A Grand Birthday for Alvin Langdon Coburn

In  honor of the great American photographer, born this day in 1882, his gelatin silver print The Great Temple, Grand Canyon (1911) is currently on view upstairs in the original Phillips house.

Alvin Langdon Coburn, The Great Temple, Grand Canyon, 1911. Gelatin silver print, 13 x 15 1/2 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Gift of the Phillips Contemporaries, 2006. Photo: Joshua Navarro

Alvin Langdon Coburn, The Great Temple, Grand Canyon, 1911. Gelatin silver print, 13 x 15 1/2 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Gift of the Phillips Contemporaries, 2006. Photo: Joshua Navarro

My Own “Spring Break”: New Photography Gifts at the Phillips

View of new photography installation at the Phillips. Photo: Joshua Navarro

View of new photography installation at the Phillips. Photo: Joshua Navarro

I, for one, have cherry blossom fatigue. As a D.C. resident for the past ten years, I welcome spring with open arms but have never understood all the hype behind the blossom-mania that overtakes D.C. in March and April. Forget cherry blossoms! Give me a Manhattan street view, circa 1935, or a carefully composed photograph of an oil field worker spooling cables, or a portrait of Marcel Duchamp standing behind one of his complex installations–all in black and white. Thankfully, the blossom season has waned (as have my allergies!), and the Phillips has the remedy to my too-much-spring fever. A new installation of recent and promised gifts to the collection proves that there’s nothing dull or lifeless about black and white photography. Associate Curator for Research Susan Behrends Frank created a dynamic installation in a gallery on the first floor of our Sant building, displaying photographs that range in date from the 1930s to the 1970s and featuring portraits, landscapes, scenes from American life, and photographic experimentations with light and movement.

©Berenice Abbott/Commerce Graphics, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.

Berenice Abbott, Under the “El” Lower East Side, New York, c. 1935. Gelatin silver print, 11 x 14 in. Gift of Lisa Finn, 2012 © Berenice Abbott/Commerce Graphics, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.

Highlights include photography of life in New York City, such as Berenice Abbott’s Under the “El” Lower East Side, New York (c. 1935) seen above, along with beautiful, gritty photographs of Harlem in the 1960s in Bruce Davidson’s East 100th Street Series. Davidson’s eye for capturing the pulse of a time and place is also apparent in photographs from his Los Angeles Series. Because nothing says “L.A.” like people in their cars, am I right?

women in car

Installation view of Bruce Davidson, Looking through car window at white car with four women, Los Angeles Series, 1964. Gelatin silver print,11 x 14 in. Promised gift of Saul Levi. Photo: Joshua Navarro

Before Instagram made us all amateur photographers, there was Gjon Mili, a self-taught pioneer in the use of new photographic technology. Mili was one of the first to use electronic flash and stroboscopic light to create photographs that capture a sequence of actions in just one exposure. Many of his notable images, such as Multiple image of little boy running (1941) reveal movement often too rapid or complex for the naked eye to discern.

Installation shot of Mili's Multiple Image of little boy running, 1941  Photo: Liza Key Strelka

Installation view of Mili’s Multiple Image of little boy running, 1941. Photo: Liza Key Strelka

The world of blue-collar vocations is elevated to new heights in the photographs of Esther Bubley and Alfred Eisenstadt. In the photo below, Bubley’s lens seems to simply capture a worker absorbed in his duties, but her eye for the abstract qualities of light, shadow, and machinery provides her composition with a modern, almost painterly feel.

Esther Bubley Untitled (Workman), oil field, man with wire/cable spool signaling to his helper on the derrick, 1945 Gelatin silver print, 13 1/8 x 10 ¼ inches, Gift of Cam and Wanda Garner, 2012

Esther Bubley, Untitled (Workman), oil field, man with wire/cable spool signaling to his helper on the derrick, 1945. Gelatin silver print, 13 1/8 x 10 1/4 in. Gift of Cam and Wanda Garner, 2012

And, finally, one of my personal favorites, an Arnold Newman photograph of Marcel Duchamp standing behind one of his pieces from 1942, probably dreaming up his next mind-boggling installation and playing the perfect role of “aloof artist genius:”

Arnold Newman, Marcel Duchamp, 1942, Gelatin silver print, Gift of Lisa Finn, 2012. © Arnold Newman Properties/Getty Images 2013

Arnold Newman, Marcel Duchamp, 1942. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Lisa Finn, 2012. © Arnold Newman Properties/Getty Images 2013

So come on in and soak up some non-spring scenery. The new installation, on view through the end of May, provides a respite from the frantic tourist season, high pollen count, and the (slowly) climbing temperatures.

For National Poetry Month, Poesia e Fotografia Part II

As part of the 2013 Year of Italian Culture in the United States, the Phillips has partnered with the Embassy of Italy to present an exhibition that pairs contemporary Italian photographs with verses by celebrated Italian poets. On view at the Phillips through April 28, the show is complemented by posters featuring its photography/poem pairings on city buses. In honor of National Poetry Month, we bring you a selection from this series. Read Part I.

Next Stop Italy installation view by Joshua Navarro. Artworks left to right: Paolo Ventura's "February 9" (2012), Mario Cresci's "Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna (2010), and Renato D'Agostin's "Paris" (2005).

Next Stop Italy installation view by Joshua Navarro. Artworks left to right: Paolo Ventura’s “February 9″ (2012), Mario Cresci’s “Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna (2010), and Renato D’Agostin’s “Paris” (2005).

Paolo Ventura (b. 1968, Milan), February 9, 2012 

“Spesso il male di vivere ho incontrato” (1925)

Bene non seppi, fuori del prodigio
che schiude la divina Indifferenza:
era la statua nella sonnolenza
del meriggio, e la nuvola, e il falco alto levato.

“Again and again I have seen life’s evil” (1925)

I have known no good except the miracle
that reveals the divine Indifference:
it was the statue in the drowsy trance
of noon, and the cloud, the cruising falcon.

Eugenio Montale (translation by Jonathan Galassi, Charles Wright, and David Young)

Mario Cresci (b. 1942, Chiavari), Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna, 2010

“Supplica a mia madre” (1964)

È difficile dire con parole di figlio
ciò a cui nel cuore ben poco assomiglio.
Tu sei la sola al mondo che sa, del mio cuore,
ciò che è stato sempre, prima d’ogni altro amore.
Per questo devo dirti ciò ch’è orrendo conoscere:
è dentro la tua grazia che nasce la mia angoscia.
Sei insostituibile. Per questo è dannata
alla solitudine la vita che mi hai data.
E non voglio esser solo. Ho un’infinita fame
d’amore, dell’amore di corpi senza anima.
Perché l’anima è in te, sei tu, ma tu
sei mia madre e il tuo amore è la mia schiavitù:
ho passato l’infanzia schiavo di questo senso
alto, irrimediabile, di un impegno immenso.
Era l’unico modo per sentire la vita,
l’unica tinta, l’unica forma: ora è finita.
Sopravviviamo: ed è la confusione
di una vita rinata fuori dalla ragione.
Ti supplico, ah, ti supplico: non voler morire.
Sono qui, solo, con te, in un futuro aprile . . .

“Prayer to my mother” (1964)

It’s so hard to say in a son’s words
what I’m so little like in my heart.
Only you in all the world know what my
heart always held, before any other love.
So, I must tell you something terrible to know:
From within your kindness my anguish grew.
You’re irreplaceable. And because you are,
the life you gave me is condemned to loneliness.
And I don’t want to be alone. I have an infinite
hunger for love, love of bodies without souls.
For the soul is inside you, it is you, but
you’re my mother and your love’s my slavery:
My childhood I lived a slave to this lofty
incurable sense of an immense obligation.
It was the only way to feel life,
the unique form, sole color; now, it’s over.
We survive, in the confusion
of a life reborn outside reason.
I pray you, oh, I pray: Do not hope to die.
I’m here, alone, with you, in a future April . . .

Pier Paolo Pasolini (translation by Norman MacAfee with Luciano Martinengo)

Renato D’Agostin (b. 1983, Venice), Paris, 2005

“Mattina” (1917)

M’illumino
d’immenso

“Morning” (1917)

I flood myself with the light
of the immense

Giuseppe Ungaretti (translation by Andrew Frisardi)