Category Archives: illustration

Edward Steichen – To Catch an Instant

“Photography records the gamut of feelings written on the human face, the beauty of the earth and skies that man has inherited, and the wealth and confusion man has created. [It is] a major force in explaining man to man.”

Steichen Quoted in Time Magazine, “To Catch the Instant” 7 April 1961

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Edward Jean Steichen (March 27, 1879 – March 25, 1973) photographed by
Fred Holland Day (1901)

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Edward Steichen. Self-Portrait with Studio Camera. c. 1917

 

Born in Luxembourg, Steichen moved to the United States in 1881.  1894, at the age of fifteen, Steichen began a four-year lithography apprenticeship with the American Fine Art Company of Milwaukee. After hours, he would sketch and draw, and began to teach himself to paint.

Having come across a camera shop near to his work, he visited frequently until he bought his first camera, a secondhand Kodak box “detective” camera, in 1895. Steichen and his friends who were also interested in drawing and photography pooled together their funds, rented a small room in a Milwaukee office building, and began calling themselves the Milwaukee Art Students League.

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The artist Alphonse Mucha, as photographed by Edward Steichen, c. 1895

Steichen met Alfred Stieglitz in 1900, while stopping in New York City en route to Paris from his home in Milwaukee. In that first meeting, Stieglitz expressed praise for Steichen’s background in painting and bought three of Steichen’s photographic prints.

 He was elected a member of London’s Linked Ring Brotherhood in 1901.
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Camera Work

In 1902, when Stieglitz was formulating what would become Camera Work, he asked Steichen to design the logo for the magazine with a custom typeface. Steichen was the most frequently featured photographer in the journal.

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Edward Steichen, The Flatiron c. 1903

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Edward Steichen, The Big White Cloud, 1903

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Edward Steichen – The Pond – Moonrise, 1904

In 1904, Steichen began experimenting with colour photography. He was one of the first people in the United States to use the Autochrome Lumière process. In 1905, Stieglitz and Steichen created the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, which eventually became known as 291 after its address. It presented among the first American exhibitions of Henri Matisse, Auguste Rodin, Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, and Constantin Brâncuși.

Edward Steichen, Rodin, le Monument à Victor Hugo et le Penseur, 1902

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Edward Steichen, Rodin, le Monument à Victor Hugo et le Penseur, 1902

In late summer 1908 Rodin moved the plaster of his sculpture of the French writer Honoré de Balzac out of his studio and into the open air so that Steichen, who disliked its chalky aspect in the daylight, could photograph it by the moon. Waiting through several exposures as long as an hour each, Steichen made this exposure at 11 p.m., when the moonlight transformed the plaster into a monumental phantom rising above the brooding nocturnal landscape. Steichen recalled that when he presented his finished prints some weeks later, an elated Rodin exclaimed: “You will make the world understand my Balzac through your pictures. They are like Christ walking on the desert.”

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“Open Sky” Rodin’s Balzac 1908 Reproduction:© 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

In 1911, Steichen was “dared” by Lucien Vogel, the publisher of Jardin des Modes and LaGazette du Bon Ton , to promote fashion as a fine art by the use of photography. Steichen took photos of gowns designed by couturier Paul Poiret, which were published in the April 1911 issue of the magazine Art et Décoration.

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Edward Steichen, a Paul Poiret design

According to Jesse Alexander, this is “… now considered to be the first ever modern fashion photography shoot. That is, photographing the garments in such a way as to convey a sense of their physical quality as well as their formal appearance, as opposed to simply illustrating the object.”

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Edward Steichen, with what is deemed is the first “fashion photoshoot”, 1911

Steichen practiced painting in Paris intermittently between 1900 and 1922; there he met Rodin and was exposed to modern art movements, and was thus able to advise Stieglitz on exhibition selections.
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Edward Steichen, Alfred Stieglitz and His Daughter Katherine

“The break between Stieglitz and Steichen came on the verge of the United States’ entry into World War I, perhaps chiefly because Steichen was a dedicated Francophile and Stieglitz was openly sympathetic to Germany. Or perhaps it was because Steichen had come to believe that Stieglitz’s Photo-Secession and its instruments—291 and Camera Work—had become the vehicles for a personality cult.

