Sources of Fame: Photographer or Subject?

An Arnold Newman "selfie" from 1987.  Image credit: The Jewish Museum

One of my favorite parts of the Harry Ransom Center’s current exhibition on Arnold Newman is the way it resists chronology.  Newman’s photographs are organizes by particular attention to one of ten elements of Newman’s photography as artistic practice: “searches,” “choices,” “fronts,” “geometries,” “habitats,” “lumen,” “rhythms,” “sensibilities,” “signatures,” and “weavings.”  What results is an exhibit that resists a notion of Arnold Newman’s transformation over time.  Instead, the exhibit suggests, audiences might read Newman by his unique manipulation of photography’s formal elements throughout his entire career.

The resistance to chronology is apparent, too, in the weaving, wandering nature of the physical exhibit.  Temporary half-walls throughout the exhibition space designate no beginning or end point for audiences.  Instead, the exhibit inspires audiences to accept Newman’s particular artistic practice across ten themes as definitive criteria for photographic excellence, and therefore evidence for celebrating the photographer himself.

Such a construction has encouraged me to think about the relationship between celebrated photographer and celebrated subject.  Are there ways that these two categories inform each other in the case of Arnold Newman?  Can we trace, even amidst the Harry Ransom Center’s achronological curation, a chronological shift in fame from photographer to photographed?  How does fame work as a mechanism for those who garner fame by representing it and perhaps cultivating it?  Can those who represent fame create it as well?

Framing Subjects: Arnold Newman’s Editorial Practice

Arnold Newman self portrait, posed next to a piano and his framed portrait of Igor Stravinsky

Image Credit: The Harry Ransom Center

Walking through the Harry Ransom Center’s Arnold Newman: Masterclass exhibit with a photographer friend helped me notice more than Newman’s numerous famous subjects. Creating a portrait requires more than just telling someone to smile or to stand in fair light; good photographers must understand how composition affects the final product. Framing matters, whether that’s done by putting wood around a picture or deciding where and how you crop the shot. The exhibit allows visitors to examine Newman’s artistic process, showing the evidence of how he edited his raw photographs into finished portraits. I want to look at in this post both his famous shot of Igor Stravinsky and his created “portrait” of Marilyn Monroe to think more about what we can learn about visual and non-visual editorial practice.

New Forms for Old Needs in Norman Bel Geddes’s "House of Tomorrow"

This image is the floor plans for Norman Bel Geddes's House of Tomorrow

Image Credit: Metropolis Magazine

Walking through the Harry Ransom Center’s excellent Norman Bel Geddes exhibit, one thing that struck me is that while Bel Geddes is particularly famous for his large industrial designs—radios, cars, cities, and stadiums, for example—he also directed his talents towards the intimate spaces of the American home. Before Bel Geddes designed prefabricated homes for the Housing Corporation for America in 1939, or published his 1932 book Horizons, he wrote an article called “The House of Tomorrow” for the April 1931 issue of the Ladies Home Journal. The “twentieth-century style” he describes is one that he sees uniting form and function anew for the needs of the twentieth-century individual—or rather, what he imagines the twentieth-century individual to be.

Harry Ransom Center Collaboration

During the 2011-2012 academic year, the viz. group collaborated with the Harry Ransom Center on a variety of projects. We had a ton of fun writing blog posts on current and upcoming exhibitions, including The Greenwich Village Bookshop: A Portal to Bohemia; Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored; and The King James Bible: Its History and Influence. We were also extremely interested in the upcoming exhibit on Norman Bel Geddes, the Center's current web exhibitions, and the David Foster Wallace Symposium held at the Center in early April.

Harry Ransom Center

As part of our work with the Center, we put QR codes up in the exhibition space in order to link museum artifacts to web content. But we also thought we should interlink the content itself and make an interactive experience out of "touring" the exhibitions and our blog. In order to do so, we created image maps where users are directed to a variety of webpages (including viz. posts) if they click on images or portions of images. For instance, in the image map screencapped below, each image on the Center's etched windows links to supplementary material related to that image. The original image map also links, through the images of flags on the Center's facade, to additional content about exhibitions.

image maps

You can explore our image maps here.


An Art Deco King James in the Orientalist Vein: François-Louis Schmied’s Engravings of the Creation and Ruth Stories

Schmied Creation Two-Page Spread: French on one Side, Animals on the Other

Image Credit: The Harry Ransom Center

Just before viz. took a break for spring, we visited the Harry Ransom Center’s newest exhibition, The King James Bible: Its History and Influence. Instead of finding only illuminated manuscripts, we were surprised to find contemporary art, literary manuscripts, film posters, and even a sculpture of a golden calf. The exhibition is not just a collection of well-preserved historic Bibles—it’s a unique collection of visual artifacts tangentially related to the King James Bible. As the viz. team walked around the exhibition, one grouping of images caught my eye. Art Deco engraver François-Louis Schmied’s artwork to accompany a French translation of both Genesis and The Book of Ruth from the King James Bible is absolutely stunning. The artwork is most interesting for its fusion of the geometric lines of Art Deco with the Orientalism of its creator and the lyricism of the Biblical stories it illustrates.

In Miniature: Bel Geddes’s “Doll House for Joan”

Brightly Colored Painting of Doll House with Girl's Arm

Image Credit: SliceofGreen

In anticipation of the Harry Ransom Center’s upcoming exhibition of Norman Bel Geddes’s futuristic designs, I’ve become completely fascinated with the work of a man whom the Ransom Center describes as “an innovative stage and industrial designer, futurist, and urban planner who, more than any designer of his era, created and promoted a dynamic vision of the future—streamlined, technocratic, and optimistic.” This week, instead of focusing on the futurescapes of Bel Geddes after 1927 (the year Bel Geddes launched his industrial-design career), I will discuss a lesser-known Bel Geddes—the man as a father who built fantastic doll houses for his daughters. This man was a big dreamer (per French philosopher Gaston Bachelard, whom we’ll meet later in this post), one who dealt in miniatures.

Future City from the Past: Norman Bel Geddes’s “City of Tomorrow”

City of Tomorrow: Aerial shot of peopleless, car-filled city

Image Credit: a456

I’ve been thinking a lot about future cities these days, though I’ve mostly been focusing on real-world metropolises as futuristic settings in TV shows and movies. Today, I’m going to shift gears to describe an idea for a future city from the past, Norman Bel Geddes’s “City of Tomorrow” advertising campaign for Shell Oil from the late 1930s. The campaign predicts (critics might say “encouraged” or “enabled”) a car-centric, highway-laden, city whose residents “loaf along at 50 [m.p.h]—right through town.” Bel Geddes’ “tomorrow” continues to resound today.

Visualizing Censorship: Seals, Symbols, and the Visual Rhetoric of Vice

Watch and Ward Seal, detail 

                                                                                                                                      Photo by Jake Ptacek

We here at viz are deeply excited about our new partnership with the Harry Ransom Center, one of the premier research libraries for the humanities in the United States.  As part of that partnership, we’ve been given a tour of their current exhibitions and the chance to blog about some of the Center’s amazing holdings.  You may have already had a chance to read Matthew Reilly’s meditation on their Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored exhibit and Jay Voss’s post on The Greenwich Village Bookshop Door exhibition.  Continuing that thread, this week I want to look more closely at two artifacts on display in the BBSC exhibit: the official seals for the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice and the New England Watch and Ward Society.

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