, Dorothea Lange 1936. Window etching cyanotype contact print. Harry Ransom Center. November 11, 2011.
Ben Ruggiero. Windows as Viewed #71: Migrant Mother, Dorothea Lange 1936. Window etching cyanotype contact print. Harry Ransom Center. November 11, 2011.
Dorothea Lange. Destitute peapickers in California; a 32 year old mother of seven children. February 1936. Harry Ransom Center.
Dorothea Lange. Destitute peapickers in California; a 32 year old mother of seven children. February 1936. Harry Ransom Center.

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Jessica Mallios. Motif. Archival inkjet print. 2011.
Jessica Mallios. Motif. Archival inkjet print. 2011.
Philip H. Delamotte. Colossal head of Bavaria. Photographic Views of the Progress of the Crystal Palace, Sydenham. London: Crystal Palace Company, 1855. Harry Ransom Center.
Philip H. Delamotte. Colossal head of Bavaria. Photographic Views of the Progress of the Crystal Palace, Sydenham. London: Crystal Palace Company, 1855. Harry Ransom Center.

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Mike Osborne. Wendover, Utah. Archival inkjet print. 2011.
Mike Osborne. Wendover, Utah. Archival inkjet print. 2011.
Francis Frith. The Pyramids of Dahshoor?Lower Egypt, Thebes, and the Pyramids?1862 (ca.). Harry Ransom Center.
Francis Frith. The Pyramids of Dahshoor?Lower Egypt, Thebes, and the Pyramids?1862 (ca.). Harry Ransom Center.

Ransom Center acquires collection of contemporary tintypes

By Kelsey McKinney

The Ransom Center recently acquired ten tintype images from photographer Robb Kendrick. Tintype printing is a historical photo technique that was used primarily during the nineteenth century. The tintypes acquired are each handmade and one-of-a-kind.

The acquired tintypes vary in subject matter from portraits to landscapes to cacti. Several of Kendrick’s photographs were taken on location for National Geographic, and many were taken for personal projects.  Kendrick’s most recent wet-plate work documented the working cowboy for the December 2007 issue of National Geographic. The photographs were taken in 14 western states, Mexico, and Canada.  These photographs were then collected in the critically acclaimed book Revealing Character.

Kendrick’s documentary photography regularly appears in National Geographic, but he also frequently works with wet-plate photography. Kendrick currently splits time between Austin and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, with his wife and two sons.

 

Please click the thumbnails below to view full-size images.

 

David Douglas Duncan photos of Pablo Picasso highlighted in exhibition in Spain

By Mary Alice Harper

Cover of exhibition catalog for 'Picasso at Work, Through the lens of David Douglas Duncan.'
Cover of exhibition catalog for 'Picasso at Work, Through the lens of David Douglas Duncan.'

In October 1996, world-renowned photographer and author David Douglas Duncan donated his archive to the Harry Ransom Center. The Center has preserved, organized, cataloged, exhibited and made available a variety of images and artifacts that complete the archive, including many that document his years of friendship with Pablo Picasso. Recently, Duncan donated a plate painted by Picasso of his beloved dachshund named Lump.

The new exhibition Picasso at Work. Through the lens of David Douglas Duncan, runs through September 25 at the Museo Picasso, Malaga, and will then move to the Picasso Kuntsmuseum Munster from October 15 to January 15, 2012 and finally at La Piscine Musee d’Art in Roubaix, France, beginning in February 2012. Ransom Center photo archivist Mary Alice Harper’s essay “The Nomadic Lens of David Douglas Duncan,” featured in the exhibition catalog, has been published in English and Spanish by Museo Picasso Malaga, in German by Hirmer, and in French by Gallimard. Below is an excerpt from Harper’s essay.

