August 25: Given its subject, The Family of Man (about which I have been writing over the last couple of days) naturally included many photographs of children, in its sections ‘Childbirth’, ‘Mothers and Babies’, two called ‘Children’, ‘Family Activities’, ‘Fathers and Sons’, ‘Family Groups’, ‘Ring Around the Rosy’, ‘Learning’, ‘Teens’, ‘Revolt’ and ‘Childhood Magic’.
It is worth considering, then, the youngest photographer who contributed to the 1955 exhibition, Edward Wallowitch, a photographer of children, and to compare his to work only 10 years old by Renja Leino who soon opens an exhibition Darling Sea on August 31 at Valokuvakeskus Peri, Itäinen Rantakatu 38, Turku, Finland.
Wallowitch, born 5 May 1932 (†25 March 1981), by age 17 had three prints in the The Museum of Modern Art; the youngest photographer to be collected by the institution. One was included in its Photographs by 51 Photographers, August 1–September 17, 1950 at the Museum, and others in its Christmas Photographs, November 29, 1951–January 6, 1952.
Clearly his was an early talent, bringing recognition especially remarkable because of his background as a native of industrial South Philadelphia, the son of delicatessen owners, both of whom descended from 19th century Lithuanian migrants.
He took his first photographs while still at school, using a Kodak Brownie Reflex, a box 127 format rollfilm camera with a bakelite body. The model that Wallowitch is using at left was the Synchro Model, with an unconventional 2-pin flash plug underneath the taking lens (right, below). Patented in 1940 by Henry O. Drotning (US Patent D119931) it was manufactured in the millions from September 1941 until May 1952 (May 1960 in the UK), despite its being rather heavy and clumsy, with the film wind knob on the bottom of the camera.
Called a ‘Reflex’ it was a twin-lens reflex using two mirrors in the viewfinder system to produce a right-way-round bright image from the upper lens. It was fixed focus and fixed aperture and had a simple rotary spring-driven ‘click-clack’ shutter, so was useable only in daylight or with the flash. The original price for the Synchro Model was $US6.00. That’s about $US62.70 in today’s money, so quite pricey for someone still at school, as ‘Eddie’ was.
Yesterday I referred to The Family of Man as humanist in spirit and intention, and listed a number of French practitioners, since it was in that country that the movement originated. Wallowitch, being the youngest of the photographers in the exhibition and American, has perhaps absorbed that influence, but his photography can also be seen to relate to the humanitarian government or semi-government projects such as Roy Stryker’s Farm Security Adminstration photography project.
During 1953/4, Wallowitch photographed for the Philadelphia Housing Association, (called the Philadelphia Housing Commission from 1909 to 1916) which had been documenting poor housing conditions since its inception with the aim of correcting the City policies to improve the accommodation of residents of the industrial area.
Wallowitch photographed not only the bricks and mortar. It is clear from the titles of his pictures on the Housing Association site that his work for them initiated an ongoing subject matter in his work; children. There are 12 photos of Coleman Children: 914 W. Master Street (S.W. Temple Redevelopment Area; Now Demolished) that he took in April, 1954 (above). They are interiors and unexpectedly sophisticated for the product of such a simple camera as the Kodak Reflex; flash is used, but it is placed well off the camera to provide illumination that looks like that from a single incandescent lamps such as one might find at these locations. The poses are defiant; a demonstration of the family’s feelings about their living conditions.
Out in the streets, Wallowitch found children at play, in the only space they could access. There is a natural ease between the child subjects and their photographer, of whose presence they are evidently aware. These are street photographs quite unlike the candid pictures being made by fellow exhibitors Helen Levitt, Ruth Orkin or Ben Shahn.
One series reveals Wallowitch at work. Outside ‘John’s Delicatessen’ (his parents’?) stands a group of children of various ages. Two peer warily from the door of the shop, a four-year-old sits at the bottom of the steps and seems unconscious of the camera, while the older children, all in oversized hand-me-downs, strike poses.
