January 31: To be original is to subvert expectations.
Pál Angelo Funk photographer aka Paul Funk, aka Angelo was born on this date in 1894 in Budapest. Originally Paul Pinkász, he was a key twentieth century Hungarian photographer, film director and fashion designer.
Teasingly intriguing are his surrealist images, though they are very hard to find. Seemingly, they are small part of his output as a portraitist and photographer of dance, nudes and theatre, but they are what I would like to compare with the work of other photographers Jorge Lewinski (who died this day in 2008) and PUTPUT who are Stephan Friedli (CH) and Ulrik Martin Larsen (DK) who are on show starting today at Galerie Esther Woerdehoff.
Funk is clearly a figure awaiting rediscovery, as there is almost no information on him in English or Hungarian. To have made images like The Drunken Street (below) in 1928 shows that he was much more than a commercial photographer and that he was ready quite early to move on from the Pictorialist style he originally espoused in examples like the 1920 semi-nude at left which is characteristic of the Art Nouveau qualities of some Pictorialist work; space is flattened through the use of a long lens and the alignment along the lens axis of the drapery-covered tabletop, with the placement of the model and lamp almost against the backdrop to create shadows, and the model adopts a sinuous ‘Egyptian’ posture.
The Drunken Street is a weird picture in which the figures alternate, as one examines it, between being toy-like, particularly those at lower left which look like artists’ mannequins because of the distortions of scale, and haunting, mere shadows. As to the technique, one can only guess, but placing old, rippled glass between enlarger lends and paper might work, as would rephotographing a print reflected in a battered chrome tea-tray à la fellow Hungarian André Kertesz’s use of funhouse mirrors. The latter seems more likely to be the explanation. Kertesz’s famous Underwater Swimmer, Esztergom was photographed in 1917, but though Kertesz had long been interested in mirrors, reflections, and the idea of distorting the human figure, he did not seriously investigate their photographic possibilities until 1933, when the risqué French magazine Le Sourire commissioned him to make a series of figure studies, using a funhouse mirror from a Parisian amusement park. Funk’s anamorphics are extraordinary therefore because they predate even Kertesz.
Another successful application of this technique can be seen in the more rectilinear but similarly rippled, but possibly still earlier St Cloud ruin.
Though both of these prints exhibit the pictorialist soft focus and painterly techniques in print tone and texture, it is the warping of the image that is unusual. Even in some of his more conventional images, nudes from this era, a surreal, or at least baroque, quality can be seen.
The tendency continues in Funk’s 1930s nudes and figure studies, and by then he is employing photomontage, a signature technique of photographic Surrealism, to create these fantasy images; the flowers in May Morning being placed on the surface of the print and then rephotographed, while in My Venus he makes use of cut-and-past montage.
Funk had started to make photographs at the age of ten but also studied painting from age 16 in Munich with Carl Bauer, then moved to Hamburg, then to Berlin to work with Nicola Perscheidnél, in Paris with Reutlingernél, then in London got instruction from British society photographer Marcus Adams and from E. O. Hoppe, who was recognised as a leader in pictorial portraiture across Europe. In 1914 in his return from France he spent four years at the front in World War I. On his return to Budapest he worked for portraitist Szekely Aladar as an assistant, and after a few failed attempts, opened his own studio in 1919 at 1 Kaiser Wilhelm Road in Budapest, an exclusive address then (now the road has been shortened to a mere cul-de-sac).
In 1919 he barely escaped Hungary’s anti-communist White Terror to live in Paris then in Nice, working as a cinematographer and in associated roles, including early ciné-sound and costume design. From 1927 to 1938 he wrote on photography for various journals, and in the latter 30s edited Hungarian Photography. His reputation was such that Kertesz mentions him in interviews as a major influence.