After the war he replaced the rather vaporous symbolism of his earlier Pictorialist style with optical clarity and greater objectivity of description. Steichen spent several years experimenting with realistic effects of light, tone, and shadow; during this period, he famously photographed a white cup and saucer against a black velvet background more than one thousand times, hoping to achieve a perfect rendering of subtle gradations of white, black, and gray.

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Edward Steichen, Lighters

In a further reaction to what now seemed to him pious Photo-Secessionist attitudes, Steichen threw himself wholeheartedly into commercial photography, establishing a successful commercial studio when he moved to New York City in 1923. He devoted the next 15 years of his life primarily to fashion photography and celebrity portraiture for Condé Nast publications such as Vogue and Vanity Fair and to advertising photography for the J. Walter Thompson agency. Most notably, as part of his work for Condé Nast, Steichen created striking portraits of figures such as Gloria Swanson, Greta Garbo, and Charlie Chaplin that helped to define the era.

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Edward Steichen, Isadora Duncan at the Columns of the Parthenon, Athens, 1921

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Edward Steichen, Gloria Swanson 1924
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Edward Steichen, Martha Graham 1931
Edward Steichen, White, 1935
Edward Steichen, Study in White for Vogue, 1935
He closed his very successful studio on January 1, 1938, and spent much of the next four years pursuing his long-time avocation of plant breeding at his home in Connecticut, concentrating on the delphinium in particular.
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Edward Steichen with his delphiniums, 1938
One month after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the U.S. Navy made Steichen a lieutenant commander in charge of directing a photographic record of the naval war in the Pacific.
In 1947 Steichen was named director of the department of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, a position he would hold until his retirement 15 years later. “The Family of Man,” an exhibition he curated in 1955, was arguably the most important work of art in his long career. The exhibition was based on the concept of human solidarity, and Steichen selected 503 images from countless prints submitted from all over the world. It is said that the exhibition was seen by almost nine million people in 37 countries. Steichen went on to curate many smaller exhibitions at the museum, some of which were the first substantial shows of the work of important younger photographers, thus continuing his role as a tireless advocate of the medium throughout the remaining years of his career. His autobiography, A Life in Photography, was published in 1963.
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Portrait of Edward Steichen by Philippe Halsman, 1955
Sources:
International Centre Photography: https://www.icp.org/browse/archive/constituents/edward-steichen

 

We are bees of the invisible… Rilke from a letter to Halewicz

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“We are bees of the invisible. We wildly collect the honey of the invisible, to store it in the great golden hives of the invisible.”

Rilke often refers to the invisible, especially in his Duino Elegies, which he wrote during a particularly mystical period of his life. In a letter to his Polish translator Witold Hulewicz in November 1925, he wrote: ‘We of the present are never satisfied by the world of time…transience everywhere plunges into the depths of being…it is our task to print this temporal, perishable earth so painfully, passionately and deeply into ourselves, that its essence is resurrected again, invisibly, within us…the Elegies show this, the work of endlessly converting the visible, tangible world we love into the invisible vibrations and tremors of our own nature…’

He was quite passionate about the “Temple within” and the interior life, whereas he saw the outside world as transitory and fragile.

In another letter, written in 1925, commenting on his Elegies, he wrote: “‘…the Angel of the Elegies is that creature in whom the transformation of the visible into the invisible, which we perform, appears already complete.’ [..] ‘that being who attests to the recognition of a higher level of reality in the invisible – Terrifying, therefore, to us because we, its lovers and transformers, still cling to the visible’.