In late January of 1956, Duncan set off to begin his next Life assignment. He was headed for Spain but with one detour in mind, stopping in Cannes to try and meet Picasso. Duncan was unsure whether or not he would find the artist at home, and, if so, be permitted to enter. In fact, he had intended to meet Picasso for years, ever since his friend and fellow photojournalist Robert Capa promised to introduce them. But Capa had died tragically in 1954, so Duncan decided to present Picasso with a gift when the time came. He had a ring made for the occasion: a solid but simple heavy gold band with “PICASSO—DUNCAN” incised inside and set with an ancient carnelian with a “Picassoesque” rooster carved on it. Picasso clearly appreciated the gesture as Duncan was permitted to enter. Three days later in a letter to a friend he described what had transpired:

The girl [Jacqueline] came down. Maybe thirty, black slacks and pullover… and wonderfully friendly. I’d thought that she might be the protective guardian type. Told her why I was there, and gave her the ring for Pablo P. She went upstairs, two at a time. I looked around. The place was jammed with crates, boxes, bronzes, cartons, barrels… they had been in the place for around half a year—not a single piece of furniture. Nothing! She came downstairs, grabbed me by the hand and up we went. No furniture. Whizzed through a series of corridors and rooms, followed a black electrical connection cord… into the bathroom, and there he was—cheerily lathering himself, in the tub! It was perfect! Pablo Picasso without much question, the greatest living artist of our century, black eyes dancing, warm and safe and wringing wet, in his bathtub. In went the ring, soap and all. She went on scrubbing his back… which she’d been doing when I arrived. Picasso and I talked in Spanish, she and I in English; I must have seemed naked, too, without my camera so he told me to get it, that the pictures, if I wanted them, might be interesting, since this was one place where no one had ever nailed him. From that moment on we had one of those times that I really shall treasure. After she dried him off and he pulled on a heavy bathrobe, we went into the next room… no furniture… where he got his glasses, and my magnifier, and then really looked at his ring… After carefully examining the stone, and carving… “What instrument could the man possibly have used?”, sort of a query to himself. Best of all he understood the reason why I gave it to him and accepted it exactly as intended. I feel that it delights him. We went downstairs. The front three rooms… only two tables, crammed with things he has made, painted, turned or twisted into life… The place was mine. Picasso and Jacqueline simply took me in as a third member… fourth, counting that boxer… Possibly it was an exceptional day, but he radiated one extraordinary quality… youthful exuberance; a child’s direct, intense feeling for the impact of those moments that we remember through the remainder of our years. This man still has it.

Photographer Elliott Erwitt’s archive to be housed at the Ransom Center

By Jennifer Tisdale

The archive of photographer Elliott Erwitt (b. 1928), which includes more than 50,000 signed photographic prints, will be housed at the Ransom Center. Spanning more than six decades of Erwitt’s career, the archive covers not only his work for magazine, industrial, and advertising clients but also photographs that have emerged from personal interests.

Collectors and philanthropists Caryl and Israel Englander have placed the archive at the Ransom Center for five years, making it accessible to researchers, scholars, and students.

Born in Paris to Russian émigré parents, Erwitt spent his formative years in Milan and then immigrated to the United States, living in Los Angeles and ultimately New York. In 1948, Erwitt actively began his career and met photographers Robert Capa, Edward Steichen, and Roy Stryker, all who would become mentors.

In 1953, Erwitt was invited to join Magnum Photos by Capa, one of the founders of the photographic co-operative. Ten years later, Erwitt became president of the agency for three terms. A member of the Magnum organization for more than 50 years, Erwitt’s archive will be held alongside the Magnum Photos collection at the Ransom Center.

In addition to providing access to the archive, the Ransom Center will promote interest in the collection through lectures, fellowships, and exhibitions. The Erwitt materials are currently being prepared for public access.

Please click on thumbnails for larger images.

Image: USA. Arlington, Virginia. November 25, 1963. Jacqueline KENNEDY at John F. KENNEDY’s funeral.

Photographer Elliott Erwitt to discuss his life and work

By Jennifer Tisdale

As part of the Harry Ransom Lectures, legendary Magnum photographer Elliott Erwitt discusses his life and work tomorrow evening at 7 p.m. CST in Jessen Auditorium at The University of Texas at Austin. The program will be webcast live.

