Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Hans Namuth's "Portraits of the Artists"

"On Saturday, July 1, 1950, Hans Namuth, who had rented a house for the summer in Water Mill, Long Island, attended an opening in East Hampton at Guild Hall, a small community arts center…. That hot afternoon Namuth introduced himself to Pollock and asked if he could come to his studio in the nearby town of Springs and photograph him. Pollock's wife, painter Lee Krasner, aware of the importance of media attention, encouraged Pollock to work with Namuth. From July through early October 1950, Namuth took more than 500 photographs of the artist. As Pollock danced about his huge canvases and articulated their surfaces with dripped and thrown paint, Namuth captured the kinesthetic essence of the artist's work. These seminal photographs forever changed the way the public viewed Pollock's paintings; they also forever changed Namuth's life. While Namuth earned his living with a variety of photographic assignments, both before and after he took his landmark Pollock portraits, his avocation—no, his passion—from this time onward became photographing creative personalities."
So writes Carolyn Kinder Carr in her introduction to an exhibition culled from the 75 photographs that form the Namuth collection at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington. These are beautifully reproduced in the book Hans Namuth: Portraits, which profiles artists in the fields of music, architecture, painting, sculpture, fiction, dance, and more. (Left: Elaine and Willem de Kooning, 1953)
Louise Nevelson, 1977 (All images copyright by the estate of Hans Namuth)
This one perfectly captures the whimsy of Saul Steinberg.
Julian Schnabel, 1981
"An artist it seems to me, is more accessible, easier to come to terms with. We are related, and therefore on common ground.... There is a mutuality of outlook, and a respect for the other person's vision." Sans rapport with one's subject, Namuth considered that "a photograph might just as well have been made in one of those booths that take passport pictures by machine."
Below, a seated Jerome Robbins remains lithe, poised for movement. 
"Namuth was to artists what Audubon was to birds. In his portraits, he included the objects that would help classify them -- the paintings they made, the paint tubes they used, the studios they worked in, the things they lived with. But unlike Audubon, who stuffed his birds before drawing them, Namuth caught the interaction between himself and his subjects. The portraits in this exhibition reveal how comfortable, or not, these creatures were at the moment they were shot."—Sarah Boxer, New York Times 

Below: Paul and Julia Child, Stephen Sondheim, John Steinbeck, and Jackson Pollock

12 comments:

  1. I appreciate these pictures of artists and musicians and other people in the creative fields, but I love the way their work environments were captured as well. Pictures are worth a thousand words, especially when the subjects are the places you've wondered about countless times where some of your favorite books and music were created.

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    1. Love the idea of Cub Scout badges for dishwashing!
      Is that Stephen Sondheim next to the gorgeous window?

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  3. These are all really great, but I think I am preferential to the photos where the artist is working rather than posing. Although, Steinbeck with his dog is adorable!

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  4. That photo from 1961 almost certainly was taken because at that point, when with his dog Charley, Steinbeck was working. (A color version taken at the same time.)

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    1. So was the dog food tax deductible?

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    2. Depends on, I think, if Charley did any of the actual typing. Which harks back to just a few days ago here, I realize, and the prize-winning caption: "Do I have to share my byline?"

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    3. So elegant! We're approaching here the Unified Theory of Everything, je crois!

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  5. I love the Julian Schnabel, 1981 photograph. The bold red highlights in the photo really capture my attention. Also it looks as if the subject, Schnabel is about to jump into the painting on the floor, or has taken up painting with his shoes, not sure, but I totally dig it.

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    1. His brush (in his right hand) kind of blends in. If you could see it bigger you could tell (it's not one of the ones I scanned). He's not painting w/ his shoes though. (I wondered about his dress shirt and painter's pants.)

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  6. Included above: an artist and his dog. Now, just the other day, someone has posted some nice photos of several dozen artists and their cats.

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