On curating photography

As part of an ongoing series of interviews with photography curators, Ideas Tap recently spoke to me about portraiture, how the National Portrait Gallery discovers new work, collects and exhibits photography, as well as my personal background and writing in this field.

Thank you to editor Rachel Segal Hamilton – the full interview can be read online here.

Postscript: Man Ray ‘The Lifemask’ 1932

This weekend saw the start of a new stage in the life of exhibition Man Ray Portraits, as the exhibition opened at its first tour venue, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery (22nd June-22nd September 2013). One photograph in the exhibition which had left previously unanswered questions was a portrait of Man Ray in the collection of the Getty Museum, simply titled ‘The Lifemask’ (1932). The identity of the sculptor shown applying a substance to Man Ray’s face had remained unknown to us until very recently.

The Life Mask

The Lifemask Man Ray (1932), The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, © Man Ray Trust / ARS/ ADAGP.

Thanks to a descendant of the sitter coming forwards, we now know that the sculptor depicted is Paul Hamann (1891-1973), an artist who enjoyed brief celebrity during the 1930s when he developed a process for creating life-masks. The key to the popularity of Hamann’s technique was the substance he devised, which was so pleasant and popular to the skin, that Elizabeth Arden even asked for the formula. Hamann’s sitters included wealthy clients from his native Germany, and after being invited to the UK by Harold Nicolson, his subjects included Noel Coward and Aldous Huxley.

Aldous Huxley by Paul Hamann, bronze life-mask, 1930

Aldous Huxley by Paul Hamann, bronze life-mask, 1930

According to a June 1930 catalogue of the Warren Gallery, announcing an exhibition of Hamann’s Mask Portraits; “Herr Paul Hamann has now perfected a substance with which life-masks can be taken subtly and painlessly. His preparation looks like tomato soup and smells faintly of vanilla. … It is the gentlest, kindliest, most coaxing process imaginable. .. And the result, as you observe, is magnificent…. All this will be achieved by you and Herr Hamann if you consent to sit patiently in a chair for forty minutes.”

In the late 1930s, Hamann was forced to move permanently to the UK after being denounced as a degenerate artist by the Nazis. He was subsequently interned on the Isle of the Man at the beginning of the war, alongside many refugee musicians and artists, including Kurt Schwitters, who painted his portrait.

On the subject of life-masks and portraiture, I also want to recommend Francis Hodgson’s recent post Harlequin Without His Mask, in which he discusses this tradition and a photographic series by Rankin, exhibited recently at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.

Lee Miller Archives to launch new online image library

The Lee Miller Archives is preparing to publish more than 3,000 of her photographs online, in a new image library which will launch this April.

Digitized from original negatives and vintage prints, many of the images have never been available to view before. (These first 3,000 images are selected from an entire collection which consists of over 60,000 original negatives, 20,000 vintage prints & contact sheets and thousands of original documents and manuscripts.)

The images will reflect many aspects of Miller’s career, which included her experiments with Man Ray in Paris between 1929 and 1932, three decades of fashion photography, her acclaimed war photography and post-war commissions for Vogue magazine. In a press release issued by the Lee Miller Archives, her son Antony Penrose explains:

“Following her death 35 years ago, the work to catalogue the collection and bring Lee Miller’s photography back from obscurity has been painstaking. As we are a private arts organisation with no government funding, the collating of her images has taken many years. This is the exciting moment when we are able to realise our long-term objective as a family and are able to share thousands of her images, many never seen before, through our new Lee Miller image library website.

In time we intend to make all 60,000 images available along with those of her husband Roland Penrose who often gives an interesting insight into her, her iconic images and their circle of friends as well as a relevant selection of work by other photographers in their circle such as Miller’s father Theodore Miller. This will hopefully be a valuable resource for publishers, researchers, picture editors and students worldwide.”

The new image library will be available to view in April at Lee Miller Archives.