Steve Hoelscher, Chair of the Department of American Studies at The University of Texas at Austin, shares his thoughts on the work and career of Erwitt:

CUBA. Havana. 1964. © Elliott Erwitt/MAGNUM PHOTOS.
CUBA. Havana. 1964. © Elliott Erwitt/MAGNUM PHOTOS.

Few photographers have had a greater impact on American visual culture than Elliott Erwitt. Even if you’ve never heard the name Elliott Erwitt, you’ve seen his pictures. Some are icons of photojournalism: Richard Nixon burying his finger in Nikita Khrushchev’s chest during their so-called Moscow “kitchen debate” in 1959; Jacqueline Kennedy, veiled and in distress at the funeral of her husband in 1963; the black man drinking out of a segregated water fountain, which became a symbol of racial injustices of the Jim Crow South. Likewise, his portraits of celebrities like Grace Kelley, Che Guevara, Marilyn Monroe, and Jack Kerouac have achieved notoriety, but so too have his photographs of everyday life: a couple reflected in the side mirror of a car when they are cuddling; a young mother and her newborn daughter gazing affectionately at each other, much to the approval of a nearby cat. In these and in so many of his photographs, and with a keen sense of observation and finely honed wit, Elliott Erwitt illuminates the small moments of life, even when covering major news events. This is how he describes his craft: “To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place. I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”

Jackie Kennedy, Arlington, Virginia, 1963. © Elliott Erwitt/MAGNUM PHOTOS.
Jackie Kennedy, Arlington, Virginia, 1963. © Elliott Erwitt/MAGNUM PHOTOS.

We got our postcards today…

By David Coleman

Last month, the Ransom Center participated in and helped to sponsor an experimental documentary project from Magnum Photos called “Postcards From America.” The trip has now finished, topped off by a pop-up exhibition and reception at the Starline Social Club in Oakland. The show was terrific, and images from the trip, printed in a range of sizes, were taped up in groupings around the room. None of the images had credits, which forced everyone to really look at them. There were also two very long tables onto which were piled huge assortments of 4×6-inch prints from the trip, also presented anonymously. The prints had been made at a local drugstore, reminding us all that photographs are first and foremost acts of communication, meant for the widest possible audience. People spontaneously started grouping these images together into small sets, curating on the fly. Often, these images were combined with narrative texts from Ginger Strand, the writer traveling with the Magnum photographers.

This message was reinforced, just yesterday, when we received in the mail a set of signed postcards the photographers produced while on the road, one from each photographer. A thoughtful post on the “Postcards From America” blog by Strand sums it all up:

For the last several days, postcards have been rolling off Uncle Jackson’s two printers. There’s a lot of perfectionism around the postcards—choosing the right images, getting the colors correct—but in the end, it’s a naturally imperfect form. Whoever drops the postcards into the mail slot—whoever delivers them into the chutes and sorting machines and conveyor belts and plastic tubs and mail sacks and entirely human fingers of the United States Postal Service—that person is going to have to take a deep breath.

 

But that’s what a road trip is all about: the creative tension between the perfect, polished, product and the nature of the road: the fleeting glimpse, the passing landscape, the too-short message on a too-small card: look, this is what I saw.

 

Please click the thumbnails to view full-size images.

 

View photos from “Postcards From America” event

By David Coleman

On Friday, May 13, the Ransom Center helped to launch Magnum Photos’s road trip Postcards from America project.  The events began with an open bus where photography fans could meet and talk with Magnum photographers Jim Goldberg, Susan Meiselas, Paolo Pellegrin, Alec Soth, Mikhael Subotzky, and writer Ginger Strand at their R.V., which the Postcards group parked right on the plaza.  (As you can see in the slideshow, getting it there was a bit dicey!)

After that was the main event: a public talk by the photographers and writer discussing the origins and plans for the project.  Although their journey had only just begun the day before in San Antonio, each photographer presented some amazing images from just one day’s work.  You can see many of these images on the Postcards From America blog.

The Ransom Center was excited to participate in this new project, an outgrowth of our parnership with Magnum Photos and MSD Capital, LP to house 200,000 press prints from Magnum Photos’s New York bureau.

