Category Archives: Photography

The Forgotten Treehouse Bars of Bygone Summers in Paris

Many years ago when I was very young, a genteel old gentleman asked me my name, and I was so young that I gave him my full name. My surname was Robinson, and the old man told me that he had dined at a restaurant at the top of a tree, in Paris, and the restaurant was called Robinson. I remember thinking he was just being silly, to amuse me. After all, how could there be a restaurant in a tree? And why would anyone call a restaurant “Robinson”?

So I was flabberghasted when a post appeared in one my newsfeeds on social media.

robinson4-930x631

“Les Guinguettes de Robinson was the place to be in the summer of the 1850s. Parisians descended to the small district south of the city en masse to relax high up in the branches of chestnut trees and dance in the forest. It all began in 1848 in the hamlet of St. Eloi when an inkeeper was inspired by the popular myth of Robinson Crusoe.”

robinson17-930x600

He created a restaurant perched in an old Chestnut tree he called the Grand Robinson. It was an instant success and competing taverns and restaurants multiplied quickly, adopting the same Crusoe theme along the Rue Malabry. In 1888, “Le Grand Robinson”, not to be confused with “the Grand Arbre”, which set up shop just opposite, had to change its name to “Le Vrai Arbre de Robinson” (the Real Tree Robinson”), in order to set itself apart from the competition.

Customers in chestnut treehouses were served lunch of roast chicken and champagne, their meals hoisted up to them in baskets via rope pulley systems. In 1855, a food critic wrote that ‘lavish tables were set and lovebirds without feathers but forks in hand exchanged happy kisses in the breeze, witnessed only by the foliage’.

 

pavillonlafontaine

For Parisians who couldn’t flock to the seaside during the summer months (but could now escape the city thanks to the expansion of the “suburban” railway lines around Paris in the late 1850s), Les Guingettes de Robinson provided a uniquely enchanting and exotic summer adventure. For over a century, this Robinson Crusoe Village was a Parisian paradise.

For many more photos and the history of what happened to these restaurants, see Messy Nessy Chic The Treehouse Restaurants of Bygone Paris

I reckon the old man must have been a very dapper young gent when he visited, and I envy him those memories of dining in a tree top in Paris.

 

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

Edward_Steichen by

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

305169_original

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.

1.-Alphonse-Mucha-by-Edward-Steichen-American1879-_-1973-1890s

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.
250px-Camera_Work_cover
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.

steichen_flatiron_evening1903
Edward Steichen, The Flatiron c. 1903

bigwhite

Edward Steichen, The Big White Cloud, 1903

Edward Steichen + The Pond - Moonrise + 1904 + platinum print with applied colorMetmuseum
Edward Steichen – The Pond – Moonrise, 1904
Edward Steichen, Moonlit Landscape, 1903
Edward Steichen, Moonlit Landscape, 1903
Cooper_s Bluff-Moonlight Strollers, 1905
Edward Steichen, Cooper’s Bluff-Moonlight Strollers, 1905

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

rodin

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.”

Open Sky

“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.

edward-steichen-2

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.”

4-1911

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.
SteichenStieglitzandKitty
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.

002-edward-steichen-lighters

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.

Isadora Duncan

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

swanson
Edward Steichen, Gloria Swanson 1924
steichen.jpg
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.
MA1297
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.
Jumpology-by-Philippe-Halsman-12-steichman-1955
Portrait of Edward Steichen by Philippe Halsman, 1955
Sources:
International Centre Photography: https://www.icp.org/browse/archive/constituents/edward-steichen

 

The Celestographs: August Strindberg’s Alchemical Shots of the Night Sky

The Celestographs: August Strindberg’s Alchemical Shots of the Night Sky

In the 1890s, Swedish playwright August Strindberg photographed the night sky without a camera or even a lens. These “Celestographs,” as he called them, were both a folly and an innovative work of experimental art. The National Library of Sweden has recently shared a selection of these photographs online, displaying the gritty textures of the strange images.

Sadly, the plates that Strindberg set out under the stars have been lost, but these well-worn prints remain. While Strindberg is celebrated for his dozens of modernist plays and other works of naturalist fiction, when he hit a creative block he turned to visual art. A friend of Edvard Munch, Strindberg produced paintings that are physical, almost aggressive, canvases marred with paint, jabbed and slashed with the palette knife and brush. His photographs are hands-off. As Douglas Feuk wrote in 2001 for Cabinet magazine:

“Strindberg distrusted camera lenses, since he considered them to give a distorted representation of reality. Over the years he built several simple lens-less cameras made from cigar boxes or similar containers with a cardboard front in which he had used a needle to prick a minute hole. But the celestographs were produced by an even more direct method using neither lens nor camera. The experiments involved quite simply placing his photographic plates on a window sill or perhaps directly on the ground (sometimes, he tells us, already lying in the developing bath) and letting them be exposed to the starry sky.”

via The Celestographs: August Strindberg’s Alchemical Shots of the Night Sky.