Five Notes: Lady Lookers
Compiled by Sophie Hackett
Flaherty made this cyanotype of fellow artists Frances Loring and Florence Wyle in 1914. He had yet to make the photographs and the film that would catapult him to greater renown (Nanook of the North was completed in 1922), and Loring and Wyle had yet to create the sculptures that would define their careers in the 1930s and 40s. I find this intimate encounter between artists at this early stage of their respective careers moving.
Seated side-by-side and looking off at the same point beyond the frame, the two women — who were lifelong companions (read that as you will) — seem sage and unshakeable, monuments unto themselves, qualities that the cyanotype renders with something of a shimmer.
Cosindas considers this portrait of sailors in Key West to be one of her signature works. The two shirtless men, bathed in a watery light, seem the embodiment of youthful virility but, out of their seafaring context, they also seem vulnerable. The reclining pose of one of the sailors recalls the odalisques of 19th Century painting, adding an element of erotic fantasy to the interior scene.
The year Cosindas made this portrait was an important one. Her achievements in photography were recognized in two solo shows, one at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (the first for a living photographer) and the other at New York's Museum of Modern Art. We cannot think of photography today without thinking of colour and Cosindas was one of the first to seriously consider its creative potentials. I, for one, am grateful to Ansel Adams, who pointed out to Cosindas in a black-and-white photography workshop that she “thought” in colour and encouraged her to take a new path.
Wahl made this unexpected portrait of the Queen in the back hallway of a Winnipeg hotel while she was on an official visit, waiting to be escorted to dinner. He recounts that they never exchanged a word but, when she saw his camera, the Queen met his eye and nodded her assent. The stately countenance of our monarch greets us several times a day, not least on coins and dollar bills. Our familiarity with her official image and its contrast with Wahl’s portrait is part of what I find so surprising and so delightful about this photograph.
This tintype of a girl, seated and in profile with her long hair flowing down her back, floats on a black velvet background, surrounded by silk flowers. The Art Gallery of Ontario’s collection holds a number of objects like this one, where someone has chosen to create an elaborate and very personal frame for a humble photograph, testament to its significance. The reason this particular tintype was awarded such a lush laurel we can never know. That mystery used to overwhelm such objects for me. Now, though, I find this resistance to being fully known is their power, and their beauty.
I have always been struck by the intensity Anita Loos delivers in portraits. The prolific screenwriter and author of the novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes made her career describing the vanities and ambitions of American society. And yet, the way Nickolas Muray portrays the Californian here seems to pull her from a different context — that of a Weimar cabaret, perhaps. Her arresting look shows off Muray's talent for creating glamorous and intelligent images, as well as Loos' own understanding of the character it is possible to play before the camera.
All images courtesy the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto.
Sophie Hackett is the Assistant Curator, Photography at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. Recent projects include Suzy Lake: Rhythm of a True Space (2008); Barbara Kruger: Untitled (It) (2010) on the AGO's façade; "Where I was born...": A Photograph, a Clue and the Discovery of Abel Boulineau (2011); and Songs of the Future: Canadian Industrial Photographs, 1858 to Today (2011/2012). She is currently working on a public project with Max Dean and his collection of family photo albums — called Album — for CONTACT 2012.