In the next frame, the boy in the dark clothes has adopted the cap worn before by the older boy who now sports a dampened quiff (its been raining) and stands nonchalantly, sucking a straw, while casually providing a perch for a starling at which he casts a raised eyebrow. He’s quite a performer, and Wallowitch is warming to his antics. The composition, with three lines of sight along the diagonals of the paving and out of the frame (four if you count the starling’s), adds to the comic effect.The ultimate shot was the one selected by Edward Steichen. Named somewhere along its history Can’t Find Me, it engages directly with the older boy who cocks his head with bemusement as he gauges the effect of his next trick in which the four-year-old (his little brother) stands on his shoes to hide inside the worn, adult-sized forties double breasted suit coat, its buttons standing in for the little eyes we cannot see. Wallowitch has a scant presence online and I’ve had to source his shots from disparate places, but I think I have the sequence right given that the shirt lapel is no longer tucked neatly inside the jacket.
Wallowitch is much better known for his collaboration with Andy Warhol, and as Warhol’s ‘first boyfriend’, and even there his photos of children play a role.
In his early work as an artist Warhol used design techniques learned as fashion illustrator, and one of them was the use of an epidiascope or ‘opaque projector’ (above) with which he would trace Wallowitch’s photographs and his own sketches onto canvas for painting, before he moved on to screen-printing.
The first of these was his ‘Money’ series for which Wallowitch was commissioned to photograph dollar bills, rolled, piled or scattered on a table-top (“The best way I like to carry money, actually, is messy,” Warhol said. “Crumpled wads. A paper bag is good.”). One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate), traced and painted, fetched $US32.6 million at Sotheby’s in 2015.
Before that, in 1958, Warhol produced a design for a book cover for Walter Ross’s pulp novel The Immortal, the cover of which was a drawing from another of his boyfriend’s photographs—a street photograph in this case—of a youth in the pose of a rebel.
The effect of Warhol’s tracing can be seen in this early drawing from the Campbell’s Soup series which saw the transition from painting to screen-printing. The photographic qualities are preserved, but undergo a quite cursory rendering that gives emphasis to autographic mark-making; the curled shadow of the tin opener’s screw for example, and the hatching that picks out reflections in metal, but also abstracts them.
In some instances the rendering is hastily scribbled, almost arbitrary in its infill of hatching, and the use the epidiascope permits the montaging of several images; in this pencil and wash drawing (right, below), done for the notorious Gold Book we can just make out the reappearance in the background of the boy in black from the John’s Delicatessen series (above), while the girl’s face seems to have come from this Wallowitch picture (reversed) of a girl in front of an old water pump.
In New York, with Warhol, Eddie had joined the Bohemian scene, exhibited and hung out at Helen Gee’s Limelight gallery then the only place commercially showing photography in New York, at Studio 54 and in Andy’s crowded studio, and drank heavily. At one stage, his brother John, the musician, had to plead for Warhol’s help:
The analyst thought it would be better for Edward to go to a place out on Long Island that could handle this kind of thing. But it cost $250 a week. At the time, I was making three dollars an hour and there was no money coming in from Ed, or our parents. I called Andy up and asked him for $600 to help Ed out. He said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. My business manager won’t let me do it.’ It would be nice if Andy had come to see him or called, but no, there was nothing. I loved Andy, but there was something malevolent and evil about the way he sucked off Ed’s energy.
Wallowitch’s career ended less spectacularly than it had begun, in Florida, where he had ‘come to retire’ (at age 32) and there he concentrated his photography on portraits of teenagers. In them, there is obviously a conversation going on between the subject and photographer, leaving the viewer to guess at what was being said…
…and one wonders; could any of his work could be done now? Are we now conditioned to see something sinister, or predatory in them? That fear is demonstrated in Renja Leino’s 2007 series Just Anybody made with the mobile phone;
I found myself wondering what does a photograph of a person actually represent and why is it taken? For example, images of children used to be seen as part of a ”celebration of life”. Today, when asking permission to take a photograph of a child, I find – instead of proud parents – fear. It seems to me that people are relatively aware of the possible misuse of images.
In The Family of Man the pictures of children are seen indeed as a ”celebration of life” though tempered with images of conflict amongst, and rebellion by, children. Leino’s response to his new consciousness was to ‘self-censor’ his mobile phone pictures, in effect adding a protective ‘force-field’ around the youngsters.