I encourage you to follow the photographers on their blog and through the Blurb Mobile app.  Do it soon because they are more than halfway through their trip, which ends in Oakland with an exhibition from their journey at the Starline Social Club on May 26.

 

Please click the thumbnail to view full-size images.

 

Ransom Center helps to launch Magnum Photos's “Postcards From America” tomorrow

By David Coleman

Image courtesy of Magnum Photos.
Image courtesy of Magnum Photos.

“5 photographers, a writer, 2 weeks, a bus.” Thus begins a unique documentary project comprised of Magnum photographers Jim Goldberg, Susan Meiselas, Paolo Pellegrin, Alec Soth, Mikhael Subotzky, and writer Ginger Strand, who will be traveling from San Antonio to Oakland from May 12 to May 26 on the first of a series of trips across the country.

They’ve been blogging about it since the end of March, so there’s already plenty to see and read. You can follow them on various social media sites, and you can even post your own images at the “Postcards From America” Flickr site. At the end they will be mounting a special exhibition of images from the trip at the Starline in Oakland, and they promise to include some of the follower-contributed Flickr images as well.

The idea was born at a retreat where Magnum photographers talked about, of all things, photography. It’s exactly the type of independent project that was behind Magnum’s founding by Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, David Seymour, and George Roger in 1947. Established to preserve the copyright of their work, the Magnum cooperative agency thus secured perpetual revenue from the photographers’ imagery. This watershed moment in photojournalism thereby allowed the photographers to break free from the news cycle and pursue more in-depth and independent projects like “Postcards From America.”

The Ransom Center is excited to participate in this unique documentary event, which comes as an outgrowth of our relationship with Magnum Photos.  In 2010 the Ransom Center joined in partnership with Magnum Photos and MSD Capital, LP to house some 200,000 original press prints from Magnum’s New York bureau. The Ransom Center has since created a preliminary inventory and opened the collection to students, faculty, and the general public. We continue to work with Magnum, including the Magnum Foundation, to add further research value to the collection.

The events on Friday, May 13, begin with a chance to informally meet and talk with the photographers between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. at their R.V., which will be parked on the north end of the Ransom Center plaza. This will be followed by a public discussion among the “Postcards” participants about photography and ways to picture America, held at 7 p.m. C.S.T. at Jessen Auditorium, Homer Rainey Hall, across the plaza from the Ransom Center. The program will be webcast live.

I hope you can join us.

Photo Friday

By Jennifer Tisdale

Each Friday, the Ransom Center shares photos from throughout the week that highlight a range of activities and collection holdings. We hope you enjoy these photos that reveal some of the everyday happenings at the Center.

Students in Department of Theatre and Dance Professor Susan Zeder’s 'Playwriting' course visit the Ransom Center’s exhibition 'Becoming Tennessee Williams.' Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.
Students in Department of Theatre and Dance Professor Susan Zeder’s 'Playwriting' course visit the Ransom Center’s exhibition 'Becoming Tennessee Williams.' Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.
Students in Department of Theatre and Dance Professor Susan Zeder’s 'Playwriting' course visit the Ransom Center’s exhibition 'Becoming Tennessee Williams.' Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.
Students in Department of Theatre and Dance Professor Susan Zeder’s 'Playwriting' course visit the Ransom Center’s exhibition 'Becoming Tennessee Williams.' Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.
Eli Reed, Magnum photographer and Professor of Photojournalism at The University of Texas at Austin, spoke about a selection of his work to the Ransom Center’s Friends of Photography. Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.
Eli Reed, Magnum photographer and Professor of Photojournalism at The University of Texas at Austin, spoke about a selection of his work to the Ransom Center’s Friends of Photography. Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.
Students in Professors Robert Abzug and Steven Hoelscher’s graduate seminar 'Photography in American Culture' view materials from the Ransom Center’s photography collections, including photos from the Arnold Newman archive. Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.
Students in Professors Robert Abzug and Steven Hoelscher’s graduate seminar 'Photography in American Culture' view materials from the Ransom Center’s photography collections, including photos from the Arnold Newman archive. Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.
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