Here are some good links on Rilke’s work and his letters

http://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/German/TheFountainOfJoy.htm

http://publishing.cdlib.org/ucpressebooks/view?docId=ft8779p1x3&chunk.id=d0e1921&toc.id=d0e1494&brand=ucpress

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/rainer-maria-rilke

I became a little (more) obsessed with Rilke after reading a chapter focusing on his work in this book:
http://www.jameshollis.net/books/archetypal.htm

(edited to include more details from comments)

originally posted 2012

Jaq

The Turning Sky | Lapham’s Quarterly

“The god Horus is a falcon (the word for which in hieroglyphs is qhr, the falcon’s cry). In the third surviving column of text, remarkably, the falcon is marked with a triangle, the hieroglyphic designation for the star Sirius. As if it were a mathematical proof unfolding before my eyes, I saw that if the falcon marked by the triangle is Sirius, the fire is the light of dawn in which the gods—the things marked holy by the hieroglyphic prayer flags—are stars. The baboon’s penis is in actuality a familiar sight: the Sword of Orion (the three stars under Orion’s belt), which rises directly before Sirius on the path of rising stars. The hieroglyphic lines on the wall express an immediate, visual moment in the physical world: the dawn rising of Sirius signaling the rising of the Nile, the key moment of the Egyptian agricultural year. The clear, repetitive, and simple hieroglyphic lines read not as a magic spell but as a finely machined poetic riddle: The Sword of Orion opens the doors of the sky. Before the doors close the gate to the path over the fire Beneath the holy ones as they grow dark, As a falcon flies, as a falcon flies, may Unis rise into this fire, Beneath the holy ones as they grow dark. They make a path for Unis. Unis takes the path. Unis becomes the falcon star, Sirius. That this was the case was borne out by the text as I translated further. Beautifully constructed verses presented one vivid astronomical reference after another: Taurus (“Would that the bull break the fingers of the horizon of earth with its horns. / Come out. Rise.”), the full moon (“the face, the head, the eye”), the North Star (“the axis at the center of the wheel”), the Dippers (“the arms of night”), the Milky Way (“the ladder to heaven”). The verses of the Pyramid Texts map the night sky as a detailed seasonal clock reliably predicting the most critical resource of all: water. Egyptian civilization came out of radical climate change—cattle herders whose grazing land was rapidly becoming desert as the water dried up in the climate shift of the Neolithic, much as is happening in Texas and around the world today.

The verses present a sequence of poetic images in which the human body is transformed back into its elements in the visible universe of the turning sky. The remnant essence of a human life rises as a star in the east: “moses” (the hieroglyphic word for infant) in “the field of rushes” (the eastern stars at dawn). The infant star is the child of “she who gave birth but did not know it” (the sky). The sky is a flood of cool darkness across which sail the stars: Sirius and its evil twin, “the detested wild dog Set,” the second brightest star in the sky, Canopus, the rising of which signals the autumn rains with their deadly flash floods and thunderstorms. Through this glittering wetland of stars wanders the golden calf, the golden crescent horns of the moon.

This extraordinary convergence of poetry, science, and religion resides not only in the writing but in the pictures within the words themselves. Osiris is a phonetic rendering of a hieroglyphic rebus: the seat of the eye, the universal corpse in which resurrection is not a religious mystery but an inevitability of nature. In the Pyramid Texts, hieroglyphic vocabulary is rich with images: The body is a tree. The snake is the life in it. The fruit of the tree is the eye. What is being expressed is the intelligence of nature itself in the ongoing process of creation: the death, decay, and rebirth of plant and animal life in the cyclical year. One familiar religious trope after another appears not as literal historical fact used to proscribe, threaten, and dictate the parameters of human life but as poetic imagery used to bring to life the awareness of our fragile and beautiful world. The richness of these images is echoed in the Book of Job: “As for the earth, out of it cometh bread, and under it is turned up as it were fire. The stones of it are the place of sapphires, and it hath dust of gold.” The Pyramid Texts are not magic spells or religious prescription any more than this. Instead, the text takes up a key question: Where shall wisdom be found?

…over the fire
Beneath the holy ones as they grow dark,

As a falcon flies, as a falcon flies, may Unis rise into this fire,

Beneath the holy ones as they grow dark.