During the Second World War he was turned over to the Gestapo and imprisoned and only escaped death by a happy coincidence. The reason for his fall from the limelight is most likely because he remained in Hungary during the Communist era and in 1962 turned his studio over to the state to become an ordinary worker in the Budapest Photographers’ Small Industrial Producers Cooperative in which he was awarded ‘Excellence in Co-operative Industrial Work’ in April 4, 1955. He continued to enter surrealist photographs including those below in competitions, but by all accounts died in 1974 a bitter and lonely man.
Jorge Lewinsky, who died on this date in 2008 photographed artists amongst other portrait subjects. In general, artists are known by their work, not by their faces so, invariably, inclusion of their artworks is the rule for portraitists. The usual solution is to stand your artist directly in front of one of their productions in the hope that those looking at the picture understand that they made it; much the same as one would with a farmer and his prize bull. The manner in which Lewinsky tackles this task is instructive, particularly in the case of his portraits of sculptors.
He photographs celebrated British artist Barbara Hepworth in one of her sculptures. The form is familiar…the ‘face in the moon’ of pantomime…and therefore, displaced into this context of the portrait, it becomes fantastic and, slightly surreal. Photographed, it appears, in an exhibition space with spotlights which conjure a starry sky…yes, we detect the heads of exhibition crowds but they are so underexposed that they barely register, even the crown of someone’s head close by becomes a mere cloudy shape. What matters most is Hepworth’s profile, dreamily staring into space, and her hand which caresses the surface she knows so well, which is given essential haptic detail by Lewinski’s precisely aimed flash units, one to the left, behind the sculpture, one to the right to light its rim.
Lewinsky repeats this skilful insertion of the subject into their work in numbers of his other portraits through the 60s and 70s, but in Francis Bacon’s case, the artist becomes one of his disturbing late surrealist works in this pre-digital darkroom double exposure.
The market for these portraits were the Sunday supplements in which colour was increasingly used, so Lewinski also photographed Bacon on colour transparency as he stood before one or the walls of his studio which he habitually used as a palette. The colour being used on that occasion being shade of bloody red only serves to highlight Bacon’s alcoholic pallor. Lewinski’s original intention with his portrait series was to concentrate on authors, but he found artists, who were becoming celebrities in Britain’s Swinging Sixties, more attractive as subject matter. He did however produce some equally metaphysical imagery of writers, one portraying Brigid Brophy, whose novels pilloried middle-class morals, subjecting them to a Freudian analysis in which anal retentiveness and rectitude came off second best. She looks down with a louche and disdainful expression upon the viewer, clutching her glass of scotch to her stretch-fabric dress which is patterned with a trendy Marimekko version of paisley. Regarding her in turn is the cast of a well-built Roman youth, the shadow of whose genitals merges with the back of the Egg chair in which she lounges.
The Swiss-Danish art entity PUTPUT, established in 2011, is the visual and conceptual partnership of collaborators Stefan Friedli (born 1987, Switzerland) and Ulrik Martin Larsen (born 1975, Denmark) who combine photography, sculpture to discover the metaphysical amongst the clandestine relationships of everyday objects.
Their playful constructions are transient, still life arrangements made to transform ordinary into extraordinary, with wry humour. Guided by Pop Art and surrealism they create fictional but recognizable object typologies which disrupt our habituation to what surrounds us in the everyday.
The deadpan humour of these images is successful because of the straightforward manner of the photographs which are flatly lit with soft light, the hint of a shadow being generated by a second single flash head at a minimal power. The difference between sculpted (left, above) and Photoshopped images (right) is seamless and often both approaches are combined to make an image (centre). Everything is self-explanatory upon a second look, but only with the application of that part of the brain we use to kick-start our consciousness when we wake each morning, with a coffee.
A vernissage for PUTPUT’s Coffee for Oppenheim is being held Tuesday January 31st 2017, from 6 pm to 9 pm and the exhibition continues until 25.02.2017
Images © PUTPUT, courtesy Galerie Esther Woerdehoff