Hans Bellmer, "La Poupée" (The Doll)
Hans Bellmer, La Poupée (the doll), 1934-35, Silver Gelatin with applied color, 5.4 x 5.5 in (George Eastman House)
Hans Bellmer’s photographs of La Poupée, or The Doll, were taken in Germany in the mid 1930’s. This image was originally produced in black and white by the artist anonymously in 1934, and caused him to be forced to flee Germany by the Nazi party in 1938. He later joined with André Breton and the Surrealists in Paris and republished the work in color under the title “Poupée, Variations Sur le Montage d’une Mineure Articulée” (The Doll, Variations on the Assemblage of an Articulated Minor)
This particular image, taken around 1934, is interesting in both technique and subject, and is hard to define. La Poupée borders on portraiture and still life. While the photo is closer to a still life, as it is an arrangement of objects and props, there is still a sense of humanity and individuality in the pile of doll parts shown. This photo is clearly surrealist photography at its best. The overt sexuality and reference to female beauty as a thing to fear was typical to the surrealist movement.
The square framing creates a harmonious image, one that calls attention to the spiraling of the figure and balance of the composition, which would not be as strong if it were rectangular. The square creates certain symmetries and balance as well as a very intentional framing of the subject. The image is an aerial view of the subject disorienting any connections to a place or setting. There is also very little depth which adds to this sense of disorientation
Bellmer also chose to color this image, which calls attention to various parts of the form. Dislocating them even more from each other. As a result these elements become foreign objects and appear to not be part of a woman at all. The use of color on the doll also directs your eye around this photo in a very circular and even manner. It is also interesting to note Bellmer’s choice of coloring the disjointed hand red. This gesture seems to be a nod at DeChirico’s The Song of Love. DeChirico was a very influential painter to the Surrealist and The Song of Love was a quintessential painting in the creation of the movement. Bellmer’s red hand is just as out of place and disconnected as the rubber glove in The Song of Love.
Compositionally La Poupée spirals around a center point. The edges of the photo are generally bare and much darker; however, there are a few details, like the chair leg on the right edge, that remind the viewer of the frame. Bellmer also positioned the fabric so that it would not be completely centered. This choice balances out the photo, since the figure is so heavily engaged with the right side. All in all though the background is sparse giving the figure dominance.
The chair in the photo is broken, mimicking the gesture of the doll, as well as becoming one with the doll in places. For example the placement of the bow and the connection of the red hand and chair leg with color.
The conventions Bellmer used are what make this image so strong. Everything was done intentionally to draw the viewer into the picture and show them what and how to see.
Change of Position
Anton Giulio Bragaglia, Change of Position, 1911, Gelatin silver print, 5 in. x 7 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gilman Collection.
Anton Giulio Bragaglia’s gelatin silver print, Change of Position, from 1911, is both a portrait and a documentation of movement. It is at once abstract, realistic and experimental. Change of Position depicts a man’s movement between sitting and crouching positions. The young man’s hair is parted to the side and he is wearing a suit and tie. In his first position, on the right, he is sitting in a chair with his legs crossed and hands resting on his knee. His face is in profile looking to the viewer’s left. In his second position, on the left, the young man is crouching, looking down and has his fist by his cheek. Between the two positions, Bragaglia captured the blurry streaks of the man’s movement by using a long exposure time. Ghost-like profiles of the man’s face are visible in the blur.
The central blur is clearly intentional and the focal point of the image. The ways in which Bragaglia composed, framed, lit and captured the image suggest that the blur of movement is the intended focal point. The composition is simple and consists only of the man’s two positions and the streaks of movement. There is nothing distracting drawing attention away from the focal blur. The young man appears to be sitting in an empty room. Darkness surrounds him in each corner. There is not a sense of deep space in the photograph. Almost all of the action is taking place within the frame of the photograph. The movement begins on the right and ends on the left; it does not extend beyond the boundaries of the edges, with exception of the lower edge. The lighting is soft and features mostly middle values. It is not harsh or distracting and there are not bright white highlights or large areas of black.
Weegee, Booked on Suspicion of Killing a Policeman , 1941, Gelatin Silver Print, 13 9/16” x 10 5/8”
Weegee was a well-known photojournalist who took photos of crime and emergencies in New York City during 1930-1940. His real name was Arthur Fellig, but he earned this nickname for his “sixth sense” for crime, often arriving before the authorities or other reporters.
This particular photo is a portrait of two officers and the suspect of a murder, Anthony Esposito. Although this photo is technically a portrait of these men, the suspect especially, it can also be considered documentation photography, because Weegee was capturing the moment of this man’s arrest. The style of this photo is also realistic, Weegee depicts them exactly how they appear with no addition or manipulation. This is a convention seen throughout his work; Weegee captured the gritty moments of the crime and emergency scenes in New York City giving his photos a unique, visual punch because they are so raw and real.
The composition of this photo holds true to the Rule of Thirds, where a photo is divided imaginarily into nine equal parts and the most important elements are placed along the lines and intersections to create an image that is more complex than one with the subject placed in the center. In Weegee’s photo, the figures dominate the two lower sections, creating complexity, while the grey background offers a simplistic parallel in the top section.
It is interesting to see how the subjects are placed; the officer in a black coat is farthest into the background and the smallest. His back is turned to us and we can only see the slight profile of his face. Next is Esposito faced towards us; he may be closer to the foreground, but he is placed lower than the officer behind him. This plays with depth, because if someone is further back, then they should also be lower and smaller than the subjects in the foreground; in this case, that is not true. To continue this confusion of space, the officer in front of Esposito is the closest in foreground and the largest subject. Because of this visual quirk, Weegee creates the effect that the officers are larger than Esposito, and this gives them a sense of authority and power, compared to cowardly suspect who is dwarfed by the large men. The most prominent figure in this photo is Esposito, however. He may be the smallest figure, but he is framed between the two officers. He is the only one facing the viewer, making the reaction towards him much more personal; and his expression leaves the viewer wondering just what he is thinking. His clothing also ranges from black to white, a combination of all the tones in this photo and in a sense, symbolizes him as the epicenter of this photo.
There are different textures within this photo as well; from the natural film grain seen in the back wall, to the slick, oily look of the men’s hair, to the smooth, black cloth of Esposito’s blazer. These factors contribute to the lush and vivid energy that is felt in this photo, creating a powerful visual experience for anyone who views it.
Weegee has strategically placed the viewer inside of the frame so that they are allowed to “witness” the event. The perspective that he chose for this photo is very successful because it evokes a reaction from his viewers. One cannot help but feel as if they are in the midst of this confrontation between Weegee and Esposito; only imagining the tension and mixture of feelings felt in that room.
December 7, 2011:
Taking a second look at this photo, it is interesting to note the visual differences between this version and its original negative.
Weegee was known to extremely crop his photos so that the viewer would be thrown further into the frame. In this photo, we feel like we are at a safe distance from the suspect, observing the scene with caution. But in the cropped version, there is a stronger sense of tension and uneasiness, as if we know that Esposito could almost reach out and grab us if he wished. The use of cropping portrays two very different feelings when viewing this photograph.
However, the original feels very staged, as if Weegee was in the process of telling each subject where they should be, and the arm to his left got in his way of snapping the shot. The addition of this foreign arm in the left side of the frame acts as a distraction and we are left asking ourselves, “Who’s arm is that? Why is it there?” The original version takes away from the visual punch of reality, which is why Weegee decided to remove it.