They make a path for Unis. Unis takes the path.

Unis becomes the falcon star, Sirius.

 

Would that the bull break the fingers of the horizon of earth with its horns.

Come out. Rise.

Poetry and religion arise from the same source: the perception of the mystery of life. Early Egyptian writing belongs to this eternal language. The vehicle at work is associative thinking, in which metaphors act as keys to unlock a primeval human sense of the integrated living world. The meaning may not come across on the pedantic level, but on the poetic level it is transparent.”

Source: The Turning Sky | Lapham’s Quarterly

Susan Brind Morrow

Susan Brind Morrow’s translation and analysis of the Pyramid Texts, The Dawning Moon of the Mind: Unlocking the Pyramid Texts, was published in 2015. She received a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship in 2006.

Visualization in Medieval Alchemy – alchemy as a science and an art aimed at the transformation of species

In Arabic classifications of science and philosophy, which were adapted in the twelfth century, alchemy was defined as a sub-branch of natural philosophy (scientia naturalis), sharing this definition, above all, with medicine. Thus, about ten years after the first translation of an alchemical text into Latin (Morienus, De compositione alchimie), Dominic Gundissalinus described alchemy as belonging to physics in his De divisione philosophiae (ca. 1150).[6] It was a science and an art aimed at the transformation of species

In the thirteenth century, representatives of Platonically-oriented cosmology and natural science such as Robert Grosseteste (1175-1253) defended a systematic use of geometrical representation. Following Grosseteste, “all causes of natural effects must be expressed by means of lines, angles, and figures, for otherwise it is impossible to grasp their explanation”.[24] The corresponding theory of knowledge was neo-Platonic and Augustinian. The intelligible order underlying the physical, corporeal world was thought to be apprehensible by the divine part of the soul, by the ‘eye of the soul’, and geometrical figures (as well as number patterns) were used as ‘ladders’ leading to eternal truths.

The early fifteenth-century Aurora consurgens marks a further step in the elaboration of pictorial metaphors combined with glass vessels. The oldest and most spectacular copy of this document dates from the 1420s (Zürich, Zentralbibliothek, ms. Rh. 172). On a purely pictorial level, an inventive and high-quality artist developed a core of recurrent alchemical metaphors that relate to human and animal procreation, the dismemberment of bodies (symbolizing calcinations and putrefaction) and motifs such as the eagle and the dragon, which denote mercury as a volatile and as a solidified substance, respectively.[75] In and around glass vessels, the artist metaphorically depicted stages of operation relating to the alchemical art of transformation as well as cosmological and philosophical principles of the art, such as “two are one” and “nature vanquishes nature”. Two or more principal metaphors are frequently combined within a single picture, reflecting the increasing use of chains of metaphors. For instance, one of the illustration combines the motifs of Mercury decapitating the sun and the moon with a vase filled with silver and gold flowers

Figure 11: Zürich, Zentralbibliothek, ms. Rh. 172, fol. 27v. Aurora consurgens (ca 1420-30). Mercury in the form of a serpent decapitating the Sun and the Moon. Gold and silver flowers in a vessel on the fire.

For the full article from which these extracts were taken, go to the link below

Source: HYLE 9-2 (2003): Visualization in Medieval Alchemy

The Gold Tree, with initials designed by Austin O Spare

The gold tree.
With initials designed by Austin O. Spare and cut in wood by W. Quick. Published 1917

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The Gold Tree is a short story written by Sir John Collings Squire, in which he describes in detail an imagined bookshop that appears frequently in his dreams.  It can be viewed and read here: https://archive.org/stream/goldtreewithinit00squiuoft#page/n5/mode/2up

From 1919 to 1934, Squire was the editor of the monthly periodical, the London Mercury. It showcased the work of the Georgian poets and was an important outlet for new writers.

Squire was not exactly a popular character..

