Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Portfolio de México

Our latest short film on the photographic works of Johann Dieter Wassmann, Portfolio de México, has just been released on YouTube. In recent years, Wassmann’s photographic oeuvre has been over-shadowed by his better-known early modernist assemblage works, seen most recently at the Melbourne International Arts Festival. We’re hoping the release of three short films now, and more to come, will allow his wide-ranging achievements to receive their just due.

In the spring of 1897, the University of Leipzig lecturer, sewerage engineer and artist traveled to Mexico City and Havana to advise authorities on the prevention and control of infectious disease. Wassmann’s pioneering work in the field was long recognized in the Americas, having acted as consulting engineer on Washington, D.C.’s waste management system during Reconstruction. The essential nature of his profession allowed Wassmann exceptional access to the lane-ways and by-ways of both cities, thus providing fodder for his photographic studies. On his return to Leipzig, Wassmann successfully processed over 100 glass-plate and nearly 200 roll-film negatives, although few of these images were printed during his life-time. Nine months later, he died from complications caused by a tram accident.

Quoting here from Wassmann Foundation director, Jeffrey D. Wassmann, "It was Johann Dieter Wassmann’s disillusionment with the industrial progress of the 19th century that led to his private forays into assemblage and photography. In 1881, he set out to combine his father's vocation -- carpentry -- with objects and images he collected for their innate, but often enigmatic qualities, creating boxed works that trace his speculations on an unsettling new world.

“This body of work built on the tradition of German wunderkammern and 17th century Dutch perspective boxes to draw the viewer into the mind of a most ubiquitous thinker.

"Throughout the 1890s, Wassmann continued to expand the visual vocabulary of his assemblage works, but he also began to experiment with photography, using both a bulky glass-plate view camera, as well as several of the newly developed hand-held roll-film cameras. Over an eight-year period he documented the landscapes, streetscapes, architecture and interiors of eastern Germany, in a style that extended beyond the topographic traditions of the day."

"The photographic works of Johann Dieter Wassmann provide the missing link between the meticulous, but still largely prescriptive street imagery of mid-19th century photographer Charles Marville, and the lyrical melancholy of Eugene Atget in the early 20th century. As a predecessor to his fellow countrymen Heinrich Zille and August Sander, Johann discreetly anticipated what vast potential the photographic arts held for the modernist era."

Saturday, January 27, 2007


Sorry for abandoning my post(s) lately, but here at MuseumZeitraum we've been busy creating more short films on the work of Johann Dieter Wassmann for your viewing pleasure, which you'll find on YouTube. Vorwarts! (Go Forward!) is our latest effort, a commentary on Johann's anxiety at the accelerated rate of 'progress' in the late nineteenth century. You might also be interested in having a look at our newMuseumZeitraum Channel on YouTube.

For even more serious film-going, I'm off to the Berlin Film Festival next week. I'll also be catching up with Richard Moore in Berlin, director of the Melbourne International Film Festival, who in his other role as independent film-maker is currently producing The Foundation, a documentary on the life and work of Johann Dieter Wassmann and our efforts here at MuseumZeitraum to repatriate his collected works home to Germany. I'll keep you posted on both matters.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Paris-Vienna-Düsseldorf (TEE)

After a busy week trying to tell one Ken Burns effects from another, I’ve wrapped my first iMovie in these wee hours, bringing the early modern photographs of Johann Dieter Wassmann, to the music of Kraftwerk, (yes Kraftwerk). The seven-minute short film uses the rarely seen images Johann captured from moving trains with his hand-held roll-film camera in 1897. I do hope I’ve conveyed some sense of both the angst and excitement Johann experienced with the onset of ‘progress’ represented by the iron horse. Paris-Vienna-Düsseldorf (TEE) can now be seen on YouTube.

Astute viewers may recognize many of these photographs from the ARIA award-winning jazz CD Before Time Could Change Us by Australia’s premier jazz composer and pianist Paul Grabowsky. Mr. Grabowsky, who has written the music for the films of directors Paul Cox, Fred Schepisi and Gillian Armstrong, has agreed to write the score for the upcoming documentary The Foundation, celebrating the life and work of Johann Dieter Wassmann (Richard Moore: producer).

Friday, January 12, 2007

Mexico City 1897

Johann Dieter Wassmann, untitled, Mexico City, 1897. Albumen silver print, 230 x 180mm, WF 897026.

In keeping with my last post, I wanted to quietly close out the week with a look at one of the great early-modern photographic works of Johann Dieter Wassmann.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Maybe it’s the toner

The passing of Ruth Bernhard last month at the prime age of 101 (see my December 21 post) left me pondering through the holidays the remarkable longevity of the great modernist photographers. By my reckoning, there is something in either the lifestyle or the chemical exposure of black-and-white photography that offers a fountain of youth to us all. Excluding combat photographers (e.g. Robert Capa), the life expectancy of this esteemed group is so far beyond the norm as to warrant inquiry by some public health official or PhD candidate. So to get them started, here’s my list of the top 25 by longevity, which would be very close to my list of the top 25 photographers of the 20th century. I’ve included country of birth, to make the point there’s no clear pattern of gender, race or national origin that might be skewing the figures. Photographers noted in bold are still alive, well and I believe working:

Ruth Bernhard (USA) 101
Manuel Alvarez Bravo (Mexico) 100
Alfred Eisenstaedt (Prussia) 96
Henri Cartier-Bresson (France) 95
Lotti Jacobi (Germany) 94
Edward Steichen (Luxembourg) 94
Helen Levitt (USA) 93
Imogen Cunningham (USA) 93
Bernice Abbott (USA) 93
Gordon Parks (USA) 93
Horst P. Horst (Germany) 93
Frederick Sommer (Italy) 93
Yousef Karsh (Canada) 93
Andreas Feininger (France) 92
Jacques-Henri Lartigue (France) 92
Andre Kertesz (Hungary) 91
Irving Penn (USA) 89
Aaron Siskind (USA) 88
August Sander (Germany) 87
Harry Callahan (USA) 87
Roy DeCarava (USA) 87
Man Ray (USA) 86
Paul Strand (USA) 86
Brassai (Transylvania) 85
Hiroshi Hamaya (Japan) 84

Twelve worlds of wonder

Johann Dieter Wassmann, L’Hotel des Spheres, 1896. 800 x 490 x 240mm. My final gift in the Twelve Days of Christmas. Whew!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Eleven tiny bee hives

Johann Dieter Wassmann, L’Hotel de l’Abeille, 1888. 310 x 300 x 150mm. Day eleven in the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Ten Qualifiers sitting in judgment

Johann Dieter Wassmann, Eppur Si Muove, 1888. 800 x 530 x 250mm. Day ten in the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Nine jewels among many

Johann Dieter Wassmann, Les Organes Genitaux de L’Homme, 1897. 360 x 185 x 90mm. Day nine in the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Eight thoughts asunder

Johann Dieter Wassmann, The Criminal Mind (after Sydney), 1897. 510 x 405 x 150mm. Day eight in the Twelve Days of Christmas.