Women’s History Month: Esther Bubley

To commemorate Women’s History Month, The Phillips Collection will be celebrating female and female identifying artists during the month of March.

Esther Bubley (b. 1921, Wisconsin; d. 1998, New York) was a documentary photographer and photojournalist known for capturing everyday America. Her black-and-white or color photographs contained striking modernist patterns; one of her many strengths was the ability to construct subtle and complex narratives through sequences of photographs.

By 1942, Bubley was living in Washington, DC, and working at the Office of War Information (OWI). For OWI, Bubley was asked to document American bus travel, which had dramatically increased due to the rationing of gasoline and tires during World War II. For her 1943 photo story, Bubley spent over four weeks traveling on buses to Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Chicago, Columbus, Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, and back to Washington, producing hundreds of images of a country in transition from the Great Depression to a time of war. Bubley focused on the human dimension of mobilization. She carried a “to whom it may concern” letter describing the need for factual photographs of American people needed for progress reports about the war.

Esther Bubley (b. Phillips, Wisconsin, 1921 – d. New York City, 1998) The exterior of the Greyhound bus terminal (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) (Greyhound Bus Series) 1943 Gelatin silver print Gift of Robert and Kathi Steinke, 2014

Esther Bubley, The exterior of the Greyhound bus terminal (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) (Greyhound Bus Series), 1943, Gelatin silver print, The Phillips Collection, Gift of Robert and Kathi Steinke, 2014

Between 1943 and 1950, Standard Oil (New Jersey) sponsored the largest private sector photographic project ever undertaken in America. Besides depicting operations and illustrating the positive impact of the industry on communities, the photographers also documented topics distantly related to oil, forming a pictorial record of the home front during and after World War II. Bubley used her time on assignment for Standard Oil (New Jersey) to explore more abstract work in photography. She visited the plantation of C. L. Hardy in eastern North Carolina; at the time, Hardy was considered the wealthiest man in the state and the largest tobacco grower in the world, with 12,000 acres in Greene and Pitt counties where 150 tenant families lived. Many of the documentary photographs taken at this moment show the tensions between past and present, rural and urban, man and machine, in the transformation of American life.

Bubley, Esther, C.L. Hardy Tobacco Plantation, Maury, NC, 1946, Gelatin silver print overall: 7 1/2 in x 7 3/4 in; 19.05 cm x 19.68 cm. Gift of Cam and Wanda Garner, 2012. Photographs, 2012.017.0017, American.

Esther Bubley, C.L. Hardy Tobacco Plantation, Maury, NC, 1946, Gelatin silver print, The Phillips Collection, Gift of Cam and Wanda Garner, 2012

Asked to chronicle subjects related to Standard Oil (New Jersey), Bubley photographed women working at Rockefeller Center, the headquarters of the company’s photography project. Located at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, the office became a meeting place for the photographers, who freelanced for $150 a week plus expenses.

General Service Department, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York City c. 1950s Gelatin silver print Gift of Cam and Wanda Garner, 2012

Esther Bubley, General Service Department, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York City, c. 1950s, Gelatin silver print, The Phillips Collection, Gift of Cam and Wanda Garner, 2012

In her off hours, Bubley used a large hand-held Rolleiflex camera to take photographs of subjects that interested her around DC. Her image of a young boy near the US Capitol captures feelings of loneliness and longing. The demand for low cost housing and the lack of affordable transportation for workers was a major contributor to alley dwellings in Washington. Following the creation in 1934 of the Alley Dwelling Authority, the city’s first public housing agency, some alley dwellings disappeared as new housing was created on the edges of the city.

Esther Bubley (b. Phillips, Wisconsin, 1921 – d. New York City, 1998) A Child Whose Home Is an Alley Dwelling near the Capitol 1943 Gelatin silver print Gift of Cam and Wanda Garner, 2012

Esther Bubley, A Child Whose Home Is an Alley Dwelling near the Capitol, 1943, Gelatin silver print, The Phillips Collection, Gift of Cam and Wanda Garner, 2012

The Phillips Collection houses over 100 photographs by Esther Bubley. Her prints have been acquired by several museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Library of Congress, Washington, DC; the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC; the George Eastman House, Rochester; and the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Texas.