Virginia Woolf wrote that Squire was “more repulsive than words can express, and malignant into the bargain”. […] Eliot attacked Squire repeatedly, at one point describing him as a critic “whose solemn trifling fascinates multitudes”. […] Eliot also acknowledged that Squire wielded a lot of power; because of Squire’s skill as a journalist, his success would be modernism’s disaster. Eliot wrote: “If he succeeds, it will be impossible to get anything good published”.

Squire is in any case generally credited with the one-liner “I am not so think as you drunk I am”.

Austin O Spare provided the design for the Illustrations, which were then cut by W. Quick.

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The pair also worked on Twelve Poems by J.C. Squire. Published in 1916 which can be viewed and read online here: https://archive.org/details/twelvepoems00squiiala

 

 

 

The Vessels of Hermes – an Alchemical Album (ca.1700)

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The contents of Box 14 from the Manly Palmer Hall Collection of Alchemical Manuscripts, a huge collection of esoteric works amassed by Manly Palmer Hall, a Canadian-born author and mystic, perhaps most famous for his The Secret Teachings of All Ages (1928). Most of the material in the collection was acquired from Sotheby’s auctioneers on a trip he made in the 1930s to England and France – bought very cheaply due to the economic conditions of the time. The material in Hall’s collection dates from 1500 to 1825, and includes works from the likes of Jakob Böhme, Sigismond Bacstrom, Alessandro Cagliostro, George Ripley and Michael Maier. The creator of these particular watercolours featured below is unknown. A typewritten note in the back, in French, translates as follows:

ALCHEMICAL ALBUM – The Vessels of Hermes – quarto atlas containing five beautiful colour plates very artistically executed and with explanatory caption. Vol. half vellum.

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For more images and full article, see The Public Domain Review: http://publicdomainreview.org/collections/the-vessels-of-hermes-an-alchemical-album-ca-1700/

On Knowing: Essays for the Left Hand

lefthand1969 edition cover design by Alfred Zalon

I picked up a copy of this book some years back, in a charity shop.  I wanted it for the content, but if I had found a copy of the 1969 edition that I came across online recently, with the cover design by Alfred Zalon, I would probably have bought it for the cover alone – alas, my copy has the rather more boring predominantly pastel blue cover.

“The left hand has traditionally represented the powers of intuition, feeling, and spontaneity. In this classic book, Jerome Bruner inquires into the part these qualities play in determining how we know what we do know; how we can help others to know-that is, to teach; and how our conception of reality affects our actions and is modified by them.

The striking and subtle discussions contained in On Knowing take on the core issues concerning man’s sense of self: creativity, the search for identity, the nature of aesthetic knowledge, myth, the learning process, and modem-day attitudes toward social controls, Freud, and fate. In this revised, expanded edition, Bruner comments on his personal efforts to maintain an intuitively and rationally balanced understanding of human nature, taking into account the odd historical circumstances which have hindered academic psychology’s attempts in the past to know man.

Writing with wit, imagination, and deep sympathy for the human condition, Jerome Bruner speaks here to the part of man’s mind that can never be completely satisfied by the right-handed virtues of order, rationality, and discipline.”

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Those heights are not conceivable or comprehensible by minds not completely free

I’m re-posting this old nugget as it is directly related to the 2 most recent that I have posted; Know Thyself: self-observation for the purpose of understanding ourselves “both as Individuals and Part of the Whole.”

This was Tavaglione’s introduction to his tarot deck. In creating the Stairs of Gold Tarot, he was inspired by these words from Dante’s Paradiso, “I saw a stair the colour of gold, on which shone a ray of Sun, which raised itself so high that my eyes could not see the top….”
Jaq

“I would do nothing else but pick flowers, and wander through meadows and gardens, gathering all the beautiful and most coloured my eyes and my spirit could see…but it happened that when I picked the first coloured diamonds, my curiosity flew up and I would “know” and I would “learn”.  And while at first my questions were limited only to their aspect, and I would know many Petal-Facets had the Diamond-Flowers I was picking, later I would know their Inmost Secret Light, their Why.

