visiting museums: in search of inspiration at the barnes foundation

Sometimes you need to take a departure from what you do to something that’s slightly different in order to get inspiration. ~ Tori Amos

I love to find inspiration in unlikely places. On our trip to Philadelphia, I was inspired by art, architecture, photography, observation, and even by an encounter in a restaurant.  I’m always seeking an answer to the question: How do I live my life more creatively? How do I travel mindfully and create art?  Whether it’s photography, a short story, a poem, a novel, a blog post, or an essay — even a cocktail hour — how can I make my daily life more fulfilling and give something of myself to the world?  How can I express myself and be utterly true to who I am?  These are questions I grapple with, and my blog(s) and other creative outlets are the way I express myself and hope to connect with others.

on the way to the Barnes Foundation
on the way to the Barnes Foundation

Since we were on a roll through the museums of Philadelphia, we made a beeline at 4:30 p.m. for the Barnes Foundation, practically next door to the Rodin Museum on Benjamin Franklin Parkway.  Even though we were burnt out on museums by this late afternoon, we decided that if the museum was open for at least one more hour, we’d make a quick visit.

Albert Coombs Barnes (1872-1951), “established the Foundation as an educational institution with the goal of using art as a teaching tool to foster critical thinking and analytical skills.”  The Barnes holds one of the finest collections of impressionist, post-impressionist, and early modern paintings, with extensive works by Renoir, Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso and many others.

The Barnes Foundation
The Barnes Foundation

The walls of the museum are unconventionally displayed, with art arranged as composition or “ensemble.”  Each wall in the permanent collection mixes art and craft across cultures and periods.  Barnes experimented with arrangement according to light, line, color, and space, rather than chronology, nationality, style or genre. Walking through the permanent collection at the Barnes Foundation is a very different experience than one at other museums because of the unusual and creative displays.

The Barnes Foundation
The Barnes Foundation

When we found the museum was open until 6:00 because it was a Friday, we paid the admission and went in.  We headed directly for the special exhibition, Live and Life Will Give You Pictures: Masterworks of French Photography, 1890-1950, in the Roberts Gallery; the exhibition was to end on January 9.  We would do a quick walk through the permanent collection if we had time and energy, as we had heard amazing things about it.

Though we were allowed to take pictures of the special exhibition, we weren’t allowed to do so in the permanent collection.  So if you want to see the magnificent paintings and art so creatively arranged in this place, you’ll have to visit here yourselves. 🙂

View from the Barnes looking down Benjamin Franklin Parkway
View from the Barnes looking down Benjamin Franklin Parkway

You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved. ~ Ansel Adams

From the late 19th century to the early 20th, photographers and painters traded aesthetic ideas and were interested in many of the same features of contemporary experience.  These photographers focused on Paris, which was radically transformed in this period of rapid industrialization, urbanization, and class stratification. As with the other visual arts, progressive photography tried to innovatively represent these developments in the modern-day cities.

This exhibition was titled after a remark by Henri Cartier-Bresson and displayed vintage prints of nearly 200 classic images made between 1890 and 1950 by French photographers and photographers working extensively in France. The salon-style hang was organized thematically.

I found the thematic arrangement of photos at this exhibition to be inspirational and thought-provoking; similarly, I am inspired by the thematic arrangements of photos on blogs resulting from WordPress and other bloggers’ photo challenges; one blog I especially love to visit for inspiration in this regard is Steve McCurry’s blog. Generally, when I write my blog, I arrange my photos in a logistical day-by-day accounting of a journey, or a place. I feel like I’d like to get out of the rut of doing this and to focus on thematic photographic storytelling.  It would be more time-consuming and challenging, but I think it would be more rewarding.

STREET LIFE

Paris’s population quadrupled during the 19th century, and the bustling crowds became a signature motif for the impressionist painters, such as Monet’s 1873 Boulevard des Capucines. Decades later, photographers explored the possibilities of the ever-shifting crowd.  Others honed in on the crowds, picking out the new spectrum of characters — from the homeless to sex workers, to laborers, shop and factory workers, businessmen and aristocrats (from a sign at the museum).

Greta Garbo, Paris (1932) by Ilse Bing
Greta Garbo, Paris (1932) by Ilse Bing
Facade, rue de l
Facade, rue de l”hotel de Ville, Paris (c. 1936) by Brassai
crowds in Paris
crowds in Paris
Hyeres, France (1932) - Henri Cartier-Bresson
Hyeres, France (1932) – Henri Cartier-Bresson
Men Reading Yiddish Theater Posters, Paris (1932) - Ilse Bing
Men Reading Yiddish Theater Posters, Paris (1932) – Ilse Bing

Here are a few photos of mine on the theme of STREET LIFE:

Rishikesh, India
Rishikesh, India
Street life in Cascais, Portugal
Street life in Cascais, Portugal

COMMERCE

Manufacturing and the demands of a new middle class led to an increase in commodity culture in 19th-century Paris.  The world’s first department store, Le Bon Marche, opened there in 1852, and photography became enamored of commerce, reflected in images of shops, store windows, advertising, and bodies available for purchase on streets and in brothels.