Staff Show 2018: Charles Chen

In this series, Manager of Visitor and Family Engagement Emily Bray highlights participants in This Is My Day Job: The 2018 James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show, on view through September 30, 2018.

The Intersection of Symbolism and Realism by Charles Chen

The Intersection of Symbolism and Realism by Charles Chen

Tell us about yourself.

I am an artist and museum professional. I currently work as a Museum Assistant at The Phillips Collection and an Interpretive Visitor Guide at the US Capitol. I have also served at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and the Newseum. I studied studio art and museum studies for my undergraduate and graduate degrees, respectively. As an artist, my mediums of interest include printmaking, works on paper, digital art, and photography. I am interested in documenting social justice and inequality, urban culture, and politics.

What do you do at The Phillips Collection? Are there any unique or interesting parts about your job that most people might not know about?

I am a Museum Assistant. I safeguard the collections and help make visitors’ experience memorable and enjoyable. But when visitors are not around, I get to study the museum’s world-class paintings up close, observing artists’ skillful and expressive techniques and realizing small details and revelations over time and repeated observation.

Photo of Charles Chen

Charles Chen

Who is your favorite artist in the collection?

John Sloan and Pierre Bonnard

What is your favorite space within The Phillips Collection?

Staircase of the original Phillips House

What would you like people to know about your artwork on view in the 2018 Staff Show (or your work in general)?

I work in digital and traditional art mediums but I am drawn most to photography, specifically the subject matter of street photography. A native New Yorker and urbanite, I am drawn to the energy of recording humanity and all its interaction with the urban environment. This tongue-and-cheek scene explores an every day scene while playfully contrasting different artistic movements.

This Is My Day Job: The James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show is on view through September 30, 2018. 

Staff Show 2018: Justin Baun

In this series, Manager of Visitor and Family Engagement Emily Bray highlights participants in This Is My Day Job: The 2018 James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show, on view through September 30, 2018.

Gaze by Justin Baun

Gaze by Justin Baun

Tell us about yourself.

There was never a time in my young life where I wasn’t drawing or making things. I would express myself artistically from a very young age. Today, at 24 years old, I still push myself to express my perceptions through the arts. I am currently living in the proverbial Anytown, USA known as Westminster, Maryland. Living in suburbia has only expanded my impulse to capture the beauty in simple things. These passions come from my need to expand my perspective and allow me to express myself to the fullest extent.

Photography has always been a natural practice for me. I’ve been taking pictures since my earliest memories. I love capturing images on digital and film cameras and love to experiment with the photography process. Playing with light, movement, and balance, I express my perceptions as best I can through the lens.

I attended Carroll Community College and graduated with an Associates of Applied Arts in Graphic Design. As an aspiring designer, I strive to distill complex concepts into simple forms of communication. The same principles apply to my photography as well.

What do you do at The Phillips Collection? Are there any unique or interesting parts about your job that most people might not know about?

I’m a Museum Assistant. Our job is to guard the art and engage visitors in a dialogue about the art when asked. I think the most interesting part of the job is the exposure to the art for such large periods of time. Standing next to a Mattise for eight hours at a time really allows you to analyze and understand it on an intimate level.

Photo of Justin Baun

Justin Baun

Who is your favorite artist in the collection?

Stuart Davis, Edward Hopper, Alexander Calder, Anni Albers, Alex Katz, and Alfred Stieglitz

What is your favorite space within The Phillips Collection?

The bedroom galleries in the House are really cozy and are a wonderfully intimate space to view the art.

What would you like people to know about your artwork on view in the 2018 Staff Show (or your work in general)?

Gaze was shot with a Fujifilm X-T1 late last summer. To me, the image brings a glimpse of hope and optimist as the subject gazes upward at the expansive sky. I kept the title vague as to allow the viewer to assign their own meaning to it.

This Is My Day Job: The James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show is on view through September 30, 2018.