As I could not study all the Flowers my eyes took in, I devoted myself to the nearest ones, trying to understand with them, all the others, seeking inside them the Key that would permit me to open every other Door.
And then I realized that the more I penetrated the “Particular”, the more I descended to the “Depth”, the more I rose to the “General”.  So to understand that infinity of the Flowers around me, I began to study, with great care, One of Them, that could mean the most to me, the nearest one: myself.
And I tried to discover how many facets had that Flower-Diamond; its Cut, its Axis, it’s Colours, its Transparency, its Scent, to penetrate its innermost recesses, the “Secret Rooms” where are preserved the Most Intimate Values, the Hidden Treasures concealed by Veils.
To reach them I found it was anything but simple, because still before entering, I should curb the Beast that guarded them, the Animality always excluded from any Architecture, and any Rationality of Thought, bestial and resentful, because of its inferiority, it must be subdued by Fight and physical Strength or by Command and Moral Strength: once curbed it will be a tractable companion, but like every subdued wild beast, it will always assault us, when hesitating.
After the Beast, there is the Labrynth, consisting of 78 rooms, and 3×7 = 21 Gates; in every Room there are Prizes and Traps, Traps playing on what remained inside us, of the false ideas or the mental distortions that follow us from the preceding rooms, with which we must do away, and the Prizes playing on our Intuition and Illuminations that let us know, on the grounds of what we have learnt till now, what awaits us in the next room and that will be clear only in the future.
The 21 Gates are unforeseen gleams on the future and though one can find some difficult ties to reach and pass them, he has the Certitude of his Growth and the Consciousness of his accomplished conquest, that instill new life into his desire to go on Knowing and infuse him with new courage to face future difficulties.
The Utmost Gate, that closes the Utmost Room, the Sancta Sanctorum, is the Gate of Totality, the Conclusion that leads to our Essence, complete of everything Spiritual and Material.  When we will overcome that Utmost Barrier, we will be Ourselves, at the height of our Beings conscious of our Liberty, both as Individuals and Part of the Whole, Then behind the Veil, stretched between the Two Colums, the Black one and the Red, we will foresee the Roots of the Tree, that through its 10 points, will lead us up to heights where neither the most presumptuous of men can imagine, because those heights are not conceivable or comprehensible by minds not completely free.”
– Giorgio Tavaglione: Introduction to The Stairs of Gold Tarot Deck.
12 Pendu

Harmonices Mundi (Harmony of the World) by Johannes Kepler, 1619

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Nature, which is never not lavish of herself, after a lying-in of two thousand years, has finally brought you forth in these last generations, the first true images of the universe. By means of your concords of various voices, and through your ears, she has whispered to the human mind, the favorite daughter of God the Creator, how she exists in the innermost bosom

Johannes Kepler published Harmonies of the World in 1619. This was the summation of his theories about celestial correspondences, and ties together the ratios of the planetary orbits, musical theory, and the Platonic solids. Kepler’s speculations are long discredited. However, this work stands as a bridge between the Hermetic philosophy of the Renaissance, which sought systems of symbolic correspondences in the fabric of nature, and modern science. And today, we finally have heard the music of the spheres: data from outer system probes have been translated into acoustic form, and we can listen to strange clicks and moans from Jupiter’s magnetosphere.

Towards the end of Harmonies Kepler expressed a startling idea,–one which Giordiano Bruno had been persecuted for, two decades before–the plurality of inhabited worlds. He muses on the diversity of life on Earth, and how it was inconceivable that the other planets would be devoid of life, that God had “adorned[ed] the other globes too with their fitting creatures”. [pp. 10841085]

While medieval philosophers spoke metaphorically of the “music of the spheres“, Kepler discovered physical harmonies in planetary motion.

Kepler explains the reason for the Earth’s small harmonic range:

The Earth sings Mi, Fa, Mi: you may infer even from the syllables that in this our home misery and famine hold sway.

At very rare intervals all of the planets would sing together in “perfect concord”: Kepler proposed that this may have happened only once in history, perhaps at the time of creation.

http://www.sacred-texts.com/astro/how/index.htm

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