Eugene Atget became intrigued by consumerism — shop windows, the artful presentation of goods, mannequins as uncanny substitutes for the human form — shown in this image of a corset shop on a fashionable boulevard.  Corsets were 19th century fashion necessities.  Their arrangement in rows emphasizes their regularizing effect on the female body, according to a sign in the museum.

Boulevarad de Strasbourg, Paris (1912) Eugene Atget
Boulevarad de Strasbourg, Paris (1912) Eugene Atget

Here are some photos of COMMERCE from Richmond, Virginia and Santorini, Greece.

vintage shop in Carytown, Richmond, VA
vintage shop in Carytown, Richmond, VA
Shop window in Carytown, Richmond
Shop window in Carytown, Richmond

LABOR

The new forms of industry visible in and around cities became important motifs for photographers in the latter part of the 19th century and at the same time prompted a nostalgia for pre-industrial times and the communal values associated with non-mechanized labor.

LEISURE

The middle class grew hungry for entertainment, so cafes and bars began to dominate the urban landscape, as did dance halls and theaters, street entertainers and sporting events. On weekends, trains carried the new leisured classes to suburban retreats.

French gambler, promenade des Anglais, Nice (1934) by Lisette Model
French gambler, promenade des Anglais, Nice (1934) by Lisette Model

Two working class couples picnic on the banks of the Marne River outside Paris.  Their social status is significant: the photograph was snapped in the year that French workers were first awarded a paid annual vacation.  Cartier-Bresson shoots the group from behind, capturing one figure refilling his glass.

Sunday on the Banks of the Marne (1938) - Henri Cartier-Bresson
Sunday on the Banks of the Marne (1938) – Henri Cartier-Bresson
Fortune-Teller's Booth, Street Fair, Paris (1933) - Ilse Bing
Fortune-Teller’s Booth, Street Fair, Paris (1933) – Ilse Bing

Here’s a photo capturing LEISURE in Cascais, Portugal.

a leisurely tourist in Cascais, Portugal
a leisurely tourist in Cascais, Portugal

REPORTAGE

Henri Cartier-Bresson took his first photographs in 1931, but it was when he bought a Leica in 1932 that he began to capture pictures on the fly, capturing what he called “the decisive moment:” “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.”

In 1947, Cartier-Bresson co-founded Magnum Photos, the first international cooperative agency for photojournalists.  Under its auspices, he documented international events.  He was perhaps best known in the later 1940s and 1950s for his coverage of Asia.

Budapest (1932) - Henri Cartier-Bresson
Budapest (1932) – Henri Cartier-Bresson
Srinagar, Kashmir (1946) - Henri Cartier-Bresson
Srinagar, Kashmir (1946) – Henri Cartier-Bresson

In 1948 and 1949, Cartier-Bresson photographed extensively in China, just as the Communists were wresting control of the country from its exiled last emperor, Puyi (1906-1967).  Cartier-Bresson’s photos introduced Western audiences to a mysterious place and culture, and, at the same time to evidence of its transformation.  Here, a court servant, castrated in order to focus his loyalties on the imperial dynasty, grins awkwardly at the photographer.

A Eunuch of the Imperial Court of the Last Dynasty, Peking (1949) - Henri Cartier-Bresson
A Eunuch of the Imperial Court of the Last Dynasty, Peking (1949) – Henri Cartier-Bresson
Rice Fields in the Minangkabau Country, Sumatra, Indonesia (1950) - Henri Cartier-Bresson
Rice Fields in the Minangkabau Country, Sumatra, Indonesia (1950) – Henri Cartier-Bresson

Based on the theme of REPORTAGE, and the photos exhibited here, below are a few photos showing cultures in far-flung lands.  I hope to find more time to create thematic blog posts in the future, because I find them fascinating. 🙂

ART FOR ART’S SAKE

Some early photographers aspired to make images that would be embraced as fine art.  Resisting photography’s documentary competencies, they selected subjects associated with painting — biblical, mythological and historical narratives; landscapes, portraiture, and still life — and manipulated their pictures to approximate the look of painting and drawing.

Henri Matisse at HIs Home, Villa Le Reve, Vence, France (1944) - Henri Cartier-Bresson
Henri Matisse at HIs Home, Villa Le Reve, Vence, France (1944) – Henri Cartier-Bresson
Tivoli, Italy (1933) - Henri Cartier-Bresson
Tivoli, Italy (1933) – Henri Cartier-Bresson

I love being inspired to create stories or themes around photography and I hope I’ll find time to do this in the near future.

If you feel inclined to create a thematic photo collage or blog post around one of these themes, I’d love for you to link your blog to this post!  It would be fun to see what you come up with. 🙂

~ Thursday, December 29, 2016

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4 thoughts on “visiting museums: in search of inspiration at the barnes foundation

  1. You are an original, Cathy! I don’t know where you find the energy but I love it 🙂 ‘Hungry for entertainment’. I guess that’s what we all are these days- since the days of paid holidays, of course. This is thoughtfully put together. You got me hooked with that lovely photo of the late sun on the museum. I’ll never make an Ansel Adams but you can still have a lot of fun along the way.

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