Jorge Lewinski: Portraits of Artists

Jorge Lewinski: Portraits of Artists is a small exhibition I accidentally came across when I was attending Hammersmith Hospital in London.  It is organised by the Imperial College Healthcare Charity from their art collection and displays 25 black and white portraits by Jorge Lewinski.  Lewinski specialised in taking portraits of artists in their studio settings where he felt he could get a better connection with the sitter because of their familiar working environment.

To me this was a surprising location for such a display.  In fact it was further along the corridor from the exhibition covered previously Medicine During The First World War.  My thoughts on the placement of the exhibition are covered in that review.  However I did struggle to see the connection between this set of pictures and the hospital environment other than the works are owned by the Imperial College Healthcare Charity and the wall space was a good place for the pictures.  I have asked the Trust for more details relating to this but at the time of writing have not received and reply.

I must admit that I was not familiar with Lewinski or his work so in some way the range of his subjects and the originality of the portraits did surprise me.

From post viewing investigations I discovered Lewinski’s canon was much broader than just the curator’s selection of the wider known artists for display such as David Hockney, Barbara Hepworth, Francis Bacon, Eileen Agar, Anthony Car, and Antony Gormley.  I assume these were selected more that people would recognise what they were looking at rather than the detailed aesthetics of the image.

From my observations at the exhibition I see that the images seem to demonstrate Lewinski’s exploration of each artist’s private world. None are ‘straight’ portraits.  Yes they capture the expression, personality, and mood of the artist but in fact I would argue that in many cases they go much deeper than that and are a holistic record of a subject in their working environment.  Their creations and art are just as important to the picture as is the personality of the artist.

Lewinski came to photography late in his career initially via an amateur route.  It was the early 1960’s and he set about to record the artistic community.  His timing was perfect as the artistic word was about to explode as part of the Sixties revolution.  At that time before artists were concerned with their own image rights and publicity Lewinski visited galleries to meet the artists to arrange photographic sessions.  To some degree I think this innocence and easiness in which the sessions were arranged is reflected through in the willingness of the subjects regarding Lewinski’s at times unorthodox portraits.

On this and his technique Read (2004) quoted in Hopkinson(2008) states “He said that he wasn’t looking for the soul of the artist. He wanted, however, to photograph the artist, not the person, so he always included the context of their work. Although he admired the classic portraits by Arnold Newman, he chose a 35mm camera, rather than a large format, as it allowed him to move around the studio, and talk about it as he worked. I think this interest and engagement accounts for the wonderful intimacy of his portraits”.[1]

The three pictures that caught my attention were:

Barbara Hepworth, 1968
A low key image in which you see very little of the subject. Hepworth is framed through one of her own bronze sculptures.  In fact Lewinski shows the only two parts of a sculptor that actually are important to create the work, that is the eyes and the hands.  Nothing else is shown; nothing else matters because the unseen body of the subject is depicted as the finished sculpture itself.  It is as the sculptor and sculpture meld into one.

Dame Barbara Hepworth, 1968, Jorge Lewinski, Reproduced with the kind permission of Bridgeman Images. © The Lewinski Archive at Chatsworth / Bridgeman Images.

Dame Barbara Hepworth, (1968), Jorge Lewinski, Reproduced with the kind permission of Bridgeman Images. © The Lewinski Archive at Chatsworth / Bridgeman Images.

David Hockney, 1963
An early study of Hockney just on the cusp of his rise to fame.  We see a young artist in a defiant stance.  This is accentuated from a low photographer’s point of view looking up to the subject.  Hockney detaches himself from both the photographer and us the audience by both looking out the shot and by wearing sunglasses.  Almost “this is my studio, my territory and my rules”.  Yet in the background there is the creative side of the artist.  We see his painting and the tools of his trade in the background and that for any defiance he may show he actually is all about creativity.

Davis Hockney (1963), Jorge Lewinski, Reproduced with the kind permission of Bridgeman Images. © The Lewinski Archive at Chatsworth / Bridgeman Images.

Antony Gormley, 1995
Probably my favourite in that we see very little of the artist.  He is shown in a near foetal position on his work bench mimicking his Pompeii-esque sculpture in an almost identical pose.  To me this is clever in that we see almost nothing of the features of Gormley.  We can’t read his thoughts, how he works, unless told we would not necessarily recognise him.  But the strength of the picture is that he has represented himself as his piece of art.  The sculptor and sculpture are in harmony.  One has created the other and they are linked.  It is his skill and his thoughts that have been transferred to this artwork.  Intentional or not, the lone blank figure in the background is almost representative of Gormley.  Ghostly white it as if life has gone and is transferred somewhere else in this case the work Gormley creates.

Antony Gormley (1995), Jorge Lewinski, Reproduced with the kind permission of Bridgeman Images. © The Lewinski Archive at Chatsworth / Bridgeman Images.

Finally Von Joel (2008) says in regards to Lewinski’s style that he “was proud to be an old-school photographer. He never owned a digital camera and claimed that one of the reasons he eventually abandoned photography was the advent of the digital age. He developed all his films and printed each image himself, claiming to be one of the great dark-room technicians of his generation (“unlike Cartier-Bresson, who never developed a film, never printed a print – but a great photographer”)”. [2]

Overall my response was very positive to his work and followed it up with extensive investigation into looking at this life and other work.  Also as mentioned in a previous post what was most surprising was to ‘discover’ the exhibition in the first place as that was not my primary purpose of attending the hospital.

Unsure of exhibition dates (this was not made known) but was visited 5th January 2016 at Hammersmith Hospital, Du Cane Rd, London

http://www.imperialcharity.org.uk/current-exhibitions

References

[1] Hopkinson, Amanda (2008) Jorge Lewinski, The Guardian [Online]
www.theguardian.com/culture/2008/feb/13/2 [Last Accessed 12th Feb 2016]

[2] Von Joel, Mike (2008) Jorge Lewinski: Portrait Photographer who Captured a Generation of British Artists on Film, The Independent [Online]
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/jorge-lewinski-portrait-photographer-who-captured-a-generation-of-british-artists-on-film-779776.html [Last Accessed 12th Feb 2016]

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