Weekend: Antiques and Collecting: An Intense Intellectual Exchange; Richard Edmonds Savours Photographic Images at Two Exhibitions in Los Angeles

The Birmingham Post (England), April 26, 2003 | Go to article overview

Weekend: Antiques and Collecting: An Intense Intellectual Exchange; Richard Edmonds Savours Photographic Images at Two Exhibitions in Los Angeles


Byline: Richard Edmonds

Photography is very much in the air at the moment - at least in America.

Last week, I visited two superb exhibitions in Los Angeles - one was at the Getty and the other at Los Angeles County Museum. The Getty show was devoted to the work of Man Ray - the master of the surrealist photograph - and Lee Miller, a remarkable woman who began life as a model then became Man Ray's mistress and acolyte.

During the 1940s Lee Miller took some devastating war photographs and was there with her camera when the Nazi death camps at Dachau and Buchenwald were revealed in all their horror and vileness.

The Getty gallery walls (and is there a more beautiful museum in the world than this gleaming white marble structure which overlooks the Pacific?) showed that between 1925 and 1945 Miller's intense physical, social and intellectual exchange with Man Ray and Roland Penrose (another of the surrealist brethren) enabled her to see the world around her in new and different ways.

Miller's photograph of Charlie Chaplin contrast with surreal images when distant horizons are framed by an opening in a torn gauze screen. Curious quirky or mildly conventional is how Miller's flirtation with her various lovers might well be described - but these things influenced her photography. Obviously, a Miller original image is something to treasure - and like everything else discussed in these columns, could turn up anywhere.

Ansel Adams, whose work was on show at the Los Angeles County Museum, was one of America's foremost environmentalists for almost half a century and his photographs of the American landscape in all its moods and magnificence were drawing large crowds on the day I was there. Adams brought a deep love for the natural beauty of California and the American West to photographs which have now become national icons.

By 1916, Adams had discovered Yosemite and later this remarkable man became one of America's top lecturers turning photography into fine art and eulogizing the Sierra Nevada, the Colorado mountain ranges and also the seasons of the year in the Californian valleys.

I noticed that the gift shops were doing good business everywhere but particularly in Adams postcards and prints. The latter were first class, selling (framed) at around pounds 130 for top bracket productions. If I had had a few more travellers cheques I would have flipped and purchased Adams' Moonrise, Her-nandez, New Mexico a haunting moonlit landscape with splashes of light spilling across distant mountains. An antique of the future? Only if you are talking about the 1941 original, today worth thousands of dollars.

Christie's will be selling a collection of daguerreotypes from a 19th-century collector on May 20. Daguerreotypes can range generally from around pounds 20 and are in evidence at most antique fairs. At the lower end of the market they generally represent portraits of individuals or family groups set within tiny velvet and leather frames. But I hasten to add that the ones at Christie's are a totally different kettle of fish.

They represent the work of the photographer Joseph Philibert Girault de Prangey working around 1842 a man with an obsession - like Adams - for architectural detail and landscape. An erudite scholar and historian, de Prangey travelled widely in North Africa initially around 1832-33 documenting Moorish architecture in watercolours and drawings.

The advent of photography he found both inspiring and convenient. His photographs were a private passion and throughout his lifetime there was no exhibition. His images were remarkable and they included Baalbek, the Parthenon and the great Egyptian temples. The images he produced were later of a quality that allowed them to be purchased for the French nation.

And all this was achieved by lugging heavy cameras through the orient and exposing himself to foul-smelling chemicals at a time when, for de Prangey, photography was still in its infancy.

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