kenneth josephson

March 2, 2007

kenneth josephson, photographer…..

Kenneth Josephson

(American, b. 1932)

Polapan, 1973, from Ken Josephson portfolio, 1973/1975

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New York State, 1970, from Ken Josephson portfolio, 1973/1975


New York State, 1970, from the series Images within Images, is one of Kenneth Josephson’s most famous photographs and aptly displays the sort of visual statement that inspires critics to classify his work as conceptual. In the photograph, Josephson’s arm stretches over a body of water and in his hand he holds a picture of a ship over the horizon. The boat in the picture is positioned in perspective to occupy the same space a full-sized ship in the distance would appear to take up if seen in that same spot. It is a clever illusion, yet constructed precisely to draw attention to its artifice. As with the René Magritte painting captioned “Ceci n’est pas une pipe,” we are reminded that a picture of a boat, no matter how real it looks, is still not itself a boat. It would seem an easy lesson, the picture looking so two-dimensional and foreign when held up against the world, until one remembers that the entire image is a single photograph, just as flat and counterfeit as the image pictured within it. In a sublime twist, it is a photograph that assures us that we should question the veracity of photography.

Polopan, 1973 likewise plays with assumptions of the medium, but its dry humor is edgier. The jolt and jar of Polopan, 1973 begins with its emotionally-charged subject matter: a short skirt and beneath them bare legs, reclining against a sheet yet shot so frontally the woman seems almost to be standing, and resting on her skirt a Polaroid of a woman’s naked thighs and abdomen. The Polaroid is clearly lying on top of a woman’s skirt, yet the effect of this addition is reductive, acting like a window or a cut-away. The woman is clothed, but nonetheless revealed. The message is mixed, but not altogether ambiguous. Ultimately, it seems it is the photographer (whose powers seem to include x-ray vision) who is master, able to capture and make permanent at will; the subject unable to hide from the camera’s gaze. To add one more level of complexity in reading what is real and what is representation, a version of this photograph was later fixed onto a cloth skirt in Josephson’s multimedia assemblage Sally’s Skirt, 1973.

Kenneth Josephson was born on July 1, 1932 in Detroit, Michigan. He began making pictures with the family’s snapshot camera in 1944, and bought his own 4×5 view camera two years later. He earned a BFA from the Rochester Institute of Technology (1957) where he studied under Minor White. In 1953 the army sent him to Germany where he was trained in photolithography and made prints of aerial reconnaissance. With the thesis “An Exploration of the Multiple Image,” he earned an MS from the Institute of Design of the Illinois Institue of Technology, Chicago (1960) where he was strongly influenced by Harry Callahan. Josephson was a professor at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago from 1960 to 1997, and a founding member of the Society for Photographic Education. He is the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship (1972) and two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships (1975 and 1979). His work is in the collections of institutions including the Museum of Modern Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Art Instiute and Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; Bibliotéque National, Paris; and Foograficka Maseet, Stockhom.

– Kendra Greene

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Focusing on an outstanding group of 100 photographs selected by the artist to exemplify more than a half century of work, The Photography of John Gutmann: Culture Shock examines the achievement of this unique and influential artist and considers his career in its historic context. The exhibition surveys Gutmann’s documentary work in Asia, Europe, and the United States during the 1930s and ’40s and includes classic images such as Death Stalks the Fillmore (1934). Gutmann’s photographs illustrate his personal adaptation of surrealism. He turned from recording the odd and the marvelous that presented itself to his gaze and began to experiment with inventing and constructing images. (left: John Gutmann, Jitterbug, New Orleans, 1937, Gelatin-silver print, The Capital Group Companies, Inc.)

Born in Germany in 1905 and trained as a painter, Gutmann took up photography in 1933 and supported himself as a photojournalist after emigrating to the United States. A student of the German expressionist painter Otto Mueller, Gutmann brought to the task of documenting his new surroundings a sensibility nurtured in the avant-garde circles of Berlin. He became fascinated by the popular culture of the United States-“all this bad taste here which, of course, I learned to love”-which he saw as evidence of “enormous vitality.” “I was seeing America with an outsider’s eyes-the automobiles, the speed, the freedom, the graffiti,” he explained in a 1989 interview, and his powerful images, which record “the almost bizarre, exotic qualities of the country,” established his reputation. Having settled in San Francisco, he helped link the West Coast to European modernism, inspiring later generations of photographers through his unique capacity to disclose the ambiguities and oddities within the commonplace. (right: John Gutmann, The Oracle, 1949, Gelatin-silver print, The Capital Group Companies, Inc.)

The fully illustrated catalogue accompanying the exhibition features an introduction by Sandra S. Phillips, Curator of Photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Phillips explores two primary themes suggested by this unique selection of works from the Capitol Group collection. She compares Gutmann’s vision of American culture and the work of other photojournalists in such popular magazines as Life and Look. She also discusses Gutmann’s artistic development, elucidating continuities between his images of the ’30s and ’40s that document American vernacular culture and his personal surrealism of the 1950s. (left: John Gutmann, Mobile, Alabama, 1937, Gelatin-silver print, The Capital Group Companies, Inc.)

All photographs are lent by The Capital Group Companies, Inc. or The Capital Group Foundation. The Photography of John Gutmann: Culture Shock is organized and circulated by the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University. The exhibition has been made possible, in part, by generous support from The Capital Group Companies, Inc. and The Capital Group Foundation.

b/w

October 1, 2006