Robert Capa was a very important figure in the history of war photography. This particular image, taken during the storming of Normandy during World War II, utilizes blur and intense grain as an effect to help convey the moment. The photograph is of a soldier swimming amongst debris and what appears to be wreckage in the background. Nothing in the photograph is perfectly in focus, but the soldier is clearer than his surroundings. It is hard to make out where the horizon line is, due to the extreme loss of detail because of the graininess of the film. He is the only human that can be seen in the photograph, although one cannot be sure if the ambiguous floating objects behind him are bodies.
The photograph does not depict the soldier in a humanizing way. It is difficult to make out the expression on his face. It seems to be blank and without emotion. The photograph is not really about this individual’s personal struggle, but the chaos that is war. It is an interesting portrayal of war, in that it is abstracted to help the viewer understand the violence that occurred. The photograph has a gritty feel to it, the grain and blur give the feeling of movement and destruction. It shows that Capa was right in there with the soldiers, and didn’t have the time to carefully shoot the photo. Instead what the viewer sees is a distorted, surreal photograph that is depicting a very real event. The ambiguity of the forms draws the viewer in to try and make out what exactly they are. It is almost like what the vision of a wounded and dazed soldier would render. The disorienting jumble of forms creates a chaotic scene to portray a chaotic war.
Correction to last week’s lecture, wherein I informed you that the Modotti print was a gelatin silver print, despite the fact that it looked like a platinum print. I WAS WRONG. It IS a platinum print (or in the case of the version at MoMA, a platinum, palladium print). Please make a note of it!
Photo left: Tina Modotti, Worker’s Hands, 1927, platinum/palladium print, 7 1/2 x 8 7/16 inches (Museum of Modern Art, NY)
Photo right: Tina Modotti, Hands Resting on a Tool, 1927, platinum print, 7 3/4 x 8 1/2 inches (J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles)
Hans Bellmer, La Poupée (the doll), 1934-35, Silver Gelatin with applied color, 5.4 x 5.5 in (George Eastman House)
Hans Bellmer’s photographs of La Poupée, or The Doll, were taken in Germany in the mid 1930’s. This image was originally produced in black and white by the artist anonymously in 1934, and caused him to be forced to flee Germany by the Nazi party in 1938. He later joined with André Breton and the Surrealists in Paris and republished the work in color under the title “Poupée, Variations Sur le Montage d’une Mineure Articulée” (The Doll, Variations on the Assemblage of an Articulated Minor)
This particular image, taken around 1934, is interesting in both technique and subject, and is hard to define. La Poupée borders on portraiture and still life. While the photo is closer to a still life, as it is an arrangement of objects and props, there is still a sense of humanity and individuality in the pile of doll parts shown. This photo is clearly surrealist photography at its best. The overt sexuality and reference to female beauty as a thing to fear was typical to the surrealist movement.
The square framing creates a harmonious image, one that calls attention to the spiraling of the figure and balance of the composition, which would not be as strong if it were rectangular. The square creates certain symmetries and balance as well as a very intentional framing of the subject. The image is an aerial view of the subject disorienting any connections to a place or setting. There is also very little depth which adds to this sense of disorientation
Bellmer also chose to color this image, which calls attention to various parts of the form. Dislocating them even more from each other. As a result these elements become foreign objects and appear to not be part of a woman at all. The use of color on the doll also directs your eye around this photo in a very circular and even manner. It is also interesting to note Bellmer’s choice of coloring the disjointed hand red. This gesture seems to be a nod at DeChirico’s The Song of Love. DeChirico was a very influential painter to the Surrealist and The Song of Love was a quintessential painting in the creation of the movement. Bellmer’s red hand is just as out of place and disconnected as the rubber glove in The Song of Love.
Compositionally La Poupée spirals around a center point. The edges of the photo are generally bare and much darker; however, there are a few details, like the chair leg on the right edge, that remind the viewer of the frame. Bellmer also positioned the fabric so that it would not be completely centered. This choice balances out the photo, since the figure is so heavily engaged with the right side. All in all though the background is sparse giving the figure dominance.
The chair in the photo is broken, mimicking the gesture of the doll, as well as becoming one with the doll in places. For example the placement of the bow and the connection of the red hand and chair leg with color.
The conventions Bellmer used are what make this image so strong. Everything was done intentionally to draw the viewer into the picture and show them what and how to see.
László Moholy-Nagy, Radio Tower Berlin, 1928, gelatin silver print, 14”x10”, National Gallery of Art, Washington
Moholy-Nagy’s Radio Tower Berlin is framed in a portrait orientation, which tightens the composition and creates a greater sense